The writing is on the wall, literally, throughout the street art and graffiti scene right now, and you’re forgiven if it is confusing. We’re confused. We’re also clear on a few things.
The silent storm of Covid-19 has battered our doors and now is simply caving in the roof. The open rift between races and our legacy of disenfranchisement of our own is on parade. The one party system disguised as two stands by; quietly and deliberately offering no big ideas or massive structural programs to backstop the economic collapse either, content simply to hand out the contents of all the cupboards to friends.
The prediction from the first piece below doesn’t sound like the prophetic future shock of Gil Scott Heron as it did when he released it. Rather, its a given. While social media is still relatively unregulated, that is.
Here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Amir Diop99, Melvin Q, Michaelangelo, Mustafina, and Pedro Oyarbide.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Graff train writer, street artist, and studio artist CRASH invokes a Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:13) here to find common ground in a nerve-wracking, sad, and polarized time in New York.
This year’s Welling Court Mural Project was necessarily unannounced, as organizer Alison Wallis wanted to be responsible for people’s health and avoided the possibility of crowding – inviting just a few people at a time to paint, and notifying just a few that the action would happen.
The artists didn’t always know what they would do ahead of time either, including old-skool NYC goldstar veteran CRASH and one of the last decades’ stencil talents Joe Iurato, who decided to combine their styles to see how it would play. Then they got talking, thinking and in a flash decided to collaborate.
Joe’s stencil was cut from a photo he had taken at the same spot at last year’s edition of Welling Court; Cey Adams had painted there last year as well and he had taken his grandchildren along for the ride. At some point, the three kids were sitting on the step ladder together and Joe snapped the photo. Iurato thought he’d bring the kids back this year via stencil.
“Joe and I didn’t talk about integrating our work together,” says CRASH, who was assisted by Gemini. “We just did it! – it looks really nice.”
CRASH says he was encouraged by artist Queen Andrea to do something new for the wall instead of writing his name, which he customarily would innovate by playing with fonts, styles, colors, and techniques. When he was thinking of a word to convey his hopes for his fellow New Yorkers, he tells us that at first, he was going to do the Spanish word for love – Amor. But ultimately ‘Love’ won out.
“Each letter is a different typeface that signifies something,” CRASH tells us. “The letter ‘L’ contains a play on a thermometer because of the health crises we’re in. I wanted to keep the ‘O’ light so I used ice cream colors so it looks like an ice cream cone. The ‘V’ is falling because love is becoming something that is almost nonexistent and we need to hold onto it. The ‘E’ is just an old-fashioned graffiti style ‘E’ which is what we do,” he says, “So put it all together and it’s love in a tough time.”
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. Chip Thomas and True Artivism
BSA Special Feature: Chip Thomas and True Artivism
We’re switching it up a little this week and recommending an audio podcast with Radio Juxtapoz instead a film. We think you’ll dig it.
Chip Thomas (aka Jetsonorama), his art, and his photography has of course been featured on BSA and his work/life/activism perhaps 40 times since the late 2000s, but its usually been a blend of other peoples’ stories that we have helped him deliver.
Over the years we have facilitated his historically informed storytelling on the health and life of people on the Navajo Nation, the US dumping radioactive matter there, issues surrounding climate change, the voting rights act, the March on Selma, the favelas in Rio, his “Painted Desert” multi-year project with invited Street Artists.
All the time Chip has been showing us how to bridge communities, raise awareness, through socially engaged street art and photography.
Here you’ll enjoy Evan Pricco and Doug Gillen as they dig deep through the personal and professional history of this artist, activist, and doctor. For once here you’ll hear his actual voice and trace his navigational route in storytelling about himself and the path he’s taken to bring to the surface of our consciousness the people who the US historically makes invisible.
Chip Thomas Is Telling The Story Of The Navajo Nation Through Street Art. Via Radio Juxtapoz.
Occupy City Hall is a movement that appears to bear a very close resemblance to the Occupy Wall Street movement nine years ago. Born with the protests against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, this movement created an encampment located on Centre Street next to City Hall Park and near The David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building, named after the 1990s mayor.
Occupy City Hall is open 24 hours a day and at the height of the protests it drew hundreds of people who joined the activists with their demands to trim the NYPD budget at least $1 billion from the police department’s current $6 billion budget. During the debates and passing of the new budget at the beginning of July the City appeared to have cut a billion, but critics say it was some fancy footwork that gave the appearance of giving citizens what they demanded.
