eduardo kobra's massive olympic mural

Brazilian Mural Artist Creates World’s Biggest Mural by One Person

While the Rio Olympic games came with a large amount of controversy, both during the events themselves and in the planning stages, one thing is certain: it gave a much-needed boost to the vibrant public art culture in the country. Brazil has long had a proud and beautiful public art culture, from the beautiful murals throughout Sao Paulo to the many paintings that have since emerged in Rio during and before the Olympics.

But one mural in particular has stood out amongst the others and for one very good reason: it’s literally the largest. The mural, created entirely by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, spans over 3,000 square meters of wall space on the “Olympic Boulevard,” a three-mile strip that celebrates the many great things for which the Olympics stand for, such as inclusivity, healthy competition, and the many cultures and ethnicities that make the Olympics such an important event.

The mural itself is called “etnias” (“ethnicities” in Portuguese) and represents the many different kinds of people who make up the Oympic athletes. Based on the five Olympic rings, the mural illustrates five different faces from five different continents. The piece is also drawing from a distinctly Brazilian flavour of mural, with bright colours that are typical of street art and murals found throughout the country.

Overall, the painting took Kobra hundreds of hours to complete. It also required a number of supplies, including 100 gallons of white paint, 1,500 litres of coloured paint, and at least 3,500 cans of spray paint. Kobra worked for over 12 hours a day for weeks to ensure the piece was completed in time for the Olympic Games.

Kobra said he was ecstatic about the piece and the end result. “I was really happy I got to display my work here in Rio de Janeiro,” Kobra said in an interview with the Rio’s official website. “This was something I have wanted to do for a long time. We’re living through a very confusing time with a lot of conflict. I wanted to show that everyone is united, we are all connected.”

Besides being a celebration of the Olympic spirit and the inclusivity that the Games try to represent, the piece also celebrates the wonderful diversity found within Brazil’s own public art scene. Brazil has long encouraged street art throughout its cities and the country holds many different records for murals, public art, and other street art-related achievements. Kobra is also one of hundreds of artists who have become internationally famous for their street art, and his piece adds to the large catalogue of art that continues to influence people around the world. While the Rio games weren’t without incident, it is pieces like Kobra’s that celebrate the Olympic spirit and can come to symbolize what the Games can represent.

the last punch cutter at work

The Dying Art of Punches

In the small town of Torino, Italy, there is an aged man by the name of Giuseppe Branchino. In many ways, he represents the Old World aesthetic: smoking a cigarette and drinking hand-crafted espresso, he goes about his profession: letter punching. The art, a dying breed, is as old as the printing press, but as the world moves from the printed page to the computer screen, people like Mr. Branchino are finding their work automated and digitized.

Mr. Branchino, you see, is one of the world’s last punch cutters, the very old art of carving letterforms into small steel billets for use in printing presses. He is the man that makes fonts a physical reality, meticulously carving tiny letters into steel bases to be used in printing presses. The work itself is gruelling and requires the patience of all the saints in the Vatican. Essentially, it involves making tiny, miniscule letters in steel billets. Each letter only takes a few minutes, if done correctly and without any problems, but the pages have to be then set for the printing presses.

Once the head of the prestigious engraving department at type foundry and printing press manufacturer Nebiolo, Mr. Branchino continues his work in his own workshop. He is one of a dwindling few around the world who still carve the tiny letters for printing presses, and his craft will likely be a fun hobby for even fewer within a decade. Nevertheless, he continues his work and creates small, unappreciated beauty with the written word.

While Mr. Branchino’s profession may be going the way of the dodo, his actual work has been documented in a new film directed by Giorgio Affanni and Gabriele Chiappari called “The Last Punchcutter.” The film, which talks to Mr. Branchino about his work, the craft, and the history of letter punching and typesetting, is part of a larger project called “Griffo, the Great Gala of Letters.” The multidisciplinary project is about Francesco Griffo, a 15th-century Venetian punch cutter and type designer who is perhaps most famous for creating the world’s first italics type. Griffo, having lived over 500 years ago, is still an influential figure in modern font creation and typesetting, but his biography remains muddled and inconclusive. But by looking at the history of letter punching, the Griffo project helps to make many of the details more concrete.

