Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ludo, Len and How Street Art Connects

Caution: regular readers may be shocked to find references to the real world in what follows.

Since his street art first appeared on London’s walls in 2008, Ludo’s paste ups have been a frequent delight around London. His dark and occasionally surreal vision sees nature take up arms, what at first glimpse may look like an exotic plant or insect species on close inspection reveals a sinister hybrid organic techo-weaponry.

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There is a genuine integrity to Ludo’s pieces, they are generally put up without permission after a bit of a wander to find just the right spot, they involve a bit of pasting and a bit of paint flinging, he finds the spots himself and often he locates virgin walls previously undefiled by street art.   The additions are not always to the immediate delight of the property owner, as street art should be.


Ludo was back in London last week and as usual put up some stunning original paste ups. Locating the first piece was relatively easy as in the early photos (hat tip GS-L Studio) that appeared online a business name was visible.


Unbeknown to Ludo, the business proprietor found a very direct personal connection to Ludo’s new artwork on his wall. The business is JC Motors in Haggerston, owned by Len Maloney. JC Motors has been housed in a railway arch under the East London line for the past decade. The property owner is Transport For London who has demanded massive rent increases from JC Motors and many other businesses who call the railway arches home. TfL’s massive rent increases are evidently fuelled by the almost implausible idea that these grimy unfashionably hardworking and hardwearing backstreet locations must be elevated by vague proximity to trendy coffee shops and the City of London’s halls of capitalism.

At the same time, small businesses in Hackney are also facing huge increases in business rates.  Earlier this year Len was one of a delegation from the  East London Trades Guild who presented a petition to Downing Street on behalf of business owners across East London who face extinction.

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Len Maloney, Paul Gardner et al, No. 10 Downing St, March 2017. photo copyright Sarah Ainslie

The East London Trades Guild is now playing a major role in supporting small businesses, many of them facing the same situation as JC Motors not just with TfL but Network Rail too.

The history of Len’s business and the story of the petition are told in typically eloquent and readable style by the brilliant Gentle Author on the Spitalfields Life blog. As an aside, if you have the vaguest interest in East End history or the stories of its inhabitants past and present then do sign up for the Gentle Author’s daily blog posts, I have enjoyed them for many years.

Len has spent years building his business, he provides employment and apprenticeships and brings a purpose to this unglamourous utilitarian space; all this is under threat. When Len turned up for work last Friday morning to find Ludo’s latest art work on his wall he connected immediately with something in the art. “I was puzzled at first by this huge flower but I stepped back and realised the flower was growing a grenade. TfL have put up my rent and Hackney Council under pressure from central Government are jacking up the business rates, I have a real fight to keep this business that I have worked so hard for over the years going. My staff could be unemployed, apprentices might not finish their apprenticeships, opportunities for future apprenticeships and employment will disappear. I feel I could explode and the artist’s flower grenade seems to capture how I feel. TfL are about to pull the pin!”

Left to right: Jay, Peter, Singh, Hakeem and Len outside JC Motors, Stean St, Haggerston

One of the many beauties of street art is that the work reaches out to the normal “everyman” everyday audience a long long way away from the world of art institutions and learned academics, people can and do respond to the artwork however they like. It is wonderful to find a true gentleman like Len discovering such a deep and personal significance to a totally non permissioned art intervention on the street.

Certificates line the wall in Len's office

When asked why he chose this spot for this piece of art, Ludo told Graffoto “the spot just felt great for me visually...from the barbed wire, the bricks, textures...that's how I find my spots as I don't really know what's going on inside. The only thing that motivates me is to tell a story and the background is as important as the artwork”. So, that Len saw such a specific relevance in the artwork to him and his team is pure serendipity; “[the] good thing about art is you take it as it touches you” says Ludo.