We went to the camp on a day just after the encampment had experienced heavy rains and suffered an early morning raid by the police. It had an unsettled atmosphere, with some raging outbursts and some quietly warm generosity exhibited among the primarily young crowd. Guess everyone needs a sense of balance these days. The encampment has a communal library, a space for drinking tea, room for meditation and, a sign-making workshop. Most people are welcomed and it also provides a safe space for homeless people in need of a hot meal, a place to rest, and clean clothes.
Now these New Yorkers are calling the location “Abolition Park” and as the encampment evolves it continues to be a very well organized community of people with volunteers serving hot meals, distributing protest kits, water, and first aid for those in need of it.
It’s when you have an opportunity to see a piece of art on the street in person. The combination of portraits, graphic design, and text treatments may spring more from the imagination of those in the design fields but up close you can get an appreciation of the warmth and vulnerability of the figures as well. The stories that are told are down to earth, universal, and here for you to bear witness to.
and bright and staring at the summer sky, the new mural in the Tegel area of
Berlin is quintessential BustArt. Two decades after starting his mark-making as
a Swiss graffiti writer, his style borrows elements from that classic graffiti
mixed with cartoons, pop art, and perhaps an eye toward others like Crash and
D*Face who themselves point to the Roy Lichtenstein.
His brand of ‘neopop” mixology is unique to him of course, and the tireless effort, scale of work (40 meters x 16 meters), and relative speed that he works sets him in a category of his own.
“This is the biggest wall I have painted so far and I could not be more happy with the outcome,” he says of the two week gig. The confident command of visual vocabulary, character and line work tell you that this new mural is a challenge BustArt was more than ready for.
wants to shout out his mate @sket185 for the enormous help, the folks at @yesandpro who orchestrated along with Urban Nation, and we all
give thanks to photographer Nika Kramer for sharing her work here with BSA readers.
Hanging tough is what New York does, and the art in the street is 10X more potent than six months ago. It’s almost cliche to say that Street Art and graffiti are about a conversation on the street, but the words and sentiments being expressed right now on monuments, edifices, and in doorways are a direct reflection of the high-emotion, high-stakes conversations that we must have about the true state of race, freedom and social mobility in 2020 US.
Here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Art 2 Heart Art, Calicho Art, Chris RWK, Col Walnuts, Eortica, Irena Kenny, Jilly Ballistic, John Ahearn, Know Justice, Sac Six, Scratch, Shiro, Top Bun Artist, Zachary Ginsberg, and Zero Productivity.
Free spirit Lady Pink has sprinkled a summer bouquet across a wall here with friends in Queens for the Welling Court Mural Project this year. The Ecuadorian-American artist is known by many for her graffiti writing on trains in the 1970s and 1980s and her latter day murals empowering women, exploring the cityscape – and themes of rebellion or self-expression.
Here she has decided to keep it simple for summer 2020, perhaps in the face of the complexity of our lives at the moment. These colors and motifs of flora are reassuring and soothing – possibly to give a salve for our collective wounds as she subtly pays tribute to those names of black and brown people brutalized by our system.
The city is hurting, black people are hurting, poor folks are hurting. In times like these, Lady Pink and her painting family know what you need, because they need it too.
Shout out to Alison Wallis for organizing this years Welling Court Mural Project, despite the challenges of Covid-19. Read more about the project at wellingcourtmuralprojectnyc on Instagram.
The marauding crowd, faceless and multi-podel, rumbling with half ideas and mislead missions. If you have lived in cities you know the feeling of being swept along inside one as it hurtles down the stairs, up the escalator, through the lobby, across various stadia.
We like it because we feel like we are part of something bigger, something that must have a logic of its own. In losing yourself, in becoming one with these others, we are reassured for that moment that there is something larger and of consequence, if only to break apart again into one once more.
and pandemic have scarred many minds in the last few months because they’ve been
couple with fear, but these events have opened a few minds as well because we’ve
had time to examine, correlate, critique, observe our own impulses and needs
Fakso tells us that he used to be an avid traveler for his work, relying perhaps
on incessant movement for his sanity – moving from city to city sort of
mindlessly. He says he may have taken some things and people for granted,
including himself. and the current world crisis has allowed him to reflect on
what was left for granted by many people including himself.
In his installation
for the disconnect exhibition in London, he says these ideas of panic and isolation
are at the core. A distanced exhibit, he’ll be happy to see you contemplate the
images of crowds placed here. He hopes it will be “a dive into a world which
has dramatically changed,” he says, and one in which, “as individuals, we
currently long to belong again.”