Meanwhile, Giuseppe Branchino continues to soldier on, creating the tiny letters that form the basis of our written communication. And while his job is becoming less necessary in the modern age of computer screens, his work is still extremely important. For without the letter punchers, our world would not have the widespread information it has, nor the history that those letters help create through our many written languages.

View the Suckadelic top 40 hits by The Sucklord

Artist Profile: The Sucklord

Of the many types of artists that roam the streets of New York, there is one that stands separate from the rest. His name is The Sucklord and he has built a mini-empire based on his strange, unique vision of what an action figure can be, and where strange art fits into the art scene.

The Sucklord was born in the West Village, New York City in 1969, the perfect time to see the rise of the action figure in popular culture. When he was eight years old, Star Wars was released in theatres and, along with the film’s box office, a flood of toys entered the marketplace. The Sucklord, then more commonly known as Morgan Phillips, became a lifelong fan of the franchise and was inspired to create his own line of action figures. “I’ve been inclined to make toys my entire life, since I was a kid, since the first Star Wars figures came out,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic. “It became sort of hard-wired into the way I experience the world.”

worlds-most-famous-couple

The Sucklord’s work is perhaps best described as remixing. He will often take discarded and abandoned materials and rework them into something new, something unique. He calls the result “bootleg action figures,” a term he coined when he first started producing his unique figures in earnest in 2005. “Bootleg figures are a lot like sampling in the world of hip-hop, where you take little bits and pieces of different songs, different figures, and recombine them into something new,” he explains. “Hopefully there’s something transformational going on.”

homotrooper

The Sucklord’s work has a hard time being placed in the modern art world but has slowly been gaining notoriety in unconventional places. The Sucklord himself admits that he has a hard time “know[ing] where this stuff belongs.” It’s too “low-brow” for the modern art gallery, with its preconceptions and precarious pretensions, but his figures are a bit too esoteric and adult to find themselves in traditional toy stores. The Sucklord, however, has found two avenues that are bringing his work to the masses: the internet and reality television.

right-on

You can find much of The Sucklord’s work on his site, Suckdelic, where he sells his work, blogs, and profiles many other artistic endeavours. He has also made several appearances on reality TV shows, including Gallery Girls. The show’s stars, who own a store in New York called End of Century, stocked his wares and profiled him on the show. He has also appeared on a number f other shows, all of which feature his eclectic work.

One of the things that make The Sucklord’s work so interesting is its placement. Rather than avoiding commercialism, like how Banksy tries to sidestep capitalism and art, The Sucklord has embraced a modern approach, one that circumvents the normal, established avenues in favour of something more suited to his particular work. By making his own path, he can control his art’s distribution without compromising his vision.

artscape 2016 website front page

Street Art Festival: Artscape

Scandinavia is famous for a great number of things. Vikings, great fish, socialism. They’re also home to a young street art festival that’s been steadily growing in size, scope, and ambition for the past couple of years. Started in 2014 in Malmö, Sweden, the Artscape Street Art Festival creates new public art to compete with the billboards and advertisements that are scattered throughout the city. To use their own words: “Great art shouldn’t be confined to only galleries and museums!”

mural by rone being painted on side of a tall building during artscape 2016

The festival began as Scandinavia’s only street art festival and focused on giving space to artists from around the world. When the festival was in full  swing during the summer months of July and August, you could find a great number of artists from around the world. Australia’s Rone, for example, could be seen painting a giant mural on the side of a 12-storey apartment building. The UK’s Cityzen Kane was there as well, along with Sweden’s own Yash. The size and scope of the murals varied greatly, but in the two years that Artscape was in Malmö, the amount of visible and beautiful street art increased substantially.

