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muralist hard at work on street art mural at the pow wow art festival in honolulu, hawaii

POW! WOW!

Hawaii is a beautiful place, that much goes without saying, but much of Hawaii’s beauty is focused on its natural landscapes, not its thriving art scene. This is a true shame because Hawaii has two important facets that make for an interesting and radical art scene: a native population with its own artistic history and infrastructure put in place to help the art scene thrive.

There are plenty of programs used to promote and advertise Hawaii’s art scene, but one of the biggest and most exciting is the POW! WOW! Art Festival in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This area, traditionally a place of royal significance, is an industrial and cultural hub for Hawaii’s capital and is the perfect launching point for this diverse and amazing festival.

On the surface, POW! WOW! is not dissimilar to many other street art festivals that take place around the world. It has a series of activities in which people can partake, including lectures and concerts, and it attracts some of the world’s most up-and-coming muralists and street artists. But what sets POW! WOW! apart is its diversity.

Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unique to much of the world in that it’s a true mosaic. Cultures and cultural influences are all around you when you walk through Honolulu, especially when it comes to other Pacific islands. POW! WOW! celebrates this diversity with a heavy influence on artists from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and more.

beautiful mural being rendered at the pow wow art festival

POW! WOW! gets its name from the Indigenous American term for a gathering. The word itself is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, which means “spiritual leader. Appropriately enough, the Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe traditionally from an island themselves: Rhode Island.

In many ways, POW! WOW! is about gathering people together, which is why there is such a heavy focus on events and diversity. At any time during the festival, there are talks happening in galleries and on the streets, and people can interact with artists and some of their art as part of the festival. And, of course, there’s plenty of entertainment as well. It’s also one of the few festivals in the Northern Hemisphere to take place during the winter, in the dead of February to be exact, which makes it an excellent retreat for people who want to see great art and get out of the cold.

What POW! WOW! represents for the street art community is two important things: the necessity of inclusion and the importance of discussion. With a focus on both, POW! WOW! is an important festival for showcasing numerous talents that may otherwise be considered “regional.” By giving a voice, and the chance to create, to a wide variety of artists, POW! WOW! is leading the charge in making great festivals that are by everyone and for everyone.

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Website Profile: Bizarre Beyond Belief Magazine

As street art becomes more prevalent, more accepted, and discussed more on the public stage, it’s easy to forget that it’s a place where weird things can happen. Street art began its modern life in alleyways, on the sides of abandoned buildings, and under the cover of darkness. It was something that happened in secret and often in small, isolated groups. The artists who started modern street art were often barred from other kinds of then-accepted forms of artistic expression. When they couldn’t have their work in art galleries, they spray painted the sides of buildings. When no one thought spray paint was good enough to create art, they made impressive artistic leaps. And when their content was deemed “too risqué,” they responded with getting weird.

Bizarre Beyond Belief is a website and publication dedicated to keeping the weirdness of street art, design, and artistic expression noticed, discussed, and documented. It embraces the courageous and the bold, the artists who strike out and make something that captures people’s attention for any number of reasons, from the artistic stylings to the strange subject matter. It makes people remember that street art isn’t conventional and can do things that “high culture” art can only dream of.

The website regularly features profiles, interviews, photo galleries, and more of the weird and wonderful things happening in the world. They look beyond street art when looking for the bizarre as well, with sections dedicated to design, photography, and other artistic modes to see what’s truly weird in the world. By doing so, Bizarre Beyond Belief often discovers smaller artists before they break, making it an excellent resource for anyone who wants to stay current with the art world outside of the usual galleries.

Many websites struggle with revenue, but Bizarre Beyond Belief has managed to foster a dedicated and loyal audience that takes pride in their subscriptions. The website is now known for its wonderful merchandise almost as much as its content. The wide variety of apparel, pins, and more help the website stay in business, but it also offers an opportunity for its readers to have a small piece of what the website profiles.

Bizarre Beyond Belief is a website that proves street art, no matter how popular it gets, will always be on the outside. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of the best artists in the more accepted art galleries are or were street artists, and graffiti has become a major influence in many recent artistic movements. By staying weird and on the outside, street art is able to inject new ideas into the world without the usual gatekeeping and barriers set up to stop them. And with that, our society and our art culture can grow, warp, and continue to catch people off-guard.

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Artist Bio: Jade

Street art, in many ways, changes from place to place. Not simply in style, since different artists are working in different cities, but in terms of culture, of subject matter, and of what’s depicted. After Los Angeles enacted its infamous street art ban, the city’s street art took a noticeable turn. Styles morphed as artists had less time, and other things on their minds, as they made their art. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo completely legalized street art, encouraging artists. As a result, the city’s street art became more ambitious, more influential, and many world famous artists began to emerge from the scene.

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Peru is an exceptionally large and disparate country, one that stretches from the Northern end of Chile all the way up to Ecuador. From its capital of Lima in the south west, the country spreads out, with pockets of beautiful landscapes run completely by locals to the dense, tourist-heavy areas of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, where some of the most fascinating Incan ruins remain. Being so large and so disparate, the country has managed to produce a varied street art culture. Partially derived from the disparity found in the people, and partly in the variations you can find in the country itself.