When Jan Sauerwald, Urban Nation’s Artistic Director, began making plans in earnest for the new facade for the museum, he was pondering what the art on the walls should convey. Given the difficult Covid-inflicted times we are living in he thought that possibly something fun and humorous was what Berlin needed. Indeed, humor has the power to provide levity, but humor is also an exceptionally effective vehicle to impart knowledge and spread a positive message without appearing to be lecturing.
So it seemed most appropriate to gift the denizens of Berlin a fresh, humorous new mural, especially considering that collectively, the whole city had just endured months of lockdown, and they are just now slowly coming out to play outdoors and drink some beers with friends in the parks. Luckily Sauerwald knew who to call. Dave The Chimp. A Berlin-based artist, illustrator, and skateboarder who is known on the streets of Berlin for his simple but street-smart orange characters shaped like a bean. He calls them “Human Beans”.
We reached out to Dave The Chimp and asked him a few questions about the artists he invited to paint along with him and about his experience being able to get up and to get dirty again on the streets.
BSA: How did it feel to get up after the lockdown? How was the experience of working outdoors for the first time in many weeks?
DtC: I don’t work outside often. My work practice is constantly changing, sometimes painting, sometimes drawing comics or creating skateboard graphics, writing the text for zines, and in the past, I’ve organized costumed wrestling parties, played in a punk band, directed pop videos and tv commercials, compiled books… painting outside is just one of a constantly changing set of fun problems to solve!
I personally enjoyed the lockdown. I started meditating again, I was stretching and doing yoga and working out almost every day. Sitting on my balcony in the April sun, reading, catching up on all the movies I don’t have time to watch, helping plug the gaps in my son’s education, trying new recipes. All my projects and exhibitions were canceled so I figured “ok, guess I’m on holiday for a few months, so let’s forget about work”. I realized that this was a very unusual time, so why would I try and carry on with my usual life?
Germany locked-down early. Berlin was quick to organize an emergency fund for freelance workers, so most were able to receive money that meant they could survive a few months without worry. This lessened the fear. Fear shuts down the immune system, and during a pandemic, the one thing you need is a strong immune system!
It was great to come out of the lockdown here and be straight on a worksite, mingling with people, getting dirty, laying in the street. After two months of washing my hands constantly, it was fascinating to feel just how grimy I get just living a normal life! We’re a bunch of filthy little monkeys!
BSA:UN invited you to paint the UN facade for the first time. In turn, you invited four artists to join you. What were your criteria for inviting the other artists?
DtC: Due to Corona, the new museum exhibition had to be delayed until September. They had planned to paint the facade for this exhibition with other artists, so had the city permit to put the lift in the street at the end of May. The crisis has meant that all government offices are running slowly, and a new permit wouldn’t be possible until early 2021. Jan called me and asked me if I could paint the facade two weeks before work had to begin!
The first idea was for me to paint it with Flying Fortress, but unfortunately, he wasn’t available. This sowed the idea of working with others in my mind and I figured “if it would have been fun painting with one friend, why don’t I invite four?” I chose people I like, and whose work I like, and that I could see working with the theme I wanted to portray on the wall.
Originally I had a team of two boys and two girls, but one of the girls wasn’t available, and I couldn’t find another making the kind of thing I needed. Luckily my friend Matt Jones had recently sent me a zine of his doodles, and I saw how some of these could work as a kind of ancient alien language etched into my Stone Henge “stargate”. I invited Mina to paint her powerful females as prehistoric rock paintings, got my skateboard buddy Humble Writerz to chisel the faces he bombs in the streets into stone columns, and had Señor Schnu paste his posters onto boulders. And then I added my own characters so it looked like they were doing all of this work! 😉
BSA: The mural has a playful tone to it which goes well with your character but it also has a message of a team effort in order to build a better world. Is that right?
DtC: I’m pretty sure we don’t need to use fear and anger to change the world. As PiL said, anger is an energy, but I’ve learned that it’s one that is soon burnt out. Much better to try and make the world a better place with love as your fuel. There’s an endless supply of love in all of us. Political action doesn’t need to always be a raised fist, a black, red, and white stenciled shout at the world. Why can’t protests be a fun day out, just like a festival, a carnival of change?
BSA: Can you tell us about the genesis of the concept for the mural? Did you have a brainstorming session with the other artists or did you know what you wanted and just told them your idea and they jumped into action?
