Arts and artists get very little or no financial or institutional support from the federal, state, or local government in the United States, which is always a shock for Europeans to learn – and many won’t believe it when you tell them. This website, for example, receives no funding or grants from any organization despite publishing daily for almost nine years, and it has remained non-commercial during that entire time.
The Raw Project in Wynwood, Miami is the initiative of Robert De Los Rios, who partnered with private contributors, did fundraising, and asked a coalition of artists to paint the walls of the schools for the kids.
Part of its success of course is due to the status of the Wynwood neighborhood as a magnet for graffiti and Street Artists over the last decade or so. Already coming to Wynwood for Art Basel or to partake in a related art event, these artists have given of themselves and their talents to create a completely unique and dynamic environment for students to learn and grow up around.
Over the holidays we made a quick stop in West Palm Beach, Florida to take a look at the murals from the CANVAS program, adjacent to the neighborhood of the Trump resort where he spent New Year’s Eve where he charged guests a minimum of $525 per person to attend his party. Scrubbed clean of any actual graffiti or organic Street Art, the downtown West Palm Beach shopping neighborhood adds these murals to a sleepy commercial area to pick up the glitter of a current fascination with Street Art.
With the highly contentious and disputed Trump right next door at his Mar-a-Lago estate, one wonders if any political messaging will be visible in the future, or will the neighborhood expressions of art in the streets be comprised of these decidedly apolitical and attractive murals created in advance of his presidency.
So here’s our first weekly interview with the streets for the year, this week featuring Anthony Hernandez, Astro, Bikismo, Case Ma’Claim, EMC, Grafftoyz, Greg Mike, Herakut, Hoxxoh, Kobra, Lonac, Michael Dweck, Pastel, PHD Graphitti, Pichi & Avo, Pipsqueakwashere, Sipros, Tristan Eaton, and WRDSMTH.
The Artmossphere Biennale jump-starts the debate for many about how to best present the work of Street Artists and organizers here in Moscow chose a broad selection of curators from across a spectrum of private, commercial, academic and civically-inspired perspectives to present a solid range of artists from the graffiti and Street Art world inside a formal hall.
To be clear, unless it is illegal and on the street, it is not graffiti nor Street Art. That is the prevailing opinion about these terms among experts and scholars of various stripes and it is one we’re comfortable with. But then there are the commercial and cultural influences of the art world and the design industries, with their power to reshape and loosen terms from their moorings. Probably because these associated art movements are happening and taking shape before our eyes and not ensconced in centuries of scholarship we can expect that we will continue to witness the morphing our language and terminologies, sometimes changing things in translation.
Definitions aside, when you think of more organic Street Art scenes which are always re-generating themselves in the run-down abandoned sectors of cities like Sao Paulo, New York, Melbourne, Paris, Mexico City, London, and Berlin, it is interesting to consider that this event takes place nearly on the grounds of the Kremlin under museum like security.
An international capital that ensures cleanly buffed walls within hours of the appearance of any unapproved Street Art or graffiti, Moscow also boasts a growing contingent of art collectors who are young enough to appreciate the cultural currency of this continuously mutating hybrid of graffiti, hip hop, DIY, muralism, and art-school headiness. The night clubs and fashionable kids here are fans of events like hip-hop and graffiti jams, sometimes presented as theater and other times as “learning workshops” and the like.
Plugging into this idea of street and youth culture is not a singular fascination – there is perhaps an association with the rebellious anti-authoritarian nature of unregulated art in the streets that fuels the interest of many. With graffiti and hip-hop culture adoption as a template, newer expressions of Street Art culture are attractive as well with high profile artists with rebel reputations are as familiar in name here as in many cities. New festivals and events sometimes leverage this renegade free-spirit currency for selling tourism and brands and real estate, but here there also appears to be an acute appreciation for its fine art expression – urban contemporary art.
MOSCOW’S MANEGE AND “DEGENERATE ART”
So ardent is the support for Artmossphere here that a combination of public and private endorsements and financial backing have brought it to be showcased in a place associated with high-culture and counter-culture known as the Moscow Manege (Мане́ж). The location somehow fits the rebellious spirit that launched these artists even if its appearance wouldn’t lead you to think that.
