Ingrid Beazley was slightly apprehensive and defensive when I met her, as if her amazing street art project was about to come under attack again. Although she presents herself as an image of a somewhat fragile, middle-aged woman enjoying the delights of grand-motherhood she has a steely determination and zeal to discover new ways of looking at art. Just as well, as her recent project of Street Art in Dulwich or ‘Baroque the Street’ as it was originally labelled, brought her into contact with a host of sometimes alcohol or drug fuelled street artists, all passionate about their art. She also, one suspects, has had to deal with a fair amount negative comment about her project.
Ingrid Beazley is the daughter of a doctor with a practice in what was then Tanganyika, now Tanzania, East Africa. By the time she was 12, independence had been granted to this former British colony and she and her family moved to England and she started at her new school in Haslemere. Art was always her passion and after finishing school she studied History of Art at St Andrews and then gained a post-graduate degree in teaching at Queen Mary College, London.
She worked in numerous schools in the UK and Singapore and for the last eighteen years has been a volunteer teacher in the education department of Dulwich Picture Gallery where she has been a guide and lecturer, teaching children and adults about the Collection and the Gallery’s architecture. She created DiGit, a form of interactive interpretation using palm top computers which particularly appeal to younger visitors. She launched both the regular monthly film night in the Linbury Room and Dulwich OnView, the Gallery’s e-magazine.
She has a curiosity about the unusual in art and in 2012 this led her to attend a talk on street art by the street artist Stik in East London. Until then she had little or no knowledge about street art, to the extent that she had only heard, like most of us, of one street artist – Banksy. Stik’s talk seems to have been her epiphany and began what would become an obsession for the medium.
Stik by name as well as by nature draws stickmen on vacant walls and shutters around Shoreditch. Initially giving the appearance of immature Dick Bruna illustrations, Stik’s work is infinitely subtle – he says “Beauty is in movement. That’s what it’s about. Beauty is about the way that someone moves their body. You can tell by someone’s walk if they’re angry, whether they’re happy or if they’ve just eaten. You can tell a lot about someone just by the way they’re moving their back or their eyes. There doesn’t need to be a great deal of detail there.”
Ingrid was so impressed by Stik’s work that she persuaded Southwark Council to allow Stik to put some of his figures on small buildings in Dulwich Park. One or two neighbours in Court Lane shared Ingrid’s enthusiasm and the artist’s work appears on the walls of several houses there. The idea then came to her to extend this idea of street art and she devised a concept in which leading street artists would be invited to consider the paintings in the Dulwich collection and re-interpret them on walls around Dulwich (and beyond) as part of the 2013 Dulwich Festival.
But how do you find such elusive artists? Her point of contact was Richard Howard Griffin who was establishing a gallery for a group of contemporary artists who were outside the established traditional institutions. It was he who had the contacts and with his and Remi Rough’s help Ingrid was able to reach leading international street artists. The next stage was to persuade them to participate in a street art project for the Dulwich Festival. A group project is usually an anathema to such go- it- alone individuals but Ingrid’s enthusiasm must have rubbed off and with very few exceptions almost twenty artists came aboard.
The artists, who include two women, were glad to have such good public spaces to showcase their work and worked for free, Ingrid largely provided their materials, scaffolding and cherry-picker hoists. Some of this outlay she has since been able to to recoup from her very popular public tours of the project.
To organise one invariably temperamental artist and find a vacant wall would be a formidable task in itself. To manage a large and disparate group of artists and muster enough wall space, all in a limited time and on a not unlimited budget hardly bears thought. Yet this is where Ingrid’s steeling determination came in. Cold calls to owners of prospective walls sometimes produced results; a sympathetic pub manager responsible for three premises around Dulwich presented three huge spaces, Southwark Council Art & Leisure Department became enthusiastic and located 3 walls for the project.
The one fly in the ointment was that Dulwich Picture Gallery declined to endorse the project, although it was willing for its pictures to be associated with it and allowed photographs of some of its works for the accompanying book. Some of the artists visited the gallery to select a picture, some viewed the collection’s website and one or two ignored the association altogether and very much did their own thing. One of these was Conor Harrington, the Irish born former graffiti artist who has found international fame and whose studio work can fetch tens of thousands of pounds. One or two more backed out of the project.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, a number of artists all settled on Poussin’s ‘Triumph of David’ as their theme. Ingrid was disappointed that no one considered Rubens’ ‘Venus, Mars and Cupid’ as a possible subject. The works on Dulwich’s walls are not labelled and explained. Some of the artists categorically declined to have their works labelled for fear of graffiti and tagging. Ingrid’s view is that the pictures should speak for themselves. On the other hand this detracts from the original premise of identifying with the works Dulwich Picture Gallery and bringing the public, now that their interest might be aroused, to the Gallery. The map of the Dulwich Street Art project enclosed with this issue of the Journal may resolve this dilemma.
For Ingrid the project has been worthwhile if it introduces more people to understand street art and street artists than they did before. She is inundated with requests by local schools to tour the pictures and these hugely successful expeditions conclude with a visit to the Gallery to see the original works. Rather than have requests from members of the public to paint out any of the pictures, she has had three further offers of walls for future murals. Students at Kings College London are creating a mobile phone app which uses GPS positioning and will bring up the mural which will then morph into the original painting which inspired it.
So what is the public’s reaction to the Street Art Project? Southwark Council have received no complaints. The three pubs with murals on their walls (The Paxton, The Patch and The Victoria Inn) claim interest from customers and her adult street tours are a sell-out. So the Journal conducted its own poll. It asked if the reaction to the idea of the murals was generally favourable or unfavourable, whether or not it was realised that there was a connection between (most) of the murals and a work in Dulwich Picture Gallery, and lastly whether they would have preferred the initiative not to have gone ahead in the first place. The result was an overwhelming endorsement of Ingrid’s concept of street art, even if individual murals were not always liked. There was originally little or no idea that the murals had a connection with Dulwich Picture Gallery, but most asked have now discovered that there is. The vast majority are pleased the Dulwich Street Art Project took place.
As for Ingrid; she is envisioning using empty railway containers as fresh ground for street art and is looking for sites to place them.