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Web Spotlight: Animal New York

Like many other things in this world, the internet has been great to street art. Between Google’s street art maps to sites dedicated to artists working around the globe, the internet has allowed artists and art enthusiasts to connect and build things together. It’s given a voice to people who would otherwise have none, and let many artists who would’ve been literally painted over and jettisoned into obscurity reach heights of fame and success that a pre-internet age would have never allowed. And that has been great not only for those artists, but for the people who cherish and value the work these artists do.

But perhaps even more significantly, the internet has also generated an entirely new group of people, individuals who are dedicated to not only the dissemination of hot and up-and-coming artists, but to the discussion and elevation of what street art is, can be, and represents to various groups of people. The explosion of critical work, interviews, and hype has helped the discussion around street art grow and grow. And one of the hottest places online that’s doing this is Animal.

Founded in 2003 by Bucky Turco, Animal is an online magazine that showcases street art projects around the world, from the twisting streets of Rio de Janeiro to the mega-metropolises of the United States. Turco founded the magazine on a simple premise: that street art is a legitimate form of artistic expression and people should be able to engage, write about, and think critically of street art in the same ways people think and write about other kinds of more “legitimate” art.

Animal has been responsible for making and breaking many the career of street artists and, in some cases, elevating art by mystery artists who have done amazing things in cities all over. Artists like New York’s COST, TRAP, Plasma Slugs, HAELER, and SABIO owe at least part of their popularity and name recognition to the site, and Animal’s continual engagement with these artists has let them showcase their evolution and changes. It’s been good to artists, but it’s also been so much more.

Animal has also been a place to engage with other issues through the lens of graffiti and artists, searching for meaning and hope in political and world events by looking at what people have scrawled on the walls in response. They looked at Egypt’s most recent unrest through this lens, and even thought about Occupy Wall Street through the many artists that performed and made pieces that opposed and protested the problems with America’s current economic crises. Through it all, Animal has used street art to show that things are connected, and the world’s events and people can find meaning by looking at how artists react on the streets.

Animal’s work is an example of street art criticism and engagement that’s only possible through the internet. It proves that graffiti is important, and that we can use it to think about the world around us in new and exciting ways. And that, in itself, is exciting indeed.

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MuralArts Summer Kaleidoscope Mural

Philadelphia’s blossoming and world-renowned MuralArts program has just completed its latest project. Fondly referred to as the “Summer Kaleidoscope,” the project is an extremely large mural that’s also got some big plans for the rest of the year.

Designed by Baltimore-based mural artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, collectively known as “Jessie & Katey,” the mural is mesmerizing and sure to turn more than a few heads. And since we’re talking about Philadelphia, America’s not-so-secret weapon in the world of street art, thats saying something!

The mural is called the Summer Kaleidoscope for obvious reasons: it’s bright colours and swirling yet geometrically symmetrical shapes lend the piece a disorientating yet captivating feel of the children’s toy. Looking at it, the mural seems to move and swirl just like a real kaleidoscope, but without having to move it around yourself.

Summer Kaleidoscope was a massive undertaking, right from the beginning. The piece was designed to take over The Oval, an eight-acre public space in the Benjamin Franklin parkway in Philadelphia, and it accomplished that through a lot of hard work and passion. The mural took five days to complete, relying on the talents of over 20 artists who took rollers and brushes to pavement in the early summer sun. Overall, the mural takes up over 33,000 square feet, and combines the colours of over 800 gallons of paint into something bright, colourful, and fun.

But perhaps the best part of the entire mural lies beyond the art itself. Unlike many art projects, which go up and rely on people passing them and commenting, Summer Kaleidoscope is actually the grounds for a wide range of summer activities designed to get local people engaged. Events were held in the area that targeted Philadelphia’s diverse residents, from live music and beer gardens on Thursday and Friday nights to free screenings of movies that are fun for the whole family, like My Cousin Vinny and Back to the Future. And kids could enjoy the many recreation activities set up on and around the mural as well.

Summer Kaleidoscope combines the draw of street art with tangible interaction that proves street art is more than simply something to look at. For Philadelphia, the colours and patterns of the kaleidoscope became a focal point for almost anyone in the city who wanted to enjoy free or very affordable entertainment that brought people together. Much more than simply a place to look at shiny art, the entire project elevated the community and brought people together, literally on a piece of street art that also beautified the area. Such an accomplishment is rare in street art, but always desirable, and hopefully similar integrations will pop up all around the world: showing people that street art has value beyond the paint on a surface.

 

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Artist Bio: Herb Williams

One of the most exciting things that’s happening in contemporary street art is not the murals themselves, but the materials artists are using to make their beautiful pieces. Gone are the days when we have to rely on spray paint alone, and that means a whole new way of doing art on the street has opened up. And while many artists love the materials they use, others from different backgrounds are using new and old materials that they know how to manipulate, and the results can be simply breathtaking.

Take, for example, Herb Williams, an American artist who isn’t content with using paint for his street art. Growing up in Alabama, Williams worked construction since he was able to hold a hammer, and the blue collar work gave him a unique insight into form and materials. The on-the-job improvisation he saw during those years showed him that sometimes the best material for the job is what you have around, and with that idea, he took to art with a different approach.

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Williams’ journey led him to school for sculpture, a sort of happy medium between classic artistic expression and his experience with a tool belt. After graduating, he apprenticed with a variety of artists and galleries, slowly gathering the skills and savvy he needed to make a name for himself. It was at these apprenticeships that Williams discovered his preferred medium: crayons.

While many of us fondly remember using crayons in grade school, Williams’ work shows us that that is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their potential. In fact, he calls crayons “the gateway drug” to other means of making art, and it makes sense when you see his different approach to using them. Rather than taking them to paper, Williams makes entire sculptures from the crayons themselves, building unique pieces that embody the wide range of colours that they can provide.

Williams’s sculptures can use hundreds of thousands of crayons to get the look he desires, and involves a laborious process that can take him a significant amount of time to get the look he desires. His process starts by getting the colours he needs directly from Crayola, who supplies him with the multitude of crayons he needs for each project. From there, he unwraps them and cuts them into tiny pieces. Some are left as is the create a mosaic effect while others are melted down and put into moulds to create the desired shape. The result is something at once colourful, beautiful, and nostalgic.

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Williams’ pieces are not, however, always appropriate for children, even though they use something we all recognize from our younger days. But that is, according to Williams, part of the point. In an interview with Visual News, he explained that “intriguing questions arise when an object associated with childhood, such as a crayon, is used to address issues dealing with more adult matters, such as sexuality, religion, and social hierarchy.”

Williams work not only shows us that the materials we use for street art matter, but that they’re associations, and not just their physical properties can be an intrinsic part of how we create art. By combining nostalgia with serious issues, Williams pushes the boundaries of what childhood objects can mean in adulthood, and challenge the ways we think about art and our formative years.