“Our early conceptions
about a future robot world were made from what we knew about automation and
mechanics. Thankfully the surrealists and Dadaists were there to help us with
flying ships made of tea pots and mystic, amiable metal helpers soldered and
screwed together with spare train pistons and kitchen implements. Our helpers
were all carefully oiled and pumping, marching in a mathematical concert
through dry-ice fog, propelling herky-jerky humanoids up the path to the
thoroughly modern world.
Do Rabotniki exist?
They are already here. It just took Various & Gould to remind us.”
~ Steven P. Harrington in his essay “A Mixed and Matched Future-Past: Robotiniki” for “Permanently Improvised: 15 years of Urban Print Collage” by Various & Gould
The Berlin based Street Art/fine art duo have released a colorful patchwork overview of 8 major campaigns they formulated for the street in the last decade and a half and present their practice in a series of analytical essays ranging by urban/art intellectuals, activists, and experts including Jan Kage, Steven P. Harrington, Toby Ashraf, Alison Young, Luis Muller Phillip-Shohn, Ilaria Hoppe, Anne Wizorek, Mohamed Amjahid, and an illuminating interview with the artists and Polina Soloveichik. The two open their kooky-cryptic inner fantasy world to the reader and to fans who have wondered how their idiosyncratic method works, and what a world of hybrid thought will produce in our future.
The medium sized hardcover book features instructive and illustrative images of their collaged works placed illegally in the streets, created in studio, presented in the gallery, and in one case, Papier-mâchéd upon public sculptures of Marx and Engels. Intelligent, inquisitive, infused with riddles, the work is delivered with sincere scholarship and humor – even during the process of creation, public interaction, and mid degradation due to the natural elements.
Professor Young discusses V&G’s broken glass abstracts in the context of law reforms that have used the “broken glass theory” as excuse to demean and exploit targeted populations, and Phillip-Sohn looks at their recent bus-stop installation campaign called “Broken Screens” and he observes a fragile technology that, when shattered and inert, “makes us all too tragically aware of how dependent we’ve become on these devices.”
Viewers get a greater appreciation of the tribe-like mentality humans possess just beneath the veneer of civility – the dry timber only waiting to be sparked into flame. The “Wanted Witches” campaign placed 13 portraits of people who are framed as modern pioneers in respect to social issues. Painting them with phosphorus and encouraging you to light a match on them takes public interaction beyond the realms we’re familiar with. The carefully planned and executed installation on city streets powerfully presents the saint-like sacrifice of people who push ahead of us, sometimes burned at the stake as witches – whether literally or perhaps via a hostile media and politicized rhetoric.
Up to their elbows in paste, ink, paper, and possibility, at the root of much of V&G’s work is an examination of identity; its malleability, its fluidity, even its perceived relevance in societal strata. The through-line in many projects is apparent in its meditation of our flexible selves: Identikit interchanges personalities and keywords to present tensions and examine associations. St. Nimmerlein mocks the arbitrary power of declaring sainthood with fictional personas who surely don’t deserve it. Face Time is a Dadaist study that combines the likenesses and features of many into implausible yet familiar glitch-humans. The aforementioned and early Rabotniki mixes and matches bodies, parts, genders, classes, and identities in a handmade heart-conscious way.
Spread over a decade and a half many of these projects overlap and recombine, creating and reflecting a global evolution we are undergoing- a convulsive re-examination of nearly everything and everyone. The question they may be asking is, “What is the sorting method we will use to recategorize our social and political groupings?”
techniques that are reassuringly un-digital, the stunning power of V&G’s
mission, even if subliminal, is its intuitive ability to explain our current
state. With subtle nods to robotics, androids, AI, identity politics and our
innate human creativity, the duo cannily constructs the present and predicts
the future, with a sense of humor that we are going to need.
With extensive biographies, careful detailed analysis and research, and generous page real estate dedicated to art, artist, and process, “New Orleans: Murals, Street Art, and Graffiti Volume 1” by Kady Yellow is a thorough look at a street scene in one of the US’s most storied cities.
