blu painting in nyc

Blu Bio

In 1999, the Italian city of Bologna’s historical district was inexplicably covered in murals and street art. It was mostly crude, using the standard spray paint of many street artists, and was limited in scope and size. Who did them remained a temporary mystery, but soon they were attributed to an artist known only as Blu. Soon, similar spray paint murals began showing up in Bologna’s suburbs, and people began to take notice, and came to recognize Blu’s work as it appeared on the sides of buildings most other street artists, or at least people with Blu’s level of talent, became more and recognizable.

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But in 2001, Blu’s work became more intricate and even more show stopping. Swapping in his trusty spray cans for rollers on telescopic sticks, Blu’s work was instantly larger, more pronounced, and began displaying a definitive style that the world is now even more familiar with. Huge human figures, sometimes drawn with sarcasm or sincerity, all borrowing from classic arcade and comic book styles, were becoming his mainstay, and they were everywhere. The increased output had a lot to do with Blu’s approach: he was interested in artistic collaboration, getting other street artists together to do late night raids in spaces. It wasn’t long after that Blu began experimenting with digital shorts, all released for free on the internet.

But Blu couldn’t keep his feet still and soon took off around the world to paint and make videos. His work has since shown up in places as diverse as Western Europe, Mexico City, Guatemala City, and even the West Bank. Blu moves around the world, looking for opportunity to create, not the chance to be seen by the art world. And in this rejection of the standard street artist practice, Blu has tapped into something much more interesting.

blu massive mural

Blu, like many recent street artist, has gone the Banksy route when it comes to his identity: who he is remains a mystery to the general public. Basically, the only concrete fact we know is that he’s Italian. Everything else, including the fact he may actually be a she, is up for debate. This hidden identity idea may be because Blu’s work is actually simply a question of staying hidden as most of his work has been illegal and classified as graffiti. But it could also be because his identity is inconsequential and part of a larger rejection of the regular art world.

Blu’s approach to street art is that it’s for everyone, not just for people who can or do pay for the privilege. And in a world where many talented artists go into the gallery scene to make some money, Blu has rejected such endeavours, instead selling only prints of work he does in the world. It’s for everyone and, if anyone wants a piece of Blu’s work for themselves, they have to pay for it and know that others have it too. The work moves against ownership and exclusivity, instead thinking of art as a collectively owned piece. And while we’re all sure Blu’s income has taken a hit, it seems Blu isn’t so much focused on the pay as the art.

What Blu’s approach and style shows is a genuine interest in art as a collective. Not only in approach and actual labour, but in who gets to enjoy it, witness it, and interact with it. Overall, the effect is incredible, and the world can also access Blu at any given time. If the internet is for everyone, Blu is proving that, no matter where your art is, it can reach millions of people and not have to deal with the politics or gold star from the arts community. And yet, they’re still scrambling for his work. Perhaps talent, at least in Blu’s case, is enough.

pejac working on painting

Pejac

Like many artists, the Spanish street artist known only as Pejac started on his artistic path because of dissatisfaction. Not with his childhood growing up, but with his art teacher’s own opinions of what art is, and who should be able to appreciate it. For Pejac, art belongs to everyone, and while his work appears in galleries as well as public space, he’s always sure to give to people who can’t or simply don’t want to walk through a stuffy art gallery.

pejac outdoor art

In an interview with Spanish magazine 20minutos, Pejac discusses that “both melancholy and humour are the locomotive of my works. They create a poetic language whose essence doesn’t rely on simple beauty, but on the hidden side of everything.” It makes sense when you see his work, as much of Pejac’s interest is in this playing with perspective and appearance to both capture attention and spread his messages. Sometimes these messgaes are simply to entertain, other times, as he says in his interview with The Huffington Post, “It’s like I would like my work to produce the same result as when you whisper into someone’s ear. Gentle and discrete – but right into the brain… a whisper in the form of a question.”

pejac girl magnifying glass ants

Much of Pejac’s work breaks outside the confines of the space to move work beyond its normal boundaries. Some of his gallery work, for example, literally breaks through the frames to create something visually striking but also challenging. Such a convention is a logical extension for a street artist, however, and much of Pejac’s work outside the gallery uses the breaking of normal limits to attract attention and challenge viewpoints. One such piece would be Pejac’s gutter paintings, which feature a stencil of the world getting swept down the drain. The image moves past the frame, as it were, and literally down the drain. The commentary is an immediate one, but the use of space is essential to its message.

