Community amongst excess in Wynwood

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?

Continue reading “Community amongst excess in Wynwood”

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

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. 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.

Continue reading “Below government radar, street artists discover the people’s permission”

Review: “Don1, the King from Queens” by Louie Gasparro

DON 1 Bronx BBC

Note from the editor: Just want to say thanks to my friend Jay “J.SON” Edlin (author of Graffiti 365) for writing this book review on a topic that he’s much better educated on than I. – RJ

Both Don 1 (born Joseph Palattella) and Louie Gasparro (a.k.a. The Original KR-1) are Italian- Americans who grew up in Astoria, Queens and participated in the graffiti movement. A decade older, Don 1 attended The High School of Art and Design in the early to mid seventies while Gasparro attended Long Island City High in the early 80’s but hung out regularly at Art and Design, forming allegiances with many of the artists from the Subway Art / Style Wars generation.

Don1, the King from Queens: The Life and Photos of a NYC Transit Graffiti Master is Gasparro’s poignant homage to his childhood hero. The book contains rough grammar, some off angle and at times duplicative photos of Don’s and others’ pieces, as well as quotes from several writers seldom referenced in other books or article on graffiti. Conspicuously absent are any mention of Hip Hop (seems Don 1 dug rock ’n roll and disco), comments from neo-experts and the ruminations of out-of-the-loop journalists who love to bandy about social theories defining the method to graffiti’s madness—perfectly imperfect. Present are highlights from Don1’s mid-70’s photo archive shot with a 35 millimeter camera at a time when Kodak instamatics ruled the day. Early LEE TF5 burners from the BMT’s made my eyes water as did Dean and Jester’s work from the RR’s. Don’s own black book sketches show the work of a master light years ahead of his time, but it was the Billy 167, Butch 2, Kase 2, Aztec and Padre drawings made my purist heart sing.

DON 1 Bode Bot

Although Don 1 influenced some pretty famous writers whose names start with the letter D (Daze, Dondi and Dime 139), his reputation has been that of a graffiti writer’s trade secret. Perhaps this book will change that. Even as a self-professed graff know-it-all, I must confess to being completely schooled by Gasparro on Don 1’s place in history, having never seen his name run and learning what little I knew from Daze, who penned the book’s foreword, and Gasparro himself.

Written by KR 1, about Don 1 and using the Don’s material for the visuals, the book oozes graffiti from top to bottom.

DON burner RR Vette

Don 1 wrote for a couple of years, mainly on the somewhat obscure RR line. Historically, Queens and The BMT’s in general get too little attention from documenters, and this book kills those two birds with one stone. Don 1’s innate artistic abilities drew him to Art and Design High School. Graffiti quickly found him and he learned the craft with alacrity. Al Diaz aka Bomb 1, a fellow A and D student who would become one half of the SAMO team along with Jean Michel Basquiat, took Don 1 to his first lay-up.


DON Bowery w Joint

Don 1 rose to the top of the heap in a very brief time. Though his meteoric ascent to style master, first in the black books of the Art and Design cafeteria and ultimately on the insides and outsides of the RR subway cars, subsided when he began getting paid illustration jobs from magazines and hitting the disco dance floors with the ladies, Don’s potential seemed limitless.

Tragically, Don 1’s promising future died on the night he snorted some white crystalline powder he mistook for cocaine. Unfortunately, the powder he mistook for cocaine proved to be PCP. The mix-up instantly transformed Don’s life into a living hell, one that he could never recover from. The drug took not only his sanity, but his artistic abilities as well. Don 1 would have languished in obscurity, had it not been for Gasparro’s Columbo-like persistence in tracking him down and gaining his trust.


Don 1 had once been a snazzy dresser, a ladies man and president of MAFIA (Master Administration For Incredible Artists), a crew he founded with a name befitting of a Don. Post-PCP Don 1 became a recluse, rejecting the outside world, perhaps because he knew how great he once had been and preferred to be remembered that way or better yet completely forgotten.

DON Blackbook 3

I don’t know what’s more amazing, the fact that Louie Gasparro was able to coax Don 1 into meeting with him or that Don 1 had meticulously preserved his black book and subway photo archive from his peak years despite the nightmarish turn his life took.

