Well done 2021 for having the audacity to follow a totally weird year with an equally weird year, way to go! Although life was not “business as usual” the year did yield some wonderful street art with unexpected and inspired new forms of creativity and a re-evaluation of the significance of paste-ups. We are delighted once again to share some of the best Shoreditch street art 2021 and we are talking 4 real, none of that “curated from the internet” most writers serve up. For once there is even a couple of “straight in at number 1” personal favourites moments, the risk being that the day after posting I will change my mind for different number 1 favourite.
So, how did the global pandemic continue to affect street art in 2021? Most obviously the number of street artists from foreign shores who came to visit London was almost none. So it was a great pleasure to welcome Stinkfish from Columbia, a regular visitor last spotted around these parts in 2017. A significant number of his favella child paste-ups appeared but this mural really showcased those graffiti based spraycan skills.
The main opportunities to see overseas artists in Shoreditch came through paste-up art exchanged by overseas mail between artists then pasted up in reciprocal “you here, me there” arrangements. NY artist City Kitty was quite visible in Shoreditch this year and he is what I describe as a “collaboration machine”. It was a real delight to find this basketball playing City Kitty collaboration with New York sticker legend Chris RWK aka Robots Will Kill, and just a couple of inches tall.
Neon Savage neatly swerved the lack of locked down screenprinting facilities by improvising a hand finished screenprinting effect using images inkjet printed onto marker pen coloured paper earlier in the year. Then right on the very last weekend before we descended into an unofficial lockdown-for-all-purposes-except-opening-Treasury-coffers, Neon Savage papered Brick Lane with gorgeous halftone acrylic and screenprinted pasteups. Printing of this quality and beauty is the kind of cultural treasure street art delivers to those who seek.
Fat Cap Sprays channels neon in a different way with super cute renderings of popular cartoon characters, popular depending upon which cartoon character era you grew up in of course, I am still waiting for him to do Marine Boy! Fat Cap Sprays made a big impact in 2021, the growth of his social media following (stay off tik tok folks!) contains a message I am sure about the link between street art and “success”.
David Speed continued to hammer out his phenomenal pink neon eye candy portraits. There is a point at which cats in street art play the cute card a bit too readily but in this case David claimed a spot perfectly framed in the bus stop glass, nice use of street architecture.
Artistic spats conducted on walls are a constant delight but when David spotted a paid for spraypainted advert in his signature neon pink he really took it out in style, nice one!
Although Enigma is not new to our streets, this Japanese artist only came to my attention after his post lockdown return from Japan upon which he embarked on a prodigious outpouring of stunning murals styled as old school woodcuts. Almost as remarkable as his street art are his garms when painting, smartly attired in a beige raincoat he looks nothing like the stereotypical street artist you might imagine.
Dramatic light and shade and classical imagery came to London’s street art through the work of talented painter Alessandro Ioviero. The Southbank Undercroft location has hosted several Ioviero works, my favourite being this beautiful painting of a contemporary bronze statue by young Ukrainian artist Maksym Haydar.
Alessandro often finds inspiration in the work of others, often sculptors, which moves him to provide his own painterly interpretation. A curious dynamic occurred when Ioviero painted a detail of the Alexandre Cabanel’s Fallen Angel in response to Enigma’s rendition of a slightly larger detail just one week earlier on the same wall.
There is a lot to be said for anonymity as a contrast to the self-promotion which seems often to trump actual art as a street art motive. In the first part of the year reports came in from all over town about strange single line characters with half formed sentence morsels suggesting clues to the character’s mental state. Street artists and geeks alike were intrigued by the identity of the artist, questions asked went un-answered. I may have been much later than many smarter people but I only pierced the Why Reuben veil in November when some clues appeared drawing attention to the artist’s part in a group show. Self-promotion wins every time!
If potty sums up your taste in humour then “I farted in yoga” is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and is seemingly an alias used by Why Reuben.
Ahead of the London International Paste-up Festival I did not anticipate quite what a successful event it would be and my reservations weren’t just concerned with the awkward status battle in the first half of the title. The open call event in early November brought art from all over the world and a lot from artists not seen before in Shoreditch.
Rather than an “Oh wow” at any particular pieces of art my main take-away was a reminder and re-appraisal of the impact paste-ups had in the formative years of street art supporting the emergence of street artists from a non graffiti background with a preference for quicker means of getting up and less beholden to the spraycan, unlike those with a graffiti background who generally preferred stencils. Full write up HERE.
Someone else who doesn’t need to be anymore brilliant than he already is is ALO, he had a prolific year on the streets crowned of course by a major solo show at the Saatchi Gallery at the year end.
The pandemic lockdowns really gave Airborne Mark an opportunity to ramp up his multi-angle multimedia painting and video game. Most people’s videos are a kind of “ooooooooohhh, look at me and my skills” whereas Airborne Mark’s premise is “This is an experiment and I don’t quite know if it’s going to work”, his videos are like art painting tutorials. This year’s master spraypainting output included a number of signature origami creatures places on beautifully rendered strips of torn cardboard. It is well work tracking down the video of him explaining the complexities of painting something as mundane as a torn piece of cardboard and his video of his second attempt to paint origami birds inside a glass jar is genius. And having seen Mark paint quite a few times the videos are all the more impressive when you realise that its him on his lonesome doing the video, the commentary and the painting, not a video team in sight.
