Graffiti, street art or glorified vandalism?
It’s not every day you see the future queen, pregnant and naked on the side of the road. So if you happen to be strolling down Caledonian Road in Islington and pass Faith Inc. Studios, then be prepared for a shock. The Duchess of Cambridge stands proud in the nude, her swollen belly on show for all to see.
Alas this is not the real deal. It’s the latest offering from street artist Pegasus, who stirred up emotions with it in November. The image echoes that of Demi Moore’s infamous pregnancy shot, with the addition of a miniature crown balancing atop the Duchess’s bump – and the Game of Thrones logo underneath.
The tongue-in-cheek image has divided the community; some see it as another colourful addition to the area’s collection of urban art, while others think it is simply disrespectful. “I have no problem with street art, but I do not agree when they begin to use images of well-known individuals and place them in unfamiliar poses,” says Claudio Bonetti, a local resident. “This is going too far and it can create a bad impression of these people, when they have no control over what is drawn.”
Pegasus’s intention was never to make front page news, although he acknowledges that “it’s rubbed a few people up the wrong way. It is one of those moments where you realise you have struck a nerve and have created a topic of conversation,” he says. Pegasus believes street art is a form of rebellion. “It allows people to get their message across through clever images in a way that words perhaps can’t.” But, for the most part, Pegasus admits he just wants to “keep it cheeky”.
And many people – residents and visitors alike – appreciate this. Stuart Holdsworth, the editor of urban art blog Inspiring City, praises him. “He has become well known for his satirical takes on celebrity using iconic imagery,” he says of Pegasus. “He’s actually one of the best when it comes to this genre, his work is sharp and well executed and it’s meant to be commented on.” Art student Ellie Williams agrees: “Personally I love it, I think it’s a beautiful piece of art.” She thinks street art is successful when it’s political and controversial. “The royals are always so serious, it’s nice to poke a bit of fun and it makes people laugh when they walk past,” she says.
Even some authorities believe it’s an asset to the community. Local councillor Paul Convery told the Islington Tribune that although it was “irreverent”, if “anybody wants to call it graffiti and remove it, I’d very much oppose it”.
This sparks the embers of a long burning debate: can street art be regarded as art or is it simply glorified vandalism? According to Holdsworth, many people get confused between graffiti and street art, when in fact they are two separate entities. He explains that “tagging” is an underground culture which originated in the Seventies and mainly consists of people writing their own names in an elaborate way. It is normally for the benefit of a close-knit community but also illegal. “Street art itself is mostly legal and pre-arranged,” Holdsworth says. He believes it can “really enhance an area because of its ability to enrich an environment. It is, after all, public art.”
For Williams, street art is a source of constant inspiration. “My recent textile project focused on the architecture and culture of East London, so street art featured heavily,” she says. Indeed, when walking the streets of Hackney or strolling down Brick Lane, every corner brings a colourful depiction, every wall is a canvas and every space a chance for displaying creativity – like an outdoor gallery, where art is free to view and can be touched, felt, and photographed.
But why is Northeast London in particular such a mecca for street artists around the world? Holdsworth believes it is to do with the history of the area. “The defining moment came after the Truman Brewery closed down in the late Eighties,” he says. This led to a lot of cheap studio space becoming available, which played a key role in shaping the buzzing creative scene that the East End is famous for.
Williams thinks street art is an accessible form of art that the average person can appreciate. “People don’t have to go into a gallery to see it, it’s just on the street when they walk back home or to the shops.” The French artist Zabou, an ascending star in the street art world, says the more she paints, the more she realises how street art is a powerful medium, as it allows residents to “take control” of their environment and “interact with it”. She adds that “it’s a great way to brighten up our daily lives”.
It is no surprise then that Pegasus has already received several offers to buy his latest work. “There is a huge global market in street art and I think it is great that we are taken seriously as artists,” he says. However, Zabou disagrees, as she thinks street art belongs to the environment in which it is created. “I think cutting off a piece of wall and selling it for a private collection completely defies the purpose of public art.”
“Islington is in a really fortunate position with some excellent street art hubs on either side. Turn one way and you’re in Camden and the other way and you’re in Old Street and Shoreditch,” says Holdsworth. He advises anyone to keep an eye out for Italian artist Alo, Korean artist HIN and French artist Thieu, as well as Brits Artista, Ben Slow, Jim Vision and the Lost Souls crew, among a host of others. “They form the bedrock of a really strong local scene which keeps the art fresh and the standards high,” he says.
With an ever-growing assortment of artistic talent, our streets are certainly not in danger of appearing naked anytime soon.