New Gaia Interview and Studio Visit on Brooklyn Street Art

A little more than a week ago, I had the wonderful delight of receiving Steve Harrington from Brooklyn Street Art into my home, my city and my school. The product of that spontaneous, short but undeniably sweet visit to Baltimore and the studio has been published on the BSA blog in two parts! Check it out, pass it on and share it!


Here is a sample

Brooklyn Street Art: So what’s the best part about making street art?
Gaia: So this is obviously a question that I’ve tried to investigate throughout my entire process, beginning at an extremely basic place when I first started, and I have to constantly revisit it. What’s the best part of making street work? I always have to investigate my motive and if there is a process from conceptualizing to composing to drawing to putting it up to viewing the reception, .. If, in any of those steps I’m not really deriving a sense of fulfillment, that can be problematic. I have to always come back to these different steps and say “what’s going on here?” Honestly sometimes I consider my process kind of arduous. Sometimes it’s a real struggle for me. It’s cathartic but it’s not perfect or pure, it’s not what I enjoy. It’s a constant fight with the medium, with myself, with my concept, my intuition.

Gaia: New Street Pieces and Process Photos

Haven’t just straight up bombed posters in a while. As of late I’ve been trying to make each piece different using only the printed portrait as the static basis and the body painted for flexibility.
But its always nice to get back to putting up some prints on the street. So here is an overview of both strategies of putting up street work that I have pursued over the past couple of days.

These people sitting by the Deny Me Three Times piece were raving about it and beseeching me to explain the reference. I told them the parable. It was wonderful

The Cow heads are screenprinted onto newsprint divided into two screens and then pasted in two parts. The acetates are the enlarged block prints that have been blown up using photoshop and Kinkos. Here are photos from the day of printing the rooster heads.

Alternatively, the Deny Me Three Times piece is all handpainted except for the block printed portrait. The piece is made of long three foot sheets of newsprint that is then reassembled once on the street. Usually takes about twenty minutes to put up rather than the quick prints. Here is a photo of the process and the piece painted differently in chinatown

Interviews on Juxtapoz

Recently, Juxtapoz has had three interviews with some of the more interesting emerging street artists I can think of: Gaia, Imminent Disaster, and Dennis McNett. Gaia and Imminent Disaster are both friends of the blog (and of course, Gaia posts here from time to time) so it’s always exciting to see them getting press from the big guys like Juxtapoz. Here are my favorite parts from each interview:

Dennis McNett:

If you could punch one living contemporary artist, who would it be?

There are better people to hate on the planet than other people that make things.

Gaia (part one, part two)

Street artists often profess this war of conscience around the gallery/street issue, but you don’t seem to share those conflicts.

My perspective is I get up, I do work in the street, and I try to make it good and valuable, so that the experiences augment each other. Institutions provide certain opportunities but you have to go through these filters. There are no filters in street art—except for the obvious one, the law. Beyond that, there’s no curator deciding where you put up work, how you put up work…

Institutions provide other opportunities. If there’s this populous notion of ‘I want to show my work to as many people as possible’—you’re going to get that done a lot better institutionally. You may get a lot of passerby on the street, but think about how many people move through The Met each day.

Imminent Disaster (part one, part two)

Along the notion of “reclaiming public space,” why is street art is concentrated in “hipster” or gentrifying neighborhoods?

It’s a valid observation, and comes up often in the street art scene. It probably has to do with the fact that street art is a scene with a different audience. There are obscure graffiti spots in abandoned buildings or tunnels that are more about the difficulty of getting to the spot and therefore, will likely only be seen by other writers. Whereas street art tends to prefer to be seen by the scene—people who watch, collect, curate but do not necessarily do street art.

The duration of the mediums also might factor in on this. If wheatpaste was a more permanent mark on a wall, street artists might be more exploratory with their placement and find more obscure spots that would get much less traffic but last much longer. A look to stencil artists might prove this theory wrong, however. Even though it would last forever, I’ve never seen a celebrity head stencil in Queens.

I know I’ve personally been very lax on interviews on Vandalog for a long time, but I’ve got 2-3 coming up soon so keep an eye out for that.

Installation at Critica Urbana

I was a little late to do some work for the exhibit, but I got to paint a room at the wonderful Critica Urbana festival when I returned from Madrid. The building that the exhibit is currently being held is a remarkably inspiring squat that has been functioning as a cultural center, bar, workshop and living space. The curators and organizers of the show had one room that had no installations so I decided that I would try to do something in the small bathroom.

Since I had a flight in the morning the next day I started painting at around 10pm and was able to finish at around 7am in time to take a shower and meet up with my dad to visit the Prada museum before going to the airport. The installation that I painted decided itself as the work proceeded in an improvisational  fashion since I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the space.

The piece ended up being a warped version of the bear image that I have been working with as of late. It wrapped around three walls, the ceiling and the floor and emanated from a small seat in the opposite corner of the room facing the viewer. The image was abstracted until one sat in the corner and received the proper perspective. A drawing above the sink with the knife and pencil inside its basin, provided a reference of the image when entering the room.

the room prior to the installation

The final product from the seat in the corner of the room.

Thank you to the wonderfully kind and generous people at Critica Urbana. I’m so appreciative of their  being down for the last minute arrangements. It was pretty down and dirty


The structure of street art

About a month ago, I was in Baltimore and had a fascinating conversation with Gaia. We were debating which form or forms of government can best be used as an analogy to structure of the street art and graffiti worlds. The primary systems of government that we mentioned were democracy, autocracy/dictatorship, and anarchy.

