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Beyond The Streets London Saatchi Gallery
Ladies On Train by Martha CooperCourtesy of Saatchi Gallery

‘It’s the city’s voice’: how graffiti went from the streets to the Saatchi

Opening this February, Beyond The Streets is the biggest exhibition of its kind to reach the UK

For decades, the empty wall has served as a blank canvas for generations of prodigious guerilla artists. The very act of graffiti creates art that is readily accessible to the masses, away from the veil of art elitism, turning streets into sprawling galleries of individual self-expression. And in recent years, the preservation of street art has become increasingly important, as the anti-establishment messages portrayed in works from previous decades remain alarmingly prescient.

When artist and curator Roger Gastman first opened BEYOND THE STREETS in Los Angeles back in 2018, it marked the first time that such an extensive exhibition dedicated to street art and graffiti had ever taken place. After taking the exhibition to New York in 2019 and finding a permanent space in LA’s Chinatown last year, BTS will now be arriving in London, opening at the Saatchi Gallery on February 17 and running until May 9. The uniqueness of the BTS series lies in its ability to transcend the expectations of an art exhibition. While the exhibition is running, all three floors of the Saatchi gallery will be covered in ephemera and new and old works, covering walls, staircases and halls. After all, street art was never made for the gallery and has spent years being rejected by them, so why should it present itself in any other way?

BTS London will be the biggest and most comprehensive street art and graffiti exhibition to arrive in the UK and will, most importantly, celebrate the city’s impact on the medium. “In the mid-90s, there was a street art explosion throughout Europe, with London being one of the key cities at the forefront,” Gastman tells Dazed. “For more than 15 years, it continued to evolve, [birthing] new ideas and new artists.” Between the beginnings of contemporary graffiti in a decaying 1970s New York and the international movement of the present day, the cultural influence and impact of the art form are nearly immeasurable. BTS explores these links deeply, featuring work from cross-cultural icons like Malcolm McClaren, Fab 5 Freddy, FUTURA2000, Goldie, Beastie Boys and Shepard Fairey, whose influence stretches far beyond just art, fashion or music.

Here, we speak to both the curator of the exhibition and contributing artists to hear why it was important to bring the exhibition to London, the importance of the medium and the artist’s installations.


“I’ll be showing six sculptures and four paintings. Graffiti styles are so flowy because there isn’t friction between the tool (spray can) and the wall, as opposed to calligraphy, which is a very controlled form of writing. The sculptures I’m presenting try to capture that frictionless energy, made possible by designing the 3D models in virtual reality. The paintings are also a new body of work. Each one of them has 3,600 hand-painted pixels that render high saturation and ultra-dynamic images.

“I’m not sure if it’s important to be a successful gallery artist, but graffiti and the streets are certainly a part of me and will be forever. Most of my friends are graffiti writers, most people that work at my studio are writers and, even though I’m very busy doing other things now, I’m very much connected to graffiti culture.

“I’m lucky that I was part of the BEYOND THE STREETS shows in Los Angeles and New York and that I got to see them. I can’t wait for my friends to enjoy this incredible show now on this side of the world. People must see this!”


BEYOND THE STREETS London shows the link between the British punk music scene and New York City hip-hop culture. The Clash worked with FUTURA2000 [for] the 1982 New York City Rap Tour, exposing British music fans to a whole new genre of music and art that would become even bigger than rock and roll.

“Back in the day we used to shoot film and I always kept my negatives organised in files. I was photographing then-unknown bands at the start of their careers. These days, I’m mostly shooting digital, so my files are on external hard drives and I am scanning my negatives. I didn’t know, back then, that I was documenting history. 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Finally, after 40 years there is a tremendous interest in those photographs from the ‘Golden Years’.”

“Sharing my images has always been important. I was lucky enough to be obsessed with photographing two important genres of music: punk and hip-hop. Nowadays with social media, it’s easy to share. I am an Instagram fan and one of the best things to have come from it is reconnecting with people I photographed over 40 years ago because they saw their photo on Instagram.

BEYOND THE STREETS is very important as it tells the history of a movement. [There were] legendary artists’ paintings on NYC trains in the 1970s and 80s that only existed for one day before they were wiped, documented by photographers like Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. Paintings from artists like DR, REVOLT, DAZE, LADY PINK and FUTURA2000 who are still making work today – and the new street art generation, of course.”


“Graffiti is something that people have been doing for centuries. It’s the voice of the city, a canvas for people who live or pass through, to speak out. We have an urge to explore our cities, and some have the urge to go further than just walking down paths.

BEYOND THE STREETS is important because it documents a cultural past, pre-social media, where ideas and movements developed on the streets, in clubs, and in bedrooms. It also crosses over to the current day, highlighting a new generation of artists who have crafted their trade from the streets rather than the lecture theatre. 

“My installation is a Rubbish Puppet repair workshop, showing a selection of new puppets I’ve made over the past few months. The Puppets will be housed in a London corner shop that will contain other artworks, ephemera and pieces of work from my studio – ideas that get made but never leave that environment. I’ve created new puppets post Bäst due to the older puppets currently being stuck in a crate in China, and this gives me an opportunity to get some rubbish out of my studio and store it at Saatchi Gallery for a few months.

“I’ve always felt art has to have some kind of message, to confront, inform, thrill, shock and most importantly be fun. If you’re going to write something where people can see it, why not paint or paste a poster that says something? Our voices are important to be heard these days.”


“Graffiti, street art, punk rock, hip-hop… all these subcultures have become massive pieces of pop culture that, for some, have been around 50 plus years. I’ve always worked with the artists that help create the movements and those who continue to push them forward. New artists that are inspired by these movements pop up almost daily, so continuing to put the leaders of these industries, in a sense, at the forefront and tell their stories and show their history, new and old, is important. Someone has to do it and put it in the right context.

“People always want to leave their mark. They want to be known, to have their message out there, no matter what. With graffiti, you don’t have to ask for permission. You don’t have to buy advertising space. Your thoughts, your mission, they’re all out there. It’s free expression if you have the fucking balls to go do it.

“A piece that we’re really happy to show was painted by FUTURA2000, it’s called “Escape London”. He painted it live on stage with The Clash performing in 1982. It’s 30 feet long, and 15 feet tall, and it shows the merging of all of these cultures together just beautifully and sums up so much.

“On top of that, the cover image for our London book, is a photo shoot by Bob Gruen of Malcolm McLaren, who put together the Sex Pistols and is synonymous with street fashion, punk rock fashion – one of the first people to introduce hip-hop globally when he started signing people and working on Duck Rock, etcetera. He collaborated with Richard Hamilton, he collaborated with Keith Haring, and so many other important figures in the scene.”

Beyond the Streets is at the Saatchi Gallery in London from 17 February-9 May 2023.

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