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Richard ‘Seen’ Mirando in Paris

Seen Bio

For Seen, the worst thing that happened to graffiti was going mainstream in the 80s. That’s when it lost it’s edge.

Right around that time, Seen had already made a name for himself in New York and around the world. The Bronx native had taken to ‘bombing’ entire train cars. At one point, people said there was more art by Seen in NYC than billboards.

But by then, when ‘graf,’ as he calls it, had started its decline, Seen had caught the attention of 20th Century Fox. Seen did a mural on one of their building, got paid “decently,” and caught the attention of another major company. “I asked them if they wanted raw graffiti or commercial graffiti,” Seen said in an interview with IGN, “And they tell me the want the real thing. I knew they wanted commercial graffiti but I give them the raw graffiti.” This distinction between “raw” and “commercial” graf is important for Seen, and one of the reasons he ended up leaving street art mostly behind.

Seen started in the mid 70s with a group collectively called United Artists (UA). Together, they started tagging trains, becoming increasingly ambitious in their graffiti pieces. Soon, entire trains were being bombed, from top to bottom, and UA became known throughout the city, especially anyone taking the 2, 5, or 6 lines. Seen and his crew were regularly bombing trains well into the 80s, but by then Seen had noticed changes in the industry.

When Seen started in the late 70s, graffiti was illegal. Bombing wasn’t allowed in any capacity and artists had think about how they were going to get their art up and not get caught. As graffiti became more mainstream, however, it simultaneously got harder and easier. Permissive spaces started popping up, places where you could paint without fear of fines or jail. But permissive spaces also meant tightening restrictions on other spaces. Graf, an artistic style created by people who couldn’t get into the fine art galleries—and so made their own—was both accepted and rejected, easier and more difficult.

So Seen headed out of graf, into tattoos and, ironically enough, art galleries. Starting in the early 80s, he held gallery openings of his art with the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and fellow graffiti artists DONDI, and Lee Quiñones. He also opened Tattoo SEEN, which quickly became one of the most successful studios in the world. His most recent work uses the iconic images of superheroes that remind some of Lichtenstein, but with a decisive graffiti element. His other work incorporates complex and repetitive patterns for larger pieces.

For graf artists these days, thinking about an audience is arguably more integral than Seen’s trains in the late 70s. After all, commercial graf is an important part of our world, comes in many forms, and can be used to advertise and sell products while adding to an artistic space. The distinction between raw and commercial these days, like in so many other industries, is too blurry to be so decisive.

banksy eavesdropping mural

Banksy Admits to Eavesdropping Mural

He’s struck again. After a few months in New York, selling his wares anonymously (and for almost no money) in Central Park and painting anywhere he wanted, Banksy has left the Big Apple and headed home.

Known for his political graffiti, Banksy’s latest mural targets the British government’s increasingly invasive strategies for information. “Eavesdropping,” as the mural has been called, confronts this directly, with jacketed figures all standing around a phone booth with various devices for listening in. I guess some people will think twice before using that pay-phone for any illicit calls.

Banksy admitted to the painting in a Q&A on his website. The artist is notoriously guarded about his identity, despite a large number of people knowing who he is and refusing to tell, and will communicate with people only through email. This time, someone asked him directly: “Did you paint the spies in Cheltenham?” Banksy’s replay was a simple “Yes.”

In the same Q&A, Banksy mentioned the advantages of street art in general, that having to make all your mistakes in public is the best and worst part of his job. The last question was in a response to the controversial Banksy: The Unauthorized Retrospective, a curated art exhibit and auction by Banksy’s former agent, photographer, and assistant Steven Lazarides. The art was sold without Banksy’s consent and Lazarides mentioned to The Guardian that “I emailed his people, they know. Not pleased.”

“As a kid I always dreamed of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood,” Banksy said about the gallery and auction, “I never realised I’d end up playing one of the gold coins.”

“Eavesdropping” was discovered by Karen Smith, the owner of the house that Banksy painted, who awoke early in the morning to men packing up a white tarpaulin. “I thought it might be something to do with the police, like when a crime happens,” Smith told the Gloucestershire Echo, “I heard people talking all night and couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t look out, as you get used to people out there all the time.”

Smith’s personal opinion of the piece is that it “livens up the street a bit,” which is modest praise for art by one of the most famous artists in the world.