In the past few years, legendary 70’s graffiti writers have been dying off at an alarming rate, gone and forgotten too soon, their stories often left untold. Gasparro’s book is a labor of love, marking the long overdue resurrection of Don 1.

Gasparro’s moving profile of The Don evokes bittersweet memories of a time when you could enter a train yard or subway tunnel with a few cans of paint and leave with a crown.

Don1, the King from Queens: The Life and Photos of a NYC Transit Graffiti Master is available now on


Photos from Don 1’s archive, courtesy of Louie Gasparro

Dont Fret about Fulton Market


A note from RJ: I want to thank Dont Fret and Anna Cerniglia for putting this interview together. I’ve been a fan of Dont Fret’s work for a while, but since since latest show was really about a Chicago neighborhood that I’ve only very briefly visited, I asked him to find a local friend who might be able to have a conversation with about the project. Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects stepped up. Dont Fret has shown at Johalla Projects, and they helped put on his latest show, which is largely the subject of this conversation. A big thank you to both of them for letting me just step back on this one and do little to no work to read something really interesting. – RJ

Earlier this year, Dont Fret was given the opportunity to paint the walls of a building in Chicago’s Fulton Market. The building had previously housed a wholesale fish Market and a hardware Store, and with both businesses moving or closing, the building had been sold and was set for demolition in late August. Over the summer, Dont Fret painted the walls of the building and mounted a show inside the now-defunct hardware store entitled There Are Only Two Seasons In Chicago: Winter And Construction. The show featured a body of new work from Dont Fret, much of it made using materials found at the hardware store. The show was open for one week and then the hardware store was demolished on August 29th, 2014.


Anna Cerniglia: How have you been feeling after de-install of the show?

Dont Fret:  I’m feeling pretty alright. People keep asking me if I’m bummed that the building is being torn down, but I am mostly just kind of in shock that we actually pulled off the show without anyone shutting us down. It kind of feels like the show hasn’t happened yet because we were in limbo for some time, there were just so many opportunities for something to go wrong.



DF: How did you feel when I first showed you the inside of the hardware store? It was kind of a shit show.

AC: Well after helping produce an event in a similar space earlier this summer for Soho House, I wasn’t intimidated by the build-out. I was more intrigued with what we had to work with. The space earlier this summer I worked on was filled with refrigerators and ovens and all kinds of crap. It was storage. The hardware store was just a space frozen in time. I was afraid to touch it. It was amazing.
How about you?


DF:  And what the show ended up being was really far removed from what we had originally planned. Originally I didn’t want to touch anything, I wanted all of the original shelves and storage to stay, I wanted almost a precise time capsule, and none of that ended up staying because of scrappers and other people who were salvaging things from the space.


AC: Yeah I think it was even better though. The amount of space was perfect for the time allotted. And even though we lost those shelves the space felt exactly the same. I had so many people say “this is the best show I have seen this year.” I think that says a lot. The space wasn’t a white cube and the artwork fit into this timeless space.


DF: I think so too. The first moment I set foot in the hardware store 4 months ago I knew I wanted to do a show in it. I haven’t done a solo show in a year and I knew that whatever my next show was, I didn’t want it to be in a traditional gallery space. I wanted to really create a moment and let the space live it’s life. Get closer to “real life” and maybe blur the line of what most people call a “pop-up art show.”


AC:  Yeah – I have been hearing that term used so much recently. Where people take the white gallery cube and throw some wallpaper on it and call it a “pop-up.” But this was different.

DF:  For me one of the best moments was when we re-painted and re-hung the “Chicago Wholesale Hardware” signage outside the shop and people started coming in asking if we could make keys for them or if we had Paint & Primer. We also set up a voicemail for the hardware store that people could call in and leave messages to. I think people were legit disappointed and confused that they couldn’t get keys made or order paint.

Continue reading “Dont Fret about Fulton Market”

Memorials to the potential energy of spray paint in public bathrooms

Cement cast sculptures of outdated aerosol cans, July 2014.
Cement cast sculptures of outdated aerosol cans, July 2014.

