Berlin a street art hot spot
Blu’s mural (pictured on this page) has two characters that are showing letters formed with three fingers: one of them formed as an “W” for “West” and the other one formed as an “E” for “East”. With the other hand the characters are taking the masks off from each other. The mural illustrates the reunion of East and west Berlin after the wall was opened. Victor Ashes “The astronaut” (pictured on page erlin has become a hot spot for street art 3) is a mural painting although it looks like it’s and graffiti. People are coming here to been made with a huge stencil. In this way the place their work because they want to be astronaut relates to all the stencils that populate seen in the context of Berlin, the street art capital the walls of Berlin and it reminds the viewer of of the world,” says Robert Smith, a graffiti artist the roots of the artist and the tradition that he and director in the Berlin based Skalitzers con- comes from. On the street level, stencils and paste-up posttemporary street art gallery. Street art festivals, events and galleries bring a ers are the most common techniques to leave lot of international artists to Berlin and they use your mark on buildings, fences, advertising postthe public space as their playground. Especially ers, walls, trains, garbage bins and windows. the Backjumps Live Issue festivals have quite But who is doing all this art in Berlin? literally left a mark on the city. Huge murals cre- “There are a lot of international artists living and ated by foreign guest artists, such as Blu and visiting this city and I think there are more foreign Victor Ash, still stand tall over Kreuzberg’s resi- people than locals doing street art and graffiti in Berlin,” Smith says. dential areas.
Berlin can be described as the street and graffiti Mecca of the urban art world. The dizzying amount of street art is coloring the boroughs of Mitte and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The streets are like an open gallery where the walls always have a story to tell.
treet art scene is not all about international artists in Berlin though. One street artist whose work can’t be missed when visiting the city is El Bocho. He is a Berlin based artist who has been working on the streets since 1997, and is by now amongst the most famous and visible street artists in Berlin. You can spot his “Little Lucy” characters (pictures on this page) all over Berlin. It is a series of paste-ups where Little Lucy is killing her cat in different ways. It is like reading a comic book that is presented on the walls. “My method is to pick up the reactions of the viewers and use them in my works. This creates a constant flow of communication with the public,” El Bocho says El Bocho considers himself as an observed observer, which can be seen in his surveillance camera paste-ups (pictures on page 4). “Communication and references to urban life are the main components in my work. It is important to me to work outside the art scene, as this reaches an audience that does not visit art specific locations like galleries or museums.”
He also paints portraits, usually of women, who are saying romantic things and express their love with their city, Berlin. They are called “Citizens” (pictures on page 4). Some of these paste-ups can be 3 meters high and wide.
he amount of street art and graffiti in Berlin is impressive. It is for sure one the most ‘bombed’ cities in Europe but it means that there are also loads of uninteresting, poorly made and not-so-innovative paste-ups and stencils. “In the street art scene there is not whole lot of quality control going on, so you can find a lot of shit work on the walls in Berlin. It is an oversaturated market in street arts here”, Smith says. Street art has become trendy in Berlin; so many people want to give it a try. Too bad that not all the people are able to use the public space to create visually pleasing or thought provoking art. “There is a thing in graffiti community known as being a toy. If you are not good enough, you are not going to go out and tag or paint. If you do it, someone is going to slash you out and call you
Street art is a good way of getting your dick sucked
a toy. “But nobody is toying street artists. Nobody’s telling them that you should try harder and you are not ready to do your stuff in the streets yet. When it comes to quality control, the traditional graffiti world is oppressive enough, which means that people think that if you are not good enough, you don’t go out to make your mark on the walls. It is a good way of keeping the level of style, quality and consistency.” “Street art community is more like linking arms and having fun. Many people think that street art is great and everyone can do it. But no, everyone can’t do it. If you don’t have talent, if you don’t have style, don’t fucking do it! You have to be grownup enough to admit that to yourself,” Smith blasts. Kai Jacob, author of the book Street Art in Berlin, notes that there is a further distinction between street art and graffiti. “The street artists want to express their opinions and engage with the people in the city. By contrast, painting graffiti has more to do with marking out territory,” he says.
If you are going to Be out and aBout, you should at least have message
rendy things tend to attract people that want to be part of the scene and ride on the cool waves to impress people. Street arts are no expectation to that. “There are lot of guys doing stencils and pasteups just to tell the girls they are street artists. World wide, last sort of four years, street art has been so fucking hot. It is a great way of getting your dick sucked,” Smith says. “But these guys and their work will disappear after couple of months. Only the artists who have something to say or new visual ideas will continue to work. Eventually their work will rise to the top and the shit will float to the bottom and it is going to be painted over.” Many artists aim to annoy and provoke, to express themselves on political and social issues. Emess, who sprays mainly anti-military images, has said that If you’re going to be out and about, you should at least have a message. The political street art in Berlin might sometimes be too straightforward and it often misses the elements of surprise, humour or new visual ideas. One of the most famous politically loaded street
art pieces, that has all these elements (Blu’s work, picture on the left side this page) commentates on global warming. The hourglass has a melting iceberg on top and the city down is going to be flooded. It is again an example of his ability to create building-size, thought provoking murals. Berlin artist Alias (pictures on page 8, top right corner and bottom left) is one of the most political street artists in Berlin. He is known for his red, black and white pictures showing sad or hurt children unknowingly sitting on live bombs.
lthough street art is hugely popular in Berlin, it is still illegal to place your work on the walls. However, the street artists say police are more interested in graffiti sprayers who make their mark on trains and front doors, and turn a blind eye to work that is pasted up. If you get caught while doing a paste-up in Berlin, you get fined because of littering, not because of damaging property. Another fact is that the police just don’t have enough resources to chase down street artists, which makes it even
more appealing to people. “If you would have asked me five years ago if street art would be so popular nowadays, I would say no, but now it is more popular than ever. It is good to keep in mind, though, that eventually these things reach the tipping point and they burn out,” Smith says. The Internet has a lot to do with making the street arts popular. It opens up possibilities for artists to share their work with a wider audience: it is no longer a local thing - it is a global phenomenon. “The Internet is democratising everything. You no longer have to travel to see work and new ideas are exposed to the entire community on the day they are done. Then people are able to build on these ideas and come up with new work.” “I always felt that street art was heavily tied to the Internet. In the early stages of street art it was very much about stencils and paste-ups, street level small things, but now it is going more towards the big murals. They make better photographs so they look better on the web,” he says. Does it mean that it is more important to be seen
on the web than streets? “I think the young generation is leaning towards this way of thinking. You are now capable of showing your work to five million people if your picture gets to the right web site. Suddenly you might go from never-done-a-paste before to a household name in the scene because everyone saw this awesome piece you made”. In Berlin, the future of street art looks bright. The scene has shown no signs of getting quieter. It is quite certain that the city will keep its position as the Street Art Mecca of the World. “We are reaching a young audience right now. I hope the guys who are now too young to go out and do their art are wanting to pump the scene to a whole other level. With graffiti it was the case that the next generation did improve the culture. I’m quite sure that there are new styles popping up and younger generations are showing the old ones new tricks.” q
z Text, photos and lay-out: Kalle Erkkila
police is turning a Blind eye to work that is pasted up