Documenting the Street: Found Life Drawings

Today I was walking down Highgate Road when a woman’s top caught my eye; it was a white shirt decorated with female nudes, reminiscent of the work of Matisse’s Blue Nude figures. I decided to catch up with her and ask if I could photograph the shirt:

I was curious as to whether she had customised the top herself, but she said she had bought it like that.

I had been thinking about doing a little piece on found life drawings in the street, and in particular the cross over between graffiti and fine art. Today’s encounter inspired me to gather some of my findings.

The above two photographs were both taken earlier this year. The first image, seen in passageway in Soho, features a nude woman in chunky shoes seen from the back and partially in profile. It is painted in red with an energetic free flowing line.

The second image was taken in Venice very near the Accademia Gallery. The figure is painted in white on red corrugated metal sheeting, and has her arms raised. Features have been included and omitted; she has no eyes but has wavy hair, a nose and mouth. She has breasts, a navel and abundant pubic hair but no hands or toes.

Next, some more local findings:

Above, chalk drawings seen in Camden feature another female nude with chunky shoes.

Next, a blue nude torso at a bus shelter on Highgate Road. There is also additional graffiti in the form of the word boob, seen written both sides of the glass. The “o”s have been turned into additional breasts. I think Saussure, who theorised about signs, would have considered this text an example of condensation.

Another variation on a theme in yet another bus shelter in the vicinity:

Below, an image shot in Kentish Town in 2017:

At a construction site a figure had been crudely painted on a brick wall, a pipe serving as it’s mouth. The wall was later boarded up and I don’t know of the image is still there. I wrote about it in a blog on ephemera. In terms of art genres I suppose you could call it an example of art brut, sometimes referred to as Outsider Art. I could imagine seeing this alongside a work by Jean Dubuffet and not batting an eyelid.

The other week I came across some graffiti daubed on signage outside the public toilets near the Truman Brewery in London’s East End. The pink and blue signs had both been vandalised. What was interesting to me was that the graffiti could also be interpreted as a critique or commentary on binary gender iconography in an age of gender fluidity.

Here are the the re-worked signs:

Next, a combination of graffiti seen on a wall in Paris back in 2012. There is sticker art on the left, bringing to mind the work of Marcel Duchamp, a scribbled tag in the centre, but on the right a drawing, evoking a charcoal portrait created in a life drawing class:

And finally, a photograph taken last week in London’s East End combining reflected architecture and graffiti that has a fine art quality; one friend described the drawing as “very Francis Bacon”:

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