Picking apart our interview with Tony Baxter of the “Stealing Banksy?” auction

April 19th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
The former site of Banksy's "No Ball Games" piece in London. Photo by Alan Stanton.

The former site of Banksy’s “No Ball Games” piece in London. Photo by Alan Stanton.

Yesterday we published an interview that Caroline Caldwell and I conducted with Tony Baxter, director of The Sincura Group. That’s the private concierge behind last year’s sale of the Slave Labour piece formally by Banksy and the upcoming Stealing Banksy? auction, which will have at least seven supposed Banksy street pieces up for sale. Not only do I disagree with a lot of what Baxter said in the interview, but I found many of his answers dodges at best and misleading or shady at worst, so, as promised, here are my thoughts on Baxter’s answers…

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Broken Fingaz, beef and lady parts

April 10th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
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(Click here for the original)

A few days ago, an anonymous person painted over two new walls by Broken Fingaz Crew in Hackney Wick, London. Both walls featured curvaceous women engaging in sex with skeletons, which the person buffed black and brandished with the words “Kill all men”. BFC responded to the defacement by altering it to read “Kill yourself” and adding “Why so mad? Give smile pussycat!” Broken Fingaz then shared the incident on their Facebook, sparking a surprising and intense response from their fans that has me questioning Broken Fingaz, their art and the people who enjoy it.

BFC-pussycat-m

(Click here for the original)

I have been a huge fan of Broken Fingaz for a while now. We’ve covered their work on Vandalog over the last few years and I cite them as a personal inspiration for my own art. Skeletons interacting with the living and sexualized women have been two prominent (although mostly separate) themes in BFC’s body of work. Over the last several months, Tant and Unga of BFC have developed a new, highly sexualized body of work. With their SuperSex series, BFC painted people having sex with various animals and a skeleton (which I covered for Vandalog here). The SuperSex series was predominantly women and animals, however they also included Unga’s fat male character, which led me to believe that the series was coming from a place which was inclusive of both men and women. In their more recent series, the crew has been painting women copulating with skeletons in massive colorful orgies. There’s one fat male figure slipped into one of the pieces in the series, but spotting him is like a game Where’s Waldo. My issue with this more recent work is not that it is sexual (though I could see why people might find it problematic in public spaces), but rather that it portrays only women as sexual and never shows women in a non-erotic manner. It’s a simple matter of equality.

I would be open to the idea that these images were painted in an effort to honor the feminine figure, not to merely objectify it. After all, the women are whole people and the men are depicted as skeletons, arguably neutered objects. Yet within the context of their larger body of work, these latest images emphasize BFC’s unequal portrayal of men and women. When men appear in their work, they are typically clothed in formal attire, or are humorously unattractive on the few occasions they are naked. Women are rarely shown in any other setting than a sexual one, and an objectifying one at that. Their fans and this anonymous protestor are not interpreting this as honoring women, and BFC’s comeback to the protestor doesn’t support that idea either with dehumanizing jibe “Give smile pussycat!”

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I’m not saying it’s wrong to show women in a sexual setting, but to only ever show them in such a way reduces their role to merely erotic creatures. One very easy solution to this: paint men having sex with skeletons (in lieu of dropping the series altogether), and paint women in formal, non-sexual settings every once in awhile. Might not be the perfect portrait of equality, but it’s one way to show that they hold men and women with equal respect.

Defacing two walls and writing “Kill all men” over BFC’s work is not a route I would promote, but the dialogue it provoked is important. Much like the commenters on BFC’s Facebook, my knee-jerk reaction was to write this act off as an overly-aggressive reaction from a radical feminist. In all likelihood, “Kill all men” is a derivative of the Twitter hashtag that was turning heads last month, which feminists were using as a space to vent their experiences with misogyny. Yet in closer consideration of this particular incident, this person isn’t saying anything that BFC didn’t say themselves first. Why should we take offense from the statement “Kill all men” when this was written on top of a BFC mural that literally depicted a group of dead men having sex with women?

To this act of vandalism, BFC’s responded with “Kill yourself!” and “Why so mad? Give smile pussycat!” Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say that this response is comedic ribbing and graffiti bravado in response to being capped, their response incited a slew of sexist and objectifying responses on Facebook, with commenters calling the anonymous vandal(s) a “fucking slut”, “stupid hoe”, “fags”, etc.; which is all a bit ridiculous when you consider that these terms being used as insults are in defense of an artwork depicting women in a way that fits stereotypes of whore-ish/slutty behavior. One commenter said, “Must be one of them ‘broken-b**ches’ … Doesn’t shave under the arm-pits, yet goes to pole dancing class every monday and thursday…”. A female commenter said, “I guess they don’t like drawings of girls fitter than them”. This is exactly why portraying women (and only women) in an exclusively sexual manner becomes problematic. These comments were not made by BFC, but some their supporters, yet would these comments have been made if these fans had felt that BFC were strong supporters of women’s rights?