pejac doorway art

But Pejac doesn’t push boundaries in urban spaces, galleries and building walls, he also breaks out into some more unconventional spaces too. The latest and perhaps most ambitious of these projects is Pejac’s recent painting of a boat. No, not a painting of a boat, but painting a rusty and abandoned ship. The piece breaks all manner of convention that fans have come to expect from Pejac, from the playing with perspective to the breaking of frames. The piece is located in Northern Spain on a barnacle-infested old ship. Abandoned to rust on the pier, Pejac decided to paint one of Monet’s most famous impressionist paintings on its side. But the trick, and with Pejac there always seems to be at least one, is the tide. Not simply a Monet recreation on the side of a boat, Pejac’s send up to one of the world’s most famous artists is partially hidden depending on the tide. In this case, the ocean itself reveals and obscures the painting.

pejac monet boat painting

Pejac’s work messes with how people assume we should look at art, harkening back to his fateful clash with his childhood art teacher. While most art is made to be appreciated within certain confines, whether that be a literal frame or a more metaphorical frame such as education or class, Pejac seeks to bring art to people by making it look not quite right. And in that, a message and some art for anyone willing to look.

picture of artist jr

JR Bio

JR is a French street artist who’s largely illegal art projects have blurred the lines between art and vandalism, spectator and actor, and expression from activism. Unlike many other graffiti artists, JR specializes in photography and often flyposts his work in places where street art is banned, and sometimes can even land you in jail. In all of his work, he seeks to raise awareness about the problems facing certain groups, and each is a combination of daring and insightful that often leaves people, and lawmakers, in awe.

portraits of a generation by JR

He first rose to prominence with Portraits of a Generation, which took pictures of inner city “thugs” and plastered all over his hometown of Paris, France. Posted in many places where the 2005 riots were at their most violent, Portraits of a Generation challenged many people’s preconceptions about who were involved in the riots, and for what reasons. Many of the posters were removed within a few days as they were illegally exhibited, but the project raised people’s awareness of Paris’ race problems, and their newest street artist.

face2face jr

The success of Portraits of a Generation only made JR more bold, and he decided to travel to Israel and Palestine for his next exhibit. Called Face2Face, the project sought to show both sides of the conflict as people with more similarities than differences. He traveled to both countries, taking closeup photographs of people who were asked to make faces of certain emotions. The pictures were then placed all over Palestine and Israel in the largest unauthorized street exhibit in history, with faces from Israelis and Palestinians placed right next to each other to emphasize their similarities.

women are heroes by JR

But it was JR’s next project that has brought him the most amount of success, and let him travel to the most number of places in the world. JR turned his attention to women with this project, whom he says “play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism.” To bring awareness to women’s roles in conflicts around the world, he decided to create a series of female gazes, flyposting pictures of women’s eyes so that they look out on the world around them, and called it Women are Heroes. He started the project in Rio de Janeiro in 2008, but has since done similar projects in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, India, and Cambodia.

inside out project by JR

Women are Heroes brought JR even more international attention and allowed him to branch out from activist artist to activist, using money and resources he’s acquired to not only continue to comment through his unique brand of street art, but to be actively involved in change. He won the 2011 TED Prize, which he used to establish the INSIDE OUT participatory art project. Through the fund, JR and his foundation “gives everyone the opportunity to share their portrait and make a statement for what they stand for. It is a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.” To date, more than 200,000 people from more than 112 countries & territories have participated.

ian stevenson artwork that reads this is graffiti

Ian Stevenson Bio

People in London have probably been chuckling on their travels for a few years now, and that’s in part thanks to Ian Stevenson. The Leicester-born graffiti artist has been tagging spots all over England with his own unique brand of political protest. But one Londoner in particular has been taken with Stevenson’s art, and that man is Russell Brand.

The actor, comedian, and writer has lately taken to doing The Trews, a news program that regularly critiques mainstream media, first world nations, and global policy. With Ian Stevenson, Brand seems to have found a co-conspirator for exposing the problems they see lying just under the surface of contemporary society.

