Shepard Fairey released some prints using diamond dust, which is quite interesting. As the press release says, “Perhaps most famously used by Andy Warhol, who understood perfectly how to convey a message, Diamond Dust was used to add glamour, transforming ordinary images into coveted objects. The material aligns with Shepard’s work and interest in the seduction of advertising and consumerism. Diamond Dust, literally and metaphorically is superficial, applied to the surface of the print, the luminous effect is both beautiful and alluring.” But it’s one of those things that just gets me thinking about how the art world, much like capitalism, seems so good at absorbing critique and spitting at back out as product. People love the meaningless OBEY icon, so Shepard sells it. Shepard needs to make more product to continue selling to this market he has created, so he takes an old design (or a slight variant, I’m not positive), and adds meaningless diamond dust to it and sells it as something new. The best critiques participate in the system which they critique, but that’s a risky game to play. Of course, I say all this with a print by Shepard hanging on my wall.
OldWalls is a project where the photographer took photos of graffiti in the early 1990’s and recently returned to those spots to take the exact same shots, and then each matching photo is displayed next to its counterpart.
Faile are working on a huge project with the New York City Ballet. It sounds like a bit of a strange collaboration at first, but I’m excited to see the results. It seems like this has given Faile an opportunity to develop new work in a direction that they would have otherwise never gone, and the results that have been teased so far look strong.
I might have asked this question before, but can someone please explain the appeal of Barry McGee’s recent Brooklyn mural to me? The first of the videos here has some info about it, but I need more. McGee has previously stated his objections to painting so-call beautifying murals. The only time in recent memory that I can recall seeing anything similar to the Brooklyn mural is the one he painted a few years ago in Miami, but even that piece included a fair bit of traditional graffiti. Plus, the Brooklyn mural was painted by the billboard painting company Colossal. I’ve got no problem with artist assistants or anything like that, but the whole thing strikes me as McGee just saying “Sure, if Cadillac wants to pay me a bunch of money to license one of my images and hire someone else to paint it on a building, I’ll take that paycheck.” And hey, more power to the guy if he can get Cadillac to pay him for that, but is that all that’s going on here or am I missing something? Has McGee’s philosophy about public art changed?
Last month, I was at the Living Walls Conference in Atlanta, but it’s only now that I’ve really had a chance to sit down and write about it. I thought that I was going to write this really long post, but the environment at Living Walls is difficult to capture in words, so this post isn’t nearly as long as I would have hoped.
Living Walls is, as far as I can tell, the best mural conference/festival/program going on right now in North America. Living Walls doesn’t tend to just invite all the artists who are painting at other mural events around the world. They invite good artists. Sometimes those artists are guys like Roa who are everywhere, and sometimes it’s women like Miso who have only ever painted one or two murals. As a result, Living Walls sets trends among mural festivals.
For their main conference this year, Living Walls really bucked popular trends and tried to put street art on a new track by having a festival made up almost entirely of female muralists. While guys like Gaia, LNY and I were still invited to speak at the lecture and panel portion of the conference, the murals by Lex&Sten and Indigo&Andrzej Urbanski were the only two where male artists were contributing.
While the murals weren’t as amazing on the whole as they were last year and the crowd of artists wasn’t nearly as rowdy (although that might have been a plus), this year’s Living Walls did bring some great work to Atlanta and really showed that there are some underrated female street artists and muralists out there who could be on the mural circuit as much as guys like Jaz or Roa. My hope and expecting is that the top-tier of artists from the conference will get more attention brought to their work thanks to Living Walls and some will start getting invited to a lot more mural festivals. As I’ve said in the past, I do not generally get excited to give artists preferential treatment based on them belonging to some underrepresented group, but I can see why an all-female Living Walls may have been the right move for this year even if the quality of the work did drop slightly.
This Living Walls conference had more artists than ever before who were either more on the community mural side of the spectrum or had never painted a mural before. The results of that move were mixed, but there were some artists like Jessie&Katey and Mon Iker who took the opportunity and absolutely crushed it.
