basil smith looking out of his caravan

Basil Smith and his Wonderful Romani Caravans

Some people love to cross their home country in an RV. The combination of open road and love of travelling make it the dream for many. In fact, it’s the retirement plan of many people in North America. But on the other side of the world, in Australia, a man has turned his love of travel into an art project unlike any on his continent.

Basil Smith, an Australian by way of England, has spent his life making beautiful, intricately-detailed caravans reminiscent of the Romani people in Europe. His work combines the bright colours and rounded shapes of the caravans with his own special touches, and he and his wife spend much of their retirement travelling around Australia, and living in one of their caravans.

Basil Smith grew up in England and doubtlessly saw and encountered Romani people during his childhood. He developed a fascination for their nomadic lifestyle and caravans and has since turned that fascination into a hobby.

Most of Basil’s caravans start with recycled material, from which he designs a caravan to build. He apprenticed with hand tools and still does the majority of the work by hand to this day. Basil isn’t alone in his pursuit, either. His wife helps him with designing and building each caravan, and has a particular skill for the special window stylings of the Romani caravans. Basil provides her with the plans and she makes them a reality, making every caravan a real team effort. The end result of all their hard work is a wholly unique caravan that he and his wife often take on road trips around the country.

While many people are attracted to the exterior, which he paints in bright colours and adorns with intricate designs, it’s the interior living space that really makes the difference. Basil includes all the necessities of modern living in his caravans, despite the fact they are often much smaller than their Romani counterparts. Inside, the walls are decorated with beautiful cloth and there’s space for a bed, a place to cook, and more, in almost every single one.

As far as hobbies go, the Smiths’ love of travel, recycled material caravans, and staying active is a great idea. They have also turned a popular way to spend retirement, on the road in an RV, into an artistic pursuit, one that embraces the aesthetics of an important group of people in Europe. It shows that many of the things we have an enjoy have long, rich, and varied histories that weave together art and function. For Basil and his wife, it’s the love of travel and the rich culture of the Romani people.

Artist Bio: Steve Casino

On this blog, we’ve talked about all kinds of artistic approaches, but many of the pieces have focused on the materials used more than the canvas on which they are created. Projects like organic graffiti, which uses plants to create beautiful murals, or creating art projects from roadside debris, are all about what is used to make the art, not what the art is made on. But this can be different, too. The world is not limited to simply building walls, large pieces of canvas, or the printer page.

Artist Steve Casino has chosen a rather unique canvas on which to make his art, one that complements his funky and cartoonish art style. Rather than paint caricatures on regular pieces of paper like an artist on the street, he paints his pieces onto peanuts. That’s right, the humble and very common peanut shell.

steve casino's peanut shell artwork showcasing the beatles

Casino has invented a very specific process to ensure his creations are able to be preserved for years and even decades after he creates them. First, he removes the nuts from the shells. Next, he seals the shells back together using a special archival urethane mixture. He then paints the pieces, sealing the final work under a layer of clear acrylic. Finally, the finished piece or pieces are sealed inside a specialty glass dome for added protection.

Casino’s pieces are beautiful and painstakingly created, with as many as 20 hours dedicated to the painting alone. Unlike the novelty caricatures you often see around town, these are artistically beautiful and unique objects that can last for years to come.

The peanut is only the base of the work, however, and most of Casino’s pieces feature additional work that extends the object beyond the simple shape of the peanut shell. Hands, feet, legs, and more are added to the piece before painting, creating a unique and interesting piece that’s more than just, well, the shape and size of a peanut. The full extent of Casino’s capabilities can be seen on his website, and range from realistic to outright audacious.

What Casino’s work shows us is that art is not limited to just a few common kinds of canvas, but what the art is put on can vary as widely as the materials placed onto it. His pieces also challenge the idea of high and low art. While his artwork often fits into the style of caricature, the artistry, skill, and beauty he created from a peanut shell and some paint proves this is more than a novelty. In fact, it shows us that art of all styles deserves attention, and maybe even earns a place under a protected glass dome for people to enjoy for years to come.

