At its core, the community mural performs a very important role in unifying a neighborhood by focusing attention and coalescing around a common sentiment. Whether social, political, or poetic, they give a public voice to memories, aspirations, philosophies, agendas.
By highlighting the dominant sentiments about a particular event or topic, community murals in cities and towns also serve as a physical location where people meet in the public context to discuss weighty matters, to share stories, to pass on history, to trade gossip, to organize, to celebrate or mourn individually and collectively.
The United Nation’s World Food Programme worked again this year with a number of Street Artists in San Salvador to create a mural that scrutinizes the nature of a people’s history and the fundamentals of its social, political, economic strengths.
“The mural itself speaks of the market as a place to exchange goods and that creates community and has done so since El Salvador was a country, when it’s people already cultivated the grains and vegetables that continue to be sold at this market today,” says New Jersey based Street Artist and muralist Layqa Nuna Yawar, originally from Ecuador. He painted side by side his homeboy Mata Ruda along with history student Rafael Osorio and local artists Lolipop, Cristian Lopez and Issac Martinez for this mural on the facade of Mercado Cuscatlan, a public market and Library complex.
“The murals also show us traditional culture, dresses, games, poets, geography and flora and fauna that all have local meaning and importance to the people of San Salvador,” LNY says. “The mural on the library side speaks of knowing your history in order to grow and move forward to a better future. It does so by depicting a young woman, one of the local artist’s family members, reading a book on history. In this book the same girl is depicted in traditional colonial garb reading a book on national history, meanwhile her mind is filled with imagery of the cosmos.”
Part of the ConectArte program in cooperation with San Salvador mayor’s office and the United Nation’s World food program, Layqa Nuna Yawar and Street Artist/organizer Jamie Toll say that the collective process that goes into a community mural is necessary to produce a collective narrative. They say they wanted the artists to function as amplifiers for the ideas as well as the aesthetics.
“We spent time developing the design for the mural collectively without having this be a single authored project but a product of actual exchange and conversation with proper credit going to those involved,” says Layqa Nuna Yawar. “This exchange continues as our relationships with these artists grow beyond the project itself.”
Rafael Schacter Takes a More Nuanced Approach to the Migration Crisis
Commerce and technology have been eroding traditional constructs of the borders and boundaries, especially in the age of the Internet, satellites, transnational banking and trade agreements that create governing bodies that openly dismiss national sovereignty, integrity, identity, aspirations. Borders and boundaries are contested, guarded, or disregarded at will; open to international capital, porous to immigration, hardened by armies.
Daily they are in the headlines: Trump’s plans to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, Syrian war refugees immigrating across European borders, Israel and Palestine’s ongoing land and settlement disputes, even maritime territorial claims of China and the Phillipines in the South China Sea that were ruled upon yesterday – all reveal clues to our historically complicated relationships and geo-political perspectives.
Sorry, we’re using terms interchangeably, which Schacter will correct us on. Toward that end, we are pleased today to present Mr. Schacter, an anthropologist, researcher of street art, author, and lecturer, here on BSA to share observations and experiences from his most recent project, a fascinating show at the Street Art Museum (SAM) called Crossing Borders /Crossing Boundaries. Our thanks to the artists, only a small number of whom we are able to present here, as well as to the museum for sharing their talent and resources. A full list of the participating artists is at the end of the article.
~ from Rafael Schacter
In May of this year, I spent nearly four weeks in Saint Petersburg curating a large scale exhibition at the Street Art Museum (SAM). The Museum, set in a functioning factory on the edge of the city, is a mammoth site. The first plastics factory in the Soviet Union, the site became partially abandoned in the 1990s after the collapse of communism, and has since been taken over and partly given over to this new museum. Containing huge outdoor and indoor spaces, the museum is truly a dream location to work.
For the summer exhibition this year, we decided to focus on what has been termed the Migration Crisis. Rather than tackling this head on, however, something that I feel can often be crass and exploitative, something that I feel can often be seen to be utilizing peoples’ hardships for artistic ‘gain’, I sought to provide a concept that could explore the theme from a more nuanced angle.
The title of the exhibition, Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, thus attempted to explore the differences between these two terms; words which are often used interchangeably, but are in fact quite distinct.
Utilizing the work of renowned sociologist Richard Sennett, borders were hence posited as zones of high organic interactivity and development, engaged, permeable spaces such as the zones between the land and the sea in which different species thrive, intermix and exchange. In contrast however, boundaries were understood as guarded, impenetrable locations, locations, for example, like the territorial perimeters of creatures such as lions or wolves.
Focusing on these differences, on the fertility and vibrancy of the border compared to the sterility and aridity of the boundary, we then commissioned 20 artists from around the world to produce works on this theme.
