As you make your resolutions for the new year, you may find yourself trimming the bushes of your life, pruning away the unproductive branches, as it were. Polish poet Tadeausz Nowak (1930-1991) may have been thinking of clearing away the dead brush when he wrote about “ludzikowie” (petty people) in his “Frolic Psalm”.
Polish street artist Michał ‘Sepe’ Wręga was born in Warsaw and tells us about this new mural he painted in his hometown as a tribute to the poet. Always in touch with his graffiti roots, Sepe now plays with a sophisticated palette like an illustrator and painter, giving these figures a maudlin cheer, mired as they are in trifling fixations.
To better describe his intentions with these pink and blue painterly depictions, Sepe quotes Nowak for us: “Heaven, oh heaven, pricked with spears, pierced through with a cow’s horn, poor petty people standing beneath with their God swamped in plaster”.
Sometimes an enterprising artist creates their own initiative in a city and invites friends to come and paint walls that they secure – a small campaign or informal “festival, if you will.
“I invited 3 artists to the project ‘OD/BLOKOWANIE’,” says the
billboard hi-jacker/adbuster named Lump here in Szczecin, Poland. The lineup
includes the Polish Sepe, the Greek graffiti writer/wheat-paster/painter Dimitris
Taxis, and the Spanish painter/Street Artist Zësar Bahamonte.
With a title like OD/BLOKOWANIE that translates roughly to “unblocking”,
you may imagine that Sepe is opening up a part of the city with his wall.
“I focused on melting the work into colors and forms of surrounding – warm greens and browns similar to the trees around,” says Sepe. “Also I used the walls’s natural plaster to make the work appear light and not so visually oppressive.” He calls the work, “There’s No Sea…”
disfigured, on the mottled edge of grotesques, Sepe’s portraits admire and
recoil from humanity and its foibles. Here in the Phillipines in monochrome,
his newest public works reflect the intensity of the streets where near martial
law or actual martial law locks down society.
The Polish Street Artist/ fine artist has traveled to many cities around the world in the last decade painting on the streets and on canvasses, but these four months have been unlike the others. Here we see his rough-hewn painterly style complimented by the schematic illustration style of an architect, the tension between emotional and rational in harmony.
An observer of social and political phenomenon, you may see the state of life reflected here as he surely has formed a view – one that appears to look for a sense of balance. Eyes are fatigued, identities are obscured, clouds may contain troubled thoughts and struggles, yet figures are elegant and dignified.
“Poverty is huge here and probably
some parts of the country are very dangerous,” he tells us, “however I was
lucky to meet only good and open people.”
Today we give you a recap of some favorite scenes from the festival across many cities of Finland thanks to the vision and organizing of Jorgos Fanaris and his team who collectively direct the festival from their headquarters in a post-industrial neighborhood of Helsinki. While there is a proud graff scene and history here, and the city has areas like the Pasila Street Art District, the capital is usually known as a sparkling international city of islands and a peninsula by the Gulf of Finland facing Tallinn, Estonia across the bay.
Proudly humble, elegant and rationally romantic, the city is flanked on all sides by arts and culture, low and high, with historical art institutions like the National Museum as well as the more contemporary Kiasma and cross disciplinary Kunsthalle Helsinki. A deeper rooted cultural history is also apparent in the traditional wooden architecture, the influence of its neighbors Sweden and Russia, and its ability even today to evolve with the most modern of global design practice.
For urban explorers like ourselves who wander the margins and explore the forgotten, neglected parts of the metropolis, it was a bit of a shock to see 8 charming Finnish cities and towns in only a few days – interspersed with millions of birch tree forests and sweeping vistas of farmland, with Russia visible at one point just across a canal.
We drove from uncongested towns surrounded by woodlands like Joensuu and Hyvinkää to midsized cities like Tampere and Espoo, using a stick shift Volkswagen and minding the speed cameras on a smooth and well maintained system of roads and highways. Usually we’re looking out for rats and broken glass and homeless drug users, not slow-moving farming tractors and wily-eyed moose who may cross your path.
