2023 Street art, another year down. Did you smile more often? Certainly the Smokers crew aka SMO did. A burst of activity in the Summer sun included the perfect composition of “Smokers” on a railway bridge as well as the crew acronym SMO appearing all over Shoreditch but the crowning piece was their huge Smile More Often wall with the names of all 12 crew members in smoking purple contained within the blockbuster letters, see the feature image at the top.
It there was such a thing as an award for the most up crew of the year it would go to Ghost Writers, no competition. It seemed that there was someone representing Ghost Writers with something new almost every week. Christmas week was no different.
Banksy’s gift for newsworthiness did not desert him in 2023. There was the retrospective exhibition in Glasgow, lifting the veil somewhat on the process but not the person and trumping all those shit un-authorised shows of ripped of reproductions and pure fantasy re-creations. There was the court case which the litigant over hyped as about to lead to Banksy’s identity being revealed. There was the artwork in Kent on the building that was demolished three days after he painted it. Then, this being a non chronological list in which the best story is kept to last, there was the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” in Margate which led to possibly the most unfulfilling street art treasure hunt ever. I arrived just as council contractors loaded the fridge onto a truck for disposal, how much did I rue missing by a minute the train from London that would have got me there an hour earlier. Peter The Painter didn’t miss a thing, as anyone who Banksy’s Cut and Run show will have seen. (Actually the most frustrating treasure hunt ever was a night spent wandering the streets of London in vain pursuit of an Adam Neate free art drop in 2008.)
There were at least four occasions this year when street art’s fleeting nature defeated my ponderous reactions. Twice I missed Banksy artworks, (the Valentine’s Day Mascara above) and the Stop War traffic sign installation which was stolen less than an hour after Banksy posted online about it. The two other occasions were brilliant paintings by Airborne Mark, his masterpieces of virtuoso spraycan technique seem fated to be painting over immediately. I count my blessings that there were a couple I managed to get to before they disappeared. Everything about the origami gecko coming to life with every slant and facet of the paper catching the orange and green side lighting differently is just sensational. All street artists’ creativity has at its core the certainty that the original piece is doomed to a very very short lifespan, yet the artists return again and again unpaid yet showing a dedication to the art which in any other endeavour would be regarded as bonkers.
Russel Shaw Higgs framed his characters beautifully within this lintel, only on the streets can such engagement with a perhaps once grand façade be realised.
Yorgos first appeared in Shoreditch in 2022 but his prolific output this year has beguiled all. He paints with influences from Picasso and traces of Matisse and his use of emulsion, which is quite rare in street art, produces a very flat and crisp aesthetic. This pair of lovers (count the hands!) share their love with a heart that snuggly matches the bike lock frame sitting a couple of feet from the wall.
Most of Jonesy’s creativity on the Shoreditch streets this year was in the form of original drawings and paintings, check out all the oily creatures in the detail below as well as several new bronze castings atop street sign poles.
If I have to pick a single art piece that made my jaw hit the ground it was this beauty from Minto. Minto is a writer more associated with graffiti lettering but when I realised the alignment of the inverted face with the architecture in the background formed a stunning tribute to rapper (and occasional graffiti writer) MF Doom it was clearly a piece of ephemeral genius.
Cept is a bit of a renaissance man who goes through phases alternating between gallery installations and outdoor endeavours, it was great to see thet pendulum swung back to street art and graffiti this year.
Dan Kitchener had a brilliant year, not just because he painted abroad a lot or in terms of the scale of his murals, he also created some beautiful specimens of urban landscapes and character art in Shoreditch. The most interesting was the mural which veered towards abstract impressionism in a painting with a point of view sitting in a car looking out through a rainy windscreen at one of his rainy night time neon lit street scenes. The small photo cannot do justice to the impressionist beauty in the full size mural. I could be wrong but I think Dan painted this spot three times this year, other artists occupying this wall were Inagaki (twice) and Only E1
Nearly every time you turn up to photograph this wall there are huge mountains of bin bags awaiting collection which makes my failure to get the photo of this image with a stack of bin bags in front of it quite unforgivable.
Esauteric continued to amaze with his energetic disregard for conventional crisp spraypainting techniques, the very experimental colour combination and of course the manner of painting on walls with irregular surfaces, corners and buttresses that mean you really have to be able to walk around the wall to experience what the art has to offer from different angles.
ODDO is an enduring Shoreditch favourite and his prolific production of wilder and wilder characters veers towards the curious, dark and scary. “Bamboo mole” was a recurring theme. I made one selection of snaps that captured the contribution ODDO made to my enjoyment of street art in 2023 then on the morning of New Years Eve, two more new ODDO artworks popped up on my walk through Shoreditch and one muscled right into this selection. In a parallel universe I would be wearing clothes designed by ODDO.
Nonose has been doing quirky, lurid potatoes spiked with cocktail sticks since forever and for a little while this year a flotilla of crash-landed sputniks could be found on the tops of bus shelters and street furniture in Shoreditch and Hackney.
For a former graffiti writer Shaim certainly has no fear of negative space! His hand drawn originals and paste up copies have managed to make horn rimmed glasses sexy again. The trio of ladies are not copies at all, each is different and for the really curious, the green splats on the wall date back to a Nick Walker show in 2008.
Ed Hicks remains the master of painterly gothic street art, he had a productive 2023 and there wasn’t a single piece I saw that I didn’t love. It’s a puzzle that his masterworks tend to have much shorter lives than equivalent efforts from his peers, the artwork on the Grey Eagle St wall lasted barely a week before giving way to Smile More Often.
Shoreditch continues to magnetically attract brilliant visiting artists working from small paste ups to the largest murals. Alex face painted literally a scorcher, controversially short lived as it was painted over by an advert on a wall which has never hosted an advert before.
Drash visited London twice this year and her colourful detourned fashion mag pages got brasher and Drasher.
Niafase, Key and Naths Ice visited from Mexico and got stuck right in painting with some talented artists at various spots around London with Niafase contributing some technically brilliant 3D lettering.
On My Travels
The years since we were all put in detention have been spent frantically travelling to make up for lost opportunities. This year wonderful street art was discovered in Manchester, Paris, Southend, Lisbon, Port Talbot and Glasgow.
Manchester’s street art bristles with self confidence and inventiveness. Hornby train set art?
Paris blew me away, over 1000 photos of magical street art was a fraction of what I saw and the task of selecting a few to share proved too painful to contain within just one blog post. So I wrote two. Paris is blessed with magnificent murals but there is way more than 10 story murals to Paris’ street art. B-Toy Andrea’s mural makes the cut just because I loved the way a bit of light painting and long exposure melded the decoration in the subject’s hair with the blossom on the trees. Paris of course has the largest collection of Space Invaders but I fell in love with the really esoteric things like Tegmo’s glass sculptures and mosaic arrangements.
Southend is so easy to get to from London and the Southend City Jam seaside circus has now grown to one of the coolest, happiest and indeed largest gatherings of street artists, graffiti writers and fans in the world. I wonder what happens to all those boards?
Lisbon has an amazing city wide distribution of street art and graffiti. Star locals Vhils and Bordalo simply can’t be left out of any Lisbon highlights but even in a city noted for its tiled décor I was delighted with the surprise find of a massive tiled mural by Monsieur A whose parents are Portuguese.
Glasgow had been invaded by the usual suspects visiting the Banksy exhibition so at that moment it was an effort to track down the local talent rather than same old Shoreditch habituees.
And so, with another New Years Eve photo A Chance Of Creatures kicks out the old and welcomes in the new, may you all have a healthy wiser better more peaceful 2024, fill it with joy and art.
All photographs: Dave Stuart