Weekend link-o-rama

Zéh Palito and Tosko

It is time for me to get a reasonable number of hours of sleep. Until I have to get up in the morning. Here’s what we didn’t get to write about on Vandalog this week:

Photo by Zéh Palito

Book review – Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall

Back in May, a new book came out about Banksy that I anticipated would be a bit cheesy but perhaps good for someone who had only heard about Banksy through the occasional newspaper article. But I read the book anyway because A. I was a bit curious how to fill a 300-page book just about Banksy, and B. I had spoken a bit with the author while he was writing the book and wanted to see if Vandalog got any mentions in the final product. But I was surprised that the book was actually a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. Not to say that I am an expert on the topic, but it’s not common that I learn something new about Banksy, and I learned a lot reading this book. So what book and I writing about? It’s Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall by Will Ellsworth-Jones.

Ellsworth-Jones is not a street art fanatic, but he’s clearly a good researcher and journalist, because he’s pieced together the most in-depth biography of Banksy to-date. If anything, his initial lack of knowledge about street art and graffiti helped him. He doesn’t have allegiances to anything but getting the story straight. Nonetheless, he does not outright reveal Banksy’s identity, so he certainly tells Banksy’s story as respectfully as one can do when attempting to write a biography of an anonymous person. People with little knowledge of street art have been responsible for some pretty bad books on the subject for the last few years, but Ellsworth-Jones took his topic seriously rather than just attempting to churn out something as quick as he could based on reading a few blog posts and newspaper articles.

Because Ellsworth-Jones has written this book for an audience with little or no knowledge of Banksy, there are of course a lot of bits that anyone reading Vandalog would do just fine to skip over and you’ll find some sections a bit cheesy, but he does a good job of introducing readers to the world Banksy and street art by explaining some of the ways in which he was introduced to it.

But what new information does Ellsworth-Jones have to offer those of us who already know the basic Banksy story and are already active participants in the fan culture surrounding street art? Ellsworth-Jones had compiled little-known stories of Banksy’s life and career from his childhood in Bristol all the way through Art in the Streets, as well as stories about some of the people who would have influenced him early on. And of course there are tantalizing facts and figures like information about the finances of Pictures on Walls and Lazarides that, although public information, are things that few of us besides Ellsworth-Jones might think to look into. Ellsworth-Jones also gives his thoughts on the street art fan community that has sprung up over the last decade, a community that few truly objective outsiders have taken as much time to understand. And of course there’s some of the most detailed investigations I’ve seen in a while into the market that has sprung up around Banksy. In between a lot of basic info about street art, there were some real gems of knowledge.

I highly recommend picking up this book if you’re curious about Banksy beyond what he’s ever going to say in an interview. Although it’s written for people who don’t know much about him, anyone who reads this book is probably going to know more about Banksy than someone obsessed with him who skips the book because it wasn’t mean for the obsessed fan. Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall is not the definitive biography of Banksy, but it’s the best thing we have to date or can hope to have for a while.

Photo by bhikku

Contest: Win a copy of VNA 19

We’ve got 5 issues of Very Nearly Almost magazine’s latest issue to send off to Vandalog readers. I’ve been a fan of VNA since around the time I started Vandalog, and it’s a magazine that I always recommend as an alternative to Hi-Fructose and Juxtapoz.

For issue 19, they’ve got a great cover article on Anthony Lister, as well as interviews with Twoone, Remed and others. As it tends to be with VNA, my personal favorite part of this issue is not what you might expect (the interviews) but their photos of graffiti and street art in Newcastle. Of course the interviews are great too, particularly Lister’s.

We’ve got 5 copies of VNA issue 19 up for grabs, just answer this question in the comments: What country is Anthony Lister from? Out of those who answer correctly, 5 will be selected at random and sent a copy of the magazine. Answer by noon East Coast time on Saturday, September 8th. We’ll notify the winners via email shortly after that.

Photos courtesy of Very Nearly Almost

Weekend link-o-rama


Well, the big story this week was of course Hyuro’s wall under threat in Atlanta, but a lot more has been happening elsewhere on the web, plus I missed a week of link-o-rama when I was in Atlanta myself, so here’s what I’ve got to share:

Photo by Sam3

Weekend link-o-rama


Caroline and I are out in Colorado this week with my family, so art is coming second, but luckily it looks like it’s been a slow week. Here’s what I almost missed…

Photo by Nolionsinengland

Graffiti Underworld: Villains, Vandals and Visionaries — An Intimate Look at a Subculture

As the lines between graffiti and street art continue to blur, Graffiti Underworld: Visions, Vandals and Visionaries reminds us just how distinct the two worlds are. Although both graffiti writers and street artists claim the streets as their own, their social and cultural backgrounds, motivations and sensibilities share little in common. Based on five years of interviewing and photographing writers throughout the U.S., J.R. Mathews — in this collection of oral histories — offers a fascinating foray into the minds of graffiti writers.

