Very Nearly Almost #11 for sale now

It was recently pointed out that I had somehow forgotten to mention that you can now buy issue 11 of Very Nearly Almost on their website. The reason it’s odd that I’ve gotten to mention this is that, besides being a great magazine as always, this issue actually has a fair bit to do with Vandalog. There is an interview with Vandalog blogger Gaia and with Case by me. There’s also interviews with people like Mike Giant, Insa and Ruedione (whose book Backflashes is out soon). And at just £4.00 for 100 pages of art goodness, VNA is a fantastic value for an art magazine or book.

News from Swoon

Some fantastic news from the world of Swoon this week.

Today is the release date of Swoon’s first monograph. The book is almost 200 pages long and features photos of Swoon’s work as well as essays by people like Jeffrey Deitch. The book will be published by Abrams and is available on their website for $35.

And the second bit of news from Swoon is her latest undertaking: The Konbit Shelter Project. Swoon has been studying architecture, and in an effort to aid the relief efforts in Haiti, she plans to work with a team of people (including artistic collaborator Ben Wolf) to build superadobe structures in Haiti this summer. These structures are amazing because they are relatively easy and cheap to build but also very strong. To raise awareness for Konbit Shelter, Swoon and her team will be building a prototype of the structures in New York City this weekend. The structure will be unveiled on May 2nd at East River Park in Brooklyn. For more information on the project read this post on Hyperallergic and check out The Konbit Shelter Project’s website.

The 41st Parallel from Drago and Wooster Collective

Drago (the wonderful Italians who published my book last year), Wooster Collective and Meet At The Apartment have a very cool sounding event going on next week in New York City. The 41st Parallel is a special Q&A event with some of street art’s biggest names. Some artists from The Thousands (Chris Stain, WK Interact, Elbow-toe and Swoon), other Drago-affiliated artists like Logan Hicks, Drago’s founder Paulo von
 Vacano and Marc and Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective will all be there. I spoke with Paulo today, and it sounds like the artists might be signing books as well. Unfortunately, I’ll be here in London, but I’m sure this is going to be the place to be in NYC next Wednesday evening. Check it out if you want to meet some artists, ask them questions and maybe pick up my book if you’re so inclined…

And yes I realize that I’ve been criticizing people recently for advertising stuff without really saying that they are advertising things. So, I guess this is an advert in the hopes that more people will buy my book, but if you’re flat broke or just don’t want to buy a book, this should still be a nice Q&A with some of the most influential people in street art.

Street art from East Timor

Peace of Wall looks it could be one of those great unappreciated art books, as important for his documentation of art as for its documentation of a critical time in East Timor’s history. Chris Parkinson spent four year photographing in East Timor, and this book is the result of all that work. It’s definitely not your typical graffiti art book.

Chris has kindly allowed me to print his introduction to the book and as well as a few photos:

East Timor is a tapestry of splintered histories and realities. Destruction litters the country like a prodding finger at your chest while renewed urban planning and development creates a sheen of progress amid its historical dilapidation. Dili, the country’s capital, symbolises the past and present; distraught, yet determined and proud in its ambition.

In a country where turf, tenure and territory are keenly contested, the streets belong to everyone. They balance a sense of place, community and security with a barely concealed antagonism where the fundamental frustrations of subsistence living rest, or expose themselves in passionate insurrection. In 2006, when divisions in East Timor’s armed forces inflamed a larger social rift that was beamed across the world, these streets were both refuge and tormentor. Survival was life. Life was survival. It still is. The surface calm today belies a tension so complicated that it’s barely understood beyond its gravity. And its graffiti.

Boldly proclaimed assertions towards political allegiance are offset with colours moulded into messages of development and of harmony. Ghosts, graphic and historical, reveal the past and revel in the present. Peaceful optimism is secreted through shades of hope and reconciliation.

Through a mutual appreciation for its graffiti, the architects of East Timor’s future, the youth, share common identity and ideals despite their differences. The street art is the powerful annunciation of emotion in what common space exists for a population restricted by physical and emotional borders.  It is the work of a youth – in turns peaceful and hopeful, and fiercely territorial and frustrated – splashing proud markings of existence over the country’s landscape, hoping their words, murals and thoughts may incite a permanence of recognition and truth over a nation that has struggled with the complexities of colonialism and conflict.  It is the media of the marginalised and its messages restructure the past, the mundane, the forgotten and the present.

Photographing East Timor’s graffiti was the documentation of a movement that was wildly contradictory, highly emotional, instantly engaging and consistently dramatic. What I found through four years behind a camera focusing on walls was life, and the art that informs and sustains it.

From peaceful and intriguing beginnings in 2004, through a dramatic conflict in 2006 and then the two years of recovery before my departure in 2008, the walls became a fascinating gauge of public opinion. They were a narrative in real time and offered more than the political posturing of the country’s leadership and the analysis of the foreign agencies struggling to find rationality in East Timor’s growing nationhood.

Through 2006 and 2007, both the United Nations and the International Non-Government Organisation’s security staff coordinated what was known as a security tree; telephone text messages that branched out through varied networks, alerting people to problems or areas of conflict. I have used some of them here to provide the atmosphere of the conflict, which I still believe is, or hopefully was, too layered and parochial for foreigners to fully grasp. The analysis can be left to the walls.

This book represents what I believe to be an altogether different insight into notions of place, history and identity in East Timor.  Enclosed are the direct expressions of its people told in their own way, commenting on and celebrating their own experiences.  And for me, that’s the fundamental value of graffiti. Its pedagogical imprint is a celebration for both audience and author.