The 19th century neo-classical exhibition hall stands grandly adjacent to Red Square and was built as an indoor riding school large enough to house a battalion of 2,000 soldiers during the 1800s. It later became host to many art exhibitions in the 20th century including a famous avant-garde show in 1962 that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev famously derided as displaying ‘degenerate’ art.
One of the artists whose work was criticized, painter and sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, challenged the label defiantly and won accolades afterward during his five decade career that followed, including receiving many awards and his work being collected worldwide by museums. Russian President Vladimir Putin is quoted as calling him “a recognised master and one of the best contemporary sculptors”. In January of this year at the age of 90, Neizvestny’s return to Menage featured an extensive exhibition. He passed away August 9th (The Moscow Times), only weeks before Artmossphere opened.
In some kindred spirit many of these artists at Artmossphere have done actual illegal work on the streets around the world during their respective creative evolutions, and graffiti and Street Art as a practice have both at various times been demonized, derided, dismissed and labeled by critics in terms synonymous with “degenerate”.
A CLEAN CITY
“Moscow is mostly very clean,” says Artmossphere co-founder and Creative Director Sabine Chagina, who walks with guests during a sunny afternoon in a busy downtown area just after the opening. “But we do have some good graffiti crews,” she says as we round the corner from the famous Bolshoi Theater and soon pass Givenchy and Chanel and high-end luxury fashion stores. Shortly we see a mural nearby by French artist Nelio, who painted a lateral abstracted geometric, possibly cubist, piece on the side of a building here in 2013 as part of the LGZ Festival.
If there was graffiti here in Moscow, it was not on full display very readily in this part of town. In driving tours, rides on the extensive metro train system, and in street hikes across the city a visitor may find that much of the illegal street art and graffiti common to other global capitals is illusive due to a general distaste for it and a dedicated adherence to buffing it out quickly.
For a pedestrian tourist Moscow appears in many ways as fully contemporary and architecturally rich as any international world-class metropolis. One of the cleanest places you’ll visit, the metro is almost museum-like in some instances; the historic districts spotless, public fountains, famed statues of important historical figures. All is efficiently ordered and – a welcome surprise – most public space is free of advertisements interrupting your view and your thoughts.
Come to think of it, the sense of commercial-celebrity media saturation that is present in other cities doesn’t appear to permeate the artists psyche here at the Biennale – so there’s not much of the ironic Disney-Marilyn-supermodel-Kardashian-skewering of consumerism and shallowness in this exhibition that you may find in other Urban Art events.
Also, unlike a Street Art-splattered show in London for example that may rudely mock Queen Elizabeth or art in New York streets that present Donald Trump styled as a pile of poo and Hillary Clinton as Heath Ledger’s Joker, we didn’t see over-the-top Putin satires either. So personality politics don’t seem directly addressed in this milieu. According to some residents there was an outcropping of huge festival murals by Street Artists here just a few years ago but more recently they have been painted over with patriotic or other inspiring murals, while others have been claimed for commercial interests.
Starved for some gritty street scenes, it is all the more interesting to see the one live mural painting that we were able to catch – a 6-story red-lined op-art tag by the French graffiti writer L’Atlas. Far from Manege, placed opposite a cineplex in what appears to be a shopping mall situated far from the city’s historical and modern centers, our guide tells us half-jokingly that he is not sure that we are still in Moscow.
Here L’Atlas says that he has painted his bar-code-like and cryptic nom-de-plume with an assistant on a cherry picker for a few days and he says that no one has stopped to ask him about it, neither to comment or criticize. Actually one man early one morning returning home from a disco did engage him briefly, but it was difficult to tell what he was talking about as he may have had a few drinks.
This lack of public commentary is mainly notable because in other cities the comments from passersby can be so ubiquitous that artists deliberately wear stereo headphones to prevent interruption and to be more productive. Sometimes the headphones are not actually playing music.
