Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Banksy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Banksy. Show all posts

Sunday, February 11, 2018

LONDON THEMES


I was in London for one reason or another.  There had been a plan to go for a walk with Iain Sinclair but that fell through because, as he put it, “I did some damage a while back, jumping out of the way of a sudden-turning taxi. All was well. But after coming back from the Hebrides, some of the calf problems returned on London pavements. I need to take a break - and, if possible, see a wonder worker.”  No arguing with that.


And of course I walked anyway, sometimes on my own, sometimes with one or two others, and I looked around, took pictures, and at times observed my fellow pedestrians, most of them just walking as part of their everyday lives and business, others perhaps on some kind of drift or specialized walking project – you can’t always tell with these things, although I did see one or two groups of tourists who were being herded around on organized walking tours – they tended to look simply bemused.


I had the sense in central London of walking around a giant building site, that will become a post-Brexit, giant architectural theme park.  There are cranes and scaffolding everywhere.  And this is in one sense exciting – new forms and new possibilities are coming into being.  There’s an optimism, a confidence, a belief that the city does have some kind of future, even if an uncertain and contested one.


On the other hand, most of us will only ever walk past these glossy new architectural constructions.  They really don’t involve or embrace the “average” Londoner, whatever that is.  We are certainly never likely to live in any of the new super luxury flats.  And I suppose you could argue that this has always been the way of things , as true of Centre Point as of Buckingham Palace: you walk past, you see the exterior, you know in broad terms what you’re looking at, but you don’t get invited inside.  Nobody’s building any people’s palaces.


     Where there’s change there’s also decay.  There was a short period of my life when I worked as a gallery attendant at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, and every day I’d walk out of Waterloo station and go into a kind of pedestrian tunnel/bridge that ran through the Shell Centre.  


The building is still there, and a little research reveals that it’s still owned by Shell, though I couldn’t see any external sign to that effect.  


But whereas it once looked like a smart, if slightly old-fashioned, 1950s office block, it now looks in significant decline.  Of course some of us enjoy a good bit of significant decline.


And I suppose street art flourishes in these times of transition.  When buildings are being built or demolished, when there are hoardings around them, people don’t get too upset about works of art painted on boards or abandoned walls, although presumably once the sparkling new architectural masterpieces are finished the artists are going to be way less welcome. 


And it may just be me, but I got the feeling there was something a bit last millennium about London’s street art.  I mean Banksy is obviously a good guy, but does his art really need to be protected by large sheets of Perspex?  Isn’t street art meant to be transient and at the mercy of the elements, human and otherwise?  And do I really need to be able to buy a Banksy in an art gallery in the spruced up Shipping Container House?  Well no, I do not and I wouldn’t be able to afford one even if I did.

         On the other hand, it’s hard to walk down Goodge Street and not be somehow moved and uplifted by this depiction of Theresa May, not by Banksy as far as I know, and not under Perspex either.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

ABIDE WITH ME - STREET-STYLE



I suppose that if you leave your art out in the street, you can’t be too surprised if it fails to stay pristine.  Even so, the last time I walked along Hollywood Boulevard I was surprised, and maybe shocked and offended, and certainly dismayed, to find that the above mural of Dolores Del Rio had been, so to speak, subverted some rather inelegant tagging.   It now looks like this:


Well, who could say they were completely surprised?  You might think the solution would be to put the art under transparent plastic, but that seems to be only a partial solution.  When I was in London earlier this year, wandering around Fitzrovia, I came upon a Banksy; genuine as far as I could tell.  It had started out looking like this:
   

But when I saw it, it looked like this:



It seems that a certain number of people want to “express themselves” in conjunction with or in opposition to Banksy.  In many cases this doesn’t look much different from being jealous and resentful.  Arguably the original remains intact but the effect is spoiled, or maybe it isn’t.  Banksy is obviously sussed out enough not to be surprised by this kind of thing.  Whether that’s the same as welcoming it, I’m not sure.

Want to see an amazingly unconvincing faux Banksy.  Then check out this one that was on the front of the Liberal Club in Woking a few years back:


 Although of course it does occur to me that it looks so faux that maybe Banksy (subversive that he is) actually did it just to confuse the art lovers and the art haters of Woking.

