Meeting ROA

With a tip off from the fabulous Cityzen Kane (who I was with last weekend scoping out a top secret project that I’ll write about soon), I found out ROA was in town! It’s no secret now as his latest wall was finished this week, but it was a pleasure to be able to watch him in action and see it all start to come together without the crowds.

Cityzen Kane told me the approximate area where he was painting and gave me the mobile number of Ijam who was making on a stop motion film of ROA at work. Eventually I found them at the end of Voss Street between Derbyshire Street and Bethnal Green Road. I’ll post a few of the photos I took which weren’t great since it’s such a gigantic wall and this was a spur of the moment thing so I didn’t have the right lens, but there’s a final photo at the end as well.

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ROA was standing with a small group of friends taking a break. He shook my hand curiously and I followed Ijam up to the roof of some flats across from the wall where he was filming to get a better look from above. The wall stretched in front of us was massive and with the help of a crane, ROA was painting about 10 different intertwined animals. He had finished about four at this point and was working on the fifth – all of which had been done in about three days at that point.

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And sure enough, within another minute or so, he was back at it, hood up, working diligently, stepping back, taking a look, approaching the wall again and making three or four long strokes with the black spray paint and then stepping back again. I don’t know how he works on such a large scale, but impressive to watch such a prolific, talented artist at work.

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Eventually, he came up on the roof and we talked for a while. He was covered in paint, all black and white. It was engrained under his fingernails, in the creases of his knuckles, wiped across his hoodie and trousers and splashed on his shoes. It was a bit surreal hanging out in a random back alleyway of East London with Ijam who grew up in Malaysia, another friend of ROA’s from Zimbabwe and my favourite Belgian artist, looking down on this amazing gigantic piece of artwork that barely another person in this city knew existed yet at that point while a Bangladeshi woman with her head covered hung laundry on the roof next door.

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We talked about his recent work in a dangerous area of Panama City. He was surprised I had already seen it online since it was “wasn’t that long ago”, but most of his work goes up online when it’s still a work in progress. He’s been called the “Da Vinci of the Streets”. He may not realise it, but he has a pretty loyal following!

The topic of some other pieces he’s created in the past year came up. He’s worked recently in Argentina, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Arizona (in fact, all over the States including one pretty close to where I’m from in Rochester, New York), Norway, Australia, and had a gallery show in Belgium and so on (yes, there’s many others). While he comes from Belgium, he spends much of his life as an artistic nomad on the road.

Photo: This is what the final piece looks like. I haven’t been about to get down there yet to see it finished, but Street Art News took this great shot from the roof. 

He said he created his first tag at the age of 13 and has been making art on walls for about 20 years. The work he’s so well known for now is his black and white paintings of animals which are indigenous to the area in which he’s painting. Sometimes he shows cross sections, revealing the innards as well. We talked about the ways in which the street art scene has changed over the years and then he took the last sip of his beer that was resting on the railing and sauntered down the steps to survey his work and pick up his spray paint cans again.

The impression I get is that ROA’s not too bothered about the promotion of his work so much as simply the process of creating his art. He just wants to paint. When I asked him for an interview, he said he only does one or two a year as he’s a very private person and doesn’t like to repeat himself, but maybe. So hey, you never know. But I can tell you there will definitely will be one with Cityzen Kane toward the end of the Summer and I’m very much looking forward to telling you all about his stunning work as well!

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ROA’s Hedgehog

Whilst I was away, Alex Ellison managed to catch the lovely and talented Belgian artist ROA at work on his latest London piece: a hedgehog!

ROA - in progress

I can’t wait to go see it. Maybe this weekend. Have any of you managed to have a look yet?

While I was in Dubai, I tried to search for “street art” on Flickr. Banned. It’s so nice to be back in London.

London Art Spot: Suelan Allison-Modrzejewski

While some of us might be reading this first Art Spot post of 2011 slightly hungover, Suelan Allison-Modrzejewski is probably fresh on her feet because she doesn’t like the taste of the stuff that makes us tipsy. And more power to her because she’s chanelling her energy into her art (and, of course, her newborn son) instead.

