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Chapter 35 - Grafitti and Street Art

Table of Contents:
  • Ben Eine and his street typography
  • Russian Murals and Graffiti
  • The Political Street Art in Bogotá

  • Introduction:

    Street art and Graffiti art are part of the modern urban scene that are developed in public spaces, and at times imply the unsanctioned art as opposed to the art accepted by the establishment. Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their works,  "street art" encompasses many other media and techniques, including: LED art, mosaic tiling, murals, stencil art, sticker art, street installations, wheatpasting, woodblocking, video projection, and yarn bombing. The motivations and objectives that drive street artists are as varied as the artists themselves.

    There is a strong current of activism and subversion in urban art. Street art can be a powerful platform for reaching the public, and frequent themes include adbusting, subvertising and other culture jamming, the abolishment of private property and reclaiming the streets. Some street artists use "smart vandalism" as a way to raise awareness of social and political issues. Other street artists simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork, while others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places. However the universal theme in most, if not all street art, is that adapting visual artwork into a format which utilizes public space, allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow. For these reasons street art is sometimes considered "post-graffiti" and sometimes even "neo-graffiti."  Street art can be found around the world and street artists often travel to other countries so they can spread their designs.

    The rise of graffiti as an art form

    Graffiti has become a common stepping stone for many members of both the art and design community in North America and abroad. Within the United States Graffiti Artists such as Mike Giant, Pursue, Rime, Noah and countless others have made careers in skateboard, apparel and shoe design for companies such as DC Shoes, Adidas, Rebel8 Osiris or Circa. Meanwhile there are many others such as DZINE, Daze, Blade, The Mac that have made the switch to gallery artists often times not even using their initial medium, spray paint. According to Marc Ecko, an urban clothing designer, who has been an advocate of graffiti as an art form; "Graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career."

    Of course, writing and painting pictures on the walls have a long history, but creation of modern spray paints and other coloring media have given a new impetus to this activity and have even raised it to the art status. Shortly after the death of Charlie Parker the great saxophone player in Jazz scene, whose nickname was "Bird", graffiti began to appear around New York with the words "Bird Lives". In Paris, during the student protests and general strike of May 1968 graffiti slogans such as L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire ("Boredom is counterrevolutionary") was sprayed on the walls. In the streets of London and Paris the Iranian dissidents graffiti of "Down with the Shah" was a familiar scene during the 1970s, and in the U.S. a popular graffiti during this time was the legend "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You".


    Becoming part of the profit making art establishment

    Street artists have challenged art by situating it in non-art contexts. The Graffiti in particular is usually associated with the anti-establishment. However, the aim of graffiti or street art is not to change the definition of an artwork, but rather to question the existing environment with its own language. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by aesthetic values without being imprisoned by them. Nevertheless, some artists have become part of the main stream. For instance, graffiti artists Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 took hip hop graffiti to Paris and London as part of the New York City Rap Tour in 1983.

    The emergence of the new stencil graffiti genre around 1981 by graffiti artist Blek le Rat in Paris was another landmark in the recognition of this art form and by 1985 stencils had appeared in other cities including New York City, Sydney and Melbourne, where they were documented by American photographer Charles Gatewood and Australian photographer Rennie Ellis. In 1981, Washington Project for the Arts held an exhibition entitled Street Art, which included John Fekner, Fab Five Freddy and Lee Quinones working directly on the streets. Fekner, a pioneer in urban art, is included in Cedar Lewisohn’s book Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution, which accompanied the 2008 Street Art exhibition at the Tate Modern in England, of which Lewisohn was the curator.

    Advertising for multinational corporations

    With the popularity and legitimization of graffiti has come a level of commercialization. In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign in Chicago and San Francisco which involved people spray painting on sidewalks a peace symbol, a heart, and a penguin (Linux mascot), to represent "Peace, Love, and Linux." However due to illegalities some of the "street artists" were arrested and charged with vandalism, and IBM was fined more than US$120,000 for punitive and clean-up costs. In 2005, a similar ad campaign was launched by Sony and executed by TATS CRU in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Miami to market its handheld PSP gaming system. In this campaign, taking notice of the legal problems of the IBM campaign, Sony paid building owners for the rights to paint on their buildings "a collection of dizzy-eyed urban kids playing with the PSP as if it were a skateboard, a paddle or a rocking horse." Keith Haring was another well-known graffiti artist who brought Pop Art and graffiti to the commercial mainstream. In the 1980s, Haring opened his first Pop Shop: a store that offered everyone access to his works—which until then could only be found spray-painted on city walls. Pop Shop offered commodities like bags and t-shirts. Haring explained that, "The Pop Shop makes my work accessible. It's about participation on a big level, the point was that we didn't want to produce things that would cheapen the art. In other words, this was still art as statement".

