I spray the sky fast (sic). Eyes ahead and behind. Looking for cops. Looking for anyone I don’t want to be here. Paint sails and the things that kick in my head scream from can to brick. See this, see this. See me emptied onto a wall.
This is the second post about the Bushwick Collective, an unusual and inspiring collection of street art in Brooklyn, New York. You can read the first part here.
In the early days, the Bushwick Collective gave Joe Ficalora an outlet for his grief. He lost his mother to cancer in 2011 and poured the love and energy he had used to care for her into securing space for artwork on the streets of Bushwick. It was a way of remembering her and his murdered father, as well as a way of raging against the losses he had suffered. Mural by mural, artists helped Ficalora build a new reality over one that had become increasingly painful and unsustainable. From this exceedingly personal beginning the Collective has grown into something much more. Today artists from around the world come here to paint and tourists from around the world come to marvel at their work. Many of these artists, like Bushwick itself, began on the “wrong” side of the tracks. They painted out of angst, out of rebellion, out of a sense that the world was not fair. Now that their art is legal, does its meaning change or are they still telling the same story?
This striking piece which decorates the Fatking Film Studio is called Plastic exercise to describe the alteration of reality II and it is the work of Argentinian artist Ever. Coming from a vibrant Latin American protest tradition, it isn’t surprising that he sees street art as message, as a form of communication for important and deep matters. What is unusual about his work is that he paints much more like a portrait painter and less like a street artist. Check out the shading of the faces. Over time he has moved from letter based graffiti work to murals like this one, which shows the influence of Gustav Klimt, one of his favorite painters. Note the trees and the patterning around the figures. There is a great deal hidden here, but we can surmise that love is at work in the alteration of reality, transformation and rebirth. This remains one of my favorites at Bushwick. You should note that it was organized by a group known as 1985, not painted in 1985. Nothing stays vibrant that long and that’s part of what makes this kind of art special.
Luis Lamboy, Zimad, grew up in South Bronx. When he was five years old, his mother bought him a pad of paper to keep him occupied during long train rides to his grandmother’s house. She had no idea what she was starting. By fourteen, Luis was painting in the subways and on the street. Teenage rebellion and artistic talent found their outlet in illegal graffiti and the excitement that accompanied it. Luckily for Luis and the world, Fashion Moda held an exhibition of art from South Bronx in the early 1980s, including pieces by Zimad. As his works found a receptive audience, he turned from graffiti, which he defines as illegal work, predominantly verbal messages in stylized form, to aerosol art and murals. The piece above harkens back to the roots of graffiti. The irony is that legal art, which, at first, seemed to limit where Zimad could paint his messages, has given him more time and space to recognize his dreams than graffiti ever did. Zimad possesses a textile degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and, in the 1980s and 90s, designed for Janet Jackson and Anita Baker, as well as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (now actor Will Smith). Since then he has worked as an art handler for Sotheby’s. The man breathes art.
Unfortunately, there was a large vehicle blocking a full shot of Zimad’s mural (such things are part of the Bushwick adventure), which can be viewed in its entirety on his Facebook page. You can see a little of it above, on the left, with the fabulous toadstools and Millennium Falcon style spaceship. He’s a master of imaginative juxtaposition and exquisite detail.
On the right is a piece by Fumeroism, who began cartooning at a very young age and then expanded into graffiti in his teens as a way to explore form and letter design. He went on to study graphic design in community college and later cartooning and illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His pieces are interesting for their intense color and the use of interior contour lines to create movement. It’s fascinating for me that, unlike other pieces by Fumeroism, the movement here is in the grass, not the baby. Is this to illustrate that the child is being swept up in the tide of her environment? I love her big, shiny eyes, like dark pools, and the vibrant yellow of her jumper. She’s a very big baby!
The doorway in the center between these murals features a lovely piece bearing the exhortation, “Don’t be sheep.”
