The Surreal Side of Street Art

by Eleni Duke, Curator of the Curious Duke Gallery

Surrealism is a movement most people associate with the likes of Dali, Ernst and Kahlo and not normally associated with street art!

Amazing painters in their time, the old surrealist masters were the first to take reality to a subconscious more intimate level. Now the baton has passed and, in my view, the area in which you are best able to see the surrealist movement in contemporary art is on the street.

Street art is a movement that has ascended into the public eye at a rapid pace helped by the growth of social media and the ability to spread the word at a blink of an eye. The likes of Facebook, Instagram,Tumblr and Twitter have made street art more accessible to the average Joe. No need to worry about sneaking a photograph in a gallery, it’s there, it’s in front of you, it’s on the street!

Art on the street lives on courtesy of social media

Art on the street lives on courtesy of social media

Of course you could argue that all art work could be viewed as surreal if you delve deep enough, but there is something inherently surreal about art which incorporates itself into the street and embeds itself into the daily lives of everyday people.

The most obvious side of surrealism presenting itself in the world of street art is the grand or miniscule scale of the images produced by street artists and the way their characters appear in the most obscure public spaces.

Take ROA’s huge black and white animals, in a completely urbanised space such as London to see a huge woodland or exotic creature is very much out of context! Coupled with the scale of the art work it can transport any passer-by, if only for a second, to a world far from reality. On the other hand ‘Roy’s People’, an up and coming street artist from Essex, plays with the world of the miniature making us see our real world from a completely different perspective. To his characters a cigarette butt dropping to the floor, is almost comparable to a meteorite crashing down on the earth for us normal sized folk.

ROA paints big animals and birds in urbanised spaces.

ROA paints big animals and birds in urbanised spaces.

'Wishful Thinking' by Roy's People.  His tiny figures totally change the perspective

‘Wishful Thinking’ by Roy’s People. His tiny figures totally change the perspective

Most artists have their own style, and great artists would invent the concept and style in which they work. In street art we not only have a style but characters! Each artist seems to create a signature character for their style. To name a few, the likes of Stik, Malarky and Sweet Toof, their pieces are instantly recognisable because of the characters they portray in an array of situations.

Many street artists are also known for concealing their identity, however now that it has become more acceptable to the public and authorities alike can they not reveal who they are? Can we prophesize that their characters are a projection of their own psyche on a huge and imposing scale? Indeed, is street art, the art of the truly shy or the incredibly confident?

However you see it I believe there is definitely a surreal side to street art, but ultimately the decision lies with the viewer and how curious they feel.

Stik and Sweet Toof are instantly recognisable on the street.

Stik and Sweet Toof are instantly recognisable on the street.

‘The Surreal Side of Street Art’ was a guest post written by Eleni Duke, the Curator and owner of the Curious Duke Gallery on Whitecross Street in London. She has described the work exhibited in the gallery as being primarily surrealist with a bit of an edge and quite urban. She believes that all art should spark curiosity and that ultimately all art should be curious.

For more posts on surrealism in street art and commentary on subjects of a similar nature try:

Interview with Argentine artist Martin Ron as he paints the Village Underground Wall
Interview with Ingrid Beazley, Curator of the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery
Interview with Eleni Duke, Curator of the Curious Duke Gallery