“I started drawing stick people when I was old enough to pick up a pencil, and I just never really stopped,” said anonymous street artist Stik, who counts Elton John, Bono and Brian May among his collectors. An activist for social and political causes, many of his artworks have been sold to benefit charitable causes, with new record prices set regularly over the last few years. Here, we examine some of Stik’s top works at auction and the stories behind them.
Holding Hands (Maquette), £287,500
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.
5 Works: Liberty, £200,000
“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.
Big Mother, £193,750
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.”
Standing Embrace, £156,250
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. The curve of the back, how tucked in the chest is… there’s a lot in the bend of a knee of the shrug of a shoulder.”
Up on the Roof, £150,000
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.