In its fear that olympic torch bearer Richard Reynolds might take an unscheduled detour through the Better Elephant community gardens on the Heygate estate, last week Southwark Council safely removed an offensive piece of graffiti by Belgian street artist - 'Homme aux Crayons' (Pencil Man).
We know that this regeneration scheme has been using a substantial amount of greenwash to cover its underlying intent. But its greenwash techniques took on a different meaning this week as Council Officer Andrew Ashaye directed a team contractors to wash over the artworks with a thin coat of green paint:
However, we think that the contractors must have suffered a bout of workplace fatigue: as once they had finished removing the artworks in the community gardens area of the empty estate they packed up their rollers and left. None of the graffiti anywhere else on the 24 acre estate was painted over. Indeed, what is more puzzling is that this comes after two years of not having carried out any basic estate cleaning and maintenance. The estate has been full of fly-tipped tyres and asbestos since 2009 and suddenly the Council turns up to remove six pieces of quality street art?
The Council has a procedural system for graffiti on its buildings awaiting demolition: anything deemed offensive is removed and non-offensive graffiti is left in place. However, the procedures for deciding what is offensive and to whom are not so clear..
In a recent interview the 'Homme aux Crayons' talks about his work and how he is inviting traditional graffiti artists to change their ways: "They always write the same old letters and I am trying to persuade them to add a little character and change their form of expression. I too have a recurring element in my work - pencils, but each time the pencils are a little different. I start out each time with a pencil but then I modify and play with it. I am trying to help them realise that they can change something whilst at the same time retaining a recurring element."
After the council’s numerous attempts to stifle Better Elephant’s interim use strategy for the estate, we are beginning to think that there might be a recurring element here too. So Mr. Ashaye, next time you visit the Better Elephant community gardens flexing your muscles on council business - please add a little character and change your expression!
UPDATE(02/09/12): Three weeks on from the graffiti greenwash incident - Mr Ashaye has commissioned street artist ‘Gold Peg’ London's largest street-art graffiti artwork on the Heygate estate as part of the 'Release the Wolves' Go-karting event!
Clearly Mr Ashaye has had a sudden change of heart and embraced the graffiti artists!