One artist who has managed to capture Peru in all its varied glory is Jade. Growing up in Peru himself, Jade has tapped into something that is truly important and truly beautiful about Peru: its own relationship with nature. From the mountains that house Machu Picchu to the rain forests in the north to the desserts in the west, Peru has an extremely varied landscape, one that has been met with its fair share of exploitation and abuse. But the country has been fighting to keep its nature beautiful, and has made extremely successful headways into truly progressive environmental policy. It’s a testament to the country’s love of its land, from its individual citizens to its place on the world stage, and artists like Jade have managed to tap into this unique relationship.

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Jade’s artistic pieces, which range not only in size but in ambition, try to connect the human body back to nature in unique and beautiful ways. It can be simple, like a painting of a boy on a giant rock, or it can be quite abstract, like Jade’s tendency to add ghostly birds and beaks to depictions of modern day people. With all of it, Jade makes certain to connect the human subjects to nature, to bring the important relationship the Peruvian people have with their landscapes to the forefront, and Jade does so with an intense colouring that you would associate with South American countries like Peru.

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What Jade’s art can show us is that street art, while somewhat dependent on an urbanized space, doesn’t necessarily have to ignore the natural. In fact, the relationship between people and their environment can be showcased as beautiful and intrinsic. Jade’s art manages these spaces, and Jade does so while making something that is truly Peruvian.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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#NotACrime: The Power and Politics of Street Art

Street art is political. At its very core, the idea of painting art in public places with or without the permission of owners and governments, has placed the artform in political territory, often before the spray paint hits the wall. And while street art is increasingly part of regular, lawful modes of artistic expression, it hasn’t lost its political edge, and it’s something that people in New York City are using to discuss very real political issues facing our world, and specifically the country of Iran.

Iran, as many people know, has very strict laws when it comes to expression, whether it’s religious, political, or otherwise, and frequent quelling of expression happens all over the country every day. It’s a huge issue that impacts millions of people, not just in the streets of Tehran, but family, friends, and fellow countrymen around the world. And some street artists have used their chosen artform to raise awareness.

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The #NotACrime movement began in New York city and focuses on two major issues facing modern day Iran: the persecution of Iran’s largest religious minority, the Baha’is, and the suppression of journalistic freedom. According #NotACrime’s website, “Iran’s government has persecuted them since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Businesses are torched, people are fired from their jobs, thousands are harassed and jailed, and hundreds have been killed.” Baha’is aren’t allowed to teach or study at Iranian universities, and many have been forced to study in secret at great personal risk.

The second major problem is journalism and is the origin of the movement’s name and hashtag. The project started as a way to raise funds to help those who have been imprisoned, harassed, and censored, to provide these brave people with legal and psychological counselling that can help them overcome their many difficulties.

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But they didn’t stop with fundraising and are now taking to the streets, quite literally, to spread the word of the problems many of Iran’s citizens face. The awareness has taken the form of a series of murals in New York City, and has attracted the attention of celebrities and Nobel laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mark Ruffalo, Nazanin Boniadi, and Justin Baldoni.

The murals themselves have generated a lot of attention for both the movement and the issues they are speaking about, and the group has decided to democratize the movement. Their website features a handbook, which covers everything from doing street art legally to mixtures you can make for paste to tips on stencilling. In their own words, “#NotACrime hopes that a mix of old-school street art and social media pushes this cause into the public imagination.”

#NotACrime not only highlights an important issue facing a substantial number of people in the world today, it also demonstrates that public art can fight, raise awareness, and do good. It shows that artists who take to the streets are capable of making bold and important political statements. It’s something that’s part of the artform’s history, and something that must never be lost.

martin ron mural of a turtle coming out of wall

Artist Bio: Martin Ron

There are few places in the world quite like Argentina and Brazil, especially when it comes to street art. The combination of talent, friendly laws, and a rich, varied and vibrant history has given birth to some of the best and brightest talents in the world. Simply walking down the streets of Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro will give you a sudden and delight insight into the many talented artist roaming the streets. But if you’re in Buenos Aries, you will be sure to notice the work of one Martin Ron, a street artist whose international acclaim is only growing.

Martin Ron’s work is noted first and foremost for its size. The motto “Go big or go home” seems to be a mantra for his work, which often towers above the smaller pieces that dot Buenos Aries’ skyline, alleyways, and neighbourhoods. Of course, usually such size also brings with it time savers, ways in which people can make a larger project while being able to get home at the end of the day. For Martin Ron, this is not the way to do things.

Besides the size, Martin Ron’s work is noted for its deep complexity in terms of colour, subject, and detail. Everything he does is painstakingly researched, created, and given a perfectionist’s level of attention to detail. From turtles bursting forth from walls to Dali-esque surreal takes on skater culture, everything looks at once real and artistic.

