We meet Colombian street artist Stinkfish as he prepares for Portraits in Transit his new show in London
“It’s about taking people from one location and placing them in another” Stinkfish tells me as we meet to talk about his new show ‘Portraits in Transit‘ soon to be showcasing at Dalston’s BSMT Space gallery.
We’ve had a sneak look too. The Colombian artist, well known on the scene for his vibrant colourful portraits of ordinary people, has been painting walls around the city, in Brick Lane, Camden, Penge and now a wall opposite the gallery in Dalston. He’s been busy and London is already the richer for it.
Of course we’d been badgering the guys at the gallery for ages to get an introduction, ever since… well, ever since we first got an inkling that Stinkfish was going to be putting on a solo show in London. It might just be the fanboy in us of course but Stinkfish is a big deal in the street art world and to have an exhibition of his work, all especially created for the London show is pretty special.
Here is an artist who is self taught, growing up in Bogota he hadn’t really an inkling about the world of street art or graffiti. For him, the passion to paint outside grew naturally. Studying at art school in his hometown he felt constrained by the restrictions placed upon him in that environment, eventually coming to the conclusion that it would be freer to paint outside.
We speak about his art, his beginnings and where he got his name. He tells me that Stinkfish goes back to his school days and well before painting on the street, learning English he became enamoured with the word ‘stink’. He would write the word all over the place “it caught my attention” he told me.
When he started painting on the street he realised he needed a name and immediately went back to that old fascination with the word but wanted to make it more complicated so added the fish and Stinkfish was born. “At some point a lot of people started to know me as Stink and not a lot of people knew my real name. I hung around with a lot of graffiti people and they would call me Stink or Stinkfish, so it just became my name” he told me.
Starting off with stencils, his style eventually evolved to what it is today, a mixture of stencil and freehand inspired by a mixture of his own unique style and the influx of graffiti culture which he soon began to absorb once he did find his way to paint on the streets. “I got a little tired of stencil” he said, “I left it for a couple of years and focused on the spray can, trying to make characters, trying to make letters and making tags”
Eventually he would bring it all back, returning to stencil, a craft he knew well and then combining that with knowledge from working with spray. His art now, is vibrant and impactful, you can’t fail to notice given that his pallette will often include a range of bright colours, yellows, greens, reds seemingly wisping into the ether emitting from the main focus of the work, a portrait of someone he will have taken a photo of in a different land.
Although he never started out with the intention, his work has evolved into a bit of a commentary on immigration and the movement of peoples. It’s about the global society in which we all live and which some would choose to hide from. The portraits painted are people from around the world whose picture the artist has taken. They will be images chanced upon and caught in time, real people going about their business and doing real things.
Eventually, some may find themselves on the walls of a different city, in a different country. These are the portraits in transition of the show, they represent the movement of people from one place to another and representative of that global society.
Each one has a story. He remembers the images that he takes and what was happening in that moment. The piece he is painting now in Dalston, an image of a young girl making a two fingered peace sign was taken in Tianamen Square in Beijing. The girls family were so taken with his appearance that they asked to have their photograph taken with him and it’s that image he’s chosen to use here.
He’s got a story for everything and we ask him about one of his most iconic pieces from Stokes Croft in Bristol. That piece, featuring the image of a person he saw in Amsterdam, needed to be completed in a rush “the permissions changed on the wall so I went from having two leisurely days to finish and ended up with just one” he told me. Then recounting how, trying to take down the scaffolding at one in the morning he found himself having to fend off the support of the locals fresh from the pub, tanked up, and more than willing to lend a hand.
“There’s not a specific reason for each wall” he tells me “it’s more about the moment and the time”. Each image will be chosen for the space that it’s in, dependencies would be the size, shape and how long he has to do it. Then, it’s just whatever image fits and whatever feels right. The result are the portraits, in transit from one city to another and waiting to be discovered.
Portraits in Transit will be showing at the BSMT Space gallery in Dalston from 22 September 2017 to 8 October 2017. Stinkfish was interviewed in Dalston on Monday 18 September. You can read all about the stories behind the portraits by clicking and subscribing to his blog here.