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Women’s words on the street

Men no longer have a stranglehold on the ‘sub-cult’ of the graffiti street artist, says Girls on Top member Jane Fletcher, aka Pixie

07 May, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Jane Fletcher and examples of her work

YOUR eyes will have gazed upon the work of Pixie – the artist Jane Fletcher’s working moniker – as she is a regular contributor to the biggest art gallery in the world. But you may not know it was the work of the Gospel Oak-based painter.

Jane is a member of the celebrated Girls On Top graffiti crew, a global ensemble stretching from London to Australia via Grimsby, Bournemouth and Newcastle – a groundbreaking team of street art proponents who for more than 10 years have been bucking trends in the once-male dominated word of graffiti and street art culture.

Last week, the Camden New Journal reported how a piece celebrating NHS workers has appeared in Gospel Oak – and how “Pixie” was behind it.

Jane grew up in a house where practical art was encouraged – her mother was a primary school teacher. She and her sister had a shed in their garden where they would build cityscapes for their dolls, who had been made into punks with the aid of brutal scalp-clinging hair cuts.

“I spent a lot of my childhood drawing on things and on people,” she says. “I always wanted to leave my stamp or mark somewhere.”

Jane originally had ambitions to be a children’s illustrator, revelling in the likes of Where The Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl collaborator Quentin Blake and Mr Men creator Roger Hargreaves.

“Because my mother was a teacher, we were bombarded by visual art,” she says.

In her teens, she watched the UK’s burgeoning graffiti art scene and wanted to be part of it.

“The world of graffiti is like a sub-cult,” she says. “It is something to be a part of. I became more and more immersed.”

After taking an art foundation course at Nottingham, Jane won a place at the prestigious Falmouth College of Art – but left before completing her course.

“I was studying illustration and wanted to draw on my graffiti influences,” she says. “My tutors did not like it. They seemed to want to produce uniform graduates who understood how to make a living in commercial art. I didn’t want to do that.”

Jane Fletcher working on a piece in Gospel Oak celebrating the NHS 

A spell travelling saw her down her paint for a time – until it gave her the chance to remember why she lived for art as she painted a giant water tower on a sheep ranch in Australia. It proved to be the spark for her to pick up her cans again.

Returning home, she worked in a call centre as she built up a portfolio and earned commissions. Then, 10 years ago, she moved to London and worked commercially.

It was around this time Girls On Top was formed – a crew that would tour London looking everywhere for a space that could act as a public canvas.

A founder member, who signs her pieces Chock, met Jane when she was hosting a workshop.

“I had never painted with another girl – and we had a real laugh. It was lovely,” says Jane.

“Back then, it wasn’t so common to see women in the graffiti scene – but that is now changing, and there are now several all-woman crews about.”

She cites the growing understanding of street art as a legitimate form of expression as helping make it more accessible in general, and to women in particular.

“It used to be quite intimidating as a scene,” she says. “It took a lot of courage to paint my drawings. Painting on walls with boys was a very different vibe.”

Nowadays there is a much better gender balance. “I was painting at a festival last year and I would say it was a 50-50 split gender-wise,” she adds. “It is brothers and sisters now – it is all about what you paint, not what gender you are.”

Topics covered by graffiti are also subject to intense pressure for change, she says.

“Graffiti is a very real scene, insofar as it reflects the neighbourhood it is in at any given time.

“Sometimes people can find that quite scary – something that is aggressive makes you feel uncomfortable,” she says. “But it works the other way too – if a piece has a happy vibe, it makes the person feel good. It is a reflection of the way a society feels about itself, and as public art, that gives it a role as a form of commentary.

“It is overtly political in that way.”

Under lockdown, she has turned to working in her Camden Town gallery and produced an interactive book of street art called @smiles4milesbooks.

Jane’s works draw on a number of influences, from her interest in children’s stories to the Japanese animation Anime. The aim is for it to catch the eye and prompt a response: “ I like them to be bright, colourful and funny,” she says.

She is reticent to say exactly where she might be found working outside – the cloak of secrecy still hangs over crews as they seek new spaces, sometimes accessed in a not altogether “legal” manner.

“Each time we go out, it is different – a new adventure,” she says.

“London has so many spaces that work for art – it is very unpredictable and very mysterious. You never know what you may run into.”

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