Working with artists from a background of street art as well as contemporary art, with video artists and photographers, muralists and artivists, the exhibition is thus truly multi-media and multidisciplinary. I was beyond impressed with the results, all the artists bringing an amazing set of ideas to the table and delivering them in the most fantastic of ways.
We had over 5,000 people come to our launch on May 14th, as well as a huge international conference on the topic of migration taking place in the museum on the same day. Living, working, eating and sleeping in the factory with all of the artists over the entire period of production was tough, to say the least. However the energy was unrelenting, with the artists and the whole team at SAM working without rest to deliver this incredible project.
I’m super proud of what we achieved, to both sensitively and critically explore this theme, to not just provide the traditional liberal consensus positionality but rather to challenge people’s thoughts and ideas on this topic. Who knows what effect it will have, if any. But I hope that the project can push people to think about the topic in a more nuanced rather than binary way.
Following the video are a few of the artists and their work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries
Printed banner on chimney / Acrylic paint on oil barrels / Basketball hoop and backboard on containers, acrylic paint on asphalt
SpY’s deceptively simple yet conceptually ingenious interventions focus on the upturning of spatial and societal norms. Using irony and humour to create a dialogue with the viewer, SpY attempts to impress multiple readings onto a space, re-presenting it as a “frame of endless possibilities”.
His set of works here follow this method precisely. In particular, his giant work Go Home, at first an apparently aggressive, deeply antagonistic phrase (to put it mildly), plays with the variety of meanings that this expression can contain: the very ability to go home, for example, to return back to the place of one’s family, one’s birth, one’s life, is the very thing that most immigrants desire but simply cannot undertake (whether due to war or famine, economic or ecological pressures). To be able to go home is thus a privilege that not all of us have.
As with his famous method of renegotiating the set rules of sporting activities, provoking, as he says “disorder and chaos through context and content”, SpY’s works do not simply invert or subvert their spaces but playfully distort them. They “misuse” their environments to show the latent possibilities that lie within.
Scaffold, laminate photographic prints, flags, and spray paint and acrylic on containers / Acrylic paint on wall
Fillipo’s installation for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries explores different border zones throughout the globe. From the sea border of North and South Korea to that of Mexico and California; from Morocco and Mauritania to Cambodia and Vietnam; from the invisible border between Northern Mali and the disputed territories of the Azawad; to abandoned NATO bunkers at the Belgian Dutch border, these images present us with some of the most politically fraught locations on the planet which, somehow, contain a strangely alluring beauty. Alongside this, Filippo presents a series of Whatsapp conversations documenting his personal struggle to gain entry into Russia for this exhibition: a series of Kafkaesque scenarios in which he was sent from location to location in a seeming test of his resistance. The installation as a whole can be seen to bring together Filippo’s joint obsession with political, industrial and internet aesthetics.
His mural, A Revolution Nobody Cares About / Nobody Cares About a Revolution speaks, quite loudly, for itself.
Kirill’s work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries arose through his correspondence with curator Rafael Schacter. Focusing on the barrier of language and the complexity of translation, the work is about the impossibility of understanding and the unwillingness to understand. As KIRILL says “I understood only a small percentage of what we discussed and so decided to make this the heart of the work”. It is thus the borders and boundaries of language that KIRILL takes aim. As he continues “there are two borders of misunderstanding: you see unfamiliar letters and you do not understand everything completely. Signifier and signified become equally incomprehensible. Or even it’s a familiar language, but still it is not clear”. Kirill’s work, although colourful and bright, is in fact the image of alienation. The image of the migratory and the incomprehensible.
Gaia and Mata Ruda have produced a monumental work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, a work which functions in the classical tradition of political muralism. Using imagery from the filmmaker Marc Silver and photographers Jonathan Hollingsworth and Alex Kurunis (both of whom show other work within the exhibition itself), Gaia and Ruda present us with an assemblage of figures and artefacts which together convey a dense narrative about contemporary migration. Including individuals and stories from the borders of the USA and Latin America as well as Africa and Europe, the artists also produced a group portrait of three Uzbekistani employees at the factory who work and live in the very site where the mural exists.
The story Gaia and Mata tell is one of inequality and injustice, a story of the imbalance of our contemporary global system. Yet within this it contains hope and strength, the strength of the individuals who strive to fight these inequities on a daily basis.
Nano4814’s half-abstract, half-figurative mural for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries demonstrates the strangely discomforting yet visually arresting style which we can now instantly recognize as his own. Frequently focusing upon the apprehension he has with his own work, Nano’s characters can often be seen to be in states of tension or strain (both literally and metaphorically), an angst reinforced by their compressed captivity within their sites. Moreover, his use of brick-walls, barriers, and wooden shards, symbols that act as leitmotifs throughout his work, play with the idea of boundaries as objects that encourage intrusion and trespass: Like masks, these borders both suggest and occlude a veiled truth, hinting whilst hiding, implying yet escaping. It is thus the very limitation that enables us to venture beyond.
