Most Popular Photoblogs of 2014: Synkroniciti Top Ten

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and these ten blog posts would be nothing without their pictures.

These are the most viewed photoblogs posted on synkroniciti in 2014. We’ve also included a popular one from last December as an honorable mention. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to classify a post as an article or a photoblog, but in general photoblogs have a large number of images, speak of those images and would fall flat without them.

Please click on the picture to view the post. We’ve reworked a couple of these along the lines of fair use and noncommercial use with regard to images, so if they look different to you, that’s because they are. Enjoy!

10. A Dream of Willow: Tom Hare’s Seed Walk

9. A World of Earth: Yamatane by Yusuke Asai at the Rice Gallery

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8. Flowers from a Blacksmith: Creations by Jenny Pickford

Aganpanthus detail

© Karen Roe with CCLicense

7. Using Your Brain: The Work of Emilio Garcia

6. Dolls from Around the World, part one: Dancing Figures

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5. Changing the Story on the Streets: The Bushwick Collective Part One

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4. Dolls from Around the World, part two: Folk Dolls and the Female Image

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3. Be it Ever So Humble: The Southern Shotgun House

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2. Creating from Nightmare: H.R. Giger’s Biomechanics and Alien

1. Flowers of the Indian Home: The Brilliance of Rangoli

Diwali Rangoli  © Pon Malar with CCLicense


© Pon Malar with CCLicense

And, from last December, these lovely snowflakes.

Capturing Nature’s Handiwork: Snowflakes by Alexey Kljatov

Changing the Story on the Streets, The Bushwick Collective, Part Two

Art can help change our reality by shaping our vision. At the Bushwick Collective, these altered realities are wonderfully contagious.

Collaborative work by global artists: Buff Monster (LA/NYC), The Yok (Australia), Tristan Eaton (LA), Sheryo (Singapore/NYC) and Nychos the Weird (Austria).

Collaborative work by global artists: Buff Monster (LA/NYC), The Yok (Australia), Tristan Eaton (LA), Sheryo (Singapore/NYC) and Nychos the Weird (Austria).

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing the Story on the Streets: The Bushwick Collective, Part One

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, Bushwick. You can see old meeting new here, with pieces by Zimad, Fumeroism, Sheryo and others.

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 move to Bushwick because of the relatively low rents and the economic upturn of the last  fifteen years.

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.

This piece on Wyckoff Street is the work of Iranian artists Icy and Sot.

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 lies this arrested peace sign by German artist Case MaClaim. Case is the alias of Andreas von Chrzanowski, born in 1979 in Thüringen, East Germany. The MaClaim crew includes three other members.

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 contains ashes collected at the bombing site.

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.

Detail shows the twin towers of the World Trade Center reflected in the pupils.

James Reka, known as RekaOne, grew up in Melbourne, Australia and is now based in Berlin. His unique surrealism emphasizes clean lines and creates mythological creatures that are part human, part animal.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Rescuing Home: Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

How do we respond to poverty, drugs and crime? Tyree Guyton strengthened the spirit of his Detroit neighborhood through art.

Penny Car © David Yarnall with CCLicense

Penny Car, Heidelberg Project
© David Yarnall with CCLicense

In 1986, Tyree Guyton returned from serving in the U.S. Army to his home on Heidelberg Street in East Detroit. The McDougall-Hunt neighborhood had become an unfriendly place, sinking deeper and deeper into drugs and crime. Guyton had lost three brothers to violence on the streets and his grandfather, Sam Mackey, encouraged him to take a different path. There was no money to rebuild the houses that were falling apart on the street, but Grandpa Sam helped Tyree made sculptures, paintings and installations that reimagined those houses as art, reclaiming them from dissolution and destruction. Neighborhood children joined the project and it began to spread like a wildfire. Maybe they couldn’t make their neighborhood pristine, but they could show that people who don’t have money can still dream and be creative. Guyton never imagined how much his efforts would inspire and change his community and the world.

Video via HeidelbergProject on YouTube.

The woman who drove up to Guyton to demand what was going on, Jenenne Whitfield, became his wife. We can certainly appreciate how she was drawn into this fascinating world. The Heidelberg Project has transformed the neighborhood from a violent place where people feared going outside, even in the daytime, to a proud and quirky attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. In twenty-seven years, it has won several awards and represented the US at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Despite its therapeutic effect on the community and the attention of “shrinking cities” all over the globe, not everyone is a fan of the project. Part political protest, celebration of life and experimental art installation, it has always been at the crossroads of frustration and inspiration. Some feel that isn’t art, but trash, while others see it as standing in the way of urban renewal.