Curious how our readers feel about Broken Fingaz’ response to this protester and their fans’ subsequent response to the back and forth.

Photos by Broken Fingaz Crew


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Practical tips: Secure communications

March 4th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Installation by SpY in Madrid, Spain

Installation by SpY in Madrid, Spain

In the street art and graffiti community, many of us deal with sensitive data every day, but many of us do not protect ourselves from being snooped on. The NSA and GCHQ may have little interest in what you were doing running around with cans of paint last night, but other government agencies might care a great deal, and they also have a surprising level of access to your data and communications if you don’t protect yourself.

I’m not a lawyer or a security expert, and I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law. My tips in this post are not legal advice and they’re far from perfect. I simply want to get a discussion going about security in our community and suggest a few ways that we might begin to protect ourselves and communicate more securely. My suggestions are US-centric, but many of the same tips and concerns should apply no matter what country you’re in. Also, remember that no system is ever completely secure. If you have questions or more tips or you think my tips don’t work the way I say they do, please email me or leave a comment.

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Melbourne Monthly Madness – December 2013

February 11th, 2014 | By | No Comments »

Damn, it’s February already. How did that happen?? (Actually – I have been extremely busy working on a new project which I hope to share with you soon). Sorry to keep you waiting for this post.

December 2013 was another MASSIVE month in Melbourne, a great way to end the year.

Darbotz, an Indonesian street artist, visited Melbourne in December and put together this great little video.

Adnate painted Strike Bowling in Macquarie in association with Red Bull. A great video by Michael Danischewski. Adnate’s photo realism is just amazing.

Wonderwalls, a 3 day street art and graffiti festival up north in Wollongong looked awesome, featuring a great line up of Australian and International artists. From Melbourne Shida, Wonderlust, Adnate, Two One, Idiot and Sirum.

Wonderwalls Festival 2013 from The Hours on Vimeo.

Backwoods Gallery had their last show “A Study of Hands” for 2013 and it was a cracker, continuing on in the anatomy series – which will apparently continue over ten years – epic. I particularly liked works by Dave Kinsey and Lister.

Alex Mitchell, Curator of Backwoods Gallery and writer for The Opening Hours was back in Melbourne for the month. Alex did some great studio visits with Two One, Miso and Ghostpatrol. Some great, intimate photos.

Two One - Photo by Alex Mitchell

Two One. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Miso. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Miso. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Ghost Patrol. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Ghost Patrol. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Everyone’s been talking about this abando and I can see why. David Russell managed to find his way in and capture some amazing work. I really love Slicer’s geometrical shapes filled with his signature slices, as well as Deams, and Rashe’s pieces. All of this work feels so at home in this place. I do love abandos! More here.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Deams - Photo by David Russell

Deams. Photo by David Russell.

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Street art as an experience and an anonymous gift

February 3rd, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »

Key 01

Why do people collect art? Perhaps part of the reason is a memory or an experience associated with the object. The possessions I have most affection for were bought on holiday or given to me by a friend. There’s a cool story that goes with them. If we accept that artistic experience is in part about feeling a meaningful connection with an object, can the process of collection also elicit emotions and memories, beyond the aesthetic of the work?

I painted aerosol portraits onto wooden board and pad-locked them onto walls in Melbourne. I then hid the key somewhere in the city and left a puzzle to the key’s location, with the instruction “find the key, unlock and keep the painting”. The clues required participants to hunt and climb within the forgotten spaces of the city, sometimes scaling the outside of a building to the 2nd floor. I designed adventures, transgressing into the dead-ends within a network of thoroughfares; the unfamiliar within the familiar.

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The objectification of street art

January 10th, 2014 | By | 10 Comments »
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Alec Monopoly in collaboration with Justin Bieber. Photo from Alec Monopoly’s Instagram.

With the advent of street art as a post graffiti movement, the infiltration of a visual style highly influenced by the fashion industry’s mode of exploitation has taken a hold of an otherwise fertile art movement.

In the early days of graffiti, the visual aesthetic was dominated by a font-based style. This style developed over the course of the first two decades into a scripted freehand-based art form that was recognizable for its lack of outside influence.

By the 2000s, with the rise of the popularity of stencil art, the influence of a visual aesthetic informed by the post-pop movement came to dominate the graffiti and street art scenes. The ease with which an iconic image could be duplicated into a stencil using printers accelerated the spread of street art as a popular art movement.

Yet the narrative of this movement has become increasingly dominated by certain visual techniques, relying on fashion industry imagery to create popularly accessible art that is seen by a wider and more demographically homogenous mainstream audience.