Zen Palagniuk posing infront of thread art

Zenyk Palagniuk – Thread Art

When we think of street art or portraits, we usually think of one medium: paint. Sure, there are hundreds of materials you can use to create art anywhere, from rocks to spray paint to almost anything else. But one type of material we often don’t think of when it comes to portraiture is nails and thread. Yet one Dallas-based artist has done just that.

In his studio, Ukrainian artist Zenyk Palagniuk started hammering nails into a large piece of wood, intent on creating a portrait of American singer and actor Justin Timberlake. Wanting to get as accurate a look as possible, Palagniuk then set about winding string between every nail, “drawing,” as it were, Timberlake’s face across the board.

Zenyk Palagniuk thread art

Zenyk Palagniuk thread art

The entire process took Palagniuk over 200 hours of work and labour. Starting with a rough sketch, he then used over 24km of string across 13,000 nails to create the work. The end result is a pencil-sketch type portrait of Timberlake that has a unique depth and feel thanks to the unique materials.

The technique is very similar to another artist, Kumi Yamashita, but with one important difference: Yamashita only uses one width of string to create her pieces, where as Palagniuk uses different widths and will wrap around the same nail multiple times. Comparatively, Palagniuk’s work is sparser than Yamashita’s, probably because the string can stretch over more space.

Kumi Yamashita thread artwork

Kumi Yamashita thread artwork

Palagniuk’s piece shows us that the process and work itself has influence on the end result. While an impressive piece on its own, this Justin Timberlake portrait becomes something else once a bit of the process is revealed. While all art has a right to be admired for its craft, this portrait’s beauty and awe is in part from knowing what the artist physically did.

Of course, Jackson Pollack had similar notions about art and the process of making art. Many of his most popular abstract pieces are done by bending at the waist instead of the elbow or shoulder, which is most common for paintings. Pollack’s work is in part an exercise in making the labour of art known, rather than shrouding it in mystery.

While Palagniuk has remained fairly quiet on what his future plans may be, his piece has already become a sensation online, and there surely is a fascinating career ahead for this resourceful artist. His commitment and transparency is impressive for the young, Dallas-based artist, and his peeling back the layers of how art is made will surely fascinate spectators far into the future.

Michael Grab showcasing rock pile art

Michael Grab aka Gravity Glue

While we focus on painters a lot on this blog, this is only one form of public art. There are an incredible number of mediums out there that all contribute to the art we see on an everyday basis, from sculpture to topiary (hedge trimming art) to, in the case of this week’s featured artist, balancing rocks. 

Canadians and North Americans are probably familiar with the Inukshuk, the stacked rock sculptures made by the Inuit. These human-like figures have captured the imaginations and attention of people around the world. These beautiful creations come in many different sizes, but they have also inspired people to create smaller versions at places around the world. In fact, small yet intricate rocks piles are a common sight in many national parks and areas in Canada and North America, but one artist has taken this notion to a completely different level. 

rock artwork by gravity glue

Michael Grab, the owner and purveyor of Gravity Glue, is not a painter but a type of sculptor, one who creates intricate rock piles in places around the world. The practice started out as a simple hobby and fascination when he was in Boulder, Colorado in 2012. In Grab’s own words, he was drawn to rock piles because of an “awe at the stillness, let alone possibility, of such precarious formations, amidst sometimes very turbulent conditions. For me this reflects our own potential to maintain a still-point amidst the variety of challenges we each face throughout our lives.” 

Grab practices rock piling every day as a meditative and artistic practice and has gone on to create some truly wondrous and seemingly impossible creations. While many of them operate to challenge the laws of gravity, precariously positioning larger, pointed rocks onto smaller ones, others are more ambitious. One piece in his portfolio is an entire bridge of rocks, complete with arches, that was made entirely from rocks in the area. 

Since garnering a name for himself with rock piling, Grab has expanded his scope to include film, photography, and even DJ mixes and sets, but there is something serene and amazing in the work of his rock piles. 

What Grab’s art shows is that street art doesn’t require paint or even a street, it only needs a will and, at some point, an audience, even if that is an audience of one. Rock piles like Grab’s are artistic and meditative endeavours that draw people in at their simple mastery, but can also be left for others to discover. So the next time you’re in a national park, keep an eye out for rock piles, or make one yourself. It’s a wonderful exercise and an interesting way that people have been leaving pieces of art for others for centuries.