At the age of 11 I fell in love with graffiti. It was the mid 1980’s in NYC and it was a great time to be a kid being shuttled back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Brooklyn to Queens, Queens to the Bronx, the Bronx to Staten Island, and Staten Island to Long Island. I had family in each borough, and I always loved those journeys for a lot more reasons now than I knew at the time. They were multi-sensory, stimulating inspirational portals of awareness. I became hyper aware of the art on the streets and I wanted to participate. At 12 years old I was far too scared to put the works directly onto the streets at the time, but I wanted to learn that style, and I began writing. Twenty five plus years later, the same energy still inspires my work, but an evolution has taken place. Its not just in my own work, the whole medium and context of graffiti as a subject has expanded. My new installation dictates to me how times have changed within my own public art practice as well as a metaphor for how graffiti is changing. Of course there are tons of amazing artists worldwide who have taken the traditional letter styles and characters to amazing new levels of style and execution. I will always be a fan and a lover of that form of graffiti, but I do see and have desires to communicate the evolution of graffiti as a subject itself.


The sterile white glossy public bathroom walls call out to writers. It begins in your junior high school’s bathrooms and transcends right through to the bus or train you took to high school and into the rest of the world. To this day I still love finding the tags of my friends still holding up in public bathrooms. Mostly in bars and pubs but some of these tags have been in place for over 15 years. In this context, of course I could have pulled out a marker and tagged this space, but that is not in my interest the same way as it was years ago. My perception of could be done in the space has changed. With this piece, it is my intention to evoke the memories of the past, while suggesting what could have happened if the cans were real and full of paint. This installation sets the stage for both. The walls are clean and free of any markings, yet the very present dormant outdated cement cans remind the viewer what could have happened in this space, and that a graffiti artist wanted to remind them of that. The casts are not adhered to the floor, they can be picked up and taken. This puts the viewer in a position to make a few choices about the work and hopefully how they may obtain a piece of art. In this case it will not be through a gallery, art dealer or an auction, there is a whole other impulse to deal with.


Find these cans if you can. My cement works always get left behind, they are easy to transport, anonymous and unsigned.


Photos by Ryan Seslow

Street art in Tartu, Estonia

MTO for the Stencibility festival in April 2014. Photo courtesy of Sr.
MTO for the Stencibility festival in April 2014. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.

Today we have a guest post from Marika Agu and Sirla, two organizers of the Stencibility festival in Tartu, Estonia. The example of Tartu shows that even smaller cities can have a thriving street art scene. – RJ Rushmore

With a population of 100k, Tartu is the second largest town in Estonia. It’s mostly known for its university, which might not sound attractive in the context of globalization, when it’s cheaper than ever to travel to culturally vibrant capitals. Nevertheless, the town has something unique and unexpected – for a small place like Tartu, there’s an extremely high concentration of highly varied street art. It’s something really new for the town as the scene has evolved in the past 7-8 years.

Works by Multistab (Estonia) and Kashink (France) for the last year's Stencibility festival. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
Works by Multistab (Estonia) and Kashink (France) for the last year’s Stencibility festival. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.

The local street art festival is called Stencibility. It started out from the stencil scene 5 years ago, since then Stencibility has turned into a street art festival that has bigger significance each year. The festival emphasizes including the local community with educational programs, lectures, workshops, photo competitions, guided tours, street art map, exhibitions etc., and the people living in Tartu are generally positively minded towards street art. Even the city council acknowledges it, even though most of the time the festival is shamelessly promoting illegal street art. For example, one of the local street artist Edward von Lõngus was awarded in 2013 with an official cultural award for an illegal stencil work.

"Ouroboros" by Maari Soekov at Stencibility 2012. Photo by Jyri L Mets.
“Ouroboros” by Maari Soekov at Stencibility 2012. Photo by Jyri L Mets.

This intense activity has led Tartu to become the street art capital of Estonia and an alternative to nearby larger cities like Tallinn, Helsinki and Riga that have declared a zero-tolerance policy on illegal graffiti and street art. Tartu’s self-designated galleries, hidden treasures in abandoned buildings together with bits and pieces all over town, are must-see spots for every urban explorer. Tartu hosts a wide range of works from foreign and local artists like MTO, Kashink, Facter, Multistab, Edward von Lõngus, MinaJaLydia, Thobek, Brush Lee, Müra2000, Okeiko and many others.

