©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
North Kensington in West London changed forever following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster of June 14th this year. Already known for its street art, the area’s walls have become a canvas for tributes to those lost in the fire, a space for free expression and to vent rage, without a media filter. A semiotics expert and local resident, Chris Arning, looked at the possible meanings and genesis of a striking example of post-Grenfell North Ken street art…
What is Semiotics?
Semiotics derives from the ancient Greek word semion, meaning ‘sign’ and is a subject devoted to evidence-based analysis of signs and meaning. It is a field that encompasses culture, communication and meaning and includes logos, branding and street art.
North Kensington is replete with street art. Of course there is always a flurry of artists before carnival every year, but since Grenfell in June, a lot of other types of pieces have appeared: the modified London Underground Love sign and a great Grenfell RIP on the corner of the Acklam Road on the left as you turn off from Ladbroke Grove towards Portobello – done, I think, by Code FC. Street art is the medium and message of anonymous resistance. It is done to show that whatever the official story, the streets is watching and people know what is going on – sgraffiti means ‘scribbilings’ (from the Italian sgraffio, to scratch) something that goes back at least to ancient Rome.
On the way home a few weeks ago, I happened upon a strange sign on a wall off Powis Square. It sort of stopped me in its tracks because there was an uncanniness about it, both familiar and eerie. I’m writing a book on semiotics at the moment, as you do, and I was intrigued so thought I’d take a pic and have since pondered what it might mean. I deciphered the letters tangled up together as RBKC. This is the old logo of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You can still see it on some of the street signs of the borough.
I have reproduced the street art above, alongside an embossed version on a local street light.
After meeting The Kitchen Table Collective as they completed their array of Artistic expression, we stayed local and spoke with artist Junior Tomlin about art, the area and his own unique cyber style, which is on display at Vinyl Cafe, 273 Portobello Road until early 2016.
UD: What was your intention with the exhibition at Vinyl Café?
JT: I knew the owner Jake 20 years ago. We were looking at each other like we knew each other, and when I told him my name, he said ‘That’s it! You did a party flyer for me’.
After that, he invited me to show my work at the venue.
I sometimes call this particular set ‘From Paints to Pixels’. It’s not quite a retrospective because the much older stuff isn’t displayed; it’s all the digital stuff.
I started out working on game packaging artwork, went on to designing rave flyers, then art for music and digital colouring for cartoons.
This is the first time I’ve shown in Ladbroke Grove, where I live. There have been a few pop up galleries in the area, and a show at Selfridges of the original rave flyers. I put this art on display in Wales, at the Kickplate Gallery in Abertillery. I’ve brought it back home.
UD: Was art your first love?
JT: Yes and it’s nice to make a living from what you love. Sometimes I want to draw more, but I have to make a living too and making money depends on how many people see and love your art. Sharing the work is one thing, selling it is something completely different…
When you have a fan base, other people get to see the work and become interested. Local support and committed art lovers both help.
UD: What is the scope of your expression?
I can paint, gouache and acrylic, as well as my drawing and my digital work. With painting you start with a blank space, and then you gradually obliterate the white with your ideas.
Sometimes I get so transfixed on the computer that I forget my paints are right there waiting for me. But I got so tired of doing art for people and not getting it back from promoters, so I prefer computer because all I’m sending them is a file by email and I can keep what I do.
UD: How do you like to categorise yourself?
JT: (Smiling) Digital/Artist.
When you’re in a freshly made building, it hasn’t become its own building yet and you can tell. It needs time. It can be the same with art. Using a computer can create things that look great, but I like to leave traces of pencil marks, so you can tell I’ve done this, it’s not just a computer, it’s not one dimensional.
With trousers too short , shoes too big
hair cut short like a fading wig
slowly he left the asylum gate
scars on his arms, still deeper in the heart
years of abuse had torn his soul apart
shuffling along, thousand yard stare
shell shocked, wounded beyond repair
like a rusty old bicycle or worn out leather chair !