DtC: I pretty much see complete ideas in my head. I knew I wanted to paint rocks, and I knew the work of the artists I wanted to paint with. And I had a week to work out the design of an 8 meter high by 50-meter long wall, with three doors, six windows, various corners, and parts inaccessible by the lift! I didn’t have time for brainstorming! I came up with concepts, told the artists what it was I’d like them to do, and then trusted them to do their thing. I had way too many things to think about – five artists with different schedules, a lift that took 20 minutes to move each time, and three days when we were not allowed to use the lift, created an organizational nightmare! Plus I had to try and paint huge structures that I’d never painted before, and 25 characters, all doing different things. But that’s kinda what I like. Painting is setting myself problems, then trying to solve them. It’s fun! If I know what I’m doing, how exactly to do something, and how it will turn out, in advance, then it just becomes work. Better to keep yourself on your toes, make it play!
BSA: Where do you see public murals/outdoor murals going after Covid-19 and the worldwide protests about racial injustice, racism, and police brutality?
DtC: I’ve always thought of graffiti and street art as a political act. It is a reclaiming of the commons. In our cities only those with the money to buy the walls around us – public space – get to have a voice. Advertising is designed to make you require more, to feel like what you have, who you are, is not enough. This is psychological oppression and we are exposed to it thousands of times a day. If we can use walls to make people feel less than, can’t we also use them to feel greater than, to inspire, to cheer, or just simply to help people be satisfied that they are ok? Like Picasso, I believe art can be a weapon to wage war. Bad people win when good people stay silent.
I have been known to make political work and to use a lot of slogans and messages in my work, but right now, in 2020, I find that I am overwhelmed with things that need to be spoken about, with things that are being spoken about, and, frankly, I don’t feel able to speak. Things are changing so quickly. It’s all too confusing. So I am trying to keep my use of words to a minimum, and to try and communicate on a more subtle level. The rocks in this mural represent our belief in the human-built structures and systems of life. The scaffolding, the planks and ropes, represent just how fragile all these systems are, as we have been seeing, and show our need to work together to make life function.
A mural like this couldn’t have been made without a huge network of people. The group of artists I worked with, the production crew at YAP, the lift hire guys, the factory workers that made the brushes, the chemists who brewed the paint, the people that built the wall, the people that cooked our lunch, the people that farmed the food for our lunch, the people that made the bikes we rode to the site every day, that built the roads we rode on… thousands of people are involved in every single human action.
The world is a crazy place right now, and it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. Maybe it’s better we stop finding ways to divide ourselves, and instead unite.
The demographic contrast is colossal between the stereotype of your grandparents and the archetype of a delinquent hooded graffiti writer who bombs the margins of the nighttime metropolis.
The mental image of seniors wielding spraycans in public is also a reliable feel-good community story that TV news producers devour like frosted donuts and one that makes you feel like everything is all right with the world after all. Yes, Covid-19 looks like it is killing off half the country, but just take a few minutes to watch Mildred maneuvering that Montana Gold with two hands to spray a portrait of her cat on the wall!
Is there any doubt that all is well and everything is going to be fine after all?
Truth be told, we’ve met a significant number of old-skool New York train graffiti writers who are in their 60s and 70s and who still occasionally catch a tag when no one is looking, so perhaps our stereotypes of seniors need adjustment. Not to mention seniors like one of New York’s most prolific street artists, the octogenarian Robert Janz, and Jacques Villeglé, the French nonagenarian who originated a style of on-the-street Paris poster laceration that pre-dated by decades many street artists who followed.
Here in Belgrade, spirits have been lifted by this month by what organizers at Street Art Belgrade and Paint Kartel characterize as the “first ever ‘Street art workshop for seniors”. They say that the goal of this new program in the Serbian capital is “to inspire and provide practical knowledge to participants over the age of 60, as a way of support for understanding street art and further creative expression,” they say in their press release.
Indeed, many of the images feature people of different generations working together. “Through this workshop, the older generations connected with the younger ones in a unique way and challenged the stereotype that street art is only for ‘young people’.
At a time when (primarily) young people have been in the streets around the world vociferating about racism and other issues surrounding equality, maybe more of our conversations about intersectionality are going to include our seniors as well. Most would agree that any program that fosters greater mutual respect is a positive step forward.
You may also feel a note of optimism to see stereotypes of graffiti writers, muralists, and street artists evolving; artists from the Serbian “Paint Kartel” crew served these seniors as creative mentors throughout the workshop.