Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - Bigger, Better, Banksyer!

The approach of the end of the year for many brings on a period of indulgence and reflection and Graffoto can’t resist getting stuck in as well. A little more free time during the Winter months allows a bit of photo library housekeeping which in turn means time to revisit some of the wonderful art that appeared in front of the camera over the past 12 months.

London was scarred this year by the tragic and devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. Beyond the horrific death toll, the disaster has all manner of residual issues for the survivors, the community, the authorities and the support services, the difficulty of responding to the needs of the affected families is a massive and ongoing challenge. No one can be sure whether the response of street artists was irrelevant or hugely important, individuals affected by the situation in West London have various personal responses which lie somewhere along the spectrum between those extremes. Public surfaces all around the Ladbroke Grove area became message boards and art and street art became a part of that mass public communication system.


This massive rendition of the streets of a poem by Ben Okri painted by EINE on the Village Underground wall grabbed attention. Read the full poem on the Village Underground website here

Eine/Ben okri

Anna Laurini

London hosts such a magnificent collection of constantly changing street art that one can never narrow down an annual favourite but we thought we’d nail our colours to the mast by “wowing” at the wonderful Boat People mural by David de la Mano.

David De La Mano

Right at the very end of the year, in fact over a period of about 4 days which spanned Christmas Day, Fanakapan painted “Follow The Leader”, a painstakingly brilliant political piece aimed at Donald Trump on that very same spot. Very very few artists could have replaced David de la Mano’s piece with something at least equal in stature, Fanakapan is one of those.


Dreph undertook probably the most extensive, coherent and powerful project this year with his 10 piece #YouAreEnough collection. The series fosters a great visibility and community awareness of the amazing work performed by inspirational black women Dreph knows, whose stories and achievements don’t get the broader recognition they deserve and having bumped into one or two of them I can vouch for how brilliantly the master Dreph has rendered their appearance in these portraits.

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Tracy Blackstock by Dreph

Street art doesn’t need to be big to be beautiful, a series of absolutely charming examples of understated street art was put up by an artist who made his debut on the streets of London this year. Some of these beautifully distorted characters nod to the strong Asian community that makes its home in Tower Hamlets while others capture the sort of puffy faces that would signify “villain” or “drunkard” in 18th century cartoons. These castings first appeared in February though it took until October to identify Jace as the artist.


The forlorn slump of Sten And Oli’s colourful characters became a common and charming site on Shoreditch’s walls in the Autumn, a classic example of a visiting artist making the most of their passage through London.

Sten And Oli

One fantastic piece that I photographed many many times this year for the way it imposed itself on people loitering in front of it was Aida’s ode-cum-warning to the smokers that congregate outside the film company that commissioned her “hard habits die hard” work of art. Aida’s piece looks stunning set against the awesome paintwork of Camille Walala dating from 2015.

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An artist who has adopted London as his base this year is KetOne from Australia who was quickly into his stride with some phenomenal natural photorealism.


Political street art around London was dominated by four other themes this year, trump, Brexit, austerity and the bizarre June 2017 election. Perhaps the most surprising name from the world of proper art to use the streets for political purposes was Jeremy Deller who mocked the limpest and least accurate campaign slogan of all time when he appeared under the Flying Leaps banner.

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Right: “Strong and Stable My Arse” – Jeremy Deller; left: KennardPhillipps

The Brexit masterpiece was undoubtedly Banksy’s HUUUGE mural in Dover commenting on Brexit, a fascinating location visible to all the millions who leave British shores for the continent through Dover. Too little too late, there was almost no Brexit related street art at the time it mattered in the run up to the first referendum.

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Anti trump related street art comes as no surprise and has been appearing since the nominations process got going back in 2015.

Tom Blackford

K-Guy has been producing superior political stencils for over a decade and chose to mark Trump’s inauguration with this superb specimen riffing on the overlap of Trump’s name with a well known card game

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Subdude produces a regular output of political cartoons and must be applauded for having the courage of his convictions to stand strong against a 32 page legal threat issued by a corporation aggrieved at his subversion of their logo.


Brexit also featured in Subdude’s humorous political cartoons, it’s ironic that a paste up about the increase in racist attacks and other hate crime since the Brexit referendum should be placed squarely and provocatively over a Hasworld paste up – slices of irony gateaux all round!


Sculptural street art in Shoreditch has in the past taken the form of bronze castings, abstract wood assemblies, plaster of paris and trash sculptures but this is the first time I recall seeing Styrofoam graffiti lettering out in the wild. Look closely and you will find the letters PUSH, the German duo’s name are present, not that many hardcore writers would recognise this as graffiti.