But the murals! Choosing from among some of the most accomplished painters and planners of design in the current international scene, Fanaris relies on his own history with graffiti, hip hop, and perhaps the Finnish National Opera when selecting participants to invite.
The quality is high in many instances throughout the mural program and municipalities are gifted with some works may prove timeless – until they fade. Perhaps more decorative than transgressive as a whole, these are public works made in collaboration with local tastes. Some meanings are buried beneath layers, others more obvious and on the surface. An unrealized irony of many “legit” mural programs like this one is many of these artists used to do the illegal stuff too.
As UPEART travels and evolves it will be interesting to see how it changes. Fanaris tells us that the future will include installations, sculpture, even performance as the festival becomes more integrated with communities. With a solid foundation of curation on a massive country-wide scale in these first three years, we look forward to see where UPEART moves next.
“When I was a child I was not curious about painting,” Mantra says, “I was more curious about what I could find in the garden so that’s why I spent a lot of time studying these insects and these animals.” Later he shows us images of butterflies and other winged creatures rendered in high fidelity inside decaying factory rooms, including a large dead bird lying on its side. “I painted this because I had seen a dead bird in the garden only a week before.”
“I think my work is changing recently,” he says. “I have liked to do plainer paintings – like small landscapes . I’m not really into the characters that much in the same way that I was. When I do paint characters they are in the shadow. I like the idea of making portraits where the portrait is not the most important part of the painting.”
BSA: That’s so anti-intuitive – because normally that would be the center focal point, right?
Sainer: Yes – even here the portrait is central but I am trying to play all around it just to hide it. It’s just one of the ideas that I am trying to work with these days.
Ukrainian artist Waone, of Interesni Kazki titled his mural “Spirit of Antique Book”.
“Reading the real book in the age of technology and internet may look rare and a kind of old fashioned, but not for me,” he says. “This mural ‘Spirit of Antique Book’ I dedicated to all book lovers. It represents the wonderful way to escape from ordinary life to extraordinary worlds, and depicts that magic moment when you read the book and lose yourself between the pages.”
BSA: Does it concern you that school children today are becoming unfamiliar with reading traditional books on paper?
Waone: Hmm I didn’t think about books in schools, in Ukraine we still use “normal” books… But I’m sure normal books will become more and more rare. I don’t judge it and I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I just love the book esthetic, a strong symbol of knowledge.”
NOTE: No trees were damaged by installing the birdhouse sculptures on them.
All the participating artists on UPEArt 2018 are: Andrew Hem, Case Maclaim, David De La Mano, Eero Lampinen, Fabio Petani, Gummy Gue, Helen Bur, How & Nosm, Isaac Cordal, Jussi Twoseven, Kenor, Leon Keer, Mantra, Natalia Rak, Pertti Jarla, Robert Proch, Sainer, Sepe, Silja Selonen and Waone.
From cave carvings in Angoulême in western France 27,000 years ago to your daily, perhaps hourly selfie on a cell phone today, our desire to depict the figure is as much a reflection of the artist and their times as it’s sitter.
A new show at MUCA Munich (Museum of Urban Contemporary Art) opening today invites 30 primarily Street Artists to choose a significant reference portrait of any historical time, country of origin, or artistic movement and interpret their inspirations into a portrait.
Whether drawing influences from Vermeer, Courbet, or Lucien Freud, each artist ultimately represents their own life experiences in their choice of subject and the technique of portrayal. Perhaps that is why curator Elisabetta Pajer has asked each of the artists to give us a statement with their work to help put it into context. Pajer tells us that she looks at the collection of works and the statements create a ‘harmonic mosaic’ of these figurative and written testimonies.
