It was funny going back to Leake Street after six years, after Banksy’s shows in 2008. And how time moves on, now in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century, street art has exploded, Banksy is still the king, but hundreds of people now engage in this burgeoning art form. Furthermore street art has become an intersection between the illegal anti-establishment graffiti movement and a more dominant movement of artists who find the street, or public walls to be more exact, a starting point for artistic ambition and self-promotion. All these things were evidence in the Femme Fierce street art event in Leake Street today, organized by a street artist agency, in celebration of International Women’s Day, women street artists and in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness.
You could smell the event from a distance, spray paint fumes quickly filled the tunnel and billowed out of it at both ends, like whipped cream churning out the ends of an éclair just punctured by the first hearty bite. The only thing to compete with the spikiness of the fumes was the occasional waft of herb, being smoked by one or two here or there. There was a real energy to the event; the industry of so many artists was a fascination. The artists were at study of focus, spraying here, spraying there, sometimes applying complicated stencils, sometimes consulting their scaled down versions drawn or sketched in notebooks. Most would frequently take a step back; take a moment to contemplate their work, before going back to the wall to add detail. A team of beat boxers came with a couple of speakers and provided a suitably urban soundtrack to the event.
The coincidence of the event with what turned out to be the first day of Spring added to the sense of carnival. The warmth and happiness of touristy South Bank, just a stone’s throw away from the tunnel, helped add to the sense of bonhomie and wonder. Spectators, sometimes with dogs or bikes in tow, slowly worked their way through the tunnel, in either direction, tiptoeing around canisters of spray paint, ducking under the range of each other’s viewfinders. A range of colours, religions and ages were represented. A six-year-old boy had a go at spray painting himself, his dad looking proudly on. A quartet of Muslim women, dressed in burkhas giggled with excitement.
Up above the far end of the tunnel, one could see faces peering through the wire mesh from Station Approach, inscribed with curiosity, fascination and confusion. Some decided to join the day’s celebration, others went on their way. There was also edginess to the event, resulting from being enclosed in a most insalubrious environment, together with London’s great unwashed.
All the time, of course, spray paint was being deposited on to the wall, works of varying qualities, taking shape and form. The cornucopia of images and colours left on the walls of Leake Street as the evening drew to an end, a fitting legacy of an inspired event.