Earlier this year, in March, I had planned to visit London and the Saatchi Gallery for an exhibition of Street Art that looked fascinating. The day before I went online to get tickets and there were none left. Gutted. As it was I still went to the big smoke and visited a couple of Brutalist Architecture must-sees. The Alexandra Road estate and Trellick Tower were two of the mighty pieces of concrete construction that I’d seen and read about in Concretopia by John Grindrod and Brutalist Britain by Elain Harwood amongst rafts of posts on Instagram and Flickr from other likeminded people. After the concrete I visited the city centre and picked up some lovely street photography images using reflections and rain.
With a. busy couple of months since then I knew i had to make an effort to get to the exhibition before it closed on May 9th, especially with the glut of bank holidays and ceremonies blocking up most of London for a few days, I felt that it’d be better sooner rather than later.
Last Thursday I had the day booked off, ticket bought online for £15 using my Student Art Pass, saving £10 and woke up nice and early to head down south. Getting into Stanmore car park at around 10:30 I paid on the app and strolled up to the contactless entry turnstiles. Placing my watch on the Oyster Pad I was allowed through to jump on the next tube train to Stratford, which I would alight from at Green Park.
Saatchi gallery is close to Sloane Square station but there were a couple of changes from Green Park so I jumped out into the park and walked towards Buckingham Palace to skirt around it towards Chelsea and Sloane Square, I’d already google street view previewed the route from Sloane Square to the gallery so I knew it’d be pretty straightforward.
When I hit the end of the path at Green Park next to the palace, it was fenced off with a couple of security staff telling us all to go around. The surrounding area is being prepped for the Coronation of King Charles III which I’m trying to avoid really.
Travelling light again in London I had only my Leica Q2 Digital camera on a wrist strap so it was ready and waiting for any street action that I noticed during this walk. After getting to the gallery, I wandered in, flashed my QR code and asked the gallery staff for the ideal way to experience the exhibition. He looked confused and just pointed me into the first of the thirteen rooms that we’d move sequentially through. There was no real option to just amble around, it was pretty well guided all the way. and it made sense sticking to the route signposted.
All three floors of the gallery were chock full of wondrous exhibits that went back to some of the earliest graffiti created using spray cans. Many references to the media, music stars, film and tv references were found throughout the exhibition and many more rock stars of street art than I recognise. It’s not difficult, I only recognised 10FOOT and Broken Fingaz but there were countless other talented people whose work was captured either in video, photograph or actual surfaces removed and brought to the exhibition.
Much of the exhibition was about counter-culture or underground culture from the 80’s to present day. Hip Hop, Punk and Dance music were represented with one of my favourite pieces being the Beastie Boys section. In particular a hand written piece of paper with lyrics called I Am The Eggman which features a theme of dropping or launching eggs at passers by on the street below. It was funny on it’s own as I could imagine them getting up to mischief like this, but when I saw on the wall adjacent a letter from the hotel manager asking them if there were problems with their windows as things kept falling out, I was chuckling. there was also another patron of the gallery who audibly giggled when she read the letter.
One of the recurring themes throughout the show was train carriages and the art drawn onto them in the way of tags of the artists. It must have been a right nuisance for the train operators but New York without graffiti strewn trains wouldn’t be the same. There were photographs of trains, paintings of trains, models of trains, videos of trains and it seemed to be a large focus. One of the parts of this that interested me was that the train operating companies were able to remove the spray paint quickly and easily so the graffiti artists went further by using Nitromors paint stripper to remove sections of paint on the carriages leaving a shiny metal finish and no paint on these areas. They then finished their designs around this and utilised the reflective surface to good effect. Imagine being the boss of the underground network and finding out that this was happening to your rolling stock…
This image above shows photographs of train carriages that have been decorated and panoramas created of the full length of the art piece. The hanging of these photographs was interesting as most other framed images in the galleries were evenly spaced out and uniformly distanced, whereas this wall had a big block of frames all on top of each other. It felt like looking at a single piece of art, a single large tag of graffiti. Some of the photography was done by the artists to document their triumph and it’s amazing that these still exist.