“These artists have sought out inspiration from many mediums that portraiture finds itself interpreted within,” says Pajer. “Taking their themes and inspiration from classical paintings, sculpture, film, theater, photographer, interactions, culture, religion, and science. Exhibiting a great understanding of the complexity of self-reflection with art as the catalyst.”
We’re pleased to be able to present some of the artists and their own words here.
Andreas Englund. Tripping. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Oil on canvas
Size: 116 x 90 cm
“I chose to tribute my artwork to the ‘‘Portrait of a smoking man’’ by Anders Zorn 1860-1920 – Swedens most internationally acclaimed artist. Born in my home region and very inspirational when it comes to his sketchy technique. By doing my own version of this masterpiece with my superhero, I have learned more about ‘‘the great Zorn’’ and his technique.”
Martha Cooper. Futura 1983. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Archival pigment print
Size: 50,8 x 76,20 cm
“This is a 1983 photo of Futura, a legendary New York City graffiti writer, with a classic can of Krylon spray paint. Thirty-five years later, Futura is still spray painting and I am still taking photos of graffiti writers.”
Icy + Sot
Icy & Sot. Under The Water Light. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artists)
UNDER THE WATER LIGHT
Media: Stencil spray paint on canvas
Size: 91,5 x 123 cm
“This portrait is part a series we created reflecting on the relationship between human and nature. Nature plays a big role in human lifespan, but nowadays people have distanced from nature. With this work, we want to show humans closer to nature and pay a tribute to it.”
Swoon. Thalassa. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Screenprint on paper with coffee stain and hand painting with collage mounted on board
Size: 123 × 138 cm
“The name Thalassa is Greek word for ‘‘ocean’’, a primordial incarnation of the sea that is not often personified. Thalassa is said to have given birth to all tribes of fish in the sea. She is the pull of the sea that comes from inside the salt water in our blood. ‘Thalassa was originally created for New Orleans. It was the months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf in 2010, and this body of water that I’d loved since I was a child was in peril. As I drew Thalassa surging up from the water I felt her rising like a wake up call, one reminds us of our inseparability from the sea. When I stand in front of the ocean, the word that always appears first in my mind is “mother”. For me there is no mistaking the sense that the sea is our first mother.’ ”
GONZALO BORONDO & DIEGO LOPEZ BUENO
SELFIE ELVIS II
Media: Acrylic and plaster on wood – Plasma TV 50’’- Video on loop – 16:9 Digital – Color
Size: 7 panels each – 120 x 70 x 1 cm + 1 TV
“Inspired by several passport photos found within the Marseilles “Marché aux Puches” (FR), Borondo and Lopez Bueno have designed an installation project with the title “Selfie Elvis II”. Imagination is the basis of the multimedia work with self-portraits of a man recalling the contemporary “selfie”. There are dozens of frames describing human aspects and obsessions. They have been digitally elaborated and assembled in a video by López Bueno. Borondo portrayed Elvis with acrylic on wood and applying gypsum, then scratched with sharp instruments. Faces appeared by subtraction, the absence tells about an ancestral and intangible dimension, wondering about its existence. Is Elvis looking at himself or us in that picture? And what about our images, do they look like us or they are just our dreams? Elvis is not there, Elvis is still there.”
Addison Karl. Kamassa. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Bronze, edition 1 of 10
Size: 30,48 x 20,32 x 15,24 cm
“Portraiture in context to sculpture and form – referencing the masterpieces from both European Classical and Neoclassical time periods. From a culture l mirror of taking inspiration from Gods and Goddess of the ancient world, my sculpture’s subject is focused on a contemporary Chickasaw Elder. Using portraiture as a means of Cultural Preservation but equally re-appropriating classic sensibilities of art history to a Native Cultural narrative. “
Various & Gould
Various & Gould. Trigger (Rokhaya Diallo). IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artists)
TRIGGER (ROKHAYA DIALLO)
Media: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 200 x 140 cm
“Our portrait of Rokhaya Diallo refers to an iconic work by Nikide Saint Phalle: The artistically revised film still “Daddy” shows the artist pointing a gun directly at the viewer. Even almost 50 years later, her eye and the muzzle of her rifle leave no doubt that she is serious about it. Anyone who sees the work feels immediately like coming into the firing line.
