London Art Spot: Femme Fierce

Photo from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

When I heard about Femme Fierce, my ears perked up: A week-long, all-female street art event drawing nearly 100 artists into London from around the world with a Leake Street takeover on International Women’s Day (March 8) and a documentary about women in this male-dominated scene? Count me in! There’s lots of free events and one cheap one for which the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Awareness charity. To find out a bit more, I’ve thrown a few questions at a couple of the key people involved in making this fabulous event a reality and they were kind enough to answer. Meet Zina and Chock (from the Girls on Top Crew), two of the artists involved; Darren, the curator; and Catherine Cort Koppel, the film-maker behind the documentary.

Photo of Zina from Cre8 Gallery

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from originally?
Zina (Artist): I’m an Illustrator and Street artist based in London. I’m Norwegian, and yes I’ve got an accent. I did a bachelor in illustration at Falmouth Uni, in Cornwall. I moved to London in 2010, and started spraying after few months in the city. It was hard to not get inspired walking around seeing all the art around East London, even though with an older brother who is into graffiti, I was already familiar with parts of the scene. Music, mainly hiphop has been a great inspiration when making my art.

Photo of Decent Beatz from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: What are some of your main hobbies or interests? 
Zina: The thing is, I’ve been working on making my hobby my full time job. Maybe not the safest bet some would say, but if I try hard enough and sacrifice a little on the way, I might just get there. Hopefully very soon. Other then urban art, illustration and painting, I enjoy music and dancing. Also, I love researching and looking into subjects like philosophy, consciousness and symbolism, which also influence the subjects I paint.

Photo – CBloxx from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Femme Fierce must be one of the biggest all-female street art events ever. What can we expect?
Darren (Curator): We are hosting a 7-day art exhibition featuring artists like Amara Por Dios, Artista, Ashes 57, Boxhead, Girls on Top Crew, Theiu and Zina. Imagine a female ruled planet where street art defines the rules and what we call reality. This exhibition will provoke the thought of a female planet that is governed by art… a world where you will find everything from the earthly, surreal to otherworldly. Over the seven days we also have the Leake Street takeover event, a graffiti workshop and film screening, plus all the girls are going to come together to create a group mural for the closing.


Photo of freakSTATIC from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: It’s a huge undertaking and very exciting. How and when did the idea develop? 
Darren: We (Earth Tone Arts / Cre8 Gallery) were in the process of developing an all female street art show towards the end of last year for 2014… Ironically, the Street Art Agency were coordinating the Leake Street event around the same time and we were both talking to some of the same artists. After a meeting at the gallery and a little give and take between both parties, we decided to pull our resources together and make the projects bigger and better. Femme Fierce was born and the rest is history…or better yet – herstory.

Photo of ZABOU from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: With 100 artists involved, it’s hard to narrow it down, but tell us about three you are most excited about.
Darren: That’s difficult… All the ladies involved in the gallery exhibit are top notch and some of my favourites, but if I had to pick three, I’ll choose, Amara, Neonita and Zina because they all have an indigenous surreal style, look and feel to their work that I personally like and I’m interested in that kind of artwork.

Photo of NEONITA from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: It’s a wonderfully international bunch of artists. Where are some of them flying in from and how did you all connect?
Darren: We have people coming in from all around the UK, plus artists flying in from South Africa, Japan, Dubai, Sweden, Norway and Italy to name a few… The internet is the tool we used to make it all happen, taking advantage of all the social networking sites plus our contacts to spread the word.

Photo – work by Midge from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Tell us more about the documentary film “Women on Walls”, which will launch during this time. What is the storyline and the message the film aims to communicate?
Catherine Cort Koppel (Film Maker): The documentary explores how it was to be a female in the male-dominated graffiti scene in the late 90s and how the coming of street art changed the scene for women involved in the subculture. Graffiti and street art has been a popular topic for yearss, but much attention has been given to the male artists. For the first time some of the few English female graffiti writers active in the 90s tell stories of their experience being a female in a rough, sexist and male-dominated subculture. In the early 2000s, the face of graffiti changed with the coming of Banksy and street art. Through the eyes of graffiti writers, street artists and experts, “Women on Walls” looks into the current street art and graffiti landscape and how the scene has changed for women artists involved over the last decade. The documentary showcase female talent and asks why the scene has been so male-dominated in the past and why that is rapidly changing as more female street artists gain recognition for their work in the current climate.

