There seems to be as many art galleries in Shoreditch as there are fried chicken shops around where I'm living. It's like the glory days of gallery hopping in the Cork Street area on a Thursday night - so easy to cop some free drinks and engage in some easy going art banter as you move from one place to the next.
Blek Le Rat had his first solo gallery exhibition in Europe at the Leonard Street Gallery.
Blek is a Parisian artist who is now well into his 50s. It has been suggested that he is the founding father of the stencil graffiti movement. I don't know about that but he has certainly been putting up his art on the streets of the world since the early 1980s.
It was great to see his iconic sheep and beggar figures pasted up life-size on the street as I walked to the gallery and I particularly like the empty ornate picture frames that he'd pasted up on the thickly tagged brickwork of a nearby building; The holes in the frame revealing the scrawl underneath and suggesting that everything on the streets could be worth another look.
There's a problem though, when street art is brought into the gallery space. Work made for streets needs to be adapted to fit in the confines of a conventional art space. A full size hands-outstretched pasted paper beggar says something different than the same image reduced to fit on a small square canvas.
Other artists have tackled this by taking over the entire space and covering gallery walls in the same way they might in the street so that they becomes just an extension of their work outside. By hanging regular canvas in a traditional format this show somehow blunted Blek's work. Though I loved the images they seemed trapped and subdued by their surroundings.
In the basement there was a slideshow of his street work from the last 30 years - all random rats, leaping Tom Waits, Princess Di meets Napoleon. It looked great and the show really needed some of the dynamism and energy evident in these earlier works.
I am told that almost all of Blek's London street work was torn down within a day by zealous council workers. The gallery show runs on until mid November. Maybe that's its point. The images trapped on paper and canvas for as long as there is somebody prepared to care for them instead of being destroyed on a whim. And who could begrudge an artist for looking beyond the ephemeral.
More on Blek right here http://bleklerat.free.fr/
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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