In our painting, the French journalist and film maker Rokhaya Diallo takes the place and – freely recreated – also the pose of Niki de Saint Phalle. Thus, an early feministic, vigorous artist of the twentieth century is followed by a modern, committed internet feminist with no less strong verve than her predecessor. Both women are even the same age at the time of the illustration. Only instead of the rifle, Rokhaya Diallo relies on her very own “weapon”, the hashtag. At first glance, it may seem more harmless than a rifle, but in times of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo it can be an even more powerful tool.”
Fintan Magee The Removalist. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Canvas and acrylic on wall installation
“The portrait has been ripped off the canvas and dragged across the ground and projected onto the wall. The artist has destroyed the canvas and made the portrait ephemeral, rendering it worthless and unsellable. The work comments on the commodification of artwork and the uneasy and paradoxical relationship between artist and the financier of his artworks. With street art becoming increasingly commoditized and contributing to gentrification this work doesn’t aim to make any grand statements on how art should or shouldn’t be produced, only highlight the illusionary, absurdist and contradictory image the art industry presents of itself.”
VHILS. Matta. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Bas-relief carving on plasterboard mounted on metal structure
Size: 181 x 120,5 x 34 cm
“Resorting to a bas-relief carving technique, applied here to a free-standing structure of plasterboard, this piece is a homage to the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, which became a major influence on me after I first saw it at an exhibition in Portugal, in 2002. Matta-Clark was one of the first artists to look at the urban space as a space of creation and reflection on the human condition in the contemporary times we live in. Those are the considerations I try to translate in my own work too, reflecting about the human condition in the contemporary times we live in.”
Andrea Wan. Being Of Light. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
BEING OF LIGHT
Media: Ink on paper
Size: 50 x 70 cm
“Fascinated by the lively and dynamic landscape in the paintings of native Canadian Artist Emily Carr, I chose one of her most renown works, Indian Church (1929) as the subject of reinterpretation. Seemingly more accurate than a realistic approach, Carr’s abstraction of nature elements not only communicated to me that nature is vast and subliminal but also ever-changing in form and expression. The white church which stands calmly in the midst of the mystical environment inspired me to personify the subject as a being who is in tune with all that’s around her.”
DALeast. FIII. IMAGO. MUCA Munich. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Media: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 100 x 80 cm
“A still moment of Fiii standing in the windy land, which is existing inside the transitory gathering of the particles of the magical net.”
IMAGO: A History of Portraits opens today at MUCA Museum of Urban And Contemporary Art. Munich. Curated by Elisabetta Pajer the show runs until November 2018.
IMAGO is a show dedicated to the history of portrait: over 30 artists from five different continents are invited to pay homage and interpret a portrait in their medium of their choice. IMAGO aims to lead visitors through different artistic eras, helping discover the international history and evolution of the portrait.
Anna Piera Di Silvestre
Ricky Lee Gordon
Artmossphere is the only Russian biennale that focuses primarily on Street Art and its corollary practices, with the first two launching in 2014 and 2016. You may remember the full coverage BSA had in 2016 at the Moscow Manege;
Among the artists participating on previous editions of Artmossphere have been people like The London Police, Brad Downey, Claudio Ethos, Agostino Iocurci Miss Van, L’Atlas, Sickboy, Jaz, Nespoon, Martha Cooper, Remi Rough, Alexey Luka, Remed, Li Hill, Jessie and Katey, Moneyless, El Tono, and many others – but clearly you can see that the quality and diversity in practices and backgrounds is well represented here.
For the 2018 edition of the biennale we will be curating the program along with some of our respected peers internationally in this field and collectively we are asking artists to consider what it means to be “Offline”. So much of graffiti and Street Art’s roots extend back to a practice of making work for a largely local audience that is limited to geography.
