There was some kind of smartass review of last night’s adventures kicking around my head this morning, a review that had something to do with thoughts of a time machine or time holes or flashbacks to various points of the late 70’s, the early 80’s or the turn of the century, to the Metropolitan Transport Authority, the excitement of those early images of the New York graffiti scene that filtered over and finally cemented by that Martha Cooper/Henry Chalfant book, that and a trip back to one of those legendary all-dayers at the Roundhouse with The Damned and Pinkwind somewhere around the time punk was thinking of kicking in and Pistols demos sounded like Hawkwind outtakes, that and flying to the turn of the century and FLS barking about London Hardcore to an audience waiting for Knuckledust and Assert in some back room somewhere. The time machine was all over the place last night, I guess what comes around goes around (and comes around again). Apparently Knuckledust are still around and playing somewhere next week? What did become of FLS? It wasn’t really about a time machine last night though, it was very much the here and now and Seen’s New York layers excited in the freshest of ways in London in 2017 and Madonnatron are timelessly good and really nothing to do with longings for those nights with Webcore at Club Dog or Alice in Wonderland or those Stonehenge benefits over there at the Hammersmith Clarendon, Madonnatron are very much for the here and now as well and no we weren’t flying sideways through something or other on Robert Calvert’s silver painted bike or heading for the Red Eye with a Discord Inferno gig flyer and a bag full of freshly painted Organs. No time holes were fallen through and it really was a freezing Thursday night somewhere in December and more of that rushing around various parts of North and East London checking out bands and art show openings and no, no need of a smartass review, just a need to carry on doing what we’ve always carried on doing, the documenting what’s really going on out there…
Even on a cold wet Thursday in December 2017 there isn’t enough time to get to everything you’d like to get to, there wasn’t quite enough time to get to Sweet Toof’s Cut and Run opening at BSMT Space over in Dalston, there really wasn’t enough time to hang about to catch all the bands at the Old Blue Last and despite everything that happening to London right now, there’s still lots going on. It might be getting awfully gentrified around this town now and those hollow slogans around those fancy new blocks of expensive flats that promise (in great big goading letters) a “lifestyle experience” might just rip at yer throat a little too much as the old spaces are locked up or knocked down to make way for them, that make way for the things that aren’t for the likes of us, despite is all there are enough things happening on a cold wet Thursday night in December to make it impossible to get to them all. The Cut And Run show will have to wait until the weekend, art isn’t about opening nights, there’s gigs to get to, bands to see, Stolen Space first though, art first, then music. Off the Whitechapel for a taste of New York…
SEEN X RISK – MISERY LOVES COMPANY at Stolen Space, Whitechapel, East London – This show is probably the best thing I’ve seen in here in ages” she said with a great big excited smile of her face, art does excite and yes, she was right, there’s something very satisfying about these Seen pieces hanging on the walls of Stolen Space. The New York legend (and for once I guess that is the right term to use) is sharing the gallery walls with fellow American “street art legend” Risk. Both artists satisfy, the show satisfies, that back room really does satisfy – those Seen pieces in the back room that really do hit the spot in just the right way straightway though, that instant rush that only a painting can give you, that feeling that makes you want to punch the air and yell a “yes”. Those layers behind the Pink Panther’s head, those bright pop art colours, that sense of time that is very much right now.
