Lady Aiko at Ink_d Gallery

The past week in Brighton has had a distinctly oriental flavour to the town, the Costume Games organised by Moshi Moshi, the Japanese beating South Africa with a last gasp try and Lady Aiko’s residency at Ink_d Gallery.

The last one is (obviously) the most topical for this blog, but one that has had a significant impact in the city as a whole, from the exhibition itself to her mural in The Lanes.

Internationally renowned, the clamour surrounding Lady Aiko’s residency in Brighton and the exhibition is one that even I, in my slight cynicism, couldn’t help but getting wrapped up in (see here), but one that was always going to struggle to live up to the hype.

Lady Aiko is another of the latest in a trend to transfer street art into a gallery environment a trend that, no matter your opinion on it, is not likely to stop soon. Aiko uses a classic spray paint and stencil technique reminiscent of her friend and collaborator in the past, Banksy, to create her work but draws inspiration from her home country of Japan.

Despite moving to New York in the mid 90’s the Japanese influence has remained with her and seeks to reinforce the immaculate stencil work with clever and intricate backgrounds created with acrylic paints. This contrast of materials is also reflected in the content, with her obsession with both the traditional and modern Japanese culture.

The most striking example which captures all of these elements is “Big Fun”. Lady Aiko has hand-painted a delicate traditional Japanese landscape using acrylic paints before smashing the serenity to pieces by invading the image with brash stencil work. The simplicity and directness of the imagery over the top is perfect, and is explicit without being too graphic. But the whole process of the piece betrays the almost violent nature of her street art/graffiti roots, whilst displaying her understanding of the piece and what it’s trying to say.

Her work is saturated with feminine imagery, a lot of which is based on the female orgasm. Whether tongue-in-cheek or something more explicit in nature, the pieces are undeniably evocative but also brilliantly expressive. “I’m Coming!” in particular, doesn’t need huge amounts of detail but is undoubtedly this moment of ecstasy captured before our eyes, and is complemented well with the surrounding colours and imagery. More of a celebration of sex, than anything smutty.

After all this from a male writer, I’m sure people will be surprised to hear that I like it. “Shock horror”, I hear you cry, but actually it is. With the transfer of street art and graffiti from ‘where it belongs’ in the street into the rarefied atmosphere of a gallery, a lot of the techniques can look out of touch and sometimes unnecessary. The whole point of creating a piece of work in the street is it’s transiency and simplicity, you know that anything you put out there can be painted over and you can be arrested for doing it. Creating work for a gallery takes a different kind of skill and patience, and an understanding that your piece will have to exist in different environments.

The private view night showed this slight awkwardness, but as with all art forms in a transition there will be experiments and failed experiments. Lady Aiko was creating “one off” prints for people by spray painting flowers onto digital prints that were 99% completed. Here, there was a slight tension as it had a feel of a factory floor despite the fact that you were seeing a piece being created by an artist before your eyes. It seemed to slightly cheapen the process of the artwork itself and actually put me off the artwork slightly, simply because she made it look too easy.

This minor criticism aside, the exhibition has been a resounding success for Ink_d and has been extended by popular demand for another two weeks. It lived up to it's hype, so make sure you catch it before the 4th October.