Tag Archives: Revok

Paintspotting in America

Paintspotter, noun, definition: like a trainspotter but for people who look for street art and graffiti (a portmanteau word coined by Fletcher “Facter” Anderson, editor of Invurt).

Stencil Dumbo district NYC

Stencil Dumbo district NYC

I’ve recently returned from travelling in Canada, New York and Boston. When I visit other cities I am a stranger trying to get to know the place, finding the hidden places where street artists and graffiti writers like to work is even more challenging. I try to find a street art tour or a local who knows the scene but often this is not possible. I probably am not seeing the best locations for street art in these cities. Street art is such an insider’s game and that makes it difficult for a tourist to play. In this respect sticker art is the travelling paintspotter’s friend because it gives you a sample of local street art conveniently located on the backs of signs.

Railway graffiti Canada

Railway graffiti Canada

The way to see lots of graffiti is to travel by train. It is not a good way to photograph graffiti but it is a good way to see a lot (respect to all the Bridgeport writers). I did to train trips from Ottawa and Montréal and from NYC to Boston. The best graffiti that I saw in Canada was in Montréal’s plateau district; there were also a couple of impressive walls in London Ontario.

Wall, London, Ontario, Canada

Wall, London, Ontario, Canada

Street art in Montreal

Street art in Montreal

Of the notorious or famous artist whose work I saw Revok up high up in Montréal, Neckface high up in NYC’s Bowery, Shepard Fairey in the Bowery and a piece by Kenny Scharf in Chelsea – Scharf had an exhibition in a gallery just across the road but it was shut so I could only see it through the large windows.

Shepard Fairy Bowery NYC

Shepard Fairy Bowery NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Another way to find graffiti is to track down the art galleries and there will often be some street art and graffiti in the area. This rule proved true for NYC’s Dumbo district where I saw some of the best street art that I saw in NYC. I didn’t any further into Brooklyn but there was so so many things other that I wanted to see and do in NYC.

Graffiti Wall of Fame, Harlem, NYC

Graffiti Wall of Fame, Harlem, NYC

In Lonely Planet I read about the “Graffiti Hall of Fame”, a wall in NYC but when I got there it was small and capped. The other side of the wall was in better condition but less accessible. So there was I standing on the corner of this street in Harlem asking people passing by if they knew of any other good graffiti locations – New York is a very friendly city but nobody knew of any good walls.

Reverse side of the Graffiti wall of fame, Harlem, NYC

Reverse side of the Graffiti wall of fame, Harlem, NYC

I was just lucky in Boston on the way to the Barry McGee exhibition (see my post) I left the T station and right in front of me is this great wall by Os Gêmeos.

Os Gêmeos, Boston

Os Gêmeos, Boston


Controlling the Streets

Many commentators have drawn connections between the popular uprisings in the Middle East and the arrest of Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei.  But is there any connection between the arrest of Ai Weiwei and the recent arrests of street artists in the USA? This year artist LA II, aka Angel Ortiz, a former collaborator with Keith Haring was arrested in New York. And there have been multiple arrests of street artists in Los Angeles including: Revok, aka Jason Williams, the French artist, Space Invader (arrested 20/4/11) and Smear, aka Cristian Gheorghiu (arrested 16/4/11).

Free Revok - Melbourne, Hoiser Lane

One reason for all the arrests in Los Angles was MOCA’s “Art in the Streets” exhibition attracting street artists to LA. (Sharon Mizota reviewed the exhibition for the LA Times). But this is beside the point, although the law says that the arrests are about vandalism. It is actually about image as no wall has ever been actually damaged by the application of a coat of paint. The arrest of these artists is no more about vandalism than Ai Weiwei’s arrest is about his alleged economic crimes. Although I’m sure that capable prosecutors in both countries will be able to legally prove their respective cases according to their respective laws.

Like many people around the world I have been cheering on the Arab Spring from the security of my home. I have also been trying to watch out for any street art and graffiti developments in these historic events.  I keep searching for a story about graffiti in the popular uprisings in the Middle East but it has been mostly small stuff. There is this little report about some graffiti during the protests in Egypt. On 26/3/11 SBS news reported that major demonstrations and subsequent riots in Syrian were sparked when police arrested youths for doing anti-government graffiti. In the Middle East there are donkeys that can be mobile billboards for anti-government graffiti. The added bonus to painting a donkey is that the police can’t capture or kill the donkey and maintain their dignity.

The reason for the government crack down on street artists in the USA, on artists and human rights campaigners in China, and on anyone who protests in the streets in the Middle East is basically the same. The street is highly symbolic; it is the public face of the collective consciousness. Public area is part of a political discourse – does it belong to the people, every individual person, or to the government, and a ghostly idea of “the public”? Street art is a revolt about the definition of public and private space in the modern city. And like the occupation of the streets in the Middle East, or Ai Weiwei’s activism, it is a threat to authority of the ruling party and their claim to represent the public.


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