This set of stairs from ground floor to the first was accompanied by a wall of images of painted train carriages that looked like a kids wallpaper until you look closer and see the detail of every single tag or image that’s been painted on to the train carriages. It’s an amazing collection and outstanding levels of commitment have gone into the gathering together and formatting of the overall piece.
Photography capturing the surroundings of the day were also included and in the following image of the wall you can see larger versions of Polaroids by Dash Snow who documented all of the different aspects of the culture he was surrounded by. There are some funny photos in hree but I’m not going to show the close ups as there is some NSFW images that I don’t want you getting in trouble for.. There are also two larger photos by Maripol of Madonna and Debbie Harry in their younger years that are so simple and yet so effective. Blondie (Debbie Harry) appears a number of times on the different floors and I didn’t realise that they were an American band who were considered underground at the time, I originally thought that they were a British pop/punk band but they obviously had a huge influence on the counterculture of the day. Many of their videos use streets daubed in tags and graffiti to help set the scene. Every day is a school day eh?
As well as painted art there are also a lot of Bill Posters, or posters and paper documents that have been created by skilled graphic artists, including the likes of Warhol and Keith Haring. This wall with a visitor in front of it for scale, shows images created by C.R Stecyk III, using all manner of printing processes from photography to monoprints and it’s an eye catching installation that plays on the other historical posters around the building.
Another set of stairs to get to the third floor featured what looks like the torn down posters in a vague attempt to clean up. But look closer and you’ll see that it’s a clever piece of work by VHILS who uses parts of posters and paper to create their own art. There is a face looking to the right hand side of the work, the nose and eye being clearest visible..
Continuing through the third floor there were exhibits like Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern which was a blacklight lit room featuring a seemingly random collection of items, all painted with fluorescent paint so that it all glows up under the UV. It was a feast for the eyes once through the black curtain and difficult to know where to look. It was an interesting space to move through whilst being slightly disorienting.
Continuing into the numbered rooms in double digits we started to see a lot more pop memorabilia and one room felt like it had been sponsored by Adidas, looking it up now it was supported by Adidas. Run DMC also feature a lot in the show and some of the photography of their band, other hip hop artists and cultural icons are also a joy to see. Contact sheets of photographs of bands are amazing to see too, showing the thought process as to why a particular images might have been selected from a whole film.
Some pieces of work by an artist called DELTA were on display and I appreciated the geometric nature of his pieces. they did seem a little out of place to me in the wider context but his inspirations are from the street art scene and still some wonderful ieces of art.
Another installation was the door panels from the artist VHILS again, who uses wooden doors that are no longer needed and creates portraits on them by chipping out of the surface to create a halftone style image. They were seriously impressive and I thought at first they were painted, only realising once I’d got closer to the pieces.
Before a room full of fake Ralph Lauren merch and witty parody and satire about Ralph Lauren was a room filled with art by Felipe Pantone that had a trigger warning about photosensitivity outside.
Stepping into the room covered by patterns QR code style blocks and odd perspectives was quite mind warping and it took a few minutes to get my bearings. It’s definitely a mindf**k of a piece and the strange installations in the centre of the room make it an alien place, like a game of Alien Trilogy on the Playstation in 1996 with messed up digitised graphics that send your head spinning. It’s one of the things I saw in the promos for the exhibition that drew me to it and I must say I wasn’t disappointed. Photos I’ve taken in there look like a rubbish version of a Duke Nukem level that someone couldn’t be bothered finishing.
Overall, the exhibition was well worth the £25 (or £15 for students) and I was in there for around 2.5 hours, I could have gone around again but had somewhere else to be. The content of the exhibition was nostalgic and thought provoking as to how the promos for the underground cultures that existed were developed by some of the leading artists of the time.
It does also raise questions about the validity of the art when it involves destruction of property, I don’t mean the walls along a rail track but physically damaging trains and other equipment to share your tag seems a little anti-social. I guess that’s what they were going for at the time and it must irk some of the original artists when they see spray painters doing significant works on buildings or trains being asked to do commercial contracts for fashion brands or record labels. Some have even carried out work for some of the brands or organisations that were targets of some early graffiti.
