The summer group exhibition at 34FineArt Gallery brings together artwork that, despite diverse nationalities, cultures and generations, shares a commonality: it embraces the content and spirit of the Street Art movement.
Having been showcased by such renowned establishments as the Tate Modern in London and MOMA in New York, many street artists are now not just esteemed but nurtured by the establishment. But this of course raises the question: can street art, when located inside a prestigious building, still be called street art?
Big brands and advertising agencies have been quick to adopt street art as a way of adding street credibility to their products and thus attracting a younger, hipper audience. And on the flip side, the artist also benefits from the money and the exposure brought by such an alliance with a big brand. As Andries Loots, owner of 34FineArt Gallery says, “All artists eventually crave longevity – something street art cannot bring.” Even works by such global stars as Banksy can and are defaced by vandals, or painted over by local councils, proving that the essential temporal nature of street art remains true. It seems street artists aspire to be hung in a gallery and contemporary artists aspire to create works in the public domain. An interesting dichotomy to ponder whilst perusing the art on display in this Woodstock art gallery.
In Inventory at 34FineArt Gallery, works by internationally renowned street artists Banksy, Bambi and Mr. Brainwash are on display, as well as work by upcoming artists Dotmasters, Jimmy C and AME72. South African artists Esther Mahlangu, Asha Zero and Lionel Smit are also represented, as well as a collection of work from the 1980’s by Norman Catherine.
The vibrant artwork looks striking against the black walls of the gallery – refreshing after the white starkness of most galleries. The first two walls are covered in icons: Mandela, Madonna and Monroe.
Jimmy C’s large portrait of Mandela is both a skillful and reverent ode to an icon. A modern day pointillist, he creates the image by spraying small, individual circles of paint onto a wall or canvas to form a portrait. Usually working in an array of bright colours, for this work the artist chose a limited palette of pastel shades: lavender, blue and ochre to embody the gentle spirit of his subject.
Influenced by the dot painting of aboriginal communities, Jimmy C has been developing his own style since the age of 16 when he was living on the streets and expressing himself through street art. His spraypainting style has been dubbed “aero soul painting” because of the innovative application and intimate feel of his portraits.
In sharp contrast is the pink, glittery portrait of Mandela by anonymous female UK artist, Bambi. A stencil print with diamond dust on paper, Mandela is pictured in his famous defiant pose – one fist raised in the air with “It always seems impossible until it’s done” written in cursive.
Adjacent are Mr Brainwash’s portraits of Madonna for the cover of her 2009 Celebration album. More interesting is his silk screen ‘Just Kidding’ – a collage of images representing the history of art. He typically employs famous artistic and historic images and amends them slightly, so that the Mona Lisa morphs into Marilyn Monroe, and artwork by Koons, Harring and Warhol blends with comic strips and the ubiquitous icons Mickey Mouse and Charlie Chaplin.
Banksy’s ‘Flying Copper’ combines his dark humour and distinctive stenciling technique. This artist needs little introduction – any appearance of his work is guaranteed to create a media stir. His work commands huge prices at auctions yet his identity remains a mystery. Part political activist, part subversive, part satirical street artist is perhaps the best description.
Fitting perfectly into the exhibition is ‘Untitled’. This graphic image of brash colours and crazy contours could be the creation of a young street artist, but is in fact by South African artist Norman Catherine (born 1949) circa 1985 – an artist whose oeuvre spans painting, sculpture, printmaking and mixed media.
Another South African artist blending in beautifully is Esther Mahlangu, who adapts the Ndebele tradition of painting the walls of a house to mark the ritual passage of young boys to adulthood – an age old tradition but one inextricably linked with street artists who use the wall as their canvas.
As an exhibition Inventory brings art to viewers who may not otherwise experience these images, and gives a new incentie to enjoy the vivid street art that is all around us. While more galleries clamour to exhibit work that is collected by the rich and famous it is good to remember that the vast majority of street art remains out on the street – we need only keep our eyes open.
The Inventory Exhibition runs until 25 January at 34FineArt.
Samantha Reynolds is a travel writer and photographer. More of her work can be found on her blog, Travel and Photography – Golden Dreams.