It’s not just graffiti, is it? It’s… Art! These were the word of one lady who visited the inauguration of a great street art project in Dulwich in London in May of 2013. Delivered in collaboration of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Richard Howard Griffin, where Ingrid Beasley of the gallery was the connoisseur of the baroque art, and Griff the link to the famous street artists, Dulwich Outdoor Gallery emerged in a project called Baroque the Streets. It’s a spectacular collection of murals by some of the top names in street art today, all inspired by the Picture Gallery’s baroque collection. Belonging to the gallery, there is an open art house, entirely decorated by an army of creatives, standing as the mothership for all those enlivened walls around the area. Dulwich Street Art project initiated a new era - an era where street art is finally officially acknowledged and where its energy is used to vitalize long forgotten works collecting dust in ancient exhibition spaces. It’s a wonderful symbiosis, indeed.
Being England’s first public exhibition space, Dulwich Picture Gallery exists for over 200 years today. It houses a comprehensive collection of baroque painting, with exceptional examples from France, Italy and Spain, as well as a fine assembly of Tudor era portraiture through the 19th century.
A group of internationally acclaimed street artists was invited to Dulwich in order to view the gallery’s collection draw their impressions from it and reinterpret the works, in their signature style, on the walls in the surrounding neighborhood. The idea for the project came to Ingrid Beasley, curator of the gallery, the year before, when she got acquainted with Stik, who saw the baroque collection for the first time. He got so deeply inspirited with the old master paintings, he started to interpret them on the street immediately, naturally in his reduced, croquis way. The reaction to his work was extraordinary, so Ingrid Beasley decided to take the action to another, higher, wider and larger level.
During the initial phase of the Dulwich Open Gallery project, there were difficulties, especially with the artists, not willing to compromise much, coming from a realm based on strong statements. But in the end, the South London neighborhood did get its outdoor art space, vitalized by large-scale scenes and miniature narratives, bringing the whole area to life.
Participating artists were many, starting with Stik, to ROA, REKA, Conor Harrington, Phlegm, Pablo Delgado, Faith47, Christiaan Nagel and many, many more, being crowned with legends such as Thierry Noir. All of them contributed with their own visions, through which glimpses of baroque heritage is seen. ROA’s shitting dog has proven one the most controversial, a slap in the face to conventions, but it’s actually there, in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, in the painting Landscape with Sportsmen and Game by Adam Pynacker from 1665.
And Faith47 and REKA chose the same masterpiece, Guido Reni’s Europa and the Bull, a brilliant example of 17th century Italian baroque. Light and windy composition was rendered quite differently by the two street artists, REKA’s in his recognizably stylized colorful fashion, while Faith47 renewed the topic, altering the title to Europa and the Winged Bird. She changed the iconography of the classical scene completely, adding a guiding bird as the premonition symbol for what is about to come and expelling the bull from the scene. Her mural could be perceived as a contemporary take on the ancient subject, paralleling the relationship of baroque and street art.
Conor Harrington painted pairs of boxers around the area, and when asked how are they connected to the baroque, he replied the relationship was conceptual. Thierry Noir changed the look of Joseph receiving Pharaoh’s Ring reducing it to his recognizable flat figures, but maintaining the key element, which is the composition and the emotion.
The grand idea lives on and international street artists keep flocking to Dulwich and creating new work. The fact most of them are related to the Dulwich Picture Gallery is important, but if there is a little number of work that isn’t - it’s OK, according to Ingrid Beasley, since the hood got a new suit, and presumably, a new heritage to be kept and enjoyed for two more centuries to come.
Not having ended yet, but with the initial chapter complete, the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery project culminated with a book. It’s entitled Street Art Fine Art, written by Ingrid Beasley, and it describes the action drawing a parallel between the classic and the contemporary in respect of the old and new collection of the gallery.
Photos of Faith47's work by Lou Smith and Faith.
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