When a couple of older “names” hit town you kind of almost expect things to maybe be a little too slick and lacking that edge the so-called “legends” might once have had, especially when the work is being shown at one of those coffee-table art-book super-slick “urban art” establishment places like Stolen Space – It really is a love/hate thing with Stolen Space, a blackout in the back room, I do love that back room, I do hate having to walk in through that front room and the packaging up and selling of that culture and everything tat goes with it, all those pigeonholes, all packaged and ready to be consumed, get your street art and your graff all neat and tidy and ready for your coffee-table and your fancy new flat and you’re “lifestyle experience” the developers are selling up the road. and I do so detest the way Stolen Space think they’re… No! No no no, let’s not go there, let’s enjoy the good bits, let’s enjoy the show, let’s enjoy the art, let’s enjoy the back room, The Stolen Space team do hang things so so well in that beautiful back room of theirs, and they are consistently rewarding in terms of the art they show, there’s always more positives then there are negatives, do so love that back room and those walls and floor. She was tight when she said it was probably the best thing she’d seen in here for ages, art really does have a capacity to excite again and again
Two old-school street-art graffiti “legends” from over the pond then, the show is called Misery Loves Company and billed as SEEN X RISK – “The Show is called Misery Loves company because it is something Seen and myself seem to be saying to each other quite frequently. We have houses next to each other, both under construction, and both dealing with building department issues stemming from us doing things our own way – that seems like a common theme in our lives… every time one of us has a bright idea we drag the other one into it and end up saying…”misery loves company”. This show encompasses our lives as so-called celebrated artists, and the satisfaction we get from dragging each other down the rabbit hole.” – Risk, 2017
The Stolen Space space is playing host to “two of the graffiti world’s most prolific contributors”, Seen and Risk are making what we’re told is their “long-awaited return to the UK”, surprised there aren’t more people in here actually, respectfully busy but not rammed – “considered grandmasters of graffiti, fundamental in shaping the medium as it is known today. Born and based respectively in New York and Los Angeles, each possesses a distinct and pioneering ambition that led their work to become integral to the cultural fabric of both cities. Whether blasted on the side of a New York subway train, brightening the grey concrete overpasses of LA, or even on the famed Hollywood sign, coming into contact with the work of Seen and Risk was almost an inevitability of city life in the seventies and eighties. It was these dramatic feats that earned them the legendary status that they possess today”,
The art in the back room immediately hits – the rush, the Pink Panther delights, both artists have an impact but it really is about those clean-cut marks (not too clean cut) and those crisp layers (not too crisp) of Seen that hit straight way. The Risk pieces take a little more time to reveal themselves, the Seens make all the initial noise, the Risks let you take your time – teamwork, a perfectly balanced show, two artists talking to each other across the walls and that just right gallery floor, the dialogue is strong, the energy is impressive. And if someone was to say you can take just one painting home it really would be impossible to make a choice – a Pink Panther or one of those Soul pieces from Risk? Those Soul paintings really are beautifully subtle, those layers quietly invite you in, Risk plays with you, those layers play with you, they have you adjusting your angle to try and see behind – those warm Risk paintings demand you take time – the marks, the layers, the texture, the love of it, you can see the love, the pleasure that has gone into the making those marks. Unlike the Seen pieces, these Risk works are not about an instant hit, the beauty really is in the way they slowly invite your eye to roam, they way they pull you in, the invitation to mentally lift the layers and reach through the glass, through the paint, through the colour, They’re beautifully painterly actually, gorgeous, these Soul pieces hint at a painter who’s best work might still be yet to come, an artist who maybe be an old school legend from the last century but a painter who really is just starting, what comes next? These painting are alive with the possibilities, like he’s only just discovering, like paint and the possibilities of paint rather excite him here in 2017. It might have been the Seen pieces that provided the immediate hit but those Risk pieces in the back room really are something special. So which one to take? A Risk or a Seen? impossible to answer, I’d have to refuse the offer of just one and demand one of each please…
I’m assuming these Seen pieces are recent, they have all the magic of the early 80’s, they have that instant feeling that New York graffiti had in the early 80’s, that hit of excitement, that rush – the layers, the marks, the colour range, the ice cream brightness, the I scream brightness, there’s something pure about these pieces, something about those marks, about those layers (I do love a layer), and there’s something rather special about seeing that MTA logo right there in the flesh (how much did I pour over that book and those layers of paint, pouring over those lines and tags (and those whole cars up in the sky on those train lines) back in ’84. Pouring over that book and then whatever else could be found via the pages of American music zines, art zines, on record sleeves, flyers),
Those Seen pieces really are alive with so so much, that panther fronting it all with so much attitude, he just looks back at you from the gallery wall and says yeah – “Yeah” says the Pink Panther, “this is the proper real hardcore deal, look how he’s painted me, he’s still got it, New York in the house”. And the more you look the more there is, those layers just demand to be peeled back, those colours, those lines, those beautiful marks. We may be in a somewhat formal art gallery and yes these are very much framed gallery pieces, and yes, this is very much a gallery show, a contemporary art event, but this has all the magic of the street and that book, and those days back there that excited so so much. Oh look, I love this show to bits, them people at Stolen Space are going to be sick of me dropping in again and again during the next few weeks, I could stay in that back room all day and still not see enough of it – this is a genuinely exciting, this is thrilling, she was more than right, there’s been some rather strong shows at Stolen Space over the last couple of years, this has to be right up there with the best.
And that was part one, let’s get it posted up on line, tune in later for part two and the on-going Thursday night adventure and Pints and Madonnatron and the news that Emalin finally have a sign on their gallery door….. (sw)
The Seen and Risk show runs at Stolen Space until January 28th 2018, .Stolen Space is at 17 Osborn Street, Whitechapel, London, E1 6TD
click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show