Dan Kitchener’s Bladerunner-esque rainy Tokyo night scenes morphed recently into an impressionist view of the same through a rain drenched window. On a small screen such as the one you are using right now, the eyeball resolves more clearly details like the cars in the image, there is no real substitute for seeing a painting like this in the flesh to appreciate its true life beauty.
Wrdsmth, the vowel eschewing scriptwriter, took the dramatic step of moving to London after years of charming us with his mixed media typewriter life affirming mottos on his frequent visits from Hollywood. Quickly settling into a highly creative run Wrdsmth demonstrated an expanded repertoire including a clever site specific piece as one of several contributions to the London International Paste-up Festival.
Covid didn’t feature as much in London’s street art in 2021 but Dr D still points the finger at the Coronavirus for being such a buzzkill.
Dr D is always going to bring political satire onto the streets, his conversion of a van into a prison transport van for the conservatives was bang on point for the shit show that developed around the UK’s Prime Minister.
We celebrate the innovative, the novel and the inventive and something which ticked multiple such boxes at the end of the year were Perspex living apartments set into walls with missing bricks by Brickflats. The purpose is to highlight how the outrageous cost of renting in London forces people to cram themselves into tiny boxes by squeezing modern looking perspex flats which take advantage of missing bricks in walls. Assisted by a fragment of a map I went on a good old fashioned street art treasure hunt and found that all his brickflats were still in situ, a testament to the solidity of their novel installation. The second installation below is actually a replacement of a missing cobble so you are looking into the flat from above.
Perspicere also brought a totally different dimension to street art fusing string art with paste-ups in a way that so photorealistic it left you searching for the trick. Having seen Perspicere creating one live for a street jam I am willing to take an oath and state there is no artifice, the image is created entirely from the intersections of the threads, of which there is north of several miles.
In many conversations with old school graffiti heads the name Nylon comes up frequently as both a style innovator and a hardcore spot seeker. New Nylon art is always a blessing and the way each vase can be appear as a pair of tribal faces or as a single cubist face staring us out was particularly clever.
A Shoreditch street art year lacks vintage without Ace pasting up some exercises in screen printed iconography. It’s not just that his art really triggers the right retina receptors, it the sense of continuity that Ace represents, linking the current new wave of paste up artists back to the fumbling fathers of street art which is where Ace come from.
Ed Hicks’ tense, doom laden images channelled Victorian apocalypse painters. This 4 panel landscape is perhaps my single highlight of 2021, you have to pinch yourself to remember that this is done with spraypaint.
Remaining with the painterly theme, Only HMZ not only blurred the boundaries between street art and graffiti with his gothic masterpiece fills within his letters, he went on to do crazy panel installations which in the case of the one presented below is mind-blowing for being, I believe, installed without permission. The first work in progress photo illustrates Only’s letter form.
There is a further conceptual dimension associated with this installation not apparent in this photo, the trio of lights at the top were solar powered and by some means also people sensing, at night as people walked under the lights each one wold light up in turn from left to right or right to left according to the direction the passer-by was taking. Perhaps next time it will play a tune!
An artist who has had a sensational year was Pablo Fiasco. Pablo sets the bar for stencil art in terms of technical complexity of technique and the art embodied in his concepts and ideas. Bearing in mind that one of the key attributes of a stencil is speedy repeatability, PF reuses components from a library of stencils assembled over the decades in different combinations yielding completely different images. Subjects broached in 2021 included rapper tributes, Brexit and a skateboarding ex Federal Reserve Chairman but this Mute8 stencil is the piece de resistance, I don’t recall every seeing stencilism of such complexity before. The narrative starts top right and broadly speaking turns anti-clockwise. In a laboratory a subject is to receive a vaccination, the subject mutates, escapes then there is a chase which concludes underwater. Pablo was quite categorical that this theme of scientific mutation has been in his art for several years and it wasn’t his intention that this necessarily be read as a comment on covid vaccination.
With unauthorised exhibitions opening all over the globe and people taking advantage (I guess) of copyright loopholes to mint NFTs based on Banksy’s art it is easy to overlook that Banksy pulled off his best wave of actual street art since he did New York for 30 days in October 2013. East Anglia is just sufficiently close to London to be day trip viable so despite fairly poor location descriptions I was delighted to be able to locate 8 out of 10 new original and authenticated Banksy street pieces in August. At that time, even before Banksy’s authentication, it was not known that there were actually 10 pieces in the campaign. Since then they have suffered various indignities including being partially dismantled (3 kids in a boat), covered in perspex, buffed, added to or most unforgivably in the case of both “under the paving stone” and the Banksy tagged model stable, acquired for profitable so-called protection by the usual avaricious gallery owner. Although lacking any mind-blowing “bar just got set even higher” pieces, the collection displayed characteristic Banksy wit and audacity.
On the whole most of the pieces were looking quite photogenic at the time of my visit and I somehow charmed the Model Village owners to allowing exclusive behind the scenes access to photograph the stable
So 2021, to call you a year is perhaps generous but what you lacked in meaningful real world calendar months you compensated for with brilliant art. Many thanks to all street artists who have provided so much pleasure in their artistic endeavours and we look forward to plenty of new and exciting art in 2022.
All photos: Dave Stuart