Armed with her camera and a strong belief that the East London Art Scene mixed with erotic photography can make a powerful statement, Suelan’s created a colourful portfolio for her latest project:  Erotica v. Street Art. It revolves around the work of some well-known artists like ROA and Stik. But let’s hope she’s not going to ask her nude models to stand outdoors for too long this time of year and welcomes them for one of her indoor shots instead. She may even break out her beloved 1967 Canon FP 35mm camera that takes some amazing photos even though the 50mm lens is covered in mildew.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Suelan talks about the woman who has been her most powerful muse this year, lets us in on the risks she is willing to take to shoot erotica in public places and, of course, shares some of her favourite, sometimes NSFW (Not Safe For Work), images of the ladies that inspire her to appreciate the beauty and sexuality of the human body.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what it is that’s kept you here?
SA-M: I always have trouble with this question because I’ve lived in so many places. I was born in Trinidad, grew up in Guyana, spent many summers in NYC when I was a kid and then lived there for six years when I was 17 and then moved to London at 23, met my ex-husband and stayed because of him and have been here since then. But no matter where I’ve lived, New York was always home for me.

LLO: Your latest work – Erotica v. Street Art – has gathered up quite a bit of attention. Tell us about this set of images and how you came about combining these two subjects.
SA-M: Well I’m going through a very difficult divorce right now especially that we have a 9 month old baby boy and my ex-husband is heavy on the East London art scene and I love erotic photography which he has no interest in and if I’m completely honest, it started off as me trying to fit the two together to prove to him they can both co-exist and be appreciated by everyone. Then it became so much more. The graffiti artists that replied to me that I had contacted to tell them I would be using their works as my background, absolutely loved what I was doing and some even sent me specific locations to shoot at.

Exposed

LLO: This set features artists like Stik, ROA and Eine. Have you ever thought about collaborating directly with a street artist on a photo project? If so, who, what and where?
SA-M: I have thought about it and would love to do something crazy and I have talked briefly with one artist but nothing concrete and honestly I still think there’s a long way to go before not just artists, but people in general are open to erotic works of art, especially out in the open. I feel almost like I have to ease my ideas and concepts in gently and I’m not able to get the same exposure street-artists enjoy.

I am woman - hear me roar

LLO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face to get a great shot?
SA-M: I can honestly say that I haven’t really had any barriers to getting great shots. I do pick some risky locations to shoot but I have been very fortunate that the models who work on my shoots are serious risk takers and willing to do anything to get a great picture and I really appreciate that.

LLO: Do you have a muse?
SA-M: Last year when I started photography Vee WORLDMISTRESS (she’s a dominatrix) was my muse. This year my muse is Bex Paul. She is absolutely amazing and she can pull off so many looks from haute couture to erotica. She is a dream to photograph and knows exactly what to do as soon as I lift the camera, which is great because my shoots are done in an hour tops. I hate long shoots and even more so now that I take my baby with me, so for my own projects I try only to work with models who I connect with.

LLO: Which photo are you most proud of at the moment?
SA-M: It would have to be a picture I took on a shoot last year in London Fields. It’s a shot of Bex in front of a tree as we were preparing for a shoot. It’s totally over exposed and technically wrong but so right because I can see fire in her eyes and soul.

LLO: Is there a location in London outside of the formal studio environment you’d love to shoot for a day – somewhere you haven’t tried yet?
SA-M: Yes absolutely. The Millennium Bridge. I have dreams about who and what I would shoot there, how long it would take, the risk factor… It haunts and excites me.

LLO: How do you find your models? Is there a certain look you gravitate toward?
SA-M: For my projects if I’m doing a casting call for a few models, I’ll usually use Model Mayhem otherwise I just use Bex. I gravitate to models with curves mostly, just because I think that’s the essence of a woman. We have curves and breasts and hips and its beautiful. If I’m looking for a male model, I’ll generally pick a tall manly man, a protector of sorts. I guess I’m traditional in that sense.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
SA-M:
I love anything that Rankin does, his photographic projects, his books, documentaries… I guess I’m a Rankaholic! He really does inspire me. Currently I’m loving Miss Led as well. She’s an illustrator/painter and does some amazing large scale murals of women which can be very provocative and flirtatious. A collaboration with her is definitely on my wish list.

LLO: What are you working on now?
SA-M: Well I’ve spent Christmas with my mom in Trinidad and I’ve been bouncing some ideas around with a few people, and waiting for the right moment but that’s all I’m going to say about that…for now at least!

Thanks Suelan!

Check out more of Suelan’s work here: www.suelanphotography.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Steve Cotton

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Steve Cotton

Steve likes street art, graffiti, punk music and taking walks with his camera. His website Art Of The State shows off some stunning images of London’s most impressive street art and all sorts of other London-y stuff (it’s a perfect place to procrastinate, but don’t say I encouraged you).