Collaboration of the year sort of evolved during celebrations for the Pure Evil Gallery 10th anniversary as Dscreet popped a trio of owls over Nick Wakeling’s trippy abstract piece done a few weeks earlier, thus falling into the “just found some great art to use as a background” niche, a niche which the world of fine art has yet to fully explore. It’s all about Dscreet’s awesome colour selection and the developer got in on the act as well ;-)

DScreet, Nick Wakeling

Having done just one piece of street art in London in the previous 4.5 years, London was suddenly blessed this year with two new pieces of Banksy street art. Executed the weekend before the opening of The Barbican Centre’s “Boom For Real” Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition, the larger more complex piece not only pays tribute to the New York street artist Jean Michel Basquiat but comments on the insular nature of the conventional art world and specifically the discrimination against black artists.



A new Banksy in London normally heralds an uptick in artworld opportunism and on this occasion relevant actors included the barbican Centre itself who immediately imposed a crack armed task force to guard the new Banksy and followed up with the obligatory plexiglass protective cover though not before the very quick acting artist Danny Mimick augmented the Banksy with an amusing enhancement in the style of Keith Haring. Someone stole the traffic sign which Banksy had painted a small fragment of the left hand on to, the thief rumoured to be someone with form in that respect. Detail spotters will notice in this close up that Banksy isn't just a stencil artist.

Banksy (detail)

The artist ThisOne has had a phenomenal year which has extended to painting over 130 murals, and to be clear, this are proper productions, not 15 minute quickies.



It has been a couple of years since we had a proper “hit” of London walls by MyDogSighs so it was great to see him doing a crop of lovely hand painted paste ups early in the Summer, several of which exhibited a flair for careful location selection based on coloured matching.

My Dog Sighs

Nylon sprayed a few Shoreditch spots for the first time in quite a few years, in this specimen in the company of Barcelona legend Pez.

Nylon, Pez

Jim Vision had a huge success with this years edition of meeting of Styles including charming the Rail Authority into permitting writers to paint on a rail track wall, he has also had a very active year with his own murals, my personal favourite being his Paradise Lost, detail here:

Jim Vision

MCLN’s plague doctor was a regular sight during the year, I loved the Flying plague doctors that arrived on the wind bourne by a leaf rather than an umbrella. This photo was taken shortly after the flying plague doctor arrived on station and it has been amusing to see how the leaf has dried, curled, decayed and changed colour with the passage of time.


Anna Laurini had a good year too, would you guess from this picture that this location used to be known as London’s red light district?

Anna Laurini

A pack of Jake the Dog cartoon characters by Losthills from Liverpool ran stray across Shoreditch many times this year, my favourite was this pilot Jake installation which appeared in the Old Truman Brewery.


Neon Savage was possibly the most prolific street artist we had in London this year, the mice peeping out of mouse holes in the wall were amusing as was this three eyed Jerry mouse who in a year of banner marches chose to show his support for Brick Lane.

Neon Savage

Regular favourite ACE did a strange thing this year, experimenting with a blue dye added to his wheatpaste which produced some quite weird results at times. His regular output throughout the year was always appreciated.


Artists from abroad visiting London made a phenomenal contribution to the variety of art we saw on the streets this year so here are honourable mentions for a few:

Ludo from Paris was over in the Autumn and while his art is always stunning, one particular paste up made a quite unexpected connection with the owner of the wall it appeared on, its great when street art becomes relevant to a wider audience beyond geeks and art insiders, well worth reading the full story to that on the blog post here:

Len Maloney and the staff of JC Motors in front of art by Ludo

C215 was in town for a musician themed show at StolenSpace.


The Liliputian scaled stencilled workers by Jaune from Belgium were a delightful new addition to London’s walls.

Jaune (feat Noriaki)

Scary street art is perhaps in the name with this pair of ghoulish riders by Ryan Roadkill pursuing passersby down the street.

Ryan Roadkill

Eddie Cola

People have been saying for as long Graffoto recalls that street art has changed for the worse, street art has died, street art is disappearing well I got news for you suckers, it aint. 10 to 12 years ago the photographers involved in Graffoto were out on the streets every day could easily go days without spotting a new piece of street art, today there is something new everyday. The number of locations where street art appears has rocketed, the popularity of the genre has exploded. So, yeah, you naysers making those comments are right, a set of hoardings on Great Eastern Street disappeared and those around the Nobu hotel came down as the hotel opened well booo hooo, plenty more spots appeared and contrary to popular opinion Seven Stars Yard is still workable albeit harder now to find panels where a car isn’t parked.

So, goodbye 2017, you leave memories and scars, you produced brilliant street art, bizarre street art and your fair share of dross – and that point is perhaps the one that most art snobs have an issue with but street art means anyone can have ago, that’s important.   In a year which saw 2 pieces of street art appear in the nation’s top 20 pieces of art, we think there is plenty of life yet in the collective body.  For continuous up to the moment coverage of our personal favourites among the street art we encounter ourselves, keep an eye on that instagram account and don’t just wait for the 2018 end of year review! 

