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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Artist Bio: DAIM

There are few graffiti artists with the acclaim, success, and widespread recognition like DAIM. This German graffiti artist rose to prominence in the nineties and has since been on the cutting edge of graffiti and street art. Widely recognized as the man who popularized the 3-D art style of graffiti, his work is often replicated by artists, but few have managed to match his skill and technical proficiency.

DAIM, born Mirko Reisser in 1971, showed an early interest in art and was already getting commissions by the time he left high school. He entered the world of freelance artistry soon after and spent the next five years making a name for himself in the German art scene. It was during this period, the mid-nineties, that graffiti art became a more widely-recognized form of art and DAIM’s pieces soon became the picture-perfect examples of the European and German graffiti scene. In his own words, DAIM’s “geometric figures and letters obey the laws of light and shadow but defy gravity and curve space.”

DAIM’s first major contribution to the art world was his now trademark 3-D style. Inspired by artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali, DAIM sought to create 3-D images without relying on outlining, as was common at the time, but with forms made from shading. The result is brightly-coloured pieces that seem to hang just off the wall, all with a profound eye for technical merit and style, something that DAIM further honed when he did his fine arts degree at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland.

While at school, cofounded “getting up,” an art collective that operated primarily out of Hamburg that consisted of DAIM, Gerrit Peters, and Heiko Zahlmann. The group works together to this day.

The vast majority of DAIM’s work even today focuses on letters and words, and his photorealistic stylings before he came to graffiti are present in each of his pieces. Combining a fresh look at graffiti writing with a strict adherence to the art and styles that form the backbone of European art, DAIM can be seen as one of the integral artists for moving graffiti from an attraction to an art-form with a history and connection to the European art scene.

DAIM’s impact is still felt on the graffiti and street art scenes to this day, not just for his early pioneering work, but for his contemporary projects. He was responsible for providing a certain technical mastery to the craft at a time when street art and graffiti artists were seen as amateurs unable to enter the art gallery, and his 3-D style has become a mainstay and standard for anyone who wants to make art with a spray can.

Reverse Graffiti

Graffiti is often seen in the eyes of the public as a sort of pollution. It’s an old way to approach this longtime art form, especially since we’ve now had decades of brilliant artists proving how much worth graffiti has on a population, but the stigma still exists. Some see ti as a form of vandalism, a scar on the landscape that impacts the beauty of its canvas. Of course, we can all probably think of countless examples where this simply isn’t the case, or where graffiti has beautified its building.

Of course, we can also all think of buildings and city spaces that are inherently polluted, whether the walls are bearing years of traffic exhaust or the pollution of the Industrial Revolution was never quite scrubbed clean. These types of spaces are all over the world and some of the world’s more inventive artists have started to do something about it.

The idea is called “reverse graffiti” and it’s essentially a very artistic version of someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car. In its most common form, reverse graffiti involves cleaning away pollution or messes in such a way that the cleaned spaces create an intricate and beautiful design. Of course, since its inception, reverse graffiti has become more complicated, the materials more interesting, and the ambition more incredible. Usually, the job is done with simple soap, but newcomers are using greenery and more to create extremely elaborate patterns, many of which slowly fade as the dirt either accumulates or washes off.

Depending on the material, reverse graffiti is also an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional spray paint graffiti. Since paints are often quite toxic, especially when put in aerosol form, these products can be harmful to the natural world, especially when they’re washed off and poured down a city drain. But reverse graffiti actually cleans the space, so it removes some of the filth and pollutants that linger over our city spaces.

Being a cleaner alternative to traditional graffiti, many corporations have now jumped onboard the reverse graffiti train, using popular artists to both clean urban environments and promote their products. Smirnoff enlisted one of reverse graffiti’s most well-known artists, Moose, for a campaign in Leeds and London. Promoting the campaign as clean and innovative, it managed to draw a lot of attention and have a reverse environmental impact.

Reverse graffiti is an excellent response to the gradual dirt that accumulates in our cities and towns. Since many of the places in which we live have experienced decades, if not centuries, of waste, pollution, and more, it only seems natural that we use artistic and creative means to make the spaces more beautiful. And while traditional street art is being used constantly to beautify spaces, there is something inherently beautiful present in reverse graffiti. By using soap, not spray, we are both creating more beauty in the world while doing our part to make it a nicer, more livable space.

