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.”

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.”

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.

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.

Hyde & Seek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INSA and a Small Army of Painters Made the World’s Biggest GIF

Even with street art, we often think of painting as capturing some sort of singular moment or idea. It stands still. It can reference something coming or look backwards to something that happened, it can be erased or added to, but it always stays still. This, along with many, many other assumptions, is something INSA thinks the world can do differently.

The artist, who prefers to keep his identity secret, believes that the internet has changed art, and that this gives artists an incredible opportunity to change the way traditional notions of painting are expressed. For INSA, it started with the GIF (check out Gif-iti), those almost slideshow type pictures we see online. They’ve been used for everything from silly animations to seemingly sustaining Buzzfeed, but they all rely on a variety of still images that are given the illusion of movement. Y’know, like animation.

INSA saw this idea and decided to apply the idea of the gif to street art, starting with creating gifs from his own paintings. Usually, he would paint a wall, take a picture, paint over the wall and paint another picture, and do this until he had enough pictures to create a gif. From there, he uploads it online for people to see. These all show off INSA’s obvious talents and breadth of style, but he wanted to do something bigger. Much, much bigger. Like, seen from space bigger.

So INSA headed down to one of the world’s best street art countries, Brazil, to make a gif that you can see from space. With detailed ideas about what he wanted, he employed a small army to paint a large, open concrete pad with four different images, one a day for when a satellite came over and took a picture. The result is the world’s first gif seen from a satellite.

The experiment resulted in 576 man hours and 57,515 square miles of painted surface, all in just four days, to create his biggest art project yet. The gif itself is of pink and yellow hearts, inverting in colour each day and moving slightly over to create the movement. It’s perfect for the setting: taking in Brazil’s love of bold colour schemes while sending a message of love out to the world, and the heavens.

True to his love of anonymity, INSA’s face and eyes are blocked from the camera, and he spends the video giving credit to those people that put in the long hours and hard work to make his vision possible. And once it’s out on the internet, he’s happy to continue to take a back seat. “I think the possibility of interpretation is limited when people think of the singular creator.” Like so much on the internet today, INSA prefers to leave the real discussions to the comments section.

Colossal Media and The Commercial Artist: Are Big Advertising Firms Helping or Hurting Street Art?

The difference between art and advertising is often a lot blurrier than people think. Especially as the world gets more transparent, we have better glimpses into the background lives of artists, the influence of producers on movies, songwriting collectives on music, and much more. We sometimes favour the people who haven’t “sold out,” the ones who can now live off their own artistic pursuits without relying on a day job, but this is no longer the type of world we live in. The fact is many artists come out of school eager for work but find very few opportunities, clutching to the romantic ideal of the starving artist is not only silly, it gives you stomach pains.

When we turn this romantic gaze to street art, worrying about the relationship between public art and private business, things get very complicated. Graffiti has an underground feel to it, like the rebellious cousin of art gallery paintings, and graffiti is in turn persecuted for its existence. Governments wash graf off buildings, set increased limits on where and when artists can write, and sponsor professional street artists for beautification pieces around town. This all contributes to an underdog feel of street artists, a persecuted underground community just waiting for their chance in the spotlight. What people forget is modern street art started as advertisements, not tagging, and that street art is literally everywhere, and that is something to celebrate.

You’ve seen evidence of the old street art all around town, on old brick buildings pointing to the local pharmacy and old glass windows with Coca-Cola ads. Street art was a prominent way to advertise. Before massive printed billboards, hand-painted ads on buildings were the easiest way to use some wall space to drum up business. And while many artists are wary of the commercialization of street art, eager to “legitimize” their trade with tags, gallery showings, and by bringing their graf sensibilities to other art forms, the relationship between ads and graffiti has always been around.

So it’s hardly a surprise that companies like Colossal Media exist, advertising companies that specialize in hand-painted ads, and they’re a great place for young artists to get practical experience while getting paid, something difficult for anyone with an Arts degree, especially a Fine Arts degree. As North America’s largest hand-painted advertising company, Colossal is at once a sign of the times and a harkening back to graffiti’s beginnings, skipping the romantic idealism in between to help painters get some practical experience and explore their art in a new way. Sure, they’re told what to paint, but the in-between space between expectation and result is a fun playground for any artist willing to learn and explore.