Even a short trip down to any popular “street art gallery” will make the viewer immediately aware of the fashion industry’s overwhelming influence on this nascent art movement. Endless reproduction of women’s bodies and faces, superficially disassociated from their fashion industry roots, has permeated the creation of street art. Images of women in particular have come to be shorthand for catchy, iconic statements. Movie stars, music icons, and models all find themselves endlessly repeated, stenciled and pasted onto shops and walls; instagrammed out into the world, becoming a viral reinforcement of the level of popularity found in recreating a photographer’s work (often without credit). Subsequently pushed onto canvases in order to monetize the popularity of the work, this imagery continually recycles itself into an endless objectification of the female.

Graffiti and street art have long been male dominated practices. Despite the recent “Women on the Walls” program in Miami and other female-centered group shows and mural festivals around the world, there are still much fewer female artists working in the medium when compared to other visual art movements. This male dominance has created an intractable acceptance of exploitative female imagery, the selling of which only reinforces the desire in younger artists to utilize similar imagery within their work.

The image of the human face is something that feeds a very deeply rooted desire for pattern recognition in the mammalian mind. We see faces in even the most abstracted blots of colour, stains of water on walls, bits of burnt toast, dust on the windows of abandoned factories. The mind is wired to react to the recognition of the human face with a sense of pleasure. Once we see the face within some random abstraction, it is likely that we can never “unsee” this imagery as it was before.

As street art has gone mainstream, its popularity has birthed an industry that capitalizes on its pop culture status. Demographically targeted goods from custom graffiti paints to clothes have seen an enormous upswing in the past decade. Far from its modest origins as an illegal art form, street art more often finds itself sponsored by corporations looking to broaden their niche appeal and to cash in on the massively swollen “subculture” that it has given birth to. The culmination of this is the interaction between the fashion industry and the “hot” street artists willing to basically license their brand in order to cash in.

The fashion industry is without a doubt the most exploitative commercial industry on the earth. From the forced gender stereotypes and impossible to achieve body presentation of its models (invariably fictions created in photoshop) to the garment workers’ horrifying work conditions and third world wages, the fashion industry reeks of the blatant disregard for both the welfare of its disposable minions and the crass exploitation of its customers.

Stencil (possibly depicting Kate Moss) by unknown artist. Photo by a_kep.

Stencil (possibly depicting Kate Moss) by unknown artist. Photo by a_kep.

In order for street art to become a truly groundbreaking and self-aware art form, young artists of this generation need to recognize that the exploitation of women through sexualized and objectified imagery is merely a continuation of the corporate stranglehold over young people’s ideas of self worth, societal value and personal gender identity.

Streets artists working in this medium need to take a deeper look at the content of their creations. Given some introspection and forethought, one comes to see that the use of fashion imagery is like a cancer spreading inside of a once independent subculture. Rotting away the core of its value by co-opting its aesthetic techniques in order to market products via the continual appropriation of youth culture that has so long fed the fashion industry. The truth is that these corporations have stolen and co-opted street art and are selling it back to young artists at a retail markup.

Just because that movie star’s face or that fashion model’s body gets an artist shares and likes on social media doesn’t make the work profound or valuable to the dialog of creative practice. We must free ourselves of this insidious institutionalization of objectification that has grown within the street art and graffiti communities and learn to support women in the arts, not just those that paint murals, but all women young and old.

Photos from Alec Monopoly’s Instagram and by a_kep


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Alleged slumlord Stanley Rochkind fights back against Wall Hunters

December 24th, 2013 | By | No Comments »
LNY install at 539 N. Longwood Street. Photo courtesy of Wall Hunters.

LNY install at 539 N. Longwood Street.

Earlier this year, a group of artists (led by Nether) working under the Wall Hunters banner teamed up Carol Ott of Baltimore Slumlord Watch for the Slumlord Project, an effort to draw attention to “dilapidated vacant houses” in Baltimore that the project organizers determined were owned by peopled they considered “negligent property owners.” One of those property owners, Stanley Rochkind, is now suing Ott through two of the shell companies through which Rochkind owns property. The lawsuits demand that Ott remove two murals from buildings that were painted by the Wall Hunters artists. The lawsuits are particularly ironic because Rochkind initially claimed not to own these buildings and the Wall Hunters artists painted these buildings specifically because Rochkind has not bothered to maintain them.

So… Rochkind is suing for “repairs,” on dilapidated buildings that he has not bothered to actually repair in any way and which, in an effort to discredit the Wall Hunters, he initially claimed not to own. Sounds like a stand-up guy.

Check out the full story over at Balitmore’s City Paper.

Photo courtesy of Wall Hunters


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Parsing out the urban art grab bag

November 19th, 2013 | By | 6 Comments »
C215. Photo by Feral78.

C215. Photo by Feral78.

