Saturday, 19 July 2014

Saying 'Ello to ALO

From his humble beginnings in Italy, street artist Alo has come a long way from not even being able to afford paint. At the end of this month the prestigious Saatchi Gallery will offer its walls to Alo who will showcase a staggering 40+ original artworks for the month of August. We caught up with Alo recently to see how he was feeling about all this attention.

You have a show coming up on the 30th of July at the Saatchi Gallery. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The title of the show is "Hail to the loser", it will be a gallery of many characters who mirror people living our society. I chose the title because I've always felt like I identify more to borderline people; people on the outside of society. I mostly paint outsiders, not only poor people but also "everyday" people who suffer the world we live in but try not to let others see that for example.   I've wanted to have a solo show for a long time as my indoor work is a very important part of my art, it's much more complex. The Saatchi gallery is a great place to show it. It's a three week show, until 18th August and I'll show more than 40 original paintings.

You have developed a very signature style that is recognisable across the streets of East London. When did you start painting as ALO?

My art starts from painting, even if I've always used my own technique and media, not the typical ones. I have the need to paint characters and I do it on every kind of surface: canvas, walls or boards I find around the city. I didn't start painting on walls but pasting up. I used to go in Rome and Milan to do that. In Perugia as well, where I was living, even if there was not a street art scene there.  I started using the name "ALO" when I had to paste up. Then I've found my way to paint directly on walls, quite similar to the one I use for indoor works,  and started doing it. I didn't feel close to the traditional "painters " world. It was natural for me to start painting on walls cause I've always  belonged  to the street world, and the idea of making something not saleable and for everyone caught me soon. 

And what were you doing before that? When did you first start painting on the streets?

Before painting on the streets I've been developing my style step by step, I didn't start painting like now, this is a way that has developed in time. I used  to do many jobs to survive as well. Anyway I've always been involved in music and artistic activities. As I said before I started pasting up in Italy and then painting directly on walls; in London I've produced my most important works, both indoor and street ones.

Is it just acrylics and marker pens that you use to create your works?

I mostly use those media  even if in general I've used many on my indoor work: oil, waterclors, collage and a mixing of painting and computer graphic too.  I've used spraycans as well, to tag more than painting.

Your street pieces must take a lot of time to complete due to the detail in each one. Have you come close to being caught before?

I've found a quick technique to work on walls, even if it looks it takes a long time it doesn't. The limitation is about size, I have to work on middle size works, bigger would take too long but middle size is quick, anyway I have to know exactly what to do before starting to be quick and detailed. There's usually  a person with me when I paint to have a look and it's much easier like that. It's happened they stopped me a couple of times , told them I' d leave and they let me go, even if I came back later to finish the work.

What inspires you? Tell us three of your favourite artists that you admire.

An important influence for me is the expressionist movement in general, in particular the german one. The second one is African art , I've always been fascinated by their way of portraiting the human figure, those statues have fascinated me since I was a child.  The third one is street art, as the idea of taking back our walls and doing art not just for sale but for free and everyone.

Where does the name ALO come from?

It's just a name made with the letters of my actual name, didn't use much fantasy in choosing that.

What can we expect in the coming year from ALO?

I'll go on in painting London walls for sure and probably will go to Paris as well to paint my characters.  I'm supposed to be in the project URBAN NATION in Berlin, if anything goes right I should be there in the project of next October to paint a couple of walls.

Shop Online for Alo artwork

HAIL TO THE LOSER will be showing at Saatchi Gallery from 29 July to 18th August. Opening times are from 10am to 6pm everyday.

All photos courtesy of artist.

Written by Judy Griffiths

Thursday, 17 July 2014

HIN Interview - Taco Tricycle Timbuktu

Artwork by HIN, on display at Taco-Tricycle-Timbuktu

Bob Motown, HIN and John Atherton have come together to produce a show of entirely new work that  sees a collision of worlds from illustration, street art and fine art. As the name may suggest, Taco-Tricycle-Timbuktu presents a variety of playfully fresh works that appear quite innocent and tongue-in-cheek at first until you delve a little deeper and discover the darker undertones of each piece. We caught up with our good friend HIN at the opening of the show, here's what he had to say:

You have a show running at Stour Space in Hackney Wick at the moment, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The show is between me and 2 artists friends of mine Bob Motown and John Atherton. Both very good artist work in a different medium. We all share a playful sense of humour. We collaborated on a special edition screen print for the show as for the rest we created our own individual narrative within the space. Mine is all about animals. In the modern society, animals and humans' space are constantly overlapping and I tried to imagine how it is if animals start to pick up our behaviours, habits & even beliefs. Animals pray to God, wanting to loose weight, longing to become famous or racist animals etc. 