Gaia’s post on the conversation went online a while ago and can be read on his blog. As Gaia notes, he believes that both street art and graffiti are inherently democratic. Artists and writers can put up their message and everybody has just as much right as anybody else to do so. I would add that this democracy also creates a general respect and understanding between those working on the street. For example, Barry McGee’s work is not going to be painted over because, as a group, artists and writers have given him a lot of respect. Similarly, it is generally understood within graffiti that there is a hierarchy of work, and that work of a higher complexity (pieces) can go over simpler work (tags, throw-ups…), and that hierarchy is upheld by consensus among writers. Gaia’s view seems to be the prevailing opinion among street artists, and many specifically talk about how the democracy of the street is what draws them to working in such a unique environment.

I held this view for a while as well. Then Brad Downey told me that he believes street art is the opposite of democracy. Essentially, his argument is that street art allows him or anybody else to do whatever they want, which isn’t democracy at all. And I’ve started to think he has a point. Maybe street art is more like anarchy.

In a democracy, everybody can voice their opinions, but their actions must ultimately be judged as acceptable or not by the masses. That means an artist could be reprimanded for his or her actions if they are against the general will of the other artists. While there are some unwritten rules of street art and artists might be frowned upon for breaking them, that’s about all the punishment they will get. As long as an artist is not afraid of people hating him, he could potentially claim that ripping up every Swoon wheatpaste in New York is his form of street art, and nobody could stop him no matter how upset they might be. On the street, artists can do pretty much anything they want.

Somebody’s going to point out that Gaia uses a different definition of democracy than I do. Well, we can still look at his definition (“a realm in which agonistic polemics and discourses can occur without suppression”) and see why it doesn’t fit with street art. Take a look at that last bit where it notes “without suppression.” Work gets painted over all the time, and that certainly seems to me like a form of suppression. While all fans of graffiti and street art must accept the ephemeral nature of the work, that generally implies that the work decays over time. On the contrary, work can be buffed or removed seconds after it is put up, and even within the community, many artists have no qualms about painting over other people’s work (and some even develop personal vendettas which play out as writing over/supressing brand new work – see 10 Foot). If that’s not suppression (particularly when it is done by fellow artists/writers), I don’t know what is.

Another potential system of government comparable to the street art and graffiti world might be a dictatorship. Particularly in the graffiti world, artists can get extremely hierarchical (can you believe I spelled that right on the first try?), and the kings have a good deal of power. Admittedly, I am not anywhere near as knowledgeable about graffiti as I am about street art, but as I understand it, not only is there the hierarchy I mentioned earlier with different types of pieces taking precedence over others, but the work of certain writers is left alone by all but the most bold up and coming writers. And unlike street art, when writers do break the rules, they get into actual fights about it (and no, street art’s flickr comment wars do not count).

This even crosses into street art a bit. The way that the street art community currently works, its existence is entirely dependent on passive acceptance by the graffiti community. All too often, street artists get their work intentionally written over with tags and graffiti, and the artists act as though they are honored that some writer is familiar enough with their work to write over it. If graffiti writers wanted to really put in the effort, they could virtually destroy a city’s street art scene.

10 Foot has shown this very well. Even though most artists are still trying to get up, it’s extremely rare to see certain artists whose work has not been tagged over by 10 Foot.

That’s not a dialog, it’s suppression.

The reality is though, no one of these systems can fully encapsulate what street art and graffiti are. I think it is more accurate to say that the correct analogy is whichever one the last person to get up was thinking of when they did their work. Some artists do work with the intent of creating a democratic dialog and respecting the work of others. Other artists just get up for themselves or to spread their message, disregarding the will of others. And many just paint to maintain a balance of power.

Street/Studio at Irvine Contemporary

Street Studio

What do you get when you put Swoon, Gaia, Dalek, Shepard Fairey, Imminent Disaster, Oliver Vernon, PISA73 and EVOL all in one show? I’m not sure, but it sounds like a recipe for awesome. And that’s just what Irvine Contemporary are doing in DC next month. And remember, Swoon is involved, so it’s not going to be your plain old group show. The show, called Street/Studio, is going to have a gallery component and an outdoor bit as well where the artists cover the alleyways near Irvine Contemporary. Can’t wait to see photos from this show. The only artists I’m doubtful about are Oliver Vernon and PISA73, but hopefully they make it work.

And don’t miss the panel discussion at American University on June 19th with the artists and the curator of Shepard Fairey’s show at the Boston ICA. Hopefully there will be video for those of us who can’t be there.

The press stuff after the jump: Continue reading “Street/Studio at Irvine Contemporary”

New York Street Advertising Takeover

Last weekend, 120 illegal street advertisements throughout New York City were covered up by art. The whole project was orchestrated by Jordan Seiler at Public Ad Campaign. He got a large group of artists and volunteers to cover a few of the many illegal outdoor advertisements on New York streets first with a layer of white, and then with artwork. Participating artists included Rachel Lowing and Gaia, Tristan Eaton, Ji Lee (of The Bubble Project), Enjoy Banking, Peru Ana Ana Peru, and many many more. Unfortunately, Jake Dobkin reports that all of these interventions seem to have been taken down (of course, I suppose that was sort of the point. At least it gets rid of the illegal ads. The Capital G project worked the same way. A week later, not only was Captial G gone, but so were those flyposted ads.). Here are a few images that have been popping up online:

Ji Lee
Ji Lee
Enjoy Banking and this really cool artist whose name I forget...
Enjoy Banking and this really cool artist whose name I forget...
Tristan Eaton
Tristan Eaton
Gaia and Rachel Lowing
Gaia and Rachel Lowing

More photos after the jump… Continue reading “New York Street Advertising Takeover”