Photo – work by Hannah Adamaszek from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: How has the street art scene evolved recently to attract more female artists to something that has typically been male-dominated?
Chock (Artist): I think over the past 10 years, there has been more internet and media attention and graffiti and street artist have been shown not just to be angry little boys vandalising peoples houses anymore. People have begun to realise that it is a legitimate art form too. There have always been a select group of hardcore girls as there are hardcore males, but with the arrival of Instagram and social networking, it has become more fashionable and girls love fashion. Haha. Artists such as Mad C totally destroying most guys skills has really pushed graffiti to the max and inspired many female artists to push themselves, I believe. Street Art has become very accessible and an industry has built up around it now, especially in East london. This makes it more open to anyone and less elitist.

Photo – work by Amara Por Dios from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Why is street art important?
Zina: Street art for me is about sharing art, thoughts and ideas with more people, instead of hiding it all in a gallery. It’s also good exposure of one’s work, and personally I enjoy the feedback, seeing people’s reactions and appreciation is great. Their excitement about the work is what makes me want to keep painting, and I wish sometimes the excitement will rob off on me too.

Photo: Steffi Bow from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: How much do tickets cost and where does the money go? Where can we buy them?
Darren: The exhibition, workshops and film screening are all FREE events. Tickets cost £2.50 to take part in the Leake Street event. All the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Awareness charity. Tickets can be purchased through eventbrite.

Image – work by Pyklops from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: What does this project mean to you personally?
Zina: This show is a great start to the year and it seems lots of people have heard about it already. It’s nice to be more involved and get to know the other girls who are spraying. I’m looking forward to the Leake street takeover more than anything, to meet people and see new and different art work.

Thanks Zina, Darren, Catherine & Chock!

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London Art Spot: Orban Wallace

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Have you seen the fun new “Skateseeing” videos? There’s one that features someone on a skateboard cruising through East London (below), which I love. Anyway, Orban is the film director for the project, one of the creative minds behind what is going to be a whole series of “skateseeing” clips in different destinations around the world. I decided to take some time to pick his brain about making this intimate video of East London and his career in general.

Below, Orban talks about working on one of the Harry Potter films, a random keyboard player in Shoreditch and a favourite London discovery that I have not yet had the pleasure to visit. 

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from originally, how long have you lived in London and what brought you here?
OW: I’m originally a country boy, growing up in the wilds of Dorset in a very remote cottage. I lived there until I was 18, before deciding I needed to travel the world. I was always fascinated by film and from an early age began to make films with friends at school and college, using our rural location to come up with Blair Witch-style horror movies and films about poaching.

On returning from my travels, I had somehow wangled a job on the Harry Potter 6 film as a runner in the VFX department, through a family friend. I moved to Hemel Hempstead to work at the studios in Leavesden. I was really thrown in the deep end and had to learn very fast how to work in a department which I previously knew nothing about, in a fast-paced and streamlined production. It was an amazing insight into the top end of the film industry. I learnt a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of production and had an incredible time exploring the world of Harry Potter, constantly finding excuses to escape the office and find a way down to the sets and the action. We then moved to Soho for post production. I moved to Old Street and gained my first experience of London life, in particular East London: the joys of Brick Lane, Broadway Market and the late night party scene in Shoreditch.

I have just returned to London now after spending the last four years in Brighton completing a film degree at Sussex University and establishing my own production company with three close friends.

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LLO: You recently made two videos for HotelClub – one in Brighton and the latest in East London – for a series called ‘Skateseeing’. What’s the vision behind this project? Why skateboards? Is Skateseeing something people can get involved in?
OW: We made these videos when Matt Lindley of HotelClub.com got in touch with us to create a series of travel videos showcasing alternative destinations in the UK and further afield. Cruising around on a skateboard seemed like a really natural way to explore these areas. It gives the audience the experience of gliding through these spaces, picking up the details of the characters and lifestyles, which characterize what makes these places unique.

We welcome other people to make their own Skateseeing movies, and in fact I think that’s where the series is heading to next!

Click the image below to watch the East London video:

Skateseeing

LLO: What are some of your favourite places that feature in the London video? What do you like about them?
OW: I love the markets, the hustle and bustle, people watching, the smells and the banter. My favourite place is the canals on a sunny afternoon, and the atmosphere of everyone hanging out.

