Street Art

In tough times, British artists hit the streets

Posted April 9th, 2012

England, Street Art


“Christiaan Nagel scrambles up an aluminum ladder, carrying a big blue mushroom. In seconds, the 29-year-old sculptor is on the roof of a once-handsome, now neglected Victorian building in London. Under a crescent moon, he works quickly; within minutes the polyurethane fungus stands tall over the street below — an impromptu landmark to be enjoyed and photographed by passers-by. Nagel is a street artist, one of a growing band of painters, stencilers and sculptors bringing vibrancy to the recession-tattered streets of Britain. His work pops up unannounced, and in that it captures the spirit of the times. Unauthorized art in public places is booming in austerity Britain.”

A story by JILL LAWLESS for Associated Press: “As public funding dries up, businesses struggle and economic uncertainty hits collectors’ pocketbooks, London’s streets have been colonized by artists. Empty stores become pop-up art shops, empty walls pop-up galleries — and every street artist dreams of becoming the next Banksy, the anonymous graffiti-sprayer whose work sells for six-figure sums. Nagel, like other street artists, insists he is not motivated by money but by a combination of ego, excitement, and the desire to have his work seen by as many people as possible. His mushrooms cost just a few pounds (dollars) to make, but generally earn him nothing. He pays the rent by trading second-hand guitars, and by occasional paid art commissions. He makes mushrooms because they are both a pleasing shape and a flexible metaphor. “They’re pop-up art, they could be mushroom clouds, they could be psychedelic drugs,” he said. “I suppose they tie in with the subculture of street art, which is guerrilla art, which is illegal.” Illegal, maybe, but increasingly accepted. Nagel says he has been stopped by police only once, handcuffed by officers while installing a mushroom in the middle of a busy traffic circle. “They were like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said: ‘I’m an artist and I’ve just installed my mushroom.’” said Nagel, an outgoing South African with russet hair and a taste for brightly colored shirts. “They gave me a look for about 10 minutes and they let me go.” The global financial crisis, and the British government’s budget-slashing, have hit the arts hard. More than 200 British arts organizations have lost government funding, and dozens say they may have to shut down. But a do-it-yourself, street-level arts culture is flourishing. Some of London’s hipper, scruffier quarters have become so art-encrusted that they are now tourist attractions in themselves, with a burgeoning street-art economy. Around the east London districts of Shoreditch and Hackney, where canal-side lofts, media businesses and trendy bars mix with derelict factories and run-down housing projects, walls sprout giant birds and furry rodents, brightly colored hands and fantastical landscapes.”

Read on at Times Standard.

AP Photo of Christiaan Nagel by Lefteris Pitarakis.