Words by Scott Pollock

Banner Image: Claire Nakazawa

While Culture Scouts are conducting tours of outdoor galleries of street art, a number of commercial galleries are now showcasing works by street artists who initially discovered the enjoyment of art by tagging walls, painting train carriages or doing stickers and pasteups. 

Day Fine Art which is a gallery in the very popular, Blue Mountains village, Blackheath, is one such gallery. While Day Fine Arts’ body of works include the likes of Arthur Boyd, Eugene Von Guerard, Arthur Streeton and Margaret Olley, they also represents artists Claire Nakazawa and Daniel O’Toole who have done considerable works on urban canvases such as two story walls, large water tanks and inner city alleyways.

It was during Claire’s later school years that her friends used to venture out for night painting missions. It was a few years later, when Claire moved to Sydney to study at the College Of Fine Arts that she got into it. “I bought spray cans and poscas and started experimenting on canvas, walls, trains and in the street. I was attracted to hip hop culture, the people, music, dancing, street art andexpression and communal and skill based activities.”

Claire started painting public and private murals straight after University in 2007 and had a couple of artist run and group shows before her first gallery solo exhibition at Oh Really in 2009 in Enmore, which was a hub for lots of budding street, mural and fine artists. Her portfolio was building. “I did a lot of live painting at festivals and music events and participated in art battles. I enjoy the social and interactive nature of live painting. I was also part of a crew called Sketch the Rhyme for eight years, since 2008, which incorporated live drawing, music and freestyle rap. We performed at festivals and shows around Australia and had a lot of fun.”

Daniel O’Toole also started painting on the street at an early age. “I’ve been involved in Street art and graffiti since I was about 16. So about 15 years now. As a kid I was doing tags - more illegal stuff - painting the backs of highways etc. After I started studying at art school I became more heavily involved in contributing to the street art scene and painting murals around Sydney and Melbourne.” 

Daniel O'Toole

Daniel O'Toole

Daniel then went on to run a magazine called, ‘Oh Really’ which became a street art gallery on Enmore Rd, Newtown. It ran from 2008 to 2011 and was quite successful. It was during this time that Claire would have exhibited – a good example of how the street art world can be a tight knit group. 

I find it interesting that part of the street art world was originally done in the dark of night, was spontaneous, urgent, against authority and not paid for. Things have changed now – there are numerous local government areas subsidising murals, government utility departments such as Sydney Water contracting street artists to paint some of their water tanks and now we have numerous galleries exhibiting similar works. So, do these sort of activities help street art develop or does it make it less edgy, less spontaneous?

Claire’s response put some greater light on the subject. “I’m not concerned about Street Art loosing it’s edginess. I’m glad it’s growing as an art form, it raises the standard of art and perhaps some of the mentality will rub off onto mainstream culture. To me street art represents, ownership of space and community, personal responsibility and freedom of expression. As an art form it stretches the norms, rules, activities and values of mainstream society and in some ways the lifestyle we are encouraged to adhere to.”

The other question is, are the art works that Claire and Daniel exhibit in galleries such as, Day Fine Art, any different from their street works?

For Daniel, the difference is substantial. “The kind of work I show in a gallery is very different to the work I make on the street. The scale, architecture and context of the street not to mention the medium of spray paint greatly influence the way I make work when I am outdoors. Where as in the studio I have more time to consider what I am doing, I am using different materials and working on a different surface and scale, the work is also intended for a different context; for me personally they are worlds apart.” 

Claire believes exhibiting in commercial galleries, acts as a bridge between her studio work and the audience, and it also enables her to continue her practice in a financially sustainable way.  She likes having multiple outlets for her art - this way it gets to engage varied audiences. Claire also has a presence on line. Currently she is represented by Art Pharmacy which concentrates on making art accessible to everyone while supporting local artists. The only differences between Claire’s art in galleries and her murals is the size and the different medium of spray paint, and also that her studio work affords her more time for contemplation and time between painting sessions. 

Another reason for street art style artworks being incommercial galleries is that this genre is becoming popular. Helen Day from Day Fine Art is very savvy in regards to knowing what the public want and like. " I always make a point of telling potential buyers that Claire and Dan are street artists as I think it is a part of how they identify as artists and people love that their art crosses over from the street to a gallery environment. There are too many rules and boundaries in life these days, I think people are looking for a more genuine interaction , which I think they can get from street art as this can be a part of their everyday lives as they walk past their local streets."

Art is like everything in life, it changes at a fast rate - tastes change, generations disappear and education suppliers change their subjects. For a commercial gallery to be successful, they have to keep up with the times which seems to include exhibiting street art style works or even comic based graphics. There's now a need for it. "I think the general public love street art," says Helen, "and if they don’t love it, they still have an opinion on it, which is also a good thing - to be challenged. People are sick of the intimidating walls of contemporary galleries. These days they want more of an experience and not just to look at art from a distance on a white wall. They want it to come alive and be a cross over between life and art."

For me, the best thing about having such artists as Claire and Daniel represented by commercial galleries is that we now have the possibility of owning an artwork by our favourite street artist (moving a roller door or a brick wall inside can be quite difficult). The first time I saw both Claire's and Daniel's work was on the walls of street art precincts, now I see them hang in the windows of Day Fine Art in Blackheath. With just a swipe of my credit card I can now have an original Claire Nakazawa or Daniel O'Toole hanging on the walls of my lounge room. How cool is that!

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