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Street Art Season: A personal pictorial review

Over the last few of months the gallery has immersed itself into the world of street art and graffiti and I’ve attempted to document some of what been going on through the lens of my trusted camera. What follows is my very own pictorial review of my involvement in the project.

Street Art Saturday

We decided to launch the street season with a day devoted to letting street artists do what they do best: Artists involved on the day included: Pahnl, As One, Newso, Agent, Ame72 and Id-iom.

Exhibitions

The street art season’s main focus was the three exhibitions that we organised. The pictures below are taken from Street Art: Contemporary Prints from the V&A, Fresh Paint and Mohammed Ali’s Breaking down the Wall.

Street Art Giveaway

One particular part of Street Art Season which I’ve really enjoyed being part of is our weekly free street art. Each week we leave pictorial clues on Twitter and Facebook and whoever grabs the artwork first gets to keep it. Below are just a couple of my favourite spots.

Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions Officer

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Great apes, graffiti and grovelling

Oh dear, looks like it’s been a while since I did this last…. life has been a little hectic.

Condition reporting of loan exhibitions has formed a larger part of my work recently. Face to Face was an installation of huge images of rescued apes whose life story is written on their faces perhaps even more clearly than on humans. Again, they drew me to look at them as images; quite a feat when you’re looking from a few inches at a face which is higher than you!

Ditto the V&A Street Art images: I didn’t expect to like these, but found them lively and engaging – although their make-up meant that a number had problems to be noted – mostly involving cockling (waviness across the sheet). We had to overcome issues with static electricity to clean a perspex case and install a couple of pieces of book art without additional fluff – we couldn’t find an anti-static brush and it had to be done while the V&A couriers were on site (that’s the problem with part-time colleagues – not there to ask where things are….). Anyway, my retired electrical design engineer father (aka the Herbert Technical Advice telephone help desk – he’s the sort who can think around most types of problem) suggested handling with slightly damp cloths – which worked much better than we expected. So now it’s just a case of routine inspecting to make sure cockling doesn’t get worse, and keeping the usual eye on environmental conditions.

I’d completed most of a packaging job for some artwork from a previous exhibition being sent back to India, when I received a frantic call mid-afternoon from the colleague I was doing it for to say the courier suddenly wanted pick it up in the morning! We both dropped everything and a surprisingly short time later the lot was bomb-proof and ready with no corners cut. Fortunately, not many folks made it through to look through the conservation room doors to be treated to the sight of us on the floor with large bits of packing material, parcel tape etc. It doesn’t do to have too much dignity in this job – but maybe a line should be drawn at photographs of me cutting card on the only large flat surface available at short notice… Read the rest of this entry

Peace and Youth

This November has seen an odd collision of events.  We host a number of events as part of Coventry’s annual Peace Festival, which attract many familiar and some new faces to the talks.  Sunday 14th November was both Remembrance Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.   The sense of respect for the fallen, veterans’ military pride and peace activism sit side by side and it feels taboo to explore the contradictions, despite my feeling that Coventry’s Blitz is a symbolic moment in the shift in warfare over the last 100 years, from 80% of causalities being soldiers to become 80% civilians.

Artist Presha Dem teaching air-brush skills.

The other dimension, which has made this year remarkable, is our Street Art exhibition.   The ‘in your face’ essence of street art, even in a comparatively refined gallery context, sits strangely with the respect being offered veterans in the Herbert and the neighbouring Cathedrals.

Street Art shows work that is almost universally anti-authoritarian, and much of it is social commentary and calls for peace, often revealing hypocrisy as incisively as Gillray or Hogarth. Street Art is attracting a huge number of visitors, including younger people who so rarely visit galleries, and they are responding strongly to the content, putting the lie to the idea that young people only want the vacuous culture which is sold to them.

Working on the shirts.

