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zevs standing

High Art, Angry Vandalism, and Murals: The Life and Times of Zevs

By the time French street artist was featured in Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010, he had already done his first solo art show in Hong Kong, defined the French street art scene, and almost been run over by a train. That last incident was how he got his name. After all, it was the Zeus train that nearly hit him while he was painting inside a train tunnel and decided that such a close brush with death should be remembered, and no moment should be wasted. And no one would accuse Zevs of squandering his life. He’s probably one of France’s most important art figures, one that never shies away from the deeply political.

Many of the artists we’ve featured here at MuralForm have gone from tagging trains or walls to art galleries and Zevs is no exception. Bridging the gap between the “high” art world and the “low,” street-level art, some would argue, has been accomplished. Banksy sells pieces in galleries for small fortunes. Shepard Fairey has turned his most iconic pieces into gallery art, and subsequently turned them into recognizable and profitable pieces seen everywhere for backpacks to campaign posters. Some even crossed over to advertising for some of the biggest companies in the world. But Zevs, he’s happier discrediting the corporate world while still pushing the boundaries of street art.

Zevs started out in Paris in the 1990s tagging anywhere he could, but two ongoing projects in particular caught the attention of the public. One, called Shadows, painted fixed shadows of various objects on the ground. Everything from park benches to wastebaskets were given permanent(ish) imprints on the ground or nearby walls. The work showed that street art wasn’t limited to walls, but could traverse other surfaces as well, a point Banksy would pick up in a few short years. His other major project, Visual Attacks, targets billboards in France, to this day spraking a debate on whether he’s a vandal or artist. Zevs would write alternate slogans on the advertisements and paint bloodied eyes on the models, disrupting the marketing with disturbing images and words. Visual attacks attacks commercialism exactly where it’s most prominently seen: advertising billboards.

zevs liquidating cc logo

Zevs continued to target commercialism and major corporations in the mid-2000s with Liquidated Logos. The project takes corporate logos and drips paint from them, giving the illusion that these logos are dissolving. The project speaks to the ever-presence of logos but their non-tangible existence, undermining their constant appearance in the street, on the screen, and at home.

Zevs art continually challenges the distinction between vandalism, street, and high art, incorporating postmodern styles and aesthetics into his artwork to push these boundaries even further. While most would condemn much of his street-level artwork for its intrusion, the very openness of Zevs’ art speaks to the constant intrusion of marketing as being unnecessarily encouraged and sanctioned by the government. His politics and prominence in Europe has let him move to art galleries, but Zevs seems continually uncomfortable with the art we’re forced to consume everyday.

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.