He pulled up barefoot to his St. Peter’s studio. He set down two crates for chairs. He was most unassuming. How could he be so casual about something so political?
Originally from the English countryside, Sydney street artist Will Coles gave us an inside look into how politics and street art are, now more than ever, inextricably linked.
He started from the beginning.
“In the 80s, because of Thatcher, everyone was just having the worst time. It was kind of like the grit that makes the pearl...it was so awful that it managed to create this great underground arts scene,” said Coles.
Once antitheses, they now seem play with each other.
"In the past, for connections you'd just go to opening nights and basically suck up to people...but now there's a whole course on that,” said Coles.
Coles suggests that maybe that little piece of paper is more of an entry ticket than a certificate of accomplishment.
"COFA is a brand,” said Coles.
There’s nothing wrong with being part of the gang until that gang is the only one deciding what is and isn’t art.
“[Curators] only have a small circle of people they know and it's often only from the college they've just been to so you end up having a very limited view [of what art is]…” said Coles.
And so begins the game.
"You have to know curators, but no one tells you who the curators are. You can't find them, they have to find you,” said Coles.
"It kind of goes back to this idea of an aristocracy. They have this very small circle of artists and the only way the curator expands his knowledge of artists is when one of them introduce someone to the circle. It's almost Masonic,” he added.
Enter street art.
"Art critics hate street art because their say is irrelevant and it bypasses them completely...that's why I did it. I just realised it was dumb playing their game by their rules..."said Coles.
Coles says art should be for the masses, not the elite.
“If you just put it in a gallery, it’s the same small tiny demographic of population that sees it, but if it’s on the street people can see it. That’s why I do it,” said Coles.
Street art isn’t only about tagging up a side of a building or circumventing the gallery game, it’s a way to make people think about the world around them.
“Most stencils make you think because it’s so much like screen printing. It’s always been political. Like you see silk screens from the Spanish Civil War or French students in the 60s protest stuff…and it’s the same thing with stencilling. There’s just something [political] about it,” said Coles.
It’s not a perfect system, he admits. Even the subversive can become impotent.
“You’re trying to get a message across, but then [rich people] buy it and it ends up in their house where only they see it so it’s not changing anyone’s opinion…” said Coles.
Even when it’s in the streets, art can sometimes lose its meaning.
On last year’s ‘Better Out Than In’: “People were queued to see Banksy because it was a box to be ticked, not because they wanted to think,” said Coles.
“But you try,” said Coles.
So where does art go from here?
“I see art, established art, meaning colleges and galleries, being the domain of wealthy people,” said Coles.
All is not lost however, he says art will move east with “the current Chinese explosion as they become more free and the West becomes less free.”
See Will Coles here from March 8.