URBAN ART ICONS, CHAPTER I

Within the exhibition "Urban Art Icons", we approach the work (and personality) of Blek le Rat, The London Police, Shepard Fairey and Mark Jenkins. The vindication role of urban art leans on many referents of our society to build a impact message. In the construction of the narrative, the artists resort to different techniques and aesthetics, and in the case of these four artists, their works usually resort to a unique concept, which they reinterpret and use to feed their discourse.

BLEK LE RAT

Blek le Rat is one of the first artists who made of Urban Art what it is today. His jump into the streets came after having studied at the School of Fine Arts and Architecture, in Paris. Despite his academic training, his revolutionary spirit prompted him to make the city his own particular canvas, before leaping to international action. His first works were made directly on the walls of the French capital, which earned him a conviction for damages on the property. From that moment on, he began to work a new technique, the stencil, with such a success that street art of the late 2oth century could not be understood without this tool. His glued works, instead of painted on the walls, were the ideal vehicle for his artistic narrative, where the message of political denunciation was a constant.

The political and social iconography characterises the imaginary of the French artist Xavier Prou. Rats and soldiers are the emblematic images associated with his work. The rat, animal that carried the Plague to the Middle Ages symbolises freedom, and Blek le Rat began to represent it to announce to the observer that the graffiti would spread worldwide, just like the Plague in the Middle Ages. The characters of the father of the stencil seek to move, stir consciences, the reaction to art, the provocation.

Blek Le Rat

His Master is Voiceless red, 2008

Serigraphy

74 x 72cm

Blek Le Rat

Resist Against The Imposters, 2007

Serigraphy

65 x 54cm

SHEPARD FAIREY

Shepard Fairey is one of the most representative artists of the American underground scene, although he prefers to call himself a populist and provocateur. Fairey's artistic style is unique, and it is inevitable to relate his works both because of his aesthetics and his topics with the propaganda posters used during Soviet Russia. The activist and revolutionary message of his works, in which he defends progress and justice in society, together with his singular iconography, have turned his work into a communication channel of enormous social repercussion through his impressions, stickers, murals and posters.

The creation of the famous poster with the image of the former American fighter "André the Giant" with the word "OBEY", was the definitive step for the American artist to take the leap to fame. Music, social and political criticism, popular culture and environmental issues are the most recurrent subjects in his artistic career. His influences are multiple: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, street art, psychedelic rock posters of the 60s, musical icons such as Bob Marley or Sex Pistols. Some of these topics can be seen in works like "Vote" or "Earth Crisis".

Shepard Fairey

Misfits, 2017

Screen printing on paper

61 x 46cm

Shepard Fairey

Big brother is watching you, 2006

Screen printing on paper

61 x 46cm

Shepard Fairey

End Corruption, 2015

Serigraphy HPM, mixed media and collage on wood

61 x 46cm

THE LONDON POLICE

The work of the British collective The London Police, currently formed by the artist duo Chaz Barrisson and Bob Gibson, two of its founding members, is easily recognizable by its genuine "LADS" icons, characters with round heads, simple bodies and happy expressions. When they moved to Amsterdam in 1998, they were called to modernize the decadent streets of what was the world capital of drugs.

TLP has invaded the urban spaces of many cities with murals in which they combine circular and linear elements in black and white, characteristic "boys" and architectural illustrations. The London Police's works have gone from street walls to the walls of galleries in more than 35 countries around the world, examples of which are their drawings in indelible ink on canvas such as "Keith Egg Peterson rides again" or "Samurai Magic ".

The London Police

George Rotterdam, 2013

Marker on fabric

40 x 40cm

The London Police

Samurai Magic, 2016

Indelible ink on fabric

40 x 40cm

MARK JENKINS

Although urban art easily identifies with mural work, graffiti and painting, it is more difficult to specialise in sculpture within this discipline. However, the main line of work of Mark Jenkins, an installation artist who dares with the urban space and who usually takes advantage of the elements of the city to create a coherent and witty critical discourse. Born in Virginia, his first work started in Rio de Janeiro, where he began experimenting with plastic and tape to create hollow figures interacting with the environment. In 2005 he returned to Washington to start a collaborative project with artist Sandra Fernández: "Størker project". With this proposal, the duo Jenkins and Fernández invaded the streets of many cities with small figures of babies made in transparent plastic that created an active dialogue with urban elements.

The subsequent work of this artist continued to evolve to incorporate new materials, merge techniques, and experiment with new proposals, risking more and more with the dimensions of the works and the scope of their impact on the city. One of the milestones that have most marked his career was his collaboration with Greenpeace since 2008. From that moment on, a significant change in Jenkins' narrative discourse is evident. His projects transformed into art complaint where awareness of the environment and the free use of the weapons are recurring themes in his work. This is what happens in "The Dugout Blue" or "Boys 2 men", pieces in which the artist questions the double morality of Western society about who is authorised to use weapons and who does not, or how anonymity allows transgressing the rules based on fear and ignorance. His hooded figures delve into the icon of the anonymous terrorist while posing the paradox of arming their characters with water pistols. An acid criticism of the collective behaviour of xenophobic reaction, distrust and boom of ultra-rightist movements that are gaining ground in the 21st century.

Mark Jenkins

The Dugout Blue, 2015

Mixed media

131 x 77cm

|354:150

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.