Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Taking the Street into the Gallery

“There’s no such thing as ‘street art’ inside a gallery.

Like his world famous colleague Banksy, the Oxford street artist Pahnl has adopted a pseudonym that he clings to tenaciously. As he elaborates on his website “I took the word 'panel' as in 'comic panel' and misspelt it to change it from a noun to a name. You could say I see surfaces and spots in the street as panels to drop my characters into but I might be romanticizing the process a little too much.”

Coming from a graphic art background, Pahnl has developed a unique graphic language to depict the antics of his often miniature figures. As he explained to Twig & BoatI would describe them as a mixture of street signage aesthetic and comic narrative, all in a subversive miniature form. Using stencils allows me to spend hours tweaking the pose of a figure or animal and then the act of painting is very quick, something quite visceral.

A process he elaborated about in a Graffiti Street interview saying “I like dropping little figures into the street and seeing how long they last. Survival of the most interesting! I’m not precious about street work in any way. I used to do a lot of stenciling directly on the street, in the daytime, in fact. These days I use clear vinyl stickers that I’ve stenciled earlier in my studio. It affords me more detail and more than one layer. But yeah, if something is torn down after an hour, it’s all good. I usually get a photo of a figure if it’s a good spot.”

But such is the interest in his work that in a little over a decade Pahnl’s works have gravitated from the street to internal white walls of established venues. As he told the Chasseur website in 2013 “I think of myself as an artist, not just strictly a street artist, as that term seems limiting…To be fair, I’ve not hit the streets that much lately and that may have something to do with having gone ‘full-time’ as an artist half a year ago and securing a solo show soon after. I’ve just not had the time to get my stuff out on the street.”

That exhibition Do Look Down - A sprawling stenciled city graced the walls the London West Bank Gallery for a week before being painted over. This was followed by his current exhibition A History of Us at Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. As Pahnl explains “This show has been two years in the making and was stenciled directly onto the gallery walls using 1,107 stencils in the space of nine days! …Each of the 282 entries in the timeline has its own caption. Some of the captions are the truth, some are outright lies and others are a mix of the two.” 

Whilst some may consider that street art cannot exist in a gallery, Pahnl is pretty relaxed with the idea. As he told The Independent Newspaper "Graffiti writers and taggers see anybody who enters the gallery environment as selling out. But street artists embrace the idea more, often because they have a fine art background."

But be it on the street or the gallery wall Pahnl’s works express his underlying ethos. As he has said “The one thing I can confidently attest to is that, like me, my work seeks to be happy and spread happiness. It’s not a deep rationale, I’ll be the first to admit that, but if I’m going to spend the majority of my time working on something, I don’t want it to drag me down. I also don’t bring moral issues or politics into my work because I don’t believe art is a force of change.

A History of Us is on show until the 4th of October.

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