Particularly striking is the role that drama plays in the writers’ lives. Daily ventures often involve: running from cops, outsmarting the authorities, climbing treacherous heights, going all-out for quantity – often at the expense of quality — claiming territory, jumping on moving vehicles and courting danger. These are all elements of the adrenaline rush cited by many. And although most writers have frequent encounters with police, they often find in graffiti “a way out of the neighborhood…gang activity and all.”

Also striking are the initial motivations. Many writers are driven to make their mark in a quest for recognition or fame. Philadelphia’s Cornbread – deemed as the founder of modern-day graffiti – began writing Cornbread while incarcerated at a juvenile detention facility. He loved the instant fame and continued to get up all over Philly when he was released back in 1967.  “There was Cornbread before there was hip-hop,” he says.

Graffiti clearly had — and continues to have — much to offer those who feel most marginalized. “Graffiti was the perfect outlet for a young guy trying to challenge this world,” suggests Saber. “Graffiti is the perfect opportunity to find a voice.  Otherwise you would never find a voice.”

Interesting, too, are the surfaces favored by writers. Trains – particularly freight trains — are the canvas of choice for many graff writers. Seattle’s Asic explains, “I think it’s partially the nostalgia freights have, the open road, roaming the land. Painting them and seeing them leave, not knowing where they’re going and seeing them pop up is amazing.”

And unlike interviews conducted with street artists, there are hardly any references to art schools or galleries and lots of talk about devising and revising names and identities. (I must admit I was disappointed when I found that “Read More Books” wasn’t intended as a message!) But there are expressions of extraordinary passion, zeal and commitment from members of an underground movement that has transformed the contemporary art scene.

Graffiti Underworld: Villains, Vandals and Visionaries is worth a read for anyone curious about the largely unsung “urban style-masters of the now generation.”

Cornbread, incidentally, will be honored this Sunday at the Rotunda in Philadelphia — an event certain to attract other legendary writers.

Images courtesy of  Feral House and Amazon 

Walls & Frames: The Review

Even though Walls & Frames by Maximiliano Ruiz has been out for a few months now, I have finally gotten around to reading it cover to cover and writing a proper review. With so many street art books (and how expensive the hardcover ones are out there today) we think it is important at Vandalog to try and write honest reviews about what we come across.

I have been really excited about the release Walls & Frames, not just because of the hand painted dust jackets sold during the book launch, but because the topic it covers is one that I have researched and continue to do so in depth. As street art continues to become more and more popular as a mainstream art genre, the transition of street art into a commodity is an interesting aspect of the genre. Each artists that comes from or works in both mediums deals with the transition in their own way, and I finally thought there was a book that was going to ask the tough questions to artists about working indoors. How do you feel about your work as a commodity? Do you have a different process with canvasses versus walls? How do you justify the price tag of your work if it doesn’t take as much time? Do you only paint outdoors to promote the sale of your work? These and more are what I thought was going to be addressed in Walls & Frames, but unfortunately, the book falls short of asking any of these questions and puts forth an array of 101 artists work (some of whom have never even gotten up in the streets). From the title alone, I at least hoped, at the very least, that the Ruiz would juxtapose artists’ outdoor work with their indoor pieces as the images and let the reader assess the differences, but alas, all of the images are of work that has been shown or sold by galleries around the world. Sadly, even just with a quick flip through, one will find Walls & Frames just another well designed coffee table book in which to impress your friends.

Right from the outface, the book is clearly more of a compilation of images rather than a critical perspective on the transition of street art. The only writing from Ruiz is in a two page preface, which states the obvious saying that street art has become a global mainstream phenomenon solidifying itself as a true art form. Using the phrase street art as an umbrella term throughout, there is no distinction about what constitutes street art and who is a street artist. Instantly confusing, the term is used a categorical phrase in order to group the names featured in the book, whether they have painted outdoors or not. The term is molded somewhat through artist quotes within the book, but does not directly address the overarching question that nobody has really answered yet: what can be described as street art in this day and age?