completed mural by rone at artscape 2016

by Rone

Artscape, the namesake nonprofit organization for the festival, doesn’t just put on one event per year, however, they are active in Sweden and Europe all year long. In fact, they recently unveiled a brand new art project that “remixes” one of Malmö’s oldest landmarks: the famous griffin statue in the city’s square. Constructed in 1437, the griffin was a gift from King Eric XIII to the city, whose coat of arms includes a griffin. Artscape, thinking that 600 years was long enough before doing some a little different, hired three artists to create a new approach to the statue.

mural by zadok from artscape 2015

by Zodak

The three artists, Zadok, Christina Angelina, and Bless, used a variation of the Exquisite Corpse technique, popularized by the surrealist movement, to each create a component of the new Malmö griffin. Each artist took a turn creating a new part of the griffin, with the next artist then adding their concept afterwards. According to Artscape, they “decided to add a humble human to symbolise the people of Malmö. After creating three striking characters, each in a totally different style, the different segments of the wall were switched around to form three new incarnations of the city’s symbol.”

mural by bless at artscape

Bless

The Artscape Street Art Festival moved for 2016 to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city next to Stockholm, and has expanded in kind. With double the population over Malmö, Gothenberg represents a brand new canvas on which some of the world’s, and especially Europe’s, greatest street artists can create, collaborate, and share with people around the world. In just two short years, Artscape transformed Malmö. Now Gothenberg could experience a similar transformation.

 

2016 leslieville mural painted by elicser

New Leslieville Mural Celebrates Local History

Toronto is one of the great cities of the world, a diverse metropolis with a rich history, progressive citizenship and, of course, beautiful street art. In fact, Toronto’s art scene has only grown with the city itself and people in almost every neighbourhood can point to beautiful, community-focused public art projects. In Kensington Market, the road is adorned with beautiful food graphics promoting the area’s food scene. In St. James Town, people can see the now-famous phoenix mural soaring on a prominent apartment building. And now, Leslieville has its very own mural that celebrates its past and looks towards its future.

Unveiled in September, the mural is a depiction of Alexander Muir sitting under the Maple Leaf Forever tree, which was destroyed during a storm three years ago. Muir, a Toronto poet, educator, soldier and songwriter, was the first principal of the Leslieville Public school and grew up in the area. Appropriately enough, the tree under which he sits in the mural is named after his most famous song, “Maple Leaf Forever.” The mural was painted by local muralist and artist Elicser Elliot and can be seen at the corner of Queen Street East and Jones Avenue.

The mural itself is actually covering up a mural that was created by a group of students twelve years ago. That mural, having since deteriorated and suffered vandalism, was in dire need of updating or repair. But, according to local copyright laws and regulations, the original creators were the only ones allowed to alter or restore the mural. Since their names have been scratched off or painted over, that became next to impossible.

2016 leslieville mural painted by elicser

2016 Leslieville mural painted by Elicser

Replacing the old mural has involved years of hard work by many members of the Leslieville community, who saw collaboration as a key aspect of the new mural. According to Inside Toronto, “Volunteers from the Leslieville Historical Society, members of the Leslieville Business Improvement Area, residents, and Elia, in partnership with the Ralph Thornton Community Centre and Ward 30 Councillor Fletcher’s office, formed a steering committee to discuss the future of the landmark site.”

old leslieville mural painted by students 12 years ago

The old Leslieville mural – damage is clearly visible.

Once a plan was in place, they secured grant funding from the city and mural designs started to pour in. Eventually, the selection process came down to just three artists: Dan Bergeron, Elicser Elliott, and Mediah. To make the final decision, local residents and business owners were invited to Project Gallery to decide on which mural they wanted. Elicser Elliott, often known more simply as ‘Elicser,’ had his design chosen and it was soon installed.