This Street Art Biennale nonetheless is gaining a higher profile among Urban Art collectors and its associated art dealers and the opening and later auction reaches directly to this audience. Included this year with the primary “Invisible Walls” exhibition are satellite events in association with local RuArts Gallery, Tsekh Belogo at Winzavod, and the Optika Pavilion (No. 64) at VDNKh.
The opening night event itself is wide and welcoming, a mostly youthful and populist affair with celebratory speeches and loosely organized group photos and an open bar. Added together with a press conference, a live DJ, virtual reality headsets, interactive artworks, major private business sponsors, government grants, ministers of culture, gallerists, and quirkily fashionable art fans, this is a polished presentation of a global culture that is filtered through the wide lense of the street.
Perhaps because the exhibition hall is a cavernous rectangle with exposed beams on the ceiling and many of the constructed white walls that mimic vendor booths, it has the air of an art fair. There are thankfully no salespeople pacing back and forth watching your level of interest. People tend to cluster before installations and talk, laugh, share a story, pose for a selfie.
The theme seems very appropriately topical as geopolitical, trade-related, social, digital, and actual walls appear to be falling down rapidly today while the foundations of new ones are taking shape. Catalyzed perhaps by the concept and practices of so-called “globalization” – with its easy flow of capital and restricted flow of humans, we are all examining the walls that are shaping our lives.
With 60+ international artists working simultaneously throughout this massive hall, newly built walls are the imperative for displaying art, supporting it, dividing it. These are the visible ones. With so many players and countries represented here, one can only imagine that there are a number of invisible walls present as well.
The theme has opened countless interpretations in flat and sculptural ways, often expressed in the vernacular of fine art with arguable nods to mid-20th century modernists, folk art, fantasy, representational art, abstract, conceptual, computer/digital art, and good old traditional graffiti tagging. Effectively it appears that when Street Art and graffiti artists pass the precipice into a multi-disciplinary exhibition such as this, one can reframe Urban/Street as important tributaries to contemporary art – but will they re-direct the flow or be subsumed within it?
The work often can be so far removed from street practice that you don’t recognize it as related.
Aside from putting work up in contested public space without permission and under cover, an average visitor may not see a common thread. These works run aesthetic to the conceptual, painterly to the sculptural, pure joy and pure politics. But then, that is we began to see in the streets as well when the century turned to the 21st and art students in large numbers in cities like New York and London and Berlin skipped the gatekeepers, taking their art directly to the public.
Perhaps beneath the surface or just above it, there is a certain anarchistic defiance, a critique of social, economic, political issues, a healthy skepticism toward everyone and everything that reeks of hypocritical patriarchal power structures. Perhaps we’re just projecting.
Looking over the 60+ list of names, it may be striking to some that very few are people of color, especially in view of the origins of the graffiti scene. Similarly, the percentage of women represented is quite small. We are familiar with this observation about Urban Art in general today, and this show mirrors the European and American scene primarily, with notable exceptions such as Instagrafite’s home-based Brazilian crew of 4 artists. As only one such sampling of a wide and dispersed scene, it is not perhaps fair to judge it by artists race, gender, or background, but while we speak of invisible walls it is worth keeping our eyes on as this “scene” is adopted into galleries, museums, and private collections.
Following are some of the artists on view at Artmossphere:
Certainly Moscow native ASKE is gently mocking our mutated modern practices of communicating with his outsized blocked abstraction of a close couple riveted to their respective electronic devices, even unaware of one another.
Warsaw based NeSpoon creates a sculpture of another couple. Heroically presenting her vision of what she calls the iconic “Graffiti Writer” and “Street Art Girl”, they face the future with art instruments in hand ready to make their respective marks. She says her work is emblematic of a permanent financial insecurity for a generation she calls the “PRECARIAT”.
“ ‘Precariat’ is the name of the new emerging social class,” says curator, organizer, and NeSpoon’s partner Marcin Rutkiewicz when talking about the piece during the press conference. “These are young people living without a predictable future, without good jobs, without social security. It’s a class in the making and probably these people don’t have any consciousness or global unity of interest. But they are the engines of protest for people all over the world – like Occupy Wall Street, Gezi Park in Turkey, or the Arab Spring.”
