Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Crimes of Passion - Street Art in Bristol RWA 03 - 05 2009

Rebellion and resistance integrated into the mainstream (well, into Clifton. Darling). So a prestigious gallery space in a massive, beautiful building full of all the history of Bristol, a pillar of it, a symbol, an emblem, a STARK MASSIVE BENTLEY for the small man... of Bristol. Basically, if I was a Clifton thoroughbred, I would be all over this gallery. Oh the raaa dee raaa raaaa of Clifton high society. But! What is this?! Is Clifton like gettin’ well street? Well yes, it is. Kind of...

So, the giant phallic symbol of Clifton has allowed 50 of Bristol’s ‘celebrated street artists to invade the city’s grandest gallery for six weeks this Spring’. And aint it grand. I muse as the GIANT contradiction walks around. The pearly adorned, Babour jacket wearing people of high society project their artistic knowledge onto this criminal (?) exhibition with purposeful voices. They are on unknown territory, the horse has jumped the fence into the caravan field. But they are willing to have a cup of tea bag tea. Now, now, these are the VERY people who do NOT approve of resistance, of anything against the grain of smooth living. Especially Mr Spray Can.

‘Actually, you are ruining the smooth flow of my wine down my gullet, you’re a scratch on the Merc, a nuisance, a pain and you remind me that I didn’t necessarily want a life like this. Once I may have rebelled a tad myself. Or thought about it. Conformity and the dream; the wealth, the house, the walls with not a speck of riff and certainly no raff! Plain walls please, safe. And you know, actually ,I’ve put a lot of effort into getting my walls like this. Don’t make me choke on my wine, with a reminder of something else.'

I would say that in many eyes, graffiti is definitely wrong. But on the walls of a gallery, it is...OK? I am confused. I muse.

Perhaps it is the more youthful people in Clifton. Maybe all those 500,000 Audi driving, North Face kids are remembering their youth raving or something. But then when I went there, I saw many an older customer pondering over the works of Sickboy, Inkie and 3D. But I am left wondering, now, when they see a piece of street art are they going to discuss its merits with vigour, or tut in disdain?

Now, as far as the exhibition itself goes, it is most impressive. The artists have been allowed to paint on the walls of the gallery itself, which makes the whole over the borders thing clear, but more than that, it looks very effective on the carefully maintained, historic walls. Within the confines of a frame would be against the format. There are some little unexpected gems, such as two stuffed seagulls, one dressed as a hobo seagull and the other as a gangster. Also some huge curvaceous female figures carved out, a dinosaur ‘made into’ Bristol, and some obviously marvellous graffiti that you will have to see, as I am not sure how to write about some of it. Regardless though, these guys have the potential to cash in. Most pieces were priced at 1-2 thousand pounds. Nice, nice. But are the Cliftoners going to really have their sprays over the mantelpiece? I don’t think many of these people have seen that much graffiti, I definitely can’t imagine them around Stokes Croft et al. In this respect it is good. They are able to see it properly, stand there and really look, without their acquaintances guffawing or feeling intimidated. It is quite amusing too, that they are essentially being made to appreciate it by the very conformity that dictates them. AND, there are some tamer pieces that are just plain beautiful, such as the mirror pond. Also, the squirrel with an alligators head. Like twisted hunting.

However, is all this selling the resistance of graffiti? Are these unlikely appreciators really seeing the graffiti ‘properly’? Is the statement graffiti makes muted hideously by hanging it on capitalism’s wall? Surely it is better to view graffiti where it is intended to be? The very fact that it is sprayed over grey, dull walls is so that is says, ‘this frikkin sucks! Ahh, but look how much more interesting this is?’ Art. They are asking for you to be out of your comfort zone, it is more than artistically interesting/brilliant. So I don't know, is it stripped of its depth of meaning by being put on the walls of Clifton’s giant phallus? Or is it really just laughing at them? Making copious money from the very people that opposed them?

I personally am hoping that the people of Clifton, by going to this exhibition, are getting a little pulse of rebellion in their souls. That it is reminding them that there is ‘other’, not just completely mainstreaming something. Banksy is already now appreciated throughout his Bristol homeland. Perhaps now all graffiti will stay?! Whatever, I do hope that the graffiti artists retain their fighting, creative spirit, they don’t just wallow in their glory. Many of the best artists have been appreciated posthumously, dying with a yearning, it never left their art. A deeply contented graffiti artist.... hmm would they spray with such vigour? Now, I don’t think these guys should die and then everyone go, ‘ahhhh wasn’t he great!’, I just don’t want them to be all chummy with the wall proposers/builders. And I do think that these guys have the ability to see beyond monetary successes. They have passion and that is their appeal for me. And oh... it's the title of the exhibition. In the meantime, in this ‘current economic climate’ (HATE WORDS) kudos for selling to the rich, for modern appreciation and for providing a very interesting exhibition.

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