Murals and graffiti alike take inspiration from popular culture, especially the cartoon. This is not surprising when you acknowledge that many artists began forming their style while teenagers. It also gives their pieces a wistful look that, depending on their personality, is sometimes charming and sometimes disturbing. Above we see the colorful and jubilant work of Jerkface (NYC) bringing to life a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I dare you not to smile. Below we have something on the other side of the spectrum, the madcap surrealism of Sheryo. This piece is a little Ren and Stimpy, a little tattoo parlor, and all cool. Sheryo hails from Singapore, but makes New York City home when she isn’t traveling the globe to paint walls.
The piece above is by Robots Will Kill, a trio of artists: Veng, Chris and Kev. These guys started in graffiti, with stories not unlike the artists already mentioned, but they still consider themselves graffiti artists, despite their work as muralists. Note how the piece, though it is peopled by fascinating cartoon characters, is an elaborate tag, or signature. Robots Will Kill is adamant about giving voice to the voiceless and run a fantastic and very intriguing website that features legal and illegal art around the world. They feel that all artists have value and have planted themselves on the dividing line between graffiti and fine art. More power to them!
Rubin415 made his first tag at the age of nine, a son of Finnish immigrants growing up bored in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he first began to envision the walls blooming in front of his eyes. Geometric shapes, conservative color and clean lines have forged his style, which remains decidedly Scandinavian despite his residence in Brooklyn and artwork that lies all over the globe. The piece above is entitled Dream, Baby, Dream. I find the restrained and organized joy of it both arresting and calming.
Beau Stanton moved to Brooklyn from Southern California and has a background in classical painting, drawing and illustration, not graffiti. He developed a taste for making street art while working with iconoclastic artist Ron English, although Stanton’s approach is more subtle, attuned to past forms of public art, such as the frescoes of the Renaissance, rather than modern pop culture. His works show an affinity for history, architecture and symbol. They often feature a delightful rusty patina, evident in the mural above, achieved by a mixture of painting and screen printing, a technique that uses multiple layers of mesh based stencils to apply color. It’s often used in t-shirt design, but Stanton’s use of it is unique and really pushes the envelope. Hints of steam punk are present in his work, as machinery and mythology come together.
This particular piece features an intriguing fusion of the spiritual and the mundane. What is the nature of the relationship described between church and factory–are they in contradiction with one another, or do they somehow hold one another up? Stanton’s images verge on the dystopic and apocalyptic, and yet they feature rebirth and renewal as well. This creates a wonderful sense of ambiguity.
Another artist that didn’t come up by the usual route is the Lady Aiko, who grew up in Tokyo and received a degree in graphic design and filmmaking at Tokyo Zokei University before coming to NYC for a MFA in Media Studies at the New School. She apprenticed with Takashi Murakami, directing the biopic Super Flat about him, and then with Banksy, before becoming a part of the street art group known as Faile. She’s on her own now, and there is no one quite like her. The street art bug bit hard in her case, and her skills as a graphic designer, filmmaker and photographer have helped her hold her own in a group dominated by men who started early. She does beautiful work, delicate and feminine, with a an interesting pop-art Japanese aesthetic that often hearkens back to the pin-up. These particular pieces are relatively small, but the delightful sensuality of them makes them very special.
I’m exceptionally fond of pieces painted on loading dock doors. New Yorker Steiner, a wonderful artist that I hope to learn more about, does a beautiful job of creating movement by using the door’s corrugation. Thanks to his concentric circles and bright colors, this skull really pops.
Below is a Maneki Neko, or beckoning cat (painted by AT?). These kitties are usually in the form of statues and refer back to stories of a samurai who stopped to pet a cat in the street. Because he paused, he was five minutes later in his routine and missed an assassination attempt on his own life. A lucky cat, indeed!
Stopping to view the art in Bushwick will take you out of your routine–who knows, it might even save your life!
Can street art transform lives? The Bushwick Collective, a world class outdoor gallery in Brooklyn, New York presents compelling evidence.
The Putnam Rolling Ladder Factory, Troutman St and St Nicholas Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. This brick building is decorated with pieces by Zimad, Fumeroism, Sheryo and others.
