Classic street art – Christy Rupp’s rats from 1979

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

Here’s how Rupp describes the project:

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Christy Rupp

Weekend link-o-rama

Work in Guatemala by STRANGER

Well I’ve been back in London for about a week now, and I am beginning to understand why people think it’s so grey. When you live here, you get used to it, but wow I’ve only been away for a few months and already I think the constant greyness is annoying. Still, it’s good to be home. Here’s what the world has been up to while I’ve been watching it rain.

  • A group of artists protested the removal of Blu’s mural outside of MOCA this week by projecting images onto the buffed wall. Here’s a news story and a video.
  • José Parlá has a new book coming out and a solo show in New York next month. Arrested Motion has more info on both those things and the book is currently available online.
  • Dimitris Taxis does some great wheatpastes.
  • King Adz has put together a show opening this weekend in Ireland with Blek le Rat, Asbestos, Laser 3.14 and others.
  • Kyle Chayka went on a bit of a rant about Banksy’s possible Oscar nomination, but he makes some good points.
  • Also on the topic of Exit Through The Gift Shop, the NYTimes is reporting that a man who has come forward as an original editor of Mr. Brainwash’s film Life Remote Control wants some credit for making the film that eventually sort of morphed into Exit.
  • Carolina A. Miranda wrote the latest cover article for the magazine ARTnews about the future of street art and it moving away from figurative work. You can read the entire article online. On the one hand, a move away from pop-art and figurative art seems to be counter-productive to the “art for the people” ethos at the core of so much street art, but it’s also certainly easier to turn a pop-art image into a marketing campaign while an abstract painting may do a better job of brightening up a grey wall without the artist and the viewer immediately thinking of dollar signs. I think street artists will just have to be careful to not become so conceptual that the possibility for people to understand or appreciate the art on some level without an artist’s statement is lost.
  • Some graffiti writers are tagging up ancient rock art sites in Nevada.
  • Mat Gleason named Banksy and Shepard Fairey among the top overrated artists of the decade. Check out this video for why Gleason thinks that Shepard isn’t an artist!
  • A mural by Shepard Fairey was partially painted over in LA by some other artists/writers. No big deal right? Happens all the time, right? Wrong, apparently. The mural was painted over by another artist showing at a gallery nearby. According to JetSetGraffiti, the artist has since apologized and will be paying for Shepard to repair the wall with a new mural. Okay, so should that mural still be there untouched? Maybe. Sounds like the local neighborhood liked it. Can it suck when things get dissed or buffed or written over accidentally or whatever else? Yeah. Should the artist have to pay for damages? Hell no! That’s the sort of thing that happens when you get arrested by the police for graffiti or street art, not something that art lovers should impose upon each other. The mural didn’t last forever. That’s the nature of street art. It sucks sometimes and there are ways to deal with it, but don’t make the vandal pay for damages!
  • NBC has done a really disturbing promotion in NYC’s parks for their new superhero show. Publicadcampaign explains.

Photo by Not Another Street Artist

Wreck the Walls at Subliminal Projects

I have to say that I really appreciate galleries that continue to do shows during the Holiday season. While most just shut down because “everyone else does” I find it admirable when a curator puts together a show, and a decent group show at that.

Martha Cooper Happy Holidays

Opening December 11 at Subliminal Projects is Wreck the Walls, a group exhibition of over 30 artists combining rebellious urban artists, street pioneers and young emerging fine artists.

The show includes the likes of some heavy hitters like McGinnes and Cooper and some of my favorite new names like Greg LeMarche and Kelly Berg. The full list includes: Alan Shaffer, Alejandro Gehry, Andy Moses, Bertil Petersson, Billy Al Bengston, Blek Le Rat, Craig Stecyk, Curtis Kulig, David Ellis, David Yow, Ed Moses, Ellwood T. Risk, Erik Foss, Eric Schwartz, Eric White, Evan Hecox, Greg Lamarche, Jason Alper, John Van Hamersveld, Laddie John Dill, Larry Bell, Martha Cooper, Monica Canilao, Retna, Robbie Conal, Ryan McGinness, Ryan Travis Christian, Skullphone, Swoon, Tim Biskup, Vanessa Prager, Kelly Berg.

