We often think of street art as an individual event, one where a person comes up with an idea and paints it onto the surface on their own. Artists, after all, generally want to be known for their work and achievement, and will take credit for their work when people discover it. That’s a simple business move, and even artists have to eat occasionally. But street art, especially murals and large-scale paintings, are rarely the efforts of a sole individual. In fact, many of the world’s most famous murals are collaborative projects. Perhaps a singular artist created the original piece, but many artists and labourers took the idea and did the work of putting paint to wall, and that labour can often go unnoticed, mostly because people want to think of art as something done by a single artist. Very few people have actually considered the fact that Banksy, for example, may actually be a collective of people, all operating under the same name.
But there is strength and celebration to be found in collaboration, and there may not be a better example of such collaboration in the world of street art today than Herakut. The German-based duo of “Hera” (Jasmin Siddiqui of Frankfurt) and “Akut” (Falk Lehmann of Schmalkalden) joined forces over 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve mixed their unique styles together for projects around the world, from the streets of Toronto to government housing buildings in London.
While many collaborative efforts between artists, and indeed their helpers, usually relies on a certain similarity in style or approach, but the thing that makes Herakut unique is their ability to blend seemingly disparaging aspects together. Akut’s style is a self-described “top-level photorealism” while his partner’s look is decidedly more whimsical, fantastical or simply absurdist. The blend, however, allows them to create spaces that tell whole stories based on the juxtapositions, and this narrative quality is apparent in most of their work.
Herakut’s topics and focuses are usually on children, or at least use child-like characters to convey a meaning and story. Akut’s ability to create moments of grounded realism in amongst the very expressive children and exaggerated adults painted by Hera lets things unfold in interesting ways that are also easy to digest. The paintings are almost always accompanied by some sort of beautifully written text as well, which add to the ideas conveyed and give the audience something far less abstract, or at least thematically complementary, to the piece overall.
For example, in one piece, a woman holds her baby, a real-looking mask sitting on top of her head. The text reads “There is something better than perfection.” The piece immediately conveys the beauty of having and holding a child, all while giving the audience various ways to grasp and interpret the piece.
Herakut’s collaborative efforts have taken the world by storm, and given people plenty to think about at the same time. Through their differing styles and approaches, audiences around the world have been gifted not only with beautiful art, but a moment to stop and consider what that art means.