I’ve always loved London for its hustle and bustle. I’ve never held a grudge against packed Tube trains or busy roads; to me, they’re just signs of a thriving city. The older I get though, the more I struggle with the lack of colour in our city. I don’t believe that a city has to be a sprawling expanse of grey where billboard advertising is the main source of colour.
It wasn’t until I co-founded Global Street Art that I realized there might be a way to change my neighbourhood and the spaces beyond it. Our website www.globalstreetart.com, which was launched earlier this year, originally started as a vehicle for my own graffiti and street art photo archive, which has now swelled to accommodate the 60,000+ photos I’ve taken in some 20 countries (there are a huge number of photos taken right here in London). We now also take on photo collections from other photographers.
Being certain that the future of Global Street Art was to build a permanent museum dedicated to preserving a visual of street art and graffiti, I took the step of helping my friends, many of London’s best graffiti writers and street artists, find some new places to paint. This was, and still is, a social project to colour the streets of London, as an alternative to a sea of grey punctuated by advertising.
That was the birth of the Walls Project (which also involves a lot of shop shutters). Artists were painting as a gift to the city, purely because they wanted to. We would blog about it at Global Street Art, helped by our friends at Londonist, which helped artists get more exposure. Some artists got a chance to promote their shows, but for many there was no direct pay-off – they were simply giving something back to the city they loved.
Many artists are professional, and as such their art is their source of income. Artists shouldn’t be expected to paint for free – what they do is very valuable. We have always insisted that artists have artistic freedom, save for obvious restrictions that the subject matter isn’t sexist, racist, and so on, though this issue has never come up. Whenever someone asks an artist to paint a specific subject I treat that as a commission, which people should budget properly for.
In the past six months we’ve arranged to have over 50 new pieces painted by artists from over seven countries. Artists have included Phlegm, Masai, Inkfetish, Shok-1, Teddy Baden, Snik, Probs, Elfin, Tizer, Malarky, Dank, Solo-1, Mondi, Jive and Don from the UK, but we’ve also had honorary Brits like Milo Tchais, The Krah, Zina and Otto Schade plus Hunto and Wany from Italy, Chase from the US, Ador from France, Padure from Romania, Mart, Zumi, Poeta and Roma from Argentina… the list goes on and on.
I sometimes wonder if people realize that a lot of street art in London is done legally and with permission and that involves a little effort in itself.
Check out www.globalstreetart.com/walls for a map of all the pieces (it changes often). You’ll notice that everything so far is in East London. That’s just because I live there and most of what we’ve had painted is on my route to work in the morning. Despite the grand-sounding name, The Walls Project, it’s still me on my bike asking shop-owners for walls and shutters. There are new wall-finders in North and West London too, friends of mine, who have a similar vision, like Shay from Real Art of Street Art. I also see this happening in other cities around the World, which I would love.
Initially it was difficult to convince shop owners to cover even material costs but that has started to change. When they see us painting a shutter nearby, shop owners often stop and chat. Most recently, Montana Paint (a German spraypaint company) has decided to sponsor the Walls Project too. Stay tuned!
The Global Street Art book has just launched on Unbound, featuring hundreds of amazing street art photos from all over the world with great interviews and articles. Support the book by pledging now here. All Global Street Art supporters will be listed in the book once it’s printed.