Mohammed Ali’s installation portrays people who have been labelled both terrorist and freedom fighter.  Ghandi’s role in history is settled, William as Ouderland is less clearly decided, and when Mohammed talked about Salah Ad-din (Saladin)’s humanity upon liberating Jerusalem in 1187, I realised the weight of historical ideology I hold around the word “liberate”. His work also includes two moving images of Coventry’s Cathedral, and a disturbing piece in which falling bombs are rendered with a beauty resonant of Islamic lattice work.

As a community project linked to Mohammed’s forthcoming event “Breaking Down the Wall”, I was working with young people involved in the “Rep Ur Endz” project – about pride in representing

The CV6 tag on the sleeve.

their districts in the city. The day after we had 2400 visitors to our Blitz family event, I asked the young men about their thoughts about remembrance happenings.  The reply “I haven’t noticed anything” left me wondering how so much civic endeavour can fail to touch thoughtful young people.

These young men are not ‘dis-engaged’ with issues of peace however. The final t-shirt proclaims “Rep Ur Endz CV3” . . . but their preliminary sketches for artwork show a sense of responsibility  and connection to the broader world.

Early artwork sketches – Rep/ Palestine Ur Endz.

Breaking down the wall: featuring Mohammed Ali painting and poets live in the Herbert takes place on Friday 19th November 7pm.

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Exclusive Interview with one of our Street Artists

Here, Pahnl, one of the artists involved in our Street Art exhibition, talks to Dom about his artwork and the things that inspire him.  You can see his animation at the Herbert until January 16th.

Name: Pahnl

Where you lay your hat: Oxford

Occupation: Artist / Graphic Designer

How long have you been involved in the Street Art Scene? What made you pick up that first can of spray paint? I first started using stencils in 2003 and I started painting in the street three years after that. A mate got me interested in it and, although he stopped soon after, my passion for street art has only continued to grow since then.

How would you describe your artwork and inspires you?

My art is an amalgamation of signage-styled figures, comics and graphic design but on a small scale. I use little characters and animals to play with spaces I find in the street, hopefully making someone smile in the process. As a result, inspiration for street work comes from the street itself and it’s rare that I’ll paint a spot that I’ve not seen beforehand because I like to tailor my art.

How did you come to work with the Herbert?

One of The Herbert’s exhibition officers, Dominic Bubb, initially contacted me with regards to a personal commission and I happened to mention an animation I was working on. At that point I didn’t know Dom worked at The Herbert, it was just a by the by sentence but it was the beginning of a fantastic experience.

How did the idea for the animation develop?

The images of a dog running around the city at night simply came to me  out of nowhere as I listened to the track I used for the animation. I must’ve played the track over and over again thirty times because with every repeat, more scenes and ideas came to mind. The use of animation isn’t native to street artists but with the likes of Blu and Lichtfaktor pushing the envelope, I understood it’s potential.

After that, it was a matter of working out how I could actually portray all this idea; I considered photomontage or rotoscoping but I’ve always had a fascination with how light can be used and I came up with the idea for exposing the image of a dog into the photograph. The answer was a stop motion, long exposure animation using stencils with light. Thankfully I’m adept with a camera and I had experience with storyboarding narrative via my love of comics.

The animation was basically a combination of everything I love.

Is it true it took you over 300 hours to produce?

Give or take a day away from that total, yes. I think the idea was conceived sometime in August 2009 and I gradually storyboarded (textually), scouted locations and slowly started designing each stencil. Then from July of this year, right up until 2am on the day of the show’s launch, the work I did was more substantial as I cut all the frames, shot the scenes and edited it together.

Dogs and cats seem to feature a lot in your work, are you a fan of our canine and feline friends?

I think it’d be a bit strange of me if I didn’t like cats and dogs considering the amount of time I spend staring at them in the process of making my own work, haha.

I’m drawn to them as motifs because I like to think of them as polar opposites and I like to play them off with each other. There’s a tension between those two animals and they’re very different in nature. Dogs are messy, happy and crude, whereas cats are devious, subdued and sly creatures.

What’s next for you?

