29 August 2014

ROA – Mysterious Belgian Street Artist

You may not be aware of the distinctive art of ROA but the first thing you will acknowledge is that this mysterious Belgian street artist likes animals. No, let’s put it in a better way – there is an obsession here. Growing up in Ghent, Belgium in the eighties the artist had modest artistic beginnings, with art under bridges and walls.

Although extremely rare, here are some pictures of the artist at work - you can see the process slowly taking shape.  Is this vandalism?  I know what my answer is - a resounding one in the negative!  Yet many local authorities have attempted to paint over his work - something which would never happen were he Banksy.  They act without prescience.

Ghent is small, certainly in European terms and the average American would think of it as more of a village than a town. Yet in the town there has always been encouragement for those who wish to express themselves artistically. There is a small but influential artistic community there and it is seen as a breeding group for new artists. A good word to describe the city as a whole is mellow.

ROA loves animals, that is for sure, but there is something a little different about his depictions, something that gives them an edge. Even when they appear cuddly there is something beneath them that defies the cute tag – if not a danger then something urgent at the periphery of our vision which we can’t quite make out.  There is something which engenders a disquiet when looking at his work something almost medieval in its vision of life and death.

His art is, for me, akin to the movies of David Lynch where an appearance of normalcy might hide something else which lurks below. There is a passion, there, unequivocally – these are works of art which have been produced with zeal, if not an ardor bordering on the obsessive.

Some of his pieces are sketched beforehand but they are mostly inspired by images that ROA finds on the internet. Sometimes he uses white latex paint over a large surface, to give himself a canvas as it were, but his works are mostly produced by spray can paint only.

Gathering an audience is not the main priority of ROA, although you might be forgiven for thinking so, considering the public nature of a lot of his work. However, he also paints in abandoned places, industrial areas where the human population have left and abandoned the area to nature. Often, the only animals who visit are small – and these survivors are reflected in his work even though they are often made giants by his paint.

You can find ROA's work in a number of European cities, such as London, Berlin and Barcelona as well as his home town of Ghent.  Additionally, he can be found occasionally in the US, most notably New York.

To some, including a local council in London which is at the moment trying to remove a ROA piece, his work is nothing short of vandalism with a flourish, a defacement of property undesired and unnecessary. To others, though, his work is that of a free artist at large, unfettered by financial gain or institutional demands. The expression is free, the creativity is liberated and without restriction and for that many find his work uplifting.