Roa – “Carrion” at Backwoods Gallery, Collingwood

“Perameles Gunnii” EASTERN BARRED BANDICOOT (open doors)
“Perameles Gunnii” EASTERN BARRED BANDICOOT (open doors). Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

After meeting and developing a friendship with Roa in San Francisco earlier this year, I’ve been really looking forward to him arriving in Melbourne! I’ve always known Roa loved his animals, but have never appreciated him as much as I do until now.

Roa was invited by Healsville Sanctuary to visit and meet some of their animals and paint some walls. Healsville is a very special place and there is no doubt that experience shaped the entire trip in Melbourne and also heavily influenced the exhibition. There’s nothing like seeing an artist meet an animal, touch it, play with it, and then go off and paint it.

Bones. Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

Roa’s inspiration for CARRION, his show that just closed at Backwoods Gallery in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, was a direct result of the visit to Healseville. The animals, the staff and their passion for the animals and having access to things even most Australians have never even experienced really made a difference.

Wombat skeleton on the wall outside Backwoods
Wombat skeleton on the wall outside Backwoods. Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

So how did this impact the show? In so many ways! Firstly, all of the works were Australian native animals. But the installation, as Roa’s shows often are, was something else! The experience began even before entering the gallery, with the scent of something strange to come. Roa painted the wall in the alley way leading into Backwoods with a giant wombat skeleton. The strange smell kept luring you closer and closer, I won’t say it was a pleasant smell, far from it – soon you’ll understand why.

The entrance - CARRION
The entrance – CARRION. Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

Upon entering Backwoods punters were greeted by a green wall with CARRION painted in red. To the right was a shed built inside the gallery, inside were several videos showing a wallaby autopsy (Roa got to watch and film this at the sanctuary). Rather confronting for those not knowing what to expect.

The shed with the Wallaby autopsy
The shed with the Wallaby autopsy. Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

Fish tanks were assembled throughout the gallery with a set of pipes joining them together for air flow. Inside was the cause of the smell, native Australian animals (a possum, a wallaby, an echidna, a kookaburra and several other birds) being slowly consumed by flesh eating beetles! If you were surprised by the autopsy video this was even more of a shock to some. Bones and various other found items were also scattered throughout the gallery.

Dead Kookaburra
Dead Kookaburra. Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell.

The paintings, all of native Australian animals, were beautifully painted and came in a range of sizes and complexity (in terms of how many moving parts/doors they had). My favourite pieces were the Bandicoot, the Echidna, the platypus and the Honey Possum. Continue reading “Roa – “Carrion” at Backwoods Gallery, Collingwood”

Roa at Healesville Sanctuary

Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus)

Roa left Melbourne a couple of days ago. What an amazing month or so it has been. After arriving in Melbourne from Puerto Rico, one of the first things he did was visit Healesville SanctuaryHealesville Sanctuary is a not-for-profit conservation organisation dedicated to fighting wildlife extinction through breeding and recovery programs for threatened species and by working with visitors and supporters to reduce threats facing endangered wildlife. The Sanctuary is a very important part of Roa’s whole visit to Melbourne, a major part of his show at Backwoods Gallery, Carrion, which I will go into more detail about in my next post.

Wombat (Vombatus Ursinus)

The first day was all about Roa meeting the animals. He got the royal treatment from the Sanctuary and all the keepers, getting to go behind the scenes and really meet the animals, touch, feel and hold most of them.

The next few days were a combination of painting some of the animals he met, and preparing for the show. He painted three pieces while at the Sanctuary, the most exciting would have to have been the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus Anatinus) on the water tower (featured in the video). I was lucky enough to be there with Roa and experience the breathtaking views, hip hop, pizza and beer. A perfect afternoon 🙂 Continue reading “Roa at Healesville Sanctuary”

“Dominant Species” Roa

This video is spellbinding. Roa’s show Dominant Species ran from September 15th to November 3rd in San Fransisco’s 914 Geary Gallery and MOCAtv produced this video as one in a series of artist biopics for the Art in the Streets section. It’s cool to get some context of Roa’s work and to hear his thought process. The gallery has great photos of the show.

There’s another cool video including Martha Cooper talking about Roa’s work in South Africa for I Art Joburg and Roa himself speaking about his time there.

In San Juan, PR — “Los Muros Hablan” Part I: Roa, Aryz and Bik-Ismo

Roa at work

The walls are talking in Puerto Rico, as over a dozen first-rate artists are busy gracing the walls of the Santurce district of San Juan. Organized by local artists Celso Gonzalez and Alexis Diaz of La Pandilla, along with Emil Medina of Buena Vibra, “Los Muros Hablan” marks the Carribean’s largest urban arts festival. Not only are we seeing some of our favorite artists at work, but we are also meeting many whose works is new to us. Here are just a few images we took today — many more to come:

Roa at work
Aryz at work
Local artist Bik-Ismo at work

Sponsored by Coor Light, “Los Muros Hablan” continues through the 14th.

