As the world’s eyes turn to London, the city’s street artists have sought out their share of the limelight, writes Conor Sullivan.
An artist who goes by the street name Loretto drew this anti-Olympic piece at Bankside adjacent to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, next to where the torch relay passed on its final lap last week.
The renowned street artist Banksy has also produced some wry observations on the games. One which depicts an Olympic javelin thrower hurling a missile is perhaps a take on the controversial anti-aircraft weaponry that the military has stationed in Bow Quarter, a residential area close to the Olympic Park.
London has a rich history of street art, according to Richard Howard-Griffin, author of a blog and app about the capital’s outdoor art. The scene is “internationally renowned”, he says, while differentiating it from street graffiti, which does not have the same artistic merit. “At its core each street artist has a slightly anti-authoritarian streak and they just want to express themselves without boundaries,” Howard-Griffin says.
Some believe the current crop of anti-Olympics artwork is a reaction against the strict branding rules surrounding the games, which Howard-Griffin says are like “waving a red rag at a bull”.
“You’re seeing this rebellion against the very corporate, hierarchical, rigid approach to expression that Locog [the London organisers] have engendered. Street art doesn’t like rules and the notion that you can’t use an image. I think this is what some of this Olympics street art is about.”
Another piece, this one by the street artist Mau Mau, hits at the “corporate takeover” of the games. It shows a creepy looking Ronald McDonald figure, emblazoned with three sponsors’ logos, running with a Coca-Cola branded Olympic torch that leaves a trail of pollution in its wake.
“I think it’s good to see people expressing themselves through art,” Mau Mau says. “I would rather see that [the art] than a billboard selling my kids burgers.”
The attitude of some of the city’s authorities towards street art is turning more positive, particularly in east London, Howard-Griffin says. They are beginning to realise it “can be a force for good” and improve areas, he says.
“Eventually they will run into the problem of having to curate the streets. They are going to have to decide what to clean off and what to keep, and that’s not an easy decision to make. Someone’s going to have to grasp this thorn of what people want and what they don’t.”
But while some Banksy’s have remained, Mau Mau’s piece did not last long. Despite it being painted on private property with permission, Ealing Council deemed it offensive to the public and painted over it a few days later.