Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, started focusing on photographing graffiti after he got injured breakdancing. He casually started photographing graffiti when he was competing in international breakdance competitions and, after he was injured and had to stop dancing, he started photographing more seriously. He also has a PhD in mathematical models of DNA evolution.
He was hired by a financial company in LA and continued to document street art. After he was made redundant in the recession, he ultimately became a full time photographer.
He met Global Street Art’s web-genius Dan through a mutual friend and they started building the Global Street Art website. The first version that will start showing parts of the 60,000 photo archive will be launched in the coming month or so.
Dan and Lee, supported by private funding, went full time on February 13th 2012 and now they have two little desks in a dusty shared office in London, where they work daily to promote artists around the world, find new walls for artists in London and stand up for artists’ rights.
Where is your favourite street art?
Brazil: the graffiti there is beautiful and there’s lots of it. The police have bigger issues to worry about so there is a relative freedom for artists. Plus, people respond well to graffiti there. The street art in Sao Paolo is amazing. Argentina and Chile are also incredible. I haven’t yet been to Colombia but I hear great things!
Do you see Global Street Art as a life long commitment?
Yes. The reason I exist is to work towards building a permanent museum dedicated to preserving a visual record of street art and graffiti. We’ll start online and ultimately build a real one. It’s the most inspiring thing I’ve ever done and it’s why I’m here.
Could you tell me more about how your PhD in maths and evolution influenced this project?
I have a grounding in taxonomy. I classify things by nature – it helps me make sense of the world. I overlaid the discipline I took from biology onto the Global Street Art archive. The idea is that you should be able to explore street art and graffiti through different categories, including places, techniques, surfaces, artists and more.
Can you comment on graffiti in London, how easy is it for artists to find space in the city?
London can do better. We consider ourselves a cultured city but we’ve accepted that it is largely gray. There are only a few legal spots for artists to paint and the punishment for painting illegally is severe. I can’t stomach how willing we have been to accept billboards – there’s no value in their content; they just shout at you to buy things you probably don’t want or need.
I ride my bike to work each day looking for new spaces, finding privately owned walls and shop shutters. I stop and talk to the owners, showing them artists’ work, and ask their permission for artists to paint on their walls. London could really do better for graffiti and/or street art, for both local artists and for foreign artists who visit.
Any final words?
The buff fails!
Lee and Dan continue to promote artists all over the world at http://globalstreetart.com.