One thing I have to add isn’t so much about the art though. Whether Living Walls were inviting only artists that none of us have ever heard of before or stealing their line-up from Nuart, it would still be at least one of the best mural conferences in the world. That’s because Living Walls’ secret is in their amazing staff. Living Walls has best team of volunteers of any mural festival I’ve ever seen or could imagine. They are unbelievably dedicated to the festival and to getting more world-class street art and murals in Atlanta. Every day, the media team led by Alex Parrish was up until something like 4am putting together a video of what had gone on that day, and then they’d be back up at 7am to start filming all over again. Just last week, I was emailing with Keif Schleifer, their Logistics Director, who was spending her free time advising me on cherry-pickers. The day of the Vandalog Movie Night, volunteers showed up out of the blue to help us set up and run the show. Laura Calle and pretty much everyone else on staff who spent their own money to pay for the gas to drive myself and the artists around Atlanta. The drag queen who was a volunteer last year and this year helped arrange a drag show for the Living Walls Block Party. The artist assistants who stand in the hot sun alongside their artists all day long, offering any help they can. And of course, Monica Campana, the Executive Director of Living Walls, who is the amazing glue holding everything together without ever sleeping or slowing down. Everyone on staff or volunteering at Living Walls works at least as hard as the artists, and they were certainly working harder than me. After visiting two years in a row for just a few days each time, it honestly feels like I have family in Atlanta.
Ollystudio’s book Stencil Republic does not attempt to remind readers of how awesome Blek and Banksy are, or of the importance of John Fekner. Rather, Stencil Republic highlights some of the current favorite stencil street artists (such as A10ne, Run Don’t Walk, Sten & Lex, A*C Alto Contraste, Sr. X, Chris Stain, and more) as it attempts to embrace and delineate the scene as it stands today. As Aiko explains in her intro, stencils have become such a widely embraced tool of expression that many stencil-artists are a flash in the pan, with few maintaining a lasting presence in the scene. Rather than heralding the history-makers, Stencil Republic focuses on the top stencil-cutters of the moment, resulting in a refreshing mixture of strong work by well-known and not-so-well-known stencil artists.
One of the more outstanding and controversial aspects of this book is that, with each introduction to an artist, readers are presented with a laser cut stencil of the artist’s design. While the quality of these stencils are impressive, and in my opinion, what sets this book above others of its kind, I can imagine some contention arising in response to giving the public twenty replica stencils by artists who are potentially still putting up these same works. In a way this controversy is reminiscent of Tox’s court case, where his key defense was the fact that anyone could replicate his tag. By agreeing to participate in Ollystudio’s book, have the artists in Stencil Republic signed on to a sort of vandal-insurance should they ever get caught putting up work illegally?
As I showed some friends this book, I inquired as to whether they, as both the audience of the work and as potential participants in it’s distribution, felt that the artists’ “credit” was being challenged, or thought that “credit” even mattered at all. It seemed that the grassroots understanding of street art was that its intent is to beautify an environment or to spread an idea but not necessarily to proliferate an identity, in contrast to graffiti. In this sense, this book should help to spread street art. But again, this question of identity vs. credit came up, seeing as this was something that each artist who participated in this book needed to consider before agreeing to relinquish the right to recreate and distribute their work to the public. I’m curious if “credit” mattered to them; whether they thought that the public would still know the design was theirs, and whether the person who physically puts a piece up is actually significant to the piece itself. Take the “OBEY” campaign for example: though it started as the individual efforts of Shepard Fairey, the ubiquity of the Andre the Giant icon grew to outstanding proportions when the task of getting the image up was taken over by any willing participant.
I am not bringing up these questions as a criticism of the quality of Ollystudio’s product. Actually, these dilemmas would not exist if these stencils were not so exquisitely cut. I would recommend purchasing this book for a few reasons: 1. It’s a good conversation piece on appropriation of art; 2. You really should get to know these current artists – they’re talented; 3. It is a splendid reminder that vandalizing is fun (but don’t do that -blah blah- legal disclaimer).
The work of Baltimore-based artist Nanook has been appearing around the world a bit lately. Here’s work of his in Italy, Germany and Canada. His mural in Foligno, Italy with Ever is part of Attack Festival, which looks like they will have more artists coming to Foligno through September including Ericailcane, Sten&Lex and Moneyless.
The small town of La Louvière, in Belgium is host to a brilliant Urban Art exhibition being held at “Centre de la Gravure et de’limage imprimée” (The Center for Engraving and the Printed Image). Showing through September 2, 2012, “Vues sur Murs” (Wallscapes: Prints in Street Art) features an impressive list of international artists, many making new work specifically for this exhibit and also hitting the town with huge pieces.
