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.

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.

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.

Museum of Public Art

In the state of Louisiana, on the banks of the historic Mississippi River, lies the city of Baton Rouge. It’s a city steeped in culture and history that’s often overshadowed by it’s much louder, more popular Louisiana metropolis New Orleans. But it is here that a small nonprofit museum has been established to celebrate the best public art in the world.

Choosing a town like Baton Rouge for its headquarters makes sense for the Museum of Public Art. In a recent video, Museum Director Kevin Harris explains the importance of public art, and why it’s less invasive than the art in galleries. “The benefit of public art is not necessarily conscious or literal, it’s unconscious,” he says in a video promoting their recent Egoless event,  “And when you try to get people to explain ‘how does this benefit you?’ they can’t consciously come up with a reason, even though it affects them.”

The museum was the brainchild of Mark Rogovin, Marie Burton, and Holly Highfill, leaders in the Chicago mural renaissance. Founded in 1973, the museum and its curators wanted something that rejected the usual means of “making it” in the art community. Instead of barring access, they wanted to open it up and include the community in their artistic endeavours and politics. So the Museum of Public Art was created with a simple but important mission statement, that “the priority audience for which we paint is the audience of our own communities, working people of all ethnic backgrounds. Our subject matter comes from the history and culture, the needs and struggles, of communities. Our art speaks of the dignity of the people and projects a vision of a future free from war and exploitation. The form we have chosen is murals, murals can be a great way to reaching thousands upon thousands of people, since they are in public spaces, accessible to everyone.”

The building itself is small and unassuming, a contrast to the powerful pieces inside, a brick building on the corner of Eddie Robinson and Myrtle in the Old South Baton Rouge Community. The building, naturally, is surrounded with murals that constantly change based on who’s available and who wants to paint. The museum itself is open every Sunday for tours and insights into what public art is, how it’s important to the community, and what’s on display at the museum.

What the Museum of Public Art accomplished is an important mix of what makes street art important and different. While the building itself rotates artists, it’s constantly giving a permanent place to artists who want to connect with the community. It gives an art form that is almost necessarily without a home, without a permanent place, exactly that: a space that can be considered safe and useful for a community that isn’t safe, and is often derided as being useless. Here, public artists are given the museum treatment, their works taken seriously without crossing over into the traditional system that has discriminated and dissuaded thousands of artists from gaining legitimacy and recognition. Instead, this is a museum for street artists, by street artists, and catering to anyone who thinks public art is an important part of our contemporary and historical experience.

Be sure to check out their online gallery.

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.

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.

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.