Take, for example, this piece. It taps not only into a larger artistic history, the influence of Salvador Dali’s surrealism is immediately evident, but it does so by considering the local skater culture and South American’s classic love of vibrancy, both in subject and in colour. Four stories tall and using three different sections of a building, the piece is astounding in its scope, size, and ambition, all of which have become the norm for Martin Ron.

What Martin Ron’s art shows us is more than an ability to compose larger, and larger-than-life, art, it shows us how vibrancy and taking into account one’s own history can lead to beautiful works of art. Too often, we think of artists as singular geniuses who completely change everything, but to do so often erases the people who came before. With Martin Ron, we can see brilliant nods to the past as history is being made right before our very eyes. It takes a measured approach and celebrates art history, the area around the drawing, and the characteristics that make South American street art, and Argentinian art in particular, such a fascinating part of the global street art phenomenon.

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Malta Street Art Festival

The small island nation of Malta is famous for many, many things. It has long been a favourite destination of tourists, with its warm climate, cool ocean breeze, and beautiful scenery. It’s been a favourite place for other nations to take over as well, given its favourable location, and has been occupied by almost all of the major players of Europe at one time. But since 2013, Malta has been occupied by something much cooler than old European brigades. It’s been taken over by street artists.

The Malta Street Art Festival actually started elsewhere on the island, in the town of Sliema as the Sliema Street Art Festival. The smaller town feel, even in one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries on the planet, made an ideal location: more space to spread out, far enough away that people would travel away from the nation’s capital to see the art, and an opportunity to create a tight-knit community.

The small start worked wonders and, in 2013, the festival’s community decided to take over the capital of Valletta, expanding out so that the impact and festivities could be experienced by even more people. And so the Sliema Street Art Festival turned into the Malta Street Art Festival, and with the new name, things began to grow and change.

The festival in Malta was a bigger affair than previous street art festivals in the area, and has since grown outside the realm of just street art. All along the promenade, the festival set up four stages where local and visiting musicians played anything from reggae to rock and roll. A market for local vendors was also set up, letting locals sell their creations and giving visitors a chance to leave with more than photographs of the stunning artwork being made.

The extra space afforded by moving to Valletta gave the organizers a chance to create a skate park directly on the beach, which local skaters and riders used during the three-day festival set in the heat of the summer sun. Another cool thing they set up was a series of cars and trucks along the seafront, which artists could give a fresh coat of paint and give the vehicles a truly unique look.

For the 2015 festival, the organizers decided to go with a theme that strikes home for Malta: knights. Since the island nation has a long history of military incursions, it gave artists a chance to dive deep into what makes Malta a unique country in history. A literal battlefield was present and light shows were put on to entertain and amaze.

Street art festivals, like the one in Malta, show how international and inclusive street art can be. It’s more than simply putting paint to a wall. It’s about fostering a community, celebrating local flavours, and giving people the space to express themselves creatively, whatever their chosen medium may be. And with the Malta Street Festival, that feeling will hopefully be around, every summer, for years to come.

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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.

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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.

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Artist Bio: J3

When it comes to the world of street art, some artists enjoy the mantra of “Go big or go home.” There are very few artists, however, that take this to heart as much as J3, the American graffiti artist who’s wall paintings have graced public spaces around the world.

J3 was born James Bullough. Growing up in the Washington, DC. area, he learned his craft by studying classical painting, specifically oils, from people as varied as Rembrandt and Picasso. You can immediately see the influence in his own work, where larger-than-life paintings show a mastery of human form and a close eye for perspective in the unique environments that J3 chooses as his canvases.

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J3’s wall art is almost exclusively in a realist style that, when combined with their size, makes for truly awe-inspiring pieces that catch viewers off guard. Each is made with a careful reproduction of a human without exaggeration or over-stylization. From there, J3’s pieces change and move according to his vision, settling the eye on the naturalness of his characters. Indeed, his pieces seek to express emotion through the beauty of composition rather than placing his subjects themselves in extremely emotional poses and situations. They can range from the thoughtful to even the funny and quirky, like a giant face peeking at your from behind a bridge.

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J3’s art has also changed as his skill has progressed, and his latest pieces have started to play with perspective and continuity while still maintaining a realist bend. For example, recent pieces will split the image into pieces, like looking at it though a series of mirrors. It plays with the eye but also allows his chosen style to bleed into the distinctly uncharacteristic or abnormal without alienating the audience through extreme abstraction. The result is something at once beautiful and unexpected, two characteristics that many forms of street art should aspire to have.

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What makes J3 so different from many of his contemporaries is his influence from traditional sources rather than within the street art community. By drawing from outside yet familiar sources, and combining that with his obvious incredible skill with a paint brush, J3 has been able to infuse his work with a familiar look that pushes beyond general graffiti. To look at his pieces is to see skill at the forefront, and it makes for an experience that is both intriguing and unforgettable.

Since getting his start in street art, J3 has moved to other forms as well, including directing, illustration, and even traditional painting. While these certainly don’t have the scale of his murals, they do display the considerable skill of an artist in his prime.

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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.