Today much work in public space is conceived of, at least in part, for its ability to traverse to audiences on social media, blogs, video, and all manner of digital platforms. As we constantly are flooded with online Street Art, is it possible to be ‘Offline”?
The 2018 main exhibition will take place in the Excise Storehouse of Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow from August 30th to October 17th. Additional special exhibitions will be held in the Red and White Halls, as well as in the art cluster outdoor territory.
The open call is open to Russian and international artists and applications with projects exploring this year’s theme will be reviewed by an international jury consisting of Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo, co-founders of BrooklynStreetArt.com and curators at Urban Nation Museum of Urban Contemporary Art (UN), Peter Ernst Coolen, curator of the Amsterdam Street Art Museum, Cedar Lewisohn, curator of the Street Art project in Tate Modern,Ethel Seno, researcher of street art and curator, Anna Dimitrova, curator of Adda Gallery, Paris and MTN Gallery, Barcelona, and Nikolay Palazhchenko, the founder of the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow.
To take part in the biennale, Artmossphere artists should submit their portfolio and their project application for the biennale before June 18th, 2018. All the projects should be made exclusively for the biennale. Click here for all details.
The tenacious and hard working Esteban Marin and the whole team at Contorno Urbano in Barcelona have announced their line up for the third edition of their project 12 + 1.
With artists drawn from a variety of public practices like graffiti (Zurik), abstract (Joan Cabrer), design (Etnik), realism (Lily Brik), and representative (Sepe), the collection is a broad swath of current and time-honored techniques for expression.
BSA continues to support projects like these which engage community, foster artists growth, and recognize quality work – and we again will be bringing you these new murals as they are completed. Our congratulations to the winners!
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.
This week BSA is in Moscow with you and Urban Nation for Artmossphere 2016, the 2nd Street Art Biennale, a group exposition introducing 26 Russian and 42 foreign artists who were shaped by street art in some way. Also present are international curators, museums and galleries who have significantly intersected with urban art in recent years.
August is the month and August is the name of the driver and Russian graffiti/Street artist who is taking us through Moscow in his car with Martha Cooper to discover fresh new work by L’Atlas on a tall wall in a parking lot.
As you ride the scissor lift on hydraulic legs higher to get the right shot in the late summer sun and see the final strokes of L’Atlas’ bar coded geometry, you may find it purely abstract. It’s actually his name.
The French graffiti writer explains that his linear roller piece is an evolution from his first days spraying tags in more traditional ways.
“You know my idea is always to write my name in the same manner that I used to do in graffiti,” he explains, “It’s not so easy to see my name – like you cannot read it the first time. It’s about form, it’s about color, geometry in relation to the architecture.” Here the color is red, because we’re in Moscow, he says.
It is not unusual for passerby in other cities to stop and take photos and ask questions about the art or the artist.
Do passersby stop and ask questions about his work here? “No they have not asked me anything. Really nobody has asked me anything. I don’t know why. Normally everyone wants to know what I am doing.”
Many people were asking questions at the all-girl graffiti jam named “Code Red” at an artist compound/mini-mall/exhibition space we stopped at. Of course most of them were questions to Martha Cooper, who was stopped every few meters and asked to sign a black book or pose for a photo, which she happily and gamely did.
This was her second time here today; she had checked in earlier on the progress of the female writers, many of whom are a bit shy when approaching her. One young buck, however, nearly demands that she write exactly the name of his crew as she dedicates something in his book and asks that she pose in one picture with a t-shirt and one holding her camera.
Back at the Manege – the massive neoclassical building west of Alexander Garden that once held horses from the Kremlin and is now being built inside to house the Artmossphere Biennale. We show our passports and go through the metal detector and see Sepe, a Warsaw-based artist here with Urban Nation, atop a ladder rolling out a multilayered structured chaos across a huge wall.
