What and where are open walls?

December 24th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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Community amongst excess in Wynwood

December 16th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

“Dude, those drips look so sick!”

That’s what I hear on my way to 2nd Ave in Wynwood. It is Saturday December 6th around 9pm, and this is the last big night during Art Basel. A group of guys are tagging this building and praising each other’s tags based on the quality of the drips. I am hungry, tired, and annoyed because it took an hour to get to Wynwood and another hour to park. Not to worry though, soon I’ll reach my destination: 2nd Ave with 23rd St, the heart of Wynwood. Soon at least one of my big problems, my hunger, would be taken care of by one of the 30+ food trucks parked nearby. I just had to navigate through a sea of people, cars, paint cans, beer cans, art tents, music speakers, police in horseback, and of course more people.

Oh dear Wynwood, you have once again left me feeling sad, hopeless, and discouraged. What is it that you’re doing? How did you let yourself get so bad?

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STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING: stikman is releasing his first book today!

December 9th, 2014 | By | No Comments »

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Just in time for the holidays, I am thrilled to announce the release of the first book from the elusive artist stikman, entitled SIGNS, published by my new art book project Dirt Worship Publishing. For over two decades, the anonymous artist stikman has plastered his character on the pavements and walls of major cities and small towns across the US. Finally, there’s a book celebrating a selection of this elective artist’s work.

SIGNS documents a collection of stikman’s art on street signs across the United States, highlighting the huge variety in stikman’s work like his innovative methods and materials, clever placement, and diverse references from folk art to fine art. “stikman has retained his freshness by constantly reinventing his iconic character, unafraid to experiment with new mediums and configurations,” says graffiti photographer and blogger Luna Park.

He has gained something of a cult following among street art enthusiasts and pedestrians alike. “When I stumble across a stikman, I feel as if I’ve found a treasure,” says legendary street art and graffiti photographer Martha Cooper.

Typically, finding a stikman in the wild is a feat of chance. A few eagle-eyed photographers have made his image accessible to the masses. And now, for the first time ever, stikman and Dirt Worship Publishing have compiled a selection of his work in an official book.

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You can get your copy of SIGNS in time for Christmas by placing your order through The Vandalog Shop anytime before December 18th (for domestic orders only). The standard edition is available for $30, plus shipping and handling. A limited edition deluxe version of SIGNS, limited to just 75 hand-embellished copies and featuring an exclusive inkjet print on archival paper (6.5” x 8”), is also available for $50 plus shipping and handling.

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Below government radar, street artists discover the people’s permission

October 28th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Nether

Nether. Photo by Nether.

In Baltimore, where every water is uncharted, street art has navigated its own course. What began as a covert creative expression of artistic imagination by individual street artists has matured to become an important force that binds artists and neighborhoods. Baltimore’s growing legion of street artists has piloted a course of creating art on parched streets and using it to quench neighborhoods’ thirst for something beautiful and sometimes provocative in their midst.

Ways

Ways. Photo by Ways.

When I began wheatpasting, there were only three other street artists in town who regularly got their pieces up: Ways, Gaia, and Nanook. Mata Ruda began wheatpasting about the same time I did and we worked together often. Everyone used a fly-by-night installation approach, using the cover of darkness to get our work up. Unsanctioned street art was something relatively new to Baltimore and the public viewed it as a sort of furtive “where’s waldo” game. We used the element of surprise to start the conversations that our work desired.

Gaia. Photo by David Muse.

Gaia. Photo by David Muse.

Everything changed in 2012. Under the direction of Gaia, Open Walls Baltimore began and with it the Station North neighborhood—Baltimore’s arts district—was transformed by the presence of spectacular, large murals funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and PNC Bank. With the arrival of the street art mural circuit to a city new to street art, Baltimore discovered street art’s ability to change an urban landscape. Most works didn’t deal with Baltimore politics and social issues directly but their presence acted to educate the public about the value of this new-to-it art form in giving voice to and beautifying our town. With Open Walls, Baltimore found a place on the map in the street art world. This place was solidified after the launch of Articulate by Stefan Ways in October 2012.

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The two sides of Nuart

October 9th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
Maismenos

Maismenos

This year was my third time visiting the Nuart Festival. I went first in 2009 as a tourist, returned in 2012 to participate in Nuart Plus (the conference portion of the festival) participant, and finally this year participated in and helped a bit to plan Nuart Plus. I have a lot of love for Nuart. For me, the three models of muralism festivals that I look to most often are Nuart, FAME and Living Walls. But, out of the three, Nuart has always confused me the most.