In a way, Colossal Media is a paragon of the debate on whether constraints encourage art or discourage it. On the one side, we have genre artists, people who find inspiration in re-packaging familiar tropes rather than starting fresh. On the other side, there’s the ideal artist: someone with a unique vision who is recognized for their obvious talent and free to create when and how they want. They push the world forward, exposing new ways of looking at our surroundings for a change. And while it’s easy to put artistic people on opposite ends of a spectrum, rarely are they mutually exclusive.

Street Art View

I saw a quote awhile ago about the internet: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.” From Twitter spats to Buzzfeed lists on our Facebook walls, this is kind of true, but the first part of the quote, the “accessing the entirety of information known to man” part is what makes the internet so exciting. Thankfully, Red Bull has decided to put that idea to good use for street art.

Described as “Google meets graffiti,” the Red Bull Street Art View is like a Google Maps of street art, showcasing, collecting, and cataloguing the best street art from around the world. Basically it asks users to upload pics of their local street art into a Google Maps-style database for people to easily explore street art around the corner and around the world. It proves that street art is not only pervasive, but it’s a global phenomenon, and its enthusiasts are all over the world.

The database is searchable by location and artist, so if you want to see where Banksy’s graffiti was in New York, you can find every known piece with a quick search. Or, if you want to see the extent of Os Gêmeos’ impact and prevalence in São Paulo, then you can search for them on their home turf. Plus there’s the added benefit of archiving these pieces. Since street art is continually erased, either by governmental departments or individual property owners, the Street Art Map keeps a digital archive of a city and artist’s work. It’s like a portfolio, both for an artist and city, that anyone can access at any time.

One of the most interesting parts of the map is looking at how different style have impacted different parts of the world, which areas seem to breed unique visionaries and others that are still under specific artists’ shadows. And the mood of any given city can be captured in just a few pictures. In Halifax, for example, a beautiful large painting of a bridge is right next to a scrawl supporting civil labourers. For a classically blue collar town with a long artistic history, these two pieces side-by-side make sense, and speak to the city’s history and values.

So what the street art map shows us is not only individual pieces, but another way of looking at a city, it’s history, and how and what it finds appropriate for expression. It helps document pieces in the eternal erasing of beautiful street art, keeping digital records of different pieces, but it lets us walk through the city with its underground arts scene at the forefront. And it also shows that the relationship between artist and corporation isn’t necessarily employer-employee, but companies can take an active step in preserving and encouraging an art form that’s everywhere but also transient, recording and celebrating the ways street artists make art that can beautify and challenge.

Ghost Signs: Remnants of Days Gone By

If there’s one singular truth about street art is it fades. No matter what you do, how you preserve it, or how often you come to touch it up, murals and signs will eventually disappear. They’ll be cleaned up, removed, the building may be bought and demolished or renovated, and the art moves away. Sure, we can try to make it more permanent, like when someone removes an entire wall to sell a Banksy graffiti, but by and large street art fades.

But while paintings fade, they sometimes won’t disappear entirely and that’s where Ghost Signs comes in. The idea of a ghost sign is fairly simple and something we’ve all seen: those old painted advertisements on old buildings. Ghost Signs, with capital letters, is an online database that collects snapshots of ghost signs for people to look at. The signs come from around the world from New Mexico to Portugal and are most often advertisements and shop names, sometimes for things we can no longer even advertise, like cigarettes or chewing tobacco. The paint has peeled away, but the trace of old street art remains, almost like a shadow or shade of what was once there. It takes us back to older times, when billboards were painted, not printed, and they were made to last. As writer Rebecca Solnit once said, “Ruins are the unconscious of a city.” Ghost signs are the literal writing of the unconscious in our cities’ histories.