His sketch taped on the canvas indicates that there will be forms arranged across this bed of color as the composition progresses. We’re intrigued by his description that is based on this year’s theme of invisible walls and the boundaries of personal freedom.
“It is more like my interpretation,” Sepe tells us. “It is just about the people who are behind everything – who are using others as puppets to do whatever they want.”
Of course, rewards are sought by everyone, and Britains’ Sick Boy is on a ladder of his own painting the outside of what will be a rewarding interactive pleasure house. He calls the project The Rewards System and he shows you where people will climb a ladder and descend down a slide into the darkened house where they will set off a series of sensors that activate a variety of multisensory lights and tantalizing patterns – then you exit on your 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 with that wry smile you’ve come to expect from an artist who calls himself “sick”.
The rest of the show production is well underway and many artists are busy painting, sculpting, papering, suspending, or otherwise plotting. Miss Van has brought a carpet to hang, and is going through a brand new set of pieces on paper that she’ll be hanging for the show.
It’s a lot of activity and people will be working late into the night to prepare for Tuesday’s opening. We even get the chance at revealing to the world our non-existent command of the can inside a newly erected metal shed. Yes, Brooklyn is in the дом !
Murals hold their own place onstage in public space today for a variety of reasons that we discuss regularly on BSA. From grassroots and public, to private and corporate, we have watched the genre professionalize as Street Art festivals and other initiatives are often coupling artists with brands and are selling canvasses through the organizers galleries. Today we have the first of a promised four-part book series by Art Whino gallerist and organizer of the Richmond Mural Project in Virginia, Shane Pomajambo, that features many artists he has worked with in the brand new “The Art of the Mural”.
Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Featuring more than fifty current graffiti/Street Artists, the survey pays special attention to the show-stopping eye candy that commands attention for these nomadic painters who are developing their craft before an ever larger and more appreciative international audience.
Culture critic and curator Carlo McCormick, who writes the introduction to the Schiffer published hardcover, notes that this mural renaissance is quite unlike the US government funded New Deal era mural programs that produced “hundreds of thousands of murals for schools, hospitals, post offices, housing projects, and various government facilities”. And he’s right, these are emanating from a different place entirely.
Antony Lister. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
The world-traveling media-soaked artists, of which this collection is subset, have had vastly more exposure to corporations and branding perhaps than, say, arts institutions, and a sophisticated self-handling is often on display with artists ever more savvy in their choices of style and content.
A greater percentage are now entering into private collections, galleries, and museums thanks to unprecedented platforms for huge exposure on the Internet, and their public works are adding rich character and dialogue to our neighborhoods and public spaces.
Curiot. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
With academia, art critics, and auction houses all grappling with the rightful place of these artists in contemporary art and society at large it will be instructive to know the history and their lineage, content, context, and patronage. One has to agree when McCormick says that all of these “are helpful for us to consider in looking at and understanding the artists’ walls of today.”
This collection of talent is strong, with many of the mid-large names that are at play in this generation of painters whom are primarily born in the 1970s and 80s. In their work is a cultural appreciation for modern graffiti history as they now channel it along with formal training, art history, advertising, and a multitude of media. With few exceptions, it’s a tight list of artists, the images are riveting (though uncredited to their photographers), and the brief introductions by Pomajambo contain just enough biographical information and artist’ quotes to ground the story and give it context.
“As with everything I do,” says the Queens, New York native Pomajambo, “I always question and observe, and as we reach critical mass with murals I felt compelled to create this project and capture a moment in time.”
Evoca 1. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Fintan Magee. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Miss Van. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
MOMO. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Onur & Wes 21. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Telmo & Miel. Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
Tone (Robert Proch). Shane Pomajambo The Art of The Mural Volume 01 Foreword by Carlo McCormick. Schiffer Publishing. 2016
All photos of the spreads by Jaime Rojo
The Art of The Mural: Contemporary International Urban Art. Volume 01 by Shaen Pomajambo. Schiffer Publishing. Atglen, PA. USA.