    BLU, the Italian Street Artist

    Blu is an Italian street artist from Bologna. His graffiti art, using spray paint appeared in 1999. He gradually developed his own distinct style with house paint. Using rollers mounted on top of telescopic sticks, he depicts monstrous degenerated characters with a dark sense of humor.

    In 2004, his work was noticed by some art galleries which offered him solo-exhibitions. He has said of his work;
    my painting are reflecting more than what I could say with words. Personally I try live without making violence on anyone. I see two really dangerous things in the world: fear and rage. Everyone can be easily controlled through these emotions, especially in this historical moment.


    The giant trompe-l’oeil frescoes  of Patrick Commecy  

    Behind these giant wall paintings, on the Puy-en-Velay basin in the Saint-Jean district, at the bottom of Boulevard de la République, in Brives-Charensac not far from the church square or even on Aurec-sur -Loire, that tell stories, most often linked to local heritage, is  L’atelier A. Fresco, a workshop specializing in the subject, made up of muralist painters under the artistic direction and manager: Patrick Commecy. 

    In the space of four decades, Patrick Commecy and his team have widely expressed their art and know-how throughout France. The hot air balloons, the Notre-Dame statue, the cathedral and even the Corneille rock create a real colorful identity card for Puy-en-Velay.

    Street Art in Tehran

    Until recently, graffiti art had no place in the official contemporary art scene of Iran. Once upon a time, there was a parallel world with its own rules, concerns, and of course internal competition. Nevertheless, due to the global model as well as the ever-increasing development of the art market in Iran and the attractions related to gallery exhibitions, graffiti art in Iran is gradually being integrated into the programming of art galleries. There have already been a few graffiti art festivals and open calls that seem to have been well received by some artists.

    Mirza Hamid's identity is unknown and he is often nicknamed "Iran's Banksy" in his country. 

    Over the past decade, his works have been exhibited in the bustling streets and alleys of Tehran, and he occasionally visits other cities. To date, he has created several hundred murals. 

    Hamid uses only ancient red earth as his medium, the exact same timeless medium used in ancient cave paintings.  Against the backdrop of the vast and modern city of Tehran, he paints on unique buildings selected with a careful eye, both historical and modern architecture, and takes us to the seeds of desire for art. 

    Mehdi Ghadyanloo

    He is perhaps the most famous Iranian  artist of the post-revolution Iran. To some a rebel, to others a cop-out. At times opinionated, he is galvanizing and thought provoking    and at other times  outrageously funny and irreverent. Since 2006 when Ghadyanloo made his name with his trademark minimalist  surreal  dream-like art in public spaces - on walls of Tehran's high-rises and office buildings   - his works have attracted  a huge following.

    "Graffiti is illegal here in Iran, like in many other countries, so graffiti artists in Tehran work at nights. We have very good underground street artist [network]," Ghadyanloo explained to HuffPost. "As for other art fields, the economy in visual art and painting is a little better than it was eight years ago during the [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad presidency, but it all depends on economic boycotts against Iranian nuclear enrichment."  
    I wish to paint every village around the world with the help of children. From Iran to Afghanistan to Africa - I want us to paint on walls around the world whilst smiling and enjoying life. Similarly, I started a small foundation named Happiness Instate with my university students, which opened a school in a village.

    Street Art in Berlin

    Since the early 1970s, Berlin, the German capital, has become gradually a blank canvas for graffiti artists from around the world, who have “bombed” the city more than anywhere else in Europe. 'Bombed' is, of course, the street artists' slang for graffiti.

    The city's graffiti culture is rooted in West Berlin's Kreuzberg district, a radical enclave surrounded on three sides by the Berlin Wall. At the end of the Second World War much of Kreuzberg lay in ruins. At least 42 percent of its living-spaces and two-thirds of its businesses were destroyed. The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 accelerated this decay. Private building activity came almost to a halt and public building was restricted to a few individual projects. The Berlin Wall dramatically marginalized Kreuzberg within the city, with many of its streets now coming absurdly to an end against the concrete barrier. The District was part of the American-occupied sector of West Berlin, which as a consequence of the wall transformed into a bustling community of radical youth, aggrieved Turkish immigrants-- called Gastarbeiter who only now are becoming Deutschtürken, and West German draft resisters during the Cold War.

