Peeta's completed mural in the HKwalls festival

HKwalls Festival Paints Hong Kong with New Murals

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most modern cities, a place of great technological advancement, financial importance, and artistic development. As an independent city-state, it has made a name for itself on the world stage in many different areas, including the arts. For muralists and street artists, Hong Kong represents an exciting place to see amazing work, and there’s no better time to check out Hong Kong’s art scene than during HKwalls.

HKwalls is an annual street art festival, held in the springtime, that attracts thousands of art enthusiasts to Hong Kong. This year, the festival moved to the Sham Shui Po district in Hong Kong. Sham Shui Po is the city’s poorest district, yet it’s also one of the oldest settled places in the area. Scientists have found evidence that people have lived in the area for at least two thousand years. Today, the district is very much part of a new world. It’s famous for its electronics street markets and, thanks to HKwalls, its beautiful public art.

HKWalls artwork being painted by Peeta

At the latest HKwalls festival, artists and people came to Sham Shui Po from around the world, taking in the sights and creating beautiful, intricate, and fascinating murals, films, and other forms of street art. Plenty of famous artists appeared at the festival, including Parent’s Parents, Faust, Alana Tsui, Ryck, and Okuda. With so many talented people creating public art, it was hard to take it all in, much less decide on a favourite, but one piece has stood out above many others: a piece by Venice-based artist Peeta that tricks the eye into thinking his graffiti is popping off the wall.

Peeta's completed mural in the HKwalls festival

The piece covers a large facade of an arcade called Golden Computer Arcade and blends Peeta’s knowledge of sculpture, graffiti writing, and design into one large-scale and beautiful piece. Peeta created the mural with a colour scheme that matches the surrounding district, emphasizing its place in the neighbourhood rather than attempting to stand out with loud colours.

The piece uses Peeta’s now signature writing style, which doesn’t actually emphasize clarity or communication, but style over substance, as it were. Rarely are Peeta’s writings actually legible, but that doesn’t matter, the pieces speak for themselves without the need for distinctive letters. As Peeta says about his own work: “In my own work, I endeavour to realise the sculptural quality of individual letters… I break them from their generic typographical form, stylizing them with shape and volume beyond mere semantic function.”

new mural by artist okuda in the hkwalls mural festival

HKwalls is an important festival that not only helps create beautiful murals in some of Hong Kong’s poorer districts, but gives artists the space to make beautiful, lasting impacts on the community. Armed with little more than their paintbrushes and a designated canvas, many artists at HKwalls have made some of their largest and most impressive works, pieces that have lasted for years after.

kanye kissing kanye mural by scott marsh in chippendale, australia

What We Talk About When We Talk About Kimye and Murals

Earlier this year in the quiet city of Chippendale, Australia, a mural appeared that made headlines around the world. The piece, created by Australian street artist Scott Marsh, was a recreation of a meme that circulated around the internet the previous year. The meme, and the subsequent mural, depicted Kanye West kissing his wife Kim Kardashian, except her face was replaced with another Kanye face. The meme had been shown around the world and, consequently, the mural also gained its fair amount of attention, including from Kanye West’s staff.

full size of scott marsh's kanye mural

Marsh claims that he received a call from Kanye’s management shortly after the mural went viral, asking to have the piece taken down. In response, Marsh announced he had created a print of the mural and that it was for sale, for $100,000 and a lifetime supply of Kanye-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers. When that print was purchased, he would paint over the original mural.

While no one from Kanye’s team has taken responsibility, Marsh received the money a few days later and, a few days after that, he painted over the mural. Marsh, for his part, was surprised that things happened the way they did, starting with the mural gaining so much attention. ‘’I’m surprised there has been so much worldwide attention,” Marsh told the Illawarra Mercury. “I did it as a kind of a funny jab at the occult celebrity and celebrity culture and the power of media, in particular social media.’’ Marsh could not have picked a more appropriate subject for his work. Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian have become some of the biggest celebrities in the world precisely because of their approach to social media and their lifestyle (and, in the case of Kanye, because of his music).

When we talk about celebrity in the modern age, we are talking about their permeance, their ability to move through the separations and layers of our society with relative ease. Today, a social media post can be copied, altered, copied again, and sent around the world. It can show up on news sites and, in rare instances, on the side of a wall in Chippendale, Australia. And people can turn celebrity into almost anything. Ronald Reagan used his celebrity to help him win the presidency and another presidential hopeful is using the same tactics again today.

A celebrity’s ability to show up anywhere is a double-edged sword as well, one that the Kardashians have been trying to master for years. There strikes a balance between people’s forgetfulness and the internet’s ability to keep anything and everything easily searchable and accessible. Kanye may have allegedly forked over six figures to have a mural removed, but pictures of the mural are easily found through a simple Google search.

