Sunday, 5 December 2010

But is it Art?

Today, as the Charlton game at Rochdale was a victim of the weather, I stepped outside and went for a Saturday afternoon walk.

Saturdays at this time of year are usually either spent inside football grounds or with the aural company of the fragrant 'Emma' from BBC London.

Today, I went on a bit of a wander and ended up at Borough Market.

After polishing off my coffee from Monmouth, I walked over Southwark Bridge and headed towards the Tower to watch the Christmas skaters before ambling back to London Bridge.

While waiting for the Greenwich bound train, another train heading towards Crayford went past on the same line.

Suddenly, I was mentally back in 1985 and grabbing my iPhone, (obviously some things have moved on since then), to take pictures.

Unfortunately, I missed the best carriages as there were too many people on the platform but I couldn't help myself from getting excited about the 'burners'.

Twenty five years ago, I was a little obsessed with graffiti art.

Somewhere, I'm not sure where now, there are photograph albums rammed with pictures I took in the period from around 1984 up to around 1989 when I 'grew out of it'.

I spent what in retrospect was foolish amounts of time in areas of town where being a young kid with a camera was asking for trouble.

I used to regularly go under the Westway, West London to check up on the weekly developments sprayed there.

Westbourne Park was another place I visited, as was nearby Ladbrooke Grove.

The massive turning point for me was the huge wooden boards erected by the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden piazza around that time, where a group had been asked to 'do their stuff'.

For the first time, I was able to look at the work without fearing somebody was going to ask me what I was up to.
It was a popular tourist place and many people had cameras.

Soon I was spending as much time as I could there, watching the Breakdancers and getting to know some of the faces that went with the names I'd seen tagged around. They wouldn't have known me but I knew who they were.
It made me feel as if I was 'in' on something Joe Public didn't understand.

My own feeble attempts at getting involved were truly pathetic.

For one of my 'O' level art pieces of coursework, I made a large brick wall on canvas and copied a poster advertising lipstick, which I stuck on top.
 I then peeled off the 'poster,' leaving only bits of it behind and covered the whole thing with my own versions of the images I'd learned to draw by heart on the back of my maths books.

I wasn't very popular when I stunk out the art studio with my aerosol paints.

Due to an extreme case of lily liver, I was never tempted to try on walls or other public spaces.

I remember being quite thrilled when watching the Lenny Henry show and recognising the art work of a group called The Chrome Angelz being used as his backdrop for his standup.
TCA were, to my mind, the best of the best.
My first trip to Paris included an afternoon traipsing around some run down blocks in the area called Stalingrad, searching for some pieces painted by them that I'd seen in a magazine!

I'm now a fully paid up member of the 'grown ups' but I still appreciate when artists have been skillful in public.
I'm not a fan of people making a mess and just scrawling their names but colourful or witty work still gives me joy.

Recently, I heard about a piece stencilled onto the side of The Greenwich Hotel so I went to visit it, wondering if it was a 'real' Banksy, or just 'in the style of '.
What do you think?

I'd like to thank whoever sprayed the train today.
I'm sure there'll be lots of hand wringing about private or public property being damaged and I'd agree 100% that it's not the way forward.

Having said that, it did give me lots of pleasure.


Anonymous said...

May i be the first 'hand wringer' CC.
I cannot deny 'some' of the graffiti seen is applied by someone with good artistic skills. These are skills that could be better used elsewhere.
Graffiti sprayed on to public or private property is vandalism, nothing else.
It makes towns and cities and even motorway flyovers look dirty and intimidating. It costs thousands of pounds to clean up.
It's not big and it's not clever.

Keithybaby said...

A bit late, but I'm just getting into this art form myself (in my 50s)- the fact it's in public places or on the walls of private properties is perhaps a comment about haves and have nots in society. The dispossessed have little reason to respect the property of others. I agree with you that scruffy tagging is an eyesore, but some graffiti is wonderful and displays great skill. Hope your Banksy remains untouched, here on the Isle of Wight they've painted over them!

Marco. said...

I'd agree totally Daggs.
It costs a fortune to sort out and it tends to be the people who aren't that good who are the most prolific.

I'm now a 'grown up' and can see how some areas are blighted.

My rush of excitement was due to revisiting my youth briefly and the happy memories it provoked.

I'm not going to suddenly start hanging out in train depots with a backpack or writing my name in the bogs at the Valley!

Hungry Ted said...

Nice post, CC. A very immotive subject. From the moment I first saw the classic hip-hop film, Wildstyle, in the late 80's I became hugely fascinated with street art/graffiti. It still catches my attention to this day. 

I wonder if you caught the story about the 'Underbelly Project' that was doing the rounds in early November in various publications. In short, it's was a very well organised but highly secretive graffiti movement that took over an abandoned and disused New York subway station that was about to be permanently shut off from the world. Since the project was illegal, the artist risked prosecution and all with the knowledge their 'pieces' would never been seen by anyone (nor their true locations known). And in the end, just as planned, their artwork was entombed forever, hundred of feet below NYC. A fascinating story and proof that graffiti doesn't need to be seen to be art! Check the story out here:

By coincidence, I still have a copy of the Spray Can Art book (of which you have a cover picture of in your post.

Marco. said...

Hi Ted.
I had heard of the Underbelly project but thanks for the link.
Like you, I saw Wildstyle and it opened my eyes to a new (to me) art form.
I also loved Beat Street, which I watched for the furst time in years with my 6 year old nephew recently. Even though it was fictional it gave an insight into the backstory of some of the 'writers'.
If you haven't seen it, I recommend the documentary 'Style Wars', widely available on DVD at and Amazon.
It was made by Henry Chalfant who you know from the Spray Can Art book.
I also have the book, bought at the Tate art gallery bookshop at Pimlico back in the 80's!

ChicagoAddick said...

Great post Marco. I have always been in the 'disgusting' camp but introduced by my brother to Banksy, it opened my mind to street art and everything surreptitious that came with it.

I remember walking down Melrose Ave in LA and seeing my first ever real Banksy - I was so excited.

I have to say the piece of the Greenwich Hotel does look like a Banksy.