By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, November 2020
I met Stik in 2007 at a private view of his work in a London squat. A private view in a squat? Okay, it was an art squat, the Oubliette Collective, then in unlawful occupation of the former Tanzanian Embassy, a mansion in the heart of Mayfair. On view were studies for Stik’s Street art, the stick figures from which he took his name, always drawn with very few lines, five to seven max, of unchanging thickness, charged with energy and each spot on target in delivering a specific emotion.
Stik proved as direct as his work. In his late twenties, he was open, friendly and he was offering info rather than asking for sympathy when he told me that he had just come from painting a mural at the Glastonbury Festival, which was and is a major Brit event, but that he was currently homeless. A while later Stik had me meet him with another lively Street collective, the Mutoid Waste Company, which was recycling garbage into art. He told me there that he had been mostly homeless since 2002. “I’ve been in temporary accommodation and squatting,” he said. “And living in abandoned buildings.”
Stik’s work though was now getting attention and support, he was traveling to make work world-wide, and our next sit-down was when he came to execute a project in New York. The global ballooning of Street art in the free and semi-free worlds, a phenomenon unlike any other in art history, had taken a medium which had begun when human beings first confronted walls with some way of marking them and for some it had become a self-marketing tool, a handy means of making connections, perhaps of snagging a fat commercial contract. Not so, Stik. “Street art is not using the street as a gallery,” he told me. “It is the street. It’s an interpretation of the street.”
Meaning also the people on the street. Stik is an activist. His piece, Sleeping Baby, raised over £50,000 a London hospital. In 2019 he consigned Up On The Roof, a wooden sculpture that had been installed on a street in London’s East End for nearly ten years, for sale at Christie’s. The sale was to benefit Cardboard Citizens, a theater company for the homeless, based in Hackney, a district dear to him. The pre-sale estimate was that it would go for between fifteen and twenty-five thousand pounds sterling. It went for1 50,000 pounds, well over a quarter of a million dollars.
Just weeks later three sculptures by Stik were stolen from a London garden in a night-time raid. Two were severely banged up but Stik is no stranger to such event. A large piece he had made in Gdansk, Poland, had been stolen, cut up and sold off five years before. All these artworks were in due course recovered and returned. Most recently several thousand posters of from a batch Stik was giving away to Hackney citizens were stolen in transit and shortly being sold on eBay. The Metropolitan police are on the case. Current news is that a significant number of the posters have been recovered and are now being distributed.
Street art has always been ultra-vulnerable of its very nature, of course, whether it was the MTA scrubbing railroad cars, property owners or the authorities, smooshing walls, or the work being tagged, meaning over-written, sometimes by envious competitors, and for Stik, as for all Street artists, such hazards are as natural as the weather. In 2014 he painted Big Mother, a 125 foot image of a mother and child, the tallest mural in the UK, working without assistants on a council tower block in West London. A colossal project. But that building is a goner, and Big Mother also. “They have a limited time,” Stik said. “That is why Street art photography has become such an important part of the thing. And the Internet is very important. Things last longer on the Internet than they do in real life.”
You won’t be hearing much more from Stik though, not publicly anyway. His reaction to the branding of the artworld will, as of now, be public silence, he says. He will just be making art. Does this bring Banksy to mind? Well, yes. Indeed both are Street artists, working out their social, cultural and political concerns, with, though,a singular difference. Banksy means to provoke, Stik means to heal. Herewith, for instance, his account of his Holding Hands project, as edited by myself. It was completed and delivered slapbang between London’s two lockdowns. The two figures in the sculpture, which are roughly twice human height, are holding their hands low enough to for the viewer to reach, their legs forming a doorway the viewer can pass through, and the composition is such that first one figure appears to lead, then the other, depending on where the viewer is standing in relation to the sculpture. The artist intends to drive home through this that being able to look at the world from somebody else’s perspectives has always been necessary and always will be, but not often more than right now. Also the very action of holding hands references human emotion, irregardless of race, sexuality, gender, faith, or social status, a time that was, and which will come again.
The Maquette of Holding Hands was sold at Christies on 23 October for 287,500 pounds sterling. That’s **** $, a solid sum, with whick Stik is funding a Sculpture Trail across the London borough, Hackney, in which he has lived for twenty years. The project directly addresses a number of art world issues. For one, artists are being told to ‘Re-skill’ by UK government. So funds will be available for dozens of commissio. Also galleries have been closing because of Covid but the great gallery of the outdoors is always out there, waiting. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British-American writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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