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Wall/Therapy

Art can serve multiple functions, ones that we can often take for granted. When it comes to street art, we mostly think of it in two ways: as community projects and as beautification Measure. For the first, grants and privately-funded art projects are constantly going on all over the world. They can help young artists see their work somewhere important, and it can give paying jobs to artists, youth, and other members of the community. These projects can strengthen neighbourhoods, and even cities, all thanks to the power of art. And, of course, it usually doesn’t hurt that the art makes wherever it is a little nicer to look at.

But researchers have been looking into how art can help people as a therapy for decades. Indeed, art therapy courses are becoming more and more common, particularly with the elderly, people recovering motor control, and even those who’ve suffered brain damage. The combination of soothing creation and necessary fine motor skills make art the perfect therapy for many people, and it’s only getting more popular.

It’s from this standpoint that the Wall/Therapy Festival was born. Knowing full well that art has the power to heal, and help people recover, the festival was created to celebrate and encourage the link between art and health.

The festival started with Dr. Ian Wilson in Rochester, New York, a city that he felt deserved some giving back. So he decided to start a “community-level intervention using mural art as a vehicle to address our collective need for inspiration,” according to the website. That first festival was simple: Dr. Wilson gave eleven artists, whom he called “therapists,” the means to “rehabilitate” walls around the city. The festival not only beautified 16 walls throughout the city, it also sparked a community dialogue about the city and the role of art in its identity and everyday workings.

Since then, the festival has happened every year, getting bigger and bigger while touching more and more people. Soon, Dr. Wilson created a secondary initiative to help the city. Called “IMPACT!” (IMProving Access to Care by Teleradiology), the program sets up diagnostic imaging sites in developing countries. Basically, the idea of imagery as an important aspect of healing comes not just through creative art, but through the very images of our bodies that can tell us something about what’s happening inside. Together, the festival and initiative have helped not only the citizens of Rochester, New York, but people around the world.

Wall/Therapy recognizes that art is not completely disjointed from ourselves, but an integral aspect of how we interact, communicate, and even heal. It’s not simply something done as a release or side project, but is intrinsically tied to the very core of our being, as a society, and as individuals. Wall/Therapy recognizes such a powerful connection, and takes it to a wholly different levels, and the street.

herakut

Artist Bio: Herakut

We often think of street art as an individual event, one where a person comes up with an idea and paints it onto the surface on their own. Artists, after all, generally want to be known for their work and achievement, and will take credit for their work when people discover it. That’s a simple business move, and even artists have to eat occasionally. But street art, especially murals and large-scale paintings, are rarely the efforts of a sole individual. In fact, many of the world’s most famous murals are collaborative projects. Perhaps a singular artist created the original piece, but many artists and labourers took the idea and did the work of putting paint to wall, and that labour can often go unnoticed, mostly because people want to think of art as something done by a single artist. Very few people have actually considered the fact that Banksy, for example, may actually be a collective of people, all operating under the same name.

But there is strength and celebration to be found in collaboration, and there may not be a better example of such collaboration in the world of street art today than Herakut. The German-based duo of “Hera” (Jasmin Siddiqui of Frankfurt) and “Akut” (Falk Lehmann of Schmalkalden) joined forces over 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve mixed their unique styles together for projects around the world, from the streets of Toronto to government housing buildings in London.

While many collaborative efforts between artists, and indeed their helpers, usually relies on a certain similarity in style or approach, but the thing that makes Herakut unique is their ability to blend seemingly disparaging aspects together. Akut’s style is a self-described “top-level photorealism” while his partner’s look is decidedly more whimsical, fantastical or simply absurdist. The blend, however, allows them to create spaces that tell whole stories based on the juxtapositions, and this narrative quality is apparent in most of their work.

Herakut’s topics and focuses are usually on children, or at least use child-like characters to convey a meaning and story. Akut’s ability to create moments of grounded realism in amongst the very expressive children and exaggerated adults painted by Hera lets things unfold in interesting ways that are also easy to digest. The paintings are almost always accompanied by some sort of beautifully written text as well, which add to the ideas conveyed and give the audience something far less abstract, or at least thematically complementary, to the piece overall.

herakut artwork on building

For example, in one piece, a woman holds her baby, a real-looking mask sitting on top of her head. The text reads “There is something better than perfection.” The piece immediately conveys the beauty of having and holding a child, all while giving the audience various ways to grasp and interpret the piece.

