Being invited into a world that is hidden in plain sight is overwhelming, yet nothing is as raw as the street art and graffiti that can be seen scrawled on walls and the side of impossible to reach buildings.
It becomes clear that graffiti and street art are very different what they are created on are brought to the forefront. Street art is a much more of an open subculture, accessible for the masses to understand, whereas graffiti is closed and hidden away.
“There are many people that crossover, like Ben Eine for example. He began to get really tired of the politics of the graffiti scene,” says Karim. He leads a graffiti and street art tour around East London, as well as being a graffiti artist under his pseudo ‘Freedom Kult’.
I like the idea of trying to capture people as more than moving things but as an energy or an aura”
Eine is famously known for his stylised bold typography. His large letter forms resemble a Victorian typeface, that contain contrasting colours with prominent outlines. He has been arrested on numerous occasions for being a graffiti writer. This chain of events resulted in him being fired from his job, and as a metaphorical ‘two fingers up to everyone’, he acquired many tattoos around his neck and hands so he would never have to work in a corporate environment ever again.
Karim added, “A lot of graffiti writers come to the realisation that the lifestyle is not really sustainable and most grow out of doing illegal works altogether.”
One of Eine’s prints was given to Barack Obama as a gift and is currently hung up somewhere in the White House. Isn’t it ironic to think that the work of someone that was once tarnished a vandal, is in one of the most protected buildings in the world?
Eine is not the only one to have found success in his defiance. London-based graffiti artist Stik is known for drawing stickmen, which are able to display our basic human emotions with six thick lines and two dots. These figures were an expression of his struggle to find shelter in his own city. He now has commissioned work for the NHS, which can be seen outside Hackney’s Homerton Hospital titled ‘Sleeping Baby’.
British street artist Dale Grimshaw is one who has also developed a distinctive style. He does admit that sometimes he feels slightly left out due to the fact that his style is so different to the traditional, cartoony graffiti that he is so used to.
“My technique involves a lot of movement and graffiti. I like the idea of trying to capture people as more than moving things but as an energy or an aura.”
It’s difficult to put into words how Grimshaw succeeds at showing emotion in his portraits, especially in the eyes of the models he uses.
Grimshaw has noticed the change in attitudes of people towards street art and graffiti since Banksy propelled onto the scene. “I noticed a lot of people coming into this world that would’ve normally felt quite intimidated by it all. People began buying prints and going to shows; there was a time that they would never identify with being an ‘art collector’.
Grimshaw was presented with the question of whether he believes that people nowadays only ‘respect’ a piece of artwork if it has a price tag on it, no matter the intent or technique behind it.
I don’t think it’s vandalism if it’s done right… if it’s done wrong it’s just bad art”
He explained that while he was completing one of his tribal pieces in Camden last year, a woman who worked across the street could not stop telling him how much she disliked it and how ‘miserable’ it looked. When he then mentioned to her that he is well-known in the art scene and he’s been on television speaking about various things, her stance immediately changed. “There’s that side of it were people are like sheep, and they go to like something just because everyone else likes it. But there’s also the money side, where people judge things differently based on how much others will buy it for.”
“The art world is cold and ruthless. I don’t think I’m that famous to have hoards of people having punch-ups outside my exhibitions because the last print has gone, but that’s something that comes hand in hand with being involved in the arts.”
Krishna Malla is another who took on this question with some considerable thought. “It’s become a bit of a fad since it has grown in popularity, so it’s understandable that it attracts a lot more people, and then for artists to go and do this art form.”
Malla is Bournemouth-based and is a professionally trained illustrator. He takes on commissioned work all over the UK for an array of events, as well as being an event manager at Secret Walls.
Malla works in slick, smooth lines and bold colours, which catches your eye and lengthens your stare. His large mural pieces have so much going on that they almost tell a story; his most recent which can be found on the side of Mexican tapas restaurant ‘Ojo Rojo’ in Bournemouth. It sees beautiful, large wing-spanned owls, in contrasting colours of navy blue, orange, pink and green.
With the vandalism bubble that engulfs the world of graffiti, Malla didn’t think that the concept of it was out-dated in any way. Arguably it still exists; it just depends on how you choose to look at the situation. “I don’t think it’s vandalism if it’s done right… if it’s done wrong it’s just bad art.”
The future of street art and graffiti is already heading down an interesting route, with the idea of augmented reality and the links it shares with social media. It calls into question whether street art and graffiti will cease be exclusive as they both draw on noticeable parallels.
Looking towards what could be the next stepping-stone for graffiti and street art is always something artists like Karim try to discover. “You could argue that graffiti was the first form of social media, and yet is the last form of unmediated communication that we have left. There are a lot of links; they are both worlds of war, regimes of symbols.”