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.
A welcome and necessary addition to any graffiti academic’s library comes Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore, carefully documented by Freddy Alva. A thorough recounting of the birth and growth of graffiti through the lense of punk and hardcore scenes after 1980, Alva presents a parallel evolution of a scene as it was interpreted by a largely white constituency of rockers, anarchists, and rebels who grew up in and around New York at that time.
Alva is careful to give due to the graffiti scene that is more often identified as the roots of this practice of urban mark making; the hip-hop culture of primarily black and latino youth during the 1960s and 1970s. As the neoliberal corporate capitalists took over Wall Street and the Reagan White House, a different sort of graffiti writer was often showing up on the street – and often on stage as part of a hardcore band.
Mr. Alva says that early hardcore bands like Frontline “became an important foundation to the eventual hardcore and graffiti synthesis that would come to envelop the scene.” It makes sense since the band featured graff writers including HYPER, RACE, ME62, and NOAH.
It’s an infrequently told history related in great detail following a timeline which identifies the “golden age” of this subcultural hybrid as 1985-1995. Packed full of extensive interviews with writers and essays by experts on the scene like Sacha Jenkins, it summons a gravel-voiced city cinema vérité flavor to a rugged unvarnished history and sometimes conflicting perspectives.
The series of interviews profile a wide number of individuals who are looking back on a common graff writing history; sometimes imparting a certain nostalgic haze to their stories. Their common path leads them to espouse philosophies and worldviews that are somehow universally rooted in struggle, but the insights and individual outcomes are anything but homogeneous. But almost all of them dislike or hate Street Art, that’s nearly universal.
You may not have been there, but you may feel like you were; its complete with amateur photography, a good selection of zines, black book works, ephemera, and some serious info-graphics on crews, members, and neighborhoods where they originated from (shoutout to designer Orlando Arce). The thick tome even offers a selection of relevant tattoo photos.
With a newly released second edition after only one year on the bookshelves, this one captures a big name that is as elusive as it is heralded by New York hardcore graffiti fans, REVS. Also a member of a hardcore band named Adam 12, the writer gives a great deal of insight into his path, ethos and career (see the first online publishing of a portion of this interview on BSA).
Tony Rettman, author of NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 gives praise to Alva for chronicling a scene that not many have paid sufficient due to and which contributed in a large way that clearly illustrates the interstitial relationships of New York’s various graffiti cultures.
“The correlation between graffiti culture and punk rock is something solely concentrated to New York and it’s surrounding boroughs,” Rettman writes. “Freddy Alva was there to absorb it all in real time and now he gives us the clear-cut history of the whole deal it all its grim and gritty glory.”
“I have had the good fortune of maintaining decades-long friendships with some of the people featured in these pages; the writers that played in bands, the writers that represented the scene, the graffiti crews that were composed of hardcore fans, the photographers of classic train pieces, the artists inspired by hardcore iconography, the tattooists that incorporated this imagery in their work… I have always wanted to give these voices an outlet to be heard and to be celebrated,” Alva writes.
With Urban Styles, he has.
*Banner poem excerpt by Chaka Malik, 2017
To purchase this book please click on the link below:
One benefit of being ahead of your time is that you can paint your own rules, discover your own voice, set a standard. A drawback is that you may have to push forward on your own before you gain support for what you are pursuing. The key is to keep moving.
As Futura pulls fully into the frame of contemporary artist, its important for upcoming artists to remember that he had a long route – including being a bike messenger on Manhattan’s untamed streets to provide for his family – while he was waiting until the rest of the street and art world caught up with him. Now that Street Art has confirmed that his abstract explorations on subway trains were an early sign of what was coming, brands and gallerists and collectors often call. “Full Frame” helps appreciate the body of work he developed during that time.
Self named Futura 2000 when that sounded futuristic, Lenny Gurr
has done more painting on canvas than he realized since the early 80s and his
style has continued to evolve and clarify.
“Just for people to finally get a look at my work – I feel like a lot of what is being revealed hasn’t really been seen,” he tells us as he describes the nearly 300 page yellow tome “Full Frame,” published by Drago and organized by Magda Danysz. Among the richly illustrated pages, Danysz presents important benchmarks in Futura’s steadily growing career and personal life that bring the evolution closer to the reader.
In terms of the visual language in these sketches, diagrams and canvasses, there are a wealth of orbs and symbols and sprays and washes and stellar interstellar journeys that you have never seen before. Evolution appears to be natural for Futura, his pores and nerve endings collecting signals, firing synapses, pushing deep into imaginary worlds.
Influences run from expressionists, abstractionists, modernists, punks, the race to the moon and the moonage daydreams of city hippies everywhere. His recurring circle motifs are as much about his internal mind and world as they are about the cosmos.
A sense of balance in the chaos is always present, the palette choices impeccably on point, sharply sweet and frequently daring. Is this fantasy or diary? If Futura hasn’t flown to most of these places, it’s not because he hasn’t tried. But we’re treating these pages and frames of eye-popping other-worlds as evidence that he has.
“I think for the most part people appreciate survivors,” he is quoted in the book. Few survivors could be so freely percolating with ideas and graceful in their delivery.