Friday, 25 December 2009

Banksy vs Robbo WRH, WD - checkmate

Christmas day is traditionally, in London at least, an occasion for graffiti writers to brush the turkey off their chops and head to the tunnels and lay-ups for some seasonal decorative activities. Banksy got his Christmas celebrations in early by hitting Regents Canal in Camden last weekend. In doing so, this spectacular piece caused uproar among London’s old school graffiti writers and if you want to get a sense of the outrage, check the comments on this flickr picture here.

The issue at stake is going over an ancient 1985 piece by Robbo WD, WRH, (World Domination, We Rock Hard etc etc) truly one of the pioneers of graff in London in the mid 80s. I am indebted to Citrus Topnote Jr who put up this historic picture. This piece gone over by Banksy was 25 years old (check the date in Citrus’ picture)!

photo: Citrus Topnote Jr

There is more to the beef than appears at first glance. In the 2009 book “London Handstyles”, there is a story from Robbo: 'I was out one night with a load of old writers and got introduced to Banksy. He asked what I wrote and I told him, he cockily replied ''never heard of you'' so I slapped him and said, ''you may not of heard of me but you will never forget me''. The truth in the story is evident in Banky’s very pointed taking out of Robbo’s piece, there is no mere accident in the placing of Banksy’s decorator.

The riposte from Robbo has been swift and classy, in effect saying you use my piece in your shit, I’ll use your shit in mine.

Banksy’s decorator now pays homage to Robbo. Talk about attention to detail, even Banksy’s roll of wallpaper under the decorator’s arm has been removed. Beef doesn’t get much more heavyweight than this and Robbo has more than matched Banksy’s wit. Robbo’s piece deserves wide recognition and it’s quite unlikely that Banksy’s intended effect was to give Robbo the massive elevation, appreciation and profile that is coming from this spat.

The only way to this ledge is by water, in Robbo’s words on his flickr this morning “down the canal ina wet suit on Christmas morning ho ho ho”, the property over this ledge is occupied by BTP – a delicious irony. The bit that puzzles me is I believe (but risk being corrected quite sharply) that one of Banksy’s key crew also writes WD. Curious.

Update - check Robbo's flick, in particular go down to Keen-one's comments, here.

Old news: Banksy hits Camden

The Saga continues:

Banksy vs Robbo...Did You Think It Was Over?

And The Beef Goes On

Banksy v Robbo: War Continues

Banksy Reparations

2014, sadly..  Robbo RIP

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Banksy Hits Regents Canal

Before I set out this morning on the minimal effort that passes as my contribution to the irreligious Xmas consumer fest, I glanced though my Flickr contacts' latest uploads and saw ArtOfTheState had uploaded a new Banksy. And when AOTS calls it as a Banksy, it damn well is a Banksy.

I recognised the building and thought "I'll bring my camera", the Christmas shopping (quick trip to QPR club shop) was even more brutal than usual. Within the hour I was on the canal chuckling at Banksy's timely comment on the failure of the Copenhagen accord to produce any significant cooperation on global measures to reduce climate change and its impact.

Global Warming Scepticism

This can only have been done from a boat, they must have looked a bit like the marines delivering the milk tray.

Street art's greatest pleasure comes from finding an unknown, well executed and well positioned piece of art and when that piece is a Banksy the thrill is squared. I was knocked out to find nearby this fishing boy on the canal bank hauling rubbish out of the canal with the added joke layer being that the rubbish is a Banksy tag, now a ubiquitous piece of urban detritus.

Tag fisher boy

The canalside location looks exactly like the kind of place where a feral estate rat might cut school to go fishing and pull nothing but crap out of the river and the self deprecating humour of the rubbish being Banky's own tag, magic.

While uploading pics from the camera at home, a txt "heads up" to street art fan Romanywg produced the response "there aint two, there's four". More to the point, Romanywg told me one of them was very special and, without giving away the secret, he suggested I'd regret not heading back out into the sub-zero Camden frost and seeing the others.

