Hackney-based street artist STIK has become prolific amongst activists and art-lovers alike through his internationally-recognised motif of the evolved stick man. The average value of STIK's artwork has experienced a 49% growth over the last 5 years, with the typical price paid now reaching £8,948. This increase highlights the lasting allure and worth of his creations.
That many prints and sculptures by the Hackney-based artist are sold at auction to benefit the local community perhaps helps explain the extent of STIK's success. Indeed, in September 2020, the maquette for a sculpture entitled Holding Hands realised £287,500 at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale in London, the highest price ever paid for a STIK artwork; all proceeds went to charity. This article explores the most expensive STIK pieces sold at auction to date.
In September 2020, Stik’s bronze sculpture Holding Hands was unveiled in London Borough of Hackney’s Hoxton Square. The artist donated his working model, Holding Hands (Maquette), to the council to benefit their new public sculpture programme. The maquette sold for £287,500 at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale in London on 23 October 2020 – well over double its high estimate.
Stik has reportedly raised over £250,000 for charities in Hackney. The artist has a long history with the borough – as a resident, an illicit street artist and an official collaborator with the local authorities. He first began making graffiti works in Hackney Wick in the early 2000s, spreading into Shoreditch and later the rest of London. In 2016, he worked with the council to design the official Hackney banner for the London Pride Parade. “I’ve been in Hackney for almost 20 years. I love this place. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere… I feel like Hackney’s home,” Stik stated in an interview with The Big Issue.
Continuing STIK’s social endeavours, Children of Fire bears witness to the artist’s engagement with his surrounding socio-political reality. The work consists of paint sprayed over the garage door of Pogo Café, a vegan café and anarchist information centre. Making use of his stylised and cartoonish characters, Stik made the work in response to the London Riots of 2011, which he partook in and documented. Two years after the event, Pogo Café sold the work to raise funds for social causes involved in fighting racial and class discrimination – the sale of Stik street artworks is only permitted for sale when 100% of the proceeds are allocated to a registered charity and authorised by the artist.
When it came to auction on 30 June 2022, the work was an incredibly rare example of a Stik street work, and fetched an incredible £246,000, making it the second most expensive Stik work to have gone under the hammer.
“Six lines and two dots was the quickest way to draw a human figure without getting caught,” Stik once said. The art he creates is informed by his experience of homelessness, which he struggled with on and off for many years. “I was drawing a lot,” the artist recalled. “I had carrier bags filled with drawings but when you get evicted from a squat or you get moved on… you just lose loads of stuff. For me, painting on the streets was the safest place to keep my art.” A stay at St Mungo’s Hostel, a Hackney shelter, helped him get back on his feet.
Now, Stik’s art champions activism, social causes and human connection. “Street art [is] my way of giving back to the people who helped me”. Liberty, a simplified depiction of the Statue of Liberty, was first tagged on a wall in New York City in 2013. For Stik, it is important that his art belongs in its environment and will be accepted by the local residents. “Street art isn’t just art put out into the street,” he told The Guardian. “It’s responding to the landscape. If a piece could be anywhere then what’s the point?”
Liberty also released as a series of limited-edition screen prints in five colours in 2013. A deluxe set was offered at Christie’s in London on 18 September 2019, where they achieved an auction record for Stik at the time.
In 2014, Stik made headlines when he painted a 125-foot image of a mother and child on the side of Charles Hocking House, a council estate in West London, in protest of the building’s demolition. Bringing to light issues of uprooted communities, gentrification and lack of social housing, Big Mother was the tallest mural in Britain at the time – so large that it was visible from planes leaving Heathrow airport.
Charles Hocking House was eventually demolished in 2018 but the residents saved a smaller, life-size version of Big Mother that Stik made on the side of the estate.
With Stik’s blessing, the residents pieced the smaller mural together brick by brick and offered it in Phillip’s New Now auction in London on 5 December 2018. It was estimated for £25,000-35,000 but soared to £193,750. The profits were donated to ARTification, a free art programme for residents of Charles Hocking House and the surrounding area.
“Big Mother is about the importance of social housing, it’s demolition has immortalised this message,” Stik said of the sale. “Rachel and the ARTification team helped me create the original Big Mother mural and I hope that the sale of this piece will help them to continue their ground-breaking work in the community.”
As we have come to expect from East-London artist Stik, his deceptively simplistic stick-figures manage to elicit very real emotional responses. His Untitled work from 2009 is no exception, with the figure’s visible frustration only accentuated by the more painterly approach to this particular work.
Recently sold for £170,000 at Christie’s London on 3rd March 2022, Stik’s art is driven by a desire to stake a claim on community in a world susceptible to gentrification and destruction - perhaps some of his frustration with the current social climate is seen here.
One of the first large-scale canvases that Stik made, Standing Embrace was purchased from the street artist in 2009 and kept in the same private collection until 2020, when it was offered at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale in London on 13 February 2020. The work soared past its £70,000 high estimate to achieve £156,250, over twice the expected amount.
“My work has a broad appeal because it’s very friendly,” Stik once explained. His stick people are “shorthand for emotions. They reflect how I feel."
Created in 2009 and included in Stik’s first solo exhibition, Up On The Roof is now only one of three pieces to survive from the original series of 16. A companion work, Bound, was sold at Christie’s in London in September 2017 for £35,000, an auction record for the street artist at the time. When Up On The Roof was offered at the same auction house in September 2018, it smashed its £15,000-25,000 estimate to achieve £150,000 – an increase of over 300% in just 12 months. The proceeds from the sale were used to benefit Cardboard Citizens, a theatre charity in East London working with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Here we see three of Stik’s distinctive white figures, looking rather confused as they take in their surroundings against a blue backdrop. The artist himself commented on how, despite their apparent simplicity, his stick people are able to effectively convey emotions, as “there’s a lot in the bend of a knee or the shrug of a shoulder.”
It seems that this must be the case, as Stik’s artwork continuously appeals to our own emotional receptors, through their approachable, unassuming demeanour, with this particular untitled work being sold for £131,250 at Christies London on 4th June 2021.
“The figures I draw are representing marginalised communities and have a certain dispossessed feeling about them,” claimed Stik, and we can see this sentiment realised in his incorporation of a disused steel barrel as a base for his work Untitled (2009).
Stik’s artwork, despite containing a small number of prints, ultimately belongs in the streets, in the urban environment which it stems from and which it seeks to preserve and protect. Selling for £125,000 at Christie’s London on 16th October, Untitled (2009) demonstrates Stik’s ability to understand and employ public spaces and resources to his artistic advantage - making his works more pertinent.
Socially conscious street artist Stik does not keep any of the funds raised by his works at auction, instead opting to donate those earnings to local community charities. His work Untitled (2010) fetched £125,000 at Christie’s London on March 18th 2021 and features his classic visual style, comprised of his simple, yet iconic stick figure. These figures are dotted around the globe and mark the artist’s intervention against the destruction of communities in the wake of gentrification or conflict. Their universal appeal makes them immediately recognisable and beloved as a form of passive, more accessible protest artwork.