Photo by Martha Cooper via Subliminal Projects

Things to look at this weekend…

Detail of a painting by Bast

I’m guessing that with college only getting busier (although, as Stickboy pointed out on Twitter, freshman year isn’t exactly the busiest), I think I’ll finally have to resort to a semi-weekly link post. So Things to look at this weekend… will probably become a weekly feature on Vandalog (but maybe with more exciting name). So here’s what I’ve been reading recently:

  • Street Art: Contemporary Prints from the V&A is pretty much what the surprising title says. Turns out, the V&A museum has a pretty solid collection of urban art prints by artists like Swoon, D*Face and Blek le Rat. This show opens at a museum in Coventry, England on October 9th and UK Street Art has more info.
  • Tristan Manco‘s latest book, Street Sketchbook: Journeys, will be released at the end of September. Tristan is one of the people that I most respect in the street art community. Besides curating Cans Festival, he has been writing quality street art books for about a decade. He probably knows more about the artists he is writing about than just about anyone else, but he keeps everything accessible to a mass audience. Originally, I was skeptical of the concept of this book, but I’ve since been convinced that it will be at least worth checking out, and will probably be the best street art book of the year in terms of mass appeal (although other books will likely top it for street art fanatics). For me, the most exciting part of this book is going to be the exhibition that Tristan is curating at Pictures on Walls for next month. You’ll probably hear more about it on Vandalog in the coming weeks, but basically all the artists from his new book will be in the show. WallKandy has more info.
  • Bast has a solo show at Lazarides’ Rathbone Place. Most day’s I’m pretty indifferent to Bast indoors (credit to him for always getting up though), but I’m liking some of this work, and the Bast fans I’ve spoken with think this is some of his best work yet. Arrested Motion has photos.
  • Eelus has a solo show at Brooklynite Gallery in NY. The show runs through October 2nd. Hi-Fructose has some great photos.
  • It’s not a new idea and this video has been appearing all across the web, but if you haven’t checked out this “birds as CCTVs” project yet, it’s about time you do. I ignored it at first because I thought the idea was tired, but this version brings the idea to new levels and the video is very well-made.
  • One of my favorite art blogs is Street Art is Dead. If you haven’t read it before, it’s basically a no-holds-barred street art blog. Basically, I guess the writer of the blog is anonymous or just really doesn’t care what people think, so he/she really says it like it is and reveals juicy tidbits of gossip before anybody else. Today I want to link to two recent posts from Street Art is Dead. This one , on a topic that will not be discussed on Vandalog because I don’t want to play into the hype-machine, and this 100%-spot-on post about the latest Dolk prints and SPQR’s upcoming show at Signal Gallery. SAiD took the words right out of my mouth about SPQR and Dolk before I could post that here.
  • Old-school street artist Richard Hambleton has a solo show which just opened this week in Moscow. It looks pretty damn good. Of course, Arrested Motion has photos and all the info you need.

From the Street to the Cube at 941Geary

Opening today and running until August 28 is a new group show at 941Geary (White Walls, Shooting Gallery, Gallery Three) entitled from the Street Art to the Cube. There are some pieces that I am really loving for this show, especially the following pieces by Greg Gossel, Dan Witz and Best Ever.

Dan Witz
Greg Gossel
Best Ever

Yet, and this is my real issue with many group shows, there is not one cohesive theme to the exhibit at all. Street art is not really a theme anymore, when there are so many facets. This particular show just jumps around so much with the works, that I do not think it works at all. Plus, within the past few months other galleries exhibited many similar pieces (or other editions) from this particular show by Miss Van, Blek la Rat and Best Ever. When you are constantly seeing the same artists name mentioned every month, the work starts to blend and is not fresh anymore. Even worse, as RJ kindly pointed out to me, that most of the artists in this show are not even street artists, not even “once upon a time.”