Boy was he ever 100% right, the other side of Camden is the gorgeous and comical instant graffiti decorator. The spot is underneath a bridge and rather dark but the colours are lush (there are no colour tweaks in the picture below). Use of the working man device makes this a spiritual brother of the yellow line painter in east London and sort of the polar opposite of the graffiti remover from Cans I.

Instant Graffiti

Yellow lines painter (East London, 2008)

prehistoric buffer (Cans I 2008)

Finally, there was a fourth smaller piece, a one colour top-hatted dandy-rat. Banksy's rat society has evolved strata such as this toff lording it over the river rats - hints of Animal Farm anyone? This is an interesting return to the rat motif which hasn't been seen for a while (even if you do include the NY 2008 rats, which I dont). In this one there is a link to the bouncer rat of 4 or 5 years ago. Of the four new pieces, this is the weakest in terms of execution, you are hard pressed to decide which of the three legs is actually a tail. tut tut.

Dandy Rat

Bouncer Rat (look closely at the wall - very faded even in autumn 2006)

Anyone who contends that somehow Banksy's moment has passed or that his relevance has diminished should look at his achievements this year: the Bristol show, the Westway highway roller bandit, the Dalston Bboy, No Ball Games, last graffiti before motorway and now this minimalist pure graffiti comment on global warming scepticism and the other three lush canalside stencil pieces. Yes, the man retains his touch and until the council buffers mobilise a marine buffer unit (yeah - I know hackney has one!), some of these pieces could roll for quite a while.

More pics here

ps - thanks to Xylo for spotting a glaring error in my first draft.

Historical note - The full Banksy vs Robbo timeline:

Banksy hits Camden

Banksy vs Robbo...Did You Think It Was Over?

And The Beef Goes On

Banksy v Robbo: War Continues

Banksy Reparations

2014, sadly..  Robbo RIP

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Mike Ballard: The All Of Everything

The Art Gallery,
University Of The Arts, London
10 Dec 09 – Feb 2010

all photos: NoLionsInEngland and Howaboutno where stated

Two major solo shows, a couple of crew shows not to mention some shutter painting have already made 2009 a prolific year for Cept.

Bethnal Green Rd, 2009

Not to be outdone, Cept’s alter ego Mike Ballard has a major heavyweight solo show to see out the old year and also to see out an old building too. The location is the University Of The Arts, an educational establishment that will be demolished in February and whose imminent demise frames the challenge addressed by Ballard which is to celebrate the existence and conclusion of the gallery’s life cycle.

In 2008, Mike Ballard and Cept had a joint solo show in a ramshackle warren of a warehouse which featured an illusion room created by Cept.

Cept vs Mike Ballard, London 2008

First thought upon entering the large single storey hall of this show is that Mike Ballard has created a very similar illusion room. But there are several critical differences; the scale is much much larger, probably three to four times the floor area; the ceiling is a wild collage of black and white digital images rather than paint and there is none of Cept’s characteristic graff writing and almost none of the lichenstein-esque pop women.

The walls are dominated by about seven key images which relate to the themes of the show. In the corner furthest from the entrance to the room, a large hand points into the wall and an explosion erupts from the finger, starting time, the universe and bringing everything to life.

Existence is dominated by man’s desire to control time whilst living the simultaneous delusion that time is something the rolls out ahead of the now, the artist sees existence as being part of a continuum in which the past, the present and the future are all equally present, always have been and always will be. The illusion and delusion of mastery of time is symbolised by the hands grasping at a tilted pyramid. At the foot of the pyramid the initials MB are the only nod towards the artist’s identity.

Around the room Ballard brings the whole of creation at a broader cosmic scale into the room. Technology clashes with the ancient everywhere, a pyramid death mask with illuminated eyes sits above galaxy rays transmitting across printed circuit board links to the ever repeating circular motif “The end of the beginning, then beginning of the end”, reflecting the parlous state of the building as it sits on the developer’s death row. The eyes are actually peep holes through to a couple of televisions replaying excerpts from Sun-Ra’s rambling shambles of a blaxploitation space oddity movie “Space Is The Place”. Satellite dishes sit on pyramids covered in hieroglyphics created by Ballard but inspired by pre hip-hop New York gang symbology fused with more Sun Ra mystical “I come from Saturn me” runes.

