Staying high with AROE

Photo:AROE's street art in Kensington Street

AROE's street art in Kensington Street

Photo by Henry Bruce

Street art in Kensington Street

By Catherine Clement, North Laine resident

You may have noticed a fairly new element in the large mural which adorns the first car-parking recess as you go south down Kensington Street (car-parking now, once housing, demolished in the late 1960s).  The walls were initially painted in a council-sponsored initiative a few years ago (I think in 2008), to discourage ‘freelance’ graffiti and tagging – and to a large extent this idea has worked, the paintings remaining pretty much as they were, except for the effects of weather and time. 

We needed to repair the outside render

I was particularly fond of the image on the back wall of my house, which showed a huge almost glowing deep blue angelic/robotic face – derived from the science fiction film ‘Tron’.  However, weather and time were having an effect on the inside of the house as well as out, and we eventually realised we’d have to repair the outside render – which meant at least partial if not total destruction of Tron.  In advance, I decided to see if I could contact the original artist, known as AROE, in case he was interested in repairing or repainting it.

I managed to track down AROE

At first I tried to reach him through the Council, but that didn’t work.  I eventually got his contact details from Art Schism gallery in Gloucester Road, although he is not associated with or represented by them – and afterwards I gathered that some of my neighbours already knew him…  He was very happy with the project although I told him I couldn’t pay him – and he set about getting ‘sponsorship in kind’ from a paint company.  He told us what he was thinking of before he painted it.  Coincidentally we had a book in the shop just then about the 1970s generation of New York graffiti artists who became famous ‘writing’ on subway trains: AROE showed us work by Wayne Roberts who had recently died, and said he would like to make something drawing on his work, as a memorial to him.

Wayne Roberts

Wayne Roberts already had the street name ‘Stay High’ when he started writing in 1971.  He began to tag (in a highly recognisable graphic style) with ‘StayHigh’ and added the number 149, his actual street address number.  As his style developed he added a final element, a version of the haloed stick-man familiar from Leslie Charteris’s ‘The Saint’ novels and stories (and films and TV series) – but in his version The Saint is turned around, crouched down and smoking a joint….. this became known as The Smoker.

AROE's creation

Well, you can see what AROE created for yourself.  It’s a giant Smoker, a Smoking Saint if you like, not so crouched, three storeys high with a beautifully foreshortened shadow behind him.  It’s a very clean and apparently simple image against the white wall.  But that’s an illusion.  If you look closely you’ll see that the whole image is made up of the signature ‘StayHigh149’ written hundreds of times in different colours.  AROE also made a small inscription below the image dedicating it to ‘The Voice of the Ghetto’ – and below that a large and difficult to miss adjuration to STAY HIGH!  You can take that any way you like.  I prefer to think of it as a hope that Wayne Roberts stays high.  He did spend a lot of his life that way.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 228, May/June 2014]


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