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.”
Since the UK graffiti writer Tox was sentenced to 27 months in prison a couple of weeks ago, there’s been some controversy drummed up about Tox between HurtYouBad, Don’t Panic, Channel4 and Ser. As I mentioned last month, Don’t Panic and Channel4 a hosting a competition where people could contribute design ideas and the winners could get their ideas made into a mural. Someone clever submitted a design by Tox. Naturally, that design got the most votes by a mile. And yet, he did not win. This thing did. HurtYouBad explains just how absurd that choice was. Oddly enough, while Ser was supposedly meant to be the judge who helped to determine the winner, he was overruled by the contest organizers. So I guess Channel4 and Don’t Panic didn’t actually want a competition. They just wanted some design ideas. By all rights, as silly as this competition might seem to many people, Tox should have won, if only to bring more attention to this absurd jail sentence.
So yeah, lame job Channel4. Don’t ask for street art and graffiti and then reject any real graffiti that you see. You could have helped draw attention to someone’s unjust legal troubles. Instead, you ignored him.
Well, it’s been quite a week for me at least. Here’s what I wasn’t posting about while I was busy breaking up fights…
Tox has been jailed for an absolutely insane sentence of 27 months for writing graffiti. There are not words the express who screwed up that sentence is. The British Transport Police claim Tox’s graffiti caused passenger delays, but sending him to jail for 27 months just costs taxpayers a boatload of money. Graffiti writers should receive sentences of community service and/or fines. Not jail time.
Normally I’d like to avoid doing a link-o-rama post in the middle of the week, but there have been a number of big stories to break in the last 24 hours or so, and since I’m in the middle of moving house, there’s no way I was going to be able to otherwise cover them in a timely manner. So here we go…
Liu Bolin, aka that artist who paints himself into landscapes and photographs himself sort of disappearing, has collaborated with Kenny Scharf on his latest piece at Kenny’s mural in NYC. Wooster Collective has that story.
Although Art in the Streets was supposed to move from MOCA in LA to the Brooklyn Museum next year, the Brooklyn museum has cancelled their iteration of the street art and graffiti show. They cite financial difficulties, but the show is set to break attendance records in LA, so that’s probably some BS to cover their asses. The show has already caused controversy in NYC, and there is speculation that the cancellation is due to political pressure and fears about that controversy. Hopefully a museum with some balls will pick up the show and it will still make it to NYC.
While Revok has left prison in LA this week a free man (but with thousands of dollars in legal debts, which you can help out with by buying a t-shirt), two English graffiti writers have been convicted for committing criminal damage. Daniel Halpin claims that he gave up writing graffiti years ago and imitators have since picked up his Tox tag, but the jury felt otherwise. Even Ben Eine came to Halpin’s defense as an expert on graffiti, claiming that the Tox tag is extremely easy to imitate. Halpin has already spent 150 days in custody for this latest arrest, and it sounds like he’ll be sentenced to even more time when the sentencing portion of the trial occurs. Daniel Fenlon was also convicted in the same set of trials for writing CK1. The Guardian has more on Halpin and Fenlon.
I’ll just say this: I don’t think that graffiti writers or street artists should get prison sentences for their non-violent actions. I’m a fan of restorative justice. Get these guys painting murals or buffing graffiti or doing community service of some sort. It would mean less money is spent on graffiti removal and less people would be in expensive-to-run prisons.
Tox, one of London’s best known writers, is actually releasing a screenprint. For years, Tox has written his tag along with the current year throughout London. He’s so notorious that he’s even made it into an exhibit at the transport museum and this Banksy canvas.
So this screenprint of TOX09 is an edition of 75, which can be bought at Souled-Out Studios for £75. Although Tox is a piece of London history, I’m not paying £75 for a screenprint of his tag. Of course, the speculation is the entire thing is just a joke, and I love to laugh at myself, but not to the tune of £75. If Tox wants to send me a free one though, I promise I’ll frame it and hang it in my room…
What do you think of Tox and his screenprint? Is it all fun and games? Are these going to be selling at Bonhams in 6 months? Are the people buying it just stupid?