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Thursday, 19 August 2010


Life & Style

Driving force: Solo-One, who has put considerable time and energy into Stockwell Park Estate’s burgeoning graffiti art project, channelling creativity not vandalism
Driving force: Solo-One, who has put considerable time and energy into Stockwell Park Estate’s burgeoning graffiti art project, channelling creativity not vandalism
Driving force: Solo-One, who has put considerable time and energy into Stockwell Park Estate’s burgeoning graffiti art project, channelling creativity not vandalism Monkey business: Banksy’s Roller Chimp, near Waterloo station Spray paint

Look what’s blooming in the graffiti garden

Lee Bofkin

You may be surprised to hear, as I was, that one of London's most vibrant art galleries sits in the middle of an estate halfway between Stockwell and Brixton. Artists from all over the world paint new masterpieces here every week but none of the works is available to buy and take home to hang on your wall.
That is because the gallery is a run-down ball court in the Stockwell Park Estate, which has developed into a beautiful location where the most skilled graffiti writers paint week after week. Split into two sections and sunk into the ground, the pebble-dashed outside walls give no clues to the bright colours and sharp lines that explode from the walls within.
Outdoor galleries such as this don't happen by themselves — they need constant attention and care in much the same way that any garden would. Fortunately, the Stockwell Park Estate has a dedicated gardener of its own: Solo-One. Solo, as he's known, is a graffiti writer in his late thirties who has tended to the estate for years.
Solo has been painting graffiti around the world for decades. His style is easy to recognise among other pieces because of his distinctive lines and unique colours. Solo paints without a plan because he says “freestyle is the purest form of art”. He even mixes his own paints to make “colours you can't buy”.
Solo checks the Stockwell Park Estate every day and actively paints over tags (stylised signatures) to maintain the high quality of the art. With the help of other artists such as Bonzai and Lovepusher, and paints donated by friends, Solo has turned a rundown playground into a unique jewel unknown to most of London.
Asked why he removes tags, he said it was the only way to stop the ball court from “descending into madness.” So what makes the grade?
“Sacrifice is important. If a piece has taken only 20 minutes I know the artist's heart wasn't in it,” adding: “If it's not good, the walls are better off plain.” Artists can spend up to eight hours a day in the ball court. During summer you can find artists such as Solo in the ball court from first light, painting away from the drone of traffic.
Residents often come down and comment. Solo is keen to see the trend continue and experienced artists often help out local children: “This is a safe place for kids to learn how to paint and to start to understand the level of commitment it takes to be a good [graffiti] writer.” Stockwell Park has come through some of the worst sorts of problems that affect inner-city estates but Solo doesn't believe shielding children inside is the answer. “Kids need to be outdoors,” he says.
Thanks to photo-sharing websites such as Flickr, the reputation of Stockwell Park Estate as an artists' haven has spread to a wider audience. “A man came down from Wrexham recently, just to take pictures. He'd seen the photos online and wanted to see the place for himself.”
Solo believes the websites and magazines that publish photos from Stockwell feed the competitive nature of graffiti. Whenever an artist sees a photograph of a great piece from Stockwell, Solo says they are then challenged to “come and better that”. The more people who want to paint in Stockwell, the faster the art turns over, which inevitably leads to more photographs. So the cycle continues, all under Solo's watchful eye.
The Stockwell Park Estate doesn't receive council funding but Solo is content with that. He adds: “You have to have heart in what you do” — and he believes the effort the artists put into maintaining the site will keep it going for years.
Community Trust Housing has been supportive of the artists — perhaps not surprisingly, since Solo and his peers have improved the walls, filling in the cracks with Polyfilla to make it “a better place to paint”. In fact, earlier this year Solo and other artists were approached by a design company to submit work to be integrated into new street signs for the estate.
The public has become more accepting of graffiti in the past few years. While the media have focused much of their attention on Banksy, other artists have also seen a change in how they are perceived. Ben Eine, well known for his distinctive typography, was recently surprised when David Cameron gave one of his canvas paintings to Barack Obama.
Furthermore, an increase in the number of events that show the positive side of graffiti culture, such as Meeting of Styles, give artists the space to paint their best work legally. Meeting of Styles will be held on Saturday at Highbury Studios, featuring more than 50 artists, including Lovepusher and Bonzai.
When he's not curating London's finest gallery (in my opinion), Solo-One works for the Signal Project, alongside other legendary graffiti writers such as Mode-2, painting large murals and teaching young people to express themselves through art. “We often work with youth centres,” he says, “to feed young people ideas.” It's amazing that Solo puts so much of his time into the Stockwell Park Estate, given the Signal Project's dedication to community projects, murals and workshops.
Solo's motto is often painted on the walls of the ball court: “Say Something Beautiful or Be Quiet.” Stockwell Park Estate — thanks for speaking up.
For more pictures of the Stockwell Park Estate and Solo-One's work, see For information on this weekend's Meeting of Styles event, see
Dr Lee Bofkin is a former member of breakdance team The Soul Mavericks and a photographer of street art around the world. He also runs The Fishtank Festival, a multi-disciplinary arts festival based in London

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