Slides, DIA projector, flags, photographs, socks, coins, drawings in collaboration with Clemens Behr, SPY, Paco, and Fillipo Minelli, computer guts, digital prints, plastic, wood, plexi-glass, mounting hardware, sound installation, radio, headphones, cables, paint, chess set, soviet fabric, and industrial spools.
Double Yippie Hollow Super Power is a joint project between artists Brad Downey from the USA and Igor Ponosov from Russia. Taking inspiration from the parlor game “cadavre exquis” or “exquisite corpse” (a method by which a collection of words or images is collaboratively assembled), the pair have sought to combine the varying national symbols of their home nations into a new, exquisite set of iconic forms. The “unity of the opposites” that they have created – utilizing objects such as flags, coins, and anthems – plays with the sacrality of these national symbols, the almost divine status that they contain. Moreover, it alludes to the strangely intimate relationship that the two countries are entwined in. Whilst apparent opposites, common enemies, both locations create their identity through their connection with the other: the objects Downey and Ponosov have thus created contain both a critical and playful edge. They ridicule the stereotypes of both themselves and each other in the same moment.
2016, Korean ink on wall / Found objects, cement, and acrylic paint on wooden palletes
Jazoo Yang’s Dots series originates from her work in her native Korea, in particular within areas of the city going through the process of redevelopment. Using traditional Korean ink, and solely using her thumbprint (a marking used as a signature on important documents), Yang’s work sought to bring focus on the increasing amount of “redevelopment refugees” in the city
For Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, Yang has expanded her Dots Series to incorporate the issue of refugees and migrants in Europe and further beyond. Working mainly on her own but also with immigrant workers from the factory itself, Yang discusses their stories, their histories, their existence with these individuals as they mark the wall together. These imprints act as a record of this moment whilst remaining entirely silent.
In Yang’s Painting Block Works, this theme of memory and regeneration continues. Exploring the violent so central to the contemporary city, Yang wants to ask how much we perceive our lives and make independent decisions within these oppressive environments. She aims to bring these problems to the surface through rebuilding them with the materials we so readily abandon, in Korea using objects from deserted houses and buildings, here in Russia using the detritus and ephemera of the factory itself.
The Final Frontier (Space) / Our House (In the Middle of the Street)
Laminate doors, wooden pallets, wooden battons, hinges, and acrylic paint / Acrylic and spray paint on wall
Mimicking and playing with their settings through a process of transformative deconstruction, Clemens Behr’s geometric shapes and abstract forms come to distort the viewers’ perspective, merging two and three dimensional spaces in a single plane.
His installation for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries acts as what he terms a “social maze”. Utilising one of the most classic example of borders/boundaries, the common doorway, the work explores the potentially empowering or inhibiting abilities of these structures: as one door opens, another closes, enabling some and disabling others in the same moment. As a participatory sculpture, its visual possibilities become endless. However conceptually it demonstrates how every decision we take effects those around us. Like many of Behr’s installations, this work was produced with what was at hand, in this case the products and detritus of the factory site itself.
Behr’s mural tackles another question however. Playing with the shadows and design of the adjacent fence, with the actuality of space (and time) versus the potentiality of painting, he questions the boundaries of art itself: Can it go beyond reflection to truly generate the new?
Acrylic paint on wall / Barbed wire, steel poles, metal fence, laminate warning signs
Eltono’s mural is a reaction to the absurd rationality of national boundaries. As opposed to the natural flow of borders (as can be seen in perhaps the world’s only natural country, Chile), the carving up of the planet’s boundaries happens at right angles: diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines cutting up the planet into a perfectly linear patchwork.
As such, Eltono has created his own world map using a generative art technique; using a basic randomizer to choose a digit between 1 and 7, the numbers which emerge then come to define both the color of the country and its borders, indicating the direction that each color, and each boundary will thus take.
Unlike his mural, for his fence installation, Eltono presents us with the opposite of the rationality as seen within maps. Rather, he displays a perfectly irrational object, an upside-down fence. For Eltono, however, the inversion of the fence makes it something lighter, not an object that prevents our movement, but a compact object that can be upended “as if the wind had blown it upside down”. As he continues, “it’s not a massive obstacle anymore. A fence that can be flipped is a territory that can be freed.”
