Dear Kitsch Street Artists…

May 18th, 2017 | By | 1 Comment »

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Cedar Lewisohn, a writer, curator, and artist whose work and words I’ve followed for nearly a decade. His solo show Ndungu, Isca opened last week at Exeter Phoenix in Exeter, UK. – RJ

There is currently a case of a mixed-race artist in America who has appropriated an image he found online, originally by a black female artist, and turned it into a mural. I understand that this has now become a legal issue. I have been an expert witness in several graffiti and street art related court cases in the UK, so would not want to comment on this case too directly while it is on-going. What I would say is, the world is awash with kitsch murals, and this appears to be another example. Street art and kitsch for me is an on-going area of frustration. With the continued explosion of street art, there is also an explosion of kitsch. That means art that is sentimental, lacks criticality and where the materials the work is produced with have no relevance to the subject of the work. It might also mean the artist has not considered site specificity. Kitsch pushes the discourse of visual art back around seventy years, or perhaps further.

The issue of appropriation (particularly by white male culture) in relation to street art is very complex. It is a major issue within the street art scene, but also a wider problem of inexperienced artists who don’t really understand the difference between post-modern appropriation, that is copying something to give it a new context and make a political point, and simply copying something, with no other real motive other than, they “like” the work. Street art today has become the preserve of what has been called the “skater dad”. That is a man (can be a woman also), who is old enough to be a father, but dresses like he is about to go skateboarding. This is pretty much a global trend. The way this links to “white male appropriation” is that the skater dad has basically appropriated youth culture as whole. It’s not standard appropriation, where someone with no links to a culture, simply steals from a genre. Skater dads may well have been skaters back in the day. But now, they really should focus on being dads.

Aside from the predominance of kitsch, a major problem of the street art movement around the world is not only that so many of the artists are white and male, but that the institutional structures that surround the scene are white and male. This also means the people who primarily make money out of this scene are white and middle class (there are also a surprising number of aristocrats involved in street art and graffiti at various levels), and if they wanted, could get a job in a bank tomorrow. That’s the difference and that’s what separates the skater dad from the real deal. Some people have a choice. They can be skater dad on the weekend, and go to the office on Monday. But not everyone has that choice. Skin colour or gender are not so easy to leave at home when you feel like it. And that’s the problem with blindly appropriating culture.

YT, POC, “they”, latinx, race, and gender issues are coming thick and fast. While those topics are relevant and important, sometimes the bigger picture can get lost in these nuances, which in turn can lead to more populist arguments seizing the agenda. Put simply, while we argue over the ethic make up of an art exhibition or the moral implications of stealing an image from Instagram, someone else is busy running the country into the ground. Should some random American mural artist have stolen another artist’s work and painted it on a wall? No, probably not. Am I hugely offended by this on some ethno, gendered, white man bad, level? No. I think there are more important issues to worry about, and kitsch murals aren’t going to solve them. Artists now, perhaps more than ever, should fight to make work that has meaning. Not only for today, but for the people who will look back at 2017 and ask, “What was going on?”.


Category: Featured Posts, Guest Posts, Random | Tags:

The Corrections: Street Art Calling Out Bias in The New York Times

May 7th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

As much I’ve enjoyed the anti-Trump stickers that have been making up a healthy portion of my Instagram posts lately, they’re pretty basic: Trump sucks. We get it. New York agrees (except for maybe that one asshole putting up Infowars stickers in my neighborhood). I enjoy those stickers, but what I’d love to see some work that goes a bit deeper into the issues that Trump represents.

Luckily, there’s Alexandra Bell. Her new series of posters smacks you in the face, highlighting the everyday racism that was hiding in plain sight even before the age of “Trump’s America.” Bell has been putting her journalism degree to work critiquing articles from The New York Times to highlight the implicit bias in their stories, headlines, and page layout.

A post shared by Alex(andra) Bell (@yesitsalex) on

She starts with a real page layout from The New York Times, and redacts, critiques, or remakes the page to remove or highlight the paper’s implicit racial bias. Would Michael Brown have been referred to as “A Teenager Grappling with Problems and Promise” if he were white? Why was a major article about Brown given equal billing as an article about his killer? Why was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s photo used below and article about the four white American swimmers who got caught vandalizing a Rio gas station?

