So many times we hear lip service paid to the concept of art outside the gallery. Usually from artists and gallerists who want to expand their ego or their selling space for nothing. But sometimes there are naturally occurring efflorescences of art in the real world. Driving down the Hackney Road, which is not somewhere I used to go that often, I was amazed at the variety of street art. There are murals, painted hoardings and all sorts of other official and not so official graffiti. I decided to go back on foot and take a closer look. The trip along it on foot took me about twenty minutes from Shoreditch High Street up towards Mare St. It is one of those well trodden routes of London which are continually changing like a river bank as life flows along them. I did not see any actual galleries in the Hackney Road, but there was a lot to look at, and the pictures inspire you to look at other things around as if they were art too…better than most exhibitions in fact.
These artists know each other I am sure, but I don’t know who they are at all and I quite like that. I am instantly freed of the burden of trying to remember their names and contextualising their career. Although I feel slightly like I am looking at their work like a zoologist would at the mating rituals of an exotic insect. What has been created – and I doubt it will last forever – is an amazing visually rich environment in the scuffed urban landscape.
There are themes that recur: a sort of ironic take on consumer culture, giant comics particularly science fiction ones, a sort of vaguely anti-capitalist paranoia, a little art history but the images are diverse and spontaneous – what’s more they are unafraid. They have nothing to lose – so unlike what is inside art galleries, where reputations and valuations around art brands are effectively straightjackets of style and we are fed an institutionalised version of innovation.
The ephemeral nature of painting on a hoarding frees the mind – this work feels honest and uninhibited, but because the practitioners have experience it is not unsophisticated. The Hackney Road painters are probably artists away from the street art too, but I suspect that the on-street work is the most true and expressive because it is a direct form of communication to people who will actually see it as they pass by -all sorts of people, not the self selected elite who choose to go to an art gallery. In their ‘real’ work I bet these artists are one way or another hidebound by the conventions of the art world in whichever area they have gravitated to, by trying to please that audience.
Distressed walls provide a natural aesthetic – it looks real because it is real. In a gallery that level of decay always feels false, but here it feels true. The flyposters, adverts and signs add – they are not just noise in the signal as they would be normally. The paintings compete on level terms with ads and signs and are integrating art into the area in a way no gallery could. There are little ‘site specific’ touches and a lot of detail, so much detail in fact that I only spotted it when going through the photos afterwards. There is an amazing layering at work too, graffiti and overpainting are an integral part of the organic decay and rebirth that ties the work to the place. Some images have so much in them that even now I can’t spot it all –
You can start to look at all things as if they were art. This beautiful bit of road painting was my favorite…