What’s on our walls – rebel street art or sneaky advertising?

Burger chain and streaming service order paintings

Friday, 8th July — By Frankie Lister-Fell

Wendy's ad in Plender Street

A mural marks the opening of Wendy’s in Camden Town

IT is a neighbourhood famous for having a mural on almost every corner, street art that draws in purists and tourists alike – and one of the original battlegrounds for spray paint rivals Banksy and King Robbo.

But – wait – did you hear?

Wendy’s has arrived in Camden Town and with it, a street art advert painted high on a wall in Plender Street.

It depicts punkified variations of the American chain’s red-haired mascot – a nod to the area’s historic but now muted punk scene, with the aim of getting you to the burger bar counter.

Up the road, near Buck Street Market, a wall which has been shared by artists for years – often displaying works with counter culture themes or challenges to authority – has been claimed by Paramount+ and a
large painting of its logo.

Paramount+ take over a wall close to Buck Street Market and, below, the anti-capitalism mural that was previously on the same wall

[Frank Riot]

The company, which has an office in nearby Hawley Crescent, has launched a new streaming service.

According to Camden Council, neither project has advertisement consent.

This is required when ads and promotions do not relate to the premises where they are displayed. The Town Hall said enforcement investigations have now been opened.

 

When asked by the New Journal, Wendy’s said its painting was developed in partnership with Camden Open Air Gallery with “all relevant permissions in place”.

Paramount+ said it obtained consent from a private business whose wall it was painted on.

But the blurring of the lines between art and advertising does not sit comfortably with everyone.

Frankie Beckley, who goes by her street artist name Frank Riot, painted an anti-capitalist mural in Stucley Place in May 2021 – the wall now commandeered by Paramount+.

“If you look at it on an individual sense, obviously it’s good for street artists because that can be their bread and butter wages,” she said.

“It gives them the opportunity to have a job through their art – and then do what they
want with their own practice outside of work hours.”

But she added: “Personally I’m an anti-capitalist, so I don’t like any form of advertising. I think it’s visual pollution. I don’t think it’s fair that it takes up so much public space.

“The foundation of street art was to make art accessible to people who probably wouldn’t go to galleries.

“Street art is inherently political. It’s the opposite of capitalism. Like most good things it’s been commodified.”

Another street artist, Irony, has left her artistic mark throughout Camden and her arresting portraits can be spotted in Camden High Street, Kentish Town Road and Harmood Street.

Street art by Whoam Irony

She called using street art for advertising products as “pathetic”.

“A handful of ad agencies want to cynically cash-in off the backs of what those artists’ built,” she said.

“They know people hate ads and councils don’t want billboards so they have to pretend to be part of the culture to try and trick people into seeing their marketing.”

Irony added: “All they are really doing is making Camden look like a sad, soulless place and lining their own pockets.”

But there is an alternative point of view among the street art community.

Finn Brewster Doherty, the founder of Camden Open Air Gallery, (COAG), believes the commercialisation of street art in the area is not an issue – but a by-product of a wider problem facing the borough.

He said: “The costs to operate on the high street are only rising, despite a significant reduction in footfall and a vast increase in supply of retail units since Hawley Wharf opened.

“It’s now at a point that as a business, if you rely on just the street to survive, your days are numbered. This is why you are seeing more chains and vacant shops in Camden.”

He added: “So as a way for artists and high street businesses to survive, I think it’s naive to see the commercialisation of street art as an issue. It’s a response.

“COAG paints murals across Camden not just to support artists, but to advertise Camden Town itself to ensure it has a future.

“Until the residents, business and council address what’s going on in Camden, you are only going to see street art and Camden become more commercial.

“This isn’t just the case in Camden, it’s London-wide.”

A Wendy’s spokesperson said that its advert is a temporary mural, which will be live until mid-July.
Paramount+ said its painting “was intended as a short-term piece of graffiti art to generate excitement amongst staff and visitors to the Paramount building and was not intended as an advertisement.”

Last night (Wednesday), the mural had been covered in part by somebody else’s design.

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