The artist developed the sculpture specifically for this exhibition and planned it over the course of a year or so. Born of a social movement in Poland by the same name, the sculpture and its sticker campaign on the street represent “a kind of protest against building walls between people who are under the same economical and social situation all over the world,” says Rutkiewicz.
Artist Li-Hill says his piece “Guns, Germs, and Steel” directly relates to the divisions between civilizations due to a completely uneven playing field perpetuated through generations. Inspired by the 1997 trans-disciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond, Li-Hill says the Russian sculptural group called “The Horse Tamers” represents mankind’s “ability to harness power of the natural world and to be able to manipulate it for its advantage.”
“The horse is one of the largest signifiers and is a catalyst for advancement in society because it has been for military use, for agriculture, for transportation,” he says. “It was the most versatile of the animals and the most powerful.” Here he painted a mirror image, balanced over a potential microbial disaster symbol, and he and the team are building a mirrored floor to “give it this kind of infinite emblem status.”
Afloat in the middle of some of these walled areas M-City from Poland is choosing to be more direct thematically in his three dimensional installation of plywood, plaster, aerosol and bucket paint, and machine blown insulation.
“It is an anti-war piece,” he says, and he speaks about the walls between nations and a losing battle of dominance that ensures everyone will be victim.”
“It’s kind of a monster who destroys arms,” he says of this temporary sculpture with a lording figure crushing tanks below.
“He is destroying the tanks but at the same time he is also a destroyer – so it’s a big circle. Nothing is positive that can come out of this. There is always someone bigger.” He says the piece is inspired by the political situations in Europe today and the world at large.
Minneapolis based HOTTEA usually does very colorful yarn installations transforming a huge public space, but for Artmossphere he is taking the conceptual route. The walk-in room based on the Whack-A-Mole game presents holes which a visitor can walk under and rise above.
Visitors/participants will experience the physical separation of space, and perhaps contemplate facing one another and interacting or ignoring one another. It is something he says he hopes will draw attention to how many walls we have allowed ourselves to distract from human interactions.
Englands’ Sick Boy calls his project The Rewards System, where guests are invited to climb a ladder over a brick wall and descend down a slide into a darkened house, setting off a series of sensors that activate a variety of multisensory lights and tantalizing patterns. After landing and being rewarded the visitor is forced to exit on hands and knees through a too-small square door.
“The concept of the show is about invisible walls so I was thinking about there being barriers in your life and I thought about the reward of endorphins one experiences for achieving a task – a small amount of endorphins. So I thought I would build a house that signifies the reward system,” he explains.
Atlanta/Seattle based Derek Bruno reached back to the Leonid Brezhnev years and into Moscow’s Gorky Park for his series of site specific installations based on Soviet Cement Fence type PO-2. The iconic fence was re-created in a nearby studio and Bruno shot photographs of his 10-15 minute “interventions” in the park itself, revisiting a field of design called “technical aesthetics.”
In a statement Bruno explains “Since the end of the Soviet Union, the iconic fence has become a persistent and ever present reminder of former delineations of space; while new forms of boundaries shape the digital and sociopolitical landscapes. “
Remi Rough is known for his smartly soaring abstract geometry in painted murals and smaller scale works, and for Moscow he wanted to strip it back to the basics, approaching a white box with one undulating graphic composition.
“My idea was that Moscow’s a bit ‘over the top’,” he says, and he decided to strip back the audacity and go for simplicity, which actually takes courage.
“I said ‘you know what?’ – I want to do something with the cheapest materials you can possibly get. These two pieces literally cost 3000 rubles ($50). It’s made of felt, it’s like a lambs wool. I think they use it for flooring for construction.” Depending on the angle, the pink blotted material may translate as a swath of otherworldly terrain or a metaphorical bold vision with all the hot air let out.
“I wanted to do something peaceful and calming and use natural materials – something that’s different from what I usually do – but I use the folds in the fabric and the pink color – two things that I usually use a lot.”
Moscow’s Alexey Luka is also challenging himself to stretch creatively by taking his wall collage installations of found wood and converting them into free-standing sculptures.