Ian Stevenson’s work usually combines simple drawings of familiar figures and characters with phrases that play on mottos and slogans. For example, a famous tag he did in London has Mickey Mouse, a common figure in his work, with his arms stretched out for a hug. The phrase above reads “I want your soul.”

Stevenson met Brand “through a tangled web of connections” and the two decided to team up given their similar political leanings. Stevenson started by sending Brand some preliminary drawings and, from there, they collaborated on the project until a final draft was finished. Then, Stevenson set to work drawing the mural. Like his other work, the drawings are minimalistic, not obscuring the message: a Mickey Mouse, prostrate with dollar signs for eyes, lies in front of a television advert. The caption: revolution with the letters spelling love reversed and coloured in read.

ian stevenson paint over this graffiti

What Stevenson’s work accomplishes is a return to the politicization of street art, which had it’s contemporary beginnings as a form of political protest. Graffiti in the Second World War was used as a vent for soldiers who missed their homes and pondered the futility of war. After that, street art quickly became associated with the African-American community, mostly by artists who found themselves barred from traditional art galleries. As graffiti headed towards the 1980s, it became associated with hip-hop and, as hip-hop became mainstream, graffiti lost a bit of its edge. Artists like Ian Stevenson remind us that graffiti is a form of protest, a political act with roots in resistance, be it racism, violence, or the political powers that be.

By combining familiar tropes and commercial products, whether its Mickey Mouse, a crucifix, or graffiti’s own Kilroy, Stevenson can tap into a familiarity precisely to make people think and feel uncomfortable. The idea is popular in comics, where visual cues are part of the hidden language of comics, which require people to follow a specific sequence to read the story in order. Often, these visual cues rely on familiar tropes and images that act as a shorthand for what the artist and writer are trying to convey. With Stevenson, the familiar images, often seen with a certain amount of joy or sacredness, are shown to support a large, mechanical profit machine, which is, at the heart of Stevenson’s critique, something that people already know.

hanksy catch me if you can

Hanksy’s Surplus Candy

Most of the world is now more than familiar with Banksy, the English street artist who’s name remains a complete secret. But a few more people are getting to know Hanksy, an American-born artist who has a deep love of puns. And while no one is going to say he’s making as political an impact as his English sort-of mentor, we still enjoy seeing his work.

Hanksy itself is a mash-up of Tom Hanks and Banksy, which is more just the name of the artist’s original series, which took famous Banksy pieces and put Tom Hanks in them. Think that famous Banksy of the riot guy throwing a bunch of flowers, but instead of flowers, it’s Wilson from Cast Away, and instead of some guy in a riot, it’s Tom Hanks. Pretty great, right? A lot of people think so.

hanksy sink or swim

Since his Hanksy pieces in 2012, the artist has become something of a street artist smirk, giggle and occasional eye roll. Pieces like writing “or swim” in a discarded sink or a portrait of Rick Moranis on the side of a van with the phrase “Rick Morevanis” beside it have been showing up all over America. Hanksy, it seems, isn’t really convinced that his art is changing the world, but he’s certainly having a lot of fun along the way.

hanksy's vanny devito

Which Brings us to Hanksy’s latest project, a whirlwind tour of the “forgotten” cities of North America, the places that aren’t always showing up on people’s “this place has great street art radar.” Well, if we’re being totally honest, he’s going to places that aren’t New York, L.A., or Toronto and seeing what their street art scene is like. The idea came to him when he experienced a boom in popularity for his pun-ny art. “There’s a bunch of art getting painted on walls between New York City and LA,” Hanksy said in a recent interview, “And it’s my opinion that if a knucklehead artist like myself is randomly given some weird pseudo-serious spotlight, they use it for good not evil. The best thing I can do is show what’s up and what’s going down in the smaller markets of North America. Elevating others always beats out the dog-eat-dog.”