The author tirelessly documents with a sense of the history while drawing out stories that illustrate the present in a scholarly way. A blend of left and right brained appreciation and analysis, this first project by the young author gives a sense of environment and community as it contributes to the practices of graffiti and art in the streets.
“It became clear that New Orleans has a remarkable new story to tell, a story of its street art scene,” says the author. “In telling that story, I sought to respectfully and delicately collect the history of the art in two neighborhoods of New Orleans by way of research and interviews with the artists themselves.”
With anthropologically framed storytelling applied to a very eclectic selection of art practices and styles, Perry includes personal accounts of aspiration, pragmatic descriptions of craft, and a frank examination technique – all presented within the context of a local story informed by the international one.
Interspersed in the book are school primer features like an urban art terminology glossary, a New Orleans timeline tracing benchmarks in its graffiti/Street Art history, a street mural map, and a number of small essays and media article quotations – each providing one more perspective for examining the nature of this organic people’s art movement. If a city’s graffiti/Street Art scene can be fairly captured in a moment, this book has clearly made it a priority and has more than succeeded.
Nothing to lose your head about, but you’ll be thrilled
to hear about the long-anticipated release of the new monograph by the
ingenious troublemaker and largely incognito Chicago Street Artist DONT FRET.
Emerging on the streets for a decade or so with painted wit and misshapen characters wheatpasted where you least expect them, he’s the sharp observer and human humorist whose work is as brilliant as your cousin Marlene, as funny as Johnny at the funeral home, as handsome as the guys behind the counter at Publican Quality Meats.
maybe not that handsome.
“This is place-based Street Art, a running commentary on life in this neighborhood that captures the off-the-wall imperfect nature of humans in a pock-marked and still proud American city after capital leaves it, slowly imploding, coasting on fumes, hopefully rallying, quickly stratifying into luxury lofts and the rest of us,” writes Steven P. Harrington in the foreword to this hefty chunk of comedic meat. Peering through these pages, the feeling is inescapable; Somehow you sense like you know DONT FRET’S people – probably because many of them came directly from these streets.
“I think you have to live life like you are invincible,” says the artist on the back cover of Life Thus Far, “but I also think you have to live life understanding that that sort of thinking is a result of a serious psychological disorder.”
We’ll talk to
you more about this in a few weeks, and with the artist, and we’ll find out
about his circuitous route to the streets of working class Chicago, how a fish
rots from the head, the significance of the original Billy Goat on lower
Wacker, and why Studs Terkel is more relevant today than ever.
DONT FRET “LIFE THUS FAR” Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA. 2019
A retrospective at Brooklyn Museum currently showcases the photographic works and public projects envisioned and created by French Street Artist JR. Covering roughly two decades of work, JR: Chronicles dedicates an in-depth examination into his practices and personal philosophies when creating – as evidenced by this collection of his murals, photographs, videos, films, dioramas, and archival materials.
His most recent and one of his most original ideas has been to use the techniques of professional film compositing to impart a permanent, living aura for what may otherwise be static collaged works. With high res digital works working in concert, the life of the subject takes on an additional dimension, juxtaposed as it is with other figures they may or may not have ever interacted with.
Often in these recent projects you have the opportunity to see and/or hear personal recordings of the person through interviews for the piece. The centerpiece and partial namesake of this show is the new large-scale mural of more than one thousand New Yorkers whom he chose to feature, accompanied by audio recordings of each person’s story as told to him and his team.
Many of these concepts and philosophical observations, including sociopolitical commentary on a number of hot-button issues of the day, may feel familiar to fans and Street Artists around the world – particularly over the last decade and a half. Here you can see that with the number of resources and teams that he can amass, JR is able to create the ideas with a sense of largesse and garner greater audiences, putting many of his works before many more.
Epic is a word often used to describe the projects, and when you see the JR: Chronicles exhibition you can understand why.
We spoke with the curators of the exhibition Sharon Matt Atkins and Drew
Sawyer about their experience with this exhibition and how JR is defining new
areas of photography with his use of it in public space.
