Famed graffiti and street art photographers Martha Cooper and Nika Kramer took to Jacó, Costa Rica, during the winter holidays in December, proving that they knew where to go when the weather up North is turning inclement and wintry. Naturally, they located some great walls to shoot as well.
A tourist destination since at least the 1920s, Jacó really took off in the 1970s when the first hotel opened here and, during the remainder of the century, transformed into a destination for vacation-residential development like the renowned Punta Leona just north.
Upscale accommodations, bachelor parties, party boats, and ex-pats in high supply, the town still retains connections to local culture thanks to its overwhelming natural beauty, hiking, surfing, and the mural program called Artify Jacó. Launched in 2016, its co-creator, Steward Invierno, also has owned a gallery/gift shop for the last decade that offers more traditional art-making workshops and sells canvasses by local and international artists.
Gravitating to broad themes relating to nature, love, community, and hope, the annual festival has been transforming the city with art and in some cases, has been likened to the neighborhood of Wynwood in Miami. Having spent a lot of time in that town as well during Art Basel, both Martha and Nika felt quite at home shooting the murals here at Artify Jacó.
Today we have part two of our coverage of the MEMUR Festival in Oldenburg, Germany. More than 30 regional and international artists painted a 280-meter-long wall of the railway elevation on the Oldenburg federal railway path – street artists on one side, graffiti artists on the other. In addition to the aerosol action, there was a photo exhibition featuring our featured documentarians, Martha Cooper and Nika Kramer, film screenings, photography and art workshops, and an educational program in cooperation with the Oldenburg City Museum and the Oldenburg Prevention Council.
Organizers say they needed 500 liters of wall paint just to prime the walls, and probably 1000 spray cans were used during the 3-day event. The 3D style is ruling the moment, but you can see bubble style and semi-wildstyle, some neofuturism, – as well as introductions of characters and brief fictional scenarios. Most importantly, most of the pieces get ample space to breathe and to stand on their own.
From environmental nightmares to the corporate war machine to social solidarity to identity politics to abortion to the isolation brought on by Covid, the muralists at the MEMUR Festival in Oldenburg, Germany are not muting their serious concerns about the modern world.
For being the inaugural episode of a festival, you have to be impressed with it on many levels. First is the selection high-quality international and national artists from both the street art and graffiti world. Secondly, organizers devised an equitable solution for these two distinct, yet entirely related, subcultures to participate fully on the walls of their fair city – with respect for all. Finally, the true rebellious spirit of this organically grown and democratic global people’s art movement was preserved by encouraging artists to select a modern-day societal ill and address it with their work.
It’s refreshing to experience a themed public exhibition like this that has not been censored by commercial interests but that endeavors to speak openly with its artworks about potentially difficult subjects to address the everyday passerby. “Street art has always been a means to criticize, reflect, and question,” says an online description of the scenes’ nascent beginnings, and that couldn’t be more true from our perspective. MEMUR 2022 calls it ‘Evolution of a Revolution,’ and since there is a widespread notion across developed world countries that leaders are not representing citizens anymore, you can imagine that these works may get people talking together and realizing that we are not polarized left-right, but top-bottom.
Today we’ll show you images from the street art muralists’ walls on one side of the 280-meter-long wall of the railway elevation on the Oldenburg federal railway path, and tomorrow we’ll show you the ‘Wall of Fame’ created on the other side by a stunning array of graffiti writers. In both cases, we extend our heartfelt thanks to two of the main participants in the event, photographers Martha Cooper of New York and hometown superstar/international photographer Nikka Kramer. Thanks to both for sharing their images with BSA readers.
Bulgarian muralists Arsek & Erase may have chosen one of the hottest current topics to address in their mural; the fear of hyperinflation and the severe damage it can do to individuals. The illustration-style painting features a vicious snake enveloping a jar of “savings”, preparing to consume it whole. Here in Oldenburg, where German inflation rose to its highest level in almost 50 years in August (8.8%), people are familiar with the topic. In their hometown of Sofia, Aresek & Erase are experiencing a 17% rate of inflation as of last month. Technically the term “hyperinflation” is somewhere above 50%, and 60 or so countries have fallen into it in the last hundred years, including Argentina today, and rather famously, the Weimar Republic (of which Oldenburg was a federated state) exactly 100 years ago, from 1921-23.