    A bohemian lifestyle blossomed, with miles of wall space and little police scrutiny, graffiti flourished. Until the end of 1980s, it was only the west side of the Berlin Wall which was 'bombed', while the east face of the Wall remained clean and gray under the watchful eyes of the notorious Stasi police, but then after the reunification of Germany the area's ramshackle buildings and blind walls of Mitte, Friedrichshain and other gray neighborhoods gave rise to a vibrant street art scene. The best known location for graffiti, East Side Gallery, with a 1.3 kilometer long segment of the dismantled Berlin wall located between Warchauer Strasse and the Hauptbahnhof, known as the longest open-air gallery in the world, now displaying graffiti from over 118 artists from around the world, among them; Test the Best, portraying a GDR Trabant breaking through the Wall, and the Mortal Kiss, featuring a lip-locked Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev.

    Mortal Kiss, by Dimitri Vrubel, Berlin Wall

    "Test the Best" by Birgit Kinder, Berlin Wall

    Graffiti may be vandalism and is not exactly legal, but it is paradoxically recognized as a legitimate art form and even regarded as an integral component of Berliner Strassenkultur, and with UNESCO’s designation of Berlin as the City of Design, it has become awfully difficult for the Rotes Rathaus, the Red City Hall, to try to end the bombing of the city. Of course, Rotes Rathaus is the nickname the Berlin citizens have given to their City Hall, but not because the liberally minded authorities’ are promoting graffiti as a source of income generating tourism for their heavily indebted city. The name is inspired by the reddish color of its brick walls.

    Street art has become part of the economic fabric of the city, with galleries like Cc:room, located in Mitte, Berlin’s famous gallery quarter, founded by Johann Haehling von Lanzenauer and Dirk Staudinger in the 1990s. It has changed its name to Circleculture gallery in 2006, providing exhibition space for sub-cultural movements including street art. Retail stores like Overkill, have been inspired by the Berlin underground lifestyle and with the urban culture development in music, fashion and street culture since the OVERKILL graffiti magazine was founded in 1992. The store's motto is 'Sneakers & Graffiti’ and selling both in the same store with the best selection of the bombing paraphernalia such as spray cans, markers, safety masks, aerosol caps, sketch pads with outlines of subway cars and urban wear brands like New Balance, Adidas, Nike, Puma and focusing on small T-Shirt labels like Lemar & Dauley, Married To The Mob, Orchard Street and similar brands.

    Bombing of Berlin's train stations by One United Power -- aka 1UP

    One United Power, aka 1UP, is a Berlin based graffiti crew that applies its 'bombing' tactics with guerrilla-type approach. Despite the grave consequences, the crew has challenged the city’s anti-graffiti laws and raising the bar for Berlin's graffiti “bombers”. They have inspired the 2011 documentary, “Unlike U – Train Writing in Berlin.” Clad in dark colored hoodies and ski masks, they occupy a train station, or invade with a military precision a train, pull the emergency break, lock the doors, and while the bewildered passengers watching paint their tag within a span of two or three minutes before the arrival of the polizei.

    Street Art in Posen

    Śródka is a historical neighborhood in the city of Poznań in western Poland, and the mural was made to commemorate when the settlement gained its “city rights” in 1231. It was incorporated into the city of Poznań in 1800. The name Śródka remains from the Polish word środa, “Wednesday,” for a market that used to be held there on that day.

    The Polish Street Artist  Natalia Rak has created this stunning piece in  the city of Bialystok for the Folk On The Street Festival.

    El Bocho; The observed observer

    El Bocho is a Berlin based artist, who has been active since 1997. El Bocho considers himself as an observed observer, who is big on capturing the psychological perception of fear and insecurity in the city. He has commented on his street art at Hackesche Höfe “Manchmal seh ich Liebe, wo garkeine ist” (“Sometimes i can see the love where no love is”. For him it is important to reach and have visual dialogue with the audience outside the art establishment. He reflects on the reactions of the viewers and responds to them in his subsequent works. El Bocho has appeared in various national or international books, magazines, newspapers, exhibitions and tv shows.

    El Bocho at work


    Please come back Linda!

    Berlin based artist Roland Bruecker rose to fame in 2003 with his ex girlfriend's poster campaign. In that year posters of a boy bemoaning the loss of his Linda, began to appear on walls and fences in the Friedrichshain district.

