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.”
It’s been a while since I did a link-o-rama, but I’m really behind right now and it seems the only way to catch up. I’ve been living in my wifi-less apartment, and I’m headed to London, so these few minutes I’m spending in a cafe may be my only chance for a while to write about a few things…
Caroline and I recently watched Sign Painters, a film about the art of sign painting. It’s available now on iTunes, and well worth checking out. I’m a sucker for films about art and documentaries about people who are obsessed with perfecting their craft, whatever that may be, and Sign Painters delivers on both counts.
Both the New York Times and Elle Magazine have recently had articles about women in street art and graffiti. Usually, these articles frustrate me. The Elle Magazine article is typical. The NYTimes article is one of the best I have read on this subject. I actually really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s just that it was well written, but I think there is more. Caroline put it really well to me. She describes the Elle Magazine article as describing these artists as women first and artists second, and the NYTimes article as describing them as artists who happen to be women. Elle Magazine focuses on the fact that they are women. The NYTimes actually talks about the amazing street art and murals being made by women.
Earlier this month, I wrote about my 25 favorite murals of the year over at Complex.com. Check out the list and let me know what you think. One caveat: I submitted the list to Complex before Miami, so nothing from Miami this year was considered for it.
This is the first post in a two-part series based on the visit to Baltimore that Caroline Caldwell and I made last week. We made the trip to see Open Walls Baltimore, but ended up getting a taste of the larger street art and graffiti scenes in Baltimore too. This post is about the work we saw at Open Walls Baltimore. Thanks so much to Gaia, Killian, Martha Cooper, Nanook and AVOID for showing us around the city.
As previouslycovered, Open Walls Baltimore is Gaia‘s stab a street art/mural art festival. Taking inspirations from festivals like Wynwood Walls and Living Walls, Open Walls Baltimore has been bringing some of the world’s most talented street artists to Baltimore to paint murals. With the help of friends like Martha Cooper and Nanook, Gaia has managed to pull of quite a festival. This video gives a pretty good idea of what’s been going on from Freddy Sam’s perspective:
Like so many mural festivals, Open Walls Baltimore manages to do a lot with a small budget (at least compared to budgets like the budget of the Mural Arts Program). Caroline and I slept in Gaia’s studio next to Ever, which was also being used as Jaz‘ studio so that he could finish the work for his show in Barcelona, the studio for many of Gaia’s friends and the meeting place for most of the Open Walls Baltimore artists. When we arrived in town, Ever was stuck a couple of stories up in the air because his lift had nearly run out of gas. Despite minor snags like that, Open Walls Baltimore’s outward appearance is as a great success. Most, but not all, of the walls look good and have had a positive reception from the community.
Unlike a lot of other mural festivals, Open Walls Baltimore have been pretty honest about the criticism they have received and the double-edged sword that is muralism. This interview with Gaia really highlights just how complicated a mural festival can be for those directly involved and the communities receiving murals.
LNY was in Baltimore recently to check out Open Walls Baltimore (exactly what Caroline and I are doing right now actually). He had quite a time while there and put up a couple of very Baltimore-specific pieces. Here’s what he has to say:
So I got a story to tell you and some pics to share, see I ended up making these drawings in Baltimore by randomly running into this group of urban horseback riders galloping down an East Baltimore neighborhood while visiting Gaia and Nanook. It was Sunday so what would be better than to go on a horse ride right? So I took some pictures and then made some work to later find out that they are part of this old Baltimore tradition of Huckstering, basically going around in a horse drawn cart selling vegetables. These guys are also called Arabs, which comes from the term “street Arab” as in an abandoned kid who roams the slums, and I was lucky enough to find a stable in South West Baltimore where horses are bred and taken care of by the community. All of which blows my mind because these guys were so happy and excited about my posters as I was about meeting them and discovering this otherwise invisible history of a city I am completely alien to. As I was putting the work up I got a lot of feedback from the neighborhood and they read the images in so many different ways that I had never even considered; we talked about resilience, beauty, vision, excellence, dead space, gold, bling and the efforts of Sowebo to rejuvenate the neighborhood from the inside. I feel totally overwhelmed by the way the work was able to engage and be fulfilled by having this conversation with the neighborhood. All of this thanks to Martha Cooper who introduced me to Sowebo and has been constantly engaging and documenting the area, these are her pictures and a lil clip I took of the spot.
This week’s link-o-rama is a few days delayed. Parents were in town earlier this week and even came to an event some friends of mine organized at Haverford College: A talk by Jayson Musson (the artist who created and plays the character Hennessy Youngman). I don’t think my mom was amused. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:
A note from RJ: The following is a guest post by Washington DC’s iwillnot.
Last week I went up to Baltimore to check in with Gaia and see how the walls were coming along for Open Walls Baltimore. While there, I wanted to meet up with a Baltimore artist that I have been following for quite some time now: Nether.
It just so happened I met with him at a time when he was receiving a lot of local press and notoriety for his depiction of an ominous hooded figure in tribute to Trayvon Martin. Placed in desolate and sometimes eerily empty spots, the 7 foot tall by 10 feet wide image is haunting.
Extremely well versed in the local graffiti and street art scene, Nether describes his own work as “an urban art campaign that hopes to impact and beautify BMORE’s bleakness through vibrant street art with the hopes of evoking public discussion.” His images bring to mind the decomposition of society, urban decay, and toxicity of modern life.
His large scale wheat paste images can be found between all of the major walls of OWB. Frankly, it is very difficult NOT to encounter one of his pieces while in the arts district. Their size and excellent placement make them impossible to miss.
I encourage all who are visiting OWB to walk from wall to wall. Along the way, there are some great pieces from local artists. When I asked Gaia, “Okay, who are the local guys? Who is putting stuff up?” He told me “Nobody man, it’s just me Nether and Mata Ruda basically.”
While that is not necessarily the case, especially during Open Walls Baltimore (there are several Overunders throughout the neighborhood). They are definitely making a huge impact on an otherwise bleak urban landscape.
Whats next for Nether? He says, “The Trayvon piece is the first of a larger series that will deal with the stories of ordinary black youth in a progressive manner…The aim of this series is to highlight and iconisize these character’s stories… I think promoting these stories could really inspire others, especially at risk youth.”