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

The Heidelberg Project was almost destroyed in the name of progress twice by the City of Detroit during the 1990s. Last year a series of fires, which proved to be arson and remain unsolved, took down several houses, shaking the safety of the Heidelberg Project and striking at the heart of the community. Fortunately, Guyton sees adversity as proof that the art is working and is far from giving up. We wish him all the best and encourage people to follow his bold example.

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

"Party Animal House" © Bob Jagendorf with CCLicense

“Party Animal House”
© Bob Jagendorf in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

"Number House" © Nic Redhead with CCLicense

“Number House”
© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

No Home in this World Anymore: Dystopian Figures of Isaac Cordal

Rocky economies, wars, injustices and climate change threaten the world we call home. Can art do anything to help us?

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Cement Eclipses, Nantes, France.

When most people think of street art they think of graffiti, painted or stenciled images. Isaac Cordal‘s street art is sculptural. He makes figures from cement, which he calls Cement Eclipses, and deposits them in urban landscapes. Some of the figures are painted, some are not. They often depict businessmen or diplomats in suits with briefcases going about their daily lives. Often, as in the installation entitled Waiting for Climate Change at the Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France, the natural world intrudes dramatically on this routine, revealing nature as a primary actor in life. Sometimes Cordal’s figures seem overwhelmed and sometimes they seem to be taking it out on each other.

This moving video is from installations in Málaga, Spain. The complex combinations of humor, irony, despair, even horror, are stunning.

The wonderful thing about Cordal’s art is that it is unexpected. He has installed Cement Eclipses in several cities, always provoking a great deal of attention, even when the characters appear at shoe height. Little people on the sidewalk, attached to buildings or hanging from barrier poles seem so vulnerable. We identify with their powerlessness. Seeing a tiny businessman submerged in a mud puddle brings up all too easily the difficulties of people who have plugged away at work for years, only to be taken down by economic downturns and corporate or national bankruptcy. The metaphor is striking and terrifying. When society fails, it leaves humans unprotected from the natural elements which it formerly insulated them against, including hunger, weather and the need to survive at all costs.

Cement Eclipses, Nantes.

Cement Eclipses, Nantes.

Cordal’s art reveals the desperate nature of the human rat race. Yes, he is critical of capitalism and the European Union, but all forms of government have these failings. More than that, he makes us want to stop and rescue those who are in trouble. Can we save the man about to jump from a building or cut down the man hanging from a pole by the side of the road? What happens if we ignore the suffering of others? These are cautionary images that force us to think about unhappy realities around us so that we can act before real people are hurt. Isaac Cordal’s art has a conscience and invites us to engage our own. It reminds me of an old Woody Guthrie song.

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Cement Eclipses, Nantes. Installation in a rabbit cage.

I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-ramblin’ round
I’m just a wandrin’ worker, I roam from town to town.
The police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road
A hot and dusty road that a million feet done trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Was a-farmin’ on the share, and always I was poor
My crops I laid into the banker’s store;
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Now as I look round, it’s mighty plain to see
The world is such a great and a funny place to be;
The gamblin’ man is rich and the workin’ man is poor
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

–Woody Guthrie

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Cement Eclipses, Nantes. Multiple rabbit cages.

All photographs © gildas_f with CCLicense.

Painted Trains: Art Off the Tracks, Part Two

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.

© Hrag Vartanian with CCLicense

© Hrag Vartanian with CCLicense

And here’s an in your face sort of piece from nearby Copenhagen in 1999.

© Hunter Desportes with CCLicense

© Hunter Desportes with CCLicense

To Berlin, with love on the Anhalter Bahnhof.

© Oliver Wolters with CCLicense

© Oliver Wolters with CCLicense

© Sivi Steys with CCLicense

© Sivi Steys with CCLicense

Here are some delightful colors from Rome.

© Flowizm with CCLicense

© Flowizm with CCLicense

© Flowizm with CCLicense

© Flowizm with CCLicense

© Flowizm with CCLicense

© Flowizm with CCLicense

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.

Zedz paints his train car at the Gare du Nord Station, Paris image © urbanartcore.eu with CCLicense

Zedz paints his train car at the Gare du Nord Station, Paris
image © urbanartcore.eu with Fair Use Policy

image © Holger Eilhard with CCLicense

image © Holger Eilhard in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Zedz is known for his architectural style that leans heavily on the abstract. He is also a sculptor. You can check out his website here.

Sozy One began as a design student and a counterfeiter, but has gained respect as a founding member of UltraBoyz, a cream of the crop, avant-garde graffiti crew. You can read their blog here.

image © Holger Eilhard with CCLicense

image © Holger Eilhard in accordance with Fair Use Policy

JonOne 156 was born in New York City, but moved to Paris in 1987, where he synthesized 1980s street art from NYC with that of European artists and also began to paint on canvas.

image © Holger Eilhard with CCLicense

image © Holger Eilhard in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Seak One is a contemporary artist with a futuristic flair. You can check out his varied body of work, much of which hangs at major museums around the world, at his website.

image © Holger Eilhard with CCLicense

image © Holger Eilhard in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Painted Trains: Art Off the Tracks? Part One

Graffiti hearkens back to ancient public art. Is there something valuable in street art that is good for the community?