Herakut’s collaborative efforts have taken the world by storm, and given people plenty to think about at the same time. Through their differing styles and approaches, audiences around the world have been gifted not only with beautiful art, but a moment to stop and consider what that art means.

huge mural in pachuca, mexico

The Biggest Mural in Pachuca, Mexico

If there’s one thing that’s true about street art, it’s that it’s getting bigger. Sometimes that means it’s getting more recognition, being displayed in more and more places, or the artists themselves are enjoying more and more attention, and hopefully compensation, for their work. But if you’re in Pachuca, Mexico, when you say that street art’s getting bigger, you’re probably referring to size over anything else.

The reason that you’d immediately think of a big, sizeable mural over the recognition or traction street art is gaining is probably because you’ve walked by the neighbourhood of Palmitas. This neighbourhood, just like the many colourful residential neighbourhoods, has plenty of fun houses made with different hues and tones, but there’s a key difference: Palmitas wasn’t the result of cheap paint or building supplies, it was done by professional muralists and local people through a government grant.

Palmitas, like many places in Mexico, is a nice neighbourhood that needing some sprucing up. The area was suffering in many different ways, from street violence and poverty to larger issues like unemployment and a lack of funds for neighbourhood problems. So the Mexican government decided to intervene and help out the neighbourhood. In the process, they managed to land the little place on the world stage.

Starting out as a grant, the Mexican government envisioned a mural project that could improve the area. The goal of the project, however, was not just to beautify the area, but to give it a facelift in all areas, and to give the people something to be proud of. For expert advice and project leaders, the government turned to the German collective, a group of designers and artists who set about planning the project.

Once it was down on paper, the project was massive. Over 20,000 square feet of walls needed to be painted, stretching across over 200 homes in the neighbourhood, all of which were settled up a small hill above a main road. Bright colours were chosen for the mural, with bold patterns that could be easily painted across the facades. With such a large project, the German collective couldn’t do it themselves, so they enlisted the help of locals, giving them work to do in the year that the project took to be completed.

The project was a resounding success. According to Street Art News, the the project brought immediate results, improving the lives of many of the residents pretty much from the seond paint hit the walls. “On top of beautifying the neighbourhood, the project has been a tool of social transformation,” the magazine reported, “During the process, the violence amongst younger people has been entirely eradicated and several jobs created.” While there may have been only 209 houses filled with 452 families, the results were felt by a much larger amount of people, starting the the town of Pachuca and rippling out across the world.

animal new york online magazine website header

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.

stay dry out there rainworks artwork

RainWorks

Some people hate the rain. It casts a gloomy, grey shadow over their day, makes them run from place to place, and generally gives them a gross, squishy feeling in their shoes. But for Peregrine Church, rain is just another opportunity to make the world a better place.

The Seattle-based artist was browsing the internet one day when he came across a miraculous substance called NeverWet, a spray-on chemical that doesn’t allow the surface on which it is applied to get wet. Instead, the water or liquid washes away, leaving the surface completely dry. There’s videos of it online that show people in white shirt’s getting doused in red wine to literally no effect. And since the product is environmentally-friendly and non-toxic, it can be used on pretty much any surface to keep it dry without any nasty side effects.

And while Church probably got a kick out of watching this miracle substance, he soon thought of an even cooler way to use it. Not to keep clothing dry and stain-free, but to make people’s rainy days a bit less gloomy.

Church created a project called RainWorks, a special street art project that uses this miracle substance to make street art that only shows up when it rains. Based in Seattle, that can be a pretty frequent occurrence, but one that can still brighten someone’s day.

Church’s process is fairly straight forward. He loads the chemicals up into spray bottles and designs stencils that can placed on the sidewalk, his favourite medium for RainWorks. With a few sprays from the bottle, the piece is set and, come the next rainy day, people passing by can catch a glimpse of this invisible and uplifting art.

The first RainWorks was simple: a sign that said “Stay Dry Out There” at a bus stop with some (ironically enough) completely dry patches of sidewalk that looked like raindrops. There’s now over 30 RainWorks pieces scattered throughout Seattle, and they vary in size, scope, and style. But every single one of them is about giving people a positive message on their rainy days. Some are little jokes, like one that says “Today’s forecast: rain,” while others are a bit more inspirational, like an elaborate mural with rainbows and lightning that says “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” Still others are interactive, like the hopscotch. No matter what they are, Church has the same attitude: It’s going to rain no matter what, so why not have some fun with it?