An illegal gallery under the bridge called the Freedom Gallery. Photo by Ruudu Rahumaru.
An illegal gallery under the bridge called the Freedom Gallery. Photo by Ruudu Rahumaru.

As the street art and graffiti scenes in Tartu have grown, local officials have implemented methods of control that rely on their discretion rather than a one-size-fits-all policy. In May 2013, a controversial incident happened involving the city council and the street art activists who have been organizing Stencibility. Tartu officials decided to buff the most active self-designated gallery in the city, a spot under a bridge called the “Freedom Gallery.” After some alarmed citizens noticed something strange happening under the bridge, they called the mayor Urmas Kruuse to ask for an explanation (it might seem strange, but this can be taken as a positive aspect of a small town). The mayor interrupted the removal work and asked for a consultation with the organizers of Stencibility on how to deal with the spray-painted images. After some thought, those of us organizing the festival decided not to intervene in the city’s natural changing process or the government’s decisions by being the curators of illegal street art. We let the mayor and the other city officials decide for themselves what would stay and what would go. In the end, the “Freedom Gallery” was partially buffed, keeping the works that the city workers in charge of the removal deemed “beautiful” and removing the rest. So, the city is not a free-for-all, but at least officials seem open to the idea that even illegal street art and graffiti may have some benefits.

Although the phenomenon of street art can be found in all parts of the world, it’s important to note that Tartu, with its small size, is significant especially for its street art. You can take this as an invitation because I’d suggest to join the view as long as it’s alive and kickin’.

"Artuuro" by KAIRO and MinaJaLydia. Photo by MinaJaLydia.
“Artuuro” by KAIRO and MinaJaLydia. Photo by MinaJaLydia.
KAIRO's works on the streets. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
KAIRO’s works on the streets. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
A large scale pattern by TAF. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
A large scale pattern by TAF. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
Edward von Lõngus. Photo by Edward von Lõngus.
Edward von Lõngus. Photo by Edward von Lõngus.
MinaJaLydia's error smiley
MinaJaLydia’s error smiley. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
An anonymous work and MinaJaLydia's harajuku twins. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
An anonymous work and MinaJaLydia’s harajuku twins. Photo courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla.
Sometimes it's so good not to do anything that you can't resist and do it anyway. Photo by Ragne Schults
Translation: “Sometimes it’s so good not to do anything that you can’t resist and do it anyway.” Photo by Ragne Schults.
Facter visiting Estonia. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
Facter visiting Estonia. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
Fans admiring a work by Edward von Lõngus. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
Fans admiring a work by Edward von Lõngus. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
Water measurer by Hapnik. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
Water measurer by Hapnik. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.
A dialogue on the street between Thobek (Latvia) and Kashink (France), who have never met in real life. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik
A dialogue on the street between Thobek (Latvia) and Kashink (France), who have never met in real life. Photo by Suurjalutuskaik.

Photos by Jyri L Mets, Ruudu Rahumaru, Edward von Lõngus, Ragne Schults, and Suurjalutuskaik, and courtesy of Marika Agu and Sirla

Tame DMA enters the Archibald

Tame in 1987. Photo by Tame.

The Archibald Prize is generally considered to be the most prestigious art competition in Australia. With a first place prize of $75,000 AUD ($70,500 USD) it’s not the most valuable Australian Art prize, but it garners the most attention in the mainstream press and broader community. The competition is for figurative portraiture of a distinguished person ‘in arts, letters, science or politics’ and is judged by the board of trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s generally conservative and non-progressive- portraits must be painted from life and finalists are typically limited to a narrow set of Australian icons: celebrities, former politicians, sports stars and patrons of the fine arts.

This year Tame from DMA, entered a tag as a self-portrait.

Tame's entry
Tame’s entry. Photo by CDH.