Since the revelation, the piece has been sold to private collector Sky Grimes for an undisclosed amount and his scaffolding company has been set to carefully remove “Eavesdropping” and make any necessary repairs to the home. Before it goes into Grimes’ private collection, it will be shown in a London gallery for a month while a special frame is made. All in all, the accidental owner of a Banksy piece just found themselves a great payday.

The street artist still is a bit like Robin Hood.

shepard fairey mural in melbourne

Shepard Fairey Bio

South Carolina-born Shepard Fairey is a curious study of contradictions. The graffiti artist constantly pushes boundaries, blending things usually thought of as complete opposites together. Commercial vs. public art, high vs. low art, much of Fairey’s life and art show his love of in-between spaces.

Fairey started drawing on skateboards and designing t-shirts at 14, but being from an affluent family meant Fairey could attend the Rhode Island School of Design. It was here that Fairey found himself caught between two worlds: his love of skateboarding culture and the world of contemporary art.

While at Rhode Island, Fairey designed the now-famous “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker, which eventually became the stencilled image of Andre the Giant with “OBEY” written underneath. The sticker quickly moved outside Fairey’s circles and was adopted by many artists using public space. Fairey himself asserts the Andre the Giant series has no deeper meaning, but he hopes the images cause people “to react, to contemplate and search for meaning.”

By the time Fairey graduated, the Obey campaign had become a phenomenon and he soon set up Alternate Graphics, a printing business specializing in sticker and t-shirt silkscreening. The press earned enough so Fairey could pursue his art while providing the resources for his own Obey clothing and sticker line.

During the 90s and early 2000s, Fairey’s art started moving into another space: marketing campaigns. He co-founded BLK/MRKT Inc., a viral marketing company that designed programs for Pepsi, Firefox, and Hasbro. Using Fairey’s unique experience in spreading public art, the company was extremely successful. From there, Fairey began designing movie posters and album covers with his wife, Amanda. Fairey’s work appeared in campaigns for Walk the Line and on albums for The Smashing Pumpkins and even some Led Zeppelin re-releases.

During this period, Fairey’s graffiti continued to appear all over, becoming increasingly critical of the Bush Administration. Where the Andre the Giant campaign supposedly lacked a deeper meaning, Fairey’s protest art was singular in its anti-war and anti-Bush messages. It was this political motivation that saw the next stage in Fairey’s career, political campaigns.

In 2008, Fairey made international headlines as the creator of the Obama “Hope” poster. The image was originally a poster that Fairey created and sold in a single day. Fairey drew on Socialist Realism and a famous photograph of JFK in a similar pose to create the poster, originally with the word ‘progress.’ Once the official Obama campaign discovered the image and thought it would be good for the election, Fairey changed it to the more recognizable ‘Hope’ at their request. Since then, the poster has been copied, parodied, and disseminated across the world, showing up on t-shirts, mugs, and anything else big enough to hold Obama’s face. In 2009, Fairey’s collage of the original Hope version was acquired by the Smithsonian.

Since the Obama image, Fairey continues to obscure the boundaries in art, challenging the splits between high and low, commercial and public. He’s never stopped graffitiing, though, for all his other projects, and was arrested for vandalism related to graffiti on his way to his first art show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

banksy robot art

Banksy Bio

Perhaps more than anyone other graffiti artist, Banksy has come to embody acceptance of his chosen form as art and graffiti’s unwillingness to fit into the way we usually consume art. Banksy’s work rebels against the usual means of looking at art, as graffiti has since the beginning, but also continues to work against how we purchase art as well. All quite the lisrt of accomplishments for someone who may not even exist.

Banksy is the pseudonym of a person (or persons) whose identity (or identities) is a closely guarded secret, we are unsure who he (or she) may be. He operates in secret across the globe, usually working with what must be large stencils and a vast network of resources. Some estimate Banksy’s operations in his hometown of Bristol, England would have to include a vast warehouse, but exactly where this warehouse is, and whose name is on the rental agreement, is still one of the artist’s many guarded secrets.