Photos of Roa by Lois Stavsky; photo of Aryz by Dani Mozeson and of Bik-Ismo by Lenny Collado

Weekend link-o-rama


Here’s some stuff I missed this week while sitting under a giant stack of books and papers to read, mostly stuff I was supposed to read for school but avoided because I was at Nuart last weekend.

Photo by Colin Chazaud

They’re always gonna go wild

Sticker by Shepard Fairey. Photo by RJ Rushmore

This is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for a book that was to be a collection of essays by a number of different people in the street art world, but the final product has not yet materialized, so I’m posting the piece here instead.

I don’t want to see the plan succeed/There won’t be room for people like me/My life is their disease/It feels good/And I’m gonna go wild/Spray paint the walls – Black Flag

Good subcultures get co-opted by the mainstream. That’s what happens. Punks and preps, hippies and hipsters, gangsters and geeks have all had parts of their cultures brought into the mainstream, and that attention usually harms the actual subculture.

Sometimes it can feel like street art is getting taken over the mainstream more and more every day. Plenty of people have told me that Vandalog contributes to that co-opting of the culture. The most obvious examples naturally also tend to be the most popular names in street art: Banksy and Shepard Fairey. These guys used to be the torchbearers of street art, but their newfound fame as household names has come at a price: they certainly aren’t the revolutionary artists they once were, and I would go so far as to say that in their outdoor work they are as much guerrilla marketers as they are artists. There’s plenty to say on that topic alone, but I won’t get into too much detail about the negative aspects of street art. I still have faith in the general movement of street art: Even as some artists “sell out,” it’s inevitable that street art as a whole will remain authentic, powerful and revolutionary for a long time to come.

Anyone who has read Norman Mailer’s 1973 essay The Faith of Graffiti has probably had a good laugh at Mailer’s suggestion that graffiti was already dying out. Street Art, a book by Allan Schwartzman and published in 1985, makes a similar suggestion about street art. Looking through Street Art, you’ll see the work of early street artists like Jenny Holzer, John Fekner and Richard Hambleton as well as many other names that have mostly faded from the history of street art. Most of those artists no longer make street art. Of course, street art didn’t die out, and Schwartzman was far from the last person to write a book about it, but something special is definitely captured in Street Art: The first generation of modern street art.

While most of that first generation has now moved on from street art into other mediums, they inspired future artists to start working outdoors. In the early to mid-90’s, artists like Phil Frost and Reminisce were members of a new generation doing work on the street. Frost doesn’t work outdoors anymore, and Reminisce only very rarely does. They and many (but of course not all) of their contemporaries have more or less moved on from their roots. Then in the 2000’s, new artists like Swoon and Leon Reid IV became involved in the movement with as much passion as previous generations. While both Swoon and Leon Reid IV are both still actively making work outdoors, they have somewhat moved away from street art’s anti-establishment roots: a good portion of their outdoor work is being done with permission and in cooperation with galleries, museums or arts organizations. Over the last few years, the internet has allowed street art to grow even further, and talented new artists from around the world are coming to light all the time. Artists like Roa and Escif were already well known among street art fans before they first painted outside of their home countries because people had seen their artwork online. That’s an oversimplified history, but hopefully it shows in a very general way that street art is always evolving.

Since the 1970’s, the media has lost and gained interest in street art numerous times. Naysayers often suggest that the interest of media and the injection of money can only serve to destroy street art culture, but each time this cycle repeats, street art is reborn and brought back to its core values by a new generation of revolutionary artists. Even as the most world-famous street artists stop making street art, there’s always a talented and idealistic artist just starting out with a can of spray paint or a bucket of wheatpaste, working their way up from the bottom.

Artists and even people who don’t consider themselves artists are interested in the opportunities that only street art can provide. Once the idea that street art exists is in somebody’s head, it can’t be taken away. Now that the idea of street art has become part of the collective mainstream public consciousness, it can’t be taken away from there either. Even as its general popularity may fluctuate, the idea of street art is always going to be resonating with somebody around the world, and that’s all it takes. People want to express themselves and communicate with the public, and there are few better ways to reach the public than street art.

Street art doesn’t discriminate. A trained artist in a studio with dozens of brilliant assistants can make street art, but so can a teenager with nothing more than a permanent marker and an idea. Practically any wall is an equally valid place for a piece of work for drunken men to piss on or for kids to be inspired by.

Tags by The Jellyfish. Photo by bitchcakesny.

The combination of almost no barrier to entry and the fantastic power wielded by street artists, a combination unrivaled by any other art form, is why the underground nature of street art will always triumph over any push to make the genre truly mainstream. It just takes one person with a crazy idea to shift the culture in a new direction, and there are thousands of those people out there trying out crazy ideas every day. You can’t make a culture mainstream if the thing is constantly changing, you can only make out-of-date segments of the culture mainstream.

And does it really matter if one segment of street art becomes mainstream? The fact that you can buy an OBEY shirt in a department store doesn’t diminish the power that street art has in giving a voice to any person who has something to say, and it doesn’t make it any harder to pick up a can of spray paint for the first time. Street art is a great way to buck the system, especially if that system is the street art establishment itself.

