My show opened last week at The Saatchi Gallery. It's mainly about London (and the underbellies of other cities), and in one of the capital's most iconic institutions. Yet I don't live here anymore. I moved up north so I could be with my son full-time but equally I'd had it with trying to find the space I needed to work and live London.
I first arrived in London in the late nineties after dropping out of university and found a home on a mates' sofa among what felt like a small creative community on the border of the city. I was a shambles and not alone in magnificent underachievement but everyone had something cooking and was trying to make something happen out of nothing. There was a palpable energy, nothing to lose and comparably low rents facilitated this.
Soon I was off the sofa and a proud denizen of Shoreditch, after which I rented a room (if you could call it that) in Dalston and others on the dingy fringes of Hackney. Roaming among househares, boozers, boarded-up buildings and pound shops was kind of like exploring virgin jungle. In disagreement with Oscar Wilde, I always gazed into the gutters rather up than look up to the stars.
Of course I was by no means the first artist to venture out in to any of these places, there are many genuine troubadours of the east end. Gilbert & George had settled in Spitalfeilds' in the 70s and Tracey Emin along with Sarah Lucas opened their shop on Brick Lane in 1993. As a young creative person, needing space, time and money to work, the city didn't feel like it was against me, it actively encouraged it and I thrived for a time, in my ignorance.
By the time I began to settle into my groove, the YBA's had graduated to East End royalty. There was new art emerging literally on the streets of London, my London. On the same dingy back streets I crawled about on, a new geography was being mapped by Bast, Eine, Faile, Obey or Banksy. The internet became the primary source for street at, the first movement in history to go viral. This may have taken these artists to global fame but has also created the same scenario as a band going from playing sweaty clubs to sell out stadiums, you don't connect with them in the same way. Art is inextricably linked to the environment it is created in and that great innovation in rarely emerges from wealthy communities. If we remove the vital factors that facilitate making work, the outcome is startlingly obvious. No Art.
For decades there has been a predictable cycle, the same kind of arty creative people that originally defined Soho in the 70s and 80s in Manhattan and then in Brooklyn and are exactly the same as myself in Shoreditch during the millennium years. So years before corporate investment takes over, it's the creatives who first develop these areas in which estate agents or 'big' business would never otherwise have found value.
So are we to blame for the deluge of luxury developments suffocating the east cnd? If the arty, trendy kids had just never got beyond the Cat & Mutton in London Fields, would Clapton now be free of this awkward new species dubbed the 'Londonaire'? Of course not, there's just now lots more people who are like myself: curious, inspired and creative and the lookout for the cultural stimulus you only find a city like London. When we see someone else doing something we like the look of, wearing something we like in somewhere we want to experience, we just go and do it. Thanks to the internet, we never miss a trick.
All I wanted from London was culture, inspiration and a little space to live and work. I'm sure that hasn't changed for most. I was never really concerned about 'making it big', in any industry or finding the next area and 'getting in' at the right time and still don't own my home or any property because of it and perhaps I never will. Young artists back then, like most others now, can't afford to buy or rent flash new apartment blocks, but there are probably thousands of artists and designers, photographers, musicians, stylists, programmers and models in London. Once the the developers get wind of where they are living the banks, landlords and estate agents will move in greedily and displace communities.
So why tolerate this, if so many people are questioning the future, can we not stop this? Surely everyone won't be forced to leave. Policy makers could act, other cities have taken bold steps to protect inner city community. Berlin has imposed rent caps and restrictions on how buildings are converted into smaller living spaces and if similar steps aren't taken here we must concede that the not too distant future for the city we think of as London will be lost to us forever. Mayor Boris Johnson has said, 'London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutans. It is their natural habitat.' In this mutated theme park dedicated to business and leisure, inhabited by very wealthy, the rest of will just have to ride in on the train and stump up the entrance fee.