a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 24 May 2020

Lock down life: Cycling in search of the 'Teesside Banksy'

Anyone who has visited my Instagram @tony_rees123 (eyes right) will know that I regularly take photographs of bikes leaning against various structures, some of these images also feature graffiti, just as a way to add another element to the pictures in a desperate attempt to make them look a bit more interesting. 
   Looks like Snoopy has decided that Woodstock's been locked down for long enough.

When the pandemic arrived and lock down followed one of the the first things I did was get my Zwift set up sorted, happily our weather has been great and I haven't needed to use it yet. Although I have managed to ride outside everyday I found, that not too surprisingly, my motivation had taken a bit of a dip. The race season had vanished at a stroke so nothing to train for, no group rides with the boys and not even able to do the mainstay of my training, those leisurely rides to the cafe. 

I still wanted to ride every day though not just to try to maintain the decent level of fitness I had built up over the winter but also as an escape from the tedium of lock down but, there were a couple of problems. I wanted to comply with the guidance and stay fairly close to home and I have also been a bit time constrained due to lock down related responsibilities, meaning a maximum ride time of around two hours which is a bit limiting and had the potential to get fairly boring fairly quickly.

Well before Covid-19 was even a thing I would sometimes pick training routes with good locations to do my BAAW (bike against a wall) Instagram thing, so I decided to do more of that and to use these difficult times as an opportunity to be a bit more creative with my Instagram content. Unfortunately so far my creativity has only extended as far as me leaning my bike against someone else's creativity, that someone being Teesside street artist Karl Striker
I already knew of the work of Karl Striker as this piece of his stencil art is only five minutes from where I live and the theme very appropriately is escape, just like Snoopy and Woodstock above. Originally there was an angry dog painted on the wall, just about where the front wheel of my bike is and the boy in blue was escaping from it. The dog was painted over long ago but I think the fence which is there to stop people trespassing on the railway has probably helped protect the boy.

I refer to Karl Striker's work as art but is it ? really ?  when does graffiti (vandalism) become art ? a very basic distinction is that graffiti created with permission becomes art. I am pretty sure that all of the pieces on today's blog have been done without permission but they are still, in my opinion art, you may not agree. Both graffiti and urban art are forms of expression that come in many styles, from very simple name tagging to more sophisticated work which may also have a social or political message. Aside from the issue of permission appreciation of any art form is obviously subjective, beauty as someone in ancient Greece famously said 'is in the eye of the beholder'.
Another one from my neighbourhood just a couple of miles away from home. This one is on a busy access for both cars and pedestrians and has survived for several years, an indication to me that people like the work and respect it for what it is, urban art. A lot of Striker's stencil pieces are now more than five years old, some have been painted over either with graffiti or by the authorities and some have disappeared because the locations have been demolished or refurbished, although many of them have remained untouched for years. I have also heard rumours that there are still some out there that have yet to be discovered ... I've no idea where to start looking but I'm on it for sure !  
Surveillance is the theme in this one (could this post be any more topical ?) I must have had my motivated head on this particular day as I am on a race bike, clearly not motivated enough to resist those Instagram urges though. In this one, by cleverly choosing a location underneath a surveillance camera Striker conveys the message that we live in a surveillance society and are all being watched but that we too are also the watchers.
Classic behind the scenes BAAW shot of one of my favourite Karl Stiker pieces 'Grey Pigeon Down'. The thing that intrigues me about this one is that it's hidden in plain sight. The stencil is painted in an open area that has loads of traffic passing through it, I must have driven by it, within a few meters, literally dozens of times over several years without ever noticing it.
Called 'A toy with a chequered pattern' this one took some finding even though it's located in the centre of town, not sure what the message is here but I really like it. Karl Striker is an artist who over the years has managed to rigorously maintain his anonymity. Street artworks like these are basically illegal, which explains his desire for anonymity but concealing his identity also allows him to blend in to his surroundings while creating his work, many of which were apparently created in daylight.
Returning to the theme of escape, I had to escape from Teesside to find this one. This full size image of a cinema usherette carrying a tray of spray cans appeared overnight on a shop door way in Darlington back in 2014. The stencil appeared on what was at that time a picture framing business, whether this was intentional I don't know but it did lead to a collaboration with the shop owner for Striker who started selling framed prints of his work.
Unfortunately I really can't relate to this last one, I don't know why, I think it's probably this self-promotion thing that I don't get. Anyway, if you want to see more of my BAAW pictures be sure to visit @tony_rees123 on Instagram.

For me the distinction between art and graffiti is quite clear, much of the stuff I see and lean
 my bike against for Instagram are tags or names and their creation has as much to do with ego as it has with self expression, people just spraying things up to leave their 'mark'. Street art is something different, something that has meaning, is more thoughtful and creative and in the work of Karl Striker also has an element of social commentary, but that's just the way I see it.
Thanks for reading (and appreciating the art) 



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