Meltings: The Environmentally-Friendly New Way to Paint

If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve probably noticed that street art is not limited to a single idea, medium, or material. It can take many different forms, from Banksy’s painted stencilling to other artists using abandoned doors, fake street signs, or even coffee grounds to create something new, beautiful, and eye-catching. These experiments get to the heart of what street art and public art represent: a chance to innovate and change. After all, street art began as a way to use public space to show off artistic skill and express something new. It often started as something illegal, but as a way for people who weren’t allowed into the galleries to make their own galleries, as it were, and try something that those who only saw art indoors wouldn’t even recognize.

Two artists have recently taken the idea of something different into a completely new direction, one that takes one person’s waste and literally turns it into something beautiful, unrecognizable, and yet strangely familiar. The technique is colloquially known as “melting” and it’s a way to use plastics for something other than cheap trinkets and food containers.

Taking abandoned plastics, melting involves just that, melting them down into a liquid form, and then applying it to a traditional canvas. The results are a textured and colourful paint that looks and feels dramatically different from usual, latex-based paints or even textured paints. The process itself is better for the environment as well, as paint-making can be incredibly dangerous for the environment, even as companies continue to create new, more environmentally-friendly ways of creating it. But the results can be just as inventive and creative as traditional paint, even as colour selections become entirely dependent on what’s available. And it hasn’t stopped at least two artists from creating beautiful art that’s a little easier on the environment.

In South Africa, artist Mbongeni Buthelezi has taken to collecting plastic bags from around the streets of Johannesburg to create what he calls “plastic fantastic.” Despite the country having a bag levy for over a decade, bags are still frequently found all over, and Buthelezi has decided to put them to good use.

Similarly in England, sculptor and painter GRR West (Short for “Glenn Robert Ross West”) has been combining his two loves with the textures provided by melting. The unique properties of the melted plastics help his art literally pop off the page and create a new feel for traditional painting projects. One of the best examples is probably his Nutcracker series he’s released during the holidays, which have a distinctly textured look that helps bring these traditional Christmas staples to life.

Plastic melting is another example of how street art can innovate and change with the items available. It isn’t restricted by convention, only access, which is why it started in the first place. And artists like Mbongeni Buthelezi and GRR West are proving that with their economical, environmental paint alternative.

Banksy’s Dismaland

Appearing suddenly in the cold, blank canvas of an English seaside resort town, Dismaland Bemusement Park caught international headlines when it opened its doors. A pop-up art exhibition by international superstar Banksy, the installation was heralded for the usual political targets: corporate greed, unsubstantial cookie-cutter entertainments, and a blind consumerism. The piece was open for a few days this year, attracting international guests like Run the Jewels (who participated by performing at the venue), Jack Black, and others.

When you walk through the doors, past the “optional” security team, you are immediately greeted with a complete sarcasm. A statue of an Orca jumping out of a toilet and into a splash pool, a rusty version of the Disney castle, angry and even gruff staff who’s enjoyment is squashed by instructions to perpetuate an ironic dissonance.

What was once a series of clever political stencils has since broadened into an almost underground media empire. Today, Banksy is just as famous for his theme parks, videos, and surprise sales in Central Park as he (or she, or s/he, or even they for that matter), as the graffiti that pops up around the world. And as the world’s most widely-known and popular street artist continues his extremely prolific, and extremely profitable, artistic career, we are forced to ask questions of the art, the artist, and the overall aesthetics.

After all, Dismaland is an obvious, sarcastic, and genuinely juvenile attack on the media empire that is Disney (also famous for theme parks, videos, and art). It plays on common targets in today’s world: media saturation, security theatre, even the treatment of low-level employees and the almost necessary dehumanization of contemporary economics. But it’s all performed with the tongue firmly in the cheek, an eye-roll that picks on people more than it picks on companies. And there is a certain irony of the entire spectacle. Dan Brooks probably put it best in his New York Times critique:

“When you see bad expression praised as good — when your Facebook friends share a sarcastic news report, or a millionaire street artist puts mouse ears on an actress and tells her to frown, you must also feel some injustice has been done. Kitsch should not get away with exploiting people’s desire to feel the art. How wonderful it must feel to go to ‘Dismaland’ and see through society! But how awful to see society embrace art that makes you feel nothing, that makes you think only about the vast chasm between you and everyone else.”

If the purpose of art, which itself is a dubious prospect and idea, is to evoke a feeling or moment of realization (a sort of epiphany), then Dismaland must be an intentional fail. After all, nothing presented appears to make a comment beyond “this sucks” and “that also sucks.” The targets seem to be families who save up thousands to enjoy a family vacation, people with fond memories of childhood entertainment. But here, those people are constructed as straw men consumers, as if the estimated £20m boost to the local economy was somehow apart from such a process.