“For this biennale I tried to make something different so now I am going from the assemblages to 3-D.” The constructed media is warm and ordered, reserved but not without whimsy.
“My work is made from found wood – I use it with what I found on the street and my shapes and my graphics – so it’s kind of an experiment with three dimensions,” and he confirms that most of this wood is sourced here in Moscow.
We ask him about the number of eyes that peer out from his installation. Perhaps these eyes are those of Muscovites? “They are just like observers,” he says.
Torino’s Mimmo recreated the Moscow Olympic Village from the 1980 games in miniature presented as on a plainly brutalist platform. The sculpture is austere in detail on the hulking towers save for the tiny graffiti tags, throwies, rollers, extinguisher tags, and the like at the bases and on the roofs.
Curator Christian Omodeo tells us that Mimmo recreated the massive village based on his direct study of the site as it stands today; a housing project that has hundreds of families — and a hip-hop / graffiti scene as well.
It is striking that the scale reduces the impact of the graffiti – yet when experienced at eye-level it retains a potency. Even so, by recasting the relationship between viewer and mark-making, this graffiti actually seems “cute” because of its relative size to the viewer.
Brad Downey and Alexander Petrelli hi-jacked the opening of the Biennale by circulating within the exhibit as a gallery with artworks for sale. With Downey performing as a street-huckster pushing his own art products, Mr. Patrelli showcased new Downey photo collages and drawings inside his mobile “Overcoat Gallery”
A charming Moscow art star / gallerist / performance artist, Mr. Patrelli is also a perennial character at openings and events in the city, by one account having appeared at 460 or so events since 1992 with his flashing overcoat. The artworks also feature Patrelli, completing a self-referential meta cycle that continued to circle the guests at the exhibition.
International artists participating in the Artmossphere Biennale 2016 include: Akacorleone, Alex Senna, Brad Downey, Chu (Doma), Orilo (Doma), Claudio Ethos, Demsky, Christopher Derek Bruno, Filippo Minelli, Finok, Galo, Gola Hundun, Hot Tea, Jaz, Jessie and Katey, Johannes Mundinger, L’Atlas, LiHill, LX One, M-city, TC, Mario Mankey, Martha Cooper, Miss Van, Nespoon, Millo, Pablo Benzo, Pastel, Paulo Ito, Proembrion, Remed, Remi Rough, Rub Kandy, Run, Sepe, Sickboy, Smash 137, Sozyone Gonsales, SpY, The London Police, Trek Matthews, Wes 21.
Two new pieces in Kiev from Belgian Street Artist ROA and Argentian Street Artist Pastel, both for the ArtUnitedUs project.
Pastel took some time to study history of the Makhnovist movement during the 1917 Russian Revolution, he says, as well as the libertarian revolution in the Ukraine. Naturally, botany was his chosen method of communicating such complex events.
He also studied local plants for inspiration, and posted this quote on his Facebook page.
“We have all flirted with freedom and, deep inside all of us have the urge to make it a serious relationship. The Anarchist values of individual freedom, grass roots democracy, and the decentralisation of all forms of power are, if anything, more pertinent today then over. See you on the barricades.” -Tony Allen, Kiev
See here a photo he used for a sketch of his new wall during his preparation.
In his familiar monochromatic aerosol hand rendering below ROA depicts local marginalized friends from the animal world. His practice is to study his host city and find the local animals that are not commonly celebrated or thought of very often, in effect giving them a visual voice in the cityscape. His painting took five days and was slowed by a painful foot problem, but ultimately he powered through.
Truthfully, the appearance of new mural festivals today is faster than annual – it’s more like quarterly – but this one in the Dominican Republic was inaugurated three weeks ago and brings a certain hand crafted authenticity that holds promise for its future.
“ArteSano Project” gives you an indication of the personal nature of the art you are likely to see from the 25 local and international artists invited to Rio San Juan from December 11-22. It could be the name influencing our perception, but in one way or another it looks like these artists are chosen for their down-to-earth hand hewn approach. Sometimes decorative, sometimes storytelling, there are familiar themes and motifs that play well to their local audience as well as the virtual gawker.
