The Tate @ The Toxteth: July 24 - 28, 2013
By nature, street art is a tough game to play, unless your Banksy or Lister you're likely to be dismissed as a deviant, a thug, a vandal or a hoodie wearing teenager. For years we have been watching street artists move into the 'Art World' and in doing so we sometimes watch the demise of the rebellious heart which had made their street art appealing in the first place. For these artists their graffiti loving backgrounds become a selling point or even a polite notch on the CV. Thankfully Scott Marsh is not one of these artists. Second Life at The Tate (the one on Glebe Point Road above the Toxteth- not London) is an exhibition which explores Marsh's secret love affair with creating street art. More specifically, his late night rendezvous with trains, spray can in hand. Second Life is an exciting insight into dark tunnels, trespassing and love of trains that have become Marsh's very own secret life.
As you enter the space you pass through a wire fence, instantly Marsh is asking us to leave behind our conceptions of the subculture and come behind the scenes on a late night adventure. He almost hands you a can and persuades you to have a try yourself. As you progress through the exhibition you cant help but encounter a life sized train emerging from a wall. Utilising the unique character if the Toxteth's Inner West charm the train does not feel out of place. The timber structure is covered with Marsh's loose and fluid style which transforms it into the object of his desire. A creepy sinister police head pokes out a window which is itself tagged with red demonic eyes. It is a
necessary flip of the bird to Marsh's adversaries. Marsh wields a style which clearly results from years of honing his skills with the brush and spray can.
The long wall of the show is covered by a meditation on the train motif. We encounter it over and over with subtle variations and gain insight into the obsessive nature of this activity. For Marsh and his colleagues the tagging of trains is not a game or a hobby, it is a passion which has gripped their lives and this exhibition is an homage to this.On the final wall, positioned behind a fence itself is a screen displaying Marsh's documentary material. It is here that you come to understand his world and his motivation. As you watch he and his team drop down to rail level your heart starts to pound, adrenalin rises as the hand mounted camera bounces down a darkened tunnel, and then it happens.... a train slows near by. The footage quickly challenges your expectations of the practice of graffiti. Before the train has even stopped Marsh's crusaders are trotting alongside the carriage and the work has begun well before the train halts. Like a well choreographed performance the artists move effortlessly across the surface. They each contribute components to the new image being born. It is finessed and well rehearsed. In what seems like no time at all the trains side is adorned and the team disperse.
Standing there, you cant help but be mesmerised by the process. Others around me find it entertaining and amusing and no one in this crowd objects. There's a sense of collegiality and respect present across the masses. Sure it's dangerous, yes it's illegal but you leave those thoughts behind and respect the art behind the action. Not simply in the execution of the artwork but also the art of the trespass and the teamwork and planning that goes into a hit.
I suspect that Marsh may have had problems with the law on this matter, but regardless of where he makes work or if he has had permission, it is clear that the man can paint. I hope that Marsh keeps making his own trains rather than commandeering those of cityrail, although that video was mighty powerful...
Todd Fuller is a graduate of Sydney’s National Art School and is represented by Brenda May Gallery.
All images supplied by the writer.