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.

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.’’

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.

First Coat Mural Festival in Australia

The City of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia is famous for a few things. Located in the Northeast of Australia, it’s only a short drive to the ocean, and sits close to the Great Barrier Reef. But people don’t come to Toowoomba for its proximity to beaches and natural wonders, they come for the scenery.

Toowoomba is nicknamed “The Garden City” for good reason: it boasts over 150 parks inside its small borders, and the city’s 150,000 residents are constantly surrounded by the natural beauty of the region, which is made in part by its geography and soil. Rich volcanic ash feeds the city’s many Jacaranda, camphor laurel and plane trees that line many of the city streets, giving the city a rich green colour, but many people plant flowers and other colourful plants, which are judged as part of the city’s annual Australian Carnival of Flowers held every September.

But natural beauty is just one of the reasons people are flocking to Toowoomba, and the Carnival of Flowers isn’t the only festival that celebrates colour and life. The other is Toowoomba’s First Coat Mural Festival, an annual three-day festival that celebrates street art and entertainment. The festival brings together thousands of street artists, muralists, and other performers from around the world, all eager to show off what makes them special.

Aspiring artists can also take full advantage of the festival’s many events, which range from discussions to masterclasses on various art techniques and styles. Most of these events are also free, and almost all are hosted in Queensland’s largest open air gallery at the heart of Toowoomba.

But more than a festival, First Coat is a clever way to deal with unwanted graffiti and put up some beautiful street art at the same time. Since the city and surrounding area enjoys a healthy tourism industry based on its beauty, the entire area tries to be prudent when it comes to graffiti and unwanted “additions” to the landscape. But, of course, the city has its fair share of overeager and aspiring street artists who don’t always comply with regulation, and the annual festival helps the city cover up unwanted tags and graffiti. The move, besides being a great way to promote murals and street art, is also a pragmatic choice. On top of bringing in an estimated $90,000 in extra revenue this past May, the festival also helped eliminate an estimated $45,000 in graffiti cleanup, all by encouraging art.

First Coat is an example of street art at its absolute best: encouraging great artists, collaboration, and helping change the public’s opinion about public art and street art in general. It proves, year after year, that public art is an important part of a city’s identity, not just for its own artistic merit, but because it can help beautify even the most gorgeous of cities. And because such a festival brings together artists from all around the world, and encourages people of all skill levels to learn and develop together, it strengthens the global muralist community. Those are all good things.

Hyde & Seek

In a small town in Bowden, Australia, a collaborative street art team is growing at an alarming rate. They’re known for not sitting still, media-wise, and coming up with striking new works from materials as varied as coloured cups, toy soldiers, and yes, even chewing gum.

Like many street artists today, Hyde & Seek are eschewing public identities to just let their work speak entirely on their behalf. Well, that’s not entirely true. Hyde & Seek has a large online presence: Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter are all filled with their work, including plenty of cross-postings and their own extensive Facebook photo collection. The pair, we assume it’s a pair because of their wording in posts, have documented a bit of their process, but they also just love close-ups to show off the technical side of their work.

Mixed media may be the best descriptor of Hyde & Seek’s work. It started with Chew Barrymore, which gained a sort of viral status in the online street art community, and went from there. Chew Barrymore was a portrait of the actress made entirely from, well, chewing gum. It’s a bit of a marvel, not just for its chosen medium, but because the portrait wears their most immediate influence on their sleeve: Andy Warhol. The bright colours combined with washed-out aesthetics falls right into Warhol’s chosen palettes for the many portraits he did over the years. Of course, I think Hyde & Seek decided not to do the repetition probably to avoid sore jaws!

After their strong debut, Hyde & Seek have shown up in a number of places in what we imagine to be their hometown. The most recent being an affinity for fences. Two pieces have shown up in the past few months. The first, a woman blowing the petals of a flower, made entirely from coloured cups shoved into a chain link fence. They pushed the idea a little further with their most recent project: a series of coloured swatches also lodged into a chainlink fence. The result is a beautiful eye in a detailed background. Both expand the canvas on which street art can happen. Chainlink fences are most famous for their transparency and ability to collect trash, not as a place for striking, and opaque, artwork.

Perhaps my personal favourite Hyde & Seek piece is their piece using tiny toy soldiers. You know, the green ones in Toy Story with the fixed bases? The team gathered a bunch of these and made a painting of a man break dancing. Dance, as Brazilian Capoeira teaches us, is often linked to resistance and fighting, even as it remains an intrinsically passive mode of resistance. The juxtaposition of the break dancer and the soldiers from which he is created highlight the relationship between war and dance.

Of course, Hyde & Seek’s most “sharable” pieces are their Stop signs, which paste additional words onto stop signs for some humour or calls to stop growing hipster beards. Snarky, decontextualized, and smirk-worthy, these signs have been showing up all over. Now hopefully people aren’t stealing them, which can sometimes be an issue for defamed street signs, which is never good for drivers.

Hyde & Seek are on their way up despite keeping their identities very quiet. Be sure to keep an eye out for their next imaginary use of some completely new and underused materials.