198 Contemporary Arts and Learning near is currently playing host to a selection of Frank ‘Steam 156’ Malt’s vast collection of graffiti photographs. People, Places, Trains, Walls, Faces runs until March 7th and includes t-shirt workshops, a talk by the Frank and an open mic closing party. Arts blogger, Petra Gent went along to hear the artist and photographer present his journey of graffiti documentation.
Before his presentation I managed to grab Frank and hear a potted version of how this impressively comprehensive collection of photographs came about. After dropping out of school as a teenager in the mid eighties, and then moving from Sussex to London, he become involved in the break dancing scene. Frank ‘Steam 156’ explained to me that the then current New York export meant being involved in the whole break dancing/hip-hop/graffiti package – and it was through this that he became drawn to the art form. Ultimately it was also the anarchic, rebellious aspect that attracted him.
Through his slide show of graffiti photos taken all over the world Frank told the story of how a teenage passion became a lifelong pursuit. His explanation of how graffiti art work was shared globally through photo trading was a revelation to myself. This being before the days of the internet it was the only way of seeing how other artists were expressing themselves. Thus began ‘Steam’s’ collection of images.
He went on to create his own fanzine and then started writing articles for several hiphop and street art magazines and has also published three books himself – ‘100 European Graffiti Artists’ ‘100 UK Graffiti Artists’ and ‘Street Art’.
Frank has travelled extensively over the last three decades in his endeavour to capture these temporary works of art, meeting and becoming close friends with many of the artist’s. As he talked us through his journeys the camaraderie and mutual respect that appears to exist within the world of street art was clear. The highlight of the evening for me was as Frank was talking about a slide of a French artists’ work – the tag belonged to someone in the room – a conversation of mutual admiration then ensued.
Because of the temporary nature of this art form, most of the work on the slides no longer exists. However Frank’s latest piece, that he produced in December with his friend ‘Meah’, is currently still in Brick Lane – definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of this art form. As is the exhibition at 198!