RainWorks is a beautiful and ingenious project that combines technological innovation with positive imagery for something that’s fun, new, and aimed at brightening people’s days. It’s not overtly political or alienating, it isn’t attempting to be something it isn’t, it simply is. And in that simple idea, there is beauty and encouragement. Rainy days aren’t the end of the world, but they can be gloomy for some people. And maybe when they stumble upon RainWorks, they’ll get a little smile and remember that life isn’t so bad after all.

maya hayuk

Maya Hayuk Bio

Most of the bios we’ve put up on this blog have been about male artists, which is not a huge surprise. Many of the world’s greatest and most influential street artists in the world have been men, and many male artists are still pushing the medium forward in new and dynamic ways every single day. But we think it’s high time the many wonderful female artists in the world get their fair share of the attention too. So today we’re going to take a look at Maya Hayuk, a street artist who’s intricate and captivating murals have shown up all around the world.

Hayuk was born to two university professors, geography and psychology respectively, and spent much of her childhood travelling around the world. These experiences took her to places as diverse as Europe, Africa, and parts of the Soviet Union, where she took in many different visual styles and approaches. As she grew up, Hayuk’s education and work took her from her hometown of Baltimore to Richmond, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, and eventually Brooklyn, where she now resides and works full-time in her studio.

With their intricate patterns and love of bright colours, Hayuk’s various murals draw a most direct influence from the former Soviet Union. The patterns are tight and intricate, much like what’s commonly found on Easter eggs. The strong use of geometric shapes are captivating, inviting a closer and longer look at all the moments that exist within each of her works.

Hayuk herself describes her work as “bright, massive, intricate, and joyful, which is a pretty great summary for her work. Most of her murals are painted in bright colours and done on a large scale, anything from the entire side of a building to larger canvases that have hanged in galleries around the world, including her current residence of Brooklyn, New York.

maya hayuk ucla

The sheer size of Hayuk’s work could make for something imposing and overwhelming, but her use of shape and colour creates something just the opposite: a work that’s at once intimate and large, inviting while all-encompassing. These qualities were brought out to their fullest in her latest exhibit at UCLA’s Hammer Museum. Taking up the entire entryway of the museum, Hayuk’s murals greeted everyone who came in for nearly six months.

maya hayuk bowery mural

Hayuk’s latest work was part of the Bowery Mural on Houston St. in New York. The Bowery Mural Project is part of ongoing changing wall, where artists paint it up and have it replaced by another later on. It’s an amazing space to showcase local, emerging, and accomplished artists, with Hayuk’s piece being no exception.

Hayuk’s work is at once beautiful and full of life and proof that women are changing and impacting the street art industry in profound and new ways. As with all aspects of life, inclusion and diversity leads to change and a general raising of the work that’s out there. And for artists like Maya Hayuk, it means we have a better chance of encountering new art that can make us feel and think in different ways.

blu painting in nyc

Blu Bio

In 1999, the Italian city of Bologna’s historical district was inexplicably covered in murals and street art. It was mostly crude, using the standard spray paint of many street artists, and was limited in scope and size. Who did them remained a temporary mystery, but soon they were attributed to an artist known only as Blu. Soon, similar spray paint murals began showing up in Bologna’s suburbs, and people began to take notice, and came to recognize Blu’s work as it appeared on the sides of buildings most other street artists, or at least people with Blu’s level of talent, became more and recognizable.

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But in 2001, Blu’s work became more intricate and even more show stopping. Swapping in his trusty spray cans for rollers on telescopic sticks, Blu’s work was instantly larger, more pronounced, and began displaying a definitive style that the world is now even more familiar with. Huge human figures, sometimes drawn with sarcasm or sincerity, all borrowing from classic arcade and comic book styles, were becoming his mainstay, and they were everywhere. The increased output had a lot to do with Blu’s approach: he was interested in artistic collaboration, getting other street artists together to do late night raids in spaces. It wasn’t long after that Blu began experimenting with digital shorts, all released for free on the internet.

But Blu couldn’t keep his feet still and soon took off around the world to paint and make videos. His work has since shown up in places as diverse as Western Europe, Mexico City, Guatemala City, and even the West Bank. Blu moves around the world, looking for opportunity to create, not the chance to be seen by the art world. And in this rejection of the standard street artist practice, Blu has tapped into something much more interesting.

blu massive mural

Blu, like many recent street artist, has gone the Banksy route when it comes to his identity: who he is remains a mystery to the general public. Basically, the only concrete fact we know is that he’s Italian. Everything else, including the fact he may actually be a she, is up for debate. This hidden identity idea may be because Blu’s work is actually simply a question of staying hidden as most of his work has been illegal and classified as graffiti. But it could also be because his identity is inconsequential and part of a larger rejection of the regular art world.