From the preface, the 101 artists are showcased alphabetically with their name, birth place and date as well as a quote about their work. Of course, the ones I find most interesting are those who actually address the topic of their street versus their fine art. Greek based artist Alexandros Vasmoulakis, who has successful created canvasses as amazing as his large scale abstract street art had to say the following:

My paintings are strongly influenced from my initial street artwork. However, when I exhibit my work in the gallery space, I consider myself a painter rather than a street artist. The street art market can be sweet and cozy for every young artist, nevertheless it could be a wolf in disguise. Generally, I do not really pay much attention to the location of my work. My first intention is to make something strong and worthy. This can be enough.

Thankfully, a majority of the quotes from artists are at least related to the transition from the streets to the gallery. Each artist had something different to say about the topic. Some like, Axel Void, don’t make any distinction, but many say the streets inspire their work with styles, materials or the environment. Others, like Bom K, separate the two as completely different creative entities to express themselves. Ben Frost discusses how he is mostly a gallery artist now because it takes so long to create a single piece while someone like Blek Le Rat paints on canvas since it is permanent while his street work is ephemeral lasting only a few days or hours.

While I may wish for longer read on the topic, the book is a starting point for others to continue Ruiz’s work. And besides, who doesn’t like to look at some pretty pictures once in awhile?

All images courtesy of Gelstaten

Weekend link-o-rama

Jack Murray aka Panik ATG

Exciting week next week: Troy Lovegates and Labrona will be coming to Haverford to paint a mural here, so look forward to some pictures of that… If I find the charger for my camera. Also, I’ve taken the plunge and I’m finally on Instagram. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Photo by Jack Murray

Eloquent Vandals: A History of Nuart Norway

Chris Stain at Nuart 2009

The Nuart festival of Stavanger, Norway is one of a handful of trailblazing street art festivals that have been popping up over the last decade or so. Actually the predate most, if not all, of the significant festivals. Last year, the organizers of the festival put together a book documenting Nuart’s history, Eloquent Vandals: A History of Nuart Norway.

Extensive photographic documentation of Nuart is already available, but Eloquent Vandals also has texts that you won’t find anywhere else. Essays by Logan Hicks, Carlo McCormick and Brooklyn Street Art’s Steven Harrington and Jaime Rojo provide some context for the festival and the festivities that happen there.

Hicks gives the inside scoop on what it is like to be a participant at Nuart. He acknowledges what so many artists and festival organizers really love about places like Nuart: The best festivals are made up of the best people, and the best parts of the festivals are the unexpected fun bits, not the murals. The artwork mostly just facilitates the good times and helps to justify to the rest of the world why a bunch of people getting together in a small city in Norway.

McCormick’s essay begins with one of my new favorite quotes about public art “Public art, when it is commissioned and produced according to some vague idea of the public good, is by and large really lousy art – and as such arguably the very last thing people need.” He goes on to show how festivals like Nuart can breath new life into the realm of public art.

Harrington and Rojo’s essay is not only the most important in the book, but one of the most important essays written about street art in this decade. They lay out what so many of us have thought about, but few have written about so eloquently and with such serious consideration: THE INTERNET IS REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF CONTEMPORARY STREET ART. Sounds simple and obvious right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than what I just wrote and the complicated aspects of this obvious fact deserve serious consideration, a conversation that Harrington and Rojo have now begun.

If you are interested in street art festivals like Nuart, and especially if you are one of the many people out there thinking of starting a street art festival, I highly suggest that you pick up a copy of Eloquent Vandals: A History of Nuart Norway.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Very Nearly Almost 18

Screw Conor Harrington. Screw Ronzo. Screw Remi/Rough. Not because all of those people aren’t great. Not because I dislike their work. Not because their interviews in Very Nearly Almost issue 18 are uninteresting. I don’t know Ronzo personally, but Conor and Remi have been nothing but nice to me. All three of them have made cool art. Their interviews in VNA are worth reading. But screw them because all of Very Nearly Almost issue 18 pales in comparison to their spectacular interview with the legendary Mode2. I’ll certainly admit that I don’t like everything Mode2 has ever done, but he has been an innovator in Europe for decades and when he gets it right, he gets it very very right. He is also very clearly a smart man. VNA’s interview with Mode2 is detailed, insightful and worth every moment you’ll spend reading it.

If you still haven’t picked up a copy of VNA18, I highly encourage you to do so now. You won’t regret it. Plus, after you’re done reading the Mode2 interview, Ronzo, Conor, Remi and the rest of the artists in this issue honestly do have some interesting bits to say as well, and there are some rare pics of How&Nosm’s work in Brazil.

Very Nearly Almost is available online.

Photos courtesy of Very Nearly Almost