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LLO: Tell us how your career has progressed. What have been some of the key highlights so far?
OW: After a year as a runner on the Harry Potter film, I decided I wanted to try my hand at producing my own films. I began a filmmaking degree at Sussex University, and embarked on my first documentary, an observational film following the notorious climate camp activists. The main subject of the film was the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which saw thousands of activists descending on the city for a week of madness. It was an intense week, trying not to get arrested and learning how difficult it was to film in minus conditions in very volatile protest situations. We survived and came out with our first film, Copenhagen the Musical.

I continued as a freelance filmmaker making numerous films, before collaborating on my first short narrative, with the incredible guys I work with now. The creativity, tireless nights and laughter that went into our first film together is really what inspired us all to form the company we run now, Gallivant. Gallivant specializes in music videos and commercial content and have made films across Europe, our last being a ski promo in the French Alps, which was alright! We are now in the process of developing our first feature film.

filming-outdoors

LLO: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work? And the most rewarding?
OW: The most challenging is always the endless amount of work which goes into pre-production and planning. Learning to be a seamless multi-tasker is what’s hard, but this is what makes a good producer. Directing, filming and being on the shoot are always great, especially by the time you’ve planned some weird and wonderful concept and you’re hanging off the top of a fishing trawler, with your friend performing a live music video, as cuttlefish and ink fly past your head.

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LLO: Tell us about a memorable encounter you had with a Londoner while filming Skateseeing East London.
OW: The old guy dressed sharp as nails, playing the eeriest music on his Casio keyboard, was a welcome surprise as we passed under the bridge next to Shoreditch Overground Station.

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LLO: How did you choose the music for the video?
OW: I was driving, listening to an old mix CD when this song came on, and it just clicked for me. I’d been a bit stumped beforehand as to what tone and mood to go for, but this song just had that groove and pace which I felt would really work. Amazingly, the artist GUTS, a renowned French trip hop producer, was cool for me to use it when I wrote to him. We have now established a working relationship and I’ve used more of his tunes for other projects. It regained my faith in how it’s always worth it, just to ask.

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LLO: What’s been your best East London discovery?
OW: Picking up vegetables at Ridley Road market and sitting on the locks at sunset.

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LLO: Where is the Skateseeing series heading to next?
OW: There’s a Sydney video currently in the pipeline, then there’s talk of us flying to the Philippines to shoot one in Manila. After that it remains a mystery!

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Thanks Orban!

Listen to a Londoner: Graham Greenglass (& Giveaway!)

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Born and bred Londoner Graham Greenglass went through the famous course, the Knowledge, to become a black cab driver. Combined with his history degree, he has an extensive knowledge of this city which he shares through tours in his cab. They have different themes like music and horror and are one of the most popular London activities on Trip Advisor. Graham has offered a free one to a lucky LLO reader (details at the end) and has taken the time to answer a few questions about how London has changed since he was a child, what it was like to go through the Knowledge which is famously gruelling and a fun London discovery in Dollis Hill.

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your interests. Which part of London is home for you? 
GG: I’m from north west London, man and boy. Like most Londoners, I think that I live a quite unremarkable life.  But like a lot of Londoners, I know that I live in a truly remarkable city; and I love it and it never ceases to interest me and almost every day I discover something new to read about or visit or find.

LLO: How long have you been a black cab driver? What was it like to study the Knowledge? 
GG: It took three years of doing the Knowledge for me to get my green badge in 2000, which is about average.  They say that two thirds of people who start the Knowledge never finish.  The Knowledge was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

A Knowledge student eats, sleeps and drinks the Knowledge.  It’s all encompassing and takes up almost every waking thought of every day.  I may never be a millionaire but it’s scientifically proven that my brain is bigger than your brain.

LLO: You’re running your own London Cab Tours, which are number 3 out of 516 activities in London on Trip Advisor. Impressive. What prompted you to start doing this? How long are the tours and where do they start?
GG: Sometime in 2001, I thought I’d like to be a London tour guide, using my London taxi for tours. I’d done a history degree in the early ‘80s, but had never actually used my love of history in any job I’d had.  It dawned on me that I could show people London icons, from a London icon.