Even with two dozen artists, it isn’t bloated: no logos or product tie-ins or DJs or high flying scissor lifts scaling massive multi-story walls with abstract surrealism, hyper photo-realism or dark pop human/animal/robot hybrids here – yet. Well, we take that back on the surrealism score; Pixel Pancho is here with a brood of chickens bobbing their industrial mesh necks atop fired tile bodices, hunting and pecking their way toward the beach, and Miami artist duo 2alas & Hox created a portrait of a boy with a partial mask overlay that calls to mind cyborgs (and Sten & Lex). But here in the loungey bare-foot tropical DR coastal area, even Pixel Pancho mutes the hues toward sun-bleached pastels, more easily complimenting their surroundings.
Free-running fowl overtook a few artists thematically, including another international artist who usually paints hybrid forms with dimension and almost mythic metaphor, but who this time tried his hand at something much more folkloric. “Importacion Cultural”, the flatly bright piece by Buenos Aires born Franco “Jaz” Fasoli, presents an entire wall with hand cut and paper collage, adding to the general feeling of approachability, and introducing a form of craft-inspired art-making more common to DIY Street Art of the 2000s than recent aerosol-infused mural festivals.
“The community was transformed during those days and over two weeks they began to see these great artists’ work and create specific pieces in different places around the town,” says Mario E. Ramirez, a Puerto Rican artist who has been documenting and capturing the burgeoning graffiti/Street Art scene in his country and places like DR with his partners at Tost Films. He says that an event like this that connects with a community yields a greater dialogue than some of the more commercial Street Art and graffiti enterprises, because the artists get to interact with neighbors closely. “At the completion of the ArteSano each artist felt like a distinguished guest of Rio San Juan. They made us feel at home, it was one of the best experiences of 2014.”
One of the organizers, Dominican born artist Evoca1, has experience working as a Street Artist as well as bringing actual physical sustenance and support to a community. For about four years the Miami based artist has delivered many meals to folks living on the street with his wife and friends through an organization he began called “Sketches For Mankind.”
With Evoca1 hosting the ArteSano project it became another form of community outreach and the curatorial responsibilities for the public art initiative was offered by the folks at the Vienna based INOPERAbLE Gallery, who have represented a mix of urban artists work including some in this show and others that are range into pop, dark pop, graphic irony, and more “traditional” contemporary Street Art.
Organizers say they hope that ArteSano gains traction and that people get to know the Dominican Republic as a good place for urban arts and muralism. There is not much transgressive here; With its mix of mainly latin name-brand and local homegrown talent, it looks like ArteSano makes a respectable entry into the international mural festival mileu with what may be the emerging alchemy of the decorative and the pleasing – peppered with some more challenging themes and muted socio-political messages.
Overall no one will argue that Rio San Juan is a great location for a painter or street artist from the northern hemisphere in December. Among the invited artists were BIKISMO, JADE, 2ALAS, HOXXOH, PASTEL, JAZ, EVER, ELIAN, LEO, VERO RIVERA, MODAFOCA, ENTES, FAITH47, AXEL VOID, PIXEL PANCHO, FILIO, ANGURRIA, 3TAMAROOTS, GABZ, POTELECHE, BAD6, SHAK, RUBEN, JOHANN,SEBAS, and PAOLA.
A popular city for Street Art in the early-2000s that attracted artists from across Europe and elsewhere to its intimate doorways and darkened small streets, Barcelona has become less inviting to illegal painting in recent years due to an organized campaign to contain the freewheeling art and convert it into a respectable city to shop in. Like many cities now engaging the talent if not the transgression of this generation of renegade artists, there are other ways now appearing to help artists get up on walls.
In October Difusor, a non-profit cultural association that works with the city, businesses, and the artists mounted Open Walls, a conference and mural program for four days that included installations/interventions, workshops and lectures from an international roster.
Included among the speakers were Todd W. Bressi from City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, mural conservator Will Shank and Leon Cullinane from Nuart. Artist represented were people like Escif, Alexis Diaz, Pastel, Joao Lelo, 310 / Stepan Krasnov, M-City and Madsteez.
