Without a question of a doubt street art is my favourite ‘art’ movement, with its references to modernity and the collapse of the urban empire being among key themes that street art tends to explore. Street art has been a contentious topic to critique for almost a decade, with critics unsure whether ‘art that was temporary’ could ever have any cultural or memorial significance in a modern art world and they were quickly proved wrong. Street artists like Ben Eine, Banksy and Otto Shade’s works are regularly celebrated as being among Britain’s most prolific artists and have transformed ‘street art’ into a legal, professional art form that gets greater coverage than a typical ‘modernist’ painting slung on a waiting wall in Tate Britain.
As someone who is not a lover of contemporary modern art, my artistic preference leans more towards surrealism, cubism and in particular two artists ‘Salvador Dali’ and Picasso, who were both advocators of the ‘surreal’ and ‘cubist’ movement. Yet when it came to street art, even the most basic of reliefs and scribbled graffiti had some roughshod charm; the beauty of art is that it is open to interpretation and reliefs inscribed with an artist’s message was something prior to our Planet Pass Street Art Tour we had not come across before.Reliefs are the rare find that can capture your attention in one singular glance yet at the same time be the art that you miss time and time again. I have lost count of the times I have wandered through Shoreditch’s street art filled streets only to never notice the small ‘Space Invader mosaics’ the ‘fake blue plaques’ and most importantly the revolutionary Kai’s reliefs, often created as a critique or a comment on the rising prominence of capitalism and how we have become entrapped in a materialistic existence.
It’s canny that these tiny little inscriptions often go unnoted and I imagine it is all part of Kai’s commentary on modern living. As humans we have become desensitized to the real world, too caught up in a world that runs on money and technology. Yet art makes us think, it makes us realize that our world is too precious to lose. Kai credits his father for teaching him to ‘think’ and challenging him to be more self aware of the world around us; we were entering a new era that had transgressed into a post-modern world, fueled solely by technology. And technology seemed to be a common theme throughout his reliefs: from the man trapped inside a smartphone, enslaved to a ’24/7′ addiction to ‘social media’, whose only message read ‘save yourself’ to the being with a briefcase entrapped in a hamster wheel, the political ethos is only too clear; we are mindless sheep and enslaved to the very nature of our own existence.
And Kai isn’t the only political activist; the elusive, perhaps most prolific ‘street artist’ Banksy has several ‘rare works’ preserved by glass panels in the infamous Cargo Club just off Rivington Street. The first of a poodle with a large clown nose, being walked by its owner (a policeman) is a clear critique of the judicial system. Traditionally German Shepherds and Belgian Malionis are used by the force to sniff out crime but the use of its more pampered pooch the ‘poodle’ with a large clown nose clearly shows that Banksy believes the police is ‘incompetent’ or at the very least turns a blind eye to crimes against ‘minority groups’. The second mural holds a clearer message: engraved is the infamous, even iconic HMV logo where a Jack Russell is playing a gramaphone. Of course the Jack Russell is no ordanairy canine, holding a bazooka, the engraving critiques municipality and capitalism, bearing similarities to Kai’s ‘man in a smartphone’ concept. But why is Banksy, a critically acclaimed artist hidden away and why are there so few pieces left? An artist named King Robbo (Died 2014 in a mysterious accident) and his cronies took a public disliking to Banksy for unknown reasons and would paint over and destroy Banksy murals, leaving only his graffited name for public consumption.
Kitchener’s landscapes never cease to be nothing short of exceptional
Despite the rift between the two artists not all street art is as ‘politically fuelled’; on Hanbury Street and Rivington Street lies two exquisite murals painted by illustrator Dan Kitchener, representative of his love for modern ‘city life’. There is something so deeply romanticized about each scene, where colours fade into each other with a sense of ease, a dribble of watercolour paint going a long way. Each dramatic landscape is taken at night, with a fusion of reds, blues and greens representing the pitter patter of rain on crowd filled pavements. Typically Kitchener is influenced by ‘city travel’ with the most prominent landscapes being inspired by Tokyo, Hong Kong Temple Street and Vietnam Hanoi night markets. The contrast between ‘city and urban’ life acts as welcome relief from the politically fuelled murals that we have come to expect from street art.
As a political activist I am naturally drawn to murals that have a ‘dark’ message but Kitchener’s talent for ‘cityscape art’ is undeniable. There is something so magical about stepping away from the traditional street art themes of ‘capitalism’ and entering a realm of endless possibilities. As humans we seek the unattainable and Kitchener’s colourful night vision of street life allows us to be transported into a fantasy universe, denoted purely through brushstrokes, lovingly etched by Kitchener. Kitchner’s background as a painter and illustrator allows him to capture the intricacies of urban city life, making it an exquisite explosion of colour and likeness. Being a big fan of Kitchener’s work [his murals have featured heavily on my blog in the past] I am excited about his new collaboration with Otto Schade in Plaistow , a mural that combines Shade’s talent for ‘stencil art’ layered over Kitchener’s signature watercolour landscapes, a combination that bears no comparison to other artists.
Mr Cenz’s abstraction of letterforms entwined with a unique depiction of the female face
A similar artist to note is Mr Cenz, who specializes in photorealism, illustration and graffiti letterforms. Having discovered Hip-Hop culture in 1988, Mr Cenz sought to legalize ‘street art’ and allow it to be accept as a pure art form, as opposed to ‘vandalism’ as many art critics dubbed it. There is, as he quite rightly pointed out- a clear distinction between ‘graffiti’ and ‘street art’, although both are closely linked and he set up his own company ‘Positive Arts’ to eradicate the stigma of street art as a form of vandalism.
Cenz’s role in showing street art as positive art form rather than being a set up to oppose the law helped cement its image as a modern form of emancipation. Like Kitchener Cenz’s art is centered around fantasy, although Cenz tends to focus on ‘faces’ rather than city landscapes. The faces are painted using photographs and portraits to capture their expressions and distort it in Cenz’s trademark fashion. Perhaps Cenz aesthetic form is ‘abstract expressionism’ where faces are distorted or painted in an abstract fashion to create a unique composition of the female face through the gaze of surrealism. Unlike his predeccors Cenz’s obsession with the idea of the ‘female face’ is purely non-sexual, instead seeing the face as a thing of nonsensical beauty rather than something that has sexual connotations. It is also refreshing to note that very few street murals are associated with the image of the female or their body as a ‘token’ for the voyeuristic male gaze, instead artists choose to celebrate the female as an art form that is untouched and pure.