It’s no secret that interest in ‘Urban Art’ has grown exponentially in recent years.
Describing a style of art that relates to cities and which is often done by artists who have a passion for city life, urban art encompasses both graffiti and street art as well other visual art found in urban areas, often inspired by the architecture.
Whilst urban art started at a neighbourhood level, it is now an international movement, with many artists travelling from city to city working in collaboration with contacts from across the world.
Urban art is now (for the most part!) well respected and embraced by the traditional art world. In many senses, it has come full circle. By taking art to the streets, artists liberated it from the confinement of gallery walls and subsequently transformed the public’s understanding of where and how to view art. However, the surge in interest and popularity this created means many urban artists now show their work in formal gallery spaces and create work that can be sold for vast amounts.
Here in the UK, East London has long been considered a mecca for urban artists and fans, with Brick Lane and the surrounding areas covered in large scale murals. In Waterloo, our very own Leake Street has offered a legal wall for artists of all levels to practice and showcase their skills.
But over the past few years, a little further out from London’s centre, the borough of Croydon has been making a name for itself as the new destination for urban art.
Set up in 2014, in the wake of the London riots and during a period of economic decline in Croydon, RISEgallery, has been the catalyst for the borough’s growing urban art scene.
Specialising in contemporary, urban contemporary and post war-pop art, it is far more than just an art gallery and plays a key role in London’s creative and cultural landscape. RISEgallery is committed to pioneering projects in which art plays a pivotal role; ultimately helping to create positive changes that benefit the community. The gallery delivers a diverse range of programmes including public realm art projects, workshops, talks and tours.
Their latest project is RISEfestival, set to be London’s largest International Urban Art Festival. Taking place from 5th to 15th September, the festival will see the arrival of 60 new murals and installations by artists from around the world. The festival will also include a ground-breaking programme offering over 30 free events for the public to enjoy.
We caught up with Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, Founder and Owner of RISEgallery to learn more about the event.
How has Croydon become such a popular destination for urban art? Without wanting to take too much credit, because it really has been a huge team effort with so many people involved, I believe RISEgallery has played a huge role! We set up the Arts Quarter a few years ago as a Public Realm project to bring art to people who might not typically engage with it. By gaining permission from landowners and businesses across the town centre, we were able to offer walls to artists which they could utilise to showcase their work in the streets of Croydon.
The project has gone from strength to strength and we now have over 60 spaces across the borough. The public have responded so well to the art, that many pieces, such as those by David Hollier, Lauren Baker and Otto Schade have become permanent. From September onwards, the universal new title for all permanent murals and artworks in the borough will be the ‘Croydon Collection’. Giving this growing assortment its own identity, will enable it to continue to grow and be protected for the future.
How did the idea for RISEfestival come about?
Having worked with both local and international artists on smaller projects across the borough over the past four years, I’ve been keen to find a project to bring them all together for a while now. Last year, we ran Warhol Croydon, a hugely successful month long programme of events that paid tribute to the life and work of Andy Warhol. Off the back of that success, and with Croydon’s £5.25 billion regeneration programme continuing to provide significant investment and interest in the area, we felt now was the perfect time to step up our game and take things to the next level.
Which artists will be taking part?
Over 75 artists from across the world are taking part including some huge names like Dotmaster, Conor Harrington, BK Foxx, Doudou’Style, Phlegm, Lovepusher and Cityzen Kane.
Dotmaster is a UK artist who started painting on the streets of Brighton in the early ’90s. He takes a sideways look at a populist media with a typically English sense of humour. His work is impeccably detailed; his half-tone, stark black and white street pieces and unique, photo-real colour stencils all create street-based illusions that fool the eye. Then you have the likes of Conor Harrington, an Irish painter living and working in London. As a former graffiti artist, his work draws a fine line between classical and contemporary art. Still a fan of painting huge murals, he utilizes realistic images of people in his pieces, incorporating abstract elements to accompany his painted subjects. Joining us from across the pond is BK Foxx, a New York-based artist who likes to create large-scale murals, working freehand with spray paint. As a passionate animal enthusiast, she focuses on social awareness of animals and often depicts them in her murals, which are largely found around New York City. We are releasing details of other artists every day on social media, so keep your eyes peeled!