This exhibition will close on May 9th but I’m sure that it will pop up again somewhere soon.
Over The Bridge
After leaving the Saatchi Gallery I headed for Chelsea Bridge so that I could visit the newly refurbished Battersea Power Station as I’d heard that it had been done really well and there was an option of going up a chimney in a glass elevator.
I headed over through Chelsea and picked up three more 50’s for my 50th birthday year on a building, which belonged to an advertising agency and I got a couple of funny looks from the chap who came out of the door as I was making a photo of the door number.
Fight The Power
Walking up to Battersea Power Station I could see the imposing nature of this vintage building and could imagine the coal being loaded in from the Thames in front which is now covered in lovely grass and picnic areas. The brightly cleaned brickwork reminded me of the outside of the Tate Modern in that both were once really Industrial structures and would have been covered in soot and dust but were now clean as a whistle. It looked like a Disney recreation of the building and didn’t seem to have a legitimacy about it.
Upon entering the building I asked a staff member/guide as to the direction ot the glass elevator and was told it is called Lift109 because it goes up the inside of the chimney up to a height of 109 metres. You can just see it poking out of the top of the chimney in the image above.
It cost £22.50 to go for the experience but I was able to book it there and then as it wasn’t overly busy but I’d imagine it can get rammed on a weekend.
We moved into a holding area where we were filled with facts about the building and what happened there, some of the human stories accompanied by sounds and very effective visuals. Once the timer had reached us were were able to go into a room where a group of projectors displayed a great light show in which our presence interacted with the display, if you stood close to the wall you appeared to be on fire and if you moved it followed you around. Very clever. Once the displays had finished we went into a lift to get to a point 39 steps below the glass lift. We went up the stairs and got into the elevator where you could look up through the wet glass, it was raining now, and see the sky at the top of the chimney opening. There were funky LEDs all the way up too to make it feel like you were being launched from a torpedo tube in a spaceship.
Once it popped out of the top we had a 360 degree view of the city through the rain. We were in Chelsea area so you could see Claverton Street across the river and the flats that remind me of holiday chalets at Butlins Pwllheli. The rest of the city was further away and the view from the Walkie Talkie Sky Garden or the Shard was better than this in my opinion. There was tonnes of construction going on in the area too so it was a bit of a mess for a large number of the degrees of arc of the view. I took a few photos and then after the five minutes were up we headed back down to the main building.
Inside the main building was a large shopping centre full of expensive boutiques and coffee shops where coffee with ice in costs a months rent in the north of England. I didn’t like the vibe in here, it was soooo commercial and felt like the soulless outlet villages that are growing around the country. There were some nice touches like the original massive crane was retained on the tracks high above and also some of the shop windows were fitted with LED light displays which I like to capture silhouettes in front of.
After messing about here for a short while I headed over to Trafalgar Square on the tube for some street photography in the rain, I find umbrellas and reflections fascinating for some reason.
The National Gallery was open for another hour yet so I went for a wander in there to see if there were any good street photography type images in there, I’d watched a video of Paul Harrison who goes “fishing” in museums to see if he can catch a humorous contradiction or coincidence. he has some wonderful images and I’d recommend Mike Chudley’s video about this interesting photographer.
There wasn’t much happening in here for me as it was crowded probably because of the rain so I hung around for a while before heading back to Westminster underground station and riding back to Stanmore on the Jubilee Line.
After hitting Stanmore I figured I could also pop in and see my brother Dave in Hemel Hempstead on the way home. I knocked on the door whilst his wife Di was trying to figure out which big bloke was coming to knock on the door. It was lovely seeing them both as I’d not seen them since Dad’s funeral on late April so we had a giggle, stroked their sausage dog Parker and then jumped in the car for the journey home. I was dog tired when I got in that I didn’t even import the images from the camera onto the pc but I’ve been going through some of them since and a few are on my instagram page, a few on this post too.
Hope you’ve enjoyed a quick run through of my day out in the capital city and an overview of the excellent exhibition at the Saatchi, I will definitely keep an eye out on exhibitions there in the future.