Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Streets of London

I love the Tate. I could spend a day in the V&A. And all those towering canvases in the National Gallery leave me in open-mouthed awe. But for me the place to head for fresh and exciting artwork is not the famous galleries. It's the street.

Graffiti, tagging, street art... call it what you like but one thing is for sure - it's everywhere.

Today I had set out on the hunt for stylish people to photograph for my university project. Camera in hand I headed to Portobello Road. However, after an endless batallion of 'cool' clones in rolled up trousers (seriously, aren't your ankles cold?), granny jumpers, loafers and geek glasses I got bored and headed off down a side street where I had spotted some interesting looking graffiti.

I love graffiti. The way people use illicit images to change their streets, make their mark and vent their angst fascinates me. Never mind conceptual and highly acclaimed masterpieces - this to me is art in its rawest form. People breaking out of the mold and climbing walls and scaling buildings in order to create.
Not everyone sees it like that, however. This is a wall just off Portobello Road as it looked last week...
And here it is today. Perhaps it's just me, but that blank wall looks very sad.

Not all street art is graffiti, however. At Portobello Road a whole street has been decorated with vintage vinyl spines as part of Royal Borough's Portobello Wall Arts Project.
Walking around Ladbroke Grove I spied some graffiti over the top of a wall, yet to my disappointment the area was completely surrounded by a high fence and chained gates. For a split second I was seriously tempted to climb over the fence to get a better look. I would like to say that a deeply ingrained sense of the law is what stopped me. In reality I didn't like the thought of clambering up a wall in a dress and with my beloved camera slung around my neck.
Instead I peeked through the bars at the abandoned area beyond. It looked like a graffiti artist's playground.
Peering through the bars made me think about the sense of mystery created by graffiti itself. One day a wall will be blank, the next it will have been 'tagged'. How and when does the transformation take place? Who did it? Why? Because that's the thing about street art - the artists are usually anonymous, wandering around silently painting their city.
'No Tate Britain' and 'One Foot in the Grove' read this graffiti at Ladbroke Grove.
Businesses seem to be getting in on the act too; I have seen several painted vans like this popping up around London as well as graffiti decorating shop fronts. The interesting thing is its not just the hip vintage stores that you would expect - but dentists, opticians and shoe repair shops taking style inspiration from the streets.
Photographing graffiti is like setting out on a treasure hunt. I love finding signature images and spotting them as they pop up again and again, however small they may be.
We have reached an interesting place where graffiti artists are now selling their work. What initially started as illegal rebellion can now been bought in shops like this one, 'Graffik' on Portobello Road, and hung up in your home.
Shops like these celebrate the creativity of artists whose work colour our lives. Few people will ever own a Picasso or a Damien Hirst. Graffiti takes art off the wall and onto the streets, weaving it into our daily journeys. Maybe the police might disagree, but I think that is something work celebrating.


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