raffiti is a subject that has always been on the outskirts of the art world. While its roots stem from an unflattering past, there are more and more artists who are contributing to creating graffiti and street art that push the boundaries of what the world has classically known art to be. This new generation of street artists are making bold statements on what art can do, what its purpose is, and how it is viewed.
In the contemporary landscape of rapid information sharing, there is a growing opportunity for the boundaries of what the world sees as “art” to be pushed. Street art is unique in the fact that it is ephemeral. Before the dawn of the Internet, the only way one could document and exhibit graffiti and street art was through photography and printed medium. Through current technologies, though, street art has gained the permanence inherent in other forms of art. Anybody can now go the artists website and view their entire body of work. This perhaps benefits the street artist more than any other- there is now a platform for the artist to share their reasons behind their work while still having the opportunity to remain anonymous.
One of the greatest things about graffiti and street art is that it is available to everyone. It also allows for an artist to have unlimited freedom, and new opportunities that might not have been available in what is considered to be the world of “fine art.” There are no benefactors, there are no curators, and the work is completely controlled by the artist in every manner. Street artists use the freedom of a public venue to their advantage in making a statement about an issue they feel is important. While this is arguably the ultimate job of an artist, some of the ways in which these issues are brought to light are not received with open arms. While graffiti and street art are not as appreciated as traditional forms of art, it is just as important if not more. This exhibit looks at what some artists are doing to push the boundaries of what street art encompasses, what it can achieve, and how it may be used to facilitate social and political dialogue. It features artists that range intensely in medium, style, and motivation behind why they have chosen street art as their passion.
Banksy was born in 1974 and is best known as a graffiti artist. He is from Bristol, UK, with his work appearing all over the world.
He works with stencils to create his desired style, which also allows him to work rapidly. This is highly important to him, as his identity has been speculated but never revealed. Due to the bold political and social statements his work makes, his identity being kept a secret seems that much more vital. He works with imagery that is juxtaposed in a manner that is meant to entice the viewer to question the statements he is making.
In his own words, “Despite what they say graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Although you might have to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is put off by the price of admission. A wall has always been the best place to publish your work. The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit, which makes their opinion worthless.”
“They say graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people; politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers. The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in your face from every available surface but you’re never allowed to answer back. Well, they started the fight and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back. Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”
Shepard Fairey was born in 1970 in South Carolina. He has a BFA in Illustration, but uses a technique known as wheat pasting to facilitate his street art.
While his identity as a cult figure is no longer in tact due to the fact that he is now a funded artist, the message he conveys in his work regarding political and social change is still valid as he donates heavily to political and social organizations. Fairey explains his reasoning behind his Obey project as this: “The OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as ‘the process of letting things manifest themselves.’ Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is in front of them but obscured; things that are so taken for granted that they are muted by abstract observation.”
The goal of the Obey campaign is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. It attempts to stimulate a sense of wonder and bring people to question both the image and their relationship with their surroundings. “Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail.” The sticker in fact has no meaning, it only exists to cause people to react and contemplate the meaning behind the sticker. The reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities. “The paranoid or conservative viewer however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.”
“Another phenomenon the sticker has brought to light is the trendy and conspicuously consumptive nature of many members of society. For those who have been surrounded by the sticker, its familiarity and cultural resonance is comforting and owning a sticker provides a souvenir or keepsake, a memento. People have often demanded the sticker merely because they have seen it everywhere and possessing a sticker provides a sense of belonging. The Giant sticker seems mostly to be embraced by those who are (or at least want to seem to be) rebellious. Even though these people may not know the meaning of the sticker, they enjoy its slightly disruptive underground quality and wish to contribute to the furthering of its humorous and absurd presence that seems to somehow be antiestablishment/ societal convention. Giant stickers are both embraced and rejected, the reason behind which, upon examination reflects the psyche of the viewer. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the stickers existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings.”
Miss Van was born in 1973 in Toulouse, France. Starting her career in the early 90â€™s, she has helped create a path for other women in this intensely masculine field of art.
Her works are distinctly feminine, depicting sultry female characters. Her approach to street art is very different from what is commonly seen- she does not care for making a statement on society or politics, she is more concerned with creating beautiful images within the generally uniform environment of the city.