Invader, C215, Jef Aérosol, EVOL, Ludo, Denis Meyers, Obêtre, Muga, Doctor-H, Sten & Lex, Swoon and OBEY (Shepard Fairey) are all featured in this show which spans three floors of the gallery. The show’s curator, Marie Van Bosterhaut, had the seed of the idea in 2009 after seeing an OBEY print at the home of a collector. She contacted Fairey’s people for what was initially planned to be an OBEY retrospective…
“But then it appeared it might be more interesting to invite more artists using printing techniques in street art,” said Bosterhaut of the project’s evolution. “It was really great to have all these artists working inside the museum, and also outside. There was like a great energy.”
While some of the artists knew each other, others met for the first time. “This created some small surprises,” said Bosterhaut. Evidence of this is seen in one of the exhibition’s highlights located on the top floor. There, Berlin-based EVOL has transformed several structural columns, which protrude at various levels into the exhibition space. They now appear as EVOL’s signature-style buildings and “artists like Denis (Meyers) & Ludo made some tiny stencils or billboards, creating a kind of interaction between the artists,” Bosterhaut said.
Another highlight of the show is Brussels-based artist Denis Meyers. Mostly known for the large faces he paints, he also prints unique stickers and uses hand-made woodcuts and rubber stamps to produce a wide variety of work which all screams out with his signature style. Many of his sketchbooks are also on display as well as other elements which offer a peek into the artist’s process.
Long-time French favorite Jef Aérosol‘s large iconic work greets you at the entrance of the exhibit but some of his smaller, printed images are framed on the sides and offer a more intimate experience with the artist. Jef also hit the town, painting a three-story-tall face of rocker Jimi Hendrix.
In addition to his brilliant mini-billboard, the Paris-based paste-up master Ludo and his unmistakable green paint occupy a notable section of the top floor, including a full-scale bus shelter (crappy tags included.) For the real experience though, pick up the map supplied at the front desk and follow it to the various “treasures” left by artists around the city. Ludo has posted three large pieces out on the town.
A favorite of mine is “C215” (Christian Guémy.) The Parisian stencil artist painted a large mural for the show. There are also many photographs of his stencil works, and several other painted “objects,” including three mailboxes, a shoeshine box, and a metal sign among other things.
The pioneering Italian artistic duo of Sten & Lex display some of their strong, black & white portrait posters, but the real treat from them requires a 10 minute walk to a parking lot down the road a bit. There, a dramatic and elaborate composition of black & white zig-zagging lines reveal a face that fills the wall and towers over the cars and shopping carts.
Of course the anchor of the exhibition is an extensive collection of OBEY works by American artist Shepard Fairey. In addition to a short documentary video, the display spans his career from his quirky beginnings making “Andre the Giant has a posse” stickers, to the slick, celebrity and political-themed posters pumped out by the Obey Giant Worldwide Propaganda factory today. There are dozens of his limited-edition prints with their graphically-pleasing imagery, and even a trio of OBEY skateboard decks. A definite treat for any Fairey fan.
The show concentrates on the printing aspects of urban art but there’s a ton of other multi-media work to see there as well. Too much art to mention in this article, including great stuff by Invader, Obêtre, Muga, Doctor-H & Swoon.
IF YOU GO: Smack-dab in-between Paris & Cologne, La Louviere is about a two and-a-half hour drive from each, and just 45 minutes south of Brussels. Definitely worth the trip. But remember, it’s only showing through September 2, 2012 – so get going!
Photos by Lance Aram Rothstein (many of these photographs were shot with Film Cameras. Long Live Film!)
Open Walls Baltimore is a project that I have been personally coordinating with the not for profit Station North and is supported by the PNC foundation and a generous Our Town grant from the NEA. The intention is of course to produce great art on the streets and put on for my city that I love so much. Yet, of course, as every public art project must be, the OWB initiative will hopefully produce more than just spectacular murals. This is about an investment in a neighborhood that is burdened by 150 vacant homes and bridging the gaps between the artist community that calls Station North home and the residents of Greenmount West. Inspired by my experience with both Wynwood Walls in Miami and Living Walls in Atlanta, this initial and very exciting start will hopefully result in a continued support for public art and experimental intervention that can become more holistic as time moves forward. The current line up is as follows: Interesni Kazki, Maya Hayuk, Swoon, Specter, Doodles, Jaz, Ever, Freddy Sam, Mata Ruda, Nanook, MOMO, Vhils, Sten and Lex, Chris Stain, Jetsonorama, Overunder, and others. The website is now live. More to come!!!