Merijn’s mural has a simple, yet vitally important message. His five globes show us the development from a basic binary of black and white to a densely colored, intricate, heterogeneous space. The final image thus shows us a planet in which, as Merijn says, “everything harmonizes. All the colors are there together and they all work and flow seamlessly with each other. Of course borders exist in many ways, but if we take it a step further and forget about the rules and just go with our feeling this is what I think can be understood as the ideal. That we should not be limited by the rationality of borders. Probably a bit of a cliché. But that’s how I see it and feel it”.
SUPERPROJECT, a two-man design operation spearheaded by visual artist Jasper Niens and industrial designer Thijs Ewalts, focus on computational design and digital fabrication, embracing art, architecture, engineering and technology. For Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, they have created Four Zero, a space within a space, a location only accessible through four, tunnel-like entrances. Due to the curvature of the entrances, the visitor is not immediately sure where they will end up. As such, the work is about revealing and concealing, possibility and difficulty; once people enter the space they can either feel locked up and exposed or protected and safe within its embrace.
1001th Island: The Most Sustainable Island in Archipelago
2015/2016. Video, trash, fishing net and wood
Tita Salina’s 1001st Island is a work exploring the changing borders and boundaries of Jakarta. A city which is currently sinking between 2.9 and 6.7 inches per year, and which exists mainly below sea level, Jakarta is currently undertaking a huge land reclamation and producing a 32 kilometer sea wall to try and protect its boundaries, a project that will construct 17 new islands and take an estimated 30 years to complete. The installation presented here, a reproduction of an artificial island built by Salina and local fisherman using marine debris and litter, aims to highlight the negative impacts of the project, in particular the fact that the city refuses to fix the causes of its problems — namely, excessive groundwater extraction and inefficient waste management. Salina thus connects the reclamation and land issue with the human waste that plagues the ocean and the future of the traditional fishermen who live and work within this now perilous space.
ARTISTS Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries.
Alex Kurunis, Brad Downey, Igor Posonov, Clemens Behr, El Tono, Filippo Minelli, Gaia, Mata Ruda, James Bridle, Superproject ( Jasper Niens & Thijs Ewalts, Jazoo Yang, Jonathan Hollingworth, Kirill KTO, Martha Atienza, Merijn Hos, Nano4814, Rob Pinney, SpY, Tita Salina
A lot of people thought so, and the rise of commercial festivals and commissioned public/private mural programs probably brought more artists to more walls than in recent history. Judging from the In Box, 2016 is going to break more records. Enormous, polished, fully realized and presented, murals can hold a special role in a community and transform a neighborhood, even a city.
But they are not the “organic” Street Art that draws us into the dark in-between places in a city, or at its margins.
We keep our eyes open for the small, one-off, idiosyncratic, uncommissioned, weirdo work as well, as it can carry clues about the culture and reveal a sage or silly solo voice. It also just reinforces the feeling that the street is still home to an autonomous free-for-all of ideas and opinions and wandering passions. For us it is still fascinating to seek out and discover the one-of-a-kind small wheatpastes, stencils, sculptures, ad takeovers, collages, and aerosol sprayed pieces alongside the enormous and detailed paintings that take days to complete.
The main image above is from a vinyl subway advertisement that was high-jacked and we published it in February of this year on our Images of the Week posting. It’s small, personal, and very effective as you can see someone suspiciously similar to Batman is jumping out of the mouth of someone looking awfully similar to Hedwig of “Angry Inch” fame.
Of the 10,000 or so images photographer Jaime Rojo took in 2015, here are a selection 140+ of the best images from his travels through streets looking for unpermissioned and sanctioned art.
Brooklyn Street Art 2015 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo
Brooklyn Street Art 2015 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo includes the following artists;
365xlos43, Amanda Marie, Andreas Englund, Augustine Kofie, Bisser, Boijeot, Renauld, Bordaloli, Brittany, BunnyM, Case Maclaim, Casg, Cash4, CDRE, Clet, Cost, Curve, Dain, Dal East, Dan Budnik, Dan Witz, David Walker, DeeDee, Dennis McNett, Don Rimx, Ricardo Cabret, LNY, Alex Seel, Mata Ruda, Don’t Fret, Dot Dot Dot, ECB, El Mac, El Sol25, Ella & Pitr, Eric Simmons, Enest Zacharevic, Martha Cooper, Martin Whatson, Ever, Faile, Faith47, Findac, Futura, Gaia, Gilf!, Hanksy, Hellbent, Hot Tea, How & Nosm, Icy and Sot, Inti, Invader, Isaac Cordal, James Bullough, Janet Dickson, Jef Aerosol, Jilly Ballistic, Joe Iurato, John Fekner, Le Diamantaire, Li Hill, LMNOPI, London Kaye, Low Brow, Marina Capdevilla, Miss Van, Mr. Prvrt, Mr. Toll, Myth, Nafir, Nemos, Never Crew, Nick Walker, Nina Pandolofo, Old Broads, Oldy, Ollio, Os Gemeos, Owen Dippie, Paper Skaters, Pet Bird, Kashink, Smells, Cash4, PichiAvo, Pixel Pancho, QRST, ROA, Ron English, Rubin415, Saner, Sean 9 Lugo, Shai Dahan, Shepard Fairey, Sheryo & The Yok, Sinned, Sipros, Skewville, Slikor, Smells, Sweet Toof, Snowden, Edward Snowden, Andrew Tider, Jeff Greenspan, Specter, Stray Ones, Sweet Toof, Swil, Willow, Swoon, The Outings Project, Toney De Pew, Tristan Eaton, Various & Gould, Vermibus, Wane, Wk Interact
It’s a convivial if embarrassing juxtaposition when you witness a bird in flight in this brutish man-made city environment, so unrefined are all of our efforts next to his. He rewards us with a song or a soaring performance in air, and despite our heavy slow selves anchored to this pavement, we shield the sun with our hand and follow him with our eyes, paying some respect for his gift and his splendor.
