Walking through East London, the chances are you’ve seen a ROA. A ROA being the distinctive and massive black and white illustrated animals repopulating the neighbourhood.
Who is ROA? He’s a Belgian graffiti artist whom is as secretive as Banksy. He’s produced some of the largest and most recognizable street art in New York, Norway, Puerto Rico, Brazil, South Africa and even in our own fair city, London.
ROA generally paints animals or birds in black and white in unloved corners of the city that are home for scavengers and vermin. They’ve become the mascots of the neighbourhood and have created a popular worldwide following. According to Wikipedia’s (because it’s always right…) artsy fartsy explanation: His work refers to taxonomy and the classification of species, but in a way that is a meditation on social stratification, urban decay and renewal and the possibility that inner cities are only passing forms of civilization. The skeletons, deserts, anatomical dissection are reminders of the transience of life.
In his own words “You know the whole world is really taken over by humans. Well, there are a lot of animals who manage to use it to their benefit. I’m really interested in the circle of life as something that most people see as something horrific, it can be something really beautiful. When I travel, I try to paint the local species. So I’m always interested in the little scavengers and rodents and crazy animals that live with the people in the city, animals that are survivors.”
ROA preferred to keep himself out of the public eye, insisting that his identity take a backseat to his work. But as his street art became more popular, he was receiving invitations and requests including the infamous 12 foot (3.5m high) rabbit on the side of a recording studio in Hackney. But one year later, the council deemed it a “blight” on the local environment and ordered it removed. A campaign was launched to keep the mural by the building’s owners and local residents which forced the council to change its mind.
Unfortunately his squirrel on Club Row that appeared as Aaron Johnson danced by in REM’s music video ÜBerlin, didn’t have the same fate. I thought the council had removed it but checking out pics on Google it looks like some rat bastards painted over it. It seems ROA’s animals aren’t the only vermin in this city.