The future of London street art

Time Out speaks to the people who‘ll decide whether the art scene needs a new Banksy or not

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    Street artist and gallery owner, Pure Evil

    ‘People made money overnight with Banksy and that’s led people to panic buy and try to find the next Banksy,’ says Eleanor Forster, owner of the Forster Gallery. ‘That will subside but what’s positive about all the attention is that it’s highlighted how talented street artists are and made clear that they should not be denied entry into the art world just because they’re not yet in galleries.’

    Although, of course, some of them are: Forster represents Andrew McAttee, whose technicoloured pieces littered with pop art references sell for £10,000 (more at auction). ‘Street artists are fearless with their use of colour,’ says Forster. ‘That comes from perfecting the technique on an uneven surface. They also have an amazing ability to compose how a picture will look in their head without sketching it out first.’

    With artists who are certainly not household names selling work for five-figure sums, there’s no doubt that street art has arrived. However, Forster believes labelling it as such can be limiting: ‘The influence of the street is very much part of their make-up but some of my artists have been to art college as well. It’s the relationship to strong graphics in contemporary culture – Manga, Marvel comics, magazine illustrations – that defines the movement. I think the term “street artists” can be derogatory: it denies people recognition for their persistence in mastering the technical challenge of working on canvas, which can be hard.’

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    Pure Evil, 'Big Mouth on Hackney Road'

    Which is, to be fair, reflected in the narrowness of the band of artists who can command these sums. ‘There are only about 25 serious street artists who you would say are real players worldwide,’ says Paul Jones from Elms Lester Gallery, one of the first dealers to spot street art’s potential 25 years ago, ‘and about five or six of those are British.’ And while he believes there’s still room for prices to rise over the next three to five years, Jones is adamant that it’s too late for newcomer artists. ‘Artists like Banksy, Adam Neate, Space Invader and José Parlá are well established now – they’re the originals. The next generation will have to do their own thing to be noticed.’

    It’s a view that’s echoed by Forster, also at the rarefied end of the spectrum: ‘Banksy works for example are clever, witty, well exercised and have an ability to push into new ideas. But they are one-liners so we don’t need anyone else doing that.’

    Down in Shoreditch, street artist and gallery owner Pure Evil is less convinced. ‘I can’t imagine that an old-fart gallery owner will know the artists working at the moment,’ he says. ‘There are people putting up new stuff that is brilliant. Some gallery owners are feeding off the movement but aren’t part of it and that clouds their perception.’

    Pure Evil sees his gallery less as a hallowed space and more as a studio-cum-gallery and artists’ drop-in centre along the lines of the Alleged Gallery on New York’ s Lower East Side. ‘It’s nice to have this group of friends who work together. I worked with Ben [Eine] in November and artists from all over the world would drop in and ask about good places in London to do work.’

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    Pure Evil, 'Grumpy Banana'

    Word of mouth is key to the movement’s success, Pure Evil says: ‘Street artists are more aware of the art marketplace now. But it’s seeing what everyone else is doing that makes you want to step up your act. We’re not doing it to be accepted by galleries but by our peers. Street art doesn’t rely on reviews; there are no tastemakers.’ Instead, he says, the internet is best for spreading the word: ‘If someone does something brilliant in São Paulo you can see it days later in London.’

    Cedar Lewisohn, artist and author of the forthcoming book ‘Street Art’ (Tate) believes that it’s this desire to communicate that sets street artists apart from their graffiti-writer peers and gives them their marketability. ‘They’re speaking to a different, more art-literate audience. Graffiti writers are talking to their own. Street artists are not downtrodden. When you start seeing street art in your neighbourhood you know it’s on the up.’

    While some of the most established – and rich – including Adam Neate and Andrew McAttee have taken the ‘street’ out of their art and now work exclusively in the studio, for others it’s vital to keep it real. ‘Working on the street feeds into the work you do for a gallery,’ says Pure Evil.

    While some artists feel they have to work on the street to stay authentic, Cassius Colman, one half of the Columbia Road screenprint gallery Nelly Duff, is more pragmatic: ‘The gossip when a so-called new Banksy appears feeds the whole street art scene. For galleries it’s free advertising; for the purchaser, it’s kudos.’

    See more of Pure Evil's work at www.pureevil.eu

    See more of Nelly Duff's work at www.nellyduff.com

    Anti-Gravity by Andrew McAttee is at FORSTER from Feb 1-Mar 15. www.forstergallery.com

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