Ludo did a couple of other pieces and somewhat I also found a rather unexpected personal connection to one of them. Graffoto normally despises rolling out the first person singular but hopefully you will indulge on this occasion. 25 years ago thereabouts Lady NoLions and I lived in Dalston, back in those days I wasn’t NoLions but she was and she remains a lady. Her then employer gave her a company car, remember when they were prized perks? This hot hatch (the car, not Lady NoLions) kept getting stolen and one Saturday morning we got a call from the police to collect the trashed and abandoned car. Thieves had stolen her car by shattering the built in steering lock, evidently the car wouldn’t steer properly so instead of joyriding on two wheels around a 90 degree left turn they followed a fast but lazy arc into the wall opposite. Although I have not been on that street since that day, in the first night time “work in progress” photos (gslstudio again) I recognised the wall in the background as the one where the Golf GTI speed test had come to a shattering end. Sometimes the personal connections to a piece of street art are just a bit less wonderful!

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Ludo’s other new piece of street art that appeared last week is a classic study in monochrome and green in which nature and the hint of violence collide.


Just a few from Ludo's previous visits to London:

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Ludo website

East London Trade Guild website

Gentle Author Spitalfields Life

All photos Dave Stuart except, with thanks, by Sarah Ainslie (website) where noted

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Banksy Nose Nothing

Many moons ago Banksy came up with a fairly comical visual joke involving a policeman and a line of coke, the policeman would be stencilled on wall and a meandering line of white paint would be dribbled on the streets. Wry chuckles all around at The Snorting Copper.

Snorting Copper, Curtain Rd, London - By Martin Bull - 18.3.2006
photo: Martin Bull, 2006

One of these existed in a narrow alleyway off Curtain Road in Shoreditch, it was heavily jet washed in May 2006 but in September 2006 the white line of coke was still quite clear, as demonstrated by the-artist-formerly-known-as-little-miss-no-lions who “walked the line”. It went from the copper’s nostril, down Mills Court alleyway and then disappeared down a drain nearby in Charlotte St.

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Mills Court 2006

Hot news is that developers who acquired the derelict property bounded by the wall the snorting copper was painted on have re-discovered the lost and forgotten Banksy work of art! We had an ominous feeling about this when we spotted a section of framed brickwork wall on the building site in Autumn 2015.


The news first became public in a slightly curious way back in August and the media outlet with the full scoop was The Guardian as it often is with Banksy matters though I must confess to possibly having blown the chance for a little insider insight into the project a bit before that. Hey-ho, no regrets!

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Finally, a couple of months on from that preliminary teaser the Snorting Copper was revealed during last week's London art festival week, and what a pristine specimen of Banksy street art it appears to be!

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Mills Court, October 2017

The developers who brought the property cut the wall out and shipped it to restorers who did their job and the brickwork is now back in place, albeit protected indoors, at the original site.

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Curtain Road/Mills Court, October 2017

In the press the developers talk commendably of their excitement at possessing an original street Banksy and of their desire to make it visible to everyone, while the restorers talk briefly of the restoration process, stripping back layers of paint until they found Banksy’s paint.

That vagueness draws a veil over a minor miracle for the art restorer has managed to go from something that back in 2006 had been blasted back to bare brick over most of its surface to something that looks like Banksy might have sprayed it last night – with thanks to Martin Bull for this photo.

Jet washed Snorting Copper, Curtain Rd, London - By Martin Bull - 17.5.2006
Photo copyright Martin Bull, 2006

The condition of the Banksy certainly did not improve with age, here is a photo I took of a glorious portrait of friend and truly awesome New York street art photographer Luna Park as rendered by Elbow Toe, there is barely a trace of paint left on the brickwork, indeed judging by the noticeably reduced amount of grey paint and the loss of substantially more of the copper it appears that a further spray-jetting took place between the taking of these two photos.

"Luna Park" by Elbow Toe, 2007

The wall then changed appearance many many times over the years, including the occasionally complete buff.

Curtain Road, 2012

"Prostitutes and Junkies", K-Guy; Roses, Copyright (that's the artist's name, not an assertion of legal property ownership!); Space Invader LDN_78; 2008

The restoration and sharing of this Banksy zombie at one level may be applauded but it is sadly flawed in one other major respect apart from its provenance, the copper no longer has a line of coke to snort!  That line of coke was an absolutely key element of Banksy’s artwork and its absence nullifies completely the dynamic of Banksy’s joke. I wonder if you gently scrap back the tarmac in the alleyway would you find Banksy’s original line – call a restoration company quick!