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John Fekner

FAME is (or was, since it’s no longer active) perhaps the only no-holds-barred street art festival. It can be difficult to tell what’s been painted legally and what’s been painted illegally, and festival organizer Angelo Milano doesn’t hide his face. In the small town of Grottaglie, Italy, it would be easy for anyone to track down Milano and confront him about painting on their home. Still, Milano never seemed to care. He just wanted to invite amazing artists to town to paint walls and maybe make a print or two at his studio. Grottaglie now has one of the finest collections of murals, graffiti and street art in the world.

Living Walls is one of the most professional DIY outfits I’ve ever encountered. They are the model of a well-run muralism conference with next to no budget, sometimes stumbling but always trying to do something great for Atlanta. Living Walls has the uncanny ability to launch or at least predict the impending launch of a muralist’s career. They produce some blockbuster murals, but usually not from the artists you would expect.

Martin Whatson at Stavanger's Scandic Hotel. His art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Martin Whatson (with BON and Alex Face) at Stavanger’s Scandic Hotel. Whatson’s art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Nuart is a brilliant schizophrenic beast, oscillating between Martyn Reed’s seemingly dueling interests of creating a spectacle of corporate art and disrupting The Spectacle. That was more true than ever this year, with an artist line up including Martin Whatson, SpY, Tilt, Fra.Biancoshock and others. What I mean is, there are artists who were invited to paint murals that function as billboards for print releases and decor for posh hotels, and artists who are invited to install “interventions” (Nuart’s euphemism for illegal street art). Even Nuart Plus was split (and this is an idea I agreed to when we were planning the conference so if this is a problem, I’m as much at fault as anyone) into one day about “activism” and one day about “muralism.”

Maismenos

Maismenos’ intervention for an existing public sculpture

Sometimes, this schizophrenia results in beautiful things that few other festivals would be able to facilitate. Maismenos‘ mural, indoor work and outdoor interventions this year are a great example. Reed isn’t afraid to let artists get political, with their topic of choice typically being oil, since Nuart takes place in the oil city of Stavanger, Norway. And maybe he’s only able to get away with that because he also brings in artists like Tilt and Etam Cru.

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This summer Droid 907 is Sick of Society

September 23rd, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
Sick of Society by Droid 907

Sick of Society by Droid 907

A little over a year ago, I interviewed Droid 907 for the release of his first SOS zine, Sex or Suicide. This summer, through Carnage, he is sharing his past year of adventures riding through the United States. As with the previous volume, Sick of Society exists on the fringes of the mainstream where Droid 907 finds comfort from a society he abhors. As much as the title gives a negative connotation, the pages of the zine are instead filled with intimate portraits of those the writer cares for, including friends both here and departed. Using typewriter gifted by Amanda Wong, the author redacts locations, crosses out spelling errors while leaving in others, adding characterization to himself while continuing his narration. His continued fascination with analog technologies can be seen not only in the text, but through the production of the zine itself. Unlike the Internet, print production contains a finite means of dissemination (albeit large editions of 400). Within the hand silkscreened pages and closed-edition volumes, Droid completely placed himself on the fringes of society in which he exists and documents. Fittingly, when sent interview questions, the Sick of Society author returned with pages fresh from his typewriter rather than a Word Document.

Photo by Droid 907

Photo by Droid 907

Rhiannon: So, the last typewriter for S.O.S. was found by the train tracks. What did you write Sick of Society on?

Droid:

INTVW_backgrnd

R: With equally a pessimistic title as the first zine, what makes you Sick of Society?

D:
INTVW_1

SOS page w text

SOS Page from Droid 907

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This app turns the NYC subway system into an art gallery

September 10th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
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NO AD beta-testers and friends of Vandalog, Luna Park and laserburners

I should be working on something else right now. I should be doing writing that I really need to finish ASAP, writing that could bring me some considerable upside both in money and reputation. But then Jordan Seiler and the heavy projects (as Re+Public) and Subway Art Blog went and released their awesome and eagerly anticipated new app: NO AD. So I’ve become momentarily distracted, and you should be too. Go download NO AD right now (for Android or iPhone), especially if you live in New York City.

NO AD is an augmented reality application that gives you a glimpse of the New York City subway system without advertisements, a world where billboards are for art instead of ads. NO AD replaces the top 100 ads in the subway system at any given moment with art. How? By using the ads like QR codes. Simply download the app to your phone, open it while you’re on a New York City subway platform, and point your camera at an advertisement. On your phone’s screen, you’ll see the ad almost magically replaced by artwork. Download the app now, and give it a try with this image:

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See how amazing that is?

And here’s a short video about the app:

This idea isn’t entirely new. NO AD may remind some readers of Steve Lambert’s Add-Art or Julian Oliver’s The Artvertiser. But Add-Art hasn’t been functional for some time and The Artvertiser never really made it beyond a fun experiment and no longer appears to be in development, so it’s great to see other artists take up the mantle of digitally and legally replacing ads with art.