I guess my point is exactly that- there is not really an interesting angle that catches my interest, which is a shame because group exhibitions either showcase high profile talent really well or brings to light a batch of new artists. This show does neither.

All images by 941Geary

Friends With Knives at Crewest Gallery

Opening August 9 is a really cool looking exhibition at Crewest Gallery in LA strictly featuring stencil artists. Not only do I love the line-up, but for me at least, standout stencil pieces by Blek la Rat, Banksy and Nick Walker are what originally interested me in street art in the first place. The varied list of artists include Blek le Rat, Broken Crow, Chris Stain, Dave Lowell, E.L.K, Greg Boudreau, HAHA, Joe Iurato, Koleszar, Henry Quiara, Leckomio, Mefee, Nathan Phaneuf, PaperMonster, Peat Wollaeger, Scotch and Shai Dahan. This really is not a show to miss, especially since my first look at the Papermonster piece for the show seems pretty impressive.

Your Own Worst Enemy by Papermonster

For more info check out Crewest Gallery

Photo by Papermonster

ABOVE and Blek le Rat at White Walls

This should be interesting. White Walls is doing two shows simultaneously next month. One is Faces In The Mirror with Blek le Rat. The other is Transitions with ABOVE. Blek is the grandfather of outdoor stencil art, and ABOVE is a”post-Banksy” stencil artist. I think this will be Blek le Rat’s first major show since the art market went kablewy, and it’s ABOVE’s first solo show.

I’m very curious to see what these artists are going to do here. You can’t ignore Blek le Rat’s historical importance for street art, but ignoring that, he’s just a guy who cuts stencils. Introducing new iconic imagery won’t be easy, but people will complain just as much if he just makes the same old rats and Caravaggio stencils. And ABOVE works hard to consider placement in his artwork. Will his stencils lose all their power indoors, or will he rethink everything and skillfully consider the placement of his artwork in a gallery space?

Well here’s what White Walls has to say about everything:

White Walls is proud to present a joint show: Faces in the Mirror by Blek le Rat and Transitions by ABOVE. This exhibition brings together the original pioneer stencil artist and his younger counterpart utilizing stencils to create public art in over 40 countries around the world. Please join us for the opening reception on Saturday, May 1st 2010, from 7-11 pm.

This homage to stencil art marks Blek le Rat’s first show in San Francisco as well as the debut indoor exhibition of ABOVE. The meeting of these two artists is a passing of the torch from the original stencil artist to a younger generation of urban artists following in his legacy. Blek let Rat first pioneered stencils in the early 80s as a bold, attention grabbing form of street art that was never before seen. ABOVE is the prominent stencil artist of the new generation, drawing on Blek’s methods to project a social message into the urban environment.

Blek le Rat resides outside of Paris, the very city he claimed 30 years ago as a platform for social commentary. He was the first of his time to employ stencils and spray paint for fast, high contrast images on city walls. Faces in the Mirror is a collection of Blek’s iconic imagery of beggars, sheep, rats, and Michelangelo’s David with an AK-47, combined with never before seen images such as Mona Lisa. These forms open conversation about consciousness, social relation, mass media, and commodity fetishism. Known as the godfather of stencil graffiti art, Blek le Rat has been the great inspiration for artists worldwide including Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader, WK Interact, and ABOVE.

ABOVE has devoted the past 8 years to creating street art in 45 countries around the world, refusing to take his focus off the streets even for gallery exhibitions. It is only because of Blek le Rat’s strong desire to show alongside him that ABOVE finally conceded to his premier indoor exhibition. Transitions is based on three themes from his outdoor works: sign language arrow mobiles, wordplay murals, and colorful figurative stencils. The overarching sentiment is one of optimism, honor, overcoming struggle, and a desire to rise above.

