London's new street artists
Whether they're dropping impromptu pieces among the bins or launching full-on digital art happenings, London's street artists are moving fast. Time Out tracks down six of the best 'new Banksies' at large in the capital
Taking Jamie Reid-style punk ideas to the Arctic and beyondD*face creates classic street art. Like Banksy, his imagery is wry, graphic and accessible. He started out producing Disney-influenced pop characters, which he printed on stickers and posters. Now he makes more complex, playfully anti-establishment graphic pieces fusing gothic skulls with icons from Che Guevara to the Queen. ‘The idea of playing with iconic British imagery had instant appeal,’ he says. ‘I guess it goes back to being influenced by punk music as a child. Those images are instantly tangible and so loaded that they lend themselves perfectly to reinterpretation and juxtaposition.’
His methods of dissemination have always been inventive. He created a series of prints on banknotes and circulated them. Ambitiously, he made an ice sculpture at the Arctic Circle. ‘I really like its impermanence,’ he muses. ‘In many ways it’s like putting work out in the street; it’s open to the elements and therefore in time will evolve and eventually disappear.’ His largest work was a car sculpture, ‘Drone Dog’, consisting of D*face’s signature character smashing into a car – complete with in-built smoke machine. The piece now sits in the Truman Brewery car park, east London, near the street-art gallery Stolen Space that he founded and runs.
D*face has always been keen to promote a crossover between street art and galleries, but still sees urban interventions as vital to the art’s impact. ‘Putting work into the public domain enables one person’s voice to be heard and seen by hundreds instantly; thousands if the spot’s right. That has appeal when you want to get the public to stop and question what they’re being spoon-fed.’ There’s a political element to the work, inevitably, but nothing’s didactic. Instead D*face creates what he calls ‘a subversive intermission’ into daily life.
Graf stalwart Eine in front of his Rivington Street mural, 'Scary'
Hoxton man of lettersEine is in love with typography. Over a few years he has transformed Hoxton into a giant sentence, covering many of the area’s metal shutters with colourful capital letters in a circus-style font. The 37-year-old artist has been writing graffiti since the early ’80s but no longer has ‘the legs or lungs to be running away from the police all the time’ as he puts it. His shutter pieces developed out of a mistake: he ran out of room while painting his name and realised that single letters raised fascinating questions: ‘Why? Who? What does it mean? Is it an advert?’ He takes pleasure in that lack of clarity, using his super-sized alphabet to trace a personal, interpretative trajectory across the city.Over the past two years, Eine has painted more than 60 of his letters in London, Newcastle, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Paris. ‘Every time I visit a crime-ridden city I try to paint some shutters. You only find shop shutters in places where there is a fear, real or not, of crime,’ he observes. In addition to alphabet prints exhibited in galleries, he’s started painting a more futuristic A-Z on the back of the black electrical boxes on roadsides. He’s also made huge 16-metre-long murals of words like ‘Scary’ or ‘Vandalism’. ‘The word “vandalism” conjures up the image of mindless thugs out of their minds on a spree of wanton damage,’ he says. ‘I think this is quite a funny image. I don’t think my art is or looks like vandalism. But I don’t have a problem with it being referred to as such. It’s so far removed from real vandalism that I quite like it.’ www.einesigns.co.uk
ID's Tizer One and Shine
Many-handed collective of graf starsKnown variously as the Independents, the Illuminated or the Idiots, the 11 or so members of ID represent a progressive form of the traditional graffiti crew. All are respected graf writers in their own right but together create ambitious murals or ‘productions’, which often take swipes at cult films or album covers, sometimes by painting on disfiguring additions, the favourite being a balaclava. ‘Half of graffiti is about anonymity,’ says Shucks (real name not revealed), ‘but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.’‘Graffiti and street art are like rugby and football,’ says his brother and cohort, Tizer One, cryptically, ‘they’re played on the same field but are completely different games. Street art is such a new thing: people don’t even realise that “biting” another style is the worst thing you can do, yet everyone’s out there doing stencils.’ Years of paying their dues in graffiti circles have not yielded the riches of peers such as Banksy, but they’re not bitter. ‘If you spend long enough at it, you should be able to make money,’ says Tizer. As well as working on the largest commissioned wall in the UK, above Kilburn High Road, members of ID pioneered early graf exhibitions under the guise of another collective called They Made Me Do It.The steady demise of illegal graffiti in London due to CCTV means that crews like ID are having to pop their heads above ground, but they haven’t exactly joined the Establishment. ‘No one gives a shit when a graffiti artist goes to jail. If it was Banksy, of course, there’d be an outcry.’
