Just two days after arriving in London I received my first message for my Dulwich OnView internship. I was asked to meet Shapa (Editor) and Tina (previous intern) at the Dulwich Picture Gallery cafe and then partake on a street art walk through the Dulwich area.
I was pleased to start so quickly, and my first assignment seemed like a wonderful way to get my foot in the door while familiarizing myself with the Dulwich area. I wasn’t sure what a street art walk entailed, but soon learned that I would be visiting several sites where the graffitist Stik had made his mark.
After spending some time at the cafe, we drove down the road to the location of two of Stik’s pieces where a group eagerly awaited the start of the walk. Stik was at work, spray cans in hand, making adjustments to a piece on the side of a building. Spectators gathered around to watch him at work, asking questions and learning about the man and the meaning of his work.
Upon arrival, I was handed two sheets of paper. One paper detailed our walking route, and the other was a page with copies of seven pieces of art that can be found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Because I had already read an article about Stik on Dulwich OnView, I immediately made the connection.
Stik, in collaboration with Dulwich Picture Gallery and Ingrid Beazley, has created a series of interpretations of famous pieces of art. I looked at my paper, and knew that I was looking at his rendition of Gainsborough’s Mrs Elizabeth Moody with her sons Samuel and Thomas. I was instantly hooked by the charm and emotion that emanated from the stick figure characters.
I wasn’t the only one captivated by Stik’s work. By the time we were readying ourselves for the art walk, a crowd had assembled consisting of passerbys, fans of Stik, and members of the press. We spent some time discussing the reinterpretation project and the first two pieces on the walk. We learned a bit about Stik’s style and why he chooses to paint his characters as stick figures. Through this discussion I was able to get not only a clearer sense of him as a person, but I also gained a heightened appreciation for his work.
Stik’s characters consist of no more than six lines and two eyes, and while this may seem a bit simplistic at first, there is great depth to his work that could only be accomplished by a graffitist with great talent. Stik explained that his characters are meant to act as symbols that rise above gender, class, race, and all of the other factors that act to divide people. He explained it by talking about the power that symbols have to convey messages.
For example, Stik talked about how, in many public places in London, messages try to be conveyed solely through the use of the English language. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily work due to London’s diversity and language barriers. Stik feels as if symbols would be a stronger method to convey messages to a larger, more diverse audience. Instead of saying “Stand on the Left” above escalators, it would be much more efficient to simply have an image of a person standing on the left hand side.
Now, Stik’s work has much more meaning than informing people about tube etiquette. What he attempts to do is convey emotion, (which is the essence of what art is) and he attempts it with great success. His characters are brimming with life and emotion. Despite not having mouths to convey this emotion, the eyes and body language of his characters are sufficient enough to make their feelings apparent. This mastery of body language is one of Stik’s greatest assets.
As we continued our walk I couldn’t help but feel as if I was fortunate for attending. It was very rewarding to be able to walk side by side with an artist and hear about his work straight from them. Stik is a charismatic and interesting person and it was a lot of fun to spend time with him. Throughout the course of the walk, the size of the crowd steadily grew as we picked up people along the way.
Our walk took us through commercial streets, into quiet neighborhoods, up to private homes, and through parks. All throughout Dulwich, Stik’s work can be found. We concluded our journey at the Dulwich Park bowling green with Stik’s rendition of Bartolomé Estéban Murillo’s Three Boys. Here Stik explained the piece and afterwards passed his cans to attendees and allowed them to put some extra touches on his work. It was a great way to conclude the walk and showed me how important it was to Stik for his work to be something that is shared with the community.
Since then I have seen some of Stik’s other pieces scattered about London, including on a street art walking tour that I took with my study abroad program. It is always a pleasant surprise when I stumble upon the familiar stick figures, and I am thankful to have had the Stik street art walk experience. Hopefully this is a reoccurring event, and if so, I would highly recommend it to anyone.