artwork by bordalo ii showcasing dynamite on railroad tracks

Artist Spotlight: Bordalo II

Found object art has a long, rich and deep history. It’s arguably the oldest form of art we have, dating back to when ancient humans found simple instruments or pieces of nature and turned them into things of symbolic importance. The idea, at its heart, is about using what you find, not what you buy. It’s about making things slightly more difficult. Instead of getting exactly what you need, you use what you have around you.

bordalo ii artwork on side of building featuring a raccoon

Found object art has always had a healthy number of people, but its recent uptick in popularity is likely due to a couple of phenomenons that are impacting young artists. The first is simply a matter of cost. Art supplies are expensive and artists, especially street artists, are often expected to work on a never ending of supply of exposure as payment, despite the costs involved. The second reason, however, seems integral to one Lisbon artist, who uses found objects to create pieces of natural beauty.

Bordalo II has gained international renown for his found object pieces, which blend the natural with what is, at its essence, trash. In creating these natural pieces from things simply lying around, Bordalo II is an excellent example of the second reason why found object art is enjoying a resurgence of popularity: it’s a way to clean up.

The idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is a pervasive idea taught to us at a young age, right around the time we learn about the Three Rs (or, depending on your age and where you were raised, 4 Rs). The idea of reduce, reuse, recycle, and sometimes recover, are literally built into everyone of Bordalo II’s pieces.

3d bordalo ii artwork of bird fixed to side of building

Bordalo II’s work largely consists of three-dimensional animals affixed to walls, where they are painted to partially blend into their surroundings, usually a wall. Each piece combines manufactured materials, usually scrap metal, and the area around it. Through this blending of different environments, Bordalo II’s work shows us that nature and the things we derive from it aren’t as separate as we may think. These things are blended.

The combination of nature and trash brings together an aesthetic of the role of nature in the urban setting. While planning cities usually try and demarcate specific spaces as natural environments, such as Stanley Park or Central Park, these areas aren’t as separate as they seem. Nature is everywhere, from the rusting scrap metal to the many animals that live all around us. If Bordalo II’s art can show us anything, it’s that things blend together, be it art and streets, nature and urban, or simply some scrap metal made to look like a frog blending almost seamlessly into the side of a tenement building.

detroit's illuminated mural on building about to be demolished

Artist Sues Detroit for Mural Protection

Detroit has long been known as a city with some fight in it. Whether it’s the blue collar reputation it received in its automotive heyday, the prominent music scenes that emerged from it over the decades, or the people who refuse to leave even now, when the city’s bankruptcy has made it more decay than growth. But Detriot and its proud residents continue to soldier on every day, including a very famous visual artist, Katherine Craig.

Back in 2009, before much of the problems that have made Detroit headline news around the world, Katherine Craig painted one of the city’s most defining murals: a piece that many call “bleeding Rainbow” but is officially titled The Illuminated Mural. The piece has become synonymous with Detroit itself, appearing on postcards and other memorabilia, and has been featured in many articles and pieces about Detroit’s graffiti scene. The Illuminated Mural itself takes up a single wall of a nine-storey building and looks like a melting series of colours. The Detroit Free Press even called it “maybe Detroit’s most drop-dead gorgeous mural” in a recent article.

The owner’s of the mural’s building, however, are looking to tear down the piece in a redevelopment project, effectively destroying the mural in an attempt to build some condo buildings. It’s a move that much of the city opposes, but almost no one more so than Craig herself. She believes the piece, besides the fact it’s the cornerstone of her career, deserves a place in history, and to stay alive no matter what the building’s owners decide to do. She believes this so much, in fact, that she’s suing said owners.

Craig is invoking an often forgotten piece of legislation called “The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA)”. The act protects artworks of “recognized stature,” such as murals and street art,from destruction. This includes destruction that’s either “intentional or grossly negligent.”

So far, the move has stalled any action by the developer to the building, and the high profile nature of the case could make them reconsider their plans, but Craig’s lawsuit stands for something much greater than just her own mural, even though the gorgeous piece deserves to be around for more than a mere seven years. What Craig’s case is arguing is for the preservation of history, of the tangible value of street art. Since so many murals are made and consumed outside of the traditional capitalist structures, it becomes something with an undetermined value. Compared to paintings in a gallery with price tags on the corners, a mural has no price, just intrinsic value, and Craig’s case is arguing such a value is not only real, but worth preserving. Whatever the final decision, Craig’s brave actions are another example of street art’s value.

close up of portrait painted during the city of art festival

The City of Gold Urban Art Festival

Johannesburg, South Africa is a city with a long, complicated, and varied history. As the country’s capital in various regards throughout the country’s history, it has been everything from a lightning rod for troubled race relations to the host of international sports competitions. It has been the site of a country divided and a country trying to come together. It should come as no surprise that the city is not only famous for its history, but that this history has long informed its local art scene, including in the streets and in the galleries.

city of gold murals

The City of Gold Urban Art Festival is a weeklong art festival that seeks to celebrate the many artistic endeavours that have happened and are happening in Johannesburg, from the many artists working on murals in the city to the filmmakers who have come to call the area their home. Originally started in 2011, the festival celebrated its fifth anniversary this past October. The festival proved to be its most successful yet, bringing artists and spectators from all over the country, and even some from around the world. Put on last year by Grayscale Concepts, the festival is showing people a whole new side of what Johannesburg has to offer.

The City of Gold Festival, according to their website, seeks to “establish Johannesburg as a destination for graffiti and street artists from around the world and assist the development of the local graffiti/street art community. In addition to this the festival seeks to highlight the positive aspects of this art form as well as involving the general public to create a heightened awareness and appreciation for it.”

close up of wall mural from city of gold art festival

To create this buzz and show off the art scene in Johannesburg, the festival has three major components. The first is the murals themselves, which are made in designated spots throughout the city and created by teams of local and international artists. The second is the film screenings, which are done in various theatres and venues in the city and focus on art and South Africa. The third and final aspect is the walking tours, which physically take people to the art that’s currently happening in Johannesburg. And while those above the equator may think of October as a strange time to host a street walking tours, locals know that October is springtime for South Africa.

colourful wall mural in the city of gold festival

The walking tours are an especially important aspect of the City of Gold Festival, which is deeply dedicated to highlighting the many areas of Johannesburg that are often left forgotten and abandoned by those who do not live in the neighbourhoods. By taking people to these oft-ignored areas, people can see the impact art can have on a city, and why art projects are an important aspect of urbanization.

The City of Gold Art Festival is an excellent example of how art can celebrate not only amazing and talented artists, but the areas in which this art is located. By bringing the city and its art together, the festival can give people a better appreciation of the local art scene and the city.