Daim infront of piece

Artist Bio: DAIM

There are few graffiti artists with the acclaim, success, and widespread recognition like DAIM. This German graffiti artist rose to prominence in the nineties and has since been on the cutting edge of graffiti and street art. Widely recognized as the man who popularized the 3-D art style of graffiti, his work is often replicated by artists, but few have managed to match his skill and technical proficiency.

DAIM, born Mirko Reisser in 1971, showed an early interest in art and was already getting commissions by the time he left high school. He entered the world of freelance artistry soon after and spent the next five years making a name for himself in the German art scene. It was during this period, the mid-nineties, that graffiti art became a more widely-recognized form of art and DAIM’s pieces soon became the picture-perfect examples of the European and German graffiti scene. In his own words, DAIM’s “geometric figures and letters obey the laws of light and shadow but defy gravity and curve space.”

artwork by DAIM

Mirko Reisser (DAIM) | “D/-IM – up and around Marta Herford” | Spraypaint on wall | 8,8 x 21,5 m | 06.2013 | Museum Marta Herford | Herford / Germany

DAIM’s first major contribution to the art world was his now trademark 3-D style. Inspired by artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali, DAIM sought to create 3-D images without relying on outlining, as was common at the time, but with forms made from shading. The result is brightly-coloured pieces that seem to hang just off the wall, all with a profound eye for technical merit and style, something that DAIM further honed when he did his fine arts degree at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland.

While at school, cofounded “getting up,” an art collective that operated primarily out of Hamburg that consisted of DAIM, Gerrit Peters, and Heiko Zahlmann. The group works together to this day.

Mirko Reisser (DAIM) | "round trip" | Spraypaint on 30 Alu-Dibond plates | total: 653 x 772 cm / 50,41 m² | 2015 | commission work for TUI "Mein Schiff 4" | Courtesy: TUI Cruises / Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich | Photo: MRpro

Mirko Reisser (DAIM) | “round trip” | Spraypaint on 30 Alu-Dibond plates | total: 653 x 772 cm / 50,41 m² | 2015 | commission work for TUI “Mein Schiff 4” | Courtesy: TUI Cruises / Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich | Photo: MRpro

The vast majority of DAIM’s work even today focuses on letters and words, and his photorealistic stylings before he came to graffiti are present in each of his pieces. Combining a fresh look at graffiti writing with a strict adherence to the art and styles that form the backbone of European art, DAIM can be seen as one of the integral artists for moving graffiti from an attraction to an art-form with a history and connection to the European art scene.

DAIM’s impact is still felt on the graffiti and street art scenes to this day, not just for his early pioneering work, but for his contemporary projects. He was responsible for providing a certain technical mastery to the craft at a time when street art and graffiti artists were seen as amateurs unable to enter the art gallery, and his 3-D style has become a mainstay and standard for anyone who wants to make art with a spray can.

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.

swinger light drawing by lucea spinelli's photosgraphe series

Artist Bio: Lucea Spinelli

Dreams. Light. A world just outside our visual conception. Artists have spent centuries exploring these types of ideas through visual art, looking to the ways we can bring the internal and otherworldly into an experience that resonates with everyone. Each of us, after all, have experiences that aren’t simply about the objective world around us, but involve our feelings, spiritualities, emotions, and more.

In general, art about the otherworldly or simply non-visual experiences tend to come from artforms that lend themselves to the abstract: painting, animation, and the like. But that doesn’t mean these cannot be experienced in the more “grounded” of arts, including photography. This is where the art of photographer and visual artist Lucea Spinelli comes in: combining the familiar, the real, with the unfamiliar, the experience outside the visual realm.