She explains her start in the world of street art as this: “Since I was young, I’ve been drawing characters and animals. In the early 1990s, I started discovering graffiti with friends of mine, tagging a little bit and following them, taking photos and stuff. Then I wanted to be a part of it. The characters came out spontaneously. I chose to use acrylic paint because I was using it while studying, and I found it more comfortable than spray cans, even if it wasn’t a graffiti style. Then I continued painting. I didn’t really choose it, it came naturally. Painting on walls was a way to show that I was boycotting the conventional art world. At my beginnings, I had a rebel mind. I also find this more exciting to paint in the street because it is forbidden. Painting on walls allows me to keep my freedom; as it is illegal, there is no censorship. It is also a challenge, since each time I paint on a wall there is the risk of seeing my work erased. Since I like moving around and meeting people, so I prefer painting in the street. It also enables me to make my art accessible to a larger public audience.” “At the beginnings, my dolls were self-portraits. Graffiti has a very megalomaniac side; instead of writing my name, I chose to represent myself through my dolls. I felt a real need to affirm myself, maybe because I have a twin sister and I had to show my difference. Later on when I didn’t feel as much this need to mark my identity, my work became. The idea of provocativeness has also a part in my conception of my work. I have always liked painting a sexy doll in an inappropriate place. I want to provoke strong reactions. My dolls convey a provocative image, sometimes a bit erotic. I wish they disturbed and provoked fantasies. I want them to make the viewer react, no matter the reaction. I would like them to make people forget their daily lives.”
Edgar Mueller was born in Mülheim/Ruhr on 10 July 1968. He is world famous for his three dimensional chalk pieces he creates.
The start of his fascination with painting began in his childhood, with paintings of rural scenes of Straelen. In his high school years, he took notice of an international competition of street painters that was taking place. Inspired by the transitory works of art that met him on his way to school, Edgar Mueller entered the competition at age 16, going on to win the competition at age 19.
In 1998 he was given the title honorary of ‘maestro madonnari’ (master street painter), a huge feat as it is only given to a few artists worldwide. The title is awarded at the world’s largest street painting festival, The Grazie Festival in Grazie Italy. At about age 25, Mueller decided to devote himself completely to developing his career in street painting. He set up the first (and currently only) Internet board for street painters in Germany - a “forum designed to promote solidarity between German and International street painters.”
While his work is not particularly motivated by political messages, there is still a social message it carries. “He presents people with the great works of old masters, drawing his perfect copies at the observers’ feet. Mueller invites his audience to share his fascination with the old masters art, helping them to gain an in depth understanding of the old master’s view of the world.” He is in effect by using a public space to create his works bringing something unique and amazing to people for free. “He paints over large areas of urban public life and gives them a new appearance, thereby challenging the perceptions of passers-by. This allows for the observer to become a part of the new scenery offered. While going about their daily life, people change the painting’s statement just by passing through the scene.” This challenge to the public is inherent in every type of street art. It is asking someone who is in the midst of their daily lives to step outside their routine and observe the world they have come to see as a type of visual white noise with fresh eyes.
Mark Jenkins was born in 1970 in the US. He is most widely known for his “ absurdist sculptures” that are “always witty and mostly appealing.”
He works with casting, and creates humanoid sculptures out of packing tape and cast plaster. The casted dummies he the dresses up in common clothing, giving them the very realistic appearance of a live individual. This combined with the situations he puts his dummies in “prompts uncomfortable and nauseating questions human beings would really rather not deal with. How can we be sensitive and playful yet so ruthlessly concerned with our own urges? Are tramps horrible, sad or funny? And indeed what the hell shall we do, as time goes on, with all our bullshit? Yet alone all those useless, old, and unattractive people who seem to grow in number by the day?”
Equally fueled by a dark humor are Jenkins’ adult-sized “dummies” (his description) of vagrant body parts in impossible and violent situations. All the pieces pounce with the benefit of surprise. “There’s so much rubbish on the streets already that the pieces I put up are camouflaged and ambiguous. The vagrant dummies too; like real homeless people they’re so much part of the urban landscape that you’re desensitized to the sight of them.” He uses hand-me-downs he has received to clothe his “Homeless Dummies”, and creates the body shape using a dry casting process where he wraps himself in packing tape. The babies he uses in his instillations are cast from children’s dolls. He denies placing his simulacra in public spaces “an out of body experience.”
Blu is an Italian born street artist that is most widely known for his stop
animation videos, or MUTO, he creates in the city. He has a very distinct style about his work; it is both very innocent in form and yet mature in its execution.
He began working with spray paint as his preferred medium, but has since then moved on to house paint. This allowed him to cover larger areas while working, which can be seen reflected in the growing scale of his works. His murals often contain beautiful illustrations that are highly creative in concept. This again refers to the street artist creating a more aesthetically pleasant touch to the dark and often boring world of suburbia.
While there is an abundance of photos and videos of his work, there is practically nothing personal about the artist revealed in any form of media. His website contains a blog of his recent works, sketches from his sketchbook, and photos of his street art, but no actual information about his origins. This lack of identity reaches further than most other street and graffiti artists- he also gives no explanation about why he creates what he does. His work can be seen in London, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, and all over Argentina.
linkachu was born in 1983 in the United Kingdom. He is an anonymous street astist whose works are comprised of photographs of barely there scenes he coordinates, depicting the figurines he creates. Slinkachu is another artist who is making waves in the street art scene due to his highly unique work. While many street artists garner attention through large-scale pieces, Slinkachu is doing just the opposite. He, like most street artists, wishes to remain anonymous. While his work is not politically charged, this want for a concealed identity seems like more of an homage to the street art community than a necessary act.