Street art and murals can challenge and provoke in multiple ways, including towards our obsessions with celebrity. For Marsh, tapping into our love of the rich and famous has earned him money and fame as well. But, as he says, these things can be fleeting.

‘’The attention has definitely lifted my profile. It’s just a matter now that I’ve got to work really hard and try and turn that into something tangible rather than 15 minutes of fame.’’

loving vincent

Loving Vincent: The World’s First Fully-Painted Feature Film

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the world’s most recognizable painters. Hailing from The Netherlands, Van Gogh became one of the most influential and important painters in history, and a major contributor to the Post-Impressionist era of painting. Moving away from his surrounding conventions, Van Gogh crafted dreamy, flowing art pieces that almost seemed to move on their own. It seems only natural, then, that someone would attempt to move Van Gogh’s work from the canvas to film. But for one team of talented filmmakers, they decided film was the right medium, but canvas was still essential to capturing the feel of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Loving Vincent is a truly unique film experiencing that will be coming out later this year. It tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh through his work or, rather, painted frames that animate Van Gogh’s work an life. Produced by BreakThru Films (perhaps most famous for the special effects in La Vie En Rose) and Trademark Films, the film is written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Cast members include Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, St. Vincent), Saoirse Ronan (Hannah, Brooklyn), and Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones), who will play various characters featured in Van Gogh’s paintings. Perhaps fittingly, the project was partially funded through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped cover the large costs involved with making the film.

The film bears a striking resemblance to rotoscoping, an animation technique used in films like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but it couldn’t be more different. Unlike rotoscoping, which animates over film cells of real-life actors, the crew behind Loving Vincent created the film using only canvas and paint. Each of the film’s 62,450 frames is a full oil painting, painted in the style and technique of Vincent Van Gogh, and is done by a team of 85 individual painters. The result is not only the world’s first fully painted feature film, but a captivating exploration into the art of Van Gogh’s paintings. So, just like traditional animation, the cast only lends their voices.

The film is set to be screened in an elaborate art exhibit that will tour around major art galleries. The exhibit will include, according to the film’s website, “original paintings and artwork from the film, a real-life painting animator, and large scale bespoke exhibits that show how this unique artistic endeavour was accomplished.”

Loving Vincent, besides being appropriately named, is yet another example of how art can push and change entire mediums. When we generally think about painting and film, we think of documentaries, or perhaps paint on glass animation, but Loving Vincent pushes the medium of film, well, completely past its actual physical components. Hopefully the film will feature a widespread release on top of its art exhibition so more people can experience this entirely new way of making film, and develop a deeper appreciation for one of history’s most talented artists.

image of blu mural in berlin after being painted over

Banksy’s Stolen Art

Banksy’s work has caused another controversy, but this time it isn’t about his work, it’s about where it went. A Banksy piece was found on the side of a building in North London, where it was stolen by unknown parties after being there for less than a year. Soon after, an American art dealer announced that the piece was going to be up for sale, with an estimated price of nearly one million dollars.

image showcasing stolen banksy street art

The piece was verified and became a well-known fixture in the community, and the piece itself was reportedly removed without the permission of the building owner. Some locals have called the act theft and demanded the piece be given back since it is stolen property.

In response, Bologna street artist Blu started painting over his pieces in his hometown. Done leading up to a show he was having, he said the decision to destroy his own work was made in part because of the story in London.

It’s important to note that Banksy is, as always, an exceptional example in the world of graffiti and public art. He is both unknown and the most popular graffiti artist in the world, which means he cannot have a significant say in what happens to his work once it is on public property. If Banksy was, say, Shepard Fairey, then he could issue a statement or participate in the conversation in a more significant way.

On the other hand, Banksy’s work has changed the lives of people throughout the world in a financial capacity. A few years ago, a single mom in England woke up to a Banksy on her home’s side wall. The wall section was removed and the art sold at auction, to which she received most of the profits. But here, the property case is more complicated, especially since no one has reported the theft as a crime.

Graffiti is almost founded on the idea of property and this incident questions both who owns the piece and what ownership the artists have over it once it’s completed. For Banksy, his identity makes his work a target while limiting his ability to contribute to the conversation. Blu’s protest suggests that the artist can “take back” their work at any time with a roller and some unsightly paint. And seeing as Banksy’s mural was indeed stolen and then sold elsewhere in the world, it becomes a question of who owns the piece once it’s finished. Is it the building owners, the artist, or whoever can rip it off the wall the fastest?