Whilst I was working on the animation, I told myself I didn’t want to touch animation for a long, long time afterwards but now it’s complete, I’m tempted to return to it sooner, rather than later. Despite the fact I spent so much time thinking, designing, cutting, photographing and editing every part of the animation, there’s something fascinating about seeing an idea come alive.

Other than that, I’m interested in dipping my toe into vinyl toy design but that will be a slow process of learning…and mistakes but I’m eager to explore new mediums for the characters and world I’ve created. I also want to start painting larger and more complex works, both on and off the street.

Where can people see more of your artwork?

There’s a lot of stuff around Oxford, albeit small, and then there’s stuff all around the country but my website, pahnl.co.uk, is probably worth a look in.

Interview by Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions Officer

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Experiment S

Crowds Gather for Beginining of the Launch

Okay,  so I said I would get back before the launch and I didn’t, and even though we had a barn storming 2,000 people turn up to our Street Art Launch and get down to Jason Fury’s Hip Hop vibes,  I still didn’t make it back here to share the effect of the planning we had noted in advance.

If you didn’t make the launch and are a little curious you can watch a record of the night here through Mohammed Ali’s eyes.

It appears that stage 1 of Experiment S is complete. We planned and targeted new incoming students through print, email, press and bribery (sweets) and provided a quality product. The results have been quite stunning.

We now have a regular flow of students within the building interacting with our cafe, collections and of course the three Street Art Exhibitions that kind of hit the nail on the head with content.

Stage two of this new direction in audience development is to get a moderate repeat performance for the two events we have coming up for Mohammed Ali – Can Graffiti Art Really Change the World talk with luminary Henry Chalfant and Breaking Down the Wall Live with spoken word and live art that should be a really nice vibe in the gallery.

Crowds Mob the V A Street Art Exhibition

The real challenge of course is sustaining student interest in our offer when Street Art moves out and something with less obvious connections moves in.

We will always be a family friendly venue and need to generate a dual focus – if done effectively, holiday periods where many students are absent would be flowing with families and when families with older children are at school and work our local student population would help us keep up those numbers.

If we look at the positives of what we experienced in our successful family audience focus it would lead us to an approach of total saturation of ‘student’ content,thinking, programming, offer, appeal, marketing, learning, interest, inclusion, media running through everything we do in order become really student friendly.

Let’s hope this can be pulled off by our amazingly talented teams across all departments…

… another time.

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Rep Cov, Repping Cov – Representing Coventry

The 'REP COV' banner on display at Coventry train station

You may have noticed the banner that mysteriously appeared at Coventry train station with the words REP COV tagged by Herbert and wondered what it was all about?

Or noticed the banner on railings of Coventry University outside cathedral square saying REPPING COV.

Repping Cov

With many of our temporary exhibitions we work with local groups to create community responses.  These are usually shown in the museum alongside the exhibition.  However in this case we wanted to capture the spirit of street art by putting the banners up in public locations.   Huge thanks to Virgin Trains and Coventry University for giving us permission use their locations.

This week my colleague Bring Colour has been working with young people from Positive Futures youth groups to create street art banners.  At an early stage of the design process one of the youth people wrote the words repping cov.  As I have left my youth far behind me I had to ask what he meant.  The young man explained very patiently that it means representing Coventry because that is what we do.  Then he initiated me with a fist bump.  This was picked as a theme for the banners.  In this session the young people wrote or drew some of them designed cartoon characters which were included in the final design.  Some cartoons were of themselves, friends or made up characters but all of them are repping cov.

In the next stage of the design process the young people covered the banners in colourful tags writing their names, tags or whatever was important to them.  The banners were covered in oranges, greens and yellows.  After this the cartoon characters were turned into paper cuts placed on the banner and black paint was sprayed over the surface so that when the paper cuts are removed the outlines of the characters were left behind.  Then the young people drew on details with marker pens.  As a final touch stars were added.

