On 13 March, urban artist Stik brought UConn in London’s Art and the City class around East London to tour local street art and graffiti. The artist navigated to and presented work of both his own and his contemporaries’, offering insight that deepened the understanding of the pieces observed and the genre as a whole. (Or genres, that is, as Stik clarified: there is a difference between street art and graffiti.) As well as enlightening, the walk was visually stimulating; the pieces observed decorate the neighbourhood with an energetic personality that bring to life the drab buildings and imposing metropolis. The walk came to its climax in an exclusive viewing of the artist’s studio and newest, in-progress work—a privilege so profound that it left the students awe-struck. As a student in this class, I provide below a first-hand perspective of this experience.
Stik’s art is splattered throughout Brick Lane and its surrounding neighbourhood. His work consists primarily of stick figures added to engaging environments—manipulating the space in order to give it purpose. For example: one of the works shown depicted two figures whose mouths opened in gag at a garage door, leaving an effect (for when it’s open, at least) of waste within. This is only my interpretation, though, as the artist seldom revealed his complete inspiration. And discrete he was—disguised in sunglasses and a hat, Stik did not once disclose his real name. Perhaps his characters define his true identity: a being immerged in the streets of the city. The artist was, after all, literally living on the streets until very recently.
In addition to his own, Stik curated the work of many other artists in the area. He presented examples from artists of all different styles—and, in doing so, brought to our attention the difference between street art and graffiti: the latter being tag and word-based, the former encompassing all other art on the street. Within just the domain of street art, though, there seemed a plethora of different styles: spray-painting, plastering, sculpting—a sphere boundless of methods. One artist in particular stood out to me: a painter by the moniker Jimmy C. Jimmy C’s work (on this walk, at least) comes in large murals on building walls. What is exceptional about his art, though, is his vibrant neo-pointillism style that reproduces life so accurately despite being composed of, well, dots. From afar, his portraits seem nothing far from the work of a pure realist. Up close, however, they are impressive scales of regulated spots—there is, it seems, a math behind it. Regardless of viewing-point, though, I found the work incredible.
Scaling the winding staircase to Stik’s studio was thrilling: we were, he informed us, about to see work unseen by public eyes. Once upstairs, the room was filled with sounds of wonder and excitement. Six panels rested up against a wall with a dazzlingly fresh aura, as if they had just exploded into creation. Unlike with some pieces before, the artist walked us through the concept of this new work: together, the panels told a story of interrelationships. Though so simple visually, the work’s depth became endless with this revelation. Standing in the artist’s studio and witnessing his most current conception was like nothing I’ve ever experienced: I felt immersed in creativity and innovation.
A walking tour by an active artist is alone an element guaranteed to heighten the experience of an art history class. But one in the very environment that artist is active in is something else entirely: it is a pleasure that any fan of art should find delight in. Aside from being enlightened by Stik, though, the art itself provides the viewers a story of life and culture in the community at hand. Between Stik, Jimmy C, and the dozens of other contributors, East London has become a hub of expression and creativity and a gallery for a new generation of art. Not only am I grateful for having the privilege of this experience but, as a traditionalist formally ambivalent to modern art, a new appreciation of street art has formed in me.
Written in 2012 for an art history course while studying abroad in London, UK. Published in the UConn in London Spring 2012 Newsletter.