Fintan Magee

Besides having one of the greatest names of all time, street artist Fintan Magee has been putting his hometown of Brisbane, Australia on the map. At least when it comes to street art. Lauded as Australia’s answer to Banksy, the young artist’s similarities with the renowned English artist pretty much stop at the lazy comparison. Magee, after all, is an entirely different kind of artist. So much so that Banksy and Magee couldn’t be more different.

Growing up in Brisbane, Magee paid close attention to the art scene in Sidney as he was growing up, and the look and feel brought to that area influenced his own future work. “Sydney was a world mecca at that time and it was producing some good work. A lot of the walls I was looking at as a kid were done in the inner west,” Magee told The Australian last year, “I think the inner west is the home of Sydney’s street art because of its more working-class roots, whereas the eastern suburbs were a bit wealthier and more conservative.”

Magee’s work is full of colour and life, unlike Banksy’s famously colourless stencils, but they do share a love of humour, although for different purposes. For Banksy, the humour is spiky, aimed directly at political institutions and powers that create a world of oppression and privilege. For Magee, the humour is about smiles and laughter, an intrigue that comes from looking at art as art and not as criticism.

Much of Magee’s humour and approach stems from a political issue, however, one that has been a problem for graffiti and street art since its inception: gentrification. For Magee, the phenomenon has made the conditions for great art, like the working class origins of Sidney’s graffiti scene, much more difficult. “Urban renewal is happening everywhere and gentrification is something artists are worried about big time,” he says, “But murals add a lot to the community. Having strong visible culture is incredibly important because not everyone can go to a gallery everyday. It is important to make art part of everyday life.”

And with that idea in mind, Magee sets out to make street art the isn’t necessarily bearing the shrewd agenda of Banksy’s work, but instead something that people can get behind to break down the stigma around graffiti and street art in general. And by doing so, he hopes to give himself and his fellow artists opportunity in the future.

Fans of Magee’s work can see it all over Brisbane, naturally, but it’s also been creeping out around the country, including his much-loved Sidney and Toowoomba. But no matter where he goes, the art remains beautiful and captivating, a true pieces of art that seek to enrich and bring smiles, from knowing smirks to outright guffaws, to the people of Australia. He may be as popular in his home country as Banksy, but that’s where the comparison of these two incredible artists stops, and that’s a good thing for expanding the idea of what street art and graffiti can do.

Yarn Bomber Naomi RAG

When most people think of street art, they think of only a few materials. Well, that’s not true, most people think of one single medium, paint, when it comes to art found in public spaces. It is, after all, the most widely used material, but ever since graffiti started, people have been experimenting with the physical means they use to communicate and make art. And one such artist has made a splash in East Harlem, with what some may consider the least “street” of materials: knitted yarn.

Naomi RAG (the “Rag” stands for “Random Acts of Generosity”) is a New York-based artist who’s mastered the art of “yarnbombing,” where colourful yarns are spread out in a public space not unlike painted graffiti to form certain shapes and looks. Except where paint has only a limited set of places it can go, yarnbombs can end up almost anywhere, from chainlink fences to light posts. She started doing it back in England a few years ago before moving to New York, where she has now set up shop and puts up a new piece every month. The process is long and time-consuming, by the looks of her scope and vision, which probably take a long time to dye and knit into the right shapes. But the results are universally spectacular.

Each of Naomi’s yarnbombs are colourful, creative, and made to spread a positive message: a tree knitted with LOVE into the pattern, a brightly-coloured display of flowers, or anything else that at once beautifies and uplifts. They are all focused on beauty and eye-pleasing work that can bring a bit of literal colour to a passerby’s day.

But it isn’t just the message that makes these pieces so inspiring, it’s Naomi’s use of form and space. From cozies that cover an entire tree’s trunk to elaborate setups on chainlink fences, Naomi’s work spreads out and takes over these spaces in new and interesting ways. Spaces that usually collect garbage or are ignored by other street artists are given a colourful vivacity that inspires and lifts the look of the area. And especially in East Harlem, where gentrification has caused a lot of problems for street artists, this blend of new materials and classic “bombing” is creative and, well, a little cozy.

What Naomi RAG’s work accomplishes is not just a positive message or unique scope with space and materials, it shows that street art can accomplish a lot of different tasks using many different materials. In that way, all street art is reflexive, aware of its cultural roots, and is constantly coming up with ways to differentiate and create new experiences. For Naomi RAG, that is threefold: through materials, through positive messages, and finally through the use of non-traditional space for the projects.

Simon Beck’s Huge Snow Art

As many skiers and snowboarders know, there is little better than the look of fresh powder. Being at the top of a mountain and seeing the beautiful snowscape is at once peaceful and brilliant. It makes you feel alive, and it connects you to something that feels old and untouched. Standing at the top of that mountain before skiing down is truly a moment of serenity and beauty. One that artist Simon Beck knows all too well.