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
SC: Since I was three years old – any more of an answer would be telling you my age!

LLO: Tell us about your website, Art Of The State.
SC: Art Of The State is just a reflection on the parts of London that catch my eye. Typically that’s architecture, street art and punk rock, but over recent years it has pretty much expanded to anything worth taking a picture of. So recent updates have included the stair case of the Monument and Southgate Tube station.

LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to discover random graffiti or other street art?
SC: Well the best place to discover street art is around Shoreditch, but that’s not my favourite place. It’s kind of a jaded scene around Shoreditch. You could drive a full size paper mache buffalo spinning plates of jelly on the front of a neon triple decker bus around there and nobody would bat an eyelid because they’re so used to ‘urban art interventions’. So the answer I would give to this question is where you would least expect it – seeing a tag by serial rail trackside graffiti vandal 10Foot in the toilets of ‘mums with their chums’ eatery Giraffe on the South Bank ranks pretty highly on this scale.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
SC: Hmmm, good question. I’m not sure there is a best part so I looked up my post code on upmystreet.com. That didn’t really help – it just went on about single parents, betting, bingo and satellite TV being popular pastimes and then oddly said that the Scottish Record was the most popular paper. So really I think the best things are the A30 and Tube into Central London. I realise that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of where I live.

LLO: Who are the most impressive punk bands around London these days and where’s the best place to catch a gig?
SC: I like Refuse/All for straight down the line / no nonsense punk. I go to see them at the Fighting Cocks in Kingston, but I understand other venues are available. I also like Gallows, but I’m not terribly sure if they’re cool or not. Whatever, I often play their song ‘Misery’ on the iPod when walking around London. It just works really well, it’s a slow burner but by the time it’s finished I’m normally up for whatever is next.

LLO: Any cool new up-and-coming London-based street artists to look out for?
SC: Really London is pretty quiet at the moment regarding street art. That said ROA’s animals are pretty neat. Most of the work is by out of towners and often on walls where they have been granted permission. Graffiti on the other hand is kicking on in my humble opinion. Old hands like Shok-1 and Lovepusher are in a league of their own with their respective styles but are only working legally as far as I know. Illegally, the nine members of Burning Candy are some of the most prolific often working up at rooftop level to avoid their work getting removed. They’re really getting about – a trip down the new London Overground line through Shoreditch will get you first class views of lots of BC member Mighty Mo’s work.

LLO: Favourite established London-based artists who started their work on the streets?
SC: Got to be Banksy and Dface as established artists. Banksy is still on the streets, Dface less so – which is a shame as he had scale and ambition.

LLO: Do you think the way street art is viewed in London has changed since you started photographing it back in 2001?
SC: Yeah. Back in 2001, I was photographing a stencil near Vinopolis and I got a mouthful of abuse from a dustcart truck driver along the lines of “Oi saddo, what do you want to photograph that for.” I could have pointed out to him that he was wearing a Spurs shirt, but that’s another story. Anyway fast forward to 2008 and I’m in the same location and another dustcart pulls up. This time a different driver sees me taking a photo, gets out of his cab and proceeds to reel off the location and names of all the street art he has spotted on his round. All the talk used to be of vandalism but now it’s all “Banksy…blah…blah…£100,000”. All the stories in the paper seem to be centred around the money street art is supposedly worth.

LLO: Where is your favourite place in London to take your camera if you’re not photographing street art?
SC: Probably along the South Bank – there is always something going on there no matter what time of year it is. I like the highs and lows of London too. I love to go high up on the roofs of the tallest buildings and down in the depths on it’s dark, dank tunnels – but getting access is always hard.

LLO: Share one of your favourite shots with us?
SC: This is taken on the South Bank. Rain and the light at dusk really add something to a scene. I watched this man waiting forlornly in the drizzle with an umbrella and a bunch of flowers in his hand. Seconds after I took this picture he kind of shrugged his shoulders and threw the flowers into the Thames. It’s a picture for me but for him I guess it could have been a total turning point in his life.

Thanks Steve!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

A ROA Rat

ROA is definitely one of my top five street artists whose work can be seen around London. He’s from Belgium, but there’s loads of his work around here.

ROA

This one hasn’t been up on the blog yet so thank you to Gutchinlondon who shot this down off of Brick Lane near the Brick Lane Art Gallery and added it to the Flickr pool to share with everyone else. I have always wanted to take a photo of this one, but every time I’m down there, the shutter on the shop it rolled up!

Have any cool London street art shots? Add them to the Flickr pool, pretty please!