A post shared by Alex(andra) Bell (@yesitsalex) on

Bell’s posters have been appearing across NYC, in the subways and on the street, and they’ve provoked different reactions. At first look, they may be confusing, and that’s also why they’re so powerful. These alternative versions of the Times give a glimpse into a different reality, and in doing so highlight the racism still present in ours, even in supposedly liberal and culturally sensitive publications like The New York Times. It’s some of the best street art I’ve seen all year.

And Bell has more to come.

A post shared by Alex(andra) Bell (@yesitsalex) on

Photos from Alexandra Bell’s Instagram


Category: Photos | Tags:

Thank you Very Nearly Almost

April 27th, 2017 | By | 1 Comment »

Roa in London, taken around the time I was interviewing him for Very Nearly Almost.

Sad news to report: Very Nearly Almost, the UK’s premier magazine covering street art/graffiti/muralism…, is shutting down after 10 years.

VNA was an early inspiration for me when Vandalog was just starting out. I would devour their interviews. VNA privileged the voice of the artist, publishing in-depth interviews with street art superstars like Shepard Fairey, as well as people who probably don’t get quite the same chances to take deep dives exploring their work. A few times, I’ve been fortunate to contribute to VNA as an interviewer. Actually, an interview with Case for VNA might have been the first time that someone else published my work.

The community around VNA, a community of contributing writers, photographers, and even artists who collaborated on limited edition covers, is a testament to the importance of the magazine and the genuine love and excitement with which the VNA team approached their work.

To give the magazine a proper send off before they close up shop, dozens artists have contributed work to a charity auction that VNA has organized to benefit Macmillan Cancer Support. Bidding starts today.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


Category: Auctions, Books / Magazines | Tags: , , ,

Upcoming: A West Cost Tour for Wastedland 2

April 9th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Andrew H. Shirley’s Wastedland 2, which premiered last year in Detroit, is headed on a west coast tour. Wastedland 2 is part short film, part immersive art installation, and 100% a graffiti nerd paradise. Of course, it’s a sequel to Shirley’s Wastedland, from 2008.

This time around, the film stars the writers Avoid, Smells, and Wolftits playing alternative versions of themselves in a post-apocalyptic dreamworld. The trio, fueled by beer and weed, spend their days searching out the next spot to catch a tag and chasing traces of the God-like writer UFO. Other writers, mostly members of 907 crew or closely associated with the crew, make cameos too. But what makes Wastedland 2 a must-see is the immersive installation that accompanies some of the screenings, where Shirley and his team transform venues into mini-Wastedlands. Attendees get a film screening, plus an art exhibition to set the vibe.

The beginnings of Wastedland 2’s installation at Superchief Gallery in LA.

The team is already at work transforming LA’s Superchief Gallery in preparation for next week’s screening.

There are also upcoming Wastedland 2 screenings in Oakland, Reno, and elsewhere. Check the full list here.

Photos courtesy of Wastedland 2


Category: Events, Videos | Tags:

Holding onto Hope in a Sea of Destruction

April 9th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Pat Perry‘s latest mural really is stunning. On Instagram, Pat captioned the work, “trying to keep the vision during these unraveling times.” We do have to keep trying, whatever the odds, and I love that Pat has referenced the importance not just of science, but also of art, craft, and creativity in preserving and replenishing our natural environment.

The mural was painted in Napier, New Zealand as part of PangeaSeed Foundation‘s Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative.

As an aside, Sea Walls is an especially interesting mural project in a sea of mediocrity and artwashing. All of their murals take on a pro-environment theme, with a particular focus on oceans. Sea Walls murals have gone up around the world, most recently in Napier, New Zealand, where Pat Perry painted his mural. So far as mural festivals go, it’s a nice model. The same team could just as easily travel the world, going to whatever town wants some pretty pictures on whatever warehouse district is being “revitalized”, commissioning artists to paint whatever the hell they want. So, within the parachuting-artist model of muralism, I’ve got to give credit to Sea Walls for at least basing their work in useful and important content.

Photo by Tre Packard, via Pat Perry’s Instagram


Category: Photos | Tags: ,

Brexit is like…

March 29th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Something timely from Vlady. All my best to my friends in the UK tonight…

Photo by Vlady


Category: Photos | Tags:

The Bushwick Collective and McDonald’s Team Up to Screw Artists

March 12th, 2017 | By | 7 Comments »

The opening to a new McDonald’s ad featuring murals in Bushwick.

UPDATE (April 23rd, 2017): A group of artists whose work was used in this campaign without their permission is now threatening legal action against McDonald’s.

