A while ago, while browsing around my sources of information to organise something fun to do, I came across a small tiny exhibition in a very unusual place.
I must point than I am writing this more than 1700 km away from the actual place, in the National rail equivalent service from my hometown. International commuting they call it. That's how I roll. In the air conditioned carriage, I am seating in one of those foldable seats, just in front of a 4 seater. There are two ladies seating, and from my long spy experience, I would say that they are mother and daughter. The mother has the very usual blonde highlights so typical from upper-middle class mums in the 90s and still wearing a very conservative outfit. In front, her daughter, natural brunette like most of us in here, and carrying some sort of documments, folders etc. Considering my current destination, I would say they are going to stop at my own destination, place for a well known university, an presumably she's going to ask for information about the degrees and all that jazz.
However, my point was other. As soon as I set a foot on the carriage, both their heads turned violently towards me and I felt more scanned than a bad boy in a Terminator's film. Ok, I was probably not wearing the most classic pair of trousers, as they are navy blue with white polka dots, but their disturbed faces and careless looks without hiding it, is what bugged me. And suddenly I reminded myself why I like London.
While I was being assessed by the judgemental mom and daughter, a couple of 50-something ladies were having a very loud conversation in the seats beside me. A loud chat that involved words such as knickers, neighbours and jobless friends. That's the moment I decided to evade myself from what I was witnessing and focus on the street art I had seen a couple of weeks ago.
Going back to the exhibition, I came up with a street art related exhibition, that most probably caught my eye as it mentioned the word 'Banksy'. I know, i know, it feels like is totally overrated and overdone lately, everybody thinks he's a sellout and stuff but still, the mystery around him makes me constantly curious about his new pieces. Taking a closer look at the description of the exhibition, I realised that in reality it was not about him, but about his allegeded source of inspiration.
Blek le Rat. French graffiti artist who's carrier started more than 20 years ago when Banksy was still probably fresh and innocent. Alleged pioneer on the use of stencils and black and white paint. Blek has claimed a number of times to be the one and only stencil pioneer and has blamed Banksy for copying his signature black rat (and now that I look at it I am wondering, isn't Blek's rat a bit chubby?)
The exhibition has held in a very unusual place. I did not realised of how odd it was until I was actually there. I googled the adress to discover that it was in the centre of Mayfair, in the famous New Bond street, next to High End brands and on the same side of the road as the recently opened Victoria's Secret. In a tiny door, disguised between shops of fine tailored shirts and leather handbags, a stencil of Einstein claiming that 'Love is the answer' is what hinted me of the odd location of the Opera Gallery.
As per entering an exclusive boutique of the area, I was welcomed by a very friendly security guy who briefed me about the exhibition, how it had just been opened that morning, with impressive queues of people waiting at the entrance (see review of the launch day). With a handful of visitors at the time in popped in, I carefully stood in front of each piece. Hesitant of taking graphical evidence of my visit, I asked my newfound friend about the photography policy, to reassure me that there was no problem at all.
(Monalisa gone gangsta)
All the pieces were framed, unlike Banksy's, which gave me the impression to be a more commercial type of 'street art' (although Banksy's pieces have been highly priced and sold in numerous art galleries around the world) that although they had a message to transmit, the message itself felt sort of ironic. Social protest exhibited in the wealthiest neighbourhood of the city?
For some reason, apart from the undesirable framing, the background of all the stencils had some sort of colourful abstract landscape that confused me even more. I found a couple of rats sprayed around the tiny gallery, but in spite of being pioneer rats, they felt bland and meaningless.
At the back of the gallery, there was a pn unexpicable cheesy heart by Damien Hirst to add to the oddness and in one corner, colourful skull. There was a secret floor underneath apparently just available for exclusive guests, VIPs or proper buyers (although all the rest of the pieces were also on sale). And now that I am thinking, I am pretty sure that Xavier Prou (Blek) was walking around supervising and chatting with the visitors.
It is weird how recently I had lost my faith in Bansky, I regained it again after contemplating Blek's exhibition. I appreciated his innovation on the use the stencil, but let's face it: they guy from Bristol feels much more compromised, I feel his message is much stronger, and although his latest piece brings confronting opinions, I think it is one of his best lately.
'I painted this on the side of Poundland in North London. A shop which sells cheap jubilee merchandise, is located on the route of the Olympic torch relay and was caught using sweatshop labour two years ago. But I only discovered any of this afterwards - I just thought it was a nice coloured wall'. (Banksy dixit)
As I arrived at the station, I stood up, making the foldable seat to return to its natural position, making a strong noise. The two other chatty ladies sweared incredibly loud (and ridiculously rude) to expess their shock after the unexpected sound. The equivalent of F***!!!! WHAT THE F***!! invaded the carriage leaving them in shame.
The best thing is that I was right. Mother and daughter got off where I predicted.
I still think I should be a spy. But that's another story.