The End Of The Beginning, The Beginning Of The End

A sonic message is relayed through hidden speakers behind the pyramid mask, the indistinct voice sounds urgent and insistent, you can’t escape the noise and you can’t ignore it, it is hard to make out the terse phrases “I know what I have witnessed and now it is your turn, prepare yourself for a journey of self discovery” .

Although there are no graffiti style letterings in the room, the floor contains a wild and wired spray of straight lines, ray paths and links between the principal images on the wall. The pattern breaks up in places into wild style links and connections, just the actual letters themselves aren’t there. Ballard has based this on NY legend Rammelzee’s Ikonoklast Panzerism manifesto with its idea of wild style lettering locked in battle with structured and formal Roman style lettering, leading to a cyclical deconstruction of letters as carriers of language through the form known as graffiti, the rejection of received forms for letters and anarchic destruction of the way society uses written communication. Which doubtless makes sense if you have fried your brain on dope for a few decades.

Space Is The Place

Weird corrugated patterns break up the floor and trick the eye into believing the flat floor is moulded into sharp shallow peaks and troughs, the patterns also reflect Ballard’s fondness for hip-hop and modern jazz. The trompe l’oeil effect is at its most powerful in the corners and where the eyes finds it hard at times to discern where the horizontal becomes the vertical and where floor meets wall. In this photo of the artist putting in hasty last minute touches, the eye easily persuades the brain that Ballard is hovering half-way up the wall.

What floor? Photo HowAboutNo

In Cept’s Dalston illusion room the pillars in the space formed geysers of emulsion linking the patterns on the floor and the ceiling. In this rendition by Ballard, the stark black and white patterns crash to an abrupt halt against a massive paste up covering every square inch of the ceiling. The collage image fuses the ancient with the modern again, Michelangelo’s David is given an MF Doom mask, Afrika Bambaataa fuses with classical cherubs sitting alongside graffed subway trains and images of spray painters.

The point of the ceiling is really to draw eyes up to the sky and to subscribe to the belief that there is something out there, the whole idea of everything on this planet and within this space is watched and destinies such as the fate of this room are possibly under the control of greater forces than we comprehend.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

The task of pasting the enormous paper to the ceiling was made immensely complicated by light fittings, fire safety equipment and a bizarrely random mix of different height beams, so nip and tuck compromises were required to achieve the correct alignment of certain critical elements such as the mirror image subway trains.

Cept’s graff heritage is referenced in one small area and that is an astonishingly deceptive perspective piece which captures a trackside cutting leading to a train tunnel where the young Cept first honed his skills as a spraycan graffiti writer, one of Ballard’s women weeps for Cept, we don’t know why.

There aren’t any paintings hung in the illusion room but in the foyer are just three small edition prints fitting with the themes explored in the show, including a digital print of the original image pasted to the ceiling. The image is too large to absorb in a single sweep in the room and too complicated to be condensed to the small scale of the print.

The All Of Everything ceiling image

Ballard has taken on the schizophrenia of a space which is simultaneously a destination as a gallery yet a transit passageway for people using the space as a throughfare to the many doors, he also conquers the notion of the building in transition between its current manifestation as a gallery and its immediate future as a pile of rubble then subsequent re-birth. We are lucky that someone with Ballard’s skill, imagination and generally intellectual weirdness has been given the use and total abuse of this space at this particular resonant point in its life cycle.

The show makes a huge statement, the all of everything, everything from beginning of time to the end, from floor to ceiling, top to bottom and everything in the whole of time and space, Mike Ballard lays it all out in the context of the life cycle of this building and it only needs two colours. Mike Ballard sets out the all of everything in black and white.

The space is amazingly photogenic, see more here [later today]. For enlightenment and reference, check out Cept vs Mike Ballard here and reviews of Cepts 2009 Galaxy Rays show in Bristol and The Frozen Explosion show at the Writer’s Bench in London

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Josh Sutterby (Alfa RT) solo show

Rolling With The Punches

The Print House Gallery
18 Ashwin St, London, E8 3DL
4 Dec 2009 – 10 Jan 2010

Celebrating identity is at the heart of graffiti, which makes Joss Sutterby of RT (RepresenT) crew a bit of a novelty among London’s finest for his avoidance of letter-form self promotion. While Vibes and Towns drop big “my-name-is” burners around the parish, Alfa chips in with lavish but virtually anonymous characters which introduce a cartoonist’s humour into the RT crew’s pieces.