Each city has its own graffiti heroes. DMA are a seminal graf crew from late 80s Melbourne. Tame is typically identified as the person most directly responsible for innovating the oldschool Melbourne handstyle, although when I put this to him, he cited Prime and Dskiz of Ultra Subway Art (USA, Future 4) as the major influences. That’s Tame- like a lot of older writers he’s non-assuming, reflective and a very gentle soul.

I encouraged Tame to enter and I love this painting for a number of reasons.

Of all portraits in the competition, Tame’s took the least time to create (under 3 seconds) but it also took the most time to create, as he perpetually refined it over 3 decades. Think about the muscle memory in the hand that paints a tag, over and over again, for 30 years.

The entry questions the nature of graffiti: can the tag be regarded as a self-portrait? For four centuries, graphologists have claimed to infer a person’s character by studying their handwriting. The tag might be about damage and destroying the system, but can it also be an expression of identity?

Early 90s
Tame in the early 90s. Photos by Tame.

Picasso once allegedly quipped that patrons didn’t purchase his paintings, they purchased his signature. Ignoring the stylism of Tame’s tag or the conceptual merit of presenting a tag as a self-portrait, the entry’s meaningful as a cultural artefact from Melbourne’s graffiti history. Whether or not the board of trustees have the cultural literacy to recognize this value is almost irrelevant.

Think about Tame next to his professional contemporaries in the Archibald. How many of them would paint for 3 decades without the prospect of ever selling a painting and with the risks writers face to complete their art? All these portraits are just inanimate objects; colours arranged on a functionless canvas. The painters and their reasons for painting are the real expression of humanity.

Finalists are announced on July 10th.

Tame in 1989. Photos by Tame.

Photos by CDH and Tame

Landing Trains Daily


Just got this post in from the LTD ROADCREW 2014. With photos by AVOID pi, words by FISHO ngc and a video by DROID 907, it tells a freight hopping story or two. That’s all I know. – RJ

Dropped off in Spartanburg early morning. Boobed around the small yard office and found a spot under a rail bridge at the north throat of the yard. Waiting games. Weed smiles and a little nervousness. SUNDAY NO BEER.
Me and Avoid are exploring a small tunnel beneath the tracks, beautiful light and a birds nest, cool water no shoes…
A scream from above, the train, the train is coming.
Big scramble up hill
No time for socks
Spartanburg to Erwin first
Pull everything together, It’s all here
one at a time we grab the moving ladders and jump.


No cover, exposed ride, catch on the fly with a highway audience
We are rolling, first siding very soon regroup and take a grainer porch together.
Beautiful day the sun is shining
Our porch shakes violently and we laugh.


Marion is halfway & beautiful nowhere is loud.
At a siding in the middle of a mountain
A worker is walking down the track, stash gear leave porch, hide behind wheels.
He pulls a switch and walks back. Some routine. Hide again.
Sunset Pretty, plenty of documentation


Keep it moving, many tunnels and bridges and curves.
The clinchfield loops.
Put a coat and sleep if you can. The train is not shaking so much anymore, before the violent jolt was overwhelming, physical washing machine, a mans rollercoaster.


This is my vacation, my release.
Enough bad memories
We pull into the Erwin yard late night.
We hop off the ride and hop cuplers to the wrong side of the yard, work trucks and a river


Go back, cross over more trains and tracks and up a hill.
Find a good flat place to sleep. Goodnight with hits from the apple pipe
Take socks off, sleeping bag warm goodnight finally


Awake with sun, feeling good smelling like train dust.
Granola bars and we are walking, town is small. local eyes but no crucifixion or which hunt.
get a hot meal at elms, its a hikers town, good. We assume the trail head identity, remove all train paraphernalia.
Head to north throat of yard again and lurk.
Gas stations, fast food, and construction.
We find the cut, a lean two structure, an old roof not resting on thick trees.
Clean it up, stack a wood pile, clear the brush and sprawl out a bit.