Joe Ficalora, head of the Bushwick Collective, can remember a time when fear and poverty ruled the streets. In fact, this child of Sicilian immigrants spent many youthful hours perched on the roof of his family’s steel business, where he could see trouble coming and feel protected from gangs and thugs. In 1991, when Ficalora was twelve, his father, Ignazio, was murdered for his wallet and a worthless chain around his neck. In those days, the Bushwick neighborhood was known for crime, poverty and graffiti. Ficalora, now a successful local businessman, has championed graffiti, purchasing space from local businesses and attracting artists from around the globe to tell their stories in the form of large murals here in this working class neighborhood. He sees street art as a way to redeem Bushwick and cover the horror of its past, while acknowledging the creativity that flourished here even under the worst of conditions.
This cobra lies imposed over the words of Maya Angelou translated into Spanish. Immigrants from Latin American, Caribbean and other Spanish speaking countries make up a large percentage of Bushwick residents, although the neighborhood is more diverse than many in New York City.
The recent gentrification of Bushwick has made it the area safer, filling it with organic markets and cafes, and bringing tourists in to admire the impressive artwork on its streets. Although most are happy to live in a quieter world, without blatant prostitution, gang violence, and drug addiction on constant display, not everyone in Bushwick is happy with Ficarola’s project. Some feel that, once it has been legalized and curated, graffiti loses its purpose and its edge. Is it still graffiti, or should that term be reserved for art that springs up unrestrained and illegal? Some resent the tour guides who collect money for knowing where the “good stuff” is and the intrusion of people who can’t possibly understand what they have been through as a community. The truth is that are there are voices on the streets of Bushwick, both local and international, that deserve to be heard. They also deserve respect. This is the first of a series of posts that will bring you just a few of those stories, with a little background about the artists and links so that you can find out more.
What has this youth seen and how does it shape his vision of the world? This fetching piece on Wyckoff Street is the work of Iranian brothers Icy and Sot, born in Tabriz but now based in Brooklyn. Born in 1985 and 1991, the duo has painted and exhibited in cities all over the world, tackling subjects such as war, human rights, hope and despair. Their works resound in the resilient community of Bushwick. The beautiful abstract below Icy and Sot’s piece is by New Yorker Col Wallnuts. You can see another view of it in the next picture. I wish I had a better shot of it, as it is ravishing in its own right.
Around the corner of the building lies this arrested peace sign by world renowned German artist Case MaClaim. Case is the alias of Andreas von Chrzanowski, born in 1979 in Thüringen, East Germany. He began painting in 1995, a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He and his crew paint photorealistic images on backgrounds built up with wood and cardboard. This piece illustrates the choices inherent in conflict. Will the upper hand realize itself as a fist or proclaim peace? What is the motivation behind the hand grabbing hold–to support peace, to tear it down or to ward off a blow from a fist?
Bushwick sent six firefighters to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. None of them returned. This memorial is by New York artist Hunt Rodriguez and utilizes ashes collected at the bombing site. Rodriguez specializes in artistic depictions of resilience, portraying survivors of terrorism, abuse and social injustice.
James Reka, known as RekaOne, grew up in Melbourne, Australia and is now based in Berlin. His fantastic surrealism emphasizes clean lines and creates mythological creatures that are part human, part animal, such as this tough looking character that looks out on the street. He honed his art on the run in alleys and on trains in Melbourne, where his talent and unique vision became inspiring. As a result he now paints many legal pieces, both indoor and outdoor, which makes his mother happy.
Australia is a land where the Dreamtime is never far away, and RekaOne’s art teems with echoes of native Australia, with its fascination for anthropomorphizing nature, as well as cartoons and pop art. His work is easy to recognize, filled with sensual lines and brilliant colors. Below a super grasshopper is poised on the side of a building, waiting to be spotted and admired.
Lexi Bella is an artist residing on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A winner of several major street art competitions and the 2012 American ArtBattles Champion, Lexi explores the meaning of beauty and sexuality as portrayed in pop culture. Her work is meant to seduce the eye, producing strong and often unnerving reactions which dance from attraction to revulsion and back again. Most of her subjects are women, many decidedly sultry.
What attracts us to this face? Is it her long, curling hair, voluptuous lips or bedroom eyes? Maybe it is something on the edge of consciousness, such as the the implied warrior princess persona or the unmistakably phallic amethyst crystals over her shoulder. Does she appear vacuous or vulgar? Our reactions say more about us and what we find appealing than they do about her. She remains unexplained and aloof and we realize we’ve been judging a book by its cover.