Indeed, if Dismaland is a sound comment on anything, it is Banksy himself. In an effort to appear political, his broad strokes here, so apart from the precise incisions found in his street art, is a disregard of humanity to make a point everyone already knows, but with an teenage disregard that supposed to be legitimizing.

Artist Spotlight: Rime

New York has always been seen as one of the starting points for graffiti. Indeed, it’s embedded into the everyday experience in that city, seen on the rooftops as you take the train from into Manhattan, scribbled on the subway. Graffiti is everywhere in that town, especially when you cross the East River and head into Brooklyn.

Brooklyn-based artist Joseph Tierney loves graffiti, you can see it almost every piece of work he does. It draws heavily on New York’s definitive style, and he sees the work as something that fights back against gentrification, a problem that’s been plaguing Brooklyn for decades. And while Brooklyn has plenty of amazing street art, he’s quick to call out the difference between it and graffiti.

Rime doesn’t mince words about the difference, either. His website describes street art as “Privileged motherfuckers flock to “hot spots” and commutable convenience. Digestible. The urban adventure… Art without soul. Surface high. Flat excitement. Commercials.” By contrast, he describes graffiti as “Full bodied application. Complicated motherfucker’s sport. Interaction. Force play. Passion… Handmade master of your craft. Contradictive self.”

The binary is clear for Rime. One happens in spite of development, it calls out and challenges. The other happens as a result, which is why his most recent claim to fame is so important to not only his approach to art, but to him as an artist.

Rime is perhaps most recently famous, unfortunately, for plagiarism, as in someone stealing his work for their own benefit and leaving him without proper compensation. The controversy arose in the early months of 2015, when Italian designer Moschino debuted a dress by their designer Jeremy Scott that featured a mural Rime had done in Detroit. The mural, called “Vandal Eyes” was a commission piece that Rime did on the side of a building in Detroit, the same place where Jeremy Scott hosted a Fall Fashion event in the late parts of 2014. By May, superstar singer Katy Perry was roped into the controversy when Moschino allegedly paid her to wear it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala. Rime, never one to shy away from controversy, stated that “his credibility as a graffiti artist was compromised by inclusion in such a crass and commercial publicity stunt.” The lawsuit, at the time of writing this, has not been settled.

In many ways, Rime’s art is representative of the history of graffiti as a whole. Unapologetic, working outside the normal bounds of gallery space constraints or legal loopholes, his work is against coopting, turning mainstream, and being hung in coffee shops. And it is especially ironic that it ended up on a high fashion dress at one of New York’s most famous, and famously exclusive, art museums. But like his now-infamous mural, Rime’s work watches and is unashamed of its extra-legal status. There is art for those who want to pave over, and there is art for those who want to fight. At least, that’s what Rime’s art expresses.

Artist Bio: J3

When it comes to the world of street art, some artists enjoy the mantra of “Go big or go home.” There are very few artists, however, that take this to heart as much as J3, the American graffiti artist who’s wall paintings have graced public spaces around the world.

J3 was born James Bullough. Growing up in the Washington, DC. area, he learned his craft by studying classical painting, specifically oils, from people as varied as Rembrandt and Picasso. You can immediately see the influence in his own work, where larger-than-life paintings show a mastery of human form and a close eye for perspective in the unique environments that J3 chooses as his canvases.

J3’s wall art is almost exclusively in a realist style that, when combined with their size, makes for truly awe-inspiring pieces that catch viewers off guard. Each is made with a careful reproduction of a human without exaggeration or over-stylization. From there, J3’s pieces change and move according to his vision, settling the eye on the naturalness of his characters. Indeed, his pieces seek to express emotion through the beauty of composition rather than placing his subjects themselves in extremely emotional poses and situations. They can range from the thoughtful to even the funny and quirky, like a giant face peeking at your from behind a bridge.

J3’s art has also changed as his skill has progressed, and his latest pieces have started to play with perspective and continuity while still maintaining a realist bend. For example, recent pieces will split the image into pieces, like looking at it though a series of mirrors. It plays with the eye but also allows his chosen style to bleed into the distinctly uncharacteristic or abnormal without alienating the audience through extreme abstraction. The result is something at once beautiful and unexpected, two characteristics that many forms of street art should aspire to have.

What makes J3 so different from many of his contemporaries is his influence from traditional sources rather than within the street art community. By drawing from outside yet familiar sources, and combining that with his obvious incredible skill with a paint brush, J3 has been able to infuse his work with a familiar look that pushes beyond general graffiti. To look at his pieces is to see skill at the forefront, and it makes for an experience that is both intriguing and unforgettable.

Since getting his start in street art, J3 has moved to other forms as well, including directing, illustration, and even traditional painting. While these certainly don’t have the scale of his murals, they do display the considerable skill of an artist in his prime.