Brooklyn Street Art:JR created a new digital collage for this exhibition featuring a thousand or so people individually interviewed and photographed. Can you tell us about what criterion he used for selecting his subjects? Sharon Matt Atkins: JR’s main focus was on capturing the rich diversity of New York City. As such, he photographed people in all five boroughs of the city, including many neighborhoods that were new to him. While he did invite some guests to participate, most of the people were passersby, or business owners and workers of local stores.
Brooklyn Street Art:It may be that there has been a return to
black and white photography in
the last decade – so much so that one may not register the significance
that JR employs it for expression almost exclusively. How do you think
the limited palette aids his work in telling his narratives? Drew Sawyer: In
many ways, JR’s use of black and white photographs is in direct
opposition to contemporary photojournalism and the digital circulation
is images. His close-up portraits may recall the work of earlier
documentarians, such as Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange in the United
States, but JR’s decision to print them on inexpensive paper and paste
them nearby counters they ways in which images often circulate in the
global media far away from the places where his collaborators live. Also,
the monochromatic images certainly stand out against the colorful built
environments in which JR typically installs them.
Brooklyn Street Art:As you deeply analyzed his career and its
various phases, what would you
say is one of the through-lines that you see in his practice as it
evolved? Sharon Matt Atkins:
Our show is centered on his projects that have been created in
collaboration with communities. From his earliest photographs
documenting his graffiti writer friends to Inside Out with more
than 400,000 participants in 141 countries to his most recent mural The
Chronicles of New York City, JR has sought to give visibility to those
often underrepresented or misrepresented.
Brooklyn Street Art: How has JR used his work in a new way that may prove to be inspiring to photographers and fans of photography? Drew Sawyer: For JR, photography is just one part of his collaborative process. His work is really about bringing people together, lifting the voices of others who rarely have control over their own representation, countering narratives in the global media, and shifting the discourse around specific issues and events. He started his practice before there were social media apps like Instagram, which now provide platforms for many people to do the same in a digital form. Since then, JR has explored how new technologies can help him tell and share more stories. I hope his process inspires other artists to use photography in similar and new ways.
“Since 2017 JR has been creating participatory murals inspired by the work of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera in the first half of the twentieth century. In the summer of 2018, JR and his team spent a month roaming all five boroughs of New York City, parking their 53- foot-long trailer truck in numerous locations and taking photographs of passersby who wished to participate. Each was photographed in front of a green screen, and then the images were collaged into a New York City setting featuring architectural landmarks. More than a thousand people were photographed for the resulting mural, The Chronicles of New York City. The participants chose how they personally wanted to be represented and were asked to share their stories, which are now available on a free mobile app.”
– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum
“In January 2009 JR carried out another iteration of Women Are Heroes in Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest slums in Africa. Following close dialogue with the community, JR covered rooftops with water-resistant vinyl printed with photographs of the eyes and faces of local women. The images both transformed the landscape and provided protection from the rain.
The train that ran along the Kibera line was also covered with photographs of the eyes of women who lived directly below, and images of the lower halves of their faces were pasted on the slope beneath the tracks so that as the train passed, their faces were completed for a few seconds. The idea was to celebrate, or at the very least to acknowledge their presence. Of his projects, JR has said, ‘I search with my art to install the work in improbable places, to create with the communities projects that promote questioning. . . and to offer alternative images to those of the global media.’ ”
– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum
“On October 8, 2017, for the last day of the Kikito installation at the U.S.-Mexico border, JR organized a gigantic picnic on both sides of the wall. Kikito, his family, and dozens of guests came from the United States and Mexico to share a meal. People at both sides of the border gathered around the eyes of Mayra, a ‘Dreamer,’ eating the same food, sharing the same water, and enjoying the same live music (with half the band’s musicians playing on either side). “
– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum
JR: Chronicles is curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, Director of Exhibitions and Strategic Initiatives, and Drew Sawyer, Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator, Photography, Brooklyn Museum. This exhibition is now open to the public. Click HERE for dates, times and directions.