Please join us for the opening reception of Faces in the Mirror by Blek le Rat and Transitions by ABOVE on Saturday, May 1st, 2010, from 7-11pm. The exhibit will be on view through June 5th, 2010, and is open to the public.

Three minute wonders

Those 3-minute wonder videos that were made off of City Road in London can now be watched online. Which is great for me as I missed their original broadcast on Channel 4. Here are the videos for Burning Candy, Pure Evil and Blek le Rat. And if you want to see these pieces in person, check out my video of how to sneak into the space.

Burning Candy

Pure Evil

Blek le Rat

Sneaking in to see Burning Candy and others

The latest in my series of videos for Babelgum Metropolis is online. Essentially, I’ve figured out how to best enjoy the latest large mural from Burning Candy as well as new pieces by Blek le Rat and Pure Evil which have popped up in East London.

Also, yesterday I meant to post a video of me at MuTate Britain, but accidentally posted another video of the show. Well here is the video I meant to post:

Street artists take on Hirst

It seems that a number of street artists have taken to referencing Damien Hirst’s spot paintings in their work. These are just three examples.

Hirst Beejoir
Paintings by Beejoir. Photo by nolionsinengland

Painting by Banksy (and Hirst). Photo by Sabeth718
Painting by Banksy (and Hirst). Photo by Sabeth718
Painting by Blek le Rat. Photo by WallKandy
Painting by Blek le Rat. Photo by WallKandy

The other night, a friend of mine was trying to argue that of these Blek’s painting is most the important street art piece about Hirst, closely followed by Beejoir’s series, followed by Banksy’s. His argument is that Blek and Beejoir did their paintings long before Banksy did his, and so the Hirst reference is old hat now. In addition, this friend sees this as just another time that Banksy has made a stencil that Blek did better and way before Banksy.

If I had to order those three pieces in terms of importance, I would actually go in the exact opposite order as my friend.

Blek le Rat’s piece, especially when thinking about Hirst, is almost inconsequential. As Blek explained this piece to me, it’s about how it is time for conceptual art to step aside and how it is street art’s turn to be important in the larger art world. Makes sense, but then it’s not really about Hirst. Hirst is just used as a reference point. He’s the best known conceptual artist, so naturally Blek includes Hirst in his piece declaring the death of conceptual art, but only so that people understand better what Blek is painting about. Also, Blek’s piece just didn’t get the attention that the work by either Beejoir or Banksy got. It was a one time image, and not a particularly well known piece in that show (his 2008 solo with Black Rat Press). Beejoir turned his spots into a recognizable series just as Hirst did, and Banksy’s is in his Bristol Museum where it is hidden among other paintings by famous painters. I think what Blek has to say is important, but just not that important in terms of Hirst specifically and Hirst’s spots.

Beejoir’s series of spot paintings really said something that everybody else was thinking about conceptual art and Hirst in particular: “Hey, I could do that!” Also, it’s a great party trick. Hang one of those painting on your wall and see who spots what’s wrong with it. They were a series, so lots of people know about them, which adds to the work’s importance. And also, the work directly targets Hirst.

And then there is Banksy’s piece. It is done on an actual original Hirst spot painting. That, to me, puts it miles above the others. Banksy has said flat out “This ‘art,’ if it is art and not just wallpaper, is no more important than mine. If my work gets painted over, then Hirst should have the same privilege.” To me, that’s a much more important message than either Blek le Rat or Beejoir’s piece (plus, I think that Beejoir’s point is contained within Banksy’s painting as well since many art collectors might say “Hey. Anybody could do that and it’s not proper art!” about stencils and simple graffiti).

What do other people think, and do you know any other street artists who have been referencing Hirst and conceptual art in their work (this is another fav of mine)?