Eating Beef For Breakfast, Alfa RT and Towns RT, West London

The RT crew are not exactly casuals, winning the 2009 European final of the Write4gold battle in Germany coming top in the tagging, throwie and concept sections (sounds like Final Score at 5 O’clock on a Saturday), Alfa produced the two characters in this Sclater Street piece in April 09

Molotow Cocktail, Towns RT, Alfa RT, Sclater St

Joss Sutterby’s first solo show takes place in Dalston, much better known for its rooftop and wall graff than artfag action.

The dominant theme in Sutterby’s canvasses are tattoos, characters with tattoos and straight use of the art of the tattoo. Portraits feature strongly in the collection and nearly all feature tattoos on flesh, tattoo art motifs on clothing and tattoo art in the background. One of the kings of traditional nautical based tattoo art is Sailor Jerry and references to Sailor Jerry appear in several of the works, most notably the Love Thy Neighbour canvas with its sullen and whey faced man with his death heart teeshirt set on a montage of stock Sailor Jerry tattoos.

Love Thy Neighbour

The shows suggests that on canvas Sutterby is pursuing a style with comparatively little reference to his graffiti work, though through the subjects themselves he brings his involvement in the movement the scene indoors such as in Antagonisers, a portrait of a friend in which the title (AnTaGonisers) and the tee suggests a member of the ATG crew. A GP would likely recommend the friend gets to bed a bit earlier.


A gothic darkness runs through most of the art, purple roses and skulls form a bed for the anguished figure in Mother posed in painted version of the classic face obscured crew shot. One puzzling element in this particular canvass is that exposed flash is usually grasped by Sutterby as a base for tattoos but here the left hand is lacking detail, leaving it looking un-finished.


Tattoo art is generally not a big thing for me, other than the work of Dr Lakra which I love with a passion, though his recent London show was fairly poor. The detail of the tats on Ella below brought to mind the way Lakra fills the arms and legs with multiple tat images.


Two images are multi colourway editioned prints, the King of Hearts shown below comes closest to the cartoonish characters Alfa bookends RT pieces with, though the King of Hearts here is a million miles from the bumbling but well intentioned buffoon of Alice Through The Looking Glass. This editioned print is unusual as two different colourways have been displayed alternate ways up, presumably which way up it goes depends upon which which end the artist signs.

King Of Hearts, Blue and Yellow (also available: distressed background)

The second print references Sailor Terry again, with mono-eyed skulls and rotting zombie arms crawling across the print making various death-head style hand gestures.

Sailor Grave

In the hate filled world of graffiti any writer showing art in a gallery really sticks their head above the parapet, Sutterby has focussed on a show which tangentially alludes to his graff mates but in essence doesn’t expose him to haters accusations of selling out his graff.

Rolling With The Punches: more heavy hitting pictures here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Is Street Art Dead?

all photos: NoLionsInEngland

I come to praise street art not to bury it. If that gives away my answer to my own question fear not, for purpose of dramatic suspense the best is still saved till last.

There are a myriad variety of ways I can cycle across London from home in the West to work in the East and luckily today I was able to choose a meandering tour-de-W1 which took in two new pieces which I had spotted in Ian Cox aka Wallkandy teaser pics.

This Paul Insect was not difficult to locate (ok – it’s W2 but lets not quibble) and as I took some flicks the adjacent door disgorged a family of mum and three kids under the age of 5. They loved the art but hadn’t witnessed its creation as the kids asked if I did it, ho ho ho ho. Somewhere in London, a young family may now believe Paul Insect goes to work in Lycra.

Paul Insect

The Mode 2 piece is rather saucy and of course, being W1 I couldn’t get this shot without some damn gorgeous woman walking into the frame.

