Street art has experienced a pretty impressive evolution: from vandalism, to political statements, to the walls of collectors.
It was in the 1980s that the anti-establishment tags started to gain a new level of attention and respect, artists like Banksy rose up in the early 1990s and galleries began to catch on to the cultural significance of this genre of artists. Today, a new era sees brands like Gucci and Converse using the visual language to cover walls with their campaigns. And pieces can sell for millions at auction – cue, Banksy’s Devolved Parliament (depicting politicians as monkeys), which sold for a record-breaking £9.9 million at Sotheby’s in October 2019.
So, how have we gone from graffitied public spaces, to scrolling through work on our Instagram feeds and street art sales that crash websites and make millions?
Street art collector, Terry Lucy, has been on that journey from the start. Growing up in east London, he was transfixed by train graffiti from a young age; and now, owns several pieces and travels to see works in situ. “I have always been into art, particularly urban art,” he tells us, “and graffiti has influenced a lot of my life in terms of music and pop culture.”
Here, he talks us through how the art form – and his appreciation of it – has developed over the years, how to navigate the hype and the best places to see street art around the world (including an underwater wildcard).
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into street art?
It didn’t start with street art as we know it today, it was straight-up graffiti. I grew up in east London, around Shoreditch, and remember seeing graffiti when going to school on the trains. There was a group of graffiti writers that I became fascinated with – I followed them and looked for their tags on the streets.
Did you know who these graffiti writers were?
Yes, they were gang of taggers from a bunch of different schools. I remember being really interested in how mischievous it was. I began to research the history of graffiti and the crews that were coming out of New York in the 1980s and 1990s, who pioneered the art of writing on trains.
How did this evolve into the street art we recognise today?
Street art has grown in popularity largely due to artists like Banksy – also the rise of social media means artists have been able to market themselves. Those who would typically be graffiti writers now have respect among the art community, and release prints and paintings, too.
The acceptance of graffiti as an art form has meant that more public wall space has been given up to street artists. You often see big brands run adverts that are shot in front of local street artist’s work, giving them more visibility.
Now, when you want to buy a print online from a famous street artist, they can’t even tell you what time it will be released, because if they do, their website is going to crash.
What was the first piece of street art you bought?
It was by a French graffiti artist called Tilt. He’s born in Toulouse and combines the bubble writing that you see so often in street graffiti with images. The first thing that attracted me to his work was a big mural of the Union Jack on the back of Village Underground, in Shoreditch, filled with bubble writing lyrics of the Sex Pistols song Anarchy In The UK.
I bought my first piece by Tilt in my mid-twenties. It’s called Big Tas, from his 2013 show All You Can Eat at Fabien Castanier Gallery in Los Angeles. It was the first time I could afford a print – prints are a really accessible entry point, creating the same romance that you get from owning an original, but without the price tag.
Who are your favourite street artists?
D*Face has always been one of my favourites – I have a few of his pieces and I’m always looking to get more. Dan Kitchener is a definite favourite, too, he’s got a bunch of incredible murals around London that have a Blade Runner-type vibe. Portuguese artist Vhils is another, but I don’t have any of his pieces because he creates art by drilling into walls, a unique medium.
Invader is prolific – he has mosaics across the world. He even has some work underwater, and you can only get to it in certain places if you’re a scuba diver. He has also seen one of his pieces sent into space – very cool.
Which three cities would you recommend to see the best street art?
Miami definitely, even though it’s a bit more commercial; the city has amazing spaces and they host the annual Miami Art Week every December. New York, of course. And then, as an outsider, Brussels.
Any tips for someone keen to start collecting street art?
It depends on the motive. If you are buying to make money later in life, you need to look at the popularity of the artist in relation to the price the work is today. My advice would be to buy what you like. There are so many amazing artists out there that need support – they keep creating amazing murals on our streets for free, and we support them by buying their work to decorate our houses. If you see a mural you like the look of, find out about the artist and buy a piece from them.