Among all the aspects the cause raised eyebrows a minor curiosity is that a fairly significant portion of the copper's left arm is missing.

One other thing that stretches credibility is the £1.25 million valuation given in August. Leaving aside a little chuckle at the common art world code words “just for insurance purposes”, it always embellishes an article about Banksy if you imply “look, this is graffiti shit but now it’s worth loadsamoney”. However, there is almost no supporting evidence to suggest that any Banksy should be valued at close to that amount. Banksy did a collaboration with Damien Hirst on canvas which sold at a charity event in New York arranged by Bono and Damien Hirst for USD1,870,000 which was then about worth about GBP980,000. This is his most expensive sale ever publicly recorded but the Hirst factor and the unhinged bidding that can take place at charity events make this an unreliable indicator of Banksy’s value.

I’m indebted to my great friend and co-blogger Shellshock aka Martin Bull for his insights and opinions and of course his photos. Martin devised the infamous Banksy Tours of 2006 and based on that research and experience went on to publish Banksy Locations and Tours Vols 1 and 2 which are most likely the source of the recorded location as mentioned in the Guardian’s August article, mind you that isn’t much of a commendation as article also contains an expert’s claim that no one knew where it was! Clearly quite a lot of us did.

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Snorting Copper, Leake St, 2006

All photos copyright Dave Stuart except as noted

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Stik In Time

Street art is by nature generally ephemeral but every once in a while a piece of street art thrives for years so it’s informative to see how those pieces fare.

Usually the things that enable a street art piece to survive are either plastic protection, as is occasionally the case for Banksy (2001) or inaccessibility, such as ROA’s Crane (2010) or Conor Harrington’s soldier (2008).

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ROA (feat a Stik that did not survive)

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Conor Harrington

London street artist Stik painted a stunning interracial couple holding hands at ground level in Shoreditch in 2010 which benefits from none of those things, so how does this piece endure so much that just last month it was ranked number 17 in the list of top favourite UK artworks ever! He’s sandwiched between Anish Kapoor and Maggi Hambling and hasn’t been heard complaining.

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Beginning at the beginning, Stik being a savvy and nice person sought to ensure that the local Muslim community would not be offended by his intended composition, in fact to assist those of us not tuned into the relevant sensitivities Stik displayed a couple of pages explaining that his representation of a Muslim girl in a niqab and a white guy, the tendency is to presume Christian, did not breach the writings of the Koran which in simple terms forbids creating realistic images of human beings.

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Work In Progress, May 2010


"Flat two-dimensional illustrations, deliberately unrealistic, no illusion of depth"

It is not surprising that the obvious significance of the painting with its message of harmony and integration makes it cherished within the very strong local Muslim community but it is particularly encouraging that it also resonates with the wider UK population according to a national vote (a survey of 2000 consenting adults to be accurate).

Over time the couple has endured a variety of embarrassing embellishments ranging from comedy anatomical adornments to taggers seeking cheap fame through tagging up such an immensely popular piece of art. Every once in a while Stik may pass by and restore the artwork, which after all comprises comparatively simple solid blocks of colour.



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One of the most amusing interactions was Art Is Trash’s 2014 additions showing the white guy apparently putting out some anthropormorphic rubbish.

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Art Is Trash

DRSC0 from Portland Oregon placed a pair of stickers holding hands in homage to Stik’s piece across the road on the back of a road sign.

DRSC0 (2016)

One quite stunning homage to Stik’s couple came from the unknown artist who placed a pair of complementary “grotesques” in juxtaposition with Stik’s couple rather than actually on them. Unknown artist we salute you, that was brilliant.