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ludo, Len and How Street Art Connects

Caution: regular readers may be shocked to find references to the real world in what follows.

Since his street art first appeared on London’s walls in 2008, Ludo’s paste ups have been a frequent delight around London. His dark and occasionally surreal vision sees nature take up arms, what at first glimpse may look like an exotic plant or insect species on close inspection reveals a sinister hybrid organic techo-weaponry.

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There is a genuine integrity to Ludo’s pieces, they are generally put up without permission after a bit of a wander to find just the right spot, they involve a bit of pasting and a bit of paint flinging, he finds the spots himself and often he locates virgin walls previously undefiled by street art.   The additions are not always to the immediate delight of the property owner, as street art should be.


Ludo was back in London last week and as usual put up some stunning original paste ups. Locating the first piece was relatively easy as in the early photos (hat tip GS-L Studio) that appeared online a business name was visible.


Unbeknown to Ludo, the business proprietor found a very direct personal connection to Ludo’s new artwork on his wall. The business is JC Motors in Haggerston, owned by Len Maloney. JC Motors has been housed in a railway arch under the East London line for the past decade. The property owner is Transport For London who has demanded massive rent increases from JC Motors and many other businesses who call the railway arches home. TfL’s massive rent increases are evidently fuelled by the almost implausible idea that these grimy unfashionably hardworking and hardwearing backstreet locations must be elevated by vague proximity to trendy coffee shops and the City of London’s halls of capitalism.

At the same time, small businesses in Hackney are also facing huge increases in business rates.  Earlier this year Len was one of a delegation from the  East London Trades Guild who presented a petition to Downing Street on behalf of business owners across East London who face extinction.

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Len Maloney, Paul Gardner et al, No. 10 Downing St, March 2017. photo copyright Sarah Ainslie

The East London Trades Guild is now playing a major role in supporting small businesses, many of them facing the same situation as JC Motors not just with TfL but Network Rail too.

The history of Len’s business and the story of the petition are told in typically eloquent and readable style by the brilliant Gentle Author on the Spitalfields Life blog. As an aside, if you have the vaguest interest in East End history or the stories of its inhabitants past and present then do sign up for the Gentle Author’s daily blog posts, I have enjoyed them for many years.

Len has spent years building his business, he provides employment and apprenticeships and brings a purpose to this unglamourous utilitarian space; all this is under threat. When Len turned up for work last Friday morning to find Ludo’s latest art work on his wall he connected immediately with something in the art. “I was puzzled at first by this huge flower but I stepped back and realised the flower was growing a grenade. TfL have put up my rent and Hackney Council under pressure from central Government are jacking up the business rates, I have a real fight to keep this business that I have worked so hard for over the years going. My staff could be unemployed, apprentices might not finish their apprenticeships, opportunities for future apprenticeships and employment will disappear. I feel I could explode and the artist’s flower grenade seems to capture how I feel. TfL are about to pull the pin!”

Left to right: Jay, Peter, Singh, Hakeem and Len outside JC Motors, Stean St, Haggerston

One of the many beauties of street art is that the work reaches out to the normal “everyman” everyday audience a long long way away from the world of art institutions and learned academics, people can and do respond to the artwork however they like. It is wonderful to find a true gentleman like Len discovering such a deep and personal significance to a totally non permissioned art intervention on the street.

Certificates line the wall in Len's office

When asked why he chose this spot for this piece of art, Ludo told Graffoto “the spot just felt great for me visually...from the barbed wire, the bricks, textures...that's how I find my spots as I don't really know what's going on inside. The only thing that motivates me is to tell a story and the background is as important as the artwork”. So, that Len saw such a specific relevance in the artwork to him and his team is pure serendipity; “[the] good thing about art is you take it as it touches you” says Ludo.

Ludo did a couple of other pieces and somewhat I also found a rather unexpected personal connection to one of them. Graffoto normally despises rolling out the first person singular but hopefully you will indulge on this occasion. 25 years ago thereabouts Lady NoLions and I lived in Dalston, back in those days I wasn’t NoLions but she was and she remains a lady. Her then employer gave her a company car, remember when they were prized perks? This hot hatch (the car, not Lady NoLions) kept getting stolen and one Saturday morning we got a call from the police to collect the trashed and abandoned car. Thieves had stolen her car by shattering the built in steering lock, evidently the car wouldn’t steer properly so instead of joyriding on two wheels around a 90 degree left turn they followed a fast but lazy arc into the wall opposite. Although I have not been on that street since that day, in the first night time “work in progress” photos (gslstudio again) I recognised the wall in the background as the one where the Golf GTI speed test had come to a shattering end. Sometimes the personal connections to a piece of street art are just a bit less wonderful!

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Ludo’s other new piece of street art that appeared last week is a classic study in monochrome and green in which nature and the hint of violence collide.