Image Description A (see earlier in article) “As the first photograph in what would become JR’s Portrait of a Generation, this image launched his career. The series was initiated when Ladj Ly, a filmmaker, and resident of Cité des Bosquets (called “Les Bosquets”), a public housing complex in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, invited JR to collaborate on a project in the neighborhood.
JR said of the image: ‘I took this picture when I was eighteen. It was the first time I went to Les Bosquets. If you look carefully in the back, you can see small posters from Expo 2 Rue—and I wrote ‘Expo D Boske.’ The kids asked me if I could take a picture of them. This photo of Ladj Ly filming me was the first one on the roll of film, and I felt something special had happened. This image is very emblematic of my work and of the message of this project with Ladj.’
This photograph was also the first large-scale image that JR and his friends wheat-pasted in the neighborhood prior to the riots there in 2005. It appeared as the backdrop in photographs accompanying newspaper articles and television footage about the uprising, thereby becoming JR’s first published work. “
– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum
Image Description B (see earlier in article) “In 2013 JR learned that the housing towers in Les Bosquets were going to be demolished, so he revisited the Portrait of a Generation project. Using images from the original series, he and a team pasted portraits in the building before it was destroyed. He recalled, ‘We couldn’t get authorization to paste inside. So we got plans from the former inhabitants, and we entered at night, twenty-five of us, and spread out over all the different floors. We pasted eyes in someone’s kitchen, a nose in someone else’s bathroom, and a mouth in a living room. . . . When we came down, the police arrested us, but they couldn’t understand why we had just spent hours in this building that was about to be destroyed. The pastings were so big that they couldn’t see what they were. The next day, when workers started the demolition, the portraits were revealed, little by little, while the cranes were ‘eating’ the building. Only the people who were in the neighborhood that day witnessed the gigantic spectacle unfold.’ “
In the Street Art continuum that presents itself to the passerby on city streets, the early practice of hand-drawn tags on stolen postal stickers eventually morphed into mass-produced slick runs of personal branding and large scale one-off hand rendered/cut paper pieces wheat-pasted with a brush. This story, ever-evolving, is more inclusive than some may think of when you talk generically about “slaps” on a door or on the base of a streetlamp in the city’s visual dialogue. For the book Stickers Vol 2, author DB Burkeman takes a wider survey of the practice, however, and in his second compendium, he goes where BSA has always followed the creative spirit; wherever it leads.
In practice, there are few strictly “sticker artists”. More often there are artists and taggers who also use stickers as part of their public practice which may include painting, aerosol tagging, freehand marker tagging, printing, wheat pasting, sculpture. By adapting the techniques and language of advertising, propaganda, and branding, artists have seized the opportunity to have a voice in the public sphere that is more often only reserved for commercial interests.
Street Artists’ practices of self-promotion are
indistinguishable from those of commercial or political interests – and why
not? The public space has always been used as a battleground for ideas, a
marketplace for attention, a proving ground of identity and power, a theater
for capturing imagination, a Socraterial classroom for presenting and probing
ideas and the examination of our assumptions about them.
In a fiercely democratic way, with a very low admission
price, all motivations are presented here, and all of them are flawed, and all
of them are perfect.
Burkeman’s sophisticated examinations of sticking practices are equally wide in his survey – his own full immersion into art, music, performance, consumer psychology, pop culture, and advertising giving him a comprehension and appreciation of its seeming seamlessness.
Burkeman’s introductory essay addresses topics ranging from billboard busting, culture jamming, market forces and Warhols’ bananas – admitting that his baseline appreciation has not waned even as his own study lead him ever deeper and deeper into an ocean he still hasn’t fully fathomed since launching his first sticker volume, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art.
“Even after ten years of having this adhesive monkey on my back, I’m surprised that I can still get a kick out of the conversation that happens on the street when someone puts up a sticker,” he says. “It’s like a radiating signal to have others put their own stickers up next to it, as if to say, ‘hey, what’s up?’ The result is a cluster of paper and vinyl personalities.”