My hope was that I could be a conduit for the voices of ordinary Timorese to be heard outside of their country. I hope that while we peer through the lens of history, more will shift than just the eye. That which confronts and confounds us may nurture our compassion, understanding and empathy.

Beautiful. Tragic. Hopeful. Resourceful. Ingenious. Nascent. Complex. Post. Peaceful. Present.
East Timor.

Chris Parkinson

Peace of Wall will be released in Australia at the end of April. You can learn more about the book on Chris’ blog.

Dan Witz: In Plain View

This is a while away, but I thought I’d mention that Dan Witz has a book coming out later this year.

In Plain View – 30 years of Artworks Illegal and Otherwise is the first and long overdue monograph on the work of Dan Witz. New York artist Dan Witz has been doing street art since the late 1970s. In his enduring street art career, he has specialized in a smaller, more intimate kind of street art. For Witz, a sense of wonder and curiosity are key. Strongly influenced by the changing cultural landscape of the New York City streets where he developed his craft, Witz has traveled the path from dark to light and back again. In the book, his wandering journey through the no-wave and DIY movements of New York‘s Lower Eastside of the 70‘s, the Reaganomics of the 80‘s to the flourishing of graffiti art in the new millennium is beautifully illustrated in 250 color photographs and narrated through an interview with the Wooster Collective. Whether stickers or paste-up silk-screened posters, conceptual pranks and interventions, or beautiful tromp l‘oeil paintings, Witz is inspired as much by the nature and subject of his art as by the mutating urban conditions in which the piece is executed. Not content with established boundaries between street and fine art, Witz seems intent on bursting contemporary art-world bubbles by refusing to confine himself to either. His monograph is a study of both the man and his art, with chapters chronicling the transformation of New York City from a once derelict Lower East Side to a shiny new Gotham.

The monograph is being published by Gingko Press and will be available from June 1st.

This is a seriously overdue book. Dan is just one of those names in street art that you have to respect. Usually, I’m not one to love tromp l‘oeil paintings, but Dan makes the style interesting and engaging by taking things a step further than most.

Untitled II: The Beautiful Renaissance

One of my favorite street art books is Untitled, so upon receiving the sequel, Unitled II: The Beautiful Renaissance, in the mail last weekend, I couldn’t wait to read it and see if the sequel could live up my expectations.

In short, it does. For £19.95, you can get a well printed hardcover art book just shy of 200 pages long that could easily retail for more than that in high street shops.

Most of my favorite artists are included in Untitled II: My all time favorite Gaia image is on the cover, there are some cool shots of Banksy’s work, Swoon, Mark Jenkins, PosterBoy, Roa, WK Interact, Judith Supine, Blu and many many more.

Untitled II feels like the compiler (Gary Shove) really just sat around one day and said, “here’s some stuff that I’m really digging at the moment” and turned it into a book. And I mean that in a good way. The whole thing feels very holistic and it doesn’t seem like he’s tried to cram in certain artists just to say “yeah this book includes a photo of X’s work.” There are a few sections which are generally organized, like the section on New Orleans or the one on Norway, but really it’s just pictures that look nice together. And the quality of the photos is top notch. I just pulled a half dozen street art books out off my shelf to compare, and it is clear that the guys behind Untitled II have spared no expense in printing or finding the best photos.

But the truth is that pictures are only half the story with Untitled II. The text alone is reason to buy this book.

Too many people in art take themselves too seriously. Not so in Untitled II. The end of the book carries this disclaimer: “None of the words and spaces contained herein have any relevance to any of the photographs. They are only included to keep the pictures company and make us look cleverer than we actually are.”

You know how Banksy includes little bits of text in Wall and Piece? Think that sort of thing but taking up way more space. The text either proves that the writers are geniuses, or, much more likely, very good at BSing like geniuses. And those sort of texts are always fun to read when you know there is a bit of a humerous conceit to the whole thing.

Untitled II also includes a DVD called Storytelling. It has a few short films on it like Spending Time with PosterBoy plus Living Decay, a film about street art in Norway.

This isn’t the book you want if you’re looking for a serious book about street art, or if you’re just getting introduced to the genre, but for people who already know the street art scene well, this Untitled II deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

Untitled II is available on the Untitled website or at FUSShop.

Street Art Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas is only days away, and I know I’ve still got shopping to do. If you’re like me and you’ve got street art fans that you’ve still got to buy gifts for, look no futher.

Elms Lesters Book

1. The Elms Lesters Book – £175: Elms Lesters has released this giant book just in time for Christmas. They’ve been working on it for years, and I can see why. There are photos from all their major exhibitions over the years, and interviews with some of their best known artists conducted by art historian Ben Jones.

Keith Haring Book

2. Keith Haring – $63: Another mammoth street art book. A team including Jeffrey Deitch of Deitch Projects have made the definitive book on Keith Haring.

Bomb It DVD

3. Bomb It – $19.95: I’ve actually put this on my Christmas list, so I haven’t seen it yet, but everybody I’ve talked to has said this movie is great. This documentary goes through the history of graffiti, from cave paintings in Pompeii to the modern day.

Style Wars DVD

4. Style Wars – $24.99: The original graffiti documentary, and a must-have for any fan’s collection. This film helped to define 80’s graffiti.

Subway Art Book

5. Subway Art – $14.96: Like Style Wars, a classic book on graffiti. Martha Cooper’s photographs influenced a generation of writers.