Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Street Art Diaries


Making street art is easily the healthiest addiction I’ve ever had. Like most
addictions, making street art only really endangers the individual and
offers virtually nothing in terms of personal gain. On the up side, there’s
an indescribably rewarding feeling that comes from giving anonymously and
climbing things does keep you quite fit.

However, as I discovered whilst honeymooning in Berlin, even the best of
addictions can become troublesome, given the right circumstances. The
trouble began with the fact that Berlin is to street artists what Las Vegas
is to problem gamblers. All the best have graced the wall of the German
capital and the joy of discovering their gifts is only matched by the joy of
leaving your own.

Often I was struck with disbelief as I came face to face with the original
of an image I’d seen reproduced countless times before. The experience,
often described as the aura of the original, is exactly the same as one
experiences when confronted by a famous painting. I set about collecting
this experience with a ravenous appetite.

But the impulse to collect only fuelled the desire to create and before long
I had lapsed, leaving a trail of stencils, paste-ups and pieces from
Kreuzberg to Mitte. Some of my work would be painted over in a matter of
days by the next artist to make their contribution to the ever-changing
wallpaper of the streets. In Berlin, it seems, change is quick, relentless
and it arrives without permission.

I never once felt in danger. In fact, my wife’s tolerance of my habit seemed
more heroic than my own efforts. In this sense, Berlin is an incredibly
liberal, friendly place and the greatest threat I encountered was an excess
of curiosity from passers by. Tourists posed for pictures and other artists
stopped to exchange details. Hostility seemed out of the question.

London was different. At first I was shocked by the mass of CCTV that covers
the cityscape with discomforting ubiquity. However, I soon found myself
inspired that, despite London’s Orwellian designs, amazing street art
prevails. Suddenly Banksy’s feats seemed all the more astounding and I went
in search of his work so that I might learn from the master. Noticing that
many of his remaining pieces were placed well above street level I set about
following his example.

Of course there were moments that I asked myself “why am I sticking up this
poster on this ugly Shoreditch rooftop? Surely I should be gawking at Big
Ben or queuing for the London Eye? Shouldn’t I have grown out of climbing
things?”

The truth is that climbing things never stops being fun. In fact, the more
aware you become of the pointlessness of climbing things, the more fun it
becomes. It’s a great metaphor for ambition in that there’s no meaning to it
beyond the pleasure of striving. All street art, whether it involves
climbing or not, captures that poetic sense of pointless striving by the
very fact that it’s impermanence is assured.

With its inevitable destruction, every piece of street art achieves its
transition into history and is, at last, complete. Finally, all that remains
are photos that circulate the Internet. Some of Banksy’s most recognisable
images only lasted on a wall for a number of hours but they’ll exist forever
online.

Of course other pieces by the world’s most famous street artist have become
tourist attractions that city councils protect from further vandalism. On one
such piece I spotted a fake council notice that had been stencilled on the
wall by another artist “Vandals caught vandalising this vandalism will be
prosecuted.” ‘Good point’ I thought and promptly added a stencil of my own.

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