Popular propaganda

Street art has long been plundered by the commercial mainstream, with private collectors eyeing one-off pieces and big-scale corporates weaving its quirks and isms into visual merchandising. Some wonder if this appropriation of an underground culture has stalled its evolution, with artists diluting their work to better secure commercial commissions from companies selling everything from colas to TV shows. Others say graffiti is a robust art form, well able to be both tribal protest and expensive wall-hung decoration. There are elements of both at a short selling show at The Smithfield Gallery. The work is from artists based in Barcelona, and their ingenuity and variety are noteworthy. The work features both graffiti writing and painterly effects. Some of it is figurative (Eldone), some fantasy (Flan). There are highly coloured pieces (Flan again, Mr Kern) and monochrome work (M Wert), plus faux primitive (J Loca) and geometric (Kenor) styles. Dreams (Klinisbut) and nightmares (Kram, Maze) sit side-by-side, as do the subversive (Sendys) and decorative (Zosen). Curator Jan Spivey, who has worked with the artists in Barcelona for several years, sees influences taken from the political and social culture of Catalonia. ‘Political posters in the Barcelona streets played an important role in the popular propaganda freedom offensive against fascism, and inspired the first generation of Catalans growing up in a newly democratic Spain,’ she says. In Barcelona, graffiti’s real-world roots seem to endure. Homage to Catalonia, The Smithfield Gallery, 16 West Smithfield, London EC1, 3-13 December

By Sarah Frater

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