Leslieville has a long and rich history with a number of famous people who have contributed to its identity and success. Now, it continues that tradition with its latest mural, all while contributing to Toronto’s blossoming and diverse art scene.

celebrating wall to wall mural festival in winnipeg

Winnipeg Hosts Month-long Wall-to-Wall Festival

Last September, Winnipeg’s north end was home to a month-long celebration of public art. The event was called the Wall-to-Wall festival and was put on by Winnipeg’s Synonym Art Consultation. It also gave a facelift to one part of the city that could use more colour and artistic celebration.

The Consultation organized two groups of artists to create two gigantic murals that are now part of Winnipeg’s north end. One group, headed by a 17 year-old artist from Nunavut named Parr Josephee, created a mural that you can now see at 611 Main Street. The other group, lead by local artist Kenneth Lavallee, painted a mural dedicated to murdered and missing Indigenous women. “I’m from the North End, too, so this is my hood. It’s a way of having some ownership of your neighbourhood,” Lavallee said in an interview with Metro News. “The idea was to dedicate it to the cause of missing and murdered aboriginal women and have a nice, subtle way to say, ‘hey, we’re still here, we’re still important.’”

mural from wall to wall in winnipeg

Josephee designed her mural with South-American artist pair Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack. The piece focuses on proposed seismic tests that may occur in Clyde River, which Inuit fear will affect narwhal and other marine mammals. The piece features “features two narwhals with lungs full of water and other life.” Josephee says the piece is in solidarity with that fight.

Josephee is also excited to contribute to Winnipeg’s growing art scene. “It’s amazing,” she said in an interview with the CBC. “When I was younger, I didn’t think I was going to be a part of any murals or anything. I wasn’t expecting this and I’m so happy I’m a part of this.”

aerial view of mural from wall to wall mural festival in winnipeg

Winnipeg artists and volunteers got a little help from outside the city as well. The Toronto-based art collective PA Systems also came out to help organize, prime walls, and paint the murals. A member of the group, Alexa Hatanaka, says public art is an important part of the modern world because it engages people in their everyday lives. “Public art really engages people in a way that’s different,” she told Metro News. “There are so many difficult things we face on this planet that sometimes it’s hard to sit down on the computer and read about it. But art engages you in a different way to start thinking about important issues. I think it’s special in that way.”

The Wall-to-Wall’s willingness to be political and help beautify an area of their city proves that art festivals can be about much more than aesthetics. These pieces reflect real struggles facing communities across the country and in their immediate area, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of the festival volunteers.

street mural being painted on a street in Toronto, ON

Toronto Road Murals Cause Stir

When you walk through Kensington Market in Toronto, the last thing you would consider out of character is drawings on the street. The longtime hub for vintage clothing, quirky bars, and hipster dining establishments, the area has built a reputation on being very different from the rest of Toronto. But this year, artist proposals for a road mural caused more than a disagreement, it turned into a fight at City Hall.

Last year, Toronto’s city councilors considered banning road murals, citing that they “place considerable administrative, regulatory, and maintenance burdens on the city.” The decision was met with considerable opposition by local artists and community members, who say public art installations can beautify and bring people together.

For one local resident in particular, Dave Meslin, the reasons for the potential ban didn’t make any sense. “We’re not asking for money. We’re not asking for staff to come and help us paint,” he told Metro News earlier this year. “We’re just asking for permission.”

With the potential backlash from community leaders and residents in different parts of Toronto, the City decided instead to opt for a pilot program. From August to October of this year, they allowed street mural painting on specific streets in Kensington Market. The designs, materials, and the process would all have to be put through the project for review, but ultimately the program went ahead.

With permission to move forward, the Kensington Market business association found artist Victor Fraser, who stenciled all the paintings for the mural. Community members were then invited to paint in the drawings. A special vinyl paint was used for all of the murals, which is supposed to last for six to nine months and withstand rain, snow, and more.