Many artists are feeling betrayed this week, as they realize that their art has been used without their permission in a McDonald’s advertisement, apparently thanks to the cooperation of The Bushwick Collective‘s Joe Ficalora.

As first noted by Brooklyn Street ArtMcDonald’s new ad campaign for the “New York Bagel Supreme” (a burger/bagel hybrid launching in the Netherlands) centers on “the vibe of Bushwick.” They got that local flavor from The Bushwick Collective, one of New York’s more well-known mural projects. A cornerstone of the campaign is a 4-minute advertisement (UPDATE: McDonald’s appears to have taken the advertisement offline, but we’ve uploaded a copy to Facebook) with Bushwick Collective founder Joe Ficalora giving a tour to highlight his project’s collection of murals. Except… At least two of the murals in the ad aren’t even Bushwick Collective murals (despite what is implied) and at least five artists whose work is featured did not give their permission for McDonald’s to use their work.

Lmnopi’s mural, as featured in the ad. The mural was not painted as part of The Bushwick Collective.

On Facebook, Lmnopi made her feelings clear:

McDonald’s just teamed up with the Gentrifying Bushwick Collective to exploit street art in Brooklyn to sell Burgers in Netherlands. This will not stand. They did not get my permission to use my work in their psuedo doc and the mural is NOT part of the Bushwick Collective. PERIOD

Similarly, Beau Stanton was unaware that his work was featured in the ad until someone sent him a link to the video. Stanton’s mural was commissioned by the building owner, and is not affiliated with The Bushwick Collective either. Read the rest of this article »


Category: Art News, Featured Posts | Tags: , , , , , ,

Wrapping up ALL BIG LETTERS

March 5th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Graffiti Taxonomy by Evan Roth. Photo by Lisa Boughter.

As regular readers probably know, I recently curated an exhibition about the tools and strategies of graffiti for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College. ALL BIG LETTERS closed on Friday. The exhibition featured work from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Before ALL BIG LETTERS fades into our rear view, I wanted to highlight two more bits of press about the show.

First, I spoke with Brooklyn Street Art’s Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington for an interview on The Huffington Post. We spoke about curating an exhibition about graffiti for a general audience (and a gallery with an educational mission), the graffiti community’s skill at hacking tools and cityscapes, graffiti as a performance, and more.

And Very Nearly Almost published a short video from ALL BIG LETTERS:

Photo by Lisa Boughter


Category: Vandalog Projects, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When the Obvious Becomes Radical Leftist Politics

February 23rd, 2017 | By | 4 Comments »

When did pointing out the primary message of the Statue of Liberty (which was immortalized as a poem used to fundraise for the statue and then installed next to it) become an act of protest? Don’t answer. We all know that it was sometime between November 8th and January 20th.

This week, four activists attached a banner reading “REFUGEES WELCOME” at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was swiftly removed by the park rangers who manage the site. Curbed has more on the story, including a statement from the team that installed it. WHY WAS THAT MESSAGE EVEN NECESSARY TO SAY? This is America, and the idea that refugees and immigrants are welcome should be obvious. Unfortunately, it is not, and that banner was absolutely necessary. Kudos, to whoever installed it. Everyone in America owes you a beer.

On a related note, a school in Maryland made teachers remove posters from their classrooms that celebrated diversity in America. The posters, designed by Shepard Fairey, were determined to be too “political” and “anti-Trump.” So yeah, apparently celebrating diversity counts as anti-Trump now too. Reminds me of this Fox News tweet describing anti-fascist graffiti as anti-Trump.

I guess if anything good is coming out of this, it’s at least the acknowledgement from the right-wing establishment that Trump is in fact a fascist white nationalist.

Photo by Alt Lady Liberty


Category: Art News, Photos | Tags: ,

The Truth Behind Banksy (According to Portlandia)

February 21st, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Portlandia does it again. For their latest segment taking on the art world, Portlandia have Fred Armisen’s character convinced that he is Banksy. Watch what happens:

“Everything’s better, everywhere that we add the art.” Love it. Of course, there’s more than a grain of truth to this piece. Not only about the way that street art, by Banksy or by others, can increase property values and add a “cool factor” to a individual buildings or to entire neighborhoods, but the way that countless property owners added (or perhaps occasionally found) sub-par street art to their buildings, only to call the local news and say, “Oh man, I think Banksy just painted on the side of my building! This is crazy. Get over here and do a story about my building!”

So, kudos to Portlandia, as always.


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