Similar to St Marks place in New York or the Venice Boardwalk in Los Angeles, East London’s Brick Lane is a small stretch of road whose reputation is both its blessing and its curse. In the heart of Shoreditch, this once ‘gritty’ mile of curry houses and industrial brewery buildings was the YBA 90’s hang out. Now, twenty years and many Lonely Planet write-ups later, Brick Lane often feels like a playground for tourists in search of a one-stop shop for East London cool kid culture replete with overpriced vintage clothes, trendy pop-ups and a heavy rotation of street art.
Just south of Brick Lane you can find StolenSpace, an airy two-room gallery that specializes in urban art (namely street art and graffiti). The premise in itself is a conflicting one, the hot potato of the art world. On one hand, the idea of legitimizing a somewhat rogue practice and giving unorthodox artists a platform for representation is something that is not just commendable, but necessary, for the privatised art world. However, on the other hand, one is faced with the problematic nature of trying to commodify the un-commodifiable, and the inevitable dilemma of translation from site specificity to white box gallery.
At the heart of this paradox is Australian street artist Rone. A talented painter, Rone’s modus operandi is his slightly stylized and closely cropped female faces in mammoth proportions that can be found on urban facades around the world. He juxtaposes sharp graphic features with effortless washes of paint to produce images that are both etherial and striking. His first UK solo show Wallflowers is currently on view at StolenSpace.
Rone’s muses are cinematic; their eyes are deeply expressive, their scale is commanding and their beauty is undeniable. On the street, each femme fatale has an agency of sorts amongst the buzzing street culture that surrounds her. Moreover, the friction between beauty and decay, which is paramount for the artist, is readily apparent as the images bind to their textured architecture and their pristine beauty is subject to the natural elements.
However, for Wallflowers, the artist has chosen to work on a decidedly smaller scale. Producing his muse Tereasa Oman’s face on paper and wood from reclaimed shipping crates, the artist uses stencil, brushes, spray paint, and collage in an attempt to reproduce the finish of rough, urban exteriors.
Over a dozen paintings occupy the back room of StolenSpace, given a corresponding flower title: Blossom, Bells, Lilly, Poison Ivy, Rose Thorn. The name game of anthropomorphized flowers corresponding to female characteristics is cute at best, and slightly sexist at worst. When brought inside, the original oomph of Rone’s muses have been compromised. Their modest size, serial presentation and pseudo-patina read like a flat-lined recreation of the work that made him famous. On the street Rone is able to create an actress, whilst Wallflowers simply reads as models—they are, unfortunately, silent, decorative, and a bit boring.
(All images: Rone; Courtesy of the artist and StolenSpace Gallery)