Artist Victor Fraser decided to highlight Kensington Market’s famous food scene, creating images of fresh foods that draw on computer iconography. “A lot of people work on the computer, and they don’t realize the reality of reality,” he told The Toronto Star in an interview. “I tried to represent their computer styles, which is very choppy, crisp, and hard, and that’s the best way to have vegetables.”

The street murals have now all been completed as of October, 2016 and have each elevated the beauty and artistic wealth of the area, and indeed the city. The collaborative effort at every step, from the fight to have the murals to the design of the items to the interactive elements in their creation, the murals represent how a community can lobby, design, and create something that betters their neighbourhood.

The pilot project may result in four more murals for the Kensington Market area but the idea is spreading to other areas of the city. Community activist Dave Meslin hopes these types of projects will be more common and widespread throughout Toronto.

david a smith sign writer rendering gold leaf on glass reverse sign of his name

Artist Profile: David A. Smith

Sign painting is one of the oldest forms of art we have, one that has seen rises and falls in popularity, style, and prevalence. One thing the genre has never lacked is talent, and perhaps the most well-known sign painter in the world has dedicated his life to creating beautiful signs and teaching other artists about the craft and the industry. His name is David A. Smith, and he may just be the most popular sign painter in the world.

Smith got his start in the 1980s when he left school to become an apprentice sign painter with Gordon Farr and two of his associates. He spent the next five years learning the skills of the trade. His teacher, Farr, was a unique teacher, one who “had an almost uncanny ability to paint letters, accurately laid out, without even a preliminary sketch,” according to Smith’s website. It was during this time Smith learned about drafting, letter painting, and how to draw beautiful pictorials.

a book cover rendered by david a smith

By 1992, Smith had opened his own sign painter shop in his hometown of Torquay and specialized in everything from “vehicle graphics to 3D installations.” But it wasn’t until a fateful trip to New Zealand that Smith met Rick Glawson, one of the world’s best-regarded sign painters and a member of the world-famous Fine Gold Sign Company. Glawson was “universally regarded by his peers as the godfather of gilding, with a reputation for sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of glass decoration with eager students of the craft,” and Smith soon became his close friend. Smith learned many new and important lessons about sign painting from his new mentor.

hand made font image rendered with pencil by david a smith

Smith eventually sold his painting shop and now focuses more on Victorian-style glass painting, creating beautiful and intricate works that are sold and showcased around the world. He also teaches and educates artists in the many skills he’s learned from those before him, including Gordon Farr and Rick Glawson. Smith views his educational work as paying the debt forward and “shares the fruits of his study with his many friends, old & new, in the sign trade, through courses, step by step instruction and one-to-one chats on the phone or internet.”

glass emblem gold leaf design rendered by signwriter david a smith

If you are a sign painter or a fan of sign painting, you have probably heard of David A. Smith. His work has become the standard by which glass window signs are judged, not only for their ingenuity and craftsmanship but for their distinctive design. Smith continues to create beautiful pieces of art in the world of sign painting, but also dedicated much of his time to teaching the next generation of sign painters. While sign painting has dwindled in prevalence since Smith began his career, his talent and passion for education ensures that the art will be with us now and into the future.

website header from the cambridge street art festival

The Cambridge International Street Art Festival

We have covered a number of different festivals that have happened over the years. They’re often in incredible cities, like Hong Kong or Sydney; big cities encouraging artists to come out and beautify the streets. But street art festivals aren’t simply happening in big cities, they’re happening everywhere, including the sleepy town of Cambridge, Ontario.

Situated on the slopes of the Grand River, Cambridge is perhaps most famous for sharing its name with a well-known English university, and as a growing place with a great sense of history. What many people don’t know is that it has an amazing relationship with the arts and is a natural fit for its own street art festival, which celebrated its second anniversary this year.

graffiti style street art mural painted at the cambridge street art festival

The Cambridge International Street Art Festival had its start in Florida, of all places, where the festival’s founders came across the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival. The two were instantly inspired by the thousands that had attended and, to put it in their words, “the magical abilities of truly amazing artists creating art, with chalk (or pastels) on the streets.”