Another crosses his path mid-air. Her wings are so tempered and fine, allowing her to glide with grace, cutting across the chorus of perpendicular and parallel lines, shapes, and epochs that rise and fall and crash clumsily into one another in this hard-edged city.
How do they do it, these birds – especially when it seems like we do very little to help them? Why do they persist in this city that seems often to be unconscious of nature? Is it just our nature to be so unconscious? They should have abandoned us long ago. Yet they persist, and Street Artists here pay them tribute for all that they give us.
New York is bittersweet as we are welcoming summer this weekend and remembering those who served and who were lost in war as well (Memorial Day); amidst a changing political atmosphere where the country is tentatively beginning to seriously debate whether the US should have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan.
So it’s also Fleet Week in New York, which means a lot of sailors and marines and Coast Guard personnel are carousing the tourist spots and bars – sort of a military spring break and a chance for the local girls and boys to yell out “Hey Sailor!” – and flash some flirty eyes. It’s also big weekend for movies, barbecues, beers, burping, suntans, rummage sales, bike rides, and of course spray painting empty trailers in cluttered lots. That’s why we start this weeks pack with a new stallion just sprayed on a trailer in Williamsburg by Cern. He’s running wild with a great view of the cityscape behind him.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Cern, Christos Voutichtis, David De La Mano, Din din, Dont Fret, DourOne, Iraq Veterens Against the War, Kuma, Mata Ruda, Miishab, Musketon, Pablog H Harymbat, Rebel, Smells, Sweet Toof, Temo & Miel, and Urma.
In case you thought that your uncle Ernie was the only one full of hot air, public artist creates this installation that attempts to capture the breath of the city. He tells us that in the end he decided his experiment was a good mix of architecture, Art, and postmodern French literature.
“I applied simple means to build parametric and temporary installations;
It is an open system, varying with steadily modifying environmental processes, but without completely changing its own structure.”
Don’t miss this cool auction of work by many of today’s Street Artists on the New York scene, and some other folks you might have heard of! Young New Yorkers works with 16 and 17 year-old kids who have been caught in the criminal justice system, giving them a second chance. This is your opportunity to support this non-profit organization that is doing good work for your neighbors and our neighborhoods and to add art to your collection.
We had the opportunity to speak with Rachel Barnard, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Young New Yorkers about the event and their programs. We asked her to explain how the programs work.
“Art exercises in our programs are collapsed with restorative justice exercises and they give our participants a way of exploring the impact of their choices while empowering them to make wiser ones in the future. We work with photography, video, collage and illustration. More importantly, in the second half of the program art allows our participant’s to step into their own leadership and self expression,” she explains.
As the participants explore their creativity, they also examine it through a greater lens. “They explore a social issue that is important to them and develop a public art project around that. This is then presented at the final exhibition – one which the criminal court judges, acting district attorneys, social workers and other members of the criminal justice system, attend. It’s a way for everyone to re-meet our extraordinary participants as more than just their rap sheets. So in this way we use art to meet our main goal; which is to empower our young New Yorkers to transform the criminal justice system through their own creative voices.”
Here are some of the pieces that will be up for auction on April 1st.
Young New Yorkers provides arts-based programming to court-involved young people. The criminal court gives eligible defendants—all of whom are 16- and 17-year-olds and who in New York are tried as adults—the option to participate in Young New Yorkers rather than do jail time, community service, and have a lifelong criminal record. With the ultimate goal of empowering participants to transform the criminal justice system through their own creative voices, all of YNY’s programs culminate with a public exhibition where members of the Criminal Justice System are invited to re-meet the graduates as creative and empowered individuals. In most cases, upon successful completion of the program, the participants’ cases are sealed; so far, 100% of participants have graduated from YNY’s programs.