Street Art Pakistan

Street art is all around us, from faded advertisements of days gone by to giant, beautiful murals created by some of the world’s best artists. They can carry messages of hope and love, spark political discussions, or simply make statements of time and place. Street art can be a source of beauty, of inspiration, and a chance for people to come together under a common cause.

Street Art Pakistan is an initiative by an organization called Artisan and is dedicated to using the power of street art to bring beauty to the cities of Pakistan. Like many other countries in the world, Pakistan has been subject to graffiti, and Street Art Pakistan is hoping to change the perspective on street art by painting over what is known as “wall chalking.” The illegal practice sees messages scrawled across buildings which can be divisive and frowned upon and, rather than let the practice sully the good name of street art, a few Pakistani citizens have created a collective that changes these instances into moments that beautify, unite, and, for lack of a better term, change the conversation.

The initiative started as a competition to encourage local artists and people to come up with positive and beautiful solutions to wall chalking, and has since grown to a major movement within the country. Each year, different themes are chosen so the messages can point to positive initiatives and ideas, including, according to their website, “Truck art, Education, Peace and Freedom, Provincial Culture, Gates of Lahore and Monuments, Blood Donation, Fight against Dengue, Cleanliness and Culture of Pakistan.”


The Street Art Pakistan initiative has seen great success in its relatively short existence. Started in 2011 with a small but dedicated team, the project has now grown to thousands of people. Every mural and street art piece done under the Street Art Pakistan banner is a collaborative event, using local youth and artists to design and create a positive mural that can cover up the wall chalking. To date, art by the initiative has been featured in fifteen cities spanning three provinces in Pakistan, with over twenty thousand youth participants and over 320,000 sq. ft. of walls covered. It has been praised as a positive initiative that not only helps beautify, but gives Pakistani youth the opportunity to contribute to their communities.

Street Art Pakistan is an excellent example of how murals and street art can contribute to a conversation, all while bringing positivity and beauty to city streets. For Pakistan, a country that faces many obstacles and challenges, programs that help bring hope and comfort are invaluable. Plus, the chance to bring people together in collaborative art projects helps people have a sense of purpose, direction, and the chance to see their hard work be praised and admired for years to come. As Street Art Pakistan expands, hopefully it will create an even more vibrant street art culture that shows the world how talented these artists are.

Artist Spotlight: Hopare

One of the benefits of street art now entering multiple decades of public approval and recognition is that we are seeing artists be influenced directly by the generations previous. Years ago, street artists were often left to their own devices, unable to properly communicate or share their ideas with a larger group. And the idea of teaching the next generation was almost impossible, especially as the craft being taught was, back then, still seen as something illegal. But with time and acceptance came the opportunity for artists to build off one another generation to generation. One such artist is the relatively young yet influential Hopare.

Born in Limours, France to Portuguese parents, Hopare discovered his love of street art early on when he walked past an abandoned local factory that was covered in graffiti. He started doing his own tags and pieces not long after, around the tender age of 12, but it was a chance meeting with a teacher that turned Hopare from a kid with some spray paint to an artist on the verge of greatness.

That chance meeting was with French street art legend Shaka, who was teaching at Hopare’s junior high school. The meeting proved fruitful as Shaka saw Hopare’s potential and mentored him over the next year, culminating in a show that showcased a young artist of considerable talent still in search of his identity. It was in the years that followed that Hopare began learning from other street artists while working in an interior architecture firm, all of which helped him find his now-distinctive personal blend of abstract and figurative.

The Franco-Portuguese urban artist has made a name for himself not simply because of his beautiful work, but because of his inclusion of many different themes in his work, especially a familiarity with architecture that allows his work to expand beyond the canvas. Hopare’s work often leans heavily on precise geometry, creating the illusion of 3-dimensional work by combining sparse colour and effective shadowing. This precision creates pieces that figuratively pop off the canvas and capture the audience’s attention.

What Hopare’s art proves is that there is a tangible and important benefit to the ongoing celebration and expansion of street art. With the increased recognition, artists have been able to more effectively come together and educate each other. The result is a history that artists can draw upon and contribute to, pushing the medium forward as artists can find themselves through the mentorship of others. This sort of process has long been vital to other creative exploits, from the Beat poets’ writing retreats to formal artistic education. Hopare’s distinctive yet cultivated style proves that artist-to-artist encounters can create beauty and forward-thinking pieces that can push an entire medium forward.

