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.

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.

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.

Peeta's completed mural in the HKwalls festival

HKwalls Festival Paints Hong Kong with New Murals

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most modern cities, a place of great technological advancement, financial importance, and artistic development. As an independent city-state, it has made a name for itself on the world stage in many different areas, including the arts. For muralists and street artists, Hong Kong represents an exciting place to see amazing work, and there’s no better time to check out Hong Kong’s art scene than during HKwalls.

HKwalls is an annual street art festival, held in the springtime, that attracts thousands of art enthusiasts to Hong Kong. This year, the festival moved to the Sham Shui Po district in Hong Kong. Sham Shui Po is the city’s poorest district, yet it’s also one of the oldest settled places in the area. Scientists have found evidence that people have lived in the area for at least two thousand years. Today, the district is very much part of a new world. It’s famous for its electronics street markets and, thanks to HKwalls, its beautiful public art.

HKWalls artwork being painted by Peeta

At the latest HKwalls festival, artists and people came to Sham Shui Po from around the world, taking in the sights and creating beautiful, intricate, and fascinating murals, films, and other forms of street art. Plenty of famous artists appeared at the festival, including Parent’s Parents, Faust, Alana Tsui, Ryck, and Okuda. With so many talented people creating public art, it was hard to take it all in, much less decide on a favourite, but one piece has stood out above many others: a piece by Venice-based artist Peeta that tricks the eye into thinking his graffiti is popping off the wall.

Peeta's completed mural in the HKwalls festival

The piece covers a large facade of an arcade called Golden Computer Arcade and blends Peeta’s knowledge of sculpture, graffiti writing, and design into one large-scale and beautiful piece. Peeta created the mural with a colour scheme that matches the surrounding district, emphasizing its place in the neighbourhood rather than attempting to stand out with loud colours.

The piece uses Peeta’s now signature writing style, which doesn’t actually emphasize clarity or communication, but style over substance, as it were. Rarely are Peeta’s writings actually legible, but that doesn’t matter, the pieces speak for themselves without the need for distinctive letters. As Peeta says about his own work: “In my own work, I endeavour to realise the sculptural quality of individual letters… I break them from their generic typographical form, stylizing them with shape and volume beyond mere semantic function.”

new mural by artist okuda in the hkwalls mural festival

HKwalls is an important festival that not only helps create beautiful murals in some of Hong Kong’s poorer districts, but gives artists the space to make beautiful, lasting impacts on the community. Armed with little more than their paintbrushes and a designated canvas, many artists at HKwalls have made some of their largest and most impressive works, pieces that have lasted for years after.

kanye kissing kanye mural by scott marsh in chippendale, australia

What We Talk About When We Talk About Kimye and Murals

Earlier this year in the quiet city of Chippendale, Australia, a mural appeared that made headlines around the world. The piece, created by Australian street artist Scott Marsh, was a recreation of a meme that circulated around the internet the previous year. The meme, and the subsequent mural, depicted Kanye West kissing his wife Kim Kardashian, except her face was replaced with another Kanye face. The meme had been shown around the world and, consequently, the mural also gained its fair amount of attention, including from Kanye West’s staff.

full size of scott marsh's kanye mural

Marsh claims that he received a call from Kanye’s management shortly after the mural went viral, asking to have the piece taken down. In response, Marsh announced he had created a print of the mural and that it was for sale, for $100,000 and a lifetime supply of Kanye-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers. When that print was purchased, he would paint over the original mural.

While no one from Kanye’s team has taken responsibility, Marsh received the money a few days later and, a few days after that, he painted over the mural. Marsh, for his part, was surprised that things happened the way they did, starting with the mural gaining so much attention. ‘’I’m surprised there has been so much worldwide attention,” Marsh told the Illawarra Mercury. “I did it as a kind of a funny jab at the occult celebrity and celebrity culture and the power of media, in particular social media.’’ Marsh could not have picked a more appropriate subject for his work. Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian have become some of the biggest celebrities in the world precisely because of their approach to social media and their lifestyle (and, in the case of Kanye, because of his music).

When we talk about celebrity in the modern age, we are talking about their permeance, their ability to move through the separations and layers of our society with relative ease. Today, a social media post can be copied, altered, copied again, and sent around the world. It can show up on news sites and, in rare instances, on the side of a wall in Chippendale, Australia. And people can turn celebrity into almost anything. Ronald Reagan used his celebrity to help him win the presidency and another presidential hopeful is using the same tactics again today.

A celebrity’s ability to show up anywhere is a double-edged sword as well, one that the Kardashians have been trying to master for years. There strikes a balance between people’s forgetfulness and the internet’s ability to keep anything and everything easily searchable and accessible. Kanye may have allegedly forked over six figures to have a mural removed, but pictures of the mural are easily found through a simple Google search.

Street art and murals can challenge and provoke in multiple ways, including towards our obsessions with celebrity. For Marsh, tapping into our love of the rich and famous has earned him money and fame as well. But, as he says, these things can be fleeting.

‘’The attention has definitely lifted my profile. It’s just a matter now that I’ve got to work really hard and try and turn that into something tangible rather than 15 minutes of fame.’’

loving vincent

Loving Vincent: The World’s First Fully-Painted Feature Film

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the world’s most recognizable painters. Hailing from The Netherlands, Van Gogh became one of the most influential and important painters in history, and a major contributor to the Post-Impressionist era of painting. Moving away from his surrounding conventions, Van Gogh crafted dreamy, flowing art pieces that almost seemed to move on their own. It seems only natural, then, that someone would attempt to move Van Gogh’s work from the canvas to film. But for one team of talented filmmakers, they decided film was the right medium, but canvas was still essential to capturing the feel of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Loving Vincent is a truly unique film experiencing that will be coming out later this year. It tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh through his work or, rather, painted frames that animate Van Gogh’s work an life. Produced by BreakThru Films (perhaps most famous for the special effects in La Vie En Rose) and Trademark Films, the film is written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Cast members include Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, St. Vincent), Saoirse Ronan (Hannah, Brooklyn), and Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones), who will play various characters featured in Van Gogh’s paintings. Perhaps fittingly, the project was partially funded through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped cover the large costs involved with making the film.

The film bears a striking resemblance to rotoscoping, an animation technique used in films like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but it couldn’t be more different. Unlike rotoscoping, which animates over film cells of real-life actors, the crew behind Loving Vincent created the film using only canvas and paint. Each of the film’s 62,450 frames is a full oil painting, painted in the style and technique of Vincent Van Gogh, and is done by a team of 85 individual painters. The result is not only the world’s first fully painted feature film, but a captivating exploration into the art of Van Gogh’s paintings. So, just like traditional animation, the cast only lends their voices.

The film is set to be screened in an elaborate art exhibit that will tour around major art galleries. The exhibit will include, according to the film’s website, “original paintings and artwork from the film, a real-life painting animator, and large scale bespoke exhibits that show how this unique artistic endeavour was accomplished.”

Loving Vincent, besides being appropriately named, is yet another example of how art can push and change entire mediums. When we generally think about painting and film, we think of documentaries, or perhaps paint on glass animation, but Loving Vincent pushes the medium of film, well, completely past its actual physical components. Hopefully the film will feature a widespread release on top of its art exhibition so more people can experience this entirely new way of making film, and develop a deeper appreciation for one of history’s most talented artists.

image of blu mural in berlin after being painted over

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.

image showcasing stolen banksy street art

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.

horn please logo - a documentary about indian truck art

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.