We look forward to seeing you at Joseph Gross Gallery on April 1 for the Silent Art Auction. Get your advance tickets for only $35 here.
Happy March! With the brutally frigid temperatures we had for the whole month of February it is no small wonder that we can still find fresh new pieces on the streets. Some are weeks old and others are days old — all are executed under bitterly cold conditions. Just ask the artists…if you catch them.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Agni, Alex Seel, Alex 25, Bifido, Brown Boyz, Don Rimx, Eder Muniz AKA Calangoss, Foxx Face, LMNOPI, LNY, Clint Mario, Mata Ruda, McDemott & McGough, Mr. Prvrt, Osch,
Happy New Year to All! Thank you for inspiring us to do our best and to those of you who continue to support our personal art project / cultural examination, we extend our gratitude more than ever.
Begun as an enthusiastic discovery of what was happening in a few neighborhoods in New York, we continued to expand our view into more cities around the world last year and into the history and future of the scene. We also aimed to provide you with a critical platform for examination of the street art/ graffiti / public art/ contemporary art continuum with interviews with artists, curators, collectors, organizers, observers and thinkers in the street, studio, gallery, and museum – trouble makers and taste makers alike.
In the end, it’s your observations and the conversations on the street that are most important. As we begin the year with over 300K fans, friends, and followers on social media platforms and 225 articles on the Huffington Post (thanks HuffPost team!), we feel like we get a valuable good survey of current opinions heading our way daily.
With in-depth interviews, investigative articles, opinion infused examinations, plain celebratory reverie, occasionally silly non-sequitors, and public appearances where we get to meet you, we get a good analytical look at an ever-evolving movement, glittery polish and warts and all.
As the new year begins we take a look back at the top stories chosen by BSA Readers in the last 12 months. Among them are two takeover pop-up shows in soon-to-be demolished buildings, a story about commercial abuse of artist copyrights and the effort to fight back, a street art community’s response to the sudden death of an activist street artist, a Street Art tourist trip, and a few inspirational women, men, and Mexican muralists. Even though we published at least once a day for the last 365 days, these are the most popular pieces, as chosen by you, Dear BSA Reader.
It’s an unusual pairing: Street Artists who are accustomed to the grit and grime of deteriorating neighborhoods in the city translating their skills to the desert where the environment is outstandingly more natural than built.
In the third year of his experiment inviting artists to paint and wheat-paste in the Navajo Nation, organizer Chip Thomas, whose own street persona is Jetsonorama, appears to have hit a community service vein. “The relationship with the community became deeper,” he says as he relates the integration of some of the artists work relating directly to the history and the stories people tell in this sunbaked part of Arizona. More residency than festival, “The Painted Desert Project” began as a retreat offered to artists Thomas had met through his own association with Street Art festivals like Open Walls in Baltimore.
Invited to come for an extended stay, compared to the 4 or 5 days of a typical Street Art festival, these artists are encouraged to study their new environment and to fully immerse themselves before conjuring a new work. Not only does the technique avoid the often levelled charge of cultural imperialism that is associated with the big festivals around the globe, it produces work that has impact and relevance to the community who will be looking at it year round.
Even though there can be a disconnect between the art and the community occasionally, as in the case of one work by the artist Troy Lovegates that was interpreted as being out of sync with some tastes, the majority of works are so closely related to people and the life here that a sense of ownership takes hold quickly. Any cultural worker associated with larger mural projects and programs in cities will tell you corollary stories about how the public responds to the voice of the artist, and one measure of success is the level of engagement by the community. “The project has always focused on creating art that is culturally sensitive,” says Thomas of his approach to the artists and the community, and he says that this year, “I feel like the project moved to the next level.”
Here are fresh images from the third installment of “The Painted Desert Project” that took place this spring and summer, along with some details about the works and their relationship to the people and places that hosted the artists.
Street Artists Troy Lovegates and Labrona stayed for a few weeks in the Navajo nation and focused most of their work on a water tank in Rocky Ridge. While Lovegates initial mural was buffed when it “was found to be offensive by members of the community,” says Thomas, their new pieces on the tank were greatly embraced. “We were hosted in Rocky Ridge by the family of Louise Shepherd where we spent the night in a traditional hogan and ate food fresh from Louise’s garden.”
Street Artist Hyuro was created only her second mural in the US here this summer; significant because her first one in Atlanta for Living Walls last year featured nudity that set fire to the passions of religious sensitivities in the neighborhood that were further fanned by showboaters.
