Basil Smith and his Wonderful Romani Caravans

Some people love to cross their home country in an RV. The combination of open road and love of travelling make it the dream for many. In fact, it’s the retirement plan of many people in North America. But on the other side of the world, in Australia, a man has turned his love of travel into an art project unlike any on his continent.

Basil Smith, an Australian by way of England, has spent his life making beautiful, intricately-detailed caravans reminiscent of the Romani people in Europe. His work combines the bright colours and rounded shapes of the caravans with his own special touches, and he and his wife spend much of their retirement travelling around Australia, and living in one of their caravans.

Basil Smith grew up in England and doubtlessly saw and encountered Romani people during his childhood. He developed a fascination for their nomadic lifestyle and caravans and has since turned that fascination into a hobby.

Most of Basil’s caravans start with recycled material, from which he designs a caravan to build. He apprenticed with hand tools and still does the majority of the work by hand to this day. Basil isn’t alone in his pursuit, either. His wife helps him with designing and building each caravan, and has a particular skill for the special window stylings of the Romani caravans. Basil provides her with the plans and she makes them a reality, making every caravan a real team effort. The end result of all their hard work is a wholly unique caravan that he and his wife often take on road trips around the country.

While many people are attracted to the exterior, which he paints in bright colours and adorns with intricate designs, it’s the interior living space that really makes the difference. Basil includes all the necessities of modern living in his caravans, despite the fact they are often much smaller than their Romani counterparts. Inside, the walls are decorated with beautiful cloth and there’s space for a bed, a place to cook, and more, in almost every single one.

As far as hobbies go, the Smiths’ love of travel, recycled material caravans, and staying active is a great idea. They have also turned a popular way to spend retirement, on the road in an RV, into an artistic pursuit, one that embraces the aesthetics of an important group of people in Europe. It shows that many of the things we have an enjoy have long, rich, and varied histories that weave together art and function. For Basil and his wife, it’s the love of travel and the rich culture of the Romani people.

Banksy’s Stolen Art

Banksy’s work has caused another controversy, but this time it isn’t about his work, it’s about where it went. A Banksy piece was found on the side of a building in North London, where it was stolen by unknown parties after being there for less than a year. Soon after, an American art dealer announced that the piece was going to be up for sale, with an estimated price of nearly one million dollars.

The piece was verified and became a well-known fixture in the community, and the piece itself was reportedly removed without the permission of the building owner. Some locals have called the act theft and demanded the piece be given back since it is stolen property.

In response, Bologna street artist Blu started painting over his pieces in his hometown. Done leading up to a show he was having, he said the decision to destroy his own work was made in part because of the story in London.

It’s important to note that Banksy is, as always, an exceptional example in the world of graffiti and public art. He is both unknown and the most popular graffiti artist in the world, which means he cannot have a significant say in what happens to his work once it is on public property. If Banksy was, say, Shepard Fairey, then he could issue a statement or participate in the conversation in a more significant way.

On the other hand, Banksy’s work has changed the lives of people throughout the world in a financial capacity. A few years ago, a single mom in England woke up to a Banksy on her home’s side wall. The wall section was removed and the art sold at auction, to which she received most of the profits. But here, the property case is more complicated, especially since no one has reported the theft as a crime.

Graffiti is almost founded on the idea of property and this incident questions both who owns the piece and what ownership the artists have over it once it’s completed. For Banksy, his identity makes his work a target while limiting his ability to contribute to the conversation. Blu’s protest suggests that the artist can “take back” their work at any time with a roller and some unsightly paint. And seeing as Banksy’s mural was indeed stolen and then sold elsewhere in the world, it becomes a question of who owns the piece once it’s finished. Is it the building owners, the artist, or whoever can rip it off the wall the fastest?

Depending on who you ask, you will get a different opinion, and that will certainly change from nation to nation. In London, no crimes were reported during the incident and the thieves were never discovered. Some may wonder if the piece was, in fact, not stolen, but removed for a fee and sold later. Whatever the reasoning and end result, though, Banksy’s work continues to challenge in more ways than one.