Wandering aimlessly through Bushwick is a pleasure that rewards the adventurous. The Bushwick Collective is centered roughly on the intersection of Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. If you have the chance, take the L train to Jefferson Street in Brooklyn, open your eyes and take a walk. The delight that comes up with every turn, the excitement of discovering something beautiful and unique is momentous. Realizing this synchronicity all around you is stunning and requires no tour guide and no cash.
Want to know more about Bushwick?
You can read about the neighborhood itself on wikipedia.
You can read about Ficalora and his transformative work here.
Read more about the controversy over legal graffiti and tourism here.
Train cars are often canvases for street art, legal and illegal. What is it about trains that catches our imagination?
Our first post in this series spoke about the controversial nature of graffiti on trains. This post follows it up with some fabulous painted train cars from Europe, including four painted during a live event in Paris sponsored by a very smart and forward looking train manufacturer.
Our first stop is Malmö, Sweden for this snazzy number.
The Graffiti Meets Thalys live event in 2009 gave four major graffiti artists: Seak One (Köln), Sozy One (Brussels), JonOne 156 (Paris), and Zedz (Amsterdam), the opportunity to paint one train car each during a three hour and fifteen minute stop at the Gare du Nord Station in Paris before the train continued its journey. The event was sponsored by the train manufacturer Thalys, who picked some of the best graffiti artists on the planet to decorate and stir up some buzz about their new train. Now that’s some smart marketing! Note that the artists thoughtfully taped off the windows to avoid painting over them.
There is an innate conflict between street art and property. Street artists have to paint or paste on to something, which alters the appearance and sometimes even the function of that thing. Many municipalities provide “free walls” and approved surfaces, which are a lovely idea. For some, however, the rebellious act of putting their mark on something they don’t own and don’t have permission to mark on is part of the art itself, especially when they feel uncomfortable with their own government. Graffiti can give voice to people living in oppressive regimes who feel that their lives are colorless, to people breaking out of poverty, or to spoiled children who want a way of gaining recognition. Like all art, it reflects the intent of the one who uses it while remaining subject to the interpretation of those who encounter it.
In the past, artists have made their mark on the earth. You might think of the lines on the Nazca Plains, the Rude Man of Cerne, the Holy Ghost Panel in Horseshoe Canyon, or countless other pieces of art. In the modern world the rise of property, which some have and some do not, has contributed to restrictions on public art, a very important means of community building. The visionary talents of the street artist can be a means of giving voice to the marginalized, but modern governments have spent decades deleting those margins.
British street artist Daniel Cusack, 21 years old, was sentenced to 16 months in prison this week for the graffiti he left on nineteen subway trains, two trackside walls and one house. Police allege that it cost over £97,000 to remove his artwork. Over the past five years, Cusack, known by his tag, Kwote, has been busy painting and honing his signature style. Can it be that the powers that be are so unimaginative as to jail him for it without tapping into his talent? Is there nothing he could improve with a coat of paint and his creativity? Perhaps authorities are afraid that Kwote might have a message that we need to hear.
It is difficult to know the substance of Kwote’s art, since it has been expunged and suppressed on the internet. Not everyone values graffiti, especially when it takes the form of tagging, a stylized representation of an artist’s signature that has unfortunate connotations with gang activity. British newspapers have referred to Kwote’s actions as “graffiti attacks” despite the lack of physical violence in the case. Police have reported that it inconvenienced many people when the “damaged” trains were removed from service to “fix” them. Doubtless the absence of trains did inconvenience people. But damaged? Wasn’t the offense really something else? The language used seems unnecessarily inflammatory.
Kwote was prosecuted largely for the artwork he left on trains, which are state property used by the public every day. Trains are an excellent choice for street artists who want to get their message, or their ego, out for public consumption. They go from point to point, a mobile advertisement, even better than a billboard or stationary wall. Train graffiti also causes havoc in a system which is bent on keeping things clean and sterile, or at least clear for paid advertising. Advertisers are allowed to place their materials in the subway or on trains for a fee. Many advertisements are less artistic and debatably more offensive than street art. If street artists had access to more money would they be allowed to buy space as well?
