Behind the scenes at “Beyond the Streets London” is a hive of activity, with artists deeply focused on installing their work and seeking assistance with tools and equipment. Curators, organizers, and lighting professionals are bustling up and down the stairs, carrying props, or ladders, and communicating with vendors and artists via text message. Salespeople are diligently crafting wall texts to accompany the art pieces. It’s a few hours before showtime, yet everything is somehow accomplished just as the first guests arrive for the preview.
Photographer Martha Cooper is electrified by the activity at Saatchi Gallery. The event preserves the rich history of graffiti, street art, and commerce while pushing forward with new trends and directions. Cooper, who has documented this scene since the 1970s, has attended and exhibited in “Beyond the Streets” exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles – and we anticipate the next stop could be Shanghai. This particular iteration showcases an evolving mix of archetypes and invention, drawing on diverse influences from the US, UK, and EU.
Cooper observed many surprising music references at the show. Rock icon Eric Clapton was at the opening admiring a photograph of text declaring him to be God while filmmaker, musician, and BBC radio host Don Letts had a personal collection of his memorabilia/ephemera on display. Ron West, designer of the “Duck Rock” boombox, also made a sudden appearance at the opening, allowing guests to pose with his creation. Among the standout pieces was a Bob Gruen photo of Malcolm McLaren holding that boombox in front of Keith Haring’s Houston Street wall, a masterpiece of intersectionality, if you will.
Overall, “Beyond the Streets London” offers a smorgasbord of colors, flavors, and influences that are difficult to encapsulate in one show. However, Gastman, the visionary, gives it a good try, with a respectful nod to the many artists who have shaped this worldwide people’s art movement. Enjoy these behind-the-scenes shots from Ms. Cooper.
Beyond The Streets – London. Click HERE for more details, the schedule of events, tickets, and exhibition times.
Calligraffiti pioneer Niels “Shoe” Meulman tells us that he’s been having a great time during the opening of Beyond the Streets in London, where he is showing some new work that meditates on his path and represents this moment in his evolution. The unruly and elegant Dutch contemporary artist, designer, and calligrapher says that seeing his peers and heroes in person and on display in the exhibition reminds him of why he fell in love with graffiti in the 1980s.
Now principally a painter, Shoe continues in calligraphy and design and even teaches, but to get him excited here at the opening, show him what appears to be a precise replica of the “Duck Rock” boombox carried by Malcolm McLaren in front of Keith Harings’ wall on Houston Street in the 80s. Featured on the album cover of the same name in 1983, the artwork was designed by style writing master Dondi and designer Nick Egan against a backdrop by Haring. It’s a perfect nexus point for this prominent figure in the world of urban art and design – a point he doubles down on by rolling up his shirt sleeve to show you his bicep tattooed with a wild-styled “Duck Rock.”
We asked Shoe to tell us about his three-year triptych presented here at Beyond the Streets in London’s Saatchi Gallery, and he took us on a trip through his own memories and experiences to arrive at this moment.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an artist. Even though I didn’t see graffiti as an art form in the beginning. I mean, all the kids were writing some kind of sobriquet in 1980’s Amsterdam and –apart from Dr. Rat (1960-1981) and friends– there wasn’t much artistic going on. Until I saw what they were doing on New York subway cars, and later in museums and galleries.
When Dondi (1961-1998) and I were hanging out in Amsterdam in 1984, I proudly told him, my mentor, that I was going to drop out of school to study graphic art. There, I was just in time to learn many obsolete graphic techniques. One of them was metal typesetting (letterpress) with its typical case; a big, undeep wooden drawer with compartments for each glyph of the alphabet, cast in lead. Every size would have been cut by hand, in reverse. It was real easy to mix up the d, b, q and p.
Ever since those early days of writing graffiti, I always felt that what we were doing was part of something much bigger. Something old and dirty, as Ol’ Dirty Bastard (1968-2004) would later tell us. Maybe it was because of the teachings of my other mentor, the iconoclast Rammellzee (1960-2010) who stated in his rhymes with Gregorian chants that what we were doing started in Medieval catacombs.
Before Gutenberg invented his wood block printing press, which lead to this moveable type setting, books were being copied by hand by monks, who I see as the graffiti writers of their age. Just like us, they were traveling with books, comparing handstyles, driven by competition and togetherness. But of course writing itself is much older than that. The oldest cave drawings (mostly done by women, recent research shows) were the beginning of letters. The letter ‘A’ derives from the sound and drawing of an ox. Letters have figurative origins. Words are images. Writing is painting.
I feel connected to all of this and very excited to see where writing culture will go in the future. Already so much has happened. For instance when I first named my work Calligraffiti in 2005, I never imagined that it would become the world wide art form it is now. And whether is was in caves, catacombs or the subway systems, the culture began under ground and is having a peek above ground. My piece for Beyond the Streets is about that.”
Artist: Niels Shoe Meulman Title: WRITING IS PAINTING AND PRINTING
A triptych consisting of three pieces:
Title: THE INVENTION OF WRITING MARKS THE END OF PREHISTORY year: 2021 medium: acrylic and ink on linen size: ± 400 x 280 cm (± 13 x 9 feet)
Title: FROM PAINTING TO PRINTING AND BACK AGAIN year: 2022 medium: acrylic and spray paint on ten stretched cotton canvases size (total): ± 160 x 160 cm (± 63 x 63 inch)
Title: UNAMBIDEXTROUS LETTER R year: 2023 medium: stone lithography print on handmade Japanese paper size: ± 32 x 43 cm (± 12.5 x 17 inch)
Beyond The Streets – London is open for the general public at Saatchi Gallery and tickets are available now for booking through saatchigallery.com/tickets
Tonight is the VIP opening at the unveiling of Roger Gastman’s Beyond The Streets London edition, a combination gallery show, fine art exhibition, and superstore targeting the youngish hip fans and collectors of urban art. With historical roots and knowledge of culture at its base, BTS brings a largely American-centric roadshow previously configured for Los Angeles and New York into friendly European territory.
Most illustrative, perhaps, are the chapters that punctuate the multitude of stories installed throughout the entire Saatchi Gallery, known for its exhibitions of contemporary art and emerging artists since its founding in 1985 by the British art collector and advertising executive Charles Saatchi. The cross-culture nature of graffiti and street art and all of its worldwide tributaries during the last six decades is presaged perhaps by the intersectional spirit of such Saatchi shows as “Post Pop: East Meets West” in 2014.
Roger tells us that it was very important for him to bring this traveling feast here because of the interconnections shared in the shared evolution of popular culture and political movements between Britain and US cities during the last half-century in art, fashion, music, and the street.
“The story of graffiti and street art can’t be told without highlighting the significant role London, and the UK in general, has played in revolutionizing these cultures and continuing to spread the word of their existence,” Gastman says. “Pushing the global narrative has always been important to us, so we’re honored to continue telling these stories at a respected institution like Saatchi Gallery, whose prestige and impact are unmatched in the UK.”
The 70,000 square foot (6,500 sm) space is divided into chapters with names like “Dream Galleries,” “Blockbusters,” “Legends,” ”Larger Than Life,” and “Social Commentary,” the plastic arts, photography, ephemera, fashion, and site-specific installations will represent the multitude of ways western culture erupted and redirected itself with the aid of graffiti, hip hop, punk, and myriad expressions of DIY culture. By paying homage to these primarily youth-based monumental moments and the cultural narratives that reformed and rebelled, Beyond The Streets puts these 150 artists into representational roles for the hundreds of thousands of “rule-breakers and mark-makers” who collectively have pushed the culture forward.