'Imagination will take you everywhere'
It’s not every day you see the future queen – a pregnant one at that – naked on the side of a street. 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 is the latest offering from the street artist, Pegasus, which caused controversy 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.
The tongue in cheek image has divided the community; some view it as another colourful addition to the area’s collection of urban art, while others see it as disrespectful. Local resident, Claudio Bonetti, said “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. 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 “it’s rubbed a few people up the wrong way”. He says “it is one of those moments where you realise you have struck a nerve and have created a topic of conversation.” 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 “I like to keep it cheeky”.
Indeed many people – residents and visitors alike – appreciate his “cheekiness”. Stuart Holdsworth, the editor of urban art blog Inspiring City, praised Pegasus, saying “he has become well known for his satirical takes on celebrity using iconic imagery. 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”. Local art student, Ellie Williams, agrees with this opinion, “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 makes people laugh when they walk past.” Even the authority believes it’s an asset to the community. Local councillor, Paul Convey, 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 70’s and is when people write their name in an elaborate way normally for the benefit of a close knit community, which is often illegal. “Street art itself is mostly legal and pre-arranged”. Holdsworth believes it can “really enhance an area because of its ability to enrich an environment. It is after all public art.”
For Ellie, 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”. 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 North East London in particular such a mecca for street artists around the world? Holdsworth believes it is to do with the history of the area, but possibly the “defining moment came after the Truman Brewery (located on Brick Lane) closed down in the late 80’s”. This led to a lot of large cheap studio space becoming available, which played a key role in shaping the buzzing creative scene that the East End is famed for.
Ellie thinks street art is an accessible form of art which 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, who is 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. He says “there is a huge global market in street art and I think it is great that we are taken seriously as artists.” However Zabou disagrees as she thinks street art belongs to the environment in which it’s created. “I think cutting off a piece of wall and selling it for a private collection defies completely 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 us 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”, amongst a host of others. “They form the bedrock of a really strong local scene which keeps the art fresh and the standards high”.
With an ever-growing assortment of artistic talent, our streets are not in any danger of appearing naked anytime soon.