When you look at a wall, what do you see? Brick, concrete, a superficial layer of plaster, or something deeper and altogether more symbolic?
Walls protect us and define our living spaces, but they can also divide, restrict and imprison us. From the perspective of most street artists, however, a blank wall is an empty canvas. An open invitation to express themselves and leave their mark on the world.
You only have to examine the graffiti adorned walls of ancient Pompeii to see this is an urge that has gripped humanity for centuries.
Graffiti artists are celebrated at the Urban National Museum for Urban Contemporary Art, which has recently opened in Berlin. This is the first museum dedicated to street art in the world, featuring work from 150 local and international artists. The exhibition graces the walls of a converted apartment building with an asphalt floor and an open structure to give viewers the impression they are in a street.
Berlin, of course, is already famous for its graff. When the Berlin Wall – a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided the city – was finally demolished in November of 1989, a part was saved for art. The East Side Gallery, established in 1990, is the longest open-air gallery in the world. An international memorial for freedom brought to life by 105 artists on a 1316 metre section of the remaining wall. Wunderbar!
Nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, this is the brainchild of Bristol born Banksy – the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. The West Bank’s answer to The Waldorf opened in March of 2017 with a goal to put any profits back into local projects.
It’s a hotel, a gallery, a museum and a gift shop all rolled into one powerful statement. There’s no majestic view available from any of the rooms – just the looming presence of that oppressive concrete barrier blocking your eye line.
Even the Chinese government is getting in on the act. They’ve recently designated a section of wall in Mutianyu, outside central Beijing, as a graffiti zone for tourists. Archaeologists needn’t worry about this heralding the destruction of a world heritage site. The scrawl of names and tags is only allowed on a reconstructed section of The Great Wall built with solid dark grey slabs rather than the original stone. It’s about encouraging conservation rather than vandalism, apparently.
Which brings us all the way home to Attic Self Storage in London. Earlier this year we launched The Market Road Gallery on the outside wall of our building in King’s Cross. This is a collaboration between Central Saint Martins and ourselves – creating London’s very first interactive, publicly reviewed, open-air street art space.
Our 65-metre long wall is pretty much filled with dazzling artworks now and at least one space is about to be painted over. Which is part of the whole idea. Art lovers, local residents and Attic customers can use the specially designed web app and web site to give praise and extended life to specific artworks, or vote to have them replaced. Street art by democracy!
Currently on exhibition you’ll find an international selection of artists including Boxhead, Caio Beltrão, Matthew Wang and Steve Russell. Students and graduates from CSM are also in the queue (no room for talentless aerosols). We’re proud that our boring old back wall is giving people the power to shape their own surroundings and influence the environment in which they live.
Walls should not be built to separate people, with a splash of imagination they can bring the local community together.
Vote for your favourite artworks, book a space, or view what’s already on our wall by visiting www.marketroadgallery.org or start your tour of the world’s most wonderful walls by coming to Attic Self Storage, 270–276 York Way, King’s Cross in person.