Talk all day with beer, examine the yard from afar.
Apple pipe. We take turns leaving, going to the store buying more beer or French fries and a pancake.
Lounging around the comfortable jungle we are caught far from guard,
A northbound is pulling out of the yard on a set of tracks we weren’t expecting.
Scramble again… We miss the ride look at it chug away.
Close enough to do it but missed. Just missed
More beer and a walk to the cemetery


There is always a train sounding in our heads.
Lost time downing cold ones until it happens again.
Goodbye Erwin and rain is coming
Another northbound is pulling out of the yard. We are drunk and ready.
Right after the engine passes us we are on the tracks, hungry for a ladder.
I hardly remember as some strange force took hold of me and I was suddenly climbing into a gondola full of scrap metal as it began to storm. Confused smiling I look back at the empty tracks and hear screaming.
Avoid and I are on the phone where is Droid?
I see him he is also on a metal death ride and coming for me. Walking along the metal scraps crossing from one car to the next.
He comes and gets me and we move back over the metal piles while the train is howling out of town.
We get to a dirty face small grainer porch and head bang for madness rain and life
Find one more beer and split it.
Wet night ride. Cold & the first siding we leave our porch & move down the string to A’s car.
Regroup and ride nighttime rough sleep with amazing morning fog
Kentucky country ride next to the river and small old towns
Train CC’s in Shelbiana, We are assed out
Get off and walk around the yard, hazy morning feelings.
Find an abandoned building, warm inside
Its 7 miles to the nearest town
We start walking and the rain comes again, harder
Get picked up by a college kid in pickup halfway
He drops us off at a Mexican restaurant
Get drunk before we start our residency program in Pikeville Kentucky


Confusion about a whiskey town brought us here.
Phone home for the cavalry
Execute a strange piece of roller graffiti with sourced materials
Its not over, its never over




Photos by AVOID pi aka Adam Void

Francesco Garbelli’s street art before “street art”

"Altare," 1984
“Altare,” 1984

Recently, VladyArt introduced me to the work of the Italian artist Francesco Garbelli. Garbelli has been working outdoors since the mid-1980’s. While he certainly wasn’t the first to do street art and the term was used in its present meaning as early as 1970’s, Garbelli was certainly active long before the term street art was commonplace, and many of his projects predate by decades similar works by artists that most of us in the street art world are much more familiar with. In this interview, VladyArt asks Garbelli his early work and what it was like to be so far ahead of his time. – RJ Rushmore

"La via per immagini," 1985
“La via per immagini” (“The road to images”), 1985

VladyArt: Do you remember your first urban intervention? What year was it and how did it all start?

Francesco Garbelli: I started quite early, in the first half of the 1980’s. At that time I was writing poems and songs, and I loved the idea of giving these words the opportunity to leave the sheet for walls and sidewalks. I thought it was the way to maximize the word; I called these “letters in action”… but nobody knew about it. I took pictures of these letters, however, my intention was not being as an artist, yet. As an artist, I started only between the ’84-’85 when, together with a group of other artists, I occupied a large dismissed factory (Brown-Boveri), entering down through a window with a rope. It was a great place to work, and quite central, in Milan. We stayed almost a year, calling dozen of artists afterwards. The place was then reopened to the public, totally transformed by our installations. That was probably the most noticeable artistic event of the decade! One of my installations there was called “altare” (altar) to underline the importance of that abandoned but still “holy” place; my church. Life at Brown-Boveri was very inspiring. My first outdoor works popped up on my way to the university, where I studied architecture, in 1985. They were all located between the metro (subway) exit and the university gate. All streets had names of significant people (such as Leonardo Da Vinci) and I deleted all surnames, making the streets being dedicated to no one in particular: Maria, Giuseppe or Davide. After this, in another intervention, I substituted the person’s name with an image of their work (See Escher). Ultimately on this street name subject, I renamed the streets with sentences and meaningful words (as in “Le lettere vi guardano” = letters are looking at you).

"Il ritorno delle parole," 1985
“Il ritorno delle parole” (“The return of the words”), 1985

VladyArt: Did you have any role models or artists who inspired you?

Garbelli: No, especially not in the beginning. All it was taken from my studies and cinema. For example, admiring the wild nature taking back the space at the Brown-Boweri factory, I was immediately thinking of movies such as Stalker and Blade Runner.

"Neo post trans," 1988
“Neo post trans,” 1988

VladyArt: Did you know other active urban artists in Italy, Europe and America?