One question that I’m sure will come up: How does NO AD know what subway ads look like? The app developers essentially have to feed the app information about what ads are up in subway stations at any given time, which means that they have to go out and photograph every different subway ad they can find and rotate ads in and out of the app. As new ads rotate in, so will new artwork.

On some level, NO AD is an ad takeover tool. It takes space that is currently filled with ads and replaces those very specific ads with art. They could have just as easily used other objects around NYC as “triggers” for the art, but they decided to go with ads. Plus, for the initial launch, they’ve partnered with about 50 artists, many of whom have been outspoken critics of public advertising.

Today, NO AD is a kind of “what if,” a thought experiment to get people thinking about what it would be like to replace the ads with art, because of course you still need to take out your phone, open the app, and look at specific ads to see the artwork. So, essentially, it could be said that the app is a gimmick to get people thinking about replacing ads with art, rather than a tool to actually achieve that.

But NO AD may not be just a thought experiment in a few years. Fast forward to when everyone and their mother is wearing some version of Google Glass all day long. There will still be ads on the subway, but with NO AD running in the background on your Google Glass, you won’t see the ads. You’ll just see art exhibitions.

And that’s the other half of NO AD, the part that is more than just a thought experiment or a very long-term thinking anti-advertising strategy: It’s potential as an exhibition space. The first set of artists whose work is being exhibited through NO AD (including Vandalog’s Caroline Caldwell) are a motley crew of experimenters and friends of the organizers, which isn’t such a bad thing since these guys have some very talented friends, but imagine given a single artist a chance to take over all of the ads on the subway, or bringing in a professional curator to use NO AD and the subway system as an exhibition space in a more organized way. NO AD is an exhibition space that exists somewhere between the physical and the digital, always bringing with it an energy of political activism and chance.

NO AD is a glimpse into the future, a new exhibition space, and a platform for activism. I’m excited.


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Mega-update from The L.I.S.A. Project NYC

August 13th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
Anthony Lister

Anthony Lister

Wow. I have been falling behind on Vandalog lately. I’ve been just a little bit busy at the Mural Arts Program. The last month and half have been almost as busy up in NYC with The L.I.S.A. Project NYC. I’ve got to hand it to Wayne and Rey, the other two main team members there, for really carrying the project this summer as I’ve adjusted to my new job. There’s been some exciting work going up, including murals by a few people that we’d been wanting to work with for quite a while.

L'Amour Supreme

L’Amour Supreme

Let’s start with L’Amour Supreme. We first worked with L’Amour Supreme as part of a Secret Walls event in Little Italy last fall, and he came up with a really fun concept his mural on Mulberry Street: A series of twisted tin toys. I had the chance to hang out in front of this mural briefly while it was going up, and it felt like everyone walking by was stopping to give a thumbs up. Good stuff.

L'Amour Supreme

L’Amour Supreme

And then there’s Queen Andrea. She’s been on our list for a while. She knows how to paint, the work is uplifting, she’s a New Yorker. Her mural, on a security shutter in the East Village, went over a great Phlegm piece that I’ve long admired, but it had been hit with graffiti and it was time for a refresh. I’d say Queen Andrea did the wall justice.

Queen Andrea

Queen Andrea

One of my dreams has been work with Anthony Lister. When we found out that he was due to have a show at Jonathan Levine Gallery, I began pushing that we absolutely had to find a wall for him. I soon discovered that I didn’t have to push too hard. After all, who doesn’t want a Lister mural? He wound up with a pretty large spot on Mulberry Street, in the same lot as Ron English’s Temper Tot and our wall with Secret Walls.

Anthony Lister

Anthony Lister

I thought might have lost the wall at Mulberry and Kenmare where this happened with Mint and Serf, but no. While much of that spot has been taken up with a new display advertising magazines, we were still able to squeeze in a piece by Solus. Solus’ mural is tribute to NYC’s Irish and Italian immigrants, and it makes for great photos.

Solus

Solus

And finally, I’ve been a fan of Michael De Feo‘s work for a long time. His flowers just put a smile on my face, and last weekend, we got one in Little Italy. Another mural that’s long overdue.

Michael De Feo

Michael De Feo

Photos by Rey Rosa Jr. for The L.I.S.A. Project NYC


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Invader turns his art into a game for his fans

July 31st, 2014 | By | 2 Comments »
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Photo by RJ Rushmore

Invader recently released his own iPhone app, but it’s a lot more than a glorified eBook or an artist edition rebranding of standard drawing app. Invader’s app is a game that combines video games with real life. Flash Invaders is played by photographing (“flashing”) actual Invader pieces on the street, for which the players earn points. When players spot an Invader mosaic on the street and flash it, the app compares the player’s photo to a database of pieces to see if it is a match. If it is, the player is awarded a set number of points for that particular piece. Cleverly, the app has been designed to only allow players to flash pieces when their phone’s GPS shows that they are near the piece in question, so you can’t just take all your old Invader photos and flash those for points (trust me, I tried).

