What and where are open walls?

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.”

Continue reading “What and where are open walls?”

Interview with Risk

In the last week of Corey Helford‘s “Letters from America,” taking place right now Black Rat Projects in London, Vandalog caught up with another one of the participating artists, graffiti legend Risk. Grilling him on the nature of graffiti in the gallery and the place of collectives in the present day, Risk gave us an insight into his mediums, thoughts on working in the streets and showing alongside street artists.

Stephanie: How do you think the perception of graffiti has changed with the explosion of street art?

Risk: I think it is easier to relate to street art, therefore the perception of Graffiti is better as a whole.

S: Are they still separate movements?

R: Yes completely separate, yet cousins, so to speak…. Street art comes from the evolution of graffiti, the act of getting up and forcing society to look and think. It is an easier way, and more blatant. It’s only natural that we figure out quicker easier ways….

S: How do you think graffiti translates to canvas indoors? Does it have the same impact?

R: I think it’s the responsibility of the artists to make the canvas translate. Every artists should consider where they are showing and to whom. They have a unique opportunity to set the stage and convey what they want to convey to whom… As far as impact, I like to take advantage of the gallery setting and do things I can’t necessarily do on the streets, I.E. add neon, or create an environment etc.

S: Do you try to accomplish the same meaning with indoor work as your outdoor pieces?

R: It depends on what work you are referring to. My graffiti is still for me and my peers, however my mural work is for everyone, and it is meant to evoke stimulation and feelings thru color. My gallery work is meant to be visually timeless, yet here and now. It is all representations of things I have done on the streets but with added refined elements. So to answer your question they all overlap, yet they are all very different.

S: How did you get involved with the Corey Helford in the show in the first place?

R: I had a simultaneous opening with Crash at Corey Helford a few years back and I have been with them ever since.

S: Have you shown in London before? Why do you think there is such a draw for street art and graffiti in London?

R: I have never shown in London prior to this show however I attended a semester of school in London over twenty years ago, and I returned in the late 80’s to compete in a world graffiti championship held in Bridlington. A lot has changed since then….I think as a whole the draw to London and street art was helped along by the popularity and success of Banksy. Although many graffiti artists and hardcore enthusiasts including Banksy himself may attribute it to others before him you can not deny what he has accomplished. Simple facts are 99% of people are followers. The world is a big place the followers gain momentum….

S: With graffiti such a mainstream movement do you see the need for graffiti collectives now?

R: I understand the concept of increasing lobbying power for an arts infrastructure, and rallying behind a cause or belief. It also develops a higher group profile that benefits the individuals by association. But most importantly creates a hub for curators and commissioners to more easily locate potential talent. etc. however I also strongly believe that as a whole we need to be independent and not grouped together as one.

S: How have collectives changed over the years?

R: Collectives are way better now because you pick and choose who you want to be shown with. We are recognized and celebrated as individuals. I believe these types of shows are very positive. In the past I used to be offended when they had a show or event and all the graffiti got lumped into one. I remember being young and participating in events where each artist was allocated a specific space and the organizer or curator would say and “all the graffiti guys can paint this space together….” I think we’ve come a long way…

S: What pieces do you have in this show?

R: I have a sort of retrospective array of work in the show. I have traditional graffiti type canvas, a mixed media panel with neon and license plates, some new sculpture stuff I’ve been working on and a few of my more fine art color field type pieces.

S: What are your future plans?

R: My plan for the future is to never know the future. when you know the future it seems as if you know the end. I never want the ride to end….

Photo by No Lions in England

Letters From America at Black Rat Projects

Ron English (and part of a TrustoCorp on the far right)

Letters From America opened last night at Black Rat Projects in London. The show, organized by Corey Helford Gallery, includes work by Ron English, TrustoCorp, Risk and Saber. I wasn’t sure how work from all of these artists would look when put together in one room, but it looks good. As usual, it looks like Ron and TrustoCorp brought some solid work, but the real treat is that the show is a rare opportunity for Londoners to see pieces by LA’s Risk and Saber. Risk and Saber’s work can certainly be a bit over the top, but so is graffiti. In particular, I am really enjoying Saber’s tribute to the UK’s National Health Service.

NoLionsInEngland was kind enough to pop by the show and take some pictures for us. See more of them after the jump… Continue reading “Letters From America at Black Rat Projects”

Street art at the London Pleasure Gardens

Ron English

Ron English, Shepard Fairey, TrustoCorp and Risk painted last week at the London Pleasure Gardens, a brand new cultural center of sorts from the folks behind MuTate Britain. Fairey has had some involvement with MuTate Britain organization before, but I’m not sure about the other artists. Whatever the case, there’s some nice work that went up at the gardens, including Fairey’s tallest mural to date and some great work on airplane nosecones by Risk and English (shown above).

