I’ll admit that I was nervous walking to the Hong Kong Art Fair (HKART). It was a ten-minute walk through the Wan Chai District, passing by corner stores, small restaurants and rich car dealerships. Then I reached the imposing building stretching out into Hong Kong´s glistening neon harbor.
HKART was even more impressive: a five-day exhibition with 80,000 visitors and about 250 selected galleries… these were quite some numbers. Especially for someone who likes to sneak around at night and hang up his tape art with a small group of friends.
It’s strange to attend such an event as something like an attraction, to get a pass and be personally guided through a giant building. When I entered the art hall it smelled like fresh wood, oil paints and plastic wrap. I bumped into people I only read about in fine art magazines, and everywhere I heard the sound of power drills, hammers, workers yelling and gallery owners preparing for the big show.
These impressive environment also came with the bitter smack of commerce: Art behind walls, protected by guards, tamed, framed and made pretty. And there would be moments in the following days when I felt like a domesticated animal, too, degraded to an attraction in a zoo… an artist brought in from the streets to be watched and to be touched.
But looking back I like to think that we all could change some children´s life for the better with the money raised. And I hope there were kids at the art fair who could experience that art is something you can get close to, touch, smell and check out for yourself… and not only as kids dragged around and forced to stare at enclosed paintings.
Sovereign Art Foundation had come up with the idea to lay out a couple of hundred pens in their booth for any child wanting to sketch on the floor, the walls, and – occasionally – also my pants. What followed was a five day let´s-paint-the-shit-out-of-whatever-is-in-reach marathon, and within hours the entire stand looked like battle grounds for a graffiti war.
It was fantastic to be in the middle of this, to work on my light box while kids painted around me. Many of them also helped me peel and stick pieces of tape, unafraid of making mistakes or bad style or not following instructions. And thus, amidst the chic art world around then, they brought a good piece of welcomed anarchy.
I winced at the thud when the trunk top hit my bag hard. It was already hanging halfway out the trunk of our red Hong Kong taxi, tied only by a single elastic strap.
With every bump in the road I thought of the fragile light box and the Plexiglas sheets I had loosely stowed in that bag. It was crucial equipment for creating a large scale tape artwork at the Hong Kong Art Fair that I had been invited to by The Sovereign Art Foundation.
Behind the window beginnings of the Hong Kong harbor were gliding past us, with its rusty loading cranes and stacks of containers. Behind it were housing blocks and groups of high-rise skyscrapers reaching into the metallic sky.
It was a cloudy afternoon, the air was thick and stifling with humidity. Huge cargo ships ploughed through the grey waters, and far in the distance behind wavy green hills the silhouette of the Hong Kong arose from the mist.
Another road bump shook the cab.
“Chill out, it will survive.” Audrey turned to me when I again peered nervously through the rear window to see if my bag was still in the trunk.
Audrey is my sister-in-arms, the one with a telephone number and an official address. She knows what to wear and what say at a business meeting, and she is the kind of person you want to have around when the taxi driver is lost in Hong Kong, the credit card fails and half of the luggage is lost.
The pieces of memory I have of my first hours in town feel like a wildly blended cocktail of impressions. Huge advertising screens, sweat, damp, colors and foreign smell — it all moved too fast into my slow and jetlagged senses. But it left the good feeling the the next days would have a lot of work, madness and funky encounters in store.
For tonight, the plan was just to get wasted and get lost in Hong Kong.
We had grabbed a couple of cold beers at one of the countless 7/11 corner stores and waited for one of the boats ferrying across the Hong Kong Bay. Behind me I could feel the vibrantly humming, shimmering city, building itself to the waterfront like a herd of giant animals pushing forward. A Chinese junk boat with dark red sails silently drifted along the neon colored water.
“Fucking beautiful,” I said.
“Yeah, man.” Audrey opened another beer, “It´s Hong Kong… get use to it.”
On a lousy grey day in March 1989, and after six month of investigation, the British police eventually decided to launch their well-prepared strike against Bristol’s graffiti scene. What followed went down in history as Operation Anderson, the largest ever operation carried out against the spray scene. During those following days the cops would raid dozen of homes, carry off countless duffle bags stuffed with markers, sketch books and spray cans. A few weeks later 72 graffiti artists faced series charges of criminal damage up to 250.000 pounds.
In the middle of it all there was one sprayer the police suspected to have a leading role in Bristol street art: Tom Bingle. Better known as Inkie, he was a legend already and Banksy´s brother in arms, placing second in the 1989 World Street Art Championships, and one of the most notorious street artists in Britain.
And I was going to meet him tonight before our exhibition tomorrow. Fuck yes.
Outside Amsterdam’s Go Gallery, heavy rain poured on houseboats lingering lazily alongside the canal. It was a late summer evening in Amsterdam, and the gallery had taken good care of us: a fridge full of beer (or used to be), Indonesian food, full bottles of Jameson. It was the night before our group opening with Morcky, SjocoSjon, Inkie, Otto Schade, and myself, all selected by Go Gallery and Amsterdam Street Art. A great assembly of cool art inside and on the streets. Here is my my contribution to this colletion:
Inkie was still stuck at the airport by the time I felt the whiskey tingling behind my forehead. Time flew as the beer fridge emptied, but I didn’t want to leave without meeting him. So, I was whisky drunk by the time a tall English guy rushed into the gallery, holding canvasses over his head and then shaking rain water from his shoes. There he was.
More than 20 years after Operation Anderson, I guess Inkie stays out of trouble now. In fact, the city of Bristol is proud to have him coordinate the “See No Evil” street art festival, and if he’s not there he’s jetting around the globe for well-respected street art events. But he still has a spark in his eyes that let you believe in all the stories and rumors that surround him.
Inkie put his artwork into a corner, grabbed a beer and gave a broad smile. From the first moment on he was great company, full of stories and laughs and it seemed there was nothing that could unsettle the guy. Still, you’d probably want him on your side at a bar fight.
I watched, nervously, as he inspected my tapes. He shook his head and turned to me.
“That’s wicked man”, he said. It was the perfect interlude for what was to come.
Read the next episode on Friday here: A police squat for two girls – Meeting the legends, part II
Exhibition until Sept. 30th
at Go Gallery, Prinsengracht 64, Amsterdam http://www.gogallery.nl/project-amsterdam-street-art-part-iii/
My Own street art project: Stick Together
More about Amsterdam´s street art: www.amsterdamstreetart.com