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HOW DULWICH BECAME AN UNLIKELY STREET ART HUB

On the cusp of Dulwich Festival 2016, The Resident discovers how Dulwich and surrounding villages like East Dulwich, Forest Hill and Peckham Rye have unexpectedly become street art hubs

Words: Trish Lesslie

Think of art in Dulwich and the Dulwich Picture Gallery is likely to spring to mind. But while the Old Masters continue to grace the hallowed halls of the oldest public gallery in the world, some very different images have been springing up in the leafy streets around it.

Dulwich has become a perhaps unlikely showcase for street art – and it’s a member of staff at its famous picture gallery (DPG) who’s largely to thank for it. It all began when Ingrid Beazley, an art history teacher at DPG, headed to the East End for a talk by renowned street artist Stik a few years ago. Intrigued by the artist and his work, she invited him to DPG, an offer fortuitously accepted.

‘I was fascinated by how he interacted with what he saw on the walls,’ says Ingrid of Stik’s first visit to DPG. ‘He had no background in what you might call old-fashioned art; he wasn’t impressed by names like Rembrandt because he hadn’t heard of Rembrandt. He approached the art as an artist, not as an art historian.’

The two became friends and between them hatched a plan for Stik to recreate some of DPG’s paintings in his own style on walls around Dulwich. ‘He creates pictures of people, but in a completely different way to how it was done in the past,’ says Ingrid. ‘His people are simplistic, stick people. He’s not interested in the trappings of status like Van Dyke or Gainsborough. He’s interested in what a person is like, relationships between people.’

Stik’s works proved so popular that Richard Howard Griffin, founder of Street Art London, and Ingrid organised a street art festival during the 2013 Dulwich Festival which they called Baroque the Streets. Over 20 major international street artists were invited to Dulwich where Ingrid introduced them to the Baroque paintings in the DPG. She secured them all walls in the Dulwich/Peckham area where they interpreted the Old Masters in their individual styles. In the years since, Dulwich has seen a continual stream of artists painting more walls, consolidating the area’s reputation as a major hub for street art.

For this year’s Dulwich Festival, renowned artist Louis Masai will live-paint an outdoor piece at local nature reserve, Sydenham Hill Wood. Festival-goers can watch the painting being brought to life from Friday 13 May and throughout the weekend.

Louis, whose work often aims to raise awareness of endangered species, is set to create his piece in a tunnel in woodland – which is home to a colony of bats – to highlight the work of the London Wildlife Trust. He’s looking forward to working in the woodland setting, although he’s not particularly keen on the term ‘street art’.

‘Throughout history people have painted on walls outside and were never called street artists,’ he says, ‘I think it’s a term that can be used to put down people from a graffiti background and create a hierarchy of what’s acceptable and what isn’t.’ His Twitter profile simply states, ‘I paint… sometimes inside… sometimes outside’.

Whatever you call it, outdoor art looks set to continue to flourish in Dulwich. ‘What makes the street art in the area unique is that it is subtle and carefully curated,’ says Ingrid. ‘For example, artist Pablo Delgado put up his tiny paste-ups near primary schools which were discovered by the children and much loved. Much of the art is in residential areas so mustn’t be bright, huge, in-your-face stuff. It must be subtle and surprising, carefully thought out and sensitive to the local community.’

Ingrid points out that some work has been adapted to local tastes. For example, following objections to a depiction of the Bible story of Judith and Holofernes on the grounds that it was too violent for its surroundings, the artist painted something milder in its place.

‘Street art in Dulwich generates conversation,’ says Ingrid, who will launch a street art pop-up gallery in Dulwich Village on 7 May as part of this year’s Dulwich Festival. ‘It’s not elitist, you don’t have to pay to see it and there are no opening hours. It’s fun and everyone is entitled to an opinion.’

Dulwich Festival 2016 highlights

The 23rd staging of the 10-day festival runs from 6-15 May. Here are some of the key events…

• Doctor, comedian and health commentator Dr Phil Hammond will be bringing his How to survive the NHS… and help the NHS survive show to Alleyn’s Great Hall on 9th May. In his subversive comedy, Dr Phil calls for an end to top-down disorganisation of the NHS, and launches his own ‘bidet revolution’ – from the bottom up.
• The internationally-acclaimed Tangram Theatre Company is staging its much-lauded production, Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking on 17 May at Belair House. The collaborative, challenging and entertaining approach to theatre seeks to actively engage the audience, so be ready to join in.
• There will be a street art walk taking in many Dulwich Outdoor Gallery murals, many of which were created for Baroque the Streets (see above). Starting at East Dulwich station, the walk will end at Dulwich Picture Gallery, where the inspiration for the walls can be found. 14 May at 2pm.
• Anyone who can play a scale on a musical instrument is invited to bring theirs along for Scandinavian Soundaround, a collaborative workshop taking place at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Places will be limited, so booking as far in advance as possible is recommended.
• The Festival Fairs are popular days out for all the family with bouncy castles, beer tents, homemade cakes and more. The Dulwich Festival Fair takes place on Sun 8 May on Goose Green, followed by the Love West Dulwich Fair on Sat 14 May and Dulwich Park Fair on Sun 15 May.
• Over 200 artists will once again throw open the doors of their studios and homes to offer an insight into the artistic process for the hugely popular Artists’ Open House which will take place across both weekends of the festival.

For further information on all the events see dulwichfestival.co.uk

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