For the last three decades in particular, working outdoors without permission has fascinated artists, and they keep finding ways to do it differently. During that time, stars have been born and many have faded away. Media and art-world interest has waxed and waned. In the end though, the mainstream popularity of street art doesn’t make much of a difference. Artists will always have the drive make street art and the public will always notice street art. That’s not going away. Even if it’s just one artist reaching one other person, street art can change the world. Of course, it’s never going to be just one artist. From here on out, it won’t be less than an ever-evolving army.

Photos by RJ Rushmore and bitchcakesny

Gaia and Roa in Chicago thanks to Pawn Works

Quetzalcoatl and the Stork by Gaia. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.

Continuing the work that Pawn Works, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis (who is paying for these murals), The National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chicago Urban Art Society have been bringing to Chicago, Gaia and Roa both recently painted in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

Gaia painted a piece called Quetzalcoatl and the Stork, about the neighborhood transitioning from mostly having Polish immigrants to now being home to many Mexican immigrants.

Quetzalcoatl and the Stork by Gaia. Photo by Gaia.

Roa‘s piece is a nice illusion of sorts and utilizes the space absolutely perfectly. Some of the best placement of a mural or piece of street art I’ve seen all year. Remember folks, learn from Roa and always practice good placement.

Roa. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.
Roa. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.

While in town, Gaia also painted another piece independently of the Pilsen project called Afro Cuban Siblings.

Afro Cuban Siblings by Gaia. Photo by Brock Brake.

Photos by Gaia and Brock Brake

Waking up Vardø

E.B. Itso. Click to view large.

Note from RJ: We at Vandalog are excited to publish Tristan Manco‘s first post on the site, hopefully the first of many. Tristan is one of contemporary street art’s greatest champions and most-distinguished writers. Tristan curated by iterations of Cans Festival, worked at Pictures on Walls for half a decade, has written or in some way contributed to 8 art books since 2002 as well as numerous magazine articles in publications such as Juxtapoz. I’ve known Tristan for a couple of years, and he is one of the people whom I really trust when it comes to art.

Taking place in the 24-hour daylight of a Northern Norway summer on a small island town called Vardø north of the Arctic Circle – Komafest was always going to be a unique event…

Vardø is the oldest settlement in Northern Norway and in recent years has become depopulated with many buildings left empty, partly as a result of the collapsing fishing industry. The curator and organizer of the festival, the Norwegian artist Pøbel saw the potential of a street art festival to make a visual transformation of the town and to show the local people it was possible to make changes. While developing the idea Pøbel spent time getting to know the locals and with his unassuming nature and enthusiasm he began to gain their trust. Soon the public began to get behind the idea and offer up buildings for artists to paint on and volunteering to help in the organization. It became a truly grassroots movement rather than something imposed on the community.

Click to view large

The island, shaped like a butterfly, has an otherworldly atmosphere and is only accessible overland by a winding 3km undersea tunnel, which appears out of the ground like something out of a science fiction movie, but the real stars of the show are its traditional wooden buildings. Many of the wooden jetties, warehouses and buildings are abandoned, weather-beaten and in a state of beautiful decay. Although standing empty these heritage buildings all have owners who are often unable to afford their proper restoration. The idea of project is that the art that is created on them can awaken these buildings out from a coma, giving the festival it’s name – Komafest.

Steve Powers. Click to view large.

What I found inspiring about this project was the way the invited artists responded to the place. Each artist had some idea of what they might experience but in most cases their preconceptions soon changed once they began to speak to the locals and learn more about their environment. According to local fisherman Aksel Robertsen, Philadelphian artist Steve Powers had many ideas planned but scrapped them as soon as he began to meet the people and experienced the place for himself – all those encounters shaped his final murals; such as “Cod is Great” and “Eternal Light – Eternal Night”. The French artist Remed painted a mural on an old seafront warehouse, which took some of its imagery from the seascape but included the text Hellige Heks Fortuna, (Hellige Heks means Holy Witch in Norwegian). This references to witches dates back to the Vardø witch trials that were held there in 17th century resulting in many of the accused being burned alive at the stake.

Remed. Click to view large.

More after the jump… Continue reading “Waking up Vardø”

WALL\THERAPY 2012 – Rochester’s mural festival

Thievin’ Stephen

WALL\THERAPY is a mural event in Rochester, NY being put together by, Dr. Ian Wilson and The Synthesis Collaborative, the same people who organized last year’s Visual Intervention. This year, artists from Rochester and around the world will be painting as part of WALL\THERAPY: Faith47, DALeast, Ben Eine, Liqen, Case, ROA, Cern, St. Monci, Mr. Prvrt, Thievin’ Stephen, How & Nosm and Siloette.

The murals will be painted July 20th-27th, so that might be a fun time to visit Rochester.

For more information about WALL\THERAPY and events surrounding the festival, check their facebook event page.

Photo by Rich Paprocki