For “Painted Desert” the native of Valencia, Spain looked closely at the customs of the community when conceiving her depiction of a prayer ritual, which when viewed in this simple animation, reflects the connection native people have to their agricultural customs and history. “Moved by the simplicity and beauty of the traditional Navajo morning prayer Hyuro positioned her female figure facing the rising sun,” says Thomas, “and she illustrated the movements of this prayer that is performed with white corn pollen.”
New to the project this year were Street Artists Jaz, LNY, and Mata Ruda, each known for their large scale murals that are interpretive of history and in the case of the latter two, advocacy of social and political causes. This building “was part of the old Bureau of Indian Affairs school system from the 1950s to the 70s, after which it fell into disuse.” Shortly after the revival of the walls, says Thomas, the community began talking about making new plans to convert it into a youth center.
“Local food during the time Jaz, LNY, and Mata Ruda were here was catered by Mrs. Woody and her family,” says Thomas.
Near Monument Valley in Kayenta, Arizona, the Argentinian Street Artist Jaz painted a mural inspired by the plight of wild horses that are starving due to overgrazed pastures, says Thomas. In the image the horses are running to escape capture, he says.
This vast view of Machu Picchu at the top is a cultural gift from the artist LNY to the community. “He wanted to bridge indigenous cultures of his home in Equador with that of the Navajo nation,” says Chip Thomas, the organizer of “The Painted Desert Project”.
In this mural the artists Doodles and Avant Gardener including important animals that are symbolic to the Navajo like the eagle and hawk, among traditional rug pattern designs, a mountain range, and a rainbow. LNY incorporated a small circle painting in black and white of a woman holding a lamb.
Artists Doodles and Monica Canilao “turned my backyard into a fabrication shop, running chop saws and table saws late into the night,” says Thomas of their work to rebuild a roadside food stand that had burned to the ground. Having made friends with the proprietor, Mrs. Woody, during a previous edition of “Painted Desert,” the two constructed the sides of the food stand and painted them behind his home. As evidence of the bond created between residents and program participants, the artists spent 10 days doing this work, according to Thomas. The family of Mrs Woody came to the house often during the construction and painting to assist and to bring home made food to the artists. Since the artists departed at the end of the summer they have kept in contact with the Woodys via Facebook and Instagram.
An important part of the Street Art ecosystem is the mural and right now we are in the midst of a mural revolution in neighborhoods, towns and cities everywhere. These are not your mom’s mural programs; overwrought art-by-committee debates that result in something no one is really in love with. And while they are often born from the community in some way, they do not try to address the same needs that a traditional community mural has filled by touching on the historical, sociological, local topics or lore. Although they could.
These are mural programs fueled often by one or two people who approach landlords and businesses directly and get permission for artists to hit up a wall. The results can be varied and more often than not the good ones survive.
Three forces are at work today contributing to this rise in freelance muralism and mural programs as far as we can discern. First, the rise of Street Art as a recognized grassroots global phenomenon has opened the eyes of moribund neighborhoods (and real estate developers) to the revitalizing effect that art in the streets can have on an area’s desirability and, along with it, has suddenly relaxed the nerves of many a politician and police officer.
Secondly, the rapid proliferation of a global Street Art festival scene that is creating a circuit of relatively young traveling painters “getting fame” with genuine D.I.Y. personal art and parlaying it to their following across digital platforms has certainly sparked the interest of more than a just a few peers.
Finally, now that we are a good ten to fifteen years into the modern Street Art explosion, many of the artists who stuck to their craft have actually developed it, broadened it, deepened it. Consequently we are blessed with a new generation of ever more gifted painters, wheat-pasters, sculptors, knitters, and installation artists who can knock out big pieces in the public space with speed and panache.
Today we take a look at a nascent local mural scene in Jersey City, New Jersey, but we could just as easily have examined nearby Newark – or a growing constellation of towns. Begun just a handful of years ago by a local blog named Savage Habbit, this small mural program showcases local and internationally known Street Artists and co-founder Inez Gradzki has organized many walls in an around an arts community that has been growing in fits and starts.
Using their enthusiasm for the scene and connections to artists, the blog has worked hard in a bricks-and-mortar way to show their love for their community. With an eye on the potential of this town that lies just a few minutes from Manhattan to be a magnet for culture and artists, programs like these are already attracting New York artists. Not surprisingly, a growing number are also deciding to live in these towns, having found friends and given up on trying to live in the expensive city that once drew and retained the creative class by the thousands annually.
So here we are with some recent walls and murals in Jersey City – a template for many more to come.