Mode 2

Mode 2

Lunchtime presented the opportunity for a 1 hour whizz around Shoreditch, wandering the streets is great for blowing through the synapses after a hectic morning and this time I had five specific objectives.

I met Fauxreel aka Mr Dan bergeron at Pure Evil’s gallery last week and although he has been a flickr contact for a while I wasn’t really conscious of his art, my ears pricked up when he talked of his plans for a paste-up in a grubby but frequently hit alleyway. Seeing a flick of the end result on unusualimage’s flickr put the idea in my mind for a shot as if the camera was the eye of someone holding the ladder looking upwards, the pic here is the full piece, the “propping-up-the-ladder” shot is here on my flickr. Tick the box marked “not permissioned”, always worth an extra star on the street art rating scale and also the piece works so well with the wall furniture so top marks for placement.


Continuing towards Brick Lane I paused at End Of The Line’s Curtain Road wall to photograph some Aryz, Tizer, Probs, Nychos, Biser and Does pieces, when I chanced upon them painting this last week i got some comedy pics of a grass on a moped watching them brazenly painting away in daylight without a care.


Just yards further on, there were the Village Underground wall panels painted last week in parallel with Probs/Tizer’s stunning “Shades of Things To Come” show. Got some decent pics of more Probs, Aryz, Snugone, Does, Nychos, Biser among others and this masterful and witty Tizer confection.


And on, still on a 1 hour schedule, came across a very nice new Mantis, check the paths in the maze, they're not as random as you might think.


Yards further on came across another Fauxreel that I hadn’t known about, so with this one there was not only the illegal aspect but also the chance discovery element as well, getting close to perfect (free hand spray required for top marks!).


And I haven’t mentioned the two new (to me) Elbow Toe written word pieces or the Sinboy shutter character and tags, save them for another day though recently there has been a lot of pieces kept back for such “nothing new” days which have been a long time waiting.

Sickboy’s flickr streamed yesterday revealed a new Sickboy letter piece on a familiar gate – so freehand spray but not “chanced upon”, Sickboys part had been partially spoiled by someone tearing off the flyers it was painted over, perhaps an audacious attempt to steal the whole piece!

Sickboy, Word To Mother (I think)

Mr Cox’s weekend flicks confirmed suspicions this Vhils piece was only about 80% complete when I snapped it last Thursday but it was still worth strolling into the Old Truman Brewery to capture the piece in its finished state, my fifth intended location. Curiously the lunchtime curry stall often positioned in front of it wasn’t there, sometimes you get lucky (other times, there’s be a bloody white van parked hard against it).

Vhils (sculpted render)

How did I get to the Brewery from the Sickboy piece, well I paused and pondered - go back to brick Lane or round the opposite side down a dog-legged road between a wall and a derelict warehouse. Easy choice! Rounding the corner I spied a cherry picker up against a warehouse brick wall and even from about 100 yards at a very oblique angle there was no doubt in my mind what I had found.

However after a matter of feet I came across this lush Grafter stencil piece that I had seen pics of but whose location I didn’t know, this wonderful and peaceful innocence in the midst of the urban crush feels like a throw-back to a rose-tinted previous world where kids could play outdoors unsupervised and un-threatened. Try leaving your kids alone at that age today and people not only wonder if she is safe they mentally start forming the unfit negligent parenting accusations. When street art triggers reflections like that, it’s clearly doing something right.


Finally, the crowning glory of the walk, the un-expected chancing upon a street art legend in the act of creating a piece which stands a chance of lasting for the life of the building it is placed upon. They don’t come much more revered than the legendary French street artist Space Invader and here he was in front of me, working with a friend putting up a piece which is going to be enormous when it is finished.

Space Invader

Of course, quite a bit of the art photographed today isn’t there by chance, apart from the “Shades Of Things To Come” show mentioned earlier, the Paul Insect, Mode 2 and Space Invader pieces are connected to Lazarides “The Grifters” Christmas Show” which opens this week. The joy of discovering un-expected street art and illegal street art creates a wonderful rush and whilst today my cup truly did runneth over, thankfully this is not as rare an emotion as some might have you believe.