Keeping it contemporary, he also calls in experts from this idiosyncratic world of expressions to further your appreciation for the sticking practice as a reflection of society and a catalyst for it – from the Street Artist Invader to the blue-chip curator/innovator Jeffrey Deitch to fans/visionaries like Stretch Armstrong, C.R. Stecyk III, Dante Ross, and The Super Sucklord.
Using his first book as calling card, many doors have opened to Burkeman, enabling access to collections and rarities, deep dives into the crates, selections of unknowns that you would otherwise not have access to – let alone the opportunity to appreciate. You also get a selection of stickers for your own collection by serious names, including Bast, Lister, Shepard Fairey, Skullphone, Futura, Ron English, and Neckface.
“Cheap, immediate, and unapologetically in your face, the sticker remains the go-to, lo-fi expression for many a band, brand, and fan,” says Don Letts, a founding member of Big Audio Dynamite, among other things. Clearly, the images and messages sent and received using this method have been a boon to those looking to have a voice, and the sticker practice will continue apace. Undoubtedly, DB Burkeman has it covered.
When academics and post-modern esoteric
poets plunge into descriptions of graffiti sometimes they proffer colorful didactics
and clever terminology like “mark-making” and “gestural” to describe the
tagging practice. Conceptualist, graffiti writer, and multimedia artist MRKA
takes a step toward the mundane and discovers a new kind of poetry with his “Utility
Paying homage to the physical expression as well as the visual one, MRKA re-frames the fluorescent utility symbols that construction crews communicate with and rely upon. Here he helps you see it as art and communication in his uniquely bright look at mark-making. In interviews with professionals who he features spraying the streets, you also learn that there is a certain pride of creation that overlaps the braggadocio of graffiti writers who hit up walls across cities.
A limited edition book that was released to commemorate the solo exhibition that he procured in Manhattan last fall, “Utility Writers” also presents the MRKA’s own crafted alphabet derived from the directional urban hieroglyphics that we see and are blind to on our daily trip through the city.
Perhaps it is their individual
flair and sense of expression to which he is most drawn; It’s “the
endless possible interpretations of these symbols, and ultimately the individuals
involved, who write,” he says when describing his experience capturing the collection
of works on New York City asphalt and its sidewalks between 2016 and 2018.
“No matter where humans are or go, there is a good chance you may find a mark or story being told,” says Brazilian pixação writer and billboard crusher Sabio in an essay in which he tells us this need to leave something in public space is universal.
“The human hand can hold things, but more importantly it can mark a surface. For thousands of years we have left the writing on the wall, or in many cases, the ground. Look around you and find secret messages calculated and hidden everywhere. We live in big cities and a performance of shapes exist right beneath our feet.”
Study the method, study the panache, study the complete alphabets he has distilled, and you can understand the intensity of dedication MRKA employs to help draw the parallels.
“…As the book shows, both construction workers and graffiti writers share a bent toward creative expression through letter forms,” says filmmaker Selina Miles here. “I think this book suggests that if these two seemingly disparate groups have so much in common, maybe the compulsion to write your name on shit is just one of the basics of human nature.”
Utility Writers. Designed and edited by MRKA. Cover Spray by Lebron718. NYC.
Almost a decade after the Stencibility festival began in Tartu, Estonia, and just in time for the launch of their 2019 program, the first edition zine has been released. Full of images, essays, interviews, and personal experiences of art in the streets in this eastern European city of 93,000, the opening foreword is by co-founder of the festival, who goes by a one name moniker of Sirla, and who serves as editor of the issue along with longtime organizer Kadri Lind.
Championing a pretty straight-forward
philosophy toward individual artistic participation in the streets, Stencibility
has stayed clear of common commercial pitfalls familiar to festival organizers
while espousing a refreshing philosophy of inclusion and participation.
Yes, there are film programs and artists talks, and even tours and “tabling” with educational information, but there is not a discernable “positioning” for sales or branding of those events, keeping them within the realm of social study, urban studies, expression, and possibly self-realization. It helps that Tartu as a city supports the festival, owing as much to its history as a university town as its desire to retain or attract many of the younger population who flooded out of the city in the post-Soviet era.