Looking at all those Art Scenes That Aren’t NYC or LA

Each episode in the series focuses on a different city, where the usually irreverent Hanksy seems to fall in love with everything around him, to the point of practically wanting to move there by the end of the episode. It’s funny, doing a good thing, but is also showing that Hanksy isn’t really wanting to take anything seriously, including romanticizing these forgotten places, which in itself is less condescending and much more humanizing. Middle America, or the Real America, as it’s sometimes called, is often completely ignored, stereotyped, or approached with apologies. In Surplus Candy, Hanksy is less interested in pandering to any audience and more just mischievously showing that amazing street art happens everywhere. And that’s a great thing.

augusto esquivel sitting next to his art

Bio: Augusto Esquivel

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976, Augusto Esquivel is a sculptor who, in his own words, is “obsessed with comparisons of reality and potential and the balance between them, in art: the idea of chaos in perfect order: an object seemingly solid to the eye can also be fragile and inconsistent to the touch.” Perhaps the best example of what he’s talking about is also his most famous creations: the suspended button sculptures.

augusto esquivel's button art marilyn monroe

Made entirely from buttons hanging on various lengths of string, Esquivel’s sculptures are made to look like common objects: a fire hydrant, a piano, a gumball machine, and even a toilet (complete with toilet paper roll). If it wasn’t for the clear string hanging above, these objects, these sculptures, would look solid, yet you can put your hands right through them. The process starts with him deciding on a subject and setting the acrylic from where the buttons are being suspended. From there, he buys buttons of different shapes and sizes, paints them with spray paint, and carefully hangs them. After that, it’s a manner of hanging each individual button, which can be extremely time consuming. For his piano, for example, he individually hung over 60 pounds worth of tiny sewing buttons.

Esquivel’s sculptures, while mostly housed inside art galleries, perfectly capture one of the main tennents of street art: something that is eye-catching, or at least immediate, and something that invites interaction. Often the best sculptures outside the art galleries aren’t the ones behind guards and fencing, but the ones people can go right up to and touch. In Vancouver, a series of laughing old men are constantly attracting people for pictures and to just generally hang around or off of, but the people who simply walk by and see the sculptures almost always leave with a smile on their face. That’s good street art: it draws the viewer in rather than relying on a gallery to draw in an audience and point them to certain pieces. Of course, these hanging sculptures need an indoor environment, but Esquivel has taken a page from street art for its immediacy.

augusto esquivel coca cola machine art

But Esquivel’s art is also a demonstration of talent, something that speaks to larger philosophical questions, like the ones he stated above, but also just the combination of interesting idea and painstaking work. One can look at his work from a critical perspective, or simply stand in awe of his idea and execution.

Esquivel also takes a more blue collar approach to his art. When recently asked about his process, his “calling” as an artist, he dismissed the usual muse approach. Instead, he argued that “you either make the decision to do art,or you don’t, and then you act accordingly… I feel far from being a ‘call’. It is also a lot of hard work! Like any other job.”

For more details please visit Augusto Esquivel’s website.

hyde & seek working on a new art piece

Hyde & Seek

In a small town in Bowden, Australia, a collaborative street art team is growing at an alarming rate. They’re known for not sitting still, media-wise, and coming up with striking new works from materials as varied as coloured cups, toy soldiers, and yes, even chewing gum.

Like many street artists today, Hyde & Seek are eschewing public identities to just let their work speak entirely on their behalf. Well, that’s not entirely true. Hyde & Seek has a large online presence: Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter are all filled with their work, including plenty of cross-postings and their own extensive Facebook photo collection. The pair, we assume it’s a pair because of their wording in posts, have documented a bit of their process, but they also just love close-ups to show off the technical side of their work.

chew barrymore chewing gum artwork by hyde & seek

Mixed media may be the best descriptor of Hyde & Seek’s work. It started with Chew Barrymore, which gained a sort of viral status in the online street art community, and went from there. Chew Barrymore was a portrait of the actress made entirely from, well, chewing gum. It’s a bit of a marvel, not just for its chosen medium, but because the portrait wears their most immediate influence on their sleeve: Andy Warhol. The bright colours combined with washed-out aesthetics falls right into Warhol’s chosen palettes for the many portraits he did over the years. Of course, I think Hyde & Seek decided not to do the repetition probably to avoid sore jaws!