Cartoon

When we showed the final results to the young people they exclaimed in awe-struck voices “Sick”.

I am told that means they are pleased and found the banners to be very good.  Judging by the admiring looks from passers by at the university and the train station the people of Coventry are enjoying them too.

The Street Art exhibition runs until 16 January 2011 and features artworks from the V&A and  the emerging arts from the Street Art scene.

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Street Art – Our Journey Continues…

Love Supreme - Sickboy

Okay … I promised to keep you updated from time to time so you get a sense of the challenges and movement in the marketing of this exhibition … so here it is:

At time of writing we are still basking in the glow of a very successful Street Art Season event – the first in fact – It’s Yours Take It!

We gave away over 100 pieces of street art provided by artists from across the globe as well as putting on some live art demonstrations. Marketing was very limited through traditional channels – just listing in our What’s On Guide and features in regional press so I decided to go heavy on the online newsletters, listing sites, forums and social media – result? Around 1,000 people attended the Street Art event on its own – boosted by an additional 1,200 people attending our History Fair on the same day – very happy.

It was very rewarding to see such a large body of local people interested in owning an original piece when taking away the barrier of money!

So now it’s full steam ahead with exhibitions marketing. Rail adverts have gone to press through the Midlands Rail Network and will be appearing over the next two weeks. None of the lead images apart from the controversial Banksy images scream out to be used above another,  so I have opted to use a mainly text-based approach trading off the names of established artists on the rail networks.

The leaflet has been signed off by the V & A – I have opted for a 6 page A5 full colour option that can cope with the inclusion of the additional works we are programming with Fresh Paint (work from 6 emerging artists) and Mohammed Ali – A West Midlands based artist who is exhibiting and delivering some talks and events. 40,000 of these will go out in the middle of next week if I can afford it. Read the rest of this entry

Street Art … an unknown response

Time Waits For No Man by Kerry Roper

I’m really excited about our forthcoming Street Art Season kicking off this weekend with Street Art Saturday featuring an It’s Yours Take It event where we will be giving away over 100 pieces of art donated by artists from across the globe at 12.30pm at the Herbert.

The thing is this. There have only been a handful of street art exhibitions delivered across the globe and I’m finding it really difficult to judge what the likely public response to the exhibition and events programme we’ve put together will be.

Target audiences for this kind of work are hard to call. You would expect that the skateboarding masses would be interested but they are a traditionally hard demographic to engage with. Good luck and lateral thinking needed here I think.

Contemporary art lovers should love this but how many feel that street art is an act of vandalism? Not many I would expect but how many really appreciate the scope and range that this art form covers? I hope they will come along to find out – some of the works from the V & A, Mohammed Ali and our Fresh Paint sections will make this a unique opportunity to fill in the gaps and challenge people’s conception of what they think street art is.

I’m hopeful local students arriving in the city will also take the opportunity to engage with us early and we will be doing everything we can invite as many as we can to the UK launch of  the V & A exhibition.

Finally there’s the star impact… how much do people want to see original prints by Banksy, Sherpard Fairey, Ben Eine, Sickboy and D*Face? If it’s good enough for Cameron and Obama then has it not got big enough for the national consciousness?

The events programme is immense – check out the website – you can witness live art battles, spoken work, projections, DJs, talks from internationally renowned photographers and commentators and loads of kids inspired stuff… again should have a monster response but I still honestly can’t judge this one as it feels so unique – completely uncharted territory when all combined. Read the rest of this entry

The Department for Random Requests….

Hi, I’m Jane Pudsey, Senior Conservator at the Herbert. Our team is responsible for the wellbeing of the collections, so between us we look after the environment, prepare and maintain objects on display, check incoming objects, and yes, we do some active conservation work as well. As we never know what may crop up, we keep a large selection of tools, materials and equipment, and are skilled at improvising – so much so that I’m thinking of rebranding us as ‘The Department for Random Requests’ (beeswax, table-cloths and ironing facilities this week).

Read the rest of this entry

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