Unbridled Berlin Street Art : Spencer Elzey in Europe

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Berliners are hard to crack, they say, but probably not for New Yorkers. We “get” them because of their no-nonsense frankness, sometimes sharp tongues, and because their “creative types” are unhinged in a way that New Yorkers have been historically.

When it comes to the volume and variety of art that is being loosed in Berlin these days, they are setting some standards that many are still catching up with. Right now when you look at the freewheeling expression that bolted out from a broken wall more than 20 years ago and never looked back, you realize that Street Artists in Berlin are not hard to crack, they may simply be a little bit cracked.

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Various & Gould (photo © Spencer Elzey)

In the third city of our series this week for Spencer Elzey’s residency on BSA, we visit Berlin, which some argue is the preeminent scene for urban art right now. It does appear to have a perfect mix for vibrant arts growth – a creatively permissive atmosphere and affordable lifestyle prevails in this city of design. And while uncommissioned public art is not legal, it is also not verboten.

The kids may come for the music and the art collectives and the dance parties, but they stay for the aerosol and the expressive faces and figures that accompany you while you walk. So far, people seem happy to let this arts scene continue to evolve and not surprisingly, tourists are magnetically drawn to it.

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Victor Ash (photo © Spencer Elzey)

As you walk through certain neighborhoods you may prepare to have your pre-conventions subverted and inverted. Awash with a decade plus of unbridled art, the scale, style, influences, and techniques of pop, illustration, and graffiti are all truly playing with each other.

Where a large spate of legal mural work has monopolized creative energies of many Street Artists in New York recently, some players have commented that the content is being tamed and neutered and the resulting scene is less risk-oriented stylistically. As you look at the work Elzey found in Berlin, you are reminded what it looks like when art laborers don’t have to self-censor or look over their shoulder. Also, it is still affordable for artists. Oh, wait, did we already mention that?

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Robi The Dog (photo © Spencer Elzey)

Out of the cities I visited the one that contrasted the most with NY was Berlin. It felt like a beautiful lawlessness with graffiti and rollers everywhere,” says Elzey as he tries to put his finger on the attitude of exploration and discovery that floods large areas of the city.

“Berlin by far had the most graffiti and Street Art in its most raw and authentic form, which is how I think it should really be experienced. It felt more free and genuine. Besides RAW and Urban Spree, which are commissioned areas, Berlin felt like a giant playground. There was graffiti and rollers everywhere and lots of abandoned factories to explore and have fun in.”

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Blu (photo © Spencer Elzey)

Berlin has been an international draw for artists and arts institutions for the last decade at least and many of the Street Art world make sure to head here at least once, sometimes staying months and couch surfing and partying an staying out all night.  Since the graffiti scene and the Street Art scene are not so polarized in the minds of people here there is also a freedom to experiment without fear of upsetting your peer group.

Luckily for BSA, local Street Artists Various & Gould were very hospitable and more than helpful and willing to tour Spencer around some of the hot spots and to give him some background on the Berlin streets. “Meeting someone you admire, be it an artist, musician, or actor, is always a special experience,” he says about being with V&G, “It feels a little different when that person is a Street Artist, or at least it does to me. The fact that part of their job means that they do illegal things, being trusted enough to be welcomed into their inner circle has deeper meaning.”

 

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Blu. Detail. (photo © Spencer Elzey)

So he was in good hands with these two who have deep roots with the artist community and who frequently challenge themselves to look at their own work with new eyes – and to find new ways to engage with passersby with their art and a bit of theater. “In the case of Various & Gould in Berlin and C215 in Vitry I was able to meet these artists on their own turf. They showed me some of their new work in their studios and then toured me around the neighborhoods that they know best,” he recalls with some delight.

“While seeing art on the streets is one thing, getting the first hand history behind it makes it more meaningful,” he says. “You get more history and depth that way.”

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Blu (photo © Spencer Elzey)

How long Berlin will continue to be a petrie dish for experimentation and discovery? Forever. Just kidding. But for the moment this ephemeral art movement is fiercely alive and more independent than many cities. Artists have always made life a bit of a moveable feast. Today its Berlin, tomorrow it could be Mexico City, or Lima, who knows?

“I think I would recommend it if you were a younger artist who was trying to break into the game and establish a name for yourself,” says Elzey.

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Blu (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Blu (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Blu (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Alaniz (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Herakut (photo © Spencer Elzey)

 

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Various & Gould (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Various & Gould (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Os Gemeos (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Nunca (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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JR (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Cooked (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Vhils (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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MTO (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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MTO (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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MTO gives Alias a shout out. (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Klone (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Neurotitan (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Vidan The Weird (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Tafe (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Reaktor and Paulo Ito (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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G (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Inti (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Ema Jones (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Klub 7 (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Broken Fingaz (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Blek le Rat (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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BLO (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Maclaim (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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ROA (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Otto Schade (photo © Spencer Elzey)

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Nychos (photo © Spencer Elzey)

Our sincere thanks to Various & Gould for their hospitality and time.

 

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