Each tour lasts for two to three hours and we can cover quite a bit of ground in the taxi.  We make lots of stops too and go for the occasional short walk.

I’ll pick customers up from anywhere in central London and drop them off anywhere central too.

LLO: Tell us about the themes of your tours. Which is your most popular? Which do you most enjoy and why?
GG: My tours cover various themes:  London Highlights; London Rock’n Roll; London Horror; London of Dickens & Shakespeare.

London Highlights is the most popular tour, but I enjoy them all.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes in the city since you were a child?
GG: The architecture and London’s built environment – there is both a lot of imaginative use of space and some quite hideous monstrosities.  This is a very clean city (which is nice), but I do kind of miss the grime.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
GG: Churchill’s spare war bunker in Dollis Hill.  It’s only open during Open House and I managed to go a few years ago during its first ever re-opening. Hard hats and wellies required. Once you’re forty feet underground you discover why it was never really used. No toilets.

LLO: Tell us the story of your most memorable passenger.
GG: I’ll always remember the British Museum academic who told me that he’d just finished inspecting some old, rare Tsarist paper money.  He had to tell the owner/dealer that they were fakes. Only worth a few thousand pounds, instead of the hoped for tens of thousands of pounds.

LLO: Share a piece of London trivia that passengers would hear on one of your tours.
GG: In 1972, a man was arrested after driving into a lamp post one night near Cockpit Steps. His defence at his court hearing was that he’d swerved to avoid the ghost of the headless lady of Cockpit Steps. He was acquitted.

LLO: What kind of music do you listen to when you drive? Or do you prefer silence?
GG: I’m a bit of a music freak. But right now, anyone called Hank from south of the Mason Dixon Line.

LLO: When you think of London, what comes to mind when you hear each of the following:
GG: 
Sight –  The Houses of Parliament (corny, but true)
Sound –  Sirens (horrible, but true)
Smell –  Fish & Chip Shops and Indian Restaurants
Taste –  Fresh challah
Texture –  The mottled rubber of my taxi steering wheel

Thanks Graham!

Check out Graham’s London cab tours on his website, www.londoncabtours.co.uk

GIVEAWAY

Graham has very kindly offered to give one lucky LLO reader a free London tour in his cab! The tour will last two hours. Graham will pick you up and drop you off anywhere in central London and you’re welcome to choose any of his tour themes (which you’ll find on his website). The tour can take place any day time, which will be decided between Graham and the winner.

TO ENTER

I’m trying to spread the word about my new blog, Little Observationist. To enter, please share the link (http://www.littleobservationist.com) on any of your social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blog, etc). For each place you share, leave a comment here on this entry and let me know where you shared the link. Extra entries for Facebook page likes.

DEADLINE

Entries will be accepted until the midnight GMT, Sunday January 26. A winner will be selected at random on Monday January 27th and notified by email. The winner will be put in touch with Graham directly to make the tour arrangement as above.

London Art Spot: Hunto

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Italian cubist street artist Hunto has ventured into oil paints for the first time and is about to kick off a week long exhibition at Cre8 Gallery in Hackney. He’s called London home for a while now and was happy to give us a bit of insight into his work and the way London inspires him creatively. Read on to find out about why his show is called Bella Mia, why art is important to him and his favourite London discovery (which sort of ties into his exhibition…)!

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LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
HUNTO: I’m from the south of Italy and I’m known to some as ‘young boy’. I’ve been based in London for a few years and my reasons for being here are many, not just for art.

LLO: In what ways does living in London inspire your creativity?
HUNTO: London has many cultures who mix together. That mixture inspires my work. Different faces, shapes and colours excite me.

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LLO: You have an exhibition this week at Cre8 Gallery in Hackney. The title is Bella Mia. What does this mean and how does it tie in to the work we’ll see in the show?
HUNTO: Bella Mia is a term of endearment in Italy, which simply translates to “my Beauty”. This show at Cre8 Gallery is a reflection of my love and passion for women. It’s a show about love and experience men have with women. My work attempts to show different personalities, characteristics and cultures of the opposite sex.

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LLO: What can we expect from the exhibition? What will the opening event be like. 
HUNTO: The exhibition will showcase another side of me, which I’m still developing. Coming from a graffiti background, displaying in a gallery setting in fairly new to me. The opening will be a surprise to many as people are used to seeing my work in the streets.