Blu’s approach to street art is that it’s for everyone, not just for people who can or do pay for the privilege. And in a world where many talented artists go into the gallery scene to make some money, Blu has rejected such endeavours, instead selling only prints of work he does in the world. It’s for everyone and, if anyone wants a piece of Blu’s work for themselves, they have to pay for it and know that others have it too. The work moves against ownership and exclusivity, instead thinking of art as a collectively owned piece. And while we’re all sure Blu’s income has taken a hit, it seems Blu isn’t so much focused on the pay as the art.

What Blu’s approach and style shows is a genuine interest in art as a collective. Not only in approach and actual labour, but in who gets to enjoy it, witness it, and interact with it. Overall, the effect is incredible, and the world can also access Blu at any given time. If the internet is for everyone, Blu is proving that, no matter where your art is, it can reach millions of people and not have to deal with the politics or gold star from the arts community. And yet, they’re still scrambling for his work. Perhaps talent, at least in Blu’s case, is enough.

pejac working on painting

Pejac

Like many artists, the Spanish street artist known only as Pejac started on his artistic path because of dissatisfaction. Not with his childhood growing up, but with his art teacher’s own opinions of what art is, and who should be able to appreciate it. For Pejac, art belongs to everyone, and while his work appears in galleries as well as public space, he’s always sure to give to people who can’t or simply don’t want to walk through a stuffy art gallery.

pejac outdoor art

In an interview with Spanish magazine 20minutos, Pejac discusses that “both melancholy and humour are the locomotive of my works. They create a poetic language whose essence doesn’t rely on simple beauty, but on the hidden side of everything.” It makes sense when you see his work, as much of Pejac’s interest is in this playing with perspective and appearance to both capture attention and spread his messages. Sometimes these messgaes are simply to entertain, other times, as he says in his interview with The Huffington Post, “It’s like I would like my work to produce the same result as when you whisper into someone’s ear. Gentle and discrete – but right into the brain… a whisper in the form of a question.”

pejac girl magnifying glass ants

Much of Pejac’s work breaks outside the confines of the space to move work beyond its normal boundaries. Some of his gallery work, for example, literally breaks through the frames to create something visually striking but also challenging. Such a convention is a logical extension for a street artist, however, and much of Pejac’s work outside the gallery uses the breaking of normal limits to attract attention and challenge viewpoints. One such piece would be Pejac’s gutter paintings, which feature a stencil of the world getting swept down the drain. The image moves past the frame, as it were, and literally down the drain. The commentary is an immediate one, but the use of space is essential to its message.

pejac doorway art

But Pejac doesn’t push boundaries in urban spaces, galleries and building walls, he also breaks out into some more unconventional spaces too. The latest and perhaps most ambitious of these projects is Pejac’s recent painting of a boat. No, not a painting of a boat, but painting a rusty and abandoned ship. The piece breaks all manner of convention that fans have come to expect from Pejac, from the playing with perspective to the breaking of frames. The piece is located in Northern Spain on a barnacle-infested old ship. Abandoned to rust on the pier, Pejac decided to paint one of Monet’s most famous impressionist paintings on its side. But the trick, and with Pejac there always seems to be at least one, is the tide. Not simply a Monet recreation on the side of a boat, Pejac’s send up to one of the world’s most famous artists is partially hidden depending on the tide. In this case, the ocean itself reveals and obscures the painting.

pejac monet boat painting

Pejac’s work messes with how people assume we should look at art, harkening back to his fateful clash with his childhood art teacher. While most art is made to be appreciated within certain confines, whether that be a literal frame or a more metaphorical frame such as education or class, Pejac seeks to bring art to people by making it look not quite right. And in that, a message and some art for anyone willing to look.

art piece from street stories

Street Stories: How Street Art is Reaching Out to Help Homeless Youth

Youth homelessness is an important and, unfortunately, growing issue. It was one of the focuses of mayoral candidate Olivia Chow here in Toronto when she ran last year, and many major cities around the world struggle with how to reach out and help street youth. In London, a local ad agency teamed up with Depaul charity to come up with a way to raise awareness and money. The result is “Street Stories.”