Artist Bio: Steve Casino

On this blog, we’ve talked about all kinds of artistic approaches, but many of the pieces have focused on the materials used more than the canvas on which they are created. Projects like organic graffiti, which uses plants to create beautiful murals, or creating art projects from roadside debris, are all about what is used to make the art, not what the art is made on. But this can be different, too. The world is not limited to simply building walls, large pieces of canvas, or the printer page.

Artist Steve Casino has chosen a rather unique canvas on which to make his art, one that complements his funky and cartoonish art style. Rather than paint caricatures on regular pieces of paper like an artist on the street, he paints his pieces onto peanuts. That’s right, the humble and very common peanut shell.

Casino has invented a very specific process to ensure his creations are able to be preserved for years and even decades after he creates them. First, he removes the nuts from the shells. Next, he seals the shells back together using a special archival urethane mixture. He then paints the pieces, sealing the final work under a layer of clear acrylic. Finally, the finished piece or pieces are sealed inside a specialty glass dome for added protection.

Casino’s pieces are beautiful and painstakingly created, with as many as 20 hours dedicated to the painting alone. Unlike the novelty caricatures you often see around town, these are artistically beautiful and unique objects that can last for years to come.

The peanut is only the base of the work, however, and most of Casino’s pieces feature additional work that extends the object beyond the simple shape of the peanut shell. Hands, feet, legs, and more are added to the piece before painting, creating a unique and interesting piece that’s more than just, well, the shape and size of a peanut. The full extent of Casino’s capabilities can be seen on his website, and range from realistic to outright audacious.

What Casino’s work shows us is that art is not limited to just a few common kinds of canvas, but what the art is put on can vary as widely as the materials placed onto it. His pieces also challenge the idea of high and low art. While his artwork often fits into the style of caricature, the artistry, skill, and beauty he created from a peanut shell and some paint proves this is more than a novelty. In fact, it shows us that art of all styles deserves attention, and maybe even earns a place under a protected glass dome for people to enjoy for years to come.

India’s Truck Art Finally Gets the Documentary it Deserves

When The Beatles came back from their famous trip to India, they brought back a certain “psychedelic” sensibility. You can here the psychedelia in many of their songs, especially in sitar-heavy songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. But John, Paul, George, and Ringo didn’t just bring Indian music back from India. If you look at their art and the colourful trucks that run up and down India’s highways, they brought it back in their visual sensibilities.

Truck art in India looks like something that flew straight out of a drive-in viewing of Alice in Wonderland at a hippy colony. The bright, swirling colours give them an immediately recognizable, and certainly memorable, feel. Now, this art style is receiving a full documentary, one that explores the history, impact, and importance of truck art in India. Called Horn Please after the sign on the back of trucks telling people to honk their horn before trying to overtake, the documentary is a celebration and meditation on India’s colourful trucks.

The documentary’s directors, Shantanu Suman and Istling Mirche, have a lot of ground to cover in the thirty minute documentary. Truck art has been around for almost as long as vehicles have been in India, and the work carries with it any number of important messages. As the documentarians point out, the art is about Indian culture and religion, but it’s also about the people driving the trucks themselves. It’s not just a chance for some brightly-coloured self-expression, although that is part of it, it’s also a chance to connect to their clients and customers.

For the street artist and mural enthusiast, Horn Please not only offers a glimpse into the people behind Indian Truck Art, it also provides a space to think about commercialism, capitalism, and the place art needs to occupy in society, but does so with a focus on a country who’s economic development and sustainability is very different from the Western world. Indian truck art is definitively Indian, drawing inspiration from Indian culture, religion, and iconography, but many of the art’s motivations remain strikingly similar: the need for expression, the desire for exposure, and simply the will to advertise oneself in a definitive and memorable way.

While countries like Canada and the United States have made their street art immobile, India’s roams the streets and provides a necessary function beyond the paint jobs. Trucks are a lifeblood for many places around the world, and for Indian truck art, you can transport more than just goods in a psychedelic and very groovy truck.

Horn Please is available online and is a must-watch for anyone interested in public art from a completely different perspective.