Just a few from Ludo's previous visits to London:

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Ludo website

East London Trade Guild website

Gentle Author Spitalfields Life

All photos Dave Stuart except, with thanks, by Sarah Ainslie (website) where noted

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Banksy Nose Nothing

Many moons ago Banksy came up with a fairly comical visual joke involving a policeman and a line of coke, the policeman would be stencilled on wall and a meandering line of white paint would be dribbled on the streets. Wry chuckles all around at The Snorting Copper.

Snorting Copper, Curtain Rd, London - By Martin Bull - 18.3.2006
photo: Martin Bull, 2006

One of these existed in a narrow alleyway off Curtain Road in Shoreditch, it was heavily jet washed in May 2006 but in September 2006 the white line of coke was still quite clear, as demonstrated by the-artist-formerly-known-as-little-miss-no-lions who “walked the line”. It went from the copper’s nostril, down Mills Court alleyway and then disappeared down a drain nearby in Charlotte St.

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Mills Court 2006

Hot news is that developers who acquired the derelict property bounded by the wall the snorting copper was painted on have re-discovered the lost and forgotten Banksy work of art! We had an ominous feeling about this when we spotted a section of framed brickwork wall on the building site in Autumn 2015.


The news first became public in a slightly curious way back in August and the media outlet with the full scoop was The Guardian as it often is with Banksy matters though I must confess to possibly having blown the chance for a little insider insight into the project a bit before that. Hey-ho, no regrets!

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Finally, a couple of months on from that preliminary teaser the Snorting Copper was revealed during last week's London art festival week, and what a pristine specimen of Banksy street art it appears to be!

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Mills Court, October 2017

The developers who brought the property cut the wall out and shipped it to restorers who did their job and the brickwork is now back in place, albeit protected indoors, at the original site.

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Curtain Road/Mills Court, October 2017

In the press the developers talk commendably of their excitement at possessing an original street Banksy and of their desire to make it visible to everyone, while the restorers talk briefly of the restoration process, stripping back layers of paint until they found Banksy’s paint.

That vagueness draws a veil over a minor miracle for the art restorer has managed to go from something that back in 2006 had been blasted back to bare brick over most of its surface to something that looks like Banksy might have sprayed it last night – with thanks to Martin Bull for this photo.

Jet washed Snorting Copper, Curtain Rd, London - By Martin Bull - 17.5.2006
Photo copyright Martin Bull, 2006

The condition of the Banksy certainly did not improve with age, here is a photo I took of a glorious portrait of friend and truly awesome New York street art photographer Luna Park as rendered by Elbow Toe, there is barely a trace of paint left on the brickwork, indeed judging by the noticeably reduced amount of grey paint and the loss of substantially more of the copper it appears that a further spray-jetting took place between the taking of these two photos.

"Luna Park" by Elbow Toe, 2007

The wall then changed appearance many many times over the years, including the occasionally complete buff.

Curtain Road, 2012

"Prostitutes and Junkies", K-Guy; Roses, Copyright (that's the artist's name, not an assertion of legal property ownership!); Space Invader LDN_78; 2008

The restoration and sharing of this Banksy zombie at one level may be applauded but it is sadly flawed in one other major respect apart from its provenance, the copper no longer has a line of coke to snort!  That line of coke was an absolutely key element of Banksy’s artwork and its absence nullifies completely the dynamic of Banksy’s joke. I wonder if you gently scrap back the tarmac in the alleyway would you find Banksy’s original line – call a restoration company quick!

Among the many aspects that raised eyebrows a minor curiosity is that a fairly significant portion of the copper's left arm is missing.

One other thing that stretches credibility is the £1.25 million valuation given in August. Leaving aside a little chuckle at the common art world code words “just for insurance purposes”, it always embellishes an article about Banksy if you imply “look, this is graffiti shit but now it’s worth loadsamoney”. However, there is almost no supporting evidence to suggest that any Banksy should be valued at close to that amount. Banksy did a collaboration with Damien Hirst on canvas which sold at a charity event in New York arranged by Bono and Damien Hirst for USD1,870,000 which was then about worth about GBP980,000. This is his most expensive sale ever publicly recorded but the Hirst factor and the unhinged bidding that can take place at charity events make this an unreliable indicator of Banksy’s value.

I’m indebted to my great friend and co-blogger Shellshock aka Martin Bull for his insights and opinions and of course his photos. Martin devised the infamous Banksy Tours of 2006 and based on that research and experience went on to publish Banksy Locations and Tours Vols 1 and 2 which are most likely the source of the recorded location as mentioned in the Guardian’s August article, mind you that isn’t much of a commendation as that article also contains an expert’s claim that no one knew where it was! Clearly quite a lot of us did.

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Snorting Copper, Leake St, 2006

All photos copyright Dave Stuart except as noted