But sometimes you don’t need human intervention to create change and decay in a mural.  Nobody has tagged or vandalized Terry Schoonhoven Isle of California mural in the Sawtelle district of LA , but it’s now the best part of 45 years old.  It was created in 1970-2, when it looked like this:


And now it looks like this:


The California sun has been the main agent of destruction here, which again comes as no surprise.  But also the wall has been reinforced, which is obviously a good thing – nobody wants the wall to fall down-  but the anchors (I think that’s the right term) are evidently made from some kind of ferrous metal, and so each of them has rusted and bled.


As a man who enjoys a little ruin and entropy, as well as art, I find it hard to get too upset about it.  I also love walls, whatever state they’re in.  Here’s a picture of one I saw earlier, in New York – no sign of rust, but no sign of art either.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

LOST(ISH) IN NEW YORK





I’ve been in New York, the city and the state, doing some walking among other things.  On the first day there I went to my publisher’s office, a place I’d been before and it’s right there in the middle of town, on 18th Street, and so I had no worries about finding it and getting there on time.  And so, I set off for a meeting, and in due course I got completely and utterly (and inevitably) lost.  I suddenly couldn’t tell whether I should be on east 18th or west 18th, and in any case I had some kind of brain fade and couldn’t tell east from west anyway, and so I got there late and sweaty and panicky, and feeling like a complete rube, who couldn’t find his way around the big city.  This was not precisely the impression I was trying to convey to my publisher.


Of course, when I’m in my walker/urban explorer mode, I think that being lost in the city is a very good thing, but it’s not nearly so cool when you have to be at a certain place at a certain time.  The ­real problem, I told myself later, is that you never get quite as lost as when you’re certain you know exactly where you’re going.  If I’d had any doubts about where I was going, where the publisher’s office was, I’d have double checked the address, consulted a map, taken the map with me, but I had no such doubts, and in the event my unmerited confidence undid me.

I was staying in the apartment where photographer Dudley Reed and his wife Betty live, and the place was full of photographic books, including Susan Sontag’s On Photography, a book I’d read a very long time ago, and I thought I remembered it pretty well, but it seems not.  Or perhaps it’s that I now have a different set of priorities and obsessions, than I did back then when I first read it, and there seemed something very fresh about a couple of paragraphs from the book.


Sontag writes, “…the earliest surrealist photographs come from the 1850s when photographers went out prowling the streets of London, Paris, New York, looking for their unposed slice of life.”
         Then later, “In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle class flaneur, whose sensibility was so accurately charted by
 Baudelaire.  The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising, the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.”
Interesting and significant, I think, that she doesn’t categorize either the flaneur or the photographer as male, though historically (and with notable exceptions) the majority of both flaneurs and street photographers have been men.

As you wander the streets of New York these days it seems that everybody is taking pictures, women just as much as men.  One or two seem to be “real” photographers, brandishing bulky SLRs, but the majority are using their cell phones.  I don’t know how many of them are looking for the Surrealists’ “chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella,” but I’m sure they’d take a picture of it if they saw one.


And of course a lot of people are looking at their cell phones, texting rather than taking pictures with them, and of course they walk into others, and others no doubt walk into them, which seems a kind of rough justice. They can’t say they haven’t been warned.  The streets of Manhattan now display posters like the one below, which is actually on the side of a public phone booth.  Does anybody use public phone booths anymore?

As it happened, there were was a Banksy street art exhibition going on all over New York while I was there.  One of the pranks involved some guy on the street selling “real” Banksies for the price of fakes - $60 as opposed to the $15,000 or so they’d cost in a gallery.  Of course $60 does seem a bit steep for fake Banksy. 


But knowing that the man himself was in town and in action meant that as I walked the streets of New York I kept seeing Banksy-esque stenciled graffiti, and asking myself is that a real or a fake.  Only a fool would have claimed to know with any certainty.  But I did spot this on 24th Street at 6th Avenue.


Of course I couldn’t have sworn it was the real thing, but I thought it might be, and I definitely thought it was worth a picture; and having got home and done some research it seems that yes, as far as I can tell, I was looking at a REAL Banksy. I walked past it again a couple of days later, and it seemed it was being surrounded by other, much less artful-looking tags and graffiti, which you might think spoiled the effect, though for all I know Banksy might have been doing those too.