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LLO: In this show you’re using oil for the first time. How do you feel about the results? Will you continue this way in the future?
HUNTO: I am using oils as I want to develop as an artist and to free myself from the graffiti tag. The result was as I expected, leaving me satisfied that I am finally evolving. In my mind, I always knew I would make that transition but will always respect my roots. The future for Hunto…. only God knows! Maybe I’ll sing one day.

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LLO: Tell us about your background as an artist. Are you self trained or formally taught? How long have you been painting? Why is it important to you?
HUNTO: I’ve always drawn since I was a child. Graffiti was introduced to me in 1996 and since then I have never looked back. Before friends would tell me I should try using cans and to work on walls, so from then I trained myself and developed various styles. Art simply helps makes me happy and keeps me from trouble.

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LLO: If you had to describe your style of art to someone who has never seen your work, what would you say?
HUNTO: Colourful, vibrant, static. Really, I want people to make up their own minds.

LLO: What is the story behind the name Hunto?
HUNTO: It’s a name I liked the sound of and when I used to do lettering I liked the way the letters stood next to each other.

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LLO: Why is colour so important to you?
HUNTO: Colour reflects my personality.

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LLO: Tell us about another London-based artist that is doing something you admire.
HUNTO: I respect all artists!! i don’t judge or comment…

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
HUNTO: Anywhere that has women.

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Thanks Hunto!

Pop over to Cre8 Gallery to check out Hunto’s show from November 21 – December 3. It’s open every day from 11am – 6pm. The gallery is also hosting a cubism art seminar on November 28 from 6-9pm. 

Listen to a Londoner: Garry Hunter

GH_with_cover_image_of_NameRank&SerialNumber_showing_GreatUncle_John_Gaffney_KIA_1944Photo: Garry with image from NYC show celebrating John Gaffney the Great Uncle he never knew, killed in action during Normandy campaign

If you follow the street art scene in London or anywhere else in the world, you may be familiar with Garry’s book,  Street Art: From Around the World with the ROA rat on the front cover. He’s just completed a second volume titled Urban Art: The World as a Canvas. Having spent many years as a photographer, on many different levels, Garry is now heavily involved in the street art scene, bridging artists in the UK with international opportunities and bringing artists from abroad to paint in the UK. He has his own studio space in Trinity Buoy Wharf which is exactly as he describes below (and I speak from experience) a wonderfully cluttered mess of art and memories, a cave of ephemera. In his interview, Garry tells us more about his connection to street art and how the scene has changed in recent years, the fascinating history of his family and connection to the Docklands and the story behind his own arts group, Fitzrovia Noir.

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LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
GH: I was born and raised in South Shields, a town that the Romans called Arbeia ‘Land of the Arabs’ as even when they arrived, the ferry across the River Tyne was run by boatmen from the Euphrates. This testament to the cosmopolitan outlook continued with settlement of Yemenese sailors in the 19th Century and when I was growing up my Egyptian neighbour, Mr Aziz used to drive Jimi Hendrix around during his early tours of the Newcastle area, his manager being the local former-Animal Chas Chandler. In the early 1970s the town had the largest settlement of Muslims in Western Europe, hence Muhammed Ali visiting the mosque to have his marriage blessed. I have a vivid memory of him standing only a few feet from me dressed in an immaculate white suit when he came to Gypsies Green stadium, now the finish line of the Great North Run.

My great uncle Bill cycled to St Albans in the 1930s and never came back, so my mother used to visit him regularly after the war. She got to know London well on day trips from there and used to regale me with stories of the bright lights of theatres and crowds of busy people, although I really just eventually ended up here without a real intention, like so many people.

My actual first published photograph was in 1982, when I sneaked into Rik Mayall’s soundcheck at The Jesmond Theatre in Newcastle. He not only shared his cans of Brown Ale with me and allowed me to take pictures, but introduced me to a very young Ben Elton and also Jools Holland who was then hosting the anarchic Tube music programme that was filmed in the city. They all said I should move to London, which five years later, I did. In the meantime I toured with rock bands and learnt why roadies wafted thermometers around on lighted stages prior to gigs; this was to balance the temperatures between stage and dressing room, so guitar strings did not expand and go out of tune. I can’t really talk about the more decadent side of the business that I experienced, as I wish to maintain the privacy of those people who became good friends of mine and gave me opportunities I had never even dreamed of.