Graffitti artists like to talk about styles of their letter-based art form as if they contain individual DNA from the clans that the particular aesthetic, era or technique of rendering originated from. Whether its bubble, old school, wild style, abstract, hardcore, or any number of subgenres, when graff heads get together for one big painting fest the sessions are sometimes referred to as a meeting of styles to denote the differentiation that is evident to insiders and to give the event an air of diplomacy and cross-cultural cooperation on par with the annual G20 meetings.
While many pieces are completed next to one another on a wall, less often will you see a true melding of styles — two or more distinct design schools working in a complimentary and seamless way: such is the nature of diplomacy.
When Michał Bieżyński from the Urban Forms mural festival in Łódź, Poland gave two towers to five local guys with a solid graffiti history and professional credibility to work together on a collaborative piece, he had to trust that they could combine their styles and finally strike a balance. Now clearly closer to what is thought of as a Street Art aesthetic, the murals they create blend together into one voice with an harmonious timber.
“We got two massive buildings to paint entirely free hand and we had to build the team and the project so that we would be able to manage such giant spaces,” says artist Robert Proch, also known as TONE, one of the five artists working together. “The Polish scene is quite integrated in some sense,” he explains, “We know each other well simply because we have been doing numerous walls together for years now.”
Leaning toward the fantastic and representative, the two mirroring compositions ripple upward from the figurative to the abstract, melting and exchanging shapes and forms that move from organic to rigid and rhythmic. In fact, it was not a completely smooth process to face the huge project wholistically and represent the perspectives of five different artists.
“Despite the long wall paint experience of our group, we found that it wasn’t so easy to integrate,” describes TONE. Ultimately however, cooperation and synergism of styles began to overtake the process and the artists found a way for their styles to act complementarily
“We have never had a chance to work together in such a configuration,” says TONE, “but our knowledge about each others styles helped us to separate our appropriate roles. We began with a very rough concept for the general idea; make the composition somehow integrated with the landscape of Łódź suburbs.
The building on the left shows residents rushing at sunrise with all their hopes and frustrations. The right one shows the big return and closes the whole scene in a circular manner. Viewed vertically from bottom to top all the human figures become more and more reduced into pure abstract form. As an accent on each wall a bollard-man who appears standing in the crowd.”
The resulting diptych is entitled “Recycles” and each of the 33 meter high walls can be seen from a great distance by many of their neighbors. In fact, it was the act of creating distance to look at the big picture that TONE says finally helped the guys work together harmoniously.
“A team wall requires each painter to make little steps backward to help achieve a general project integrity. Also the rhythm of work with lifts forced us to separate into two groups; the first week was occupied by Chazme, Cekas and Proembrion, and Sepe and Tone joined in for the second week.”
The five artists would also like to give props to the assistants who helped. “We have to mention also our lift-lords: Marek, Mirek and Darek, who struggled during whole process by operating with levels and helpful suggestions and a steady hand. Thank you guys!”
1. ROA at StolenSpace “Hypnagogia” (London)
2. Katowice Street Art Festival 4/20-29 (Poland)
3. LALA Gallery Inauguration Saturday (Los Angeles)
4. Herakut “Loving the Exiled” at 941 Geary (San Francisco)
5. Marsea Gives You the “High Five!” at New Image Art Saturday (LA)
6. Erica Il Cane “Una Vita Violenta” at Fifty24MX Gallery (Mexico City)
7. Brett Amory “Waiting 101” at Outsiders Gallery (Newcastle, UK)
8. OLEK in Barcelona with Botero (VIDEO)
9. C215 “About Copyrights” (VIDEO)
10. The Bushwick Trailer (VIDEO)
ROA at StolenSpace “Hypnagogia” (London)
With his current show, now on view at the StolenSpace Gallery in London, ROA will demonstrate how you can be asleep and awake at the same time. His solo show “Hypnagogia” opens today to the general public and offers a dissected view of ROA’s fantastic world of animals and beasts. ROA’s hand crafted book “An Introduction To Animal Representation” by Mammal Press is on sale at The Old Truman Brewery on 91 Brick Lane. Hurry there are only only 125 tomes being offered.