Depending on who you ask, you will get a different opinion, and that will certainly change from nation to nation. In London, no crimes were reported during the incident and the thieves were never discovered. Some may wonder if the piece was, in fact, not stolen, but removed for a fee and sold later. Whatever the reasoning and end result, though, Banksy’s work continues to challenge in more ways than one.

horn please logo - a documentary about indian truck art

India’s Truck Art Finally Gets the Documentary it Deserves

When The Beatles came back from their famous trip to India, they brought back a certain “psychedelic” sensibility. You can here the psychedelia in many of their songs, especially in sitar-heavy songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. But John, Paul, George, and Ringo didn’t just bring Indian music back from India. If you look at their art and the colourful trucks that run up and down India’s highways, they brought it back in their visual sensibilities.

Truck art in India looks like something that flew straight out of a drive-in viewing of Alice in Wonderland at a hippy colony. The bright, swirling colours give them an immediately recognizable, and certainly memorable, feel. Now, this art style is receiving a full documentary, one that explores the history, impact, and importance of truck art in India. Called Horn Please after the sign on the back of trucks telling people to honk their horn before trying to overtake, the documentary is a celebration and meditation on India’s colourful trucks.

The documentary’s directors, Shantanu Suman and Istling Mirche, have a lot of ground to cover in the thirty minute documentary. Truck art has been around for almost as long as vehicles have been in India, and the work carries with it any number of important messages. As the documentarians point out, the art is about Indian culture and religion, but it’s also about the people driving the trucks themselves. It’s not just a chance for some brightly-coloured self-expression, although that is part of it, it’s also a chance to connect to their clients and customers.

For the street artist and mural enthusiast, Horn Please not only offers a glimpse into the people behind Indian Truck Art, it also provides a space to think about commercialism, capitalism, and the place art needs to occupy in society, but does so with a focus on a country who’s economic development and sustainability is very different from the Western world. Indian truck art is definitively Indian, drawing inspiration from Indian culture, religion, and iconography, but many of the art’s motivations remain strikingly similar: the need for expression, the desire for exposure, and simply the will to advertise oneself in a definitive and memorable way.

While countries like Canada and the United States have made their street art immobile, India’s roams the streets and provides a necessary function beyond the paint jobs. Trucks are a lifeblood for many places around the world, and for Indian truck art, you can transport more than just goods in a psychedelic and very groovy truck.

Horn Please is available online and is a must-watch for anyone interested in public art from a completely different perspective.

 

sea walls mural being painted by mural artist in napier new zealand

Sea Walls – Murals for Oceans

Public art can serve many different functions. It can help raise awareness about certain issues, beautify a space, claim an area, or even make a bold political statement about a subject about which the artist deeply cares. These are all amazing reasons to participate in and make art in a public setting, and there’s one festival that tries to encapsulate all of these reasons into a single event. 

Taking place this year in Napier New Zealand, Sea Walls is a festival dedicated to art, the ocean, and everything that makes both of these things important and necessary. This year, the festival took place over eleven days in March and was comprised of many different kinds of events and moments, all of which were dedicated to promoting and drawing awareness to ocean conservation issues that effect the local area. The festival is different from most other street artist festivals in that it moves around. Previously, Sea Walls drew attention to ocean conservation issues in cities like Los Angeles, Vietnam, Mexico and Sri Lanka. The festival is put on by the international nonprofit, the PangeaSeed Foundation.

mural from sea walls by Jason Botkin (Canada) & Cinzah Merkens (New Zealand)

Jason Botkin (Canada) & Cinzah Merkens (New Zealand)

New Zealand is home to some of the most unique and interesting ocean environments in the world, including plenty of important coral reefs and ocean creatures that diversify the ocean landscape and make it stronger and healthier. But, like many other natural spaces around the world, New Zealand’s oceans are facing a number of different threats, from pollution to the impact of rising water temperatures.

sea walls mural by Chris Konecki (USA)

Chris Konecki (USA)

Sea Walls tries to use public art and a street art festival to do three major things: beautify Napier’s streetscape, raise awareness about local ocean conservation issues, and to make bold statements about the importance of our world’s oceans. The goal is important and artists certainly seemed to agree: they came from around the world to participate in and create some beautiful pieces in support of Sea Walls’ project and goals. 

Even Napier’s City Council was on board for the festival, donating over $30,000 to help the festival with its costs, mostly to help the artists come and do their work. This move is especially important, since street art and local government are often seen as at odds. But Sea Walls has proven time and again that the relationship between a government and street artists and muralists can not only be productive, but mutually beneficial.