Suffice it to say that today many of the world’s currencies are in danger of inflationary pressures, including the dollar and Euro. There was talk amongst participants and organizers of MEMUR that the costs of the festival itself had to be recalibrated a few times because of increased costs in lodging, transportation, labor, and art materials.
“Thanks to everyone who came despite the heat to watch the artists paint, participate in the graffiti workshops and try their luck at the raffle,” said the organizers in their Instagram posting.
“All the positive feedback on the festival and the exhibition “Evolution of a Revolution” in the Kulturhalle am Pferdemarkt has only strengthened our belief that Oldenburg is ready for street art and that we definitely want to continue!’
The original Berlin Kid, if you will, Mr. Paradox is rappelling down the side of a building again, this time in broad daylight instead of surreptitiously in the darkness of night. It’s part of an initiative by Urban Nation museum and he’s happy to bring the stylized vertical letters that have set his work apart from others – something he refers to as ‘spiritual letters’. He’s his own man, independent, fearless, creative and talented.
“I have always followed my truth-seeker spirit,” he says, “setting my visions higher.”
The saturated red and blue lettering have evolved over time, but his technique has stayed the same for the last decade or so – a style many first compare to Pixaçao. It’s an often dangerous technique of graffiti lettering associated with the aerosol daredevils on the streets of cities like Sao Paulo – but that has also spread to cities like Paris, Berlin and New York.
“I don’t do Pixaçao,” Mr. Paradox tells BSA. “I do a highly advanced form of lettering that I call spiritual letters. I want to deliver art and beauty to the street – and of course to deliver critical messages about the system we live in and life in general.”
And what about the distinctive combination of blue and red colors? “They are like fire and water,” he says. “Like good and evil. Also people recognize me because of it.”
Special thanks to photographer Nika Kramer, who captures and shares these exclusive shots with BSA readers of Mr. Paradox’s installation.
Mr. Paradox’s text (above):
BRAIN WASHED PLANET: THE ELITE IS THE VIRUS ! THIS IS FOR ALL CRITICAL THINKERS UNLOCK THE MYSTERIES OF LIFE ESCAPE THE MAINSTREAM GOVERNMENT HIDES THE TRUTH THEY ARE HOLDING BACK TECHNOLOGY
With the foundation’s Dr. Hans-Michael Brey doing the intro, with YAP’s Sam Walter in the audience along with our show catalog contributor Christian Omodeo, and us in the front row – it was a great way to end our “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” exhibition at Urban Nation by looking forward at library plans while surrounded by the best team ever.
On our last Friday night in Berlin, we celebrated inside the exhibition with a live panel discussion featuring the evenings host Nika Kramer, and her guests Martha Cooper and the German graff writer and abstract painting powerhouse MadC. During a far-ranging discussion before a two-room audience in the museum and a live audience online, the three spoke about the graffiti/street art/mural scene from personal and professional perspectives – and how often the street has intersected with contemporary art in the gallery setting over the last decades.
The occasion was an inaugural MCL Talk that officially begins another component of programming related to the research library that we’ve been working on here, now open, called the Martha Cooper Library at Urban Nation. We will aim to make it the premier research library of graffiti, street art, and related urban art: the first place you think of when you need to begin your investigation into this remarkable global democratic people’s art movement.
There was a lively discussion of MadC’s evolution from being an artistically inclined child to one who would develop a signature style as she traveled worldwide to paint increasingly complex and massive walls. Creative challenges and cultural roadblocks were discussed and hard-earned philosophies were described; giving an opportunity for greater appreciation for the routes these people took to participate in, to put their mark on, the graffiti/street art environment. Ms. Kramer skillfully steered to parallels in the pioneering photography and documentary career of Martha Cooper. In the open and inclusive way that Cooper’s career has always been, many questions from the audience were welcomed, considered and addressed as well.
After the talk ended and people mingled and chatted with one another, we took one more quick walk through the museum to admire the wealth of materials and deep dives into history guests could learn about Ms. Cooper. We hovered above the table, looking from the 2nd floor walkway down to the lobby where the three women signed the exhibition catalog and MadC’s new hardcover for patient fans. Finally we left the museum and hung out on the sidewalk in the spring night air with new friends and old and many fans of the night’s special guests at UN.
Thank you again Berlin.