A Caliper Boy poster in Shoreditch, supposedly from 1859
The artist known as Caliper Boy
Elaborately pseudonymous evocations of London underbellyIf Tim Burton made street art, it might look something like Caliper Boy. Images of this disturbing Victorian character pop up on fly-posted prints in strange nooks of London, emblazoned with the words ‘Dirty Little Secret’ or ‘I Feel Damp’. The artist prefers to lurk behind his creation: a disabled boy in a full body brace with one hand down his pants. Caliper Boy has a whole backstory, loosely set in the 1850s. He’s a pickpocket-cum-rent boy who was imprisoned in the damp basement of a Soho bordello by his prostitute mother, before becoming a thief. The Dickensian project grew out of drunken afternoons in a Soho pub, where a group of collaborators scrawled the story and developed a graphic illustration of the character based on a found photograph. Now Caliper Boy’s name is daubed in white paint on walls throughout London, like a reminder of the city’s underbelly. Unlike a lot of street art, Caliper Boy manifestations often lurk in unseen locations in condemned buildings. Caliper Boy’s candle-lit bedroom was created in an abandoned squat with grimy, crumbling walls. ‘Our work is only hidden if you’re scared of the shadows,’ the artist says mysteriously. So keep your eyes open.
CutUp © cutupcollective
Massively ambitious art subversivesThe anonymous collective CutUp plunders the city’s advertisements, architecture and sounds for their art. The members are fascinated with the idea of subverting urban space. Initially this meant tearing down billboards, cutting the adverts into tiny squares and rebuilding the images into giant mosaic street portraits of hooded youths or marginalised urban characters. It’s a long way from the spray can. ‘Street art is often, but not always, a celebration of the artist, whereas street work could be considered a celebration of the street,’ a member explains. ‘We are attempting to show that you can take part in this celebration on and off the street.’ Practising what it preaches, CutUp has just opened its first major exhibition at the Baltic in Gateshead. When indoors, they show pixelated mosaic pieces on lightboxes (which become magically clear when viewed through mobile phone cameras), as well as images created by holes drilled in plywood boards. And CutUp’s imagery is shifting away from Asbo boys towards the ageing modernist architecture of the city, although buildings are often depicted being blown up or burned down. It’s based in Hackney and busy responding to the changes in the area prior to the Olympics. ‘The erasure of the memory of place interests us a great deal. These violent acts of demolition pave the way for gentrification and regeneration.’ CutUp sees London in constant flux. Which serves, at the very least, to keep it busy. www.cutupcollective.com
'Boxed In Green Mask', 2007
Cardboard is his medium, the streets are his sketchbookUnlike many street artists, Adam Neate couldn’t really be called a vandal; a litterbug, maybe. For the past decade he’s scattered his paintings around London, dropping his work everywhere from Shoreditch to the unsuspecting galleries of the Tate. Notoriously, he once left 100 pieces among east London refuse piles for the bin men to deal with. Neate views his freely distributed pieces as the foundation for ideas he then develops in gallery work, a kind of giant urban sketchbook on found cardboard. For Neate, this alternative to canvas has the added attraction of scratches, scuff marks, dents and holes. ‘If the surface already has some feeling to it, it will help with the feel of the painting,’ he maintains.While his street pieces are often rough and illustrative, his gallery work is layered and intense. Most include the running motif of a downcast man. ‘I wouldn’t call myself a figurative painter,’ he says. ‘But I feel the human form is the most logical way to express feeling.’ His characters’ faces are largely obscured, so the focus is on body language: ‘You don’t need to show the face when the shoulders, hands and feet say it all.’Eager fans are known to wait in line for hours to buy Neate’s limited-edition prints and his large-scale paintings have reputedly gone for £75,000. He’s not fazed by this, or by the high prices being asked for his work at this week’s urban art auction: ‘[The success] has given me the confidence to play around more with what I create, trying different sizes, techniques and materials. I paint to learn, and will hopefully always learn something new each time I paint.’www.adamneate.co.uk
‘Street Renegades: New Underground Art’ by Francesca Gavin (Laurence King) is out now. See www.laurenceking.co.uk
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