hyde & seek fence artwork in adelaide

After their strong debut, Hyde & Seek have shown up in a number of places in what we imagine to be their hometown. The most recent being an affinity for fences. Two pieces have shown up in the past few months. The first, a woman blowing the petals of a flower, made entirely from coloured cups shoved into a chain link fence. They pushed the idea a little further with their most recent project: a series of coloured swatches also lodged into a chainlink fence. The result is a beautiful eye in a detailed background. Both expand the canvas on which street art can happen. Chainlink fences are most famous for their transparency and ability to collect trash, not as a place for striking, and opaque, artwork.

hyde & seek street artists toy soldier piece

Perhaps my personal favourite Hyde & Seek piece is their piece using tiny toy soldiers. You know, the green ones in Toy Story with the fixed bases? The team gathered a bunch of these and made a painting of a man break dancing. Dance, as Brazilian Capoeira teaches us, is often linked to resistance and fighting, even as it remains an intrinsically passive mode of resistance. The juxtaposition of the break dancer and the soldiers from which he is created highlight the relationship between war and dance.

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Of course, Hyde & Seek’s most “sharable” pieces are their Stop signs, which paste additional words onto stop signs for some humour or calls to stop growing hipster beards. Snarky, decontextualized, and smirk-worthy, these signs have been showing up all over. Now hopefully people aren’t stealing them, which can sometimes be an issue for defamed street signs, which is never good for drivers.

Hyde & Seek are on their way up despite keeping their identities very quiet. Be sure to keep an eye out for their next imaginary use of some completely new and underused materials.

Sargy Mann

Sargy Mann: A Blind Painter Who’s Changing the Way We All See Painting

There are many examples of people with disabilities who showed extraordinary talent. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, both extremely gifted musicians who were also blind are just a couple of examples. And while we often think that sight is required for many activities, we see time and time again that people with visual impairments can create stellar art, whether it’s music or, yes, painting. Despite their limitations, many artists with various disabilities are able to bring a unique perspective to the world around us.

One such artist is Sargy Mann, an English painter who paints now even after losing his sight 25 years ago. Originally trained under professional painters Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow, Mann’s education in painting was in realism. Unlike other styles, which call for representations of dreams, interiority, or something else, realism is about your own, very personal, way of viewing the world. And while cataracts took Mann’s sight at the age of 36, his way of seeing the world only got more unique, more nuanced, and more challenging.

“My world had become greyer and hotter,” Mann said in an interview with The Guardian. “I was a human spectroscope such that I could see that a sodium streetlamp was monochrome because it only had an orange halo.” His gradually dimming sight was not a burden to his art. Instead, it was awakening him to an entirely different way of seeing. And as the years have gone on, and his own sight steadily deteriorated, his unique vision of realism begins to emphasize memory, interiority, the world as remembered and seen through eyes unlike the bulk of society. Mann’s disability has instead challenged his former tutors’ lessons in ways that create a new way of seeing, both for the artist and the audience.

And while some may point to Mann’s disability as a selling feature to his art, those critics have clearly not seen the beautiful colours, the vivid images, and the extreme talent that is evident in every single one of Mann’s paintings. And it’s not like he really needs to worry about detractors, he has enough fans and inquisitive art fiends standing in line to pay four and five figure sums for his work. The price, for some, is a steal.

What Sargy Mann’s artwork proves is that painting, just like music or dance or any other sort of creative enterprise, is pushed forward and defined by the people who see differently. Whether it’s Beethoven’s deafness never stopping him from creating some of the world’s most amazing music, or from a blind John Milton dictating Paradise Lost, all of these brilliant minds came at the world differently. Sometimes that comes from disability, sometimes life experience, or even mental illness. But in every instance, those who dare to see differently, who overcome despite limitations, are the ones who create the new standard for others to aspire.

animated mural art aerial photograph

INSA and a Small Army of Painters Made the World’s Biggest GIF

Even with street art, we often think of painting as capturing some sort of singular moment or idea. It stands still. It can reference something coming or look backwards to something that happened, it can be erased or added to, but it always stays still. This, along with many, many other assumptions, is something INSA thinks the world can do differently.

The artist, who prefers to keep his identity secret, believes that the internet has changed art, and that this gives artists an incredible opportunity to change the way traditional notions of painting are expressed. For INSA, it started with the GIF (check out Gif-iti), those almost slideshow type pictures we see online. They’ve been used for everything from silly animations to seemingly sustaining Buzzfeed, but they all rely on a variety of still images that are given the illusion of movement. Y’know, like animation.

