When most people think of street art, they think of only a few materials. Well, that’s not true, most people think of one single medium, paint, when it comes to art found in public spaces. It is, after all, the most widely used material, but ever since graffiti started, people have been experimenting with the physical means they use to communicate and make art. And one such artist has made a splash in East Harlem, with what some may consider the least “street” of materials: knitted yarn.
Naomi RAG (the “Rag” stands for “Random Acts of Generosity”) is a New York-based artist who’s mastered the art of “yarnbombing,” where colourful yarns are spread out in a public space not unlike painted graffiti to form certain shapes and looks. Except where paint has only a limited set of places it can go, yarnbombs can end up almost anywhere, from chainlink fences to light posts. She started doing it back in England a few years ago before moving to New York, where she has now set up shop and puts up a new piece every month. The process is long and time-consuming, by the looks of her scope and vision, which probably take a long time to dye and knit into the right shapes. But the results are universally spectacular.
Each of Naomi’s yarnbombs are colourful, creative, and made to spread a positive message: a tree knitted with LOVE into the pattern, a brightly-coloured display of flowers, or anything else that at once beautifies and uplifts. They are all focused on beauty and eye-pleasing work that can bring a bit of literal colour to a passerby’s day.
But it isn’t just the message that makes these pieces so inspiring, it’s Naomi’s use of form and space. From cozies that cover an entire tree’s trunk to elaborate setups on chainlink fences, Naomi’s work spreads out and takes over these spaces in new and interesting ways. Spaces that usually collect garbage or are ignored by other street artists are given a colourful vivacity that inspires and lifts the look of the area. And especially in East Harlem, where gentrification has caused a lot of problems for street artists, this blend of new materials and classic “bombing” is creative and, well, a little cozy.
What Naomi RAG’s work accomplishes is not just a positive message or unique scope with space and materials, it shows that street art can accomplish a lot of different tasks using many different materials. In that way, all street art is reflexive, aware of its cultural roots, and is constantly coming up with ways to differentiate and create new experiences. For Naomi RAG, that is threefold: through materials, through positive messages, and finally through the use of non-traditional space for the projects.