The resulting mix is wide reaching and good quality, and just when the palette is becoming too subdued and the geometry possibly municipal the wild acid royal canine court by Madsteez parries forth in a line kicking formation. Not everything is rainbows and butterflies; of note are the swarming drones by the Polish M-City, their insect-like bodies clustered madly together in a cloud of all-seeing killers in the sky.
For an “approved” roster of works the variety of styles represents what is happening as modern and contemporary art movements gain currency in the public art eye. Also, you can still check out plenty of illegal spots nearby and Barcelona still is popping with possibility if you know where to look for one of Miss Van’s ladies, or maybe even an old C215 or Faile one-color stencil.
The month long 4th Edition of Bien Urbain just wrapped in Besançon, France and the results are predictably rather awesome due to the quality of the work, the site selections, and the integrated nature of the entire presentation. “It is not about designing an open-air art gallery or about decorating the town,” say the organizers, and maybe that is why each artist seems to consider the whole before devising his or her addition to it.
BSA has been tracking Bien Urbain since its introduction and each time the collection of artists is thoughtfully selected, with each helping to define and refine the measure of public art without the trite pleasantries of commercially sponsored festivals nor stultifyingly bland results of design by municipal committee.
Whether purely modernist (MOMO), cerebral (Brad Downey) or poetic (Pastel), the contributions to Bien Urbain are more edifying than edifice and enable one to experience “artistic routes through and with public spaces,” as the festivals’ motto intones.
By way of re-balancing our chakras today, we check in with Göla and his new mural of the Deer God for the Viavai Project in Salento, Italy.
Along with Street Artists like Pastel, Ozmo, Eversiempre, CT, Basic, and Tellas, the festival takes the position that art in public spaces can shift the center of gravity away from the typical hype of a “scene” and focus instead upon the experiential aspects of art as a living thing and even an emotional one.
Göla tells us that his new piece is centered on an amiable antlered diety as a “symbol of the rebirth of nature and the cycle of the seasons studied since Paleolithic cultures, described here through vegetal elements and reflected as an oracle and a mouthpiece of behaviors.”
The name of the new piece is “Direzione” (direction) which he says, “speaks about coexistence of man and other species and creating a sustainable path forward.” Conceived as a sacred apparition, it uses symmetrical and metaphorical symbols in a way that echoes more established conventions of religious art.
While the street artist and performer describes his new work you may wonder how the allegories contained within it about resources, sharing, giving, receiving and communion with nature could ever be achieved. He admits that these are long time aspirational goals that people have had for centuries and he obviously believes that they are still worthwhile to contemplate. He speaks of the rising path in the image that is “guided by the light purple color of meditation and spirituality to a new conception of the planet that is in reality nothing more than a new-found understanding of the ancient tribal societies – married by advances current technology.”
New York’s Street Art/graffiti/public/urban art scene is poppin’ baby – new shows, new spaces opening up or rumored to be, a new fleet of artists going out to the street doing sanctioned and unsanctioned work, and new debates about what it all means to the scene and who should rush to take credit for each phase or element of it. Answer: all of us, none of us.
Also a renewed and flawed discussion has erupted again, as it periodically does, around the need to have a “critique” around street art. We know that critical observation can be useful for those who are unsure about forming their own opinions, it’s just that we advocate widening that circle of who gets to offer the critique to include, um, everybody.
We also usually trust people on the street to make their own judgements about an art piece and its value or importance in that context. The inner world and material world of art is vastly larger than we can usually imagine and our rush to measure it often hilariously misses the point or the intention of the artist, so let’s take this impulse to judge it with some humility.
In the case of graffiti and Street Art, we all have seen examples over the last half-century where educational or cultural institutions implicitly or explicitly dismiss work on the street until it has been validated by market forces. The caustic undertone of this habitual and snide dismissal can be tied directly to classism, racism, or fear of the unknown. This is a generalization of course, so take it as such, but the neo-liberal cycle of “critical thought” has been too often reserved for the dominant culture or class, and that paradigm is really of no service to any of us anymore.