Sea Walls is an important festival because it proves that street art, murals, and local issues can share a strong and mutually beneficial relationship. Since our world’s waters are some of the most interesting places we have on this earth, and the most delicate, any and all tactics to raise awareness and money are important for future life on earth. Organizations like PangeaSeed Foundation are using street art to help draw attention to specific issues and, in doing so, can help make a difference in important issues around the world.

muralist hard at work on street art mural at the pow wow art festival in honolulu, hawaii

POW! WOW!

Hawaii is a beautiful place, that much goes without saying, but much of Hawaii’s beauty is focused on its natural landscapes, not its thriving art scene. This is a true shame because Hawaii has two important facets that make for an interesting and radical art scene: a native population with its own artistic history and infrastructure put in place to help the art scene thrive.

There are plenty of programs used to promote and advertise Hawaii’s art scene, but one of the biggest and most exciting is the POW! WOW! Art Festival in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This area, traditionally a place of royal significance, is an industrial and cultural hub for Hawaii’s capital and is the perfect launching point for this diverse and amazing festival.

On the surface, POW! WOW! is not dissimilar to many other street art festivals that take place around the world. It has a series of activities in which people can partake, including lectures and concerts, and it attracts some of the world’s most up-and-coming muralists and street artists. But what sets POW! WOW! apart is its diversity.

Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unique to much of the world in that it’s a true mosaic. Cultures and cultural influences are all around you when you walk through Honolulu, especially when it comes to other Pacific islands. POW! WOW! celebrates this diversity with a heavy influence on artists from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and more.

beautiful mural being rendered at the pow wow art festival

POW! WOW! gets its name from the Indigenous American term for a gathering. The word itself is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, which means “spiritual leader. Appropriately enough, the Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe traditionally from an island themselves: Rhode Island.

In many ways, POW! WOW! is about gathering people together, which is why there is such a heavy focus on events and diversity. At any time during the festival, there are talks happening in galleries and on the streets, and people can interact with artists and some of their art as part of the festival. And, of course, there’s plenty of entertainment as well. It’s also one of the few festivals in the Northern Hemisphere to take place during the winter, in the dead of February to be exact, which makes it an excellent retreat for people who want to see great art and get out of the cold.

What POW! WOW! represents for the street art community is two important things: the necessity of inclusion and the importance of discussion. With a focus on both, POW! WOW! is an important festival for showcasing numerous talents that may otherwise be considered “regional.” By giving a voice, and the chance to create, to a wide variety of artists, POW! WOW! is leading the charge in making great festivals that are by everyone and for everyone.

el-seed perception mural in cairo

Perceptions by eL Seed

Here at MuralForm, we often talk about beautification and street art. Murals and public art has long been seen for its utility. That is, public art’s ability to make a place that needs a facelift a little better looking. Some street art accomplishes this in spades, but that’s really only part of what we mean when we talk about beautification.

Many muralists and street artists are brought into neighbourhoods with a perception problem, areas of a city that other neighbourhoods view as an “eyesore” or “dirty.” Naturally, these areas are often home to marginalized communities that have very distinct personalities and community spirit. The best street artists who make art in these areas will beautify the area, but do so by making art to captures what makes the neighbourhood beautiful already.

el seed perception close up showing kid swinging infront of artwork

Take, for example, the neighbourhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, Egypt. Long home to Cairo’s marginalized Christian community, one area  of the district has become known by a pejorative nickname: Garbage City. Much of the area lacks proper infrastructure, including electricity, running water, and sewers. But despite these obstacles, the area has thrived and is even home to the largest cathedral in the Middle East: The Cave Cathedral or St Sama’ans Church.

Garbage City, despite the poor perception of other areas of the city, performs an essential function for the entire city of Cairo: recycling. Area residents are involved in multiple recycling programs for the city. According to artist eL Seed, the Coptic Christian community “collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level.”

close up of perception mural showcasing

eL Seed loves the district for its lively culture and essential function for the city, so when he was commissioned to create some public art for the area, he decided to create something that spoke to these positive elements. The project is called, appropriately enough, Perception, and it’s an ambitious project that looks incredible, but only from a certain angle.

Perception is a collection of anamorphic pieces that cover almost 50 buildings in the district, but the picture they create together can only be seen from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. From there, you can see a beautiful and intricate work designed with bright colours and, most importantly, a beautiful message. In keeping with the Christian community that dwells Manshiyat Nasr, eL Seed used a quote from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century. In Arabic, it reads “إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه” or “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”

“In my new project ‘Perception,’” eL Seed says of the project, “I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.”

Beautification is often seen as the major function of street art, that it can bring something beautiful to areas that need it, but that doesn’t mean it should wipe over what’s already there. With Perception, eL Seed sought to capture the district’s heart, all while pointing out that certain perceptions are incorrect and harmful.

