Street “Art” – Graffiti or Masterpiece?

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

I had a very interesting experience on Monday.  A friend invited me to join her on a tour through Shoreditch to view “street art”.   In all honestly, I didn’t carefully read about the excursion.  I just said yes, happy to spend time with my friend and intrigued by two things:

  1. The neighborhood:  Shoreditch is East of London and considered very edgy and hip.  It is like New York’s East Village, littered with vintage stores and populated by young people who are pierced and tattooed.  I figured I’d get out of West London and take a walk on the wild side.
  2. The word “art”:  I love an art tour.  I figured this one must focus on the hole-in-the-wall galleries lining the streets of Shoreditch.  Hence, “street art”.

Not quite.

Instead, I learned about a whole new subsidiary of the art world.  I did not enter any galleries, I did not look at any canvases, and I did not analyze any brush strokes.  Rats replaced Madonnas as icons and disfigured people replaced beautiful portraiture.

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There were no oil or acrylic mediums.  Instead, I learned about the subtleties of stenciling and of how far spray-paint technology has evolved since the ’80s.

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I spent the afternoon in back alleys and side streets as I peeked into abandoned doorways, stared at corrugated metal shop doors, and admired lonely side walls of buildings.  People pass these pieces of art every day without even taking a second glance.  Sometimes it is hard to know where the hidden gem resides.  This doorway is crowded with many artists’ renderings, but it is the stenciled lady in the middle who is glancing upward that is the masterpiece.

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I did not recognize the names of any artists and, I would not recognize the artists’ features as most are literally hidden under a veil of secrecy and mystery.  The most famous, or should I say infamous, street artist is Banksy.  I had never heard of him but have subsequently learned that he is quite a global phenomenon with a distinctive stencil technique. I also saw the works of Phlem, Cosa, Shok1, Xylo, Ronzo and Space Invader, among others.  Not your typical Leonardo and Lichtenstein.

What I would call graffiti, is quite a legitimate art form.  In fact, in 2010 during a ceremonial exchange of gifts, David Cameron gave Barack Obama an original Ben Eine which is now hanging in the White House.  Eine is known for spray-painting giant Technicolor letters on walls, doors, and shutters around London.  Louis Vuitton has just partnered with Eine to put his trademark letters on a silk scarf.  Hmmm.  Not exactly counter-culture.  Ironically, even graffiti which by definition defaces on object can be defiled.  If you look to the bottom right of this picture, you will see the name COSA in bubble letters.  COSA is known for “tagging” other people’s art.

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Unlike Eine who seems to be less subversive and more commercially inclined, SHOK1 creates giant installations with political and satirical subtexts.  We saw this one on a busy main street.  The message is not one for Romantics as the heart rope twisted in a noose symbolizes that Love is a death trap.

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I did have a personal favorite created by Pablo Delgado.  We stood in a deserted cul-de-sac and were challenged to find the street art.  After several long minutes, someone finally noticed the tiny “paste ups” on the bottom of the brick wall.  Delgado creates miniature masterpieces complete with shadows painted on the sidewalk, creating a sense of dimension and life.  Notice the bottle cap in the foreground for a sense of scale.

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I’m not sure I will be returning to the streets any time soon, but it was exciting to venture East for the day.  What is it about the East side?

Steinbeck took his readers East of Eden to struggle with the evil side of human nature. 

I ventured East of London for a foray into a forbidden and subversive art realm.

 

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