Note from RJ: A version of this essay by Christian Guémy aka C215 was recently published in French with Rue89, but we both felt it was important to publish a version in English as well. – RJ

For some time, and especially since the English artist Banksy has enjoyed worldwide success, hardly a week goes by without the media reporting an event involving the urban arts, whether it’s a gallery showing “street art,” or auctions of “graffiti,” or the setting up of an “open air museum,” or pure and simple repression of vandalism.

It’s clear that recognition by the public and the media of urban arts has arrived at its apogee, and achieved the summits of popularity. Even so, I am astonished by the absence of distinction among the various practices that make up urban art. Their reclassification into a gigantic ragbag conveniently called “street art” obscures more than it clarifies.

I’m 40 and I’ve been closely involved with urban art since 1984, which is when Sydney presented in France his cult television show “H.I.P. H.O.P.” I tried my hand at graffiti in 1989 and since then I have closely followed the progress of this kind of art. It seems that several “generations” have gone by since, each having very different ambitions and practices that deserve distinction.

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Melbourne Monthly Madness – August 2013

September 30th, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »

Sorry this post is so late. I’ve had an injured hand, so typing has been a pain, literally… Here’s my round up for August. I’m calling this month the Video Edition, cos I don’t think I can recall a month where so many awesome videos came out… Here we go…

To start off check out this great video from Jack Douglas. Jack is a talented Melbourne street artist and tattooist; this video shows some of his street and tattoo work. His characters are always awesome.

Another rad video featuring local writer BOLTS smashing some walls across Melbourne with his always super tight style.

Do you know what a “bogan” is? It’s an Australian colloquialism, this video from Melbourne writer AEON (created alongside VNA magazine) gives you a perfect explanation of the Aussie Bogan, lost in London.

LINZ from Queensland visited Melbourne and painted this great piece. LINZ also talks about his time as a writer and how things have changed so much over the years.

This video from Spacerunner is definitely my favourite video for the month. SIMR and Rides showing us how it’s done painting one of Melbourne’s trains in the dark of the night.

Check out this video featuring interviews with Rone, Sandra Powell and Andrew King discussing their views on street art in galleries and the streets and the general attitude towards the art recently in Melbourne.

Rone was in Portland Oregon recently for Forrest for the Trees festival.

A new video from LUSH.

And finally Reka painted this epic 8 story wall in Copenhagen.

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Weekend link-o-rama

September 21st, 2013 | By | No Comments »
Unit 12, maybe. Photo by Dani Mozeson.

Unit 12 or Unit 112, maybe?

This link-o-rama is super helpful for me, because all week I’ve been working on my upcoming ebook instead of blogging. Hopefully the ebook will be out in November… Anyways, links:

  • I love that this show at LeQuiVive Gallery reframes a certain kind of work that often gets lumped in with street art or urban art as Neu Folk Revival, which describes the work much better than calling it street art or urban art or low-brow art. Some real talent in this show: Doodles, Troy Lovegates, Cannon Dill, ghostpatrol, Zio Ziegler, Daryll Peirce, Justin Lovato… It opens next month.
  • This piece by Part2ism needs to be seen. And look closely. That’s not just paint on the wall. Very interesting. I am glad to see Part2ism on the streets again, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Once again, he has shown that he is ahead of the rest of us. This piece doesn’t look like graffiti. It doesn’t look like street art. It looks like art on the street, and that’s much too rare.Swampy has relaunched his website and posted a video diary sort of thing. I’m very curious what people think about it. Have a look and let me know.Check out this concept from Jadikan-LP: Art that only exists within Google Maps. Click the link. Explore the room. I normally hate lightpainting or “light graffiti,” but I absolutely love this piece. As far as I’m concerned, the internet is a public space and Jadikan-LP has invaded it with artwork, so this project is street art.
  • CDH wrote a really fascinating article in Art Monthly Australia about the commodification of street art. While I don’t agree with him entirely, I think it’s a must-read because at least it sparks some thoughts. It’s one of the best-written critiques I’ve read of the capitalistic nature of contemporary street art. Over on Invurt, they have posted CDH’s article as well as a response by E.L.K. (who CDH calls out in his critique). In his article, CDH called out E.L.K. for using stencils with so many layers that the work isn’t really street anymore, since stencils were initially used for being quick and a piece with 20 layers isn’t going to be quick. It’s just going to look technically interesting. Well, E.L.K. shot back in his response and made himself look like an idiot and seemingly declaring that all conceptual street art and graffiti is crap. There were arguments he could have made to defend complex stenciling or critique other points of CDH’s article, but instead E.L.K. mostly just attacked CDH as an artist. Anyway, definitely read both the original article and the response over at Invurt. The comments on the response are interesting as well.

Photo by Dani Mozeson


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