We saw some awesome new HIN pieces in the show like your diorama’s and sculptures of squirrels stuck in beer cans. Can you explain the squirrel in the beer can for us?

The 3D pieces isn't something new for me. It's just that it's a too difficult for me to show that side of my work on the street. I always love taxidermy and the squirrel in the can share the same basic concept for the show. Animals very often feed themselves on human consumption nowadays. I've seen foxes drinking coke, pigeons eating kebab and even a drunk hedgehog. I feel that modern taxidermy should include part of that also.   

'Walk Into My Life' by HIN
Your work characteristically has very strong political connotations attached, (but often juxtaposed with child-like imagery). Were you always interested in politics growing up?

The thing is I never feel my work has a strong political connotations. I speak about things that touches me in that specific time. It could be about war or it could be about my grandmother's cat. The truth is part of our world is construct by pain, cruelty and greed. I believe the spirit of a child - the honesty, lack of judgement, the freedom and the natural creativity plus humour can help dilute that. It isn't politics I'm interested in. I'm just trying to find a balance within this oxymoron of the world we live in.

You have been known to depict controversial leaders such as Kim Jong Un, Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi - has this ever resulted in any trouble (or amusing emails)?

Once an Arabic couple passed by the gallery and saw the Bin Laden print. They very calmly said "This is rude, you must take it down, he is our prophet." When I heard that sentence made me feel that may be punching a hooligan in a face isn't such a scary thing. 

Where do you get your inspiration for the innocent, child-like quality of your pieces? 

I was forced to grow up at a very young age and there was no fun in it whatsoever. I always seeked for some sort of honesty & truth in life and I find it more often in children and I communicate much better with them. I guess I picked that up from them. Also I do have a slight biboplar personality so that helps. 

HIN Panda, on display at Stour Space
A street paste up by HIN

You moved to England from Hong Kong when you were just 12 years old. What is the street art like in Hong Kong? Have you done any pieces there when you have gone back to visit?

There are only a handful of street artists in Hong Kong. Not many pieces around. Everytime when I return I'd try to make as many pieces as possible. I try to let Hong Kong people understand this form of communication. Due to Hong Kong's complicated political situation with China. I feel that this can be a very useful channel of expression in the near future.

Tell us who inspires you, who are your three favourite artists that you admire?

There are movies, music and artists that can offer you temporary energy and ideas but people that I admire would be people I'm close to. I can see how they live deal with their daily struggle. My close friend's two kids Monia and Nias inspire me very much. They are plain hilarious.

Taco-Tricycle-Timbuktu is open until the 4th of August at Stour Space in Hackney Wick.

Written by Judy Griffiths

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A Gift For You

Heba. This is an Arabic name derived for the Quran, which means gift or blessing.

Nestled on Brick Lane in London’s East you will find women from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East who embody the meaning of this word. They have arrived in London from vast and varied circumstances and their new life in the UK is just that - a gift and a blessing.

In search of direction, community and a sense of home, more than 300 migrant women a year come to the organisation rightly named the Heba Women’s Project. Some stay just a few months; for others, it’s a lifetime affair, returning time and time again for the friendship and the support. Regardless – each woman leaves Heba feeling different. Changed even. Empowered.

And the key to this empowerment? The safe space, the people and the learning opportunities most certainly help but the real elevator – the ultimate personal endorsement - is commitment. Commitment on behalf of each woman to be open, listen and try.

The project was started 24 years ago by eight Bangladeshi women, wives of leather workers,  who needed a space of their own for informal study and problem sharing. New to London – and its people, cultural norms, working environment and family demands - the women realised that there were many other new women to London who felt just as lost. These founding members were provided a room among the vintage boutiques and curry restaurants on Brick Lane by the Spitafields Small Business Association, a not-for-profit organisation which supports community and socially-minded initiatives take flight.

What has developed is a centre which provides more than 300 women a year from diverse cultural backgrounds with a safe space to make new friends and connections, learn valuable knowledge and skills, and engage in enterprise activities to meet their individual needs and family commitments.

I walked into the centre just on lunchtime as spoonfulls of couscous, shepherds’ pie, lentils and beans were being dished up. There was a constant hum of chatter and spikes of laughter as the women caught up after the morning session of classes.

