I am getting excited about the job in Germany. It will give me a chance to see exciting things soon. I noticed that this particular piece of art interests me. I’m not sure why, but I came across it on my research of what I want to do the first week in Germany. I hear the people drive fast and I don’t think I want to be driving until later. I’m a bit nervous on the driving aspects. I’ll keep you posted.
ROA’s giant rabbit has been described as ‘a thing of beauty’ by the managing director of the Hackney studios and cafe upon which it is painted. Photograph: ROA
A piece of street art by an internationally renowned artist could be painted over after a council deemed it a blight on the local environment. ROA, a secretive Belgian street artist who, like Banksy, has showcased his work in east London, painted a 3.5m (12ft) rabbit on the side of a recording studio in Hackney last year.
The building’s owners had granted the artist permission to create the piece, but they have been served with a removal notice by Hackney council, warning that unless they “remove or obliterate the graffiti” within 14 days, a council contractor will paint over the wall and charge them for the service.
“It’s quite the opposite of what they’re saying it is,” said Julia Craik, managing director of Premises music studios and cafe. “It’s not a blight – it really adds to the local area.
“If it was some horrible graffiti then they’d have a point, but it’s a thing of beauty in Hackney Road, which is not the greatest area in the world. Among the bingo halls and shops you’ve got a really nice artwork, which really adds something.”
ROA, who is in his early 30s, has risen to prominence over the last two years after starting out painting animal forms in a disused warehouse close to his native Ghent, in Belgium. His work can be seen in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in New York, and across Europe from Norway to Italy, while an upcoming commission will see him travel to São Paulo, in Brazil. His first solo show in the UK was staged at the Pure Evil gallery in Shoreditch, east London, this year, and he has had exhibitions in Paris in the last 12 months.
Charley Edwards, who runs the Pure Evil gallery, said: “It was the most successful show we’ve ever had in terms of people coming. You could hear the gasps as people walked in and saw his pieces.
“Banksy’s obviously more famous, but I think ROA’s work at the moment is really pushing it. What’s interesting with ROA’s work is how it interacts with the space it’s in – he’s done certain pieces where animals have been wrapped down the side of buildings.”
Edwards was with ROA when he painted the threatened rabbit, and described it as typical of his work. “He talks about repopulating the city with animals and bringing them back into the city,” Edwards said. “I think people really, really dig the rabbit – there’s a certain character to it that people just love.”
Hackney council said in a statement: “The graffiti … is clearly visible from the road and, whilst it is not the council’s position to make a judgment call on whether graffiti is art or not, our task is to keep Hackney’s streets clean.
“As part of our enforcement policy, which is informed by Defra guidance, we initially contacted the property owner on an informal basis and offered advice, including what they needed to do if they wished to retain the piece of graffiti. This was followed by a letter and another visit to the property before the removal notice was served. However, we are currently holding our enforcement action to allow the owner a further opportunity to seek planning advice about retaining the piece.”
Craik said she had replied to Hackney council in writing after receiving their letter this month, but was yet to hear back regarding the fate of the rabbit. “It could happen at any moment,” she said. “We’re constantly thinking ‘are we going to come in tomorrow to no rabbit, and a massive bill.'”
Last year, Hackney was criticised after it painted over a Banksy cartoon of the royal family that had been present on a block of flats for more than eight years. In October 2008, Westminster city council removed a mural from Newman Street, in central London, after the council’s deputy leader, Robert Davis, said keeping it would be “condoning” graffiti.
Other councils have adopted novel solutions to deciding whether or not a piece of graffiti should remain. Sutton invited residents to vote on whether a Banksy should remain. More than 90% of respondents wanted it to stay, but the mural was defaced by taggers before the vote closed.
Mark Rigney, who runs a walking tour featuring ROA’s work, said: “Hackney council should realise that this art movement is a huge tourist attraction and people are crossing London and the globe to see the art upon the streets of Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets – areas which are often referred to as the epicentre for London street art.”
• This footnote was added on 1 November 2010. To clarify: Westminster council issued a “removal notice”, which does not specify how removal is achieved. In this instance the owners of the wall have covered the work, which is still intact and in place.