Local art gallery owner, David Lilford, exhibits pieces from street artists such as Banksy, Catman and Blek Le Rat in the city of Canterbury.
After working in retail for 17 years at Dixons and Currys, he decided to change his career path and follow something that was more to his taste.
Speaking about his transition from retail to becoming a gallerist, Lilford said, “Art is something that I’ve been interested in and passionate about all my life, so it was something that I knew I’d be able to sell, because those are my skill sets. It was a mixture of hobby and business.”
With copious amounts of artwork predominantly from street artists exhibited in Lilford’s gallery, does this mean that graffiti can be an art form?
The urban art exhibitor did however discern the difference between graffiti as art and as vandalism.
He said, “Vandalism is where someone or an establishment doesn’t want you to do it on their property, vandalism tends to be tagging.
“For me as a gallerist I don’t think I have negative connotations to the term graffiti. Tagging I do, but not to graffiti.
“I’d rather use the term ‘urban art’ for the work that’s done under the umbrella of art rather than use the word graffiti. Graffiti is generally tagging.”
The phrase ‘urban art’ to some, is not clear cut. Mr Lilford clarifies this.
“Urban art is hard to define. It runs the spectrum of graffiti-based works from Ben Eine through to Banksy or Smythe.
“They work with images that are out there already – like images of Audrey Hepburn and then use collage techniques to make more contemporary images. But it is pop art really.”
Gallery owner David also explained how street artists are using marketing and promotion as an aide to get their work into art galleries like his.
“I have a lot of discussions about graffiti and urban art. I think people miss the main point of it at the moment which is the marketing and promotional side of it.
“If you look at how they are promoting it’s far more interesting and tells a lot more about society at the moment,” he said.
Mr Lilford used Banksy’s most recent stint as a prime example.
The Canterbury based art dealer added that, “the promotion and marketing side of things is pushed aside. But if you take some of Banksy’s stuff – he’s selling.
“You could argue the pieces on the walls are adverts for the prints he’s selling. Or adverts for the event he’s just about to do; which is quite often what he does.
“Take for instance, the stunt he did in New York – now, that got Banksy headline news. It was incredible marketing.”
Banksy was about to open his temporary art project called ‘Dismaland’, a satirical take on Disneyland, when he pulled the New York stint.
By doing the stunt in New York, he effectively kept his name in the news. “That’s a massive marketing campaign,” David said.
A lesser known urban artist, but probably one of the most important one of all is Blek Le Rat.
Blek started spray painting using stencils in Paris back in the 80s. At the age of 68 he is still creating thought provoking art works, some of which are available at the Lilford Gallery in Canterbury.
“With Blek Le Rat I deal directly with him and I know him, so I can get the works directly from him,” David told us.
He added, “I’ve had my own works from Banksy that I’ve bought from ‘Pictures on Walls’ when it was launched or I’ve got them from other dealers. I know lots of people that know Banksy personally as well.”
For lesser known urban artists, such as Catman who is actually based in Kent, it can be hard to get onto the gallery scene.
“Catman came to us a couple of years ago but he wasn’t ready to make the step but then subsequently he has. I deal directly with Catman.
“He made a decision early last year to only deal through galleries; because that’s the way the career works.
“If you’re serious about the work – you need a good gallery behind you to get your name out there,” said Lilford.
The Lilford Gallery owner has also discovered urban artists, who have ‘gone on to do really well’.