The miner’s strike of 84/85 hit North East England badly, with my own father then working at a coal pit. As soon as it was over I left my job as an exhibition printer at a local photolab and moved to Suffolk to live at the haunted Claret Hall Farm that housed the Lodge Recording Studios in former barns. I had cut my teeth on ‘live’ rock photography and here honed my skills on more art directed conceptual image making for record sleeves and promos, dodging police raids on the management’s ever-relocating amphetamine factory.

I then hitch hiked to art college in Swansea, South Wales, sleeping under my portfolio on a partially shrubbed traffic island in Bristol. Two and a half years later I arrived in London a week after the big 1987 storm, squatting with a Clapham Old Town cadre of washed-up aristocrats, who had spent their inheritances on Class A drugs and still squandered their meagre dole money on designer trousers. I got a job with a right wing photographer in Soho, who almost put me off the business as he made portraits of Freemasons in aprons with (non designer) trouser legs rolled up. After then working at a ‘glamour’ studio in Hoxton and printing exhibitions for the National Portrait Gallery, I met by chance an Armenian who would become my mentor – photographer and raconteur Peter Mackertich, and we are still friends after 25 years, working together on fine art projects where he uses Speed Graphic plate cameras and ‘blaster’ flashbulbs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Ancestors by Sciutto – East India Dock

LLO: You spend a lot of time in London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf, the “Docklands most exciting arts quarter”. Would would we discover if we paid you a visit?
GH: I discovered the Wharf quite by chance about twelve years ago and was immediately enchanted by this hidden gem, which once found must be revisited, or the ghost of former resident Michael Faraday may send you lightning bolts. I did a few exhibitions during Open House in then-vacant Container City spaces and then when Boiler House 1954 became available I remortgaged my flat to fund the initial projects I wanted to do there. I have since been supported by both the Trust and Urban Space who manage the site, allowing me to invite artists from France, Iraq, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand and Venezuela, as well as working there with UK practitioners such as Ben Wilson (AKA Chewing Gum Man) and William Alexander who makes vehicles from cardboard, reflecting the upcycling ethos of the wharf, where many studios are made from old shipping containers.

The most recent addition to our growing collection of permanent work is a piece by Irony that celebrates the natural beauty of an enigmatic non-celebrity, caught in the breeze that gives the Wharf its nickname of Windy Corner.

Over the weekend of 28/29 September, we are exhibiting work inspired by the tattoo genre in the historic Electricians Shop at the Wharf, built in 1835 when many sailors would be returning from the South Pacific with freshly inked skin. We have artists from Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Venezuela looking at interpreting ‘flashes’ (or tattoo designs) into other media and onto other surfaces. The gallery has just this week been refurbished with spotlighting and a brand new entrance from Orchard Place. I like the way the architect has kept the historical details but has opened out the extended area with large glass panels to maximise daylight.

My own studio next door has been described as anything from a man-cave to my deconstructed brain and I think it’s somewhere between, put most succinctly by Antarctic Expedition Ops Manager Tris Kaye as ‘all of this knowledge’. Many pieces are gifts from artists I’ve worked with, other bits that I’ve rescued from derelict buildings, amongst hundreds of books in a sea of ephemera. There are works in progress, others coming in from or going out to an exhibition and ideas sparked from serendipity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Ancestors by Sciutto – East India Dock

LLO: Why are you attracted to the Docklands?
GH: I grew up by the foggy North Sea, where Tyne Dock nearly died in the early 80s, only to be revitalised by the constant Nissan transporters now coming out of the old airport site. Rather than sending coals to nearby Newcastle for export the area is now making cars to send to Europe.

My father was in the Merchant Navy from 1948-55 and sailed just about everywhere apart from the Panama Canal and Japan. These were the pre-container days when cargo ships were in ports for weeks, offloading, cleaning and loading, giving plenty time to explore New Orleans, Kingston, Odessa, Galveston, Caracas, Port Said, Adelaide and a hundred points between, so this sense of adventure was embedded in my psyche from an early age. On my mother’s side, her paternal grandfather was captain of the SS Effective, a Victorian steamship that he once navigated down to Genoa to have family portraits taken by renowned photographer Sciutto (pronounced ‘shoot-o’ perhaps part of the etymology of the word for a photo session?) I still have these original prints which I’ve here put on a maritime metal bollard cast in North East England and still at East India Dock, which in its heyday might well have secured the vessels that my ancestors traveled on from Durham.