Stik and grotesques

Most recently, visiting South African artist Falko made a major adjustment to Stik’s classic by adding a bonsai elephant (the word pygmy really doesn’t do justice to the obvious contrast in scale). By adding an elephant to the couple holding hands Falko has taken on a quite iconic piece of art - 17th favourite! - quite a bold move for someone whose art we don’t recall seeing on these shores before. In an interview with Graffoto Stik generously described Falko’s intervention as a forced enhancement. Stik knows how the game plays with street art, nothing is sacred (no pun intended) so he hasn’t flounced down to Princelet St in a fit of pique to make good the additions, though it will happen eventually.

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Falko vs Stik

In a particularly energetic burst Falko added quite a herd of elephants in Shoreditch in a very short period of time.

Beauty And The Beast, feat art by Falko

Falko’s addition provokes curious thoughts: is there a religious significance the elephant? Well an elephant would be considered haram under Islamic principals so the elephant is not going to be eaten for sure, it must be some kind of pet elephant albeit a bloody small one. The simple leash Falko has added binds the elephant to the couple, without that it would just be a small elephant superimposed on a couple holding hands so the lead is very important. Closer inspection suggests the elephant might be holding a marker pen in its trunk, perhaps the elephant is colouring in the background to Stik’s work, in a way signalling to us that Falko did actually to the restoration work this time around. Clever that, and is that a knowing little wink that the elephant is giving us?


A more academic blogger might be tempted to call this post a longitudinal study of a single point in space but Graffoto is too horizontal for that. [do not insert weak stik pun here do not insert weak stik pun here do not Stik weak insert pun here]


Stik homepage 

Falko Instagram 

All photos: Dave Stuart

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Banksy on Brexit - About Time

Another year, another Banksy, at last! The port of Dover, the continent’s gateway to the UK, found itself the proud home of the latest outdoor street art masterpiece by Banksy. A huge version of the EU flag with a worker chipping away at one of the 12 stars greets inland arrivals coming into the port on the main road from London.

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The work is classic Banksy in so far as it is political and humorous, it is on the street and it is topical. It is also superbly executed, both in its large scale and in its minor details.

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When it reveals itself to you from about ¾ mile away on the hill descending into Dover, its audacious scale and visibility is quite breath taking. This isn’t tucked away on a back street facing somewhere anonymous, you simply can’t miss it (didn’t get a photo of that view – concentrating on driving and not interrupting the massive flow of British trade to Europe on all those lorries). I’ll wager by the end of this year this could be one of the most viewed single works of art in the country, perhaps even the World [subject to it lasting a reasonable length of time].


Close up the attention to detail is awesome. Check the drop shadows on the chipped off pieces of the stars, look also at the cracks, they are stunningly painted and close up you can see each crack represented by two contrasting lines very precisely drawn alongside each other.

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Graffiti and street art is all the more impressive when the key question “how the hell did they do that?” comes to mind. One possibility here is that Banksy might have commissioned a third party to execute the painting based on his concept and sketches, this was the technique he used in New York in 2010 when a company called Colossal Media were contracted to paint four massive Banksys, photos below from my great friend in NY Luna Park.

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Banksy, NY, 2010. photo courtesy: Luna Park

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Colossal Media work-in-progress for Banksy, NY, 2010. photo courtesy: Luna Park

Another possibility would have been to project the image onto the wall then paint using the projected image as the guide. The straight edges of the flag are so crisp and straight and to the naked eye appear perfectly horizontal and vertical so this wasn’t hastily knocked up in a few quick minutes up a ladder but using a projector would have meant painting in full view of passersby which is hard to imagine Banksy doing.

There are reports of reports on social media that scaffolding was seen against the wall suggesting that the same method used to paint “Shop Till You Drop” just off New Bond St in London was used. Basically crew set up scaffolding, wrap tarpaulin around it, Banksy (presumably) works anonymously shielded from the glare of public view and after he’s done and left, down comes the scaffolding et voila! (It’s important to slip some French into this post).