Work attributed to Banksy began in the 90s in Bristol, where the artist is presumed to have grown up. His graffiti, like many in the underground England scene at that time, relies heavily on stencils, probably for how quickly they can be applied. His art touches on themes of anti-government and anti-establishment, especially on the subject of war, a frequent target in his work. He also uses images of monkeys and other animals to undermine authority figures, as well as a healthy dose of humour, for a distinct look, voice, and aesthetic that can be quickly be seen as “Banksy.”

Another distinctive feature of Banksy’s art is how it speads over just a single wall, often using multiple surfaces, including ceilings and floors, to move the boundaries of graffiti. Since graffiti is technically vandalism, Banksy’s insistence on using multiple surfaces defies the legal issues surrounding his art form, and creates more challenges for those needing to clean it up.

But for all his use of monkeys and humour, how Banksy sells and distributes his art is equally mischievous, perhaps best illustrated in his recent trip to New York. He apparently set up an art stand in Central Park to sell originals of his art for as little as $5, not revealing whose art it really was. Those who bought the pieces didn’t know until the stand had long disappeared that the art was Banksy’s and would have easily sold for a hundred times the price. Much like Andy Warhol, a man whom Banksy has imitated on occasion, Banksy pushes not only the boundaries of what is considered art, but also how we consume it. If Warhol can sell a painting of a Campbell’s soup can for thousands of dollars, why can’t Banksy sell original pieces for hundreds times less than their estimated value? Graffiti, at its core, is about displaying art, both in places that are difficult to regulate, but also difficult to monetize. Banksy’s mischievous marketing and art distribution avoids many of the usual means of making money as an artist.

Still, Banksy’s carefully guarded identity is a testament to his ability to stay secret (even with an Oscar nomination under his belt for Exit Through the Gift Shop), but also to the respect he has even within his own community. During his trip to New York, many local graffiti artists professed to know him (reports also suggest The Daily Mail has his name on file, but refuses to release it), but no one has yet broken his secret. To do so would probably ruin the man from Bristol who’s changed graffiti forever, but no one so far has decided to cash in on such a valuable secret. Until then, Banksy remains a secret, despite being everywhere.

street art toronto mural

StreetArtToronto: Bringing Street Art, Well, Back to the Streets

The line between graffiti and street art is a fine one, very fine, but at least Toronto is encouraging the many talented street artists that live in this fair city. And after a winter like ours, I’m sure there are plenty of people looking to hit the streets and bring some colour back into Toronto. But the divide between street artists expressing themselves and people crying vandalism sometimes gets entrenched, leading to people writing off an entire medium of art because of local vandals.

That’s where StART Toronto comes in, a grant program encouraging street artists to add some flair to Toronto’s streets and help at-risk youth and adults contribute to the city’s overall look.

StART is truly multifaceted in its approach, offering grants and taking proposals to help everyone involved in street art, from victims to professional artists. Programs like RE StART specifically targets at-risk members of the community with programs that encourage artistic expression while respecting the rules of street art, like putting it where its wanted and not on historic buildings. People interested in starting programs for at-risk street artists can receive up to $20,000 in grant money, and maybe even produce a few future artists along the way.

But for people who have been victimized by street art, the StART Support Mural Program is probably the most interesting. People who have experienced unwanted graffiti can apply to the program and, instead of getting the unwanted art simply washed off, get a local muralist to paint something welcome and better. With the Mural Support Program, the city is finding practical solutions to unwanted street art without discrediting the artistry that our talented street artists have. Instead of encouraging people to be bitter towards street artists and vice versa, Mural Support brings them together for something mutually beneficial.

And, for the truly ambitious, the city has set up “Outside the Box,” a program where artists can transform traffic signal cabinets into works of art. So far, 10 boxes at intersections around the city have been donated to the program, with another 20 reported this month. For a full list of intersections, visit the StART website here.

Because the programs are for literally everyone, StART is working to prove street art can be more than unsightly tags, that it can instead be integrated into how we live in a city. Programs like the Underpass Program is looking to integrate street art into a revitalization of the underpass, using art to encourage a safer and brighter area where people would want to walk, rather than rush through.

StART’s programs are looking for viable solutions to not only bring artists and residents together, but demonstrate that street art is a vital part of any urban space. Instead of condemning all graffiti, a popular tactic in many cities, Toronto is looking to bring people together, help those at-risk, and encourage people to enjoy this great city even more. That all sounds like a great idea.