INSA saw this idea and decided to apply the idea of the gif to street art, starting with creating gifs from his own paintings. Usually, he would paint a wall, take a picture, paint over the wall and paint another picture, and do this until he had enough pictures to create a gif. From there, he uploads it online for people to see. These all show off INSA’s obvious talents and breadth of style, but he wanted to do something bigger. Much, much bigger. Like, seen from space bigger.

So INSA headed down to one of the world’s best street art countries, Brazil, to make a gif that you can see from space. With detailed ideas about what he wanted, he employed a small army to paint a large, open concrete pad with four different images, one a day for when a satellite came over and took a picture. The result is the world’s first gif seen from a satellite.

The experiment resulted in 576 man hours and 57,515 square miles of painted surface, all in just four days, to create his biggest art project yet. The gif itself is of pink and yellow hearts, inverting in colour each day and moving slightly over to create the movement. It’s perfect for the setting: taking in Brazil’s love of bold colour schemes while sending a message of love out to the world, and the heavens.

True to his love of anonymity, INSA’s face and eyes are blocked from the camera, and he spends the video giving credit to those people that put in the long hours and hard work to make his vision possible. And once it’s out on the internet, he’s happy to continue to take a back seat. “I think the possibility of interpretation is limited when people think of the singular creator.” Like so much on the internet today, INSA prefers to leave the real discussions to the comments section.

colossal media webpage header

Colossal Media and The Commercial Artist: Are Big Advertising Firms Helping or Hurting Street Art?

The difference between art and advertising is often a lot blurrier than people think. Especially as the world gets more transparent, we have better glimpses into the background lives of artists, the influence of producers on movies, songwriting collectives on music, and much more. We sometimes favour the people who haven’t “sold out,” the ones who can now live off their own artistic pursuits without relying on a day job, but this is no longer the type of world we live in. The fact is many artists come out of school eager for work but find very few opportunities, clutching to the romantic ideal of the starving artist is not only silly, it gives you stomach pains.

When we turn this romantic gaze to street art, worrying about the relationship between public art and private business, things get very complicated. Graffiti has an underground feel to it, like the rebellious cousin of art gallery paintings, and graffiti is in turn persecuted for its existence. Governments wash graf off buildings, set increased limits on where and when artists can write, and sponsor professional street artists for beautification pieces around town. This all contributes to an underdog feel of street artists, a persecuted underground community just waiting for their chance in the spotlight. What people forget is modern street art started as advertisements, not tagging, and that street art is literally everywhere, and that is something to celebrate.

You’ve seen evidence of the old street art all around town, on old brick buildings pointing to the local pharmacy and old glass windows with Coca-Cola ads. Street art was a prominent way to advertise. Before massive printed billboards, hand-painted ads on buildings were the easiest way to use some wall space to drum up business. And while many artists are wary of the commercialization of street art, eager to “legitimize” their trade with tags, gallery showings, and by bringing their graf sensibilities to other art forms, the relationship between ads and graffiti has always been around.

So it’s hardly a surprise that companies like Colossal Media exist, advertising companies that specialize in hand-painted ads, and they’re a great place for young artists to get practical experience while getting paid, something difficult for anyone with an Arts degree, especially a Fine Arts degree. As North America’s largest hand-painted advertising company, Colossal is at once a sign of the times and a harkening back to graffiti’s beginnings, skipping the romantic idealism in between to help painters get some practical experience and explore their art in a new way. Sure, they’re told what to paint, but the in-between space between expectation and result is a fun playground for any artist willing to learn and explore.

In a way, Colossal Media is a paragon of the debate on whether constraints encourage art or discourage it. On the one side, we have genre artists, people who find inspiration in re-packaging familiar tropes rather than starting fresh. On the other side, there’s the ideal artist: someone with a unique vision who is recognized for their obvious talent and free to create when and how they want. They push the world forward, exposing new ways of looking at our surroundings for a change. And while it’s easy to put artistic people on opposite ends of a spectrum, rarely are they mutually exclusive.