Recently I joined the delightful Nelly Balazs for a wander around the legal and illegal street artwork in Camden Town.
Before the tour I have been interested in street art for a while, taking photographs in Hackney Wick, the skateboarding space on the South Bank, and the Leake Street graffiti tunnel in Waterloo. Of the artists themselves and the ethos behind their work I knew very little.
Balazs is a photographer, facilitator and curator who works closely with artists from around the world, finding legal surfaces for them to paint and arranging partnerships with suppliers to reduce the costs involved in creating a work (which can run into thousands for a full wall piece).
Her vision is to add value to real estate by brightening up outside surfaces with art, and we saw some of the work she has collaborated on as we progressed through the streets behind Camden High Street.
For me, as a detached observer, there is a conflict between the commercialization of what was originally a counter-culture expression of graffiti tags and politicized slogans. Balazs explained that legal surface artwork avoids political comment to protect those who own the space.
Respect between artists was also discussed – we looked at Bambi’s Amy Winehouse (illegally painted) which originally showed the singer with closed eyes but now has a companion stencil by a local artist, Morganico, now deceased, who altered the eyes to a disconcerting stare. The local connection between the second artist and Winehouse makes the almost-merging of the two works acceptable.
En route, we heard about the conflict between old school graffiti artists and wealthy artists who treat it as a successful business. The most obvious example of this is Banksy (whose artwork on the side of a private house is no longer visible here, having been painted over by the owners), who is an anonymous millionaire known for his publicity stunts.
Balazs seeks out artists of quality for presentations in her festivals and use of the spaces she facilitates, inviting them to participate and seeding collaborations. We also discussed the reach of social media (particularly Instagram) and noted that many artworks include these tags.
We noted that many pieces showed vandalism from graffiti tags, which is a shame: in some cases, the artist will return to repair their work, but in others new artworks will utilise the space.
Part of the joy of visiting these spaces, to me, is seeing that juxtaposition of styles, whether the sleek presentation of a piece made to last, a piece of fading commercial art, or a witty piece of traditional graffiti.
The range of work on display in a relatively short space here is interesting in itself, and with many legal spaces constantly changing with transient works, Camden repays repeat visits.
I would recommend this walk which I booked through Funzing (reasonably priced at £15, minus £5 as it was my first event booked through this platform). It ran approximately 1 hr 50 and started and ended in close proximity to Camden Town tube station.