Posts

social media sites in artform

Street Art And Social Media: Similar But Different?

In a world where street art gets painted over and washed away as quick as it’s drawn, many street artists are turning to social media to archive their projects and, at the same time, increase their exposure. We all know social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are permanently marking our lives, turning every picture and event into a searchable database. It can be fun to see pictures from years ago and see how we’ve changed, but it can also be a great way to get people excited about different art projects, and especially street art.

Artists like Jay Shells have been using social media to preserve their art after it’s been washed away, but is social media just a tool for street artists, or are they already social media mavericks?

When you look many street artists’ work, it purposefully injects viewers into the project. It’s designed to turn heads, make people talk, and convey a message. The same can be said about art in galleries or installed in people’s homes, however, so what makes street art a more social form of art and media?

Some argue it’s street art’s baseline interactivity and use of public space, it’s very origins as vandalism as a means to encourage participation and interactivity. At it’s most basic form, street art is paint on a surface in a public forum, be it a building wall, billboard, public transit vehicle, or other similar medium. It’s left out for others to see and uses the space on which it’s used as a part of it’s picture and message. Take Zevs’ controversial Visual Attack series for example. Each piece uses existing advertisements to change the message on billboards by adding paint to the project. It interacts and encourages participation. In that way, street art can become social media.

And the level needed to participate is arguably lower than that of traditional social media. For example, Instagram requires some of the following: a smartphone with a camera, internet access, and a membership to the app. An original Banksy painted on the side of a house in Bristol requires walking down the street in Bristol. Theoretically, if you already live in Bristol, the threshold for becoming part of the Banksy audience and community is much lower, not barring people based on their ability to access technology and internet, but their ability to walk down a street.

Street art breaks the boundary between vandalism and art to comment on many different aspects of our everyday lives, but billboards in particular. Billboards are a particular form of street art that has special protections for one simple reason: it has been paid for. They are unique only in their protection while street art is continually washed away and scrubbed from our streets at a great cost to the city. Naturally, the boundary between lewd graffiti, street art, and billboards is porous but always discussed, but only one of these is legally allowed to stay up. Street artists use these spaces to their advantage and, by doing so, challenge why special provisions are given to corporate street art over other forms of public art.

jay shells street art rap quotes

How One Man’s Love of Hip-Hop is Subverting the Law

Geography has always played an important part in hip-hop and rap culture. Where you’re from is important. It could connect you with like-minded people. It could get you killed. Dropping lyrics about where you’re from is a way of saying who you are, where you started, and how far you’ve come. NYC-based artist Jason Shelowitz, a.k.a. Jay Shells, understands the important of place in hip-hop, so he’s taken the lyrics to where they started.

Taking the form of red street signs, Jay Shells’ “Rap Quotes” puts shout-outs about specific places exactly where they came from. One sign in Stapleton House Village, for example, has lyrics by RZA: “Grew up in Stapleton House Village, where blood flood the waters in the streets like oil spillage.” Up on Broadway and Myrtle, a sign quotes Mos Def. A street post near Carnegie Hall sports lyrics by Busta Rhymes. Slowly but surely, Jay Shells’ signs are popping up all over NYC.

Since the signs themselves mimic official street signs, the very medium of “Rap Quotes” delves into the rebellious and anti-authority sentiments found in much of the hip-hop Jay Shells quotes. The project is less about praising these areas and more giving a visual history to a largely auditory medium. Cam’ron’s lyrics about 145th and Broadway speak directly about the violence he experienced in that area.

With over 60 of these signs now gracing street poles in New York City, Jay Shells crossed to the West Coast to give L.A. a similar treatment. Over 45 signs have been put up in L.A., celebrating the city’s rich hip-hop culture. “Where you at? Western & Imperial, It’s the pure West Coast coming out your stereo” reads one sign that quotes WC. Another quotes Gangsta Rap pioneer Ice Cube: “I never forgot Van Ness & Imperial, look at my life Ice Cube is a miracle.”

Since the East-West Coast is rivalry largely over, Shells had no problem finding some help for “Rap Quotes,” from helping put up the signs, comb rap lyrics for the perfect quotes, and snap some photos so the signs are immortalized in proper place before the signs are taken down by fans, detractors, or the authorities.

Since posting street signs without a permit is illegal pretty much everywhere, Jay Shells is used to seeing his work taken down. But these days, the authorities are the last people to take them down, because fans and detractors usually get to them first. In Harlem, for example, Jay Shells and his colleagues watched from across the street as a freshly installed sign quoting Sadat X was removed. Jay Shells seems unfazed by the entire removal process “He removed the sign and threw it in the trash,” he said in a recent interview, “You can’t please em all.” But despite his laissez-faire attitude about the signs getting removed, he does try and preserve the sentiment on his Twitter (@TheRapQuotes) and by taking the signs off the streets and into galleries.

The most recent gallery to showcase Jay Shells “Rap Quotes,” along with some of his other art projects, is Gallery 1988. Jay Shells hopes to expand the project outwards to other American cities and galleries, taking his subversive work, quite literally, to the streets across America.