Here are three painted subway trains from London. These images are by duncan and appear in accordance with Fair Use Policy, so that you can see what train tagging in the UK often looks like.
This weekend I will post a photoblog devoted to painted trains. This is a phenomenon that occurs across the globe, revealing an interesting relationship between creativity and state property. Some places have created competitions and collaborations that legitimize street artists who paint trains. These events also establish control over them by requiring fees and setting standards as to what is appropriate.
The conflict is far from simple and the creative spirit is a powerful force.
California Proposition 37 would have been the first law in the United States requiring retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients had it passed in late 2012. China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the entire European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India and Chile are among nations that already require such labels on food, but in the United States food is big business, and companies like Monsanto and Hershey poured money into defeating this legislation by arguing that labeling would cost money and disrupt the status quo. Much as the tobacco companies of the second half of the 20th century dreaded the education of the public as to the dangers of nicotine, these companies fear losing customers when science reveals the dangers behind the refining, hybridizing, and genetic modification of our food supply. Gluten, soy and corn intolerances, autism, celiac disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cancer might be hidden beneath the rug of ignorance, but unless someone investigates we will not know what connection exists between GMOs and these diseases.
As a person with gluten intolerance, I experience firsthand how devastating the effects of poor labeling can be. Just this week, the FDA has set a standard requiring gluten free labels on any food containing less than 20 parts gluten per million, but there are those of us who react below that level. Brain fog, joint pain, nausea and diarrhea are just some of the symptoms resulting from gluten intolerance. It takes days to get over the effects of one cookie, one piece of candy, or even crumbs left on a pat of butter, not to mention the long term consequences. Our laws also don’t require that gluten free foods produced in a facility that also produces foods containing gluten be labelled accordingly despite the very real dangers of cross contamination, nor do they require full disclosures of ingredients. This means that a company could get away with hiding gluten under different names or inside other ingredients. For example, yeast is gluten free unless it is made from beer, a variety known as brewer’s yeast. This distinction could mean a world of difference to someone sensitive but it is very easy to omit on a label. Many companies are labeling their products well, and I think those companies will see an increase in sales as people become more aware of gluten sensitivity.
What does this have to do with art? Well, creativity and art are a part of everyday life, from the music we hear on the radio to the advertising we see on the internet and television. The following is a film featuring Californian street artists and their works as they seek to raise awareness of the dangers of genetically modified food and build support for Proposition 37 and future legislation like it. Street art is a very provocative and communicative medium, despite its “criminal” connotations in our culture. I very much like the idea of having spaces in our communities where such thoughts can be explored in public.
Voice of Art is a documentary series produced on Pharrell Williams YouTube channel, iamOTHER. It gives artists a platform to advocate for transformation and justice in their communities by allowing their voices to reach a wider audience.
Art starts conversations and inspires thought that frightens tyrants. What is the future of art in a society in transition?
Synkroniciti is excited to share three jaw-dropping short films produced by the Art in the Streets series from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. They feature street artists in the capital cities of Libya, Lebanon and Egypt, where the medium known as graffiti is gaining some acceptance even as it creates conflict. Beirut, which knew revolution before the so called Arab Spring, is a city where graffiti is legal, causing street artists to flock there from all over the world. Artists in Cairo and Tripoli are finding their voices in a culture that is divided. Some cheer their efforts and praise their abilities. Others react in fear and find their art an affront to God. Women painting on the streets and artists representing faces and words are considered by many to be offenses punishable by violence.
The Arab Spring is not a short term project, nor did it begin with the wave of protests and demonstrations of 2010, no matter how convenient that may be for outsiders and history books. This revival and renewal has been brewing for many moons and will continue. It has many facets and motivations, and like any revolution, those who participate have their own prejudices and failures. These artists are perhaps the most inspiring spokesmen and women for the changes occurring across the Middle East and North Africa. They do more to construct a new society than all the armies of the world.
Videos via MOCAtv on YouTube.
Want to delve into this subject with us? Read Synkroniciti’s article on Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red or our article on the currents behind Frank Herbert’s Dune.