The first of our new mini series tracking urban explorers, we follow Soho gallery curator Alexa Pearson as she hunts for the next big thing in street art in her Range Rover Evoque Convertible.
Ever since the elusive graffiti artist Banksy began bombing Bristol with incendiary street art in the late 90s, the normal rules have not applied. When you think about it, the most innovative and dynamic new trends in the arts have always begun on the streets. The magic is in the right person recognising the quality of the music, dance, theatre or graffiti that they see and bringing it to an audience.
In this case, the right person is Alexa Pearson, curator of the London arts hub, Lights of Soho. “I think it’s a great medium to use,” she says of the streets of her neighbourhood. She may run exhibitions in a cutting edge art gallery and private members’ club, but she found the spark for her latest discovery on the walls outside her home.
“There was this beautiful profile on a brick wall,” she remembers. “Then I just kept seeing them everywhere but I couldn’t find her name. Who’s the artist?” By their very nature, graffiti artists have always been shrouded in mystery, but after Banksy took that as his hook, such subtlety has become a coveted part of the thrill of the chase for trend-hunting gallery owners around the world.
Pearson began cruising the streets of London’s Soho – the original creative engine room of the British capital – in her Range Rover Evoque Convertible, searching for the artist’s distinctive profiles and hoping for some clue to her identity. “It was just off Brewer Street I found her name,” she recalls. “Anna Laurini, just underneath one of her pieces.”
Laurini is an accomplished Milanese artist who now calls London’s trendy East End home. Though she has painted for many years, she only took her work onto the streets in 2013. It was a masterstroke. After all, what is the urban street if not the biggest and most eclectic gallery of them all? Here, shop fronts, billboards, the clothes we wear, the vehicles passing by – everything is a part of the canvas.
“Anna has done an incredible job to promote herself on the street,” says Pearson, who tracked Laurini down to her studio and asked her to do a show at Lights of Soho. The result was a collection that included not only her street art but also neon pieces reflecting the light art specialism of the venue.
The most successful explorers have always been the ones willing to search where no one else thought to look. Alexa Pearson is no different. “Why shouldn’t these pieces be in a gallery space?” she asks. “Great art’s happening all around us, all the time. You’ve just got to get out there, hunt it down, get it.”