Garbelli: In those years, painting was getting back in the world of art, under the name of Neo-expressionism in Germany and the States and as “Trans-avanguardia” in Italy. This return was totally welcomed by the art biz. I wasn’t exited about that, however the phenomena were pretty cool: people got back to painting and playing guitar like in the 1970’s! I felt very distant from conventional painting, so much that in 1988 I did the “!” danger sign; underneath the triangle I wrote “Neo, Post, Trans,” meaning beware of post/trans-avanguardia and Neo-expressionism.  Providentially, in the States was emerging a new art scene, a fresh air breath: Rammellzee, A-One (Anthony Clark), Futura 2000, Richard Hambleton, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring… just to mention a few. The term “street art” did not exist or I did not know about it. We called it New York Graffiti. We knew about the Lower East Side movement or as the Hispanic were saying “Loisaida.” We knew graffiti: some Americans came to Milan, especially at  Salvatore Ala gallery. I actually briefly met Rammelzee, A-One and Haring. I remember particularly A-One, asking, “Are you an artist or a graffiti writer?” to anyone while shaking hands. I understood that for him, the difference was beyond art, it had a social value within. For me it was a bit different: I was not a painter such as in canvas making, extracting bits from Picasso or Carrà, but I was not that urban graffiti type of guy either. I needed my way, a less instinctive approach certainly, and that’s how I got closer to road signs.

Untitled, 1989
Untitled, 1989

VladyArt: So why road signs?

Garbelli: Aside from the historical reasons already mentioned, I have found interest in road sign for their international appeal, the communication made without the words, their attempt to substitute the language with images; a sort of revenge by the old pictography. I was fascinated by some native North American tribe that used knots on ropes or tags on woods to communicate basic concepts; but that’s how our road sign system works! I took the opportunity to launch ironic, fantastic and critical messages through road signs.

"Idrante ionico con fregio," 1990
“Idrante ionico con fregio” (“Hydrant with ionic frieze”) 1990

VladyArt: How did the people and your colleagues react on your art expression?

Garbelli: Opposite and polarized opinions. It was cool for many, while others were wondering whether road signs could be art or not. With the most of my interventions, I got the attention of the media. However, due to the nature of my uncommissioned (and unsigned) installations, I wasn’t aware of that attention in real time; I couldn’t follow the feedback like people can do today via internet. There was much more surprise when buying the papers and finding my latest work on it. In Italy, beside the Macam (an open air contemporary museum in Maglione, Italy), there was not much availability or interest. My really first interventions done with permission were made abroad, in Holland and Germany, were they let me realized my installations without that ton of nonsense bureaucracy we used to have (City Council, local police, fire dept., Church or so!).

"Macam," 1989
“Macam,” 1989

VladyArt: Have you been influential to some younger artists, on your opinion?

Garbelli: I wouldn’t know. The first time I noticed this possibility was by the end of the nineties. I remember two particular episodes, closer to one another. In both cases I was introduced to some younger artist and both told me to have been my fans. As that sounded pretty weird to me at that time. I managed to answer to one: “I guess you had a difficult childhood then,” and we both started laughing.

"Transito Velocipedi," 1990
“Transito velocipedi” (“Transiting cycles”), 1990

VladyArt: How did you make connections within the art community? Physically or even by mail?

Garbelli: Well, Milan in the 1980’s was really hectic and full of parties; we were basically going out all nights. Hedonism and yuppie were not my cup of tea, but the city was truly full of events and opportunity. We gathered pretty easily. Otherwise we used the phone, fax and even letters, especially for sending catalogues, pictures and projects.

VladyArt: What’s your opinion regarding this “explosion” of interest in urban art and urban artists?