For the past decade, Simon Beck has been traipsing around the snow-covered mountains of the Northern Hemisphere, adding his own little dash of beauty to these already incredible places. It started out as a hobby but is now his full-time career, making beautiful snowy art pieces at ski hills and mountains around the world.

Instead of paint, brushes, and scaffolding, the tools of most muralists, Beck uses only three simple devices for his snowy patterns: a pair of snowshoes, a drawing, and a compass. Everything else is done by memory and counting paces. The drawings usually require a lot of walking, up to 25 miles in many instances.

The idea of doing these snowy art pieces came from watching kids and children, who always draw in the snow at ski hills and just around the home. “When you go to ski resorts you frequently see drawings in the snow that kids have made,” Beck told The Guardian, “Teenagers drawing rude things, and at Valentine’s Day love hearts all over the place. The only difference is that I do it on somewhat a larger scale.”

Unlike the rude drawings of teenagers, Beck’s snow art is intricate and beautiful, displaying a love of design and complex patterns rather than messages or simple shapes. An engineer by trade, almost all of Beck’s snowscapes are mathematically inspired. The reason is personal choice, but also ease of work. According to Beck, they allow him to “get to drawing much sooner. You are just following simple rules. You don’t have to keep referring to a diagram. You can do it from memory. And they just look the best.” Popular designs he uses include the Koch snowflake, the Sierpinski triangle and a version of the Mandelbrot set.

While Beck predominantly does snowscapes, his art has expanded to sand and, surprisingly, a clothing line based on his intricate shapes. The sand is a logical extension of his art, but also comes with unique challenges. Beck says the flatness makes the work much easier since it isn’t as deep or labour-intensive as snow, but that there is one aspect that makes it more frustrating: the tide. Since water on beaches has a regular tendency to wash away his art, Beck has to select beaches that have sand rarely touched by the actual water.

Simon Beck’s awesome sand and snow art shows that street art can exist a long ways away from the actual street, and can use the materials around to create beautiful art. By using only a compass and snowshoes, Beck’s art is eco-friendly and beautiful, contributing the beauty of the natural world without impacting its longevity.

Artist Spotlight: Jim Dingilian

We’re all familiar with street art and graffiti, and most people who follow this blog know about the many ways people create street art. Paint, ash, and even salt have all been used to make art, and much of it showcased right here. But all of those involve putting something onto something else: paint sprayed onto walls, salt arranged delicately on a museum floor.

But there’s also the art of reverse graffiti, the removal of stains and marks to create an image through absence. It’s been around since cave paintings. we have handprints of artists in reverse, the paint washed over and their hands removed. At its most primitive, reverse graffiti is someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car in a parking garage, but at its most clever and incredible, it can take up entire walls, or even the inside of a glass bottle.

That’s where artist Jim Dingilian comes in. The New York artist has essentially collapsed the idea of reverse graffiti and the world of bottle art into something beautiful, intricate, and actually not bad for the litter problem of New York City.

Dingilian starts with finding glass bottles of all shapes and sizes around town. He picks them up, finds them in the trash, people will even bring him bottles if they’re an interesting shape or texture. According to him, taking the littered bottles and turning them into art is transformative in and of itself. “When found by the sides of roads or in the weeds near the edges of parking lots,” the artist explains, “Empty liquor bottles are artifacts of consumption, delight, or dread. As art objects, they become hourglasses of sorts, their drained interiors now inhabited by dim memories.”

These memories are made through a combination of smoke, glass, and patience. He starts by lighting a match and covering the inside of the bottle with a thin layer of smoky soot. He then uses his own personal creation, a tiny paint brush attached to a dowel rod that he suspends in the bottle’s centre, to carefully remove the soot. The process creates a variety of landscapes and scenes, all of which blend the beauty of the world around us and often the grassy patches where Dingilian finds the bottles. “The miniature scenes I depict are of locations on the edge of suburbia,” he explains, “Which seem mysterious or even slightly menacing despite their commonplace nature. The bottles add to the implied narratives of transgression.”

“Transgressive” is perhaps to on-point of a word, especially when we consider the classic role of suburbia in urban development and planning. It’s the suburbanites that pay to distance themselves from the class problems of the cities in which they work. They “protect” their families from what is left in the city, and any incursions are usually met with suspicion and quiet murmurings. In St. Albert, AB a few years ago, it turned into an all-out class war, with one citizen lobbying to stop a Habitat for Humanity development from being built on the premise that “We moved to St. Albert because we can afford it and we deserve it. This is a great city with great families. We feel comfortable joining in activities we would not have considered in Edmonton.”

He later claimed his primary concern was a parking issue.

Dingilian’s work is more than found object art, it is a blend of what we take for granted with what is always there, hiding in plain sight only if we allow it. And with pieces like his glass containers, we can see that the distance between litter and art, the apparently “unruly” and the “civilized elite” is not only ridiculous, but one and the same.