A Stiky situation

World renowned street artist Stik and The Big Issue Foundation recently teamed up to open people’s eyes to homelessness in a very artful way.

The aim of Stik’s project was to cut out the art dealer and make some limited edition posters available exclusively through Big Issue vendors, in The Big Issue magazine. Formerly homeless himself, Stik wanted to give something back to the homeless community and funded the printing of the artwork.

The issues containing the posters hit the street and created an immediate buzz and signed posters appeared on eBay for £400.

More importantly word of the posters created an interest from the broader public, who began fl ocking to vendors, creating that all-important engagement that has been at the heart of The Big Issue’s work for so long. “I have loved the fact that I have been walking around actively seeking Big Issue vendors,” said one commenter online. “Can I just say, I must have passed Mark and his dog everyday for almost two years, now I know him – what a lovely, lovely man.” said another.

Stik toured the offi ces and streets of London, Birmingham and Bristol to meet our vendors, sign some posters and add few personal drawings to the covers to make some very special magazines. He even found time for an interview:

You’re an artist in demand all over the world. Can you tell us why producing new work for The Big Issue was so important?

The Big Issue is a great organisation which helps so many people to get back on their feet. I’ve wanted to do a project like this for a while. Also, I wanted to give something back to my friends who are still homeless, who taught me the tricks of street survival and showed me some sort of stability.

The stick character you paint is simple but emotionally suggestive.

What are you trying to get across?

The paintings are my feelings. The big characters I draw are picking their way cautiously through the city. They are peering shyly from the walls, unaware of their own enormity. The city is brutal but I try to humanise it a little.

You spent many years homeless. Was street art the outlet you needed to get you out of the trouble you were in?

I felt I would be lost if I didn’t make some noise. It might be a quiet voice in the din of the city but it gave me a sense of identity. I had no idea that other people also identified with my artwork until later on.

Homelessness must take a heavy mental toll…

A house is like a second skin: it protects you from the world. Without it you can get badly hurt, physically and emotionally. Homelessness is relentless and grinds you down to a state where you just exist to survive. You try to develop a thick skin but end up getting hurt anyway.

It is hard to stay positive. When you are homeless you feel like you are in the street even when you are in a house. And even when you are not homeless, the street still feels like your living room.

So it can become a different state of mind?

I think people who have been homeless will know what I mean when I say I still have my homeless days, when I am back in that state even though I have a home now. Council letters and tax forms seem to bring it on, that inability to comprehend normal domestic life. It is a reminder of how easy it is to lose it all.

There are advertisers trying to grab some of street art’s credibility. How does that feel?

This happens a lot. An advertising company used my work in an advert last year but they forgot to get my permission. I asked them to take the advert down and then donate some money to the Big Issue Foundation. They agreed and this is how this poster project was funded.

What about galleries? Is there room for any overlap, without the bizarre commodification that goes on in the art market?

Galleries have the role of presenting art, a bit like a zoo. Except now the animals have broken out and are running free. Street art is wild and constantly evolving. It is a great time to be an artist. There is nothing wrong with artists trading their art and there are still some good galleries but galleries come and go. Art is for ever.

I know you often have to clean small bits of graffiti off your work. Is there any unwritten code of ethics between street artists?

I constantly maintain my work. Sometimes I go round and change the eyes of a piece so it’s looking in a different direction so it has an extended life. It’s a living artform. Staying up is a big part of street art culture and the evolution is central to what keeps it current and alive.

Street art seems to be a truly international movement – is it difficult to make connections with artists in other cities?

My art has enabled me to travel around the world. I love Hackney but didn’t leave for about six years, and it is a real breath of fresh air to get out into the world. The street art in Berlin is everywhere. There I got a chance to meet up with Thierry Noir, who is famous for painting on the Berlin Wall, and we did a big collaboration when he came to London. It is an international scene but is really open.

I sense you think the whole scene is only just getting started. Do you feel that way about your own work, your own life?

I am doing a big mural in New York soon and have a month-long residency in Japan later in the year. It’s very exciting and a million miles from where I was but I am not through the night yet. Lots of people helped me along the way, particularly a close artist friend, Sheila, who has treated me as an equal and as a professional even whilst I went through the health service and the hostel system. She helped me to realise I had something to give, even in the hardest of times.

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