Aside from Sirla’s reasoned, seasoned and insightful observations and distinctions that help define the Street Art scene locally and trends in international discussions, we’re also excited and intrigued by the ground rules of the Stencilbility manifesto that are printed just inside the zine. It clearly places some civic responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the artistic intervener:
Public space belongs to everyone who uses it.
It is everyone’s duty to take care of it, like you would your own home
The purpose of street art is to enrich, not deface, public space.
All additions are welcome. If you don’t like it, improve it.
To guarantee ultimate creative freedom, act according to your conscience, not laws and regulations.
Indicative of the open-minded atmosphere that brings illegal art-making in the streets is one of the interviews in the zine with artist Kairo. She spends hours painting electrical boxes with various decorative motifs and styles and has coined her own term to describe her technique as “acryliti“, a blending of the word acrylic and graffiti.
So unconcerned is Kairo about transgressing public/private space with her art practice that half of her street gear is paint and the other half is her baby in a stroller. Not a tagger per se, she’s had her share of late night excursions with two or three others, but that cat-and-mouse game that seems to energize vandals in western countries isn’t on display.
“Actually, there haven’t been as many incidents as maybe I’d like,” she says. “That might just exemplify the special friendly atmosphere of Tartu. The police have never talked to me, only driven by. They have startled me, but never engaged with me directly. And people have asked me with a confused look, why do I do this at night? I answered them, ‘I don’t have time during the day.’”
Enthusiastic authors like Serge Louis can make Street Art sing, even in print. His new “Stencilists/Pochoiristes” is a finely illustrated hardcover of iconic images from the street. The carefully selected plates are placed within interviews in French and English.
The 17 stencillists whom he has selected are from a populated field of possibilities but he captures a fair range from his travels in Europe – with a few from the US to compliment them.
In the intro from Samantha
Longhi, who wrote a weekly stencil column here at BSA years ago – in
addition to being a gallerist and former editor of Graffiti Art magazine – you
get the sweetest memory of a Miss Tic stencil being buffed in her neighborhood,
and a sense for how it rocked her world.
“I had truly lost it that day. I felt that this ‘Birth of Venus’ that
was re-interpreted by the Parisian stencil artist literally belonged to me,”
she says. “It was the stencil I looked at every day, morning and evening, and I
had made it mine. It was the beginning of everything for me.”
You can tell that
this is the same level of appreciation that Mr. Louis invests in his book, with
ample space given to the artists to express their specific approach to the
lunacy of art on the streets.
“The first trigger was living with two graffiti artists when I was a student,” recalls stencillest Jaune talking about his introduction coming from graffiti. “They would go out tagging at night, putting up small works in the streets… This is how I discovered the graffiti movement. I was very interested in the fact that artists could, just like that, write something completely unauthorized on walls! But I didn’t want to do it myself because visually it wasn’t me. The second trigger was the stencillist Banksy.
Speaking of the famous Bristol-born stencil artist, there are a couple
of topics that recur throughout these interviews; most of these 2nd/3rd
generation practitioners point to their pioneers like Blek Le Rat, Banksy, Mis
Tic, Jef Aerosol, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, and C215 for setting the standard. The
second topic that comes up frequently is that cutting stencils is a time-consuming
practice and it is far more involved than most people appreciate.
The photorealist Niz talks about her work in a way that many artists can appreciate. “If you were working with a regular job, if you work an eight hour day, you come home and all your creative energy has been used for something else. Because actually, you need to have time and energy to think about your stencil. You need to execute it. You need to look for materials and do all that stuff. So, unless you are rich and wealthy and you can afford a lot of free time that is disposable, it is challenging doing stencils!”
” …you have to carry this wet and sticky template around with you, which adds some serious complications to bombing. Secondly you have to have some type of tight spray can control to pull it off. Thirdly there is a lot of thought to put into stencil design prior to painting. I think anyone that has ever tried stencil art and is actually pulling it off, would agree with me.”