Street art has always been political down to its very core. It was once labelled as vandalism, and with it it became an inherently political act. Many artists today still follow in those footsteps, spraying walls with art that’s at once beautiful but doesn’t shy away from a message. It’s with that idea that “Street Stories” shines: it takes the political origins of street art and combines it with a call-to-action to combat youth homelessness, all by telling terrifyingly intimate stories.

Each “Street Stories” mural is focused on a real-life homeless youth, someone who was forced to run away from whatever they called home to try and escape their life situations. These reasons, contrary to popular belief, are complex and wildly diverse, so “Street Stories” tries to tell these individual stories.

street stories, katys story

Take, for example, “Katy’s Story,” possibly the most graphic of the murals currently on the streets of London. It juxtaposes a series of eyes with her story scrawled in disjointed lettering at strange angles. It tells the story of sexual violence, of a mother who chose the rapist over her own child, and we already know where the story leads. The eyes become ironic as you read the story: Katy isn’t here, disappearing into the streets because her mother decided to look away.

street stories joes story

Another story, Joe’s to be specific, talks about the limited options available to kids who have nowhere to go. Joe’s story is of a parent who died before his time, and Joe was forced into foster care. Unhappy with the conditions, he chose the street over what little the state provides.

Each of these murals tells someone’s particular story, but they can all have happy endings. “Street Stories” murals each have a call-to-action at the bottom, a number people can call to give to a charity dedicated to helping get kids off the streets and somewhere they can feel safe and supported.

The “Street Stories” campaign is one in a long history of street art’s political uses and history, one that uses the suddenness of street art’s placement in cities to force people to react. These are murals that come upon you suddenly but beg for attention and, more importantly, a call to change. Direct, horrifying, and oddly beautiful, the stories of Joe, Katy and countless other homeless youth don’t all need to end poorly. And maybe these artistic acts can be a step on the path to eradicating a horrifying existence for people too young for such conditions.

museum of public art website

Museum of Public Art

In the state of Louisiana, on the banks of the historic Mississippi River, lies the city of Baton Rouge. It’s a city steeped in culture and history that’s often overshadowed by it’s much louder, more popular Louisiana metropolis New Orleans. But it is here that a small nonprofit museum has been established to celebrate the best public art in the world.

Choosing a town like Baton Rouge for its headquarters makes sense for the Museum of Public Art. In a recent video, Museum Director Kevin Harris explains the importance of public art, and why it’s less invasive than the art in galleries. “The benefit of public art is not necessarily conscious or literal, it’s unconscious,” he says in a video promoting their recent Egoless event,  “And when you try to get people to explain ‘how does this benefit you?’ they can’t consciously come up with a reason, even though it affects them.”

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The museum was the brainchild of Mark Rogovin, Marie Burton, and Holly Highfill, leaders in the Chicago mural renaissance. Founded in 1973, the museum and its curators wanted something that rejected the usual means of “making it” in the art community. Instead of barring access, they wanted to open it up and include the community in their artistic endeavours and politics. So the Museum of Public Art was created with a simple but important mission statement, that “the priority audience for which we paint is the audience of our own communities, working people of all ethnic backgrounds. Our subject matter comes from the history and culture, the needs and struggles, of communities. Our art speaks of the dignity of the people and projects a vision of a future free from war and exploitation. The form we have chosen is murals, murals can be a great way to reaching thousands upon thousands of people, since they are in public spaces, accessible to everyone.”

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The building itself is small and unassuming, a contrast to the powerful pieces inside, a brick building on the corner of Eddie Robinson and Myrtle in the Old South Baton Rouge Community. The building, naturally, is surrounded with murals that constantly change based on who’s available and who wants to paint. The museum itself is open every Sunday for tours and insights into what public art is, how it’s important to the community, and what’s on display at the museum.

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What the Museum of Public Art accomplished is an important mix of what makes street art important and different. While the building itself rotates artists, it’s constantly giving a permanent place to artists who want to connect with the community. It gives an art form that is almost necessarily without a home, without a permanent place, exactly that: a space that can be considered safe and useful for a community that isn’t safe, and is often derided as being useless. Here, public artists are given the museum treatment, their works taken seriously without crossing over into the traditional system that has discriminated and dissuaded thousands of artists from gaining legitimacy and recognition. Instead, this is a museum for street artists, by street artists, and catering to anyone who thinks public art is an important part of our contemporary and historical experience.

Be sure to check out their online gallery.