To be an urban street artist in The United Kingdom can be a fairly dangerous thing. This society has very often proved to be very conservative regarding this art form, as spray painters face serious jail penalties and fines if caught. With the introduction of the infamous Crime and Disorder Act in 1998, The British government included graffiti on the list of punishable anti-social behaviors together with racism, rioting, arson, dogging, shoplifting and pedophilic activity, to name a few. Nevertheless, or because of the threat, street art in the UK blossomed and produced some of the most influential and legendary subversive artists in the world. Here is our pick of ten contemporary British street and urban artists everyone is talking about.
A documentary short looking at ‘See No Evil and the rise of the global street art movement
Banksy – Harsh Critique which Granted him Worldwide Fame
Much has been said about this pseudonymous, UK-based graffiti artist, painter, political activist, filmmaker and all-round provocateur, but he continues to draw attention over and over again with his witty and bold satirical street artwork of distinctive stencil approach and direct social and political commentary. Banksy started as the outlaw graffiti sprayer on the walls of Bristol in 1990, and since then, he managed to garner great worldwide fame and recognition (in 2010 he found himself in the company of Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Lady Gaga on the Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people). Banksy’s graffiti works are a combination of striking images, made of spray paint and unique stenciling techniques, and politically engaged slogans. Most common subjects of his urban art include members of the royal family, policemen, rats, apes and children, and they mostly represent a harsh critique of capitalism, hypocrisy and greed in our world.
Roid – Taking the Street Art Form One Step Further
Heavily influenced by various strong design elements, urban artist Roid created his distinctive signature style of experimental letter abstractions combined with minimalist design. With every new work he pushes the boundaries of his spraying capabilities, experimenting with various effects, designs and painting techniques, never painting the same thing twice. Master of handwritten typography, member of both Mad Society Kings and Heavy Artillery artist collectives, and arguably one of the most influential urban artists in the UK today, Roid has gathered a huge following of urban art aficionados over the years. With his superior use of color combinations and dazzling, brilliantly executed compositions, Roid takes the street art form one step further each and every time.
Word to Mother – A Sensual and Social Observation of Life
English born urban artist Word to Mother, like many others, began his artistic career spraying graffiti in the streets, and later taking on the traditional route by obtaining art school education, during which he studied illustration. With his sophisticated layering skills, he creates intricately painted elaborate pieces of complex texture, visual assemblages of figures, typography and patterns, often painted on pieces of wood he randomly collects. Word to Mother often incorporates discarded materials, scavenged from the streets, thus giving them new life. His work is a sensual, social observation of life and its environment, showing desperate, yet hopeful images of emotionally broken people with “hidden” humorous details that present an insight into his personal life and a glimpse of his inner mindscape.
Mr. Jago – Showing an Impressive Level of Sophistication in Street Art
Based in Bristol, a true veteran of the urban art and the most prominent member of Mecca’s Scrawl Collective, Duncan Mr. Jago is recognized for his opulently colorful spray paintings of rabid imagination, a visual vortex of abstract and emotional expressionism depicting everyday violence of individualism and capitalist existence. After showing an intense interest in graffiti, he graduated in graphic design at the University Of The West Of England in 1998. Over the years his style, influenced by comics, hip-hop and B-Boy culture, has evolved tremendously, and today it shows an impressive level of sophistication rarely seen in spray painting and urban art in general. Today, Mr. Jago exhibits his artwork in urban art galleries around the globe, and occasionally works for some of the biggest global brands of our time.
Carrie Reichardt – “The Revolution will be Ceramicised”
Carrie Reichardt (aka Baroness Carrie Von Reichardt) is best known for her mosaics and ceramics, both original and reworked vintage china she took to the very edge of subversion. After spending years of experimenting, she has developed a technique of layering images, using a combination of homemade, vintage and digital ceramic decals. Baroness Von Reichardt calls herself “a craftivist”, a craftswoman and an activist, who creates intricate, highly politicized art and proclaims “the revolution will be ceramicised”. She is the co-founder of The Treatment Rooms project, in which her home, a three story house in the West London, is being transformed into a self-contained piece of art. This ongoing project has been going on for well over 15 years.
Phlegm – From Self-Published Comic Books to Large-Scale Murals
Phlegm is a street artist extraordinaire from Sheffield, highly recognizable by his intricate monochromatic paintings of fantastical creatures, and visual narrative structure which captivates the viewers and inspires their imagination. He started his career as an illustrator, creating self-published comic books and fanzines, which he later on transcended into murals found on the walls of abandoned buildings worldwide that brought him international acclaim of one of the most exciting and highly skilled contemporary urban artists. Turning to cityscapes and large scale work, Phlegm stayed true to the tiny decorative details of intricate appeal and unique aesthetic.
Id-iom – Witty and Humorous Take on Pop-Culture, Music and Politics
Street art and graffiti collective Id-iom from London, consists of two brothers: Hugo and Sholto Brown, both with no formal art education. They started by printing T-shirts, determined never again to suffer under the yoke of an oppressive employer, and today, they work with screen printing, stencils and paint, turning buildings into extraordinary canvases. Highly memorable art of Id-iom is their own witty and humorous take on subjects like pop-culture, music and politics, instantly recognizable by its quirkiness and bold use of colors.
Best Ever – Disturbed Painterly Realism
Another urban art duo, Best Ever, comes from the coastal town of Bournemouth. Both coming from graffiti background, they have been painting together since 2008. Best Ever create emotional and captivating photo-realistic spraypaint murals of stunning realism. They often paint mesmerizing and visually poetic humans with emphasized faces and hands, full of melancholic mystery. Using materials such as tins, gloss, emulsion and acrylic they transform these human bodies into distorted and disturbed objects, in style they refer to them as “disturbed painterly realism” which so powerfully describes the fragility of the human body, both physical and psychological.
Sickboy – Playful Visual Language
Painting street art since 1995, Sickboy, the London-based and Bristol-born-and-raised multidisciplinary pioneer of urban art, has built quite a strong reputation as one of the UK’s finest. Sickboy’s playful visual language and characteristically comedic artwork of surreal abstractions is highly influenced by pop culture. He was one of the first British graffiti artists to use a signature logo instead of a tag. These temple logos and “Save the Youth” signature slogans can be found anywhere, most recently on garbage bins, which can then be worth tens of thousands of pounds. Never being a fan of stencil work, Sickboy tries to adhere more closely to the graffiti aspect of street art, insisting on freehand approach.
Nick Walker – An Urban Prankster with a Mischievous Sense of Humor
Considered to be one of the world’s greatest, and Britain’s most influential street artists, Nick Walker is “responsible” of introducing stencil graffiti to the (in)famous Bristol graffiti scene in the early 1980’s. He had since been constantly evolving his signature style of thought provoking and ironic art of dystopian imagery by combining intricate stencil images with more conventional freehand methods, juxtaposing almost photographic realism with the rawness and impact element of conventional graffiti style. Walker is most recognized for his iconic bowler-hatted Vandal character, an urban prankster with concealed face, dressed in a gentleman’s disguise, which possesses a mischievous sense of humor.