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  • Writer's pictureAnji Connell

Feast For The Senses: Street Art Gets Legit

London is arguably one of the most exciting places to encounter Street Art, and thanks to the generosity of the first LONDON MURAL FESTIVAL, fifty new artworks have been added to the outdoor urban gallery, lending a dynamic layer to the city's cultural landscape.

LONDON MURAL FESTIVAL selected one hundred and fifty artists from around the globe to bring their magic to the urban canvas, this September and early October, turning walls into vibrant artworks at a time when we need it most—making art accessible during social distancing when major art fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled or operating at a reduced capacity.

Street art, often regarded as a social nuisance, is increasingly becoming an acknowledged and accepted art form and is currently one of the most significant and popular art movements globally.

Graffiti's roots are in counterculture, as an art form born to express social commentary despite its flaunting the law is under criticism as becoming too commercial—its popularity attracting sponsorship from big brands. However, the term 'commercial graffiti' goes back to the 80s. When street art gained popularity, brands began to take notice and wanted a slice of the action.

There is a positive for the creative community if brands work with street artists who have a real affinity for their product, and they have design freedom to create a piece that's true to their aesthetic.

The purchasing power allows artists to create larger, more prominent canvases than artists would be able to work on if operating illegally and more time to create giant, impactful murals.

“Hearing big brand names mentioned in the same breath as the names of known street artists makes me cringe when I think of the origin of street art as an illegal, even rebel art movement,” Alexandra Unrein Street Art Guide at Wanderlust Walks, Hong Kong tells me, and continues, “However, the upsides of street art festivals are that we see new art popping up around town as the artists create whole new galleries making art accessible to everyone for free.”

Elsa Jean Dedieu is well known for bringing colour to Hong Kong's streets, says, "As an artist, I find mural festivals exciting, challenging, competitive, and stressful—but also a fun and playful way to get exposure and meet other talented artists."

London-based grAzie, aka the Female Banksy, holds, 'Street art offers a fantastic platform for artists to interpret how they see the world and show off their talent and skills as an artist." She believes it's a common misconception that graffiti art is vandalism, "Street art not only speaks to people; it allows everyone from all walks of life access to enjoy it, as a lot of people have never entered a gallery setting."

London's ENDLESS ARTIST has mixed feelings and says, "giving artists space to create is never a bad thing, although some might argue that it isn't street art in its purest form and is more of a commissioned painting, often with restrictions and rules. For me, nothing beats the freedom of true street-art. I find the lower-level, illegal artworks such as paste-ups, tags, and stencils more interesting, as they often convey a stronger message."

American artist Eddie Colla, is well known to Hong Kongers for his many paste-ups gracing our walls, perhaps sums it all up rather succinctly, "Festivals can be a double-edged sword. One of the beautiful things about street art is that it is unsanctioned and ephemeral. Festivals certainly give exposure to street artists, and since they are sanctioned works, the artists have more time to work on them than typical illegal pieces.

Festivals also create the possibility of much bigger and more elaborate pieces. I think the downside is the line gets blurred between street art and murals, and in my opinion, they are two different things. Street art is illegal, there are no applications, invitations, or rules, and there are no criteria other than a willingness to do it.

Mural festivals are something quite different. Festivals also often incorporate a sponsorship aspect, which makes sense from a financial perspective, but nobody ever started making art as a kid, hoping one day they could grow up and promote a vodka brand. The key, as with all things, is balance. Ideally, the festivals work with the community and do not diminish that community."

Can't "street art" and “murals” share the public gallery? Each to their own as they say. Perhaps this is where LMF has got it just right?

LMF is privately funded by Global Street Art (GSA) and a small number of partners—and no branding has been used on any of the walls painted. Plus—all of the artists were given full creative freedom. LMF consulted with the wall owners, occupants, and local communities—and together, they chose the artists—and the artwork they felt would best suit the location. The festival organisers focused on both the artists and the public interests.

Some of Street Art's most prominent names, including Dale Grimshaw, Gary Stranger, Mr. Cenz, Mad C Pref, Zabou, Seb Lester, and Philth, Otto Schade, Jimmy C, Jan Kala, and Fanakapan left their visual magic on London's streets, and residents were happy to share their walls — to visually enhance the city.

Highlights include French artist Camille Walala's vibrantly coloured, bold geometric works that inspire joy and optimism, which is just what we need right now. Camille first visited Hong Kong in 2014 for a project with Lane Crawford, and in 2019 she completed a 54-meter long mural for WORFU, a shopping arcade formerly known as Provident Square in North Point.

D*Face is one of the most prominent British street artists working today. His work interprets cultural icons, such as Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and the Queen in a pop art style evocative of Roy Lichtenstein.

Mr. Cenz has been a street artist since the 80s when he discovered hip-hop culture and graffiti art. He received his first commissioned mural when he was only 11yrs old and now has a career as a professional graffiti artist with solo shows and high profile commissions internationally.

Dale Grimshaw had a successful gallery career, with five solo shows and numerous group shows in Berlin, Paris, New York, Stockholm, and Rome under his belt. More recently, he has devoted time to murals and is widely recognised as one of the most influential and talented street artists today.

In his distinctive typeface, Luke Smile's 'Happy Go Lucky' is a two-part piece over two shutters. Gary Stranger's mural 'Keep Your Mind Busy' in his unique lettering style is easily recognizable.

Many artists have signified the times in their work, including Marija Tiurina's mural, who has a list of what she got up to during lockdown in the bottom right corner.

Street art is an immersive cultural adventure; it's engaging and enriching and enlivens our city's while making them accessible. It helps create a community by bringing people together and - continues to be thought-provoking! The murals will evolve, come and go, be added to over the years, just as our cities should do. Art is subjective; we live in a democratic society, surely we can share our walls? I’m hopelessly devoted! It makes me feel ‘foreverbeta.”

Alex Unrein Wanderlust Walks: @streetartorama Artist Elsa Jean Dedieu: @elsajeandedieustudio Artist Eddie Colla: @eddiecolla Endless Artist: @endlessartist

Check out the London Mural Festival and download a map HERE for self-guided walks.

This article first appeared online, on Home Journal's website, on October 27, 2020.


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