(NB Sciutto made many famous images including this one of legendary Italian stage actress Eleonora Duse.)

My father would have visited East India Dock when it occupied a much larger area (the surviving nature reserve is only one of the smaller entrance docks) but was always more interested in smuggling paint ashore in Italy or dodging rogue traders in the Suez Canal. My first book Trip_Transporting Grain looked at these journeys, revisiting locations half a century later, the title referencing the Marshall Plan voyages that my father made from North America and the act of carrying grain within camera film.

LLO: International connections seem important to you in your work with artists. Talk a bit about how you’re bridging UK artists to other parts of the world and vice versa.
GH: I’ve established some great links with motivated people in Morocco, who are helping to bring artists from there here and UK artists out there. This has great potential, as do some other locations in Europe and Latin America, which I can’t talk about yet as they’re still in early stages of development.

By_Irony_at_Trinity_Buoy_WharfPhoto: Street art by Irony at Trinity Buoy Wharf

LLO: As well as helping to give emerging artists a voice, you have a history as an artist yourself. Tell us about your work as a photographer. What stands out as one of your most memorable experiences? I worked in photography exclusively from 1980-2005 and went from originally wanting to be a documentary photographer, to getting breaks into the music business, onto abstract experimental studio work for massive corporations, then to public sector campaigns for the NHS, NESTA, the Film Council and creative documentation for galleries like Hauser+Wirth, Gagosian and Modern Art, which bridged me into fine art practice.

One of my most memorable assignments, six years ago was a UN mission into Niger to create imagery for an advocacy program on maternal health. After photographing at a hospital in the French colonial capital of Niamey, we drove across the Sahara to Zinder, an ancient crossroads where slaves were traded until relatively recently. We met with the Sultan who decreed that girls could no longer marry aged 12, and now had to be 16 adding that this would be raised to 20 ‘if they were a bit skinny.’ Fistula is however a serious problem and we met many young girls suffering from this avoidable condition but can only hope that their treatment is successful and others can be protected. I was so heavily bearded and suntanned after this extended period in the desert, that when trying to leave from the international airport, my passport was seized while officials checked my temporary resemblance to an Al Qaeda fugitive on their wanted list.

I lived in New York from 2004-07, exhibiting my first solo show Name, Rank and Serial Number picking up an award for the accompanying book and half a dozen others for my fine art work and abstract experimental advertising imagery for big corporations like Sony, Cable&Wireless and Pfizer. When I got back to London I felt I needed to move on and set up Fitzrovia Noir with Lucy Williams, a specialist in community arts outreach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Inside Garry’s studio

LLO: How has the advent of digital photography affected the art form as it is today?
GH: I used to love the alchemy of large format image making using cameras with extendable bellows and film formats measured in inches, pushing chemical technology beyond the norm. Whereas it often used to take me days to produce one finished image that had exposures of minutes using projectors and mixed lighting, now it’s instantaneous. I lost interest in photography that resembles a colouring-in book, where the process is concentrated in post-production.

I spent a month at BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize) in 2010 shortly before it closed due to MoD cuts. There I created ‘textographs’ which describe photographs not taken, that were then framed like prints for the Annuale Festival of Independent Practice during Edinburgh Festival. This was an experiment into whether a photograph is still worth anything like a thousand words, promoted by research I did on cognitive uses of the brain, facilitated by The Disconnected Mind project led by Professor Ian Deary at the University of Edinburgh.

On the positive side I have rediscovered documentary photography and this features strongly as a strand of my curatorial practice and in the books I write and illustrate.

STORM_Waterloo_signed_editioned_print_20x24_C-typePhoto: Original  image on 10×8″ format transparency

LLO: In 2008, you set up Fitzrovia Noir arts group. Tell us about this group and why you chose the name.
GH: When the 250 year old Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia was sold and demolition began, I thought it was extremely important to celebrate this iconic teaching institution that had cared for so many Londoners from Prince Monolulu to Peter Sellers, hosting the laying in state of Rudyard Kipling and having treatments for a cholera epidemic supervised by one Florence Nightingale before she left for the Crimea.

