Since Banksy, Street Art has been all-the-rage with Shepherd Fairy and Space Invader also reaching mass audiences, and all-the-while the public’s attitude towards street art and graffiti is changing, it’s not seen so much anymore, as underground. I suppose it has now entered the mainstream art market, as a viable genre and profitable form, creating a hint of irony. But then, we all start from somewhere, and a rise up, doesn’t always mean an altercation in principals. I hate the term “sell out” – what exactly does that mean anyway?
Intrigued, I decided to have a chat with James Towning from Art for Kunst about the project, future plans and that merger of art and business.
What’s the idea behind Art for Kunst?
To create high quality, collectible, functional and afford art products in conjunction with top street artists.
What inspired you to start the project?
I run a design agency a design agency called overthrow|uk and we have often spoken about creating a product that combines our design and marketing skill, love of art and contacts. We do a lot of work for, and have made friends with, artists, curators and galleries. As a result I have seen lots of art in my day to day, both going to exhibitions and from using their images in design work. I really enjoyed, and would love to have owned, a lot of the work I was seeing but often it was out of my budget. There did not seem to be much to cater for the £20 – £100 end of the market either at shows, on websites or in gallery shops. Most the bits I could find where mass-produced and lacked the enjoyable values of original or hand made art, or even worse were ripped of images created without the artists consent. I decided to put together a package that combined traditional collectible art that was hand produced with high quality limited edition T-shirts, badges and stickers. We had no clients, so as a design agency it was great to be able to do pretty much what we wanted and also to have such great imagery to work with. The price, presentation and quality were key factors and obviously the consent of some brilliant artists.
Who are the artists that are involved in Art for Kunst?
Aida, Dora, Dscreet, Faith 47, Juice 126, Mac 1, Plimsoul and Zoot. They are all excellent artists, lovely people and great to work with. We also had help from Laura McNamara, who manages some of the artists, and A Badge of Friendship.
The artists all have really different backgrounds and styles; was this an intentional decision on your behalf to demonstrate the huge variety of street art that exists?
Yes, we did choose designs that offered a wide range, both for the benefit of the product and to display the range of skill offered by street art. However, to be honest it was pretty easy as all the artists have such unique and iconic styles. Dscreet and his signature Owls are very bold, quite pop and despite his Melbourne routes has, to me, a very East London quality. Faith’s work is totally different, always very beautiful and often with intricate patterns or symbolic looking imagery. I remember seeing a business card done like a stencil by Faith that was so small and fiddly, she really is a master stencil cutter. Juice could be called a spray can alchemist, I am not sure some people even realise some of his metallic board or mirror paintings are even done with spray paint. I think the same could be said for Mac 1 who paints photo-realistic work from a Belton spray can. I have one of his originals on my wall people still argue with me when I tell them how it was produced and proclaim it would be impossible to do it from a can and that I am wrong. All the artists brought something different and fresh to the range, we knew that we would have a great product when the designs started coming in.
How does Art for Kunst aim to be different from the other art stalls and shops out there?
I think we have a unique product already in the gift set. I set out to create something I could not find, but wanted and I know there are lots of other people like me out there just from speaking to people and looking at the numbers that turn up to shows and exhibition and walk out empty handed. As a gift for yourself or someone else the pack offers something that is collectible and can have sentimental value and also something more everyday yet still collectible, exclusive and useful. Other things that set us apart are the level of artist we are working with, the fact the product is hand produced and the low number editions produced. This is not your everyday gallery gift shop item. Obviously we want to keep pushing this and making each new set even better, I would also like to work with fashion and product designers to create more unique things to go into future packs and collections. Also, we do not think of Art for Kunst as a shop or stall. Although we will do the stalls and pop up markets still we would also like to work with other independent retailers to stock the packs. That will allow us to also focus on exhibitions, events, collaborations, books and the site. We see Art for Kunst as a brand that will represent high quality, exciting, affordable and original street art based products and promoting good artists.