“A true patriot must always be ready to defend his country from his government” – Herman Melville quote via Stik
Finished just before a torrential autumn downpour, Stik’s sixty foot Avenue A mural will grace the busy East Village corner for a year. The young London street artist sat down with me for tea, joined by his New York art dealer, Christopher Pusey. The Dorian Grey Gallery, run by art veterans Pusey and partner, Luis Accorsi, has helped re-ignite the East Village gallery scene, with an emphasis upon street art, as well as eclectic urban artists. Dorian Grey Gallery dealt with endless city bureaucracy in their sponsorship of the much appreciated mural.
Known for his graffiti portraits of beguiling stick people, Stik was until very recently, homeless and a frequent squatter. He learned about art as a life model at St. Martins and The Royal Academy. “I took in art by osmosis, I would be naked as dozens of artists talked about body, balance and composition.”
Squatting in London, and later Milan, Stik spoke about his life on the streets. “I was working, living off my wits, a pretty boy in a big city. I saw things that chilled me to the bone. The city is very harsh when you are homeless.”
Which is exactly what motivates Stik to create work that impacts the homeless population. “My art is about the vulnerability of the human form in the city.”
One recent project placed his fold out posters in the London magazine, Big Issue, sold by the homeless. The posters immediately became a coveted collectors item, empowering people with a micro business mentality. Stik, whose work has recently sold at Christies, told me, “I wanted to put the art in the hands of homeless people. A friend sold a poster and got enough money to buy a motorbike and go to France to see his mother, first time in years. It touched me.”
Stik’s last show at Imitate Modern in the West End “put a huge spotlight on me – people queuing around the block. It was a sell out show.”
At the same time, one of Stik’s iconic figures was picked up and turned into a viral infomercial for a huge company. Taking legal action, Stix got a cease and desist and then used the company’s money to fund the posters for Big Issue.
“Making street art is my way of showing the world I exist. I am very defensive about the world I have created. The projects I’ve turned down are on a global scale. My form and discipline comes through necessity – to paint a picture in the time before the police are dispatched.”
From murals, Stik has transmuted his vision to acrylic on canvas. After New York, he is off to Tokyo for ten days. Recent projects have included seven interpretations of Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings, and a squat art exhibition in Central London. He credits mentors like Queen’s guitarist Brian May (“he protects badgers – I am working on with the homeless”) and fusion singer Sheila Chandra, “who taught me how to bridge fine art and street art, and how to be taken seriously and be sane.”
Artist as activist – something the New York art world is desperately in need of. “I’ve been offered a lot of walls. When I do a piece on the street, I am very specific. I don’t feel like I can get permission form a Council or landlord – if I don’t feel it should be there, I don’t do it. If I’m not confident about it it’s not going to happen.”
So the recent East Village mural, across from historical Tompkins Square Park, the scene of be-ins, squat cities, and riots in the early nineties, is the perfect locale. Stix says, “riots and protests uphold morality.”
In December, Dorian Grey will present Stik’s solo show. “I love New York, I find it very friendly.” In last year’s visit to New York, he did an impromptu mural in the Bronx. Stik says he likes artists Anthony Gormley and Giacometti. “Artists have this reputation as being crazy and wild, but artists have an internal balance that shifts continuously. Fortunately, I am on a positive trajectory.”
His is a creative journey that I for one, will enthusiastically follow, as Stik brings refreshing vision and integrity to the international art world.