Garbelli: The growing success of urban artists (and their art) is the combination of several factors. Certainly, the public opinion has changed dramatically, in a positive way. Today there are plenty of festival and exhibitions about public/street art and this is not only considered acceptable by the people but even strongly encouraged by the authorities. In the 1980’s, the public opinion was hostile and my interventions were marked as vandalism by many, even if I did all so graphically and “clean.” From the authorities and the police I noticed about the same attitude but certainly there was less territorial control compared to today. I had no CCTV on my neck. But mostly, today’s boom is thanks to the internet. The public can see all your stuff; artists can form communities. Isolation isn’t a problem, all can happen in real time. I think this has been decisive. On top of that, consider TV; while the “other” art isn’t truly media-friendly for its contents and tempo, (it’s a hard topic for TV formats), street art is photogenic, camera friendly, young and it fits perfectly. This helps the spread of street art via TV, which is globally still the most popular information tool of our times.

"La via per immagini," 1985
“La via per immagini,” 1985

VladyArt: Have you got new project and installation for the near future?

Garbelli: Yes absolutely, and I will keep you posted about it. Milan will host the 2015 world expo with the theme “nourishing the planet.” I am conceiving a new outdoor installation about the tribal world, the only people who are doing effectively something to help and save the planet, despite being unaware about it. My world, our modern world, is outlined by Non-Places, characterized by ignorant and criminal minds and their visual rapes; as I feel more and more out of the place, I find it appropriate today to care about these people.

"Peace," 1990
“Peace,” 1990

Photos courtesy of Francesco Garbelli

New Zealand: Small place, big talent

Askew at Hit The Bricks in Newcastle, Australia. Photo courtesy of Askew.
Askew at Hit The Bricks in Newcastle, Australia. Photo courtesy of Askew.

A note from the editor: Last month, Si Omer emailed me and very politely noted how we don’t cover a lot of art in New Zealand or by New Zealanders on Vandalog. As part of an effort to correct that, I asked Si Omer to put together a post introducing me and the rest of the Vandalog community to what’s going on with New Zealand these days. Here is that post. Also, for more New Zealand street art and graffiti, Si Omer recommends checking out the Street Arse blog. – RJ Rushmore

New Zealand (NZ) situated in the South Pacific Ocean, next door to Australia and fitting into the US 36 times, New Zealand is definitely a small place but houses and is home to some seriously big talent.

New Zealand has turned out some amazing and dedicated innovators to the international graffiti and street art scene in the past 15 years. Being involved in the international community has provided a platform and vital inspiration for many artists who may at times feel isolated because of the country’s geography. It has also provided inspiration for the tight scene here in NZ and enabled many to be a part of one of this profound movement.

Owen Dippie in Tauranga, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Owen Dippie.
Owen Dippie in Tauranga, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Owen Dippie.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of many artists (such as Askew and others of the TMD, The Most Dedicated) locally and internationally the general public’s perspective on graffiti and street art is changing, it is beginning to be accepted as relevant and significant art form. This fresh understanding of the importance of art on the street is being celebrated by the start-up of annual events and festivals all around the country, allowing established and emerging artists to showcase their work on a scale this country has never seen before.

"Blue Prints" by BMD in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of BMD.
“Blue Prints” by BMD in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Luke Shirlaw. Click to view large.

Some of the most prominent events include ‘Rise Festival’(Christchurch),’Get up’ festival (New Plymouth), ‘Graffiato’ (Taupo) and ‘From the Ground Up’(Christchurch) many of which have started in the past 12 months.

In addition to showcasing national artists these events have also bought in a flood of outstanding renowned artists and interest from around the world, creating a positive influx of interest locally, opening the eyes of the public and business owners alike to the goodness street art can offer – which is great for the artists and the people who get to enjoy their pieces. Of course there are still some sceptics who prefer the underwhelming look of a grey wall but we can only hope they come to their senses with ongoing exposure!

Elliot Francis Stewart in Auckland City, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Elliot Francis Stewart.
Elliot Francis Stewart in Auckland City, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Elliot Francis Stewart.

Do not be fooled by the size of this scene, it really does have some heavy hitters, world renowned and up and coming when it comes to painting in the streets. The proof is definitely in the pudding, so here’s a selection of stuff that kiwis and adopted kiwis have been up to over the last six months or so.

Cracked Ink in Sohole, Auckland City, New Zealand. Photo by Magda Coccinella.
Cracked Ink in Sohole, Auckland City, New Zealand. Photo by Magda Coccinella.

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