Further explaining his ‘Little People Project’, Slinkachu states that it “started in 2006. It involves the remodeling and painting of miniature model train set characters, which I then place and leave on the street. It is both a street art installation project and a photography project. The street-based side of my work plays with the notion of surprise and I aim to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes I set up, more evident through the photography, and the titles I give these scenes aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed. But underneath this, there is always some humor. I want people to be able to empathize with the tiny people in my works.”
The Decapitator is fairly new in the world of street art. His style is abrasive and in your face, with his signature being literally decapitating people in street advertisements.
While his identity is unknown, he has been working diligently to make his mark as a street artist. He replaces the heads of printed advertisements by wheat pasting the altered version, which are generally bloody stumps. If there are multiple people in the advertisement he targets, he will often play off of them to create a very convincing composition- he alters the faces of the others in the photo to look as if they are reacting to the dismembered head, and are generally covered in gore themselves.
The Decapitatorâ€™s works are unique but do ring reminiscent of the style of popaganda artist Ron English, whose works involved covering mainstream advertisements with his own creations. The idea of turning the mass of visual stimulation we are all bombarded with daily into something unexpected has many consequences. It forces the viewer to reevaluate their surroundings. If this is achieved, they will begin to realize how much of their world is comprised of these advertisements that are in effect shoved down our throats, and question their purpose and effect.
Space invader was born in France in1969. He uses tiles and Rubix Cubes to create the pattern of an “Invader,” which he then adheres to a pre-determined public location.His works have been seen all over the world, which he documents and shares online.
In response to why he has chosen the image of the space invader to represent his body of work, he explains, “I see them as a symbol of our era and the birth of modern technology, with video games, computers, the Internet, mobile phones, hackers and viruses. And “space invader” is a pretty good definition of what I’m doing... invading spaces.” He explains that his work is a political message based on the action of creating art in a space without authorization.
He explains himself and his work as such: “I’m Invader (that’s my alias). I always appear masked in public, so no one knows my face. Some people call me a polluter; others say I’m an artist. I prefer to think of myself as an invader! The idea [behind the ‘Space Invaders’ project] is to “invade” cities all over the world with characters inspired by first-generation arcade games, and especially the now classic Space Invaders.
“I make them out of tiles, meaning I can cement them to walls and keep the ultrapixelated appearance. In the eight years I’ve been working on this project, I’ve traveled to 35 cities on all five continents with the sole intention of “invading” them. Having said that, people have sent me photos of Space Invaders in towns I’ve never set foot in. I see it as a positive thing, a kind of tribute. I did consider setting up a group strategy but it’s a hard thing to delegate. So while I don’t encourage this kind of copying, I don’t especially condemn it either.”
R is a French street artist who is best known for his huge productions of photographs he posts in urban settings. He is passionate about bringing subjects that effect people everyday that they might not be aware of, or that they are to put off by the subject to face. â€œHis work mixes Art and Act, talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.â€?
His beginnings stems from a random incident, when he stumbled upon a camera in the Paris subway and thus began a personal tour of European streets art. He photographed the individuals responsible for the graffiti and street art in the area. This was what spurred his unique technique and style as a street artist.
When asked about what he does as a street artists, he goes on to explain that he “creates “Pervasive Art” that spreads uninvited on the buildings of the slums around Paris, on the walls in the Middle-East, on the broken bridges in Africa or the favelas in Brazil. People who often live with the bare minimum discover something absolutely unnecessary. And they don’t just see it, they make it. Some elderly women become models for a day; some kids turn artists for a week. In that Art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators. After these local exhibitions, the images are transported to London, New York, Berlin or Amsterdam where people interpret them in the light of their own personal experience.” 2006- He worked on Portrait of a generation, which were large-scale portraits of the suburban “thugs” that he posted in the bourgeois districts of Paris. While this project was illegal, it became “official” when the Paris City Hall wrapped its building with JR’s photos. 2007- JR worked in collaboration with Marco to create Face 2 Face, the “biggest illegal photo exhibition ever.” He posted huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians face to face in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities, and on the both sides of the Security fence / Separation wall. The experts said it would be impossible. Amazingly enough he managed to achieve it.
2008- He chose to start a long international trip for “Women”, “a project in which he underlines the dignity of women who are often the targets of conflicts. Of course, it didn’t change the world, but sometimes a single laugher in an unexpected place makes you dream that it could.”
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