I added Noir to the neighbourhood name to signal our interest in the darker side of life, whilst also referencing both of my grandmothers, one who had the maiden name of Black, the other who had a French side, with milliner cousins running a shop in Paris. The prefix ‘Fitz’ was used to denote a child conceived out of landed gentry wedlock and added in front of existing surnames in Ireland, so this also relates to a distant relative who I’m told was a baron, but I’m not sure if he was a real bastard…

We like places undergoing transition and exhibited our Responses to Conflict & Loss group show as site specific changing showcases that specifically responded to the three venues: St Pancras Crypt which was a WWII air raid shelter; Space2 Gallery in Peterborough, once used as a Cold War nuclear shelter and the University of Hertfordshire Galleries that had the de Havilland aircraft factory on its site. We have also exhibited in an old pithead on Tyneside, a former grammar school in Chelsea, an empty shop in Edinburgh and look forward to a 13th Century Château in the Ardèche next summer and possibly a French colonial abattoir in Casablanca in 2014 too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Inside Garry’s studio

LLO: You’re the author of Street Art: From Around the World with a follow up book out this month. What can we expect to see in the new volume?
GH: The last book was an introduction to the street art practices of stencil, paint, poster and 3D, citing notable artists. This new book goes under the skin, examining the concepts behind the work and looking at the pioneer artists of the 1960s and 70s including Kent Twitchell in Los Angeles and Ernest Pignon-Ernest in Naples, featuring previously unseen archive photography by Peter Mackertich and specially taken photographs by Doralba Picerno, Sheridan Orr and myself that look at urban artists’ work in countries lesser known for such activity including Canada, India, Korea, Morocco and South Africa.

LLO: How did you get involved with the street art community?
GH: I’d taken an interest in graffiti since an early age, being something of a practitioner myself and getting caned at school for misuse of a pen. My great friend Cathy Gibbons in New York opened my eyes to emerging practices, as did visits to Berlin and I got to know some artists very well as collaborators when I set up Fitzrovia Noir.

An ongoing project I first formulated in 2006 has finally broken through after much immersive research and changing hurdles imposed by funding authorities. The core idea is to look at the street names on the postwar council estate where I grew up, which honour writers like Ruskin who had a social conscience and deep interest in the visual arts. The next estate celebrates Ruskin’s friend Turner and many other famous painters such as Landseer and Rembrandt, so this really is a new look at ‘street art’ where I hope to engage current residents in a program of celebrating people from the area, who I feel have been neglected. I was six years old when my father took me for tea to meet Lord Blyton, a campaigner for miners’ rights who carried on living at his council house nearby and is still the most impressive Lord among the many I have since met. My concept is, I am happy to say, the central theme of a successful consortium bid called The Cultural Spring that will see a two million pound fund to promote the arts in areas of North East England that are much more in need of ‘street art’ than say, saturated Shoreditch. I have a strong desire to get Lord Blyton properly recognised locally, as well as many less famous people who make huge efforts to improve the lives of others.

 

LLO: How has street art evolved in the last decade and how do you feel about the changes?
GH: I think the main problem now is corporations want a very big slice of the pie and I was told only yesterday that ‘community volunteers’ from McDonalds in branded overalls were spotted painting over work on Sclater Street, in readiness for who knows what thinly veiled subliminal messages. Some blame does lie with the self appointed keepers of certain walls in Shoreditch, who speak of strategy and branding for their artists – this is public art now, without any real message apart from a big bold statement that says ‘I own this wall.’ There is hope though – watch this space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo: Garry’s latest book: Urban Art, The World as a Canvas

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery and why?
GH: To discover Fitzrovia in the late 80s was a revelation, an area right in Central London that few had heard of and had very affordable studio space after the property crash. I had three studios there over twenty years and lived there for most of that time. It’s been ruined now through overdevelopment and I’ve lived in Dalston for the last year, loving Ridley Market and especially the superb food that comes out of the tiny Kashmiri Kebabish at No 5. They’ve even cooked for a President of Pakistan.

Garry Hunter has a book signing for the newly published Urban Art : The World as a Canvas on the Opening Night of the Heroes and Villains panels on Thursday October 3rd from 5pm to 10pm, upstairs at The Bell, Middlesex Street E1. All welcome. Signed copies are also now available from Graffik Gallery, 284 Portobello Road W10 .