From painterly and multi-layered, to the simplicity of symbols, in the vernacular of advertising, or with a knowledge of art history, the collection represents a good cross section despite the limited size of the list. In his essay, the author is an idealist, and a philosopher – revealing his engagement to be as civic as it is poetic.
“Stencillists are first and foremost profoundly human. And radically humanistic,” he writes.
“They release citizens to express themselves… their criticism of the world is essential and vital for us. They take risks. They raise awareness. Stencil artists radically change how we look at things, as a passerby or as a resident, making us more attentive and more alert to the urban condition..”
Maedia Publishing will host a book signing on June 1st at 212 Arts Gallery in Manhattan. Click HERE for all the details.
Before there was a scene in Las Vegas, there was a scene in
Not in just the shimmering, drink slamming, dice rolling, pink-fur bikini with a rhinestone choker kind of way – that’s the real Las Vegas scene that you may think of – but in the urban art scene as well.
In this context the Las Vegas graffiti/Street Art scene that existed in the 1990s and 2000s that led up to a massive “Meeting of Styles” in 2012 was lively and varied and leaned more toward lettering, handstyle, and characters. Later, beginning in 2013 with a music/art festival called “Life is Beautiful”, a select group of international Street Artists were paid by public and private interests to help the city tap into a growing interest in urban decoration with eye-popping murals.
You can see both families of aesthetics at play here on the pages of the new hardcover “Street Art Las Vegas” (Smallworks Press) by William Shea and Patrick Lai, local photographers who have studied the city’s scene closely. Presenting documentation primarily from the 2010s, it is a pretty complete overview of the art-on-the-streets divided into geographical sectors of the city.
In very personal texts and essays that reference local developments and flavors, the authors give a sense of the changing political and social dynamics in the city. Notably in such a short period of a decade you learn that popular tastes, behaviors, shifts in demographics, and legal regulations evolve relatively quickly regarding art in the streets – in a city where presentation and image are often paramount.
No surprise, Vegas can take on the air of spectacle.
“With the increased growth of East Fremont Street, the Arts District became a regular destination for landscape and portrait photographers. Many visitors began to utilize the painted walls as backdrops for graduation and group photos and were willing to pay the extra cost just to use the property,” write the authors to describe the near frantic adoration that surrounded the new murals in one part of town at a certain point.
Despite what appears to be a commercial element that bends the aesthetic landscape away from local talent, the choices of work here are additive, good quality, contextual and well framed.
As long-time urban explorers and artists, we’re attracted to the tales of stuff off the beaten path, which they preserve in a chapter called “Outer Limits”:
“From the back-city streets to the deepest corner of the desert,
the vast landscape surrounding the city creates and environment that continues
to amaze even the most experience art seekers. Hidden from public view, large-scale
projects can be discovered for those willing to venture out, explore and get
dirty. In most cases, day trips to these areas yield the greatest finds for
those looking for something beyond your average wall.”
Amid the detritus of the urban cityscape in decline, it is a
welcome contrast to see a dandelion or wild daisy sprouting up from a crack in
the sidewalk. Not only is it a reminder of the original inhabitants of the land
you are standing on it is an ever-present truth that the plants and the trees
and the animals will inherit the earth again, no matter what grand ideas you
have for it.
The simplest symbol of nature in the layered debris of urban
margins, and a decorative one, is the flower that Micheal De Feo has been
“planting” on walls since the early 1990s. The practice has sustained him
through many cities and travels abroad, introducing him to artists and fans and
collectors, eventually pushing him into explorations of contemporary art.
“Conceptually, I had stumbled upon something that made sense to me on so many levels,” he says in his new hardcover book,”Flowers”, published this spring by Abrams, New York. “Using whimsy and beauty, I was inspiring smiles and also making connections to ideas about the cycle of life and the ephemeral nature of all things.”
The collection of early images of this simple flower popping up in many streets and scenes remind you of your connection to nature and to his art, almost taking it for granted.
learn from watching your artwork set roots in a city,” say the Street Art duo
Faile in their intro to the book, “causing people to pause in an alley or on a
side street, to stop and look: You see the city in broader terms.”