    The boy's plight captured the hearts and minds of the Berliners as he wrote poignant love messages all over the city lamenting the loss of Linda, asking citizens to help him get Linda back. Each image featured a saturnine and lonesome lover asking “Where’s Linda?”

    Linda never came back as the whole campaign was a hoax. Roland Brueckner is now a celebrated artist.

    MTO, Portrait of a great humanist

    Berlin based, French born graffiti artist MTO is a social activist who has courageously campaigned for humanistic causes such as opposing the French police brutality against Roma, and Nicholas Sarkozy’s demagoguery in fighting the innocent Gypsy families and travelers (Gens du Voyage). He correctly predicted the demise of Sarkozy in the French election.


    "MTO" stands for Mateo, and according to him "'s not really such a stretch of the imagination. It did make me laugh however when I found out that "MTO" is also, among others thing, the name of a graffiti cleaning company!"
    I am French, I live in Berlin and started spraying on May 19, 2008 in Barcelone with Arone, the creator of TWE crew. He's my "godfather" in graffiti in some way, since it was he who first encouraged me to start spraying. Our initial friendship was unrelated to graffiti, he offered to take me spraying a couple of times to see what it was like, but I always declined. I had never seriously considered practicing graffiti, although I had already been following the graffiti and street art news for quite some years. However when we went to visit Barcelona together one time he finally got me to try it, and I was hooked.

    Banksy and Mr Brainwash: publicity stunts, and commercial successes

    Banksy is not a graffiti artist in the strict sense, but a caricaturist, who draws his caricatures on walls and is known for his numerous publicity stunts; such as leaving an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo prisoner in Disneyland, California, hanging a version of the Mona Lisa (with a smiley face) in the Louvre, Paris, or keeping his true identity as a jealously guarded secret, known to only a handful of trusted friends. His trademark stencil-style 'guerrilla' art in public spaces - on walls in London, Brighton, Bristol and even on the West Bank barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians was a platform for his art that is now sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds. In his early years Banksy's work was imaginative and edgy, but with the fame he moved towards pure vulgarity and poor taste. In 2008, his true identity was disclosed by the Mail ; as Robin Gunningham, a native of Bristol, England, who was born in 1974, and whose middle-class upbringing bears little resemblance to Banksy's renegade persona.
    Banksy's fame started in 2005 when he did a graffiti on Israel’s West Bank dividing wall. His commercial success has been the subject of a documentary film called Exit Through the Gift Shop , in which Banksy supposedly takes over from a naive French filmmaker Thierry Guetta, who was trying to make a documentary about Banksy and Street Art but was unable to finish it. Using Guetta's footage, Banksy redirect the documentary towards Thierry Guetta and Street Art, suggesting to Guetta that he should become a street artist. Guetta obliged and adopted the moniker: ‘Mr. Brainwash’, and inspired by his subjects, he started hitting the streets, from LA to Paris, with spray painted stencils and posters of his pop art inspired images. He rapidly emerged as a renowned figure on the international street art scene. In June 2008, Mr. Brainwash made his art show debut with one of Los Angeles's most memorable solo exhibitions; Life is Beautiful, held at the historic CBS Studios on Sunset Boulevard. In addition to his widely recognized images, Life is Beautiful featured larger than life installations which included a 20-foot robot made of old televisions, a life-size recreation of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and a pyramid made from 20,000 books. Originally scheduled to open for only two weeks, the exhibit was extended for three months, attracting more than 30,000 visitors.
    Mr. Brainwash's work continued to garner recognition from art collectors and street-art enthusiasts alike. By 2009, Madonna approached him to design the cover of her greatest hits compilation entitled, Celebration. In addition to the CD album, Mr. Brainwash created 15 different covers for the accompanying vinyls, singles and DVD releases. On February 14th 2010, Mr. Brainwash made his New York solo debut as he unveiled Icons, a 15,000 square-foot exhibition in the heart of Manhattan's Meatpacking District. The show featured paintings and silk screens of world icons, portraits of music legends constructed of broken records and large-scale sculptural installations such as a giant boom box and a NYC cab in a life-sized Matchbox packaging. The sold-out show was extended until early May 2010. Not only were major collectors acquiring Mr Brainwash's works but also prestigious auction houses including Christie's and Phillips.

    Mona Caron  
    Mona Caron is a San Francisco-based artist focusing primarily on creating murals in public space. Mona's works designed for the street include the WEEDS project, a metaphor about resilience; as well as ultra-site-specific and community-immersive narrative murals reflecting the past, present, and future imaginaries of their neighborhood; her art-ivism with social movements; and several works in collaboration with kindred-spirited artists.

