Classic street art – Christy Rupp’s rats from 1979

A lot of people were first introduced to street art through Banksy and his rats. Then, you learn that Blek le Rat was painting stencils of rats back in the 1980’s. What people don’t often realize that one of street art’s early pioneers beat both of those artists to stenciled black rats. The Rat Patrol project by Christy Rupp, from 1979, consisted of wheatpasting images of rats all around New York City. Street Art, a book from 1985, is the invaluable resource that first introduced me to Rupp’s artwork, but since then, I don’t think she has been acknowledged for her work as one of the first street artists, and possibly the first street artist to use rats extensively, a character that has become iconic within the movement.

Here’s how Rupp describes the project:

Life size image of a rat placed amongst accumulated garbage. I started pasting these up during the 3 week garbage strike in May of 1979. Never intending to defend rats, I wanted to point out how we had created a habitat for them, and they would naturally occupy it. The city has it’s own ecosystem with a delicate balance. Rats were very visible in those days where I lived in the Wall St. area. Especially around dusk when the human traffic would abruptly taper off leaving all the days harvest for the first rats to discover. During this time I studied rat behavior and found them to be similar to people in many ways, not least of which was the ability to work together as a community, making them possibly better suited to living in NYC at times. Also it has been said that rats possess a culture- if you define culture as the ability to pass information through generations without direct experience- such as a fear of predators and pesticides. Humans are the only other species that can do that.

Also, there were even Rubble Rats, which took the form of sculptures:

Rupp’s artwork is a piece of street art history that should be longer be ignored. Certainly something that should be kept in mind with LA MOCA‘s upcoming street art show.

On her website, you can purchase a print of the 2nd photo in this post.

Also, I was looking around the rest of Rupp’s website and there are a number of other cool artworks worth checking out.

Photos by Christy Rupp