For further information regarding this show click here.
Katowice Street Art Festival 4/20-29 (Poland)
Katowice, a Silesian city in Southern Poland celebrates Street Art with their own Street Art Festival, now on its second year, from April 20 through April 29. The gray, concrete architecture that dominates this town will be imbued with color, shapes and fantasy with the help of this city most prominent daughter, OLEK aided by an illustrious list of first rate of fine and Street Artists including Mark Kenkins, Escif, Boogie, Moneyless, Ganzeer, Ludo, Mona Tusz, Swanski, 0700 Team, Tellas, Dan Witz, Hyuro, M City, ROA, Goro, Kilo, Nespoon, Aryz, 108, Wers, Ciah-Ciah, Etam Crew, Otecki, Razpajzan, Sepe, Chazme, CFNTX Crew, Onte, Jezmirski, Terry Grand, Dast, Impact, Malik, Turbos and Mentalgassi.
For further information regarding this festival click here.
LALA Gallery Inauguration Saturday (Los Angeles)
The West Coast continues to assert itself as a power house in the art world and as a Street Art mecca with the inaugural show of LALA Gallery. A brand new gallery conceived by Daniel Lahoda, the mind and soul and legs of LA Freewalls Project.
LALA’s line up of artists for this first show augurs an auspicious beginning and a successful life which we hope last for a long, long time. “LA Freewalls Inside” is the title of this show and artists included are: Anthony Lister, Askew One, Becca, Cern, Chris Brand, Cryptik, Cyrcle, Dale VN Marshall, Dan Witz, Daze, Dee Dee Cheriel, Evan Skrederstu, How & Nosm, Insa, Jaybo, Kim West, Kofie, Lady Aiko, Ludo, Mear, The Perv Brothers, Poesia, Push, Pyro, Ripo, Risk, Ron English, Saber, Shepard Fairey, Swoon and Zes.
For further details regarding this show click here.
Herakut “Loving the Exiled” at 941 Geary (San Francisco)
Herakut, the indefatigable German collective are a busy duo with an impressive craft and a mastery of the can and paint brushes. Never compromising their artistic output regardless of their environment or medium they set their collaborative standards high with an output rich in earthy colors. Their palette of ores, reds, grays, oranges, blues, browns and yellows give birth to a universe of characters that are fantastic and mysterious and in pursuit of you, the spectator. In San Francisco at 941 Geary Gallery Saturday the reception will be open for the artists and you at “Loving the Exiled”.
For further information regarding this show click here.
Group Show “High Five!” at New Image Art Saturday (LA)
HIGH FIVE! the new group show at New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles opens tomorrow and the artists include Alia Penner, Ashely Macomber, Curtis Kulig, Deanna Templeton, Maya Hayuk and Vanessa Prager.
For further information regarding this show click here.
Also happening this weekend:
Tomorrow, Saturday April 22 will be the last day to see Erica Il Cane show “Una Vita Violenta” at the Fifty24MX Gallery in Mexico City. The gallery will also participate with Erica Il Cane at the Zona Maco Mexico Arte Contemporaneo Art Fair in Mexico City. April 18 – April 22. For further details about “Una Vita Violenta” click here. For more details about Zona Maco, Mexico Arte Contemporaneo Art Fair click here.
Brett Amory solo show “Waiting 101” At the Outsiders Gallery in Newcastle, UK opens today to the general public. Click here for more details about this show.
OLEK in Barcelona with Botero (VIDEO)
Still working on that scarf you’ve been knitting for OLEK’s birthday? You missed it.