Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 5, 2007
photo: "Do Not Enter" by Dan Witz
Graffiti has grown up. From hip-hop tagging of the ’70s and ’80s, graffiti has blossomed into an international street art movement.
Street art. That’s what the new graffiti is called. And it goes far beyond spray painting the sides of buildings. In addition to wall paintings, the new street art may involve: wheat-pasted images, projected photographs and videos, drawing with light, electronic signs, and found or made objects that are strategically placed in public areas. What distinguishes today’s street art from earlier forms of graffiti is that it cleverly makes use of its various urban “canvases.” In other words, the setting — be it the side of a building, a bridge or a garbage can — becomes part of the art. For example, on a bridge in Brighton there is a painting of the head of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. But the thorns are not painted; they are a coil of barbed wire that was already on the bridge. Or an electronic street sign hanging from a wire high above Vatican City. The sign is a directional arrow pointing toward heaven with the word “Nuns.”
Some street artists are guerilla artists who sneak up on their targets while others are invited in. Many have even been accepted into prestigious galleries in the art capitals of the world. They have become so successful that there are growing protests against the commercialization of street art. For the past seven months, someone (possibly a group) known as the splasher has been defacing street art in New York by splashing paint on it and leaving behind manifestos critical of the commercialization of the movement. Someone or some group alleged to be the splasher has recently set off stink bombs at a couple of gallery openings, and one alleged splasher has been arrested in New York.
The whole movement is big in New York and San Francisco as well as in London, Tokyo and Berlin, and it is all over the Internet. But it hasn’t exactly caught fire in the Northwest. A few street art projects have shown up in Portland and Seattle, but nothing so far (to my knowledge) in T-town.
A Portland artist named Nancy (street artists are typically anonymous or go by pseudonyms or first name only) has created “The Iraq Names Project,” which comprises the names of people who have been killed in Iraq painted on the streets and sidewalks of Portland. Pictures of the project can be seen at: http://iraqnamesproject. wordpress.com. The lettering and the placement of the names are really quite lovely.
Seen in a tunnel under Interstate 5 in Seattle is a sad picture of a homeless man seated on the sidewalk. The poignancy of the picture is heightened because of its location. The artist is unknown.
One of the few street artists who uses his full name is Dan Witz. His latest project consists of erecting signs on city streets. A typical Witz sign says “Do Not Enter” and has a white bar that becomes a magical entryway into, well, I guess, the inside of the sign when a little painted man crawls into it.
Among the best known and most creative of street artists is the British artist Banksy who proudly proclaims, “I want to be a nonconformist just like everyone else.” Banksy may be the Andy Warhol of the 21st century. His work is so subtly clever you have to see it. Description simply will not do. See it at: www.banksy.co.uk/The best place to find street art on the Web is at the Wooster Collective Web site at http://www.woostercollective.com/ The Wooster Collective is a New York group dedicated to promoting street art. You can spend hours browsing the site and enjoy every moment of it. Be sure to go to the murals section and check out the work of the amazing Italian mural artist Blu.