Lucea Spinelli’s latest series of photographs, Phōtosgraphé, aren’t photography in the strictest of sense, Spinelli herself, in an interview with Architectural Digest, describes each of the portraits as “stop motion, light painting, long-exposure photography, motion art, et cetera. I usually refer to them as spirit portraits or, as the name suggests, light drawings.”

swinger light drawing by lucea spinelli's photosgraphe series

Each of the photographs, or light drawings, in “Phōtosgraphé use long exposure and light sources to add an element of surrealism to standard photographs. A picture of a swing set at night, for example, becomes a picture of light swinging from an abandoned swing. Seeing the piece brings a number of questions: what causes the swing to move? Who is there just beyond our usual perception? How does our world obscure our objective experiences?

arches stacked light drawing by lucea spinelli's photosgraphe series

For Spinelli, Phōtosgraphé is a chance to create something that blends photography, moving art, and philosophy into a single experience. “Studying philosophy and politics gave me language to understand realms of consciousness that exist outside our perception,” she explains in the interview, “I see dreams, spirits, and interpretations of the divine as stemming from these realms, and they are what drive my creative exploration.”

roof sequence light drawing by lucea spinelli's photosgraphe series

Possibly an unexpected side effect of her pieces is how they translate onto the web. Each moving image in Phōtosgraphé is instantly gif-able, as it were, and many of them are showing up online as continual loops of experience. The way her art moves from real world to online experience makes the series one with our virtual selves, which adds a layer to the otherworldly experience the pieces speak to and cause spectators to feel.

Spinelli grew up surrounded by photography, with both her parents working as commercial photographers when she was a child. She “had a camera in hand from a young age” and while she never had formal training, a “childlike fascination” with the medium has led to truly unique results. Like the pieces themselves, Spinelli’s work exists in the fringes, on the borders, and in this space she is able to create feelings in her audience that traditional approaches to photography and art simply cannot.

glitterblink by lucea spinelli

jade street art

Artist Bio: Jade

Street art, in many ways, changes from place to place. Not simply in style, since different artists are working in different cities, but in terms of culture, of subject matter, and of what’s depicted. After Los Angeles enacted its infamous street art ban, the city’s street art took a noticeable turn. Styles morphed as artists had less time, and other things on their minds, as they made their art. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo completely legalized street art, encouraging artists. As a result, the city’s street art became more ambitious, more influential, and many world famous artists began to emerge from the scene.

jade-mural3

Peru is an exceptionally large and disparate country, one that stretches from the Northern end of Chile all the way up to Ecuador. From its capital of Lima in the south west, the country spreads out, with pockets of beautiful landscapes run completely by locals to the dense, tourist-heavy areas of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, where some of the most fascinating Incan ruins remain. Being so large and so disparate, the country has managed to produce a varied street art culture. Partially derived from the disparity found in the people, and partly in the variations you can find in the country itself.

One artist who has managed to capture Peru in all its varied glory is Jade. Growing up in Peru himself, Jade has tapped into something that is truly important and truly beautiful about Peru: its own relationship with nature. From the mountains that house Machu Picchu to the rain forests in the north to the desserts in the west, Peru has an extremely varied landscape, one that has been met with its fair share of exploitation and abuse. But the country has been fighting to keep its nature beautiful, and has made extremely successful headways into truly progressive environmental policy. It’s a testament to the country’s love of its land, from its individual citizens to its place on the world stage, and artists like Jade have managed to tap into this unique relationship.

jade-mural1

Jade’s artistic pieces, which range not only in size but in ambition, try to connect the human body back to nature in unique and beautiful ways. It can be simple, like a painting of a boy on a giant rock, or it can be quite abstract, like Jade’s tendency to add ghostly birds and beaks to depictions of modern day people. With all of it, Jade makes certain to connect the human subjects to nature, to bring the important relationship the Peruvian people have with their landscapes to the forefront, and Jade does so with an intense colouring that you would associate with South American countries like Peru.

jade-mural4

What Jade’s art can show us is that street art, while somewhat dependent on an urbanized space, doesn’t necessarily have to ignore the natural. In fact, the relationship between people and their environment can be showcased as beautiful and intrinsic. Jade’s art manages these spaces, and Jade does so while making something that is truly Peruvian.

ella pitr wall mural

Artist Bio: Ella & Pitr

Great art can often come from great collaboration. The Wachowskis, The Russo Brothers, The Coen Brothers, and many other great team-ups have changed movies, and the same is true within the art world. Street art is almost always collaborative in some regards, too. Even as we spotlight individual artists, many projects are the result of minds coming together to create something better than what could be thought of individually. And while some artists have made their way on their own, and have made their distinct stamp on the world of street art, many others have done so by working together and, in the spirit of collaboration, created something otherwise impossible.