Artist Spotlight: Rime

New York has always been seen as one of the starting points for graffiti. Indeed, it’s embedded into the everyday experience in that city, seen on the rooftops as you take the train from into Manhattan, scribbled on the subway. Graffiti is everywhere in that town, especially when you cross the East River and head into Brooklyn.

Brooklyn-based artist Joseph Tierney loves graffiti, you can see it almost every piece of work he does. It draws heavily on New York’s definitive style, and he sees the work as something that fights back against gentrification, a problem that’s been plaguing Brooklyn for decades. And while Brooklyn has plenty of amazing street art, he’s quick to call out the difference between it and graffiti.

Rime doesn’t mince words about the difference, either. His website describes street art as “Privileged motherfuckers flock to “hot spots” and commutable convenience. Digestible. The urban adventure… Art without soul. Surface high. Flat excitement. Commercials.” By contrast, he describes graffiti as “Full bodied application. Complicated motherfucker’s sport. Interaction. Force play. Passion… Handmade master of your craft. Contradictive self.”

The binary is clear for Rime. One happens in spite of development, it calls out and challenges. The other happens as a result, which is why his most recent claim to fame is so important to not only his approach to art, but to him as an artist.

Rime is perhaps most recently famous, unfortunately, for plagiarism, as in someone stealing his work for their own benefit and leaving him without proper compensation. The controversy arose in the early months of 2015, when Italian designer Moschino debuted a dress by their designer Jeremy Scott that featured a mural Rime had done in Detroit. The mural, called “Vandal Eyes” was a commission piece that Rime did on the side of a building in Detroit, the same place where Jeremy Scott hosted a Fall Fashion event in the late parts of 2014. By May, superstar singer Katy Perry was roped into the controversy when Moschino allegedly paid her to wear it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala. Rime, never one to shy away from controversy, stated that “his credibility as a graffiti artist was compromised by inclusion in such a crass and commercial publicity stunt.” The lawsuit, at the time of writing this, has not been settled.

In many ways, Rime’s art is representative of the history of graffiti as a whole. Unapologetic, working outside the normal bounds of gallery space constraints or legal loopholes, his work is against coopting, turning mainstream, and being hung in coffee shops. And it is especially ironic that it ended up on a high fashion dress at one of New York’s most famous, and famously exclusive, art museums. But like his now-infamous mural, Rime’s work watches and is unashamed of its extra-legal status. There is art for those who want to pave over, and there is art for those who want to fight. At least, that’s what Rime’s art expresses.

Global Street Art: The International View on the World of Street Art

Graffiti and street art has often been viewed as an American tradition, something that came about with the rise of hip-hop culture in the late seventies. And, in some respects, this assessment isn’t entirely untrue. The early hip-hop movements certainly popularized street art and kickstarted its integration into the rest of the art world, but it’s never been an American invention. Street art existed long before those times, and it continues to pop up all over the world. And while many people and places are dedicated to showcasing the international community of street artists, none do it quite as well as Global Street Art.

Global Street Art is a site based out of London that showcases art and murals that are happening around the world. Using a global community of writers, photographers, and street art enthusiasts, the site is dedicated to showing off just how international the world of street art truly is. Not content simply showing off what’s happening in its own country, known to some as the land that produced Banksy, the people at Global Street Art look to the furthest reaches of the globe to see how street art is used elsewhere, and how these trends affect the global community.

By showcasing international artists, the website has become a fascinating study in how influence moves and changes throughout the globe. For example, while many street art experts have been able to trace the influence of American hip-hop in Brazilian art, especially in Sao Paulo, you can look at Global Street Art to see how Sao Paulo’s distinctive style has moved to other parts of South America, including its neighbouring countries and even up into Central America. It’s also an amazing glimpse into how local styles can morph these influences into something wholly new and entirely their own, not unlike what Sao Paulo did decades ago.

Global Street Art goes beyond paintings on walls, however, and even looks at art styles that show up in commercial work and more. They even provide street art tours in Camden, and have a book showcasing their hard work. And by looking beyond street art in the traditional sense, they also show how this particularly type of art has influenced other types of media.

Constantly updating and ever-changing, Global Street Art is one of the best sites out there for anyone who wants to look at how diverse and wide-reaching the world of graffiti and public art has become, and continues to be. Rather than simply looking inwards, as many sites in England and North America do, this collective of talented individuals look at how diversity and cultural influence can impact and improve the art and the culture surrounding street art.