MC Library Presents Martha Cooper, MadC & Nika Kramer. From Street to Canvas. Urban Nation Museum Berlin. (photo still from the video)
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. BSA & Martha Cooper Discuss the Opening of MCL at UN
BSA Special Feature: BSA & Martha Cooper Discuss the Opening of MCL at UN
IN CONVERSATION WITH MARTHA COOPER, STEVEN P. HARRINGTON, AND JAIME ROJO (BSA) AT THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE MARTHA COOPER LIBRARY AT URBAN NATION BERLIN.
In November 2021, Martha Cooper was in Berlin together with Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art for a viewing of her exhibition “Taking Pictures”. Simultaneously the three announced the official opening of the Martha Cooper Library. They were each presented with the first MCL library cards in the MCL Reading Room at the Museum. With this, the library was formally inaugurated and has been open to the public since the second of November.
With Chief Librarian Eveline Wilson at the desk and Library Director Dr. Hans-Michael Brey leading the way, we are pleased that BSA’s vision and Martha’s vision of establishing an unrivaled library resource for scholars and students of graffiti and street art and related art movements across the globe will now have a dedicated collection for all.
Already, we are growing. Through the contact of Sascha Blasche, Hitzerot, we received a generous donation from the Dutch Graffiti Library in January of this year. The Dutch Graffiti Library was founded in 2018 by the twins Marcell and Richard van Tiggelen. Together with Sanne van Doorn, they built an extensive private collection on graffiti with a focus on the Netherlands and published several publications on the subject. Books from the Dutch Graffiti Library can be found in the OPAC. We also received an interesting donation from Kathryn Nussdorf. During a VHS (Berlin’s community education university) seminar, she created a fan book about the Berlin graffiti group CBS with many photos. In an exchange with the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy we have also received more catalogs. And in April there will be the first event: “MCL presents…”
Together with Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art, UN interviewed Martha Cooper about the opening on its very first day – about their common ideas, wishes and visions for the library.
Get in, get out, no one gets hurt. Our few days in Miami were full of adventure on the street and at parties and receptions for artists. The party rages on tonight and this weekend at the fairs and in the galleries and bars and streets of course, but our last events were interviewing Faile onstage at Wynwood Walls last night, going to the Museum of Graffiti 2nd Anniversary party/opening for FUZI, and, well there was this thing with Shepard Fairey and Major Lazer and a guy proposing marriage to his girl before the crowd…
But really, where else but Wynwood do you see Blade and his lovely wife Portia on the street, or sit with Ron English and his son Mars on folding chairs directly on the street in front of his new pop-up, or have a hug with ever-sunny Elle in front of her lift, or hide in the shade with seven 1UP dudes across the street from their massive new space piece, or talk with Ket in the back yard with “Style Wars” playing on a large screen behind him and the DJ while a florescent colored Okuda marches by, or chase Lamour Supreme while he tries a one-wheel skateboard around a parking lot, nearly crashing into Crash who is in his cherry picker with Abstrk painting a wall? The dinner at Goldman Properties Monday night? Dude.
We’re not really name-droppers, you know that, but honestly it was like a family reunion dinner with perfectly punctilious attention to detail over at Wynwood Walls this week – after two years of Covid fears killing everyone’s buzz. We saw Daze, Shoe, PichiAvo, Bordalo II, Jonone, Shepard Fairey, 1Up, Add Fuel, Case MacClaim, Nychos, Faile, Martha Cooper, Nika Kramer, Mantra, Ken Hiratsuka just to name a few – cavorting with collectors, cultural workers, fanboys, journalists, bloggers, academics, critics, bankers, gallerists, curators, museum people, real estate folks, photographers, dancers, silk climbing aerialists and hustlers of many flavors – and all the class of ’21 artists whom Jessica Goldman invited to paint this year. A Miami mélange, we’ll call it.