    Jade Uno: A graffiti and street-art artist from Peru

    Ben Eine and his street typography

    Ben Flynn, his work under signature "Eine", was born in 1970 in London, England. One of London’s most prolific and interesting street artists, Eine is known for his street typography . He started as vandal when he was fifteen, leaving his first tag all over London before eventually developing a distinct typographic style. His bright, colorful letters have been painted on the street walls around in many cities, among them Los Angels , San Francisco, Paris, Dublin, Tokyo, Stockholm and London.

    Eine has exhibited at White Walls gallery in San Francisco, and his works was included in the biggest exhibition of street art to date “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Los Angeles. David Cameron has presented one of Eine's works to President Obama as a gift on his first official state visit. The Middlesex Street in London, which is decorated with his trademark colours and typography is described by The Times as “a street now internationally recognized as a living piece of art with direct links to The White House.”

    Russian Murals and Graffiti

    Graffito “Worker”. Narvskaya square. Saint-Petersburg.

    Mosaic “Chemist”. Dobrolubova prospect. Saint-Petersburg.

    Astrological Signs, Mosaic by Anopova V,Saint-Petersburg

    Soviet Union used murals as means of propaganda. However, with the demise of the regime these large propaganda panels in their historical context are now considered as art objects, mainly because the artists who created these works understood the aesthetically balanced compositions, and they tried genuinely to create authentic art. 

    Russian graffiti has appeared  shortly after the Soviet era, and has been accepted by the pubic as a new art form, with various cities  holding graffiti festivals and inviting various artists to participate.

    Graffiti festival in St. Petersburg , 2008
    Graffiti festival, Moscow, 2007

    Given the bitter cold of winters in Russia, most graffiti artists begin to work in the early spring. According to some estimates in Moscow alone there are some 100 graffiti artists whose works are aesthetically admirable. The Russian street art tends to gravitate towards photorealistic style. The street artists may be categorize divided into those who are officially sanctioned by the authorities to create decorative images in the public buildings, a practice that has its historical root in the old Soviet Union. The second category is constituted by the free-spirit artists whose works are considered vandalism, but often contain a political message, protesting against some social injustice. Some of these artists work during the bitter cold of winters. Since 2009, the Moscow authorities have shown some interest in the street art, and have allocated certain public places to this art . Pavel Puhov, who signs his graffiti works P-183, or “Pavel 183″ and has been referred to as “the Russian Banksy” is apparently belongs to a new category, whose sophisticated political message is tolerated by the authorities, perhaps as part of the re-branding efforts in portraying Moscow as a liberal western metropolis. He has made videos of his graffiti art in which he sets fire to a large-scale graffiti portrait of a protester, or installs life-sized decals of riot police to subway station doors, which commuters by pushing the doors apparently push the police aside in a gesture of defiance. He also has made some pop art style work like his giant-scale chocolate bar Alenka, which reminds Warhol's Campbell Soup.



    The Political Street Art in Bogotá

    In Bogotá, Colombia graffiti is an expected art form for the masses. Here numerous street artists are participating in urban dialogues through visual communications.

    Colombian street art has turned into a powerful artistic tool for the marginalized youth. Graffiti gives these disenfranchised poor members of the society a voice to participate with their own discourse in the public space to challenge the dominant forces of white, conservative upper-class that distort the grim reality of lives of mainly black, and indigenous lower class. Other Colombian artists are ordinary middle class citizen who are making art for social change, trying to cultivate a common consciousness for a more egalitarian and just society

    Many of the artists have become renowned like DJ Lu whose spray-can serves as a political weapon. Toxicómano, a punk-rock inspired collective, uses street art to combat “…stupidity, ignorance, simple and double morale, good customs, faith and order…”. In Los Feos Somos Más (We the Ugly are the Majority), Toxicómano challenges the underlying values that dictate dominant definitions of Colombian beauty. Mainstream Colombian society definition of “beauty”.

    Selected Works

    WD (Wild Drawing) in Athens, Greece

    STMTS in Bologna, Italy

    EIME in Beja / Portugal

    Lula Goce in Valencia, Spain

    Regue Mateos, Spain by @stARTer

    MACS & ETNIK collaboration in Italy

    JDL wall in Malaysia
    Violant mural of Prof. Hawkins in Alferrarede in Portugal. Fotografia de Ricardo Rodrigues

    GLEO mural in Sau Paulo, Brazil

    A beautiful mural based on Persian miniature on a building in Tehran. ------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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