Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat,
Coz summers here and the time is right for painting in the street.
(Apologies to Marvin Gaye/William “Mickey” Stevenson/Ivy Hunter)
Of course the list of cities where they are painting in the street is a bit longer than a few cities in the USA. Is there city in the world where there isn’t graffiti or street art? It would have to be the most repressive of police states and probably affluent without slums or other areas of neglect (e.g. empty factories). Nor could there be any indigenous tradition of wall painting. It is not Singapore, Iran or even the Vatican City (where there is both ancient and modern graffiti). In Tahiti there is Kreative Concept, l’association graffiti de Tahiti, representing Tahitian street artists. The site is in French (try Google translate) but has lots of photos as you might expect that require no translation. Requiring no translation is Cebu Street Art, from Cebu City in the Philippines. Of course we can just forget about war torn states like Somalia where a Canadian soldier reports “graffiti on everything”. I don’t know where there isn’t graffiti and I wouldn’t bet a dollar that any city in the world was graffiti free now.
As I explored the wide world of graffiti and street art I thought that I would to find more regional differences in this the most international of all art movements but there isn’t anything as obvious as that. The internet has made street art influences global even the cultural divisions of languages and alphabets is not significant in street art. The domination of English language in street art is surprising; even some francophone artists use English. It is disappointing that there aren’t more local references evident in global street art. Surely somewhere in the world traditional wall painting has merged with contemporary street art?
I have been reading, or rather looking at because it is ≈98% photographs, Nicholas Ganz Graffiti World – new edition (Thames & Hudson, 2009). I’m glad that I borrowed it from the library rather than buying it. Artists from the Americas and Europe occupy most of the book so the title is misleading. Although it mostly photographs with very short pieces of information about the artist and it does provide some small overviews of street art in various countries. For example, that Eastern bloc countries were late in developing a street art scene because of government bans on the sale of aerosol spray cans. And Nicholas Ganz reports that the first pieces have gone up in Burma and North Korea (p.374) addressing the question that I raised at the start. There are a few parochial features mentioned in Graffiti World like drawing on rail cars in oil chalk in Canada or the strategies of the some street artists from Brazil. I haven’t been able to compare it to the old edition (2004) but the list of Australian and Singaporean artists appears to have not been greatly revised in this new edition.
I came back from the final day of the 5th Melbourne Stencil Festival full of optimism for street art. There are more reasons to be optimistic beyond the 5th year of successful small street art festival; beyond increased public interest in street art and beyond the increasingly impressive multi-colored stencils. I am optimistic particularly about spirit of international cooperation and communication amongst street artists.
U.S. and Iranian diplomats are currently barely able to talk face to face. But U.S. and Iranian stencil artists can collaborate to create works of art at the Melbourne Stencil Festival. A1one, a stencil artist from Iran worked with US, German and Australian artists producing some beautiful pictures. (The art was then sold to benefit an Australian charity, the Collingwood Neighborhood House.)
To say that street art is a global art movement is not a sufficient description for the unparalleled increase in communications, travel and collaborations. The internet has been responsible for much of this communications but it takes trust and a generosity of spirit have to make it work.
Street art is a democratic force, not in terms of civil government but in the very human terms of giving a voice and artistic power to ordinary people. Street art gives a voice to people who cannot buy advertising space, property or political influence; young people, minorities and sub-cultures whose voices are frequently censored or ignored by the masses. The question in the back of all art history is not who painted the pictures but who owns the walls. It has often been remarked that great art follows empires, money and power and it has been the ambition and dream of radical artists to end this connection.
There are many other examples of the international reach of street art. Chor Boogie, an American aerosol artist participated in the 1st Street Painting Exhibit in Xi’an China this year. In my last entry Spray the Word I wrote about an exhibition of collaborations between Brazilian and Australian stencil artists and poets.
The geopolitical implications of street art should not be under estimated; it is truly remarkable for an art movement. Nor should it be over estimated; street art will not create global peace and harmony.
Deciding to complete my view of current street art exhibitions I bicycled to the The Library Artspace to see “Spray the Word”. The bicycle ride along the Upfield line in Brunswick and through the underpasses under Royal Parade was another exhibition of street art. Some of the pieces were so fresh that you smell the paint.
The GST crew has painted a colorful new piece north of Brunswick railway station. It is a beautiful piece with fantastic characters and creative use of aerosol techniques.
In the bicycle underpasses under Royal Parade the former railway tunnels have been decorated with graffiti; one a legal street art project, the other one anarchic.
“Spray The Word” is a collaboration between Australian and Brazilian stencil artists and poets. There is a delight in collaboration in street art; arranging contact between artists and is generally effective. Online electronic translators and virtual contact make international communication and collaboration possible.
There are about twenty images in the exhibitions all of them combing one-line poems are combined with stencil art images. The combination of text and images are natural for street art. Project coordinator James Waller and the rest of the team should be congratulated for assembling this exhibition.
Ozi, a stencil artist from Brazil has created some of the best images in the exhibition. His bold two-color stencils on the patterned surface of shower screen vinyl were slightly damaged as they were posted rolled up but these small paint chips adds to the image. I also particularly admired Satta van Daal’s ‘Femscape’ and his collaboration with Seldom in ‘POP’. Brazilian stencil artist Bette has a distinctive folk style.
The Library Artspace is in the former library of the former St. Joseph’s College in North Fitzroy. It doesn’t have any books and shelves left, just a glass-fronted office, a large flexible space and a smaller projection room. The Library Artspace is part of J-Studios where some of the exhibiting artists work.