on 3 September 2011
I'm ambivalent about street art, so this is not going to be a professional, knowledgeable review. And I was ambivalent about buying this book, so am doubly amazed how completely it's absorbed me. To put it into context, I'm never sure how "real" street art is, although it claims to be the most real art form. As a whole, it's taken the mantle of freedom of expression upon itself, yet it takes away our freedom of choice to see it - it's there, end of, and however good it may be that makes me slightly uncomfortable. And occasionally it's sandwiched into a great big glossy book, which is not a happy marriage anyway, then topped off by a load of learned essays involving words like "zeitgeist" and "post-modern." Not my thing at all.
So, why even consider this? One reason, because RomanyWG has some great photostreams of abandoned places on Flickr, and of the photos in Beauty in Decay, his previous book, his own were among my favourites. Quite simply, I bought it because I was after the photographs of the places the street art was to be found; the art itself being secondary.
And I was right there - unusual places, nooks and crannies, buildings at the very end of their lives, everything I'd hoped for, essentially. But so, SO much more. This really is art at it's most intimate; these people are following some impulse driven entirely by their vision. It's very unlikely anyone will ever see these works; at best they'll perhaps be viewed by the odd junkie or homeless person, there following their own concerns and with no interest. And the buildings are unused, many condemned - this has to be the most fleeting, ethereal form of art possible; it's longevity is essentially nil.
And what these visions are is impossible to quantify - a decaying, dank room becomes a backdrop for an entire apocalyptic scene. A cartoon family have come to reside on the walls left behind by the real occupants. A single hand or foot, a surreal statement from
nowhere. Absolutely everything you can think of, there purely for the private reasons of the artist, a fleeting vision that to all intents and purposes is gone as soon as the artist leaves the room, often leaving no trace of identity and assuming it will never be seen. There is no exhibitionism in these paintings, none of the self-conscious "look at me" which can be found in so much street art.
There are short essays interspersed throughout, and comments from the artists, but there is no opining by experts, or pontificating about deep meanings or posterity or any of the rest of the stuff I HATE about art writing. Just attempts by the artists to explain why maybe they find a particular place compelling - even down to the very prosaic, human need to be out of the wind and rain to
create in peace!
And, as I hoped, RomanyWG has it all in context - not just the artwork itself, but a comprehensive view of how it fits in to the scene, and the scenes are intrinsic to the works. Clean photographs, no fiddling and faffing, and no attempts to sanitize or brighten scenes. He captures the place concerned in a way that you can understand what grabbed the artist.
In all seriousness, this not only exceeded my expectations, it's blasted a lot of prejudices too. If you want to see REAL street art, this is THE book.