We were even having dinner with Martha when a local stencilist named Gregg Rivero sat in an empty chair at the table with us to offer an array of small stencil works featuring graphically pornographic scenes – to choose from as a memento of Miami indubitably. Naturally, we carefully perused his entire collection of 20 or so spread-eagles, doggie-styles, Shanghai-swans, Mississippi-missionaries, Dutch-doors, bobbing-for-sausages, and lord-knows-what-else. After careful consideration and we each selected a favorite stencil and he autographed it. Just not sure what room to hang it in…
Our treasured part of the Miami art vortex ’21 was meeting some BSA fans and Faile fans mixed together at the artist talk hosted by Peter Tunney at GGA Gallery last night. An action-packed hour of pictures covering their 35 year friendship was on offer for the assembled – focused mainly of course on their 22 year professional career. What an amazing career of image-making it is too – and even though we were prepared, there are always surprises with such dynamic dudes who have parlayed an illegal street art career into a well-respected and pretty high profile career with intense collectors and fans of their simplest silk screens and works on paper to their wood puzzle boxes, wood paintings, toys, ripped paintings, and their very new, completely radical approach that breaks their own mold for this “Endless” exhibition. And need we say it, Faile have already released a number of NFTs of course – which some in the audience didn’t know that Faile had – but could have guessed since Faile pioneered interactive digital games that accompanied their analog works as early as 2010 when most people still didn’t even have a smart phone.
But we digress. Back in New York now and it’s grey and cold and unwelcoming, and of course we love it. Thanks Miami! See you soon.
The image below was taken in Wynwood, Miami. At the panel, with Faile, they talked about the process of making their art and one of the subjects was about ripping up posters from the street…. – and how their original name was Alife. Two blocks away we found these ripped posters advertising Alife.
FAILE: ENDLESS is currently on view at Goldman Global Arts Gallery at Wynwood Walls. Wynwood, Miami.
Today at 10:00 AM PDT Shepard Fairey will release his newest print and collaboration with Martha Cooper, “People’s Discontent”. Shepard’s long friendship with Martha has brought several collaborations throughout the years with Shepard remixing some of Martha’s most iconic photos from her Street Play series from the mid-’70s. The print already saw its European release in Berlin last Friday, October 30th at the Urban Nation Museum in Berlin with us and Martha in attendance.
“I teamed up with my good friend and documentary photographer, Martha Cooper, on a new print release called “People’s Discontent.” Martha Cooper has been photographing creative kids in action on city streets since the mid-1970s. I remixed one of Martha’s iconic photos from her book, Street Play, titled “Hitchhiking a Bus on Houston Street” that she shot in 1978 in the Lower East Side of New York City. There was no advertisement on the back of the bus in her original photo, and since disco was the rage in the late ’70s, I thought it made sense for me to add a disco radio station with the slogan, “Listen To The Sounds of People’s Disco.” I added the “DISCO-ntent” and the spraypaint can in the kid’s hand as if he sprayed that on there. It’s a nod to that era but also to what’s going on now with the unrest around social justice issues.”
Venezuelan-born, Munich-based SatOne has graffiti-writing credentials dating back to the early 90s. Over time his letters went post-graffiti to imaginary worlds and science-fiction-inspired abstractions. Employed by big lifestyle, sport, and automotive brands over the last decade, his own work is full of movement and visual adventure-seeking.
Here in Berlin to participate in the Urban Nation One Wall initiative in the neighborhood of Spandau, SatOne (Rafael Gerlach) says he thinks of it as “Coming Home”, and names his new massive mural the same.
“The strict, vertical lines of the balconies can be interpreted as overlapping plateaus or levels,” says the project description. “They are arranging themselves in a dynamic pictorial composition on the surface, and just as life itself they seem constantly in motion.”
With stunning new shots from Nika Kramer we bring you the newest piece by SatOne, who says “Thanks to the daredevils Samuel, Flo and Michelle.” You know who you are.
When we asked Shepard Fairey if he would be up for a new remix of a Martha Cooper photo for our exhibition celebrating her career, he quickly said yes. Not only did he create a new original piece of art based on one of her classic “Street Play” images to hang in the gallery of our “Marth Remix” section, but he and his excellent team have also produced a new print – 250 of which sold out in 20 minutes on the Urban Nation website last night.
The good news is Shepard will be selling another block of them on November 4th, so watch his announcements on social media!
What a complete HONOR it is for us to introduce this unique collabo between Martha Cooper and Shepard Fairey to celebrate our curation of her very FIRST career-wide retrospective, now showing at Urban Nation museum until May of 2022.
Very special thanks to our beautiful partners at YAP Berlin for making this event happen.
Click HERE to purchase your print now or HERE to purchase your print on Nov. 4.
50+ years of taking photos of artists at work means you have thousands of images of graffiti writers straddling trains, street artists leaning off ladders, muralists hovering 20 stories above the street in cherry pickers. One of 11 sections comprising “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures”, our Artists at Work area has 400 printed images from around the world, floor to ceiling, and across a half dozen decades.
