This last years of economic crisis have taken a toll in all sectors and, even though Christies’s or Sotheby’s have broken historical auction records, the fact is that art has suffered a lot. Many are the galleries that have been forced to lock down because poor sales couldn’t cover expenses. Perhaps this crisis background has encouraged the street as the new showcase for those who feel a greater passion for art, an avid creativity and don’t need other materials beyond the ones within reach.
Although it is still inevitable for many people to associate urban art or street art with vandalism, let’s not forget that in most countries it is illegal, the truth is that our mind is changing about it. It is somewhat paradoxical the fact that many artists are piling up fines for performing works without permission and pay them thanks to the restoration of public spaces curated by the city councils that sanction them. And even if this is as it should be, it is such the rise of urban art, becoming better known and supported by citizens, that many cities are trying to control this activity. As an example, Buenos Aires’s council provides the artists with permissions so that they can use public spaces to express themselves without costing them more money than the material needed to develop their work.
We won’t cease in our effort to learn more about this artistic movement and to share our discoveries with the reader. In our previous article Seven reasons to believe in urban art we glimpsed our weakness for street art and in this post we’ll dig in it a bit more, as there are many artists devoted to it, and each one has his or her own style. Following we will give some brief examples of the different kind of urban art styles that we can find. Our goal here is not to tag anyone but to explain the many forms or arts that any citizen can see on their city walls.
When we talk about urban art it is very usual to mix up simple signatures that we find in many city spots with street art. To a greater extent urban art doesn’t get its due recognition for this fact. It is quite common to find signatures spoiling local facades or shop windows that bring nothing more than ego to its creator. We won’t consider this graffiti nor street art but vandalism. We want to claim that urban art is creative, is constructive, it requires great skills and has its aim in the audience.
Urban art has its essence in using murals or walls from any city as a medium for its creations. But as we consider the subject or technique of the work, we can talk about one or other type of street art.
Considering the subject
Also known as graffiti tagging, it is the origin of street art. In the 60s Darryl McCray made the first painting using his alias Cornbread to win the love of a girl filling the city of Philadelphia with a sentence that said "Cornbread loves Cynthia". He finally got the girl and also drew the attention of the press, so he decided to continue stamping his name and created a trend. He was the first, but since then graffiti has greatly evolved. Current artists explore the signature development, in shape and colour and because of that, they deserve our attention. The biggest Banksy's public "enemy", King Robbo, is a clear example of graffiti tagging. English Ben Eine, has developed this graffiti style to a point where his work is focused in a font created by the artist, and studies it according to the letters composition in different colours, shades and shapes.
Many are the artists that have caused controversy and stir through their works. Well known is the case of Banksy who has become the maximum standard of this style. But this is not something new; artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring showed their critique to racism and homophobia in the streets of New York. The Berlin Wall, while it was standing, became a canvas on which to fight against the Cold War. Blek le Rat, considered the father of stencil graffiti, is another example of an artist who uses street art for social criticism. In fact Banksy himself acknowledges the influence of this artist: "every time I think I've done something minimally original I find out that Blek le Rat has done the same, only 20 years before." Also well known for his activism is the artist Shepard Fairey, whom express in his works his dissent towards environmental issues, his concerns about the violation of human rights or shows his support for public figures in situations of injustice like Ai Weiwei or Aung San Suu Kyi.
Many urban artists create their works to express their emotions and transmit them to the viewer. These don't have a direct message beyond the personal sense that each individual finds. The vast majority of these artworks are located in abandoned and decaying spaces and thanks to them this places come back to life and recover a meaning. For example, the Norwegian artist Martin Whatson has a predilection for these spaces and we can certainly say that his work gets back the beauty that those lost in time. Artists like Snik seek large murals to create larger works that definitely beautify the urban landscape.
Abstraction has its place in the urban art. Artists like José Parlá or Smash137 already have a great appreciation among art collectors and their work has been exhibited in major galleries. Calligraphy and spray paint derive in strokes, lines and shapes that intertwine with the medium.
The signature and abstraction get fused in this type of works that seem to want to get out of the wall. The effect produced by the work of artists like Daim and Peeta is truly amazing. With impressive skills in the use of spray, they create shapes, colours and shades that deceive our eyes, achieving a spectacular optical effect.
Considering the media
As mentioned above, Blek le Rat was the first to use templates to capture his creations on the streets of Paris. Since this is an illegal act, perhaps to avoid being caught by the authorities, this technique grew out of the necessity. The work is prepared in advance and once chosen the site, the artist just has to spray it into the medium with the use of templates. Artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Mr. Brainwash are now the most popular. Other artists such as Martin Whatson or Snik use this technique and then add their own hand-finishing. The artist Roamcouch leads this technique to the limit and his works require a large number of templates that, once overlapped, create an extremely detailed and elaborated image.
Basically the artist previously creates stickers that are then placed in different parts of the city. The term refers to a "bombardment" precisely because the artist does not purport to capture a single image but seeks to "invade" the city with a large number of them. This ensures to draw attention as if it was a marketing campaign. Most artists who use this technique do it to make themselves known and gain notoriety. Shepard Fairey himself achieved much of his fame by sticking images of Andre the Giant in many cities of the United States.
In this case, with the help of a chisel or a similar instrument the artist rips out the material in the wall to create the image. Portuguese artist Vhils or Madrid based group Boa Mistura are good examples of the use of this technique.
It is increasingly common to see in some cities discordant elements in street furniture. This is not vandalism, these are installations that artists like the Madrilenian SpY have set in front of our eyes. Sometimes they simply modify street furniture and other times the just add elements that baffle us. This is definitely a good way to get to the most observant citizen.
Recovering the art of Ancient Rome artists such as the French Invader have created their work from small slabs that combined together make up an image.
Regarding the technique, this method is based in the free use of spray paint so the artist just plays with his or her own skills to create the work.
Most of these urban artists have released their own prints. Using this media they have reached an even wider audience and there are many that own limited edition serigraphs and lithographs and enjoy them in their homes. It is not necessary to live in Los Angeles to see the work of Mr. Brainwash, visiting Paris to be surprised by Invader mosaics or going to Norway to enjoy Whatson's creations. We can acquire printed work by these artists, for example, at Artetrama.