Breaking for lunch with the women, Anne Wilding, the centre’s manager, said: “This is an important part of everyday. Uniting over food.”

A large majority of the women are from Bangladesh and Somalia with smaller numbers come from northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Sudan, so there is always an eclectic range of foods for the tasting.

Anne Wilding (tall and centre) with ladies from the centre with women from the centre showcasing clothes made in class

Anne continued. “What we try to do is help these women become more active in their lives and equip them with the skills they need to get by in everyday life here in the UK. That might be to get a job or to continue their studies – whatever their desire is.”

Heba offers courses in spoken and written English, sewing and design, as well as information and technology, providing women with nationally recognised qualifications to enter the workforce. It also provides enterprise programs on production work through its connection with designers, and has a small number of subsidised work spaces within the centre for women who want to try out new ideas and start up in business.

In fact, in 2010 Heba was recognised as the winner of the Social Inclusion and Diversity category of the Tower Hamlets Third Sector Awards.

Many of the women come to the centre feeling vulnerable, depressed and lonely explained Anne. “Many experience domestic and cultural isolation when they arrive here in London as they try to adapt from an extended-family way of living, which they have known all their lives, to this new context, where nuclear families are expected to be autonomous. Nobody prepares you for this change, so you can end up feeling very alone.”

“A big part of what we do is also helping the women to expand the space they feel safe in, by using libraries, community centres and leisure venues for example to connect and socialise with people. We often arrange day trips using London Transport to familiarise the women with the environment and demonstrate how it is done. This increased confidence in the wider community helps women be better mothers.”

There are two sides to the coin however.

Previously, the sole purpose of the project was to support the women to build the confidence to actively participate in society, but this is only possible with mutual understanding and acceptance from the local British population. “We now work to bridge this gap and aid cross-cultural appreciation and exchange,” Anne said.

“Britian is a multi-cultural nation and we have a duty to increase cultural understanding on both sides.”

One of the ways the project does this is by offering evening and weekend courses in sewing, Sylheti and (soon to come) Moroccan, and inviting the local community to events and fundraises.

“Unfortunately though, stereotypes and misconceptions blind people.”

“We want to change the landscape, so to speak, and build a culture of awareness and reciprocal respect for each other’s differences – and to learn from these differences as opposed to being frightened of them.”

“We essentially want to breakdown the idea of they and come back to we,” Anne explained.

“Even among the women at Heba there are often assumptions made on cultural background, but as the women interact, you see the shift happen and awareness set in.”

Sandra is one of Heba’s youngest women. She is just 16 years old and arrived in London in December last year with her parents. Originally from Dakhar, Bangladesh, Sandra has lived the past 14 years in Italy. She says: “It wasn’t my choice to move here. I was doing well in school and all my friends are all in Italy.” Hoping to begin a course in childcare, Sandra found herself stuck when she arrived when she realised that courses didn’t commence until September.

“Unfortunately we arrived late and was really missing all my friends. I thought I would go crazy with boredom!”

Sandra Hossain

Sandra’s dad had heard of Heba through friends in the area and suggested she maybe look into doing a course and meeting new people through the centre.

“I was excited but also very nervous when I first came to Heba. I realised that I am quite a lot younger than many of the women… Day by day, I had more confidence and now we are like a big family. I am learning how to manage the main office and reception area. We are all volunteers on reception so we all work as a team to help the other women. That means I’m learning to be more responsible and have ideas and start projects. I am going to plan and run a weekly training session for women who want to know more about social media and how it works,” Sandra added.
Sandra will begin her course at a collage in Hackney in the next few months. “I can’t wait to start! I love working with children and I feel I am ready now after my time at Heba.”
On Sunday June 22nd, the women of Heba along with members of the local community, will meet at 10:00 in the morning and walk 10km to Buckingham Palace to raise awareness of the charity, and fundraise for these vital services. If you would like to sponsor one of the walkers, click here


Story by Leah Davies

Leah is a passionate storyteller, a multi-skilled communications specialist and a devoted human rights activist. She writes to ignite meaningful connection, to arouse curiosity, to push boundaries, to live large, to speak up, to create change.

She is deeply fuelled by a desire to create ideas and build visions to make this world a better place. A place where we can each equally follow our dreams - regardless of the place we were born, our religious affiliations, our sexual identity, our access to education. Everything in fact to do with the status quo. After studying the causes of conflict and division in society, Leah now uses storytelling to unite people, to create community and to open opportunities for collective action.

Her website, Paper Planes Connect, is a place to celebrate our difference and to unite in our sameness.