Yet once a young boy, his mothers pride and joy
but ended up in care, an old man’s toy
passed around like a party game parcel
those that used abused still safe in their castle
a broken life, a fractured mind, but more unkind
all that look away- selectively blind ………………………………………..mark bolton 2015
Well QR codes have arrived, fresh from the Japanese economy, diverted across to the US and finally to the UK. You may ask: what is a QR? This question doesn’t mean you’re out of the loop, just not in the forefront of the technology industry or perhaps you have a department who deals with that, but one thing is for sure you will know pretty soon.
QR codes are Quick response codes that no doubt you’ve seen on posters and publications distributed around London. The little black and white mosaics contain little square blocks of information. A basic code can contain a few letters and the more complex code can hold up to 1,264 characters of information.
Question: Why hold this information whether small or large, and who cares? Well a QR code feeds into a smart phone with a QR scanner installed, once it has been scanned, it immediately sends the smart phone user to the website for more information on what they have just viewed.
This breakthrough is of the most value to businesses today seeking awareness of their online presence. With this, QR codes are generating more and more diverse possibilities for businesses to reach their core markets. This has opened a new stream of business opportunities and thus revenue around coding. As QR codes grow in the UK, it is becoming clear that basic black and white codes, to the eye, all appear identical and devoid of identity . This is no doubt why major companies such as MTV, Nike and Ralph Lauren have personalised their QR codes to reflect their brands. These are called Maze QRs or Mazes and are created by a QR coder, similar to a graphic designer but also skilled in code manipulation.
Although there are few customized QR coders in the UK, one of the best UDL has seen, competing with the US in a major way is a company called MazeQR who’s slogan mysteriously states “Be found”. By intention, MazeQR are nearly impossible to find. They exist in the Matrix and are found strictly by Qr code. MazeQR have been in existence for less than a year yet have supplied tailored QR codes for major establishments such as Comic relief and Jade Jagger. Their tangeable presence in Notting Hill made it possible for us to find a spokeswoman. Joy Daly, whom we managed to catch up with. A concept scout for MazeQR, says “Personalised coding can cost from just hundreds to thousands of pounds depending on the uniqueness and the intricacy of the work”.
Exploring print media through branding, notably via Phillip Morris’ classic Red Marlboro flip-top box, is a fantastic concept especially as once pervasive cigarette advertising now struggles to brand its own product. The current show at PayneShurvell owes its curious name to an anonymous note slipped through curator Andrew Curtis’ mail slot leading him to contemplate the relevance of “print” in the age of digital media.
Twenty artists offer original perspectives on the theme with half of the works created specifically for this exhibit. Dominated by cigarette imagery the show’s introspective pieces extend beyond the realm of marketing into the personal notion of self.
Dick Jewell’s 300 American Tobacconists M-Z offers exactly what you’d expect; 300 Polaroid and black and white photos of industry leaders encased in a multi-cigarette border. Found images of what once was “packaged” within a witty frame.
The distinctively colourful bottles of Jack Newling’s Management and Late Night Shoppers impressed me by melding the generic with the notion of successful totems (think Apple, VW bug and their ilk) whilst raising the spectre of Orwellian monitoring.
Two personal favourites were Bruce McLean’s Their Grassy Places and Leon Chew’s The Crystal Land. Their Grassy Place inspired thoughts on the contemporary fad for personal branding and the eternal existence of vain follies. This work showcases a Daily Mirror picture for which McLean purchased the rights and now re-visits in several guises using great levity to reflect the temporary nature and lack of grounding in egoism. Chew’s The Crystal Land juxtaposes manmade versus nature in a series of close up images of J.G. Ballard’s car which spoke of desire and permanence in mirrored contrasts.
The sum of the exhibit left the impression that brand individuality once so imbued with physical “identity” has become ephemeral and internal in the digital media era… or has it? PayneShurvell serves up a contemporary exhibition with an enduring nature that offers great scope for contemplation and discussion.
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the world turns on a word
Inclusivity, Interculture, Intelligence, Internet, and I (am a part of it)
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Understanding Life with Art
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There's a human story at every lighthouse.