The folks who put missives on the street do so with a wide variety of motivations, needs, desires, and expectations. They are perfectly happy to have their work judged by the average passerby, and in New Yawk there is never a shortage of opinions, regardless of what school you went to. In the case of art in the streets, those are the opinions that still matter the most.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Ainac, AwerOne, Bluedog 10003, Joan Tarrago, Judith Supine, Kalen Hollomon, Maki Carvalho, Pastel, REVS, Wolftits, and ZAH
First there was Labor Day, then the Jewish New Year, so it was easy to get a seat on the subway, and sometimes next to a model who’s here for Fashion Week and who got a room in Brooklyn on Air BnB (thinking BK is just steps away from Manhattan). Now everybody’s getting ready to vote in the mayoral primary on Tuesday and all the students are gearing up to start the new school year, and most people you meet on the street and on stoops are talking distrustfully/quizzically about O taking us to war in Syria. Meanwhile no humidity and lots of sunshine means every day seems nice for painting, pasting, or dissing somebody else’s work – depending on your frame of mind.
The big Calligraffiti show in Chelsea was packed Thursday night, where you could see some of your favorite artists in person like El Seed, Niels Shoe Meulman, Rostarr, and Olek, and you could catch work from Haring, Basquiat, and a room full of LAII. Out in Bushwick you could even catch Blek Le Rat, one of the originators of this kind of work, putting up some new pieces as he prepared for his opening last night at Jonathan Levine. And yesterday Faile started a monstrous new wall in Hells Kitchen that will create a swarm of fans and cameras on the street (more on that later). New York is spoiled, yo.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week including Bast, Bishop203, Blek le Rat, Dede, DZIA, El Kamino, Faile, GIJ Van Hee, Icy & Sot, Pastel, Palladino, QRST, Skuzz, Wonky Monky, and You Go Girl!.
Oh! If only these walls could speak! The diverse stories of New York’s 20th/21st century immigrants would yell above the racing traffic north of 96th Street.
Inspired in part by a similarly named festival held last year in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Los Muros Hablan NYC just took place in Harlem and the South Bronx, bringing Street Artists and muralists together from Latin America, Puerto Rico, and New York. In a coordinated effort with the museum El Museo del Barrio, a cultural space called La Repuesta, and the office of local Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, the festival gathered a scattered collection of walls under one name.
Combining an animated neighborhood block party, live music, and panel discussion, Los Murals Hablan (translated as “The Murals Speak”) brought back a part of New York street life that sometimes feels like it is disappearing in the grand blanding of Manhattan. We look at it as a reinvigoration; a continuation of the tradition of community murals and graffiti influences from El Barrio while updating it to include the stunning new directions of a global Street Art scene.
Invited artists included were Axel Void, Celso Gonzales, Roberto Biaggi, Elian & Pastel, Jufe, Betsy Casañas, Manny Vega, LNY, Don Rim X, and Viajero. Here are images of some of the artists and their work by photographer Jaime Rojo.
For an artist born in Miami of a Haitian mom and raised in Spain, the concept of home in this city of immigrants is especially poignant. On his Facebook description of his wall Axel says, “The concept fits the event that Los Muros Hablan proposed, ‘Diaspora’. In a neighborhood like East Harlem, there is a great mix of nationalities that all meet at this place they now call home. It was really something to see the different reactions and hospitality of the people who would pass by or lived across from the wall. This wall is dedicated to them.”
New Yorker Viajero has his studio in Brooklyn and his heart in Puerto Rico. The artist draws on tradition and reveres those who came before him as well as the power that lies in the community today. With an interest in sculpture and installation as well as drawing Viajero’s mural flies off the wall so that it can also hang from the limbs of a tree in front of it. If only his mural could speak!
This week in Atlanta we’ve had a blast meeting the artists and organizers and capturing the new works for you to see here. We’ve published many of the walls in the last few days so here are some that we have not, including works by 3TTman, JR, Pastel, Elian, Gyun Hur, Joshua Ray Stephens, Nanook, Trek Matthews