What type of events can the public take part in?
The events programme is the real highlight of the festival, as this is all about encouraging the public to take part. It’s truly touching to think that for some people, this may be the first time they have connected with art in anyway. The Official Urban Art Tours will give people the opportunity to be guided through the town to look at the new pieces of festival art as well as some permanent pieces from the Croydon Collection. The Graffiti Workshops will enable guests to learn about the different styles of graffiti and the techniques used to create them before being given the opportunity to take to the streets and create their own masterpieces. The Global RISE of Urban Art event will see artists, curators and other super interesting folk, come together for an afternoon of panel discussions and a Q&A.
How are you making sure it’s open to all?
From kids to pensioners, it is a privilege to think that RISEfestival will offer so many inspiring and exciting experiences that will allow all members of the community to engage. A series of activities designed for children are being led by child art vlogger, Amaya (aka my daughter!). Amaya LIVE is a mini art conference for children, where they will learn more about the urban art world from big name artists. Having buffed up their art skills, children can also take part in a Kid’s Graffiti Workshop led by a local street artist or go on a Kid’s Street Art Tour around Croydon. For older visitors, we have the Graffiti Grannies workshop which will teach the over 60’s all they need to know to start a new career in street art! Workshops will consist of a quick history lesson about graffiti and some practice on paper before heading to the streets to showcase their new skills.
We hear there’s a few big parties too, tell us more!
There certainly are! The largest event will be a huge Block Party on Saturday 8th. Run in partnership with FUNK ME parties, this evening event will see the closure of St Georges Walk as international DJs take over the block with a party that people will be talking about for years! Pioneering Croydon’s underground house music scene since 2002, FUNK ME has organised and hosted some of the best parties in London with legendary DJs such as Brandon Block and Grant Nelson so we’re excited to be working with the experts!
Anything else we should know about the festival?
We are also going to be launching a pop up shop during the festival which will run until the 25th September. In my best marketing language….the ‘Concrete Boutique’ will be more than a pop up art store, it will be an experience! However, as we’ve totally blown our budget on the Festival, the experience you’ll encounter will be ‘stripped back’ ‘raw’ and ‘truly unpretentious’. The phrase we are using for curation is ‘purposely organic’. Which directly translates as ‘we have no idea what is coming in until the day of opening’. What we do know is that we’ll be selling truly affordable art and gifts (from £10 to £500) from an array of talented artists. It may look like utterly bonkers or work like a dream…so come check it out and let us know!
Why do you think urban art has gained such popularity around the world?
That’s a pretty big topic, and I’d recommend joining our panel discussion on Sunday 9th where we’ll be debating this in full! There are a number of factors, but there’s no doubt that the internet has played a massive role. From social media making it easier for both artists and fans to share photos of work to websites dramatically altering the traditional route to market for artists, it has also given artists the ability to take control of their work.
Who is your favourite urban artist?
That is a highly controversial question to ask an art gallery owner / urban art festival founder! I have huge respect for so many artists on the scene today but to keep myself out of hot water, I will refer only to those who have passed! I’ve always been a big fan of Keith Haring, a New York based artist who grew to prominence in the 80s. I really like his distinct pop-graffiti aesthetic and how he used this to explore exploitation, drug abuse, and rising fears of nuclear holocaust, which became increasingly apocalyptic after his AIDS diagnosis.
What do you think of places like Leake Street Arches?
I think legal graffiti walls are a brilliant concept and it’s great to see how Leake Street Arches has essentially been born out of one. Here in Croydon, when we were first setting up the public realm project, we were having a lot of issues with taggers, putting their tags over commissioned street art pieces. I totally understand the need for self-expression but was getting increasingly frustrated. So I ended up meeting with one of the crews and asked them about how we might be able to work together. We ended up creating a temporary legal wall space on local hoardings which was a great solution for all.
To see new destinations like Leake Street Arches work with the arts community to build on the movement they started is really encouraging.