Swap Fairey for Saber and you have the line-up at Letters from America, the show Corey Helford Gallery is putting on at Black Rat Projects starting July 4th, so if you like this work, definitely check out that show too.

Here’s some of the work at the London Pleasure Gardens, and we’ll probably do a part-2 of with more work in a few days:

Shepard Fairey

Photos by S.Butterfly

Corey Helford and Black Rat working together

Saber and Risk at "Art in the Streets"
Saber and Risk at “Art in the Streets”

LA’s Corey Helford Gallery (who do advertise on Vandalog) have teamed up with London’s Black Rat Projects to put on a show, called Letters From America, in London on the 4th of July. Because the 4th is Independence Day in America, Corey Helford Gallery are bringing over a team of four American street artists to show at Black Rat Projects: Risk, Saber, TrustoCorp and Ron English. There aren’t many more details available for now, but I’ve been a lot of very exciting whispers about this show…

Hopefully I’ll have more to say soon.

Photo by LindsayT

Upcoming: L.A. Freewalls Inside

A note from the editor: Yes, the Daniel Lahoda in this post is the same Daniel Lahoda who was investigated by the LAPD and complained about online on numerous occasions. While, to my knowledge, Lahoda has never been arrested and none of the past complaints have resulted in civil litigation, there were a lot of complaints about Lahoda being brought up consistently for a number of years. It’s impossible for me to say for sure what happened in Lahoda’s past. What I can say is that he does seem to be making an honest go of things with his current projects. I’ve had personal issues with Lahoda myself, but as far as I am concerned, this new gallery of his is a time for second chances. Since the last of the complaints against him surfaced, Lahoda has gone above and beyond with his noncommercial ventures like the LA Freewalls Project and involvement in changing LA’s mural regulations. If you asked me today, “Would you do business with Daniel Lahoda?”, my answer would be a cautious yes. If Lahoda did make mistakes in the past, I do not think he will make those mistakes again. Consider this aside as my way of publicly putting rumors and allegations from Lahoda’s past in the past and instead deciding to focus on the here and now. – RJ Rushmore

Daniel Lahoda’s L.A. Freewalls project has changed the face of the Arts District in Los Angeles. That much is inarguable. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine what the old warehouse district looked like without the rotating gallery at 7th & Mateo, ROA’s outdoor exhibition spanning Jesse and Imperial, HOW & NOSM, DABS & MYLA, Shepherd Fairey, and perhaps most indelibly, JR’s L.A. Wrinkles. Trust me, this is a good thing.

So what happens when these muralists that have transformed a neighborhood bring their work inside to the brand new LALA gallery? Can it maintain the same level of energy? The verdict will have to wait for the opening, but at first glance, you simply cannot argue with that lineup.

Up-and-coming artists like Anthony Lister, ASKEW, and ZES, all of whom have recently had some of the hottest shows anywhere, are in it. ZES’s mural partners in Little Tokyo and in L.A. Freewalls (alongside the incomparable PUSH, who is also in the show) UGLAR, are represented in the forms of Evan Skrederstu and Christopher D. Brand and possibly some special guests. On top of that, there’s HOW & NOSM. There’s Dan Witz. That alone is a killer group.

But throw in someone like, oh, I don’t know, Ron English–not to mention MOCA “Art in the Streets” vets like Shepherd Fairey, SABER, RISK, and SWOON? Well, let’s say that things just got serious. And they might get crazy too. In a good way. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Quite honestly, I haven’t seen this kind of excitement around in a while. Ever since Art Walk wrecked Gallery Row with its costly series of missteps, Downtown Los Angeles has been bleeding galleries. Upper Playground is gone. Mr. Cartoon’s shop is gone. Worst of all, Bert Green Fine Art, the originator himself, is gone too. The truth is, Downtown L.A. needs an innovative gallery–one willing to take risks, one unafraid to offend or prompt dialogue–more than people think.

Can LALA Gallery be one of those? Come April 21, we’ll find out. But on the evidence of the incredible show roster, it’s off to a very promising start.

Street Cred – graffiti artists at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Chaz Bojórquez

Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas is a show opening this month at the Pasadena Museum of California Art focusing on the graffiti writers and street artists who have come out of the LA scenes. Artists in the show include Chaz Bojórquez, Craola, Kofie One, Risk, Jeff Soto, Retna, Revok and Saber. Perhaps just as important, the show will include photographs of graffiti by Steve Grody, because any graffiti art exhibit would definitely be incomplete without documentation out actual graffiti outdoors. Additionally, Retna will be painting a mural on the outside of the museum.

Sounds like Street Cred will be a good compliment to Art in the Streets at MOCA. A number of people I’ve been speaking with recently have argued that LA graffiti has not been given its due in the wider history of graffiti, so maybe Street Cred will help to correct that.

Street Cred opens May 14th and runs through September 4th.

Photo by Lord Jim