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Shop Till You Drop, London 2011

The subject of the work is clear, it’s about Britain leaving the EU but is the piece perhaps a bit ambiguous? Is the worker a “Leave” supporter taking great delight in symbolically destroying the EU or are his actions showing us how devastating the course the UK is seemingly irretrievably embarked upon is, in other words pro-Remain. Context is everything with Banksy and his views are pretty clear if you think back to art he put up in Calais in 2015: Steve Jobs as an immigrant; a child gazing through a telescope across the channel to England but a vulture (death) perches on the telescope; and his “We’re not all in the same boat”, a raft borrowed from “The Raft Of The Medusa” by ThĂ©odore GĂ©ricault gets blanked by a passing superyacht. The issue was the refugee crisis but the message was "more humanitarian compassion" meaning open boarders, Banksy is pretty clearly pro EU. Ironically this new work is not a representation of one country being removed from the EU flag as the stars do not represent individual countries. Leaving aside theories of the occult and paganism, the stars are arranged in a circle to represent unity, a unity which is being shattered by this worker.

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We're Not All In The Same Boat

Steve Jobs

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Above 3 photos: Banksy, source Banksy Website

Timing is a bit of an issue since the decisive vote which lead to our latest Prime Minister changing her mind completely from “remain” to “a red, white and blue Brexit” was 11 months ago. Brexit is central to our current general election process but only to the extent that the PM seeks a mandate to do as much damage as she can without subsequent recourse to the population. Banksy’s mural seems to be more timely if considered in the context of the French presidential election which reached its climax this weekend as the eminently sensible French electorate chose a centrist pro EU president rather than a far right candidate hell bent on wreaking further disunity and harm to the EU. “Electorate”, “Sensible” and “French” appearing in the same sentence, wow! It must also be said that the Brexit result inspired quite a tsunami of “remain” orientated Brexit art, including ones with similar ideas of missing stars in the EU flag.

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Pure Evil QE2EU - courtesy Pure Evil

The placement of this piece is magical. Dover is defined in its present and its history by this country's relationship with the continent, whether that means trade, migration, vacation or war. Almost no one passes through Dover without registering that this is a point of departure, arrival and communication and it is all about the short cross sea link to France. It is hard to imagine a place in the UK where a Brexit piece could resonate more with its surroundings.

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Although the art is unsigned we can confidently attribute this to Banksy as photos of it have now appeared on his website. To digress for a moment, I scoffed initially when news outlets said Banksy had posted a photo on his official instagram account as Banksy doesn’t do social media but I just noticed his FAQ page says “Banksy is NOT on Facebook, Twitter…”, no mention of instagram. Some of the elements of the composition are vaguely familiar from previous Banksy works. The workman dressed in dungarees with a bucket echoes the wallpaperer in Banksy’s famous provocation of Robbo back in 2009.

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Robbo 1985/ Banksy 2009; London

The ladder echoes the ladder Banksy painted on the Palestine wall although that was meant to be a childlike chalk drawing of a ladder, not the elaborate drop-shadowed two coloured ladder in Dover.

The clever drop shadowing of the crumbling stars elegantly lifts those falling fragments away from the wall, rather like the shadowing you can see Banksy employing in “Shop Till You Drop” above.

Early reports of this new work came from The Guardian and the BBC’s website, it seems that these two institutions have a very reliable inside track on new Banksy scoops. The news broke on Sunday, coincidentally at the same time my wife and I were down in that part of the world staying in Rye and visiting Dungeness.  Just over a year ago I used someone else’s “bad science” to prove I was Banksy. Someone else came up with the theory that either Robert del Naja or indeed the whole of Massive Attack are Banksy; now I am not Massive Attack and I am pretty sure I am actually not Banksy either. However, in December 2011 we went en famille (bit more French there) to Liverpool for a QPR away game and lo! the Love Liverpool airplane appeared that day. Coincidence again? Or is my wife actually Banksy? Ha! Didn’t see that coming did ya? If I find any dodgy APs (artist proofs) of early print releases, I’ll let you know via the usual channel – eBay.

Banksy - plane love

Photos: Dave Stuart except Luna Park, Pure Evil and Banksy website where noted