The festival has many of the activities and events that you would expect from a street art festival. The city has set aside spaces where artists can create beautiful murals, some of which will become more permanent fixtures in the already beautiful city. Attendees can come by and see the art being made, go to panels about art and street art, and even screen a couple of cool documentaries.

young boy standing next to chalk board art wall at the cambridge street art festival

What makes the Cambridge International Street Art Festival unique is its encouragement of artists of any level to come out and participate. Their chalk art program provides free chalk to anyone who wants it and offers spaces for them to draw up murals, cartoons, or whatever they want. While obviously popular for children, the Festival encourages all attendees who want to draw to come and contribute. And while it gets washed away in the first rain, the pieces people create can be truly beautiful and inspiring.

mural artist sitting next to a perspective mural piece rendered on the street at the cambridge international street art festival

By celebrating local artists and encouraging attendee participation, the Cambridge International Street Art Festival offers a more intimate and unique festival experience than ones further down the road in Southern Ontario. You can see the art truly up close and interact with the artists in a more relaxed environment. Plus, Cambridge is a beautiful city only enhanced by its open embrace of the festival and the artwork it facilitates. Plus, its commitment to participation means you can connect with regular people trying out art, and artists wanting to try something different.

If you live in Southern Ontario, the Cambridge International Street Art Festival is an excellent way to escape the big city and see street art up close. It happens every year in August. Next year’s festival is still taking applications for artists and volunteers, so there’s still a chance to participate.

13yamatane press at work Yusuke Asai

Artist Feature: Yusuke Asai

Street art is an incredibly important aspect of the art world for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is its openness. The modern idea of graffiti is based on the fact that great artists, often from marginalized groups, couldn’t get their work into galleries and other traditional places where people show off their art. Faced with no place to showcase their skills, these brave artists took to the streets and created a more open and inclusive art community.

Over time, the established art scene and graffiti have melded together: Banksy is shown in galleries around the world while people with classic artistic training, often from expensive schools, have started painting on the streets. The collapse of this binary is almost complete, but there are still people who cannot break into traditional art because of their class, gender, or race.

One such person is Japanese graffiti artist Yusuke Asai. Asai grew up in the Japanese city of Kumamoto and studied ceramics in high school, but his dreams of a higher arts education were dashed based on simple finances. Faced with alternative ways to express himself, Asai started painting murals with literally anything that he could get his hands on, including mud, rice, leaves, and discarded pens. As his skills progressed and his work became more widely-known, Asai switched his entire focus to using earth-like materials, creating murals from soil, straw, and even cow dung.

Asai grew up, like many people in Japan, in a very urban environment, separated from nature by the sheer force of urbanization. His use of discarded objects, specifically dirt, is based both on his approach to class and his upbringing. “I choose to use the earth as a medium because I can find dirt anywhere in the world and do not need special materials,” Asai says on his website. “The collection process and digging in the soil is so much fun, and they strengthen my feeling of connection to a place.”

rice gallery artwork by yusuke asai using texan soil

Since 2008, Asai’s popularity and notoriety has only grown, partially because of his close connection to the Rice Gallery, the world’s only art gallery that focuses on “site-specific” art like Asai’s, but also because of his work around the world. Asais enjoy using the materials from the area, collecting dirt and mud specific to where he’s creating to give it a localized feel. In Houston, for example, he dug up earth that’s unique to the area. In India, his room-sized mural was made up entirely of dirt and mud found in the local area.

Asai’s humble beginnings and insistence on using free, local materials proves that great art shouldn’t depend on class, access, or where you were born. All it should require is a drive and desire to create something with which people can connect. For Asai, that means literally getting your hands dirty and creating beauty from literal dirt. His process is an incredible metaphor and a reminder that art doesn’t require a degree or a gallery.