Monday, 3 January 2011



Below is a picture of people watching a painter at work, while at the same time, less than a mile away, a crowd behind a barrier was watching Ben Johnson (previous blog) in Room 1 at the National Gallery. But, despite the ladder and paint spray guns both men have in common, there the similarity ends.  Dais - which is how he likes to be known - is in a subway, close to Lower Marsh outside Waterloo station. My daughter and I had taken a short cut because she wanted to show me a mural she’d seen the week before.  

Johnson’s paintings, which take years to make and which sell well, last, but last week’s mural had gone. All that was left was a recently-painted black rectangle with just a few remnants of colour remaining. Had my daughter seen an ice sculpture or performance art, she’d have expected it to have disappeared. But somehow painting on walls suggests something a little longer lasting, with a whiff, say, of the Sistine chapel or Herculaneum and Pompeii? 
 But graffiti has a new sort of permanence, usually with no price attached. First there’s the group from the Far East who’re videoing the artist at work. Then there’s my picture of them filming the artist, to be shared on the internet. Dais was pleased to be photographed, I think. His name is distinctive but impersonal. I know nothing more about him. There are a number of sites in different parts of mainland Europe which crop up if you Google ‘dais’ and ‘graffiti’ together but I’ve no means of knowing if there is more than one artistic Dais in the world.

What’s more, I went on to photograph the people filming a man nearby who was miming a song for what must have been a promotional video. The film crew had driven a car into the subway and parked it by the singer. So, instead of the reverential hush surrounding Ben Johnson at the National Gallery, the tunnel was ablaze with music amplified inside and out by the car’s four wide- open doors. We were also within tens of yards of trains going in and out of Waterloo. Here was a tiny ecosystem: a music studio, a walkway, an art gallery - and a place where homeless people sleep at night.  

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