Art as Gift

My son harbors the secret hope that the meltdown of the world’s financial markets will shift the mindset of this nation and the world to a much-needed consciousness of sustainability. I see that possibility too, convinced that these great swings into the dark end of the spectrum can also initiate a great swing into the light.

A similar “good derived from bad” possibility exists in the smaller scale world of the arts as well. When I found the article below in the U.K. based The Independent, I started thinking of all sorts of ways in which guerilla good works could be conducted in the visual arts. An idea worthy of contemplation.

Even in the era of Banksy, some view the work of street artists as little more than graffiti: idle daubings on walls and bus shelters that councils have to pay people to clean up. But those who stumble across works they find littered around London later this week may well be in for a surprise.

Art worth an estimated £1m is being given away by one of the world’s leading street artists, Adam Neate, in an exhibition that will see 1,000 pieces deposited across the capital and left for whoever wishes to take them.

In recent years Neate’s work has graced the fashionable Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in London, yet his roots lie in creating paintings and sculptures designed for urban locations. And this Friday’s Street Art Action marks a return to that way of working – only now his pieces fetch up to £43,000 each.

The action will begin before dawn, when helpers will begin distributing the hand-painted pieces on the outskirts of the city, moving inwards towards the city centre as the day goes on. While some will be left at famous landmarks around the capital many pieces will be placed in less salubrious areas of the city – both Lambeth and Hackney will be decorated.

It comes at a time when the industry – which was booming until relatively recently – seems on the verge of grinding to a halt. New York auction houses were hit last week, with Sotheby’s failing to sell a third of works at its impressionist and modern art sale. But Neate insisted: “It is nothing to do with the state of the market – it is about putting back in what I got out at the beginning of my career.”

The artist’s aim is to reinforce the idea that street art was originally intended to be a gift, free and fun for everyone to enjoy. “It has always been a dream of mine to do a show around the whole of London, to take over the whole city in one go. I want everybody to be able to see it, but once the pieces are out there I don’t mind what happens to them,” he said.

Each piece will be autographed, so anyone who stumbles upon an original artwork on Friday, or on subsequent days, will know whether or not the piece is an Adam Neate original. The 30-year-old began leaving pieces of art on the streets of Ipswich early on in his career, but has not left any for the last four years.

The value of urban art has sky-rocketed in the past year, with high-profile artists such as Banksy being seen at prestigious galleries and regularly selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds. When the world’s first art sale dedicated to urban art was held at Bonhams auction house in February, 99 per cent of the lots sold.

While only time will tell whether urban art will have much lasting value, the street art movement currently has the support of A-list celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, who reportedly spent £200,000 on works by Banksy.

Adam Neate wants to ‘put something back’ by leaving his paintings in public places for anyone to take home

7 Replies to “Art as Gift”

  1. Now that is uncanny. I was just reading the article in The Independent.
    Also reading about the Free Art Fair 2008:

    Sometimes you’ve got to hit them in the pocketbook. The rising cost of gasoline is forcing drivers to change their ways, to save on energy by carpooling, taking public transport, etc.

    I take the train & bus to work 2-3 times a week. The bus trip provides interesting insights into a different socioeconomic cohort. People take the bus for many reasons: can’t drive, can’t afford a car, lost their license by DWI etc.


  2. MS, Great connection. Thanks for including the link.

    Things have shifted. I think most of us can feel it. Now, we all need to be about the business of redesigning our world.

  3. diana johnson says:

    Can you relate this to the works of Barry McGee (1966 San Francisco) being a featured artist in the Carnegie International exhibit this year? His work brought street art into a conventional setting of a museum, Graffiti as a vital method of communication. Or was it the last vestige before the fall of false gods?

  4. Good addition to this discussion, Diane. McGee is a veteran of working outside the constructs of the art world.

    Great quote from him:

    “The more I learned about the art world, the more my interest in what was going on outside of it increased, I didn’t have any desire to bring graffiti inside the school’s walls or anything.”


  5. Thanks for sharing this one. Banksy sounds like a man with a broad mind. Wouldn’t it be fun, to come across one of his paintings? I doubt I’d take it, though. That would be strange. Nicer to leave it for others to enjoy. We really are only renting the paintings we “own” anyway, since in general they outlive us.

    I haven’t been by here in while – busy putting the magazine together.

  6. Good tie-in to the economic meltdown. I hope the “finders” don’t go and auction them off, although I guess, what would it matter? Actually, there could be goodness there for people who are in need.

  7. C, congrats on your project. The new site looks substantial. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

    YB, so much IS tied to the economic meltdown, and becoming more so. Lots of opportunities for us to learn what we couldn’t before all this happened. Thanks for your thoughts.

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