The Wall of Love

We all grieve in different ways. Some isolate themselves. Others seek out people with whom to grieve. Some turn their pain into anger, others into compassion. Certainly in the wake of tragedy, there are plenty of ways to seek solace.

We have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how street art can beautify a space, or act as a critique of street art itself, or even have a political message on its own. We haven’t spent much time on one of the fundamental ways that street art is used, and that is in remembrance and respect.

Last year, one of the most shocking terrorist attacks in the world took place in Paris, France. It brought the entire world to a halt and for one evening, we all stood shocked and paralyzed as the situation played out. When the emergency response crews were finally able to rescue everyone they could and put down those responsible, the world was left to mourn, and one of the ways that people decided to grieve was through street art, and in creating what has come to be known as “The Wall of Love.” Not to be confused with Paris’ other Wall of Love, which bears the word love in hundreds of different tiles, but one that’s directly connected to how Parisians feel about the attacks, some few months on.

wall of love in paris

The Wall of Love was started by Diana Kami, an artist who lives in the 10th Arrondissement in Paris. Her initial response to the attacks was an almost instinctual need to create something, to funnel her feelings and grief into something tangible and expressive. So she headed to a stretch of wall on rue Alibert. Nestled close to two of the cafes targeted during the attacks, the space is is often used as a canvas by local street artists. Her paintings inspired other mothers from Kami’s daughter’s school and they soon petitioned the local government to paint the entire wall. Together, they raised 500 euros, and the Wall of Love started to take form. The group decided to call it “Dessine-Moi un Bouquet,” and the project began to build steam.

After the crowdfunding effort, the space became much more well-known by local artists and other people who felt a deep desire to create something from their grief. Jo Di Bona, Ernesto Novo, and Mosko were just a few of the gifted artists who helped paint the wall, which now stands as a testament to the beauty that remains in Paris, despite the horrific attacks last November.

What the Wall of Love shows us street artists is the continued power of public art to not only help artists, but help others. In this case, the wall has become a symbol of beauty, resilience, and grief, and in that the people of Paris have a chance to mourn and point out that beauty can be a response to tragedy.

Reverse Graffiti

Graffiti is often seen in the eyes of the public as a sort of pollution. It’s an old way to approach this longtime art form, especially since we’ve now had decades of brilliant artists proving how much worth graffiti has on a population, but the stigma still exists. Some see ti as a form of vandalism, a scar on the landscape that impacts the beauty of its canvas. Of course, we can all probably think of countless examples where this simply isn’t the case, or where graffiti has beautified its building.

Of course, we can also all think of buildings and city spaces that are inherently polluted, whether the walls are bearing years of traffic exhaust or the pollution of the Industrial Revolution was never quite scrubbed clean. These types of spaces are all over the world and some of the world’s more inventive artists have started to do something about it.

vermeer girl painted rendered via cleaning dirt off of car

The idea is called “reverse graffiti” and it’s essentially a very artistic version of someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car. In its most common form, reverse graffiti involves cleaning away pollution or messes in such a way that the cleaned spaces create an intricate and beautiful design. Of course, since its inception, reverse graffiti has become more complicated, the materials more interesting, and the ambition more incredible. Usually, the job is done with simple soap, but newcomers are using greenery and more to create extremely elaborate patterns, many of which slowly fade as the dirt either accumulates or washes off.

Depending on the material, reverse graffiti is also an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional spray paint graffiti. Since paints are often quite toxic, especially when put in aerosol form, these products can be harmful to the natural world, especially when they’re washed off and poured down a city drain. But reverse graffiti actually cleans the space, so it removes some of the filth and pollutants that linger over our city spaces.

tunnel reverse graffiti skulls

Being a cleaner alternative to traditional graffiti, many corporations have now jumped onboard the reverse graffiti train, using popular artists to both clean urban environments and promote their products. Smirnoff enlisted one of reverse graffiti’s most well-known artists, Moose, for a campaign in Leeds and London. Promoting the campaign as clean and innovative, it managed to draw a lot of attention and have a reverse environmental impact.

tesla roadster reverse graffiti on wall

Reverse graffiti is an excellent response to the gradual dirt that accumulates in our cities and towns. Since many of the places in which we live have experienced decades, if not centuries, of waste, pollution, and more, it only seems natural that we use artistic and creative means to make the spaces more beautiful. And while traditional street art is being used constantly to beautify spaces, there is something inherently beautiful present in reverse graffiti. By using soap, not spray, we are both creating more beauty in the world while doing our part to make it a nicer, more livable space.