This sentiment is true with Ella & Pitr, two French artists whose work is the very definition of the collaborative spirit. The two rose to prominence in the mid-2000s in Paris, a city with a vibrant and wonderful street art community. To make their mark, the two created pieces that rely on multiple people working together in two major ways, and one of the most noticeable expressions of this is their Sleeping Giants series.

ella-pitr2

Painted around the world, Sleeping Giants is a series of extremely large murals of people lying down together. The pieces vary in their sentiment and purpose, but most use muted colours and simple shapes, an approach that makes these extraordinary pieces wonderfully ordinary, which highlights a certain beauty in a very mundane activity: sleeping.

Ella & Pitr, Lillith and Olaf, for the Nuart Festival

Ella & Pitr, Lillith and Olaf, for the Nuart Festival

The Sleeping Giants pieces gained international fame when the duo set out to create Norway’s largest mural. Called “Lillith & Olaf,” the piece features a person crouched and sleeping, with a colourful king figurine off to the side. But while the piece itself, in its construction and perspective, is beautiful, the reason it made headlines is the size. At over 225,000 square feet, the piece is easily the largest mural ever made in Norway, and it took the world by storm when it debuted in the fall of 2015.

ella-pitr3

Ella & Pitr have made a number of murals, both in the Sleeping Giants series and in other exploits that, while not quite as big, are still interesting and interactive pieces. Many of their murals play with the idea of optical illusion and perspective, and people are constantly playing around while photographing themselves in the pieces. Such an effort to interact with street art is not uncommon, but people having fun with a piece in their own way is one of many signs that a piece of street art has done its job, captured people’s attention, and created an opportunity to turn the piece into something more.

The collaborative spirit of Ella & Pitr is a great reminder of how much street art relies on groups of people over singular artists. And while many street artists have deservedly made names for themselves, it’s important to remember that people, not a single person, are integral to art. Not just because every artist needs an audience, but because great things can happen when we work together.

martin ron mural of a turtle coming out of wall

Artist Bio: Martin Ron

There are few places in the world quite like Argentina and Brazil, especially when it comes to street art. The combination of talent, friendly laws, and a rich, varied and vibrant history has given birth to some of the best and brightest talents in the world. Simply walking down the streets of Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro will give you a sudden and delight insight into the many talented artist roaming the streets. But if you’re in Buenos Aries, you will be sure to notice the work of one Martin Ron, a street artist whose international acclaim is only growing.

Martin Ron’s work is noted first and foremost for its size. The motto “Go big or go home” seems to be a mantra for his work, which often towers above the smaller pieces that dot Buenos Aries’ skyline, alleyways, and neighbourhoods. Of course, usually such size also brings with it time savers, ways in which people can make a larger project while being able to get home at the end of the day. For Martin Ron, this is not the way to do things.

Besides the size, Martin Ron’s work is noted for its deep complexity in terms of colour, subject, and detail. Everything he does is painstakingly researched, created, and given a perfectionist’s level of attention to detail. From turtles bursting forth from walls to Dali-esque surreal takes on skater culture, everything looks at once real and artistic.

Take, for example, this piece. It taps not only into a larger artistic history, the influence of Salvador Dali’s surrealism is immediately evident, but it does so by considering the local skater culture and South American’s classic love of vibrancy, both in subject and in colour. Four stories tall and using three different sections of a building, the piece is astounding in its scope, size, and ambition, all of which have become the norm for Martin Ron.

What Martin Ron’s art shows us is more than an ability to compose larger, and larger-than-life, art, it shows us how vibrancy and taking into account one’s own history can lead to beautiful works of art. Too often, we think of artists as singular geniuses who completely change everything, but to do so often erases the people who came before. With Martin Ron, we can see brilliant nods to the past as history is being made right before our very eyes. It takes a measured approach and celebrates art history, the area around the drawing, and the characteristics that make South American street art, and Argentinian art in particular, such a fascinating part of the global street art phenomenon.