Invader’s work has always been a game in some sense, at least for the artist. He’s spoken about awarding himself points based on the complexity of the pieces he installs, and some of his works have even mentioned their point value. Now, it’s not just Invader playing, but his fans too.

I am very excited about this app because A. It’s not quite augmented reality, but it’s close and I could see Invader going in that direction in the future, and B. It’s a way to connect the virtual and the physical. I for one spend way too much time on my smartphone, often to the detriment of paying attention to what is around me, but Invader uses a game on a phone to get people paying attention to their physical surroundings. Players might not spend quite as much of their time in public spaces scrolling through other people’s photos of street art on Instagram. Instead, they’ll be keeping their eyes peeled.

While I have a lot of respect for him, I’m not one who usually gets overly excited about Invader these days, but the prospect of competing against a group of fans from around the world and hunting down his work has got me falling in love with Invader’s mosaics all over again. Kudos.

See you in the game and on the streets…

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Screenshots from Flash Invaders

Photos by RJ Rushmore and from FlashInvaders


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Peter Drew in collaboration with Australian asylum seekers

July 7th, 2014 | By | 2 Comments »
Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Australian street artist Peter Drew recently installed a series of wheatpasted drawings on the streets of downtown Adelaide, Australia. Of course, that sounds like what plenty of street artists do, except that these wheatpastes aren’t Drew’s design. Each wheatpaste is a blown-up version of a drawing by a person seeking asylum in Australia. The project is an effort to take on the very very controversial immigration detention centers in Australia that those seeking asylum in Australia often spend a great deal of time in, and to humanize the asylum-seeking process in general. This isn’t the first time that these facilities have caught the attention of the art world, but Drew’s project attempts to give the issue a personal touch, which is somewhat less common.

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Made up of 36 drawings by seven asylum seekers, the Bound For South Australia series takes some of the most disenfranchised people in the world and attempts to give them a very loud voice. Many of the drawings had to be smuggled out from the Inverbrackie Detention Centre near Adelaide, where many asylum seekers are currently being held (although the facility will be shut down later this year). One particularly key contributor was Ali Rezai, an Afghani teenager who has made his way from Afghanistan to Pakistan and now to Australia and currently holds a temporary Australian visa. This video tells some of his story:

But Ali is the exception. Most of the other works are uncredited. I asked Drew about that decision. Here is his response:

It’s an ethical juggle. The worst thing that could possibly happen from this project would be one of the participants being deported for their participation. For that reason I’ve only revealed the authorship of those participants who have already been issued a bridging visa. Even that took deliberation. There’s a deliberate lack of information from Australia’s Border Protection Force. They seem desperate to send a message to the world’s asylum seekers that Australia is unsympathetic to their plight. That’s why I wanted to protect the names of participants who might still be vulnerable as they could be targeted to be made example of.
Original drawing by Saad Tlaa

Original drawing by Saad Tlaa

In some ways, Bound For South Australia is similar to JR‘s Inside Out Project, which essentially allows anyone to become a mini-JR using JR’s facilities, and both projects suffer from a similar flaw: authorship. Both projects are ostensibly about giving a voice to those who do not have one, amplifying those disenfranchised people’s voices through a megaphone provided by a well-known artist. Except in both cases, the “artist” is a white male who at the end of the day takes credit for the project, and the often non-white participants are somewhat left anonymous or effectively anonymous, arguably used as props by the “lead artist.” In both cases, there’s arguably a reason for that anonymity. JR and Drew have provided a voice to people living in dangerous situations, who may not be in a position to name themselves safely. These situations are probably entirely necessary. Still, they are ironic, and muddy the waters as to how much these projects actually humanize their subjects/participants.

How well can Drew’s project humanize asylum seekers when journalists pick up on the project as a Peter Drew project and the names of the asylum seekers who drew the works that are on Adelaide’s walls, effectively relegated to the role of technicians, are kept secret? It is telling that even Drew seems to conceive of this as a Peter Drew artwork, not a series of 36 artworks facilitated or installed by Drew.

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

What if, in Drew’s case, he had not actually claimed responsibility for the wheatpastes? Would an anonymously distributed press release, or a press release distributed by a human rights organization without Drew’s name, or no press release or explanation at all, have gotten the same attention for the project? I’m not sure. On some level, Drew is taking advantage of the very people he is trying to help, but I get the sense that such exploitation may be necessary for the success of the project, a project with the admirable goal of awareness about the asylum seeking process in Australia.

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Original drawing by Ali Rezai

Photos by Peter Drew


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