Now expanding in studio to abstractions and a gestural piling-up of brushstrokes around and upon commercial figurative photography and more recently over top images of classical painting, De Feo is refining and redefining his practice. The newer works are well suited for magazine covers and living room walls as he transitions to a decorative contemporary oeuvre. But the simplicity is still there, happy to be in your world.
so you’re the flower guy!”.
If you are in NYC this Thursday, April 25th Michael De Feo will be hosting a Pop-Up party, exhibition, book signing and the release of a new special print in celebration of his book FLOWERS. The Pop-UP will be held at 198 Allen Street from 6:30 – 9:00 pm on April 25th and on Friday, April 26th from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Context and placement are key to the success of Street Art. Jay Shells’s project, “The Rap Quotes” more than meets those standards. Indeed his project might be one of the most relevant examples of street art responding to a specific time and place in history that you’ll ever see.
We’ve been repping Jay Shells (Jason Shelowitz) for years since we first found his text-based signage on Brooklyn streets in the oddest of locations. Within a short time they began to make sense, and then brilliant sense – since they acted as a GPS for some of your favorite rap lyrics.
“What if somehow these lyrics existed
visually, in the exact location mentioned?” he says to illustrate his original
Since that time the artist has taken
his Rap Quotes across the country (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles),
faithfully hunting down streets and neighborhoods and corners and businesses
referenced by a host of recordings from classic rap era and a few of the new
kids on the block as well.
“I’ve always had a serious passion for
lyricism, partly because I’ve always been envious of people who are gifted with
words,” he says in his new hardcover book that documents the 5 year campaign.
It is gratifying to see him out scaling the telephone poles and climbing
ladders with drill in hand to post these signs. They are a semi-permanent claim
to public space and people’s history at the same time; a recognition of an art
form of writing that rarely gets such laudatory treatment.
See the video at the end documenting the process – which Shelowitz credits as being the force that encouraged him the most. “My friend Bucky (Turco) ran a magazine and website called Animal New York, and when I told him about the project, he wanted to be involved. He introduced me to his newly hired photographer and videographer, Aymann Ismail at a party on a Friday night in early March 2013. We hit the streets early the next morning to get the 30 signs up, with Aymann document the process. About a week later, they posted the video and photos with a short write-up, and the rest is history.”
Check out some photos of the book in
the mean time.
Anyone born after 1960, and that includes most sticker artists on the street today, has a positive association with the humble sticker. From “smiley” and “gold star” rewards stuck to the top of your grade-school class papers to scratch-n-sniff or puffy stickers to MAD magazine product parodies for Quacker Oats and Minute Lice, a lot of kids grew up with good feelings about slaps.
Over the past two decades a serious community of sticker designers, traders,
artists, exhibitors and collectors has emerged – virtually assuring that public
bathrooms in heavy metal/ punk / hip hop/ alternative music clubs will be covered
top to bottom or ‘smashed’ with stickers. Adhesive equivalents of a business
card or portfolio sample for many artists, musicians, philosophers, anarchists,
and wise guys/gals, stickers are a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get
your message out to the world.
The sticker artist and curator named “I Will Not” has rallied together
thousands, even hundreds of thousands of stickers by artists from all over the
world during the last few years to mount sticker shows inside of the gallery
space – taking the concept of a group show into near infinity. A solo practice
intended for public campaigns, the global interconnectedness of this scene is
irrefutable, enabling entire galleries to showcase a massive amount of work at
once, including these from the DC Street Sticker Expo.
Like most subcultures, this one has a semi-tight set of rules and conventions and customs. For example, it is common to share your stickers in packs with other artists, but you are expected to put theirs up in your city. As in graffiti and Street Art, it is also verboten to obscure another artists sticker with yours on the street and any violation of this rule may result in “beef”, or a street grudge and public rivalry.
A book like “Smashed” can only come about with the complete passion of an author like IWillNot, who shares his infectious enthusiasm for the sticker game in this softcover volume. Here are some images from the book, as well as a link to learn more about it.