Anonymous street artist Stik is best known for his distinctive androgynous figures which can be seen everywhere, from the streets of Hackney to Tompkins Square Park in New York. With their block colours and black outlines these stick figures are instantly recognisable, their eyes reduced to dots and lines and yet managing to convey a range of expressions that evoke empathy in the viewer.
While he is not quite as reclusive as Banksy, Stik still prefers to go by a name that reflects his artistic style more than his identity, and chooses to withhold certain autobiographical information from the media. In recent years his work has been exhibited widely and the artist has been commissioned to paint a number of authorised murals, as well as holding a series of lectures and workshops to educate younger generations on street art, but he remains under the radar. This anonymity is perhaps an important part of his success and over the course of his career Stik has also proved himself to be savvy about the business side of his art, participating in key collaborations and charity partnerships that have earned him the admiration of fans all over the world as well as 50,000 followers on Instagram and a wide collector base.
While his identity may be a secret, we do know that Stik never went to art school and spent a number of years squatting or sleeping on the streets of London where his murals first appeared in 2002. He developed his style in response to the materials he could find easily – white house paint was freely available in skips – and the lack of time graffiti artists have to create their work without being seen by the police. As he puts it, “Six lines and two dots was the quickest way to draw a human figure without getting caught.” He began painting prominent sites in Hackney before branching out to Shoreditch where his work has become synonymous with the area’s hipster style. Now he operates from a studio in East London and has even published a coffee table book of his work, however he continues to work both undercover and publicly, producing his street art for free in an endeavour to draw attention to the ongoing problems of gentrification and inequality in his home city and beyond.
Stik’s wide-eyed characters look out candidly at the world around them, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs or groups. Their legs curve or bend at the knee evoking timidity or loneliness, and representing the artist’s desire to portray the marginalised and the dispossessed. While his early works were characterised by a monochrome palette, these days the artist’s commissioned works are often presented on bold background colours which add some Pop Art playfulness to his often mournful subjects.
Juxtaposed with both the brutal and genteel architecture of the city, Stik’s figures also become witty. Playing with scale he gives what could be considered a doodle, a monumental grandeur as with his work, Big Mother, a 38-metre high mural of a stick figure holding a child on her hip which was painted on the side of a tower block in Acton, West London that was demolished in 2018 to make way for luxury flats. A powerful image of protest and solidarity, it was once the tallest street artwork in the UK and visible from London flight paths.
Recently the artist has been moving into 3D work and has produced a public artwork entitled Holding Hands. The work depicts two of his signature figures ‘facing in opposite directions yet holding hands in a sign of universal love and solidarity.’ Placed in Hoxton Square the work was born from a maquette which is being sold in order to create funding for a new wave of public sculptures across East London, a move which was sparked by the ‘radical social change’ caused by the pandemic and the current government’s increasing disdain for the arts. Produced in the traditional material of bronze the work shows a significant development of the artist’s style.
While Stik is frequently referred to as the new Banksy, his influences range across all fields of art, from the situationist thinkers behind the theory of psychogeography to revered street artists such as Keith Haring and Basquiat. His block coloured backgrounds also call to mind the screen prints of Pop artist Andy Warhol while his minimalist figures bear a strong relation to Julian Opie’s work.
Stik & Thierry Noir
In 2019 Stik was invited to collaborate with celebrated street artist Thierry Noir on a mural painted on fragments of the Berlin Wall to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its fall. Initiated by the Imperial War Museum this partnership also celebrated the long tradition of street art in the German capital, where large segments of the wall are constantly covered in graffiti. At the same time the work brought a historic event from the past powerfully back to the present, educating new generations of the importance of this symbol and the divisions it represented.
Stik’s original artworks can reach up to six figures at auctions that are often held to benefit a charitable cause he has endorsed. However the artist also produces a number of more affordable editions – usually signed or unsigned prints – that are highly sought after by collectors. These are usually screen printed images of his public art figures on block colour backgrounds. Translated onto paper these evocative figures are just as powerful as their counterparts on the street, inviting the viewer to empathise with those that are often ignored by the city and its inhabitants.