Not only can people find their graff and street art heroes on these walls as seen through Martha’s eyes, we have also created a database searchable iPad of 1300 more images of Artists of Work that have never been seen before. Just enter a country name, or artist’s name, or even a Street Art festival name, and you’ll get a whole lot of eye candy, artists, and tools of the trade.
We have some special events taking place this month to celebrate one complete year of the career-spanning exhibition “Martha Cooper: TAKING PICTURES”, which we created with the team at Urban Nation Museum in Berlin.
Today graffiti/street artist AIKO talks about her striking new graphic mural for the façade of the museum that highlights and interprets a suite of recognizable elements from Martha’s iconic photographs – a perfect answer to the Martha Remix section of the exhibition inside featuring 70 or so artists “remixing” her photos in their individual styles.
Later this month we are announcing a collaborative print release worldwide featuring another remix and a countrywide screening in theaters across Germany of “Martha: A Picture Story” with us and Martha interviewed by Nika Kramer at the Berlin opening. At a separate ceremony we also will co-host with Martha and Urban Nation the official opening of the Martha Cooper Library (MCL), a full library facility and research center to be permanently housed in the museum building.
To start off the excitement, here is Lady AIKO herself speaking about her new mural welcoming visitors to see “Martha Cooper: TAKING PICTURES”, now open until May 2022.
Q: Tell us about this mural project for UN. AIKO: Firstly, this mural is a gift for Martha Cooper in celebration of her big retrospective show at Urban Nation. Martha and I have been friends since 2006. We’ve been partners in crime, so to speak, for the last fifteen years. We have worked on many different projects together all over the world from the United States to Japan to Africa. Martha has taken over 16,000 pictures of AIKO and has archived many of her art projects.
I am honored to be part of this opportunity and working with Urban Nation to allow me to create this epic mural for Martha. The museum facade is almost like fresh skin wrapped around her massive historic exhibition with big love from everyone who was part of this production.
Martha and I have been collaborating on this one; it’s called the “Martha Cooper Remix” whereby I interpret and illustrate her images, create paintings on paper and on outdoor & indoor walls. For UN, I easily imagined us creating a big remix piece on the wall.
To begin this mural mission, I asked Martha what she would like to see on the wall; especially since I wanted to paint based on the classic pictures she photographed in NYC. She suggested several of her favorite pictures such as the one with Lady Pink when she was in the yard with the boys, Little Crazy Legs with spray cans, and the boom box one (which is the most iconic picture and the cover photo of the Hip Hop Files). Also, I included break-dancers Emiko and Frosty Freeze which are popular ones as well.
Based on her selections, I spent time at my studio to illustrate a large-scale portrait in my style and imagined it as the giant invitation banner for her show – as if it were a classic hand-painted movie ad in old Times Square. Since her show runs until next spring, till 2022, I’d love to invite everyone and spread the vibe even to the people who see the mural from the U-Bahn train above.
Q:Can you tell us about you and little background? AIKO: I’ve been based in NYC since 1997. NYC has been my playground and a huge inspiration. I met many amazing local and international artists, Faile, Bast, Banksy, Ben Eine, Obey, and Space Invader at that time. We were young artists, not famous yet, but we connected with one after another pretty much spontaneously – as if it were destiny. I started working in street art with everyone daily during the early 2000s and I was part of numerous gallery shows, jams, festivals, and museum installations. Being part of the history of street art and the graffiti (urban art) movement is how I got involved as AIKO as well.
… Meeting Martha Cooper was also another magical happening for me. Martha and I met in 2006 when I just started leaving my boys’ crew, working solo and stenciling bunnies on the streets. We became good and hard-core girlfriends and started traveling together. She introduced me to subway art legends and all other kinds of fascinating people and stuff in the world. I feel I’m one of the people who is continuing the history for the next generation.
Q:What do you think about working in Berlin? AIKO: Berlin is such a memorable place in my personal art life history. I spent lots of time without the Internet and enjoyed every day as a young artist. I made lots of friends and lots of stencils on the street. Of course, I was with Martha and spray-painted my bunny too. I’m so grateful that Urban Nation welcomed me back to town and let me create such a huge piece on the facade of the museum. Thank you so much for everyone’s support.
“MARTHA COOPER: TAKING PICTURES” Curated by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo is currently open to the general public. Click HERE for schedules and details.