With studio apartments in Manhattan now hitting nearly 3K a month the closest thing most Milennials will ever get to a house party in Gotham will be snagging a VCR tape of the Kid ‘n Play danceoff movie at their parents stoop sale. Last week during the “polar vortex” cold freeze some lucky invitees did get access to a secret house party in a dilapidated building on the Lower East Side for 2 hours however. There wasn’t much heat, no DJ, and your flask of Jack Daniels substituted as the bar, but if you made it in you scored a free condensed Street Artist show that is as rare as a New Jack Swing hit these days.
A little more than 40 (mostly) Street Artists brought the four floor former tenement building to life one last time before it will be destroyed – and they did it almost entirely in secret over the course of a week. Just how secret this event was is debatable considering the multitude of blog posts and photos of it that appeared in the days following but in the Internet age, news about stuff like this goes viral no matter what.
All tolled, the varied collection of participants was a cross-section; a blurry screenshot of Street Artists on the New York scene along with a few graff writers, taggers, sticker slappers, painters, illustrators, aerosol experts, installationists, art school students, and visitors to the big city who happened to be around at the right time. Also, a couple of pyros.
While this sort of artist takeover of an abandoned house or building is increasingly occurring in bankrupt cities and neighborhoods in America and Europe where no one wants to live except the creative types, you don’t find this unruly and freewheeling expression much in the increasingly scrubbed and mall-like playground for the rich in Manhattan.
Similarly, producers of large Street Art/Urban Art events in global cities can deliver murals that make you salivate and on a scale that dwarfs this “event” thanks to corporate underwriters and shills for sneakers/sodas/urban-themed tampons these days, but few can truthfully rival the unpolished impromptu spirit of a semi-secret House Party jam session. For one week during installations and on opening night it was like the ghost of New York’s downtown 1970s-80s Bohemia was coming back to the island in all it’s imperfectness to remind everyone of Manhattan’s former greatness as a petri dish for experimentation and discovery.
Considering the huge increase in sanctioned walls over the last two years in New York, this work looks surprisingly alive, and is just the sort of balm needed for the raw nerves of anarchists everywhere who have bemoaned the polished soul-deadening mural painting of late. Even if some of this looks sort of slap-dash and ragged in spots, and it does, it also gives off an air of being authentic and in-the-moment.
Notably, the ratio of penis, breast, and defacation-related themes was higher than your average art show but as you know, there is an audience for every artist, even the ones gravitating to bathroom humor as creative wellspring. Judging by the few hundred images floating around on Flickr and elsewhere, this pop-up was a hit for the people.
Given the growing number of artists communities that have blossomed outside of Manhattan, this could have been one of its last jams for Street Art. Yo! That’s my jam!
And now please step aside as we build another luxury condo.
Your cousin Harvey is a “Roofing Technologist”, which he told you with spicy sausage and beer breath at the family BBQ on Memorial Day. He says it means that he has attained proficiency in roofing technology, including roof system types, roof system design and basic installation. Also, he periodically patches holes with black boiling tar.
As the sun begins to smite the bejesus out of your average Street Artist who is looking for spots in dirty old Brooklyn, you will also find that a number of the barbeque-ists of this species can become what we like to call “roof cosmetologists”. This means that they apply learned and impromptu methods of paintology to the plain or ugly sections of industrial grade roofs, veritably transforming their appearance aestheticallistically. Armed with lawn chairs, cans, and a 40 oz. (and possibly a grill if somebody wants to carry it), these Street Artists clammer up skinny metal ladders to play some tunes, get some sun, and have their version of a picnic in the park.
We’ve waxed about summertime roofs before when we published A Roof With a View : Looking at Art Up Above, so this is sort of your Roof Update: Summer 2013. It’s true, lately rooftop parties in Brooklyn have become as ubiquitous as Olive Gardens and Applebees in strip malls and the stimulating conversations there are probably just as likely. But you won’t need a cute outfit at this cookout. Wait, well, why not, as long as your coming, and grab some Slim Jims.
But for summer funnification nothing beats the swarthy sweaty delirium of being baked alive on a chrome coated roof with no shade in the brutal sun and humidity and wielding a pile of cans of eye popping colors across the bricks – with clouds of aerosol wafting by in a fine mist and sticking to your sunglasses. That’s the ticket, bro/sis.
Recently we found this smorgasbordof new stuff on some rooftops and aesthetically, stylistically, these new pieces are strutting a pared-down new simplified look. Instead of the sweeping extravagant pieces of traditional graffiti, with many handstyles and spray tricks competing for star position, many of these are one-off soliloquies or two person collabos with a story behind them. Not that we know what the stories are – guess it’s part of the “inside baseball” side of this scene to leave you guessing. But we’ll probably all agree that some of these bricks and beams and exhaust vents have never looked so slammified, even if no one but your cousin Harvey gets to see them.