Brooklyn Street Art

One of the best things about street art in the digital age is its ability to disseminate throughout the world. Pieces are no longer confined to simply the city, or even the single canvas, on which they were created. The thought, the image, can be spread around the world at the speed of light, depending on your internet service provider, and shared with people around the world. It has given many artists a new platform in which to share their art and build careers. Even the extremely aloof Banksy has managed to use the internet to draw awareness, build his (or her, or their?) portfolio, and make a substantial amount of money, something which wasn’t even possible even just a short decade ago.

Of course, the shift to digital has also brought with it another aspect of street art: appreciation and community building. Each of these are an essential part of street art as a whole, and the internet has allowed the fast-spreading images of the world’s street art to meet the eyes of rabid fans and suave critics, all of whom express their love of the art form, in all its many iterations, in their own ways. One such way is by Steven P. Harrington, Jaime Rojo, and their fellow writers, artists, and photographers at Brooklyn Street Art.

The website, originally a way to catalogue and discuss Brooklyn’s diverse and wonderfully elaborate world of street art, murals, and more, the site has expanded to include the world over, and does an amazing job of not only connecting art to fans, but artists to the public, and work to admirers all over the world. The site features interviews, criticism, a beautiful range of photography, and more, all designed to showcase the many artists in the world, and the good work they’re doing in their hometowns and around the globe.

But Brooklyn Street Art, lovingly referred to as “BSA,” is more than just a hype machine, it’s also interested in pop culture’s place in street art, and the inverse, and frequently publishes articles focusing on how the many different mediums interact with each other. As trends develop in the street,” Harrington writes on the site, “We watch to see how they affect popular culture and the rest of the art world.”

And BSA isn’t focused on simply graffiti, or even street art that’s on the actual street. The site also explores different forms of street art. Or, as they put it: “New hybrids, new techniques, and new mediums are expanding the definition of public art, street art, graffiti, and urban art.” By considering more than just graffiti, the site is able to keep up with the changing face of public art as a whole.

What BSA proves is that street art can and does benefit from a critical discourse and enthusiastic fanbase, one that’s both passionate and intelligent. It helps not only the artists, but the entire community bond, build, and create.

Web Spotlight: Animal New York

Like many other things in this world, the internet has been great to street art. Between Google’s street art maps to sites dedicated to artists working around the globe, the internet has allowed artists and art enthusiasts to connect and build things together. It’s given a voice to people who would otherwise have none, and let many artists who would’ve been literally painted over and jettisoned into obscurity reach heights of fame and success that a pre-internet age would have never allowed. And that has been great not only for those artists, but for the people who cherish and value the work these artists do.

But perhaps even more significantly, the internet has also generated an entirely new group of people, individuals who are dedicated to not only the dissemination of hot and up-and-coming artists, but to the discussion and elevation of what street art is, can be, and represents to various groups of people. The explosion of critical work, interviews, and hype has helped the discussion around street art grow and grow. And one of the hottest places online that’s doing this is Animal.

Founded in 2003 by Bucky Turco, Animal is an online magazine that showcases street art projects around the world, from the twisting streets of Rio de Janeiro to the mega-metropolises of the United States. Turco founded the magazine on a simple premise: that street art is a legitimate form of artistic expression and people should be able to engage, write about, and think critically of street art in the same ways people think and write about other kinds of more “legitimate” art.

Animal has been responsible for making and breaking many the career of street artists and, in some cases, elevating art by mystery artists who have done amazing things in cities all over. Artists like New York’s COST, TRAP, Plasma Slugs, HAELER, and SABIO owe at least part of their popularity and name recognition to the site, and Animal’s continual engagement with these artists has let them showcase their evolution and changes. It’s been good to artists, but it’s also been so much more.

Animal has also been a place to engage with other issues through the lens of graffiti and artists, searching for meaning and hope in political and world events by looking at what people have scrawled on the walls in response. They looked at Egypt’s most recent unrest through this lens, and even thought about Occupy Wall Street through the many artists that performed and made pieces that opposed and protested the problems with America’s current economic crises. Through it all, Animal has used street art to show that things are connected, and the world’s events and people can find meaning by looking at how artists react on the streets.

Animal’s work is an example of street art criticism and engagement that’s only possible through the internet. It proves that graffiti is important, and that we can use it to think about the world around us in new and exciting ways. And that, in itself, is exciting indeed.