Graffiti near Moganshan Road in Shanghai image © Jakub Hałun with CCLicense

Graffiti near Moganshan Road in Shanghai
image © Jakub Hałun with CCLicense

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.

The Rude Man of Cerne image © Pete Harlow with CCLicense

The Rude Man of Cerne
image © Pete Harlow with CCLicense

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.

Holborn Station image © Sunil060902

Holborn Station
image © Sunil060902 with CCLicense

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.

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Bionic

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Jamie RIP

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Someone

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.

Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies

flour-49689_640We use products every day with no thought for how they are made or their ingredients. This ignorance is dangerous. Gluten sensitivity can be a serious problem for those who build objects or create works in the physical realm, from painters to construction workers. For background on this condition, a growing problem for people all over the globe, please read our introduction to the subject here. Wheat flour is often used to thicken art supplies and construction materials, just like you might use it to thicken a sauce for your evening meal. Now, some people will tell you that gluten can’t be absorbed through the skin, but the truth is we don’t know that for sure. It’s possible that some people are so allergic that they do react to touching gluten, or they may just not remove it completely from their skin and under their fingernails before eating, putting in their contacts, or biting their nails. Another issue is dust. When gluten is airborne it can be sucked into the lungs, ingested or get into the eyes. These exposures will result in something which we gluten sensitives call a “glutening”. We may get dizzy, disoriented or nauseous, and heartburn, diarrhea, and joint pain are likely on their way. Glutenings can last for a long time; mine range from a few days to a week.

Colorful wheatpaste in Oaxaca. Mexico

Colorful wheatpaste in Oaxaca. Mexico

We all have seen street art or graffiti, in which pictures or writing are painted, scratched or otherwise imprinted on surfaces in public places. One variant that might not be as familiar is called wheatpaste, in which paper images are affixed to a wall using a glue made from flour and water. Remember, regular all purpose flour is wheat flour, so if you see pasted images in your neighborhood, resist the urge to touch them– it’s not good for the art and these beauties are probably bathed in gluten.  What would you do if you were a street artist with gluten intolerance? You could avoid the problem by using spray paint, provided you check labels and are on the lookout for gluten, but you don’t have to. Paste can be made from other flours. Check out this rice paste made by Amaco or this recipe (also rice paste), used for Japanese paper crafts.

© Lollyman with CCLicense

© lollyman with CCLicense

Papier mâché is the construction of objects from paper soaked in glue and formed into shape. Traditionally the glue used is wheatpaste, but it can also be made by substituting the rice paste mentioned above. Since papier mâché is often painted, gesso, which is often used to prepare canvases for painting, is a great alternative as well. Check labels and call companies to make sure that anything you buy is free from gluten. It sneaks in all over the place. Parents of gluten intolerant children need to be very involved with school art projects and should be ready to suggest alternatives. There is a great post for parents here which lists safe products. Another concern with papier mâché is that is often used to make craft items and dolls that sometimes end up in the hands of children, despite the fact that they aren’t overly durable. Friends, don’t let kids play with those items– if they are gluten intolerant or have friends that are, someone could become extremely sick. If you handle them yourself, wash your hands frequently. As to masks, bracelets, and even decorative dishes made from the substance, be aware that a reaction is possible; it’s going to depend on your degree of sensitivity.

© patti haskins with CCLicense

© patti haskins with CCLicense

It’s hard to remember all of this, especially with the whimsy and fun that is inherent in papier mâché and our failure to recognize objects made from it. It’s light weight, often painted and shows up in crafts and on theater stages all the time. To see some great art and a video of the process, take a look at the work of Mélanie Bourlon, which you can see in this great post from all things paper. Awesome detail and clever. Experimentation will probably be required to find the best substitute for wheatpaste, depending on what you are making. This can be a point of pride for an artist, sort of like the painters of the past who mixed their own colors before color became more standardized. It becomes part of your brand. An advantage to making your own recipe is that you don’t have to worry about accidental contamination during production or wheat derivatives disguised under different names. Awareness is key to staying calm and in control. Next time: Gluten Sensitivity, Sculptors and Construction Workers

Food, Labels and Unexpected Voices: Graffiti Artists vs. GMO

© Mike Castle with CCLicense

© Mike Castle with CCLicense

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.

© Alexis O'Toole with CCLicense

© Alexis O’Toole with CCLicense

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.