“The streets shall be our brushes – the squares our palettes”
These are the famous words of Russian artist, actor and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. That has become a reality in a small car park in Leonard Street east London. You won’t be surprised to learn that it is not filled with the works of Mayakovsky, El Lissitzky or Alexander Rodchenko, but you can find the works of Pow Wow, Run, Faith 47, Mysterious Al, Stik, Roa and many more.
These are large works of art by some of the best contemporary street artists. They are accessible to all, free to look at and nobody owns them. But now the developers and construction workers are moving in, the wrecking ball is going to work and the vandalism will begin. In two weeks time one of the great sites for London street art will be no more.
Can you imagine demolition teams smashing up “The Sun” in Berkeley Square, the “IFO” outside Kings Cross or any of Antony Gormley’s works dotted around the country? Of course not – it would rightly be described as cultural vandalism. These works are all considered to be “valuable” and therefore works of great art.
The people who run and more importantly own our cities don’t understand street art because it says nothing about their lives and more importantly they think nothing has the right to exist unless it can make a profit.
In fact I’d go even further: they hate the art they don’t control – they hate the fact that artists create beauty in empty spaces, they hate the artists that sneer, mock and ignore their norms and conventions. I agree with the artist Banksy: “If you just value money then your opinion is worthless.”
Leonard Street means nothing to these people, they don’t understand it and most importantly they don’t own it. So they are going to destroy it.
But that doesn’t mean they always ignore it. Ever since the rise of Banksy, Basquiat and Keith Haring the art world has tried to take control of street art, commodify it and sell it back to us. What was once free and for all to see is now sold for thousands of pounds and is hidden away in private collections.
But when artists put their work up on our city walls, it is art in its purist form, nobody owns it, nobody is put off by the price of admission, there is no elitism or hype. Hopefully all that is there is beautiful and engaging works for all who care to see.
I am not a romantic, I fully understand the dynamics of the “street art” business, I understand that some street artists put their work out on the streets in order to get recognised and in turn sell their smaller works for large amounts of money.
But I love the fact that in some of the poorer neighbourhoods of London, New York, Berlin, Rio and Paris you can see great works of art.
You may not like the works that I have posted up. That is a question of taste, but I don’t think it can be pushed away as pop art or crude. Take the piece by the Swedish artist Amara Por Dios. This beautiful piece is painted on a wooden temporary hoarding, its vivid colours and intricate patterns are clearly influenced by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Aztec culture but at the same time there is a modern twist both in the aesthetic of her work and the materials she uses.
Again in my opinion, Stik creates more movement and emotion with his few simple lines than most artists create with a thousand brush strokes.
It depresses me that one of my favourite sites is being demolished. But I also smile because street art is here to stay. They can buy it up, paint over it, pull it down, but there are always going to be young and new artists who are going to find new walls and new methods to display their work.