The Art of Construction

London is often referred to as the cultural capital of the world. You can see amazing art on display in the Tate, National Gallery and…a Murphy building site in Hackney. Really? Murphy's communications officer, Emma Best, took to her home city's streets to find out more. 

Trying to find the site for a new multi-million pound development on Paul Street in Hackney recently I was greeted with a colourful masterpiece that made me question Google maps. After all, building sites aren’t usually known for their place in the artistic world and I’m not sure it’s the first place Picasso or Rembrandt would have envisaged showcasing their new work. But open, transitional and accessible is a modern formula for media consumption – and that stretches to art.

It turns out for the past year, perhaps surprisingly, Murphy has been working with the London-based international company, Global Street Art, to make the capital’s construction sites that bit more interesting.

It happened through a chance encounter when co-founder, Lee Bofkin, happened to pass the Paul Street development. He knocked on the site door to ask project manager Donal Nevin how he felt about a local artist painting the hoardings for free. Donal gave the go-ahead and soon artists Oust, Bonzai and Tizer were on site conjuring up a colourful and vibrant piece in keeping with the surrounding East End location. There was no brief because the artists had the freedom to paint what they wanted, within the obvious limits that it wouldn’t be offensive. Lee was clear that if there was a brief then it would become a paid-for commission, which Global Street Art also manages.

Oust says, “I love painting hoardings. Painting them makes the most of the area and gives me as a writer, and the graffiti and street art community, the opportunity to paint in locations we wouldn’t normally be able to paint. It’s great being able to paint where re-development is happening because these tend to be busy built-up areas and gives my artwork lots of exposure to an audience that doesn’t normally see my work. I’m grateful to Murphy for providing these hoardings and I really appreciate it!”

Artwork at Paul Street, Hackney

The art was a hit and, soon after, the hoardings at a residential development by Murphy in Finsbury Park were passed over to another artist, ‘Mr Doodle’, who added a fascinating and intricate piece consisting of traditional doodles (as the name would suggest).

Artwork at Finsbury Park

Intrigued, I hunted down Lee, who has been turning ‘sites’ into ‘sights’, and enticed a man usually found in the national news to Murphy’s Kentish Town headquarters for a chat.

Sitting down with 36-year-old Lee, who is originally from London but has been just about everywhere in the world, I imagine that a visit to Kentish Town may fall short of some of his business trips to far-flung corners of the globe. Lee said “Don’t be fooled – our office looks like a (well managed) building site and I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit photographing graffiti in places you’d never invite your grandma.” This break-dancing scientist (yup!) tells me how he became involved with street art, how his company connects street artists with canvasses in a bid to create ‘painted cities’ and how Murphy is helping with that goal.

“I have a split background – on the one hand I have PhD in Maths and Evolution and on the other I used to breakdance for the UK!” says Lee when we meet. “I tore my knee dancing and had to stop overnight so instead started taking photos of street art and graffiti.”

That’s when Lee get hooked on the art form and his new hobby became so much more…

“It amazed me that so much of the best graffiti in the world was hidden from public view because it had a negative press. I was going into abandoned buildings, city river embankments with concrete walls and was astounded that so many people were not seeing, what for me, was amazing art. I ended up taking about 60,000 photos in 25 countries.”

Using his scientific background Lee was able to create an extensive online database which classified the artwork by region, style and subject.

He moved to Los Angeles in 2008 for work where he met a kindred spirit in his business partner Koenraad Foulon and together they built the vision for Global Street Art. They began to form the concept of an online platform that would connect artists with walls and bring people from across the spectrum to a shared space. 

Unfortunately, Lee would go on to lose his job in the financial crash and left LA for sunny Spain to work for a friend’s company.  Lee said “In retrospect being made redundant in the credit crunch was the second best thing to happen to me, after tearing my knee!”

Lee says, “The work in Spain wasn’t for me and Global Street Art didn’t really have a business model at that point. So I proposed that I spent the summer of 20011 travelling and taking loads of graffiti photos…and Koenraad said yes. At the time he was covering all of those costs, being both my mentor and funder.”

In 2012 they decided to take the project further, with Lee working on it full-time and the team going on to publish a book called ’Concrete Canvas’ and exhibit at galleries. However, they really wanted to get local artists working on local canvasses to achieve their true aim of living in painted cities.

“There weren’t many legal walls at the time in London and there wasn’t much co-ordination,” says Lee. “We realised we knew a lot of artists, we knew the materials and time required to paint and we also knew a lot of landlords.”

That’s when Lee started asking permission on behalf of artists, attempting to find the right artist and style for any project.

The big break for Global Street Art came when Lee made a call to Easyjet’s inflight magazine team to talk about his ideas and, by coincidence, the editor turned out to be an old school friend.

“We started talking and he said, ‘You sound nuts, Lee’, but I always have been quite enthusiastic! Easyjet wanted a cityscape mural that transformed into a beach. It didn’t take very long to organise and we ended up making more in that one afternoon than we had previously with the gallery exhibitions. It wasn’t much money but it was enough to realise, ‘Okay, that’s it, we have an agency’.

“We just started speaking to everyone. You have a lot of artists that want to paint in cities and you have a city that might want to be painted but there has to be a conversation in the middle to make that happen. Once you solve that you try and solve the materials then the funding. Step by step you can crack the puzzle.

“Before you know it we were working on phenomenal 1930s buildings in Liverpool with four artists on four cherry pickers. I never thought when this started we would ever get to paint a wall that big and that the art would last that long.”

Global Street Art has now organised more than 1,500 murals in London as well as projects across the UK and as far afield as Abu-Dhabi, Australia and Argentina.

The company has created murals for councils, businesses and communities. The website now operates like a Gumtree for street art . Adverts for walls are posted and artists can search through them and read detailed descriptions of the area, requirements and any limitations before reserving it.

As well as project hoardings Global Street Art also organises commissioned work and community projects.

With so much construction going on in London, with blank walls, plain hoardings and boring building sites, you could be spotting more modern masterpieces on a daily basis than you’d expect. And who knows, before long we might all find ourselves living in a painted city. 

If you have project hoardings or an idea for commissioned work get in touch with Lee Bofkin at lee@globalstreetart.com.

 

Posted Monday, May 15, 2017 by Emma Best

Construction and development, Fabrication, CSR, Projects, Innovation, Community, Building

About Emma Best

Communications officer based in London. Project experience from rail and power sectors. I like visiting projects and writing first-hand about the great things we are doing, get in touch if you have a story to tell! 

emmabest@murphygroup.co.uk / 0203 757 1273 / LinkedIn here

 

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