The next time you’re strolling around your town, look for old signs. They’re usually higher up, often painted on brick, and harken back to at least the 60s, before regulations and bans made this particular style of painting nearly impossible. It’s like flipping through old issues of Punch magazine or stepping into the early days of Mad Men. The rules weren’t the same and advertising was less a science and more an abstract attempt to connect. You’ll find the signs in the least likely places and you may find yourself in neighbourhoods that still like the idea of a brick building instead of a skyscraper made of steel and glass. Chances are there’s a great coffee shop nearby as well, which makes for a fun weekend activity.

Ghost Signs gives us small snapshots of the paradox of urbanization and urban decay, the fact that things can fade but still remain. Many of these old signs are attached to condemned buildings, places that no one has bought up or felt the need to remodel or remove. So instead they sit there, a testament to days gone by when the signs and the buildings were newer, when the world operated just a little differently, when sign painting was a way many artists paid their bills. As sign painting becomes more and more a lost art, Ghost Signs documents the history around the world for everyone to see. Perhaps it may even inspire people to take up a brush once more and make beautiful street signs again, ones that in the future will remind people of our present.

High Art, Angry Vandalism, and Murals: The Life and Times of Zevs

By the time French street artist was featured in Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010, he had already done his first solo art show in Hong Kong, defined the French street art scene, and almost been run over by a train. That last incident was how he got his name. After all, it was the Zeus train that nearly hit him while he was painting inside a train tunnel and decided that such a close brush with death should be remembered, and no moment should be wasted. And no one would accuse Zevs of squandering his life. He’s probably one of France’s most important art figures, one that never shies away from the deeply political.

Many of the artists we’ve featured here at MuralForm have gone from tagging trains or walls to art galleries and Zevs is no exception. Bridging the gap between the “high” art world and the “low,” street-level art, some would argue, has been accomplished. Banksy sells pieces in galleries for small fortunes. Shepard Fairey has turned his most iconic pieces into gallery art, and subsequently turned them into recognizable and profitable pieces seen everywhere for backpacks to campaign posters. Some even crossed over to advertising for some of the biggest companies in the world. But Zevs, he’s happier discrediting the corporate world while still pushing the boundaries of street art.

Zevs started out in Paris in the 1990s tagging anywhere he could, but two ongoing projects in particular caught the attention of the public. One, called Shadows, painted fixed shadows of various objects on the ground. Everything from park benches to wastebaskets were given permanent(ish) imprints on the ground or nearby walls. The work showed that street art wasn’t limited to walls, but could traverse other surfaces as well, a point Banksy would pick up in a few short years. His other major project, Visual Attacks, targets billboards in France, to this day spraking a debate on whether he’s a vandal or artist. Zevs would write alternate slogans on the advertisements and paint bloodied eyes on the models, disrupting the marketing with disturbing images and words. Visual attacks attacks commercialism exactly where it’s most prominently seen: advertising billboards.

Zevs continued to target commercialism and major corporations in the mid-2000s with Liquidated Logos. The project takes corporate logos and drips paint from them, giving the illusion that these logos are dissolving. The project speaks to the ever-presence of logos but their non-tangible existence, undermining their constant appearance in the street, on the screen, and at home.

Zevs art continually challenges the distinction between vandalism, street, and high art, incorporating postmodern styles and aesthetics into his artwork to push these boundaries even further. While most would condemn much of his street-level artwork for its intrusion, the very openness of Zevs’ art speaks to the constant intrusion of marketing as being unnecessarily encouraged and sanctioned by the government. His politics and prominence in Europe has let him move to art galleries, but Zevs seems continually uncomfortable with the art we’re forced to consume everyday.

Street Art And Social Media: Similar But Different?

In a world where street art gets painted over and washed away as quick as it’s drawn, many street artists are turning to social media to archive their projects and, at the same time, increase their exposure. We all know social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are permanently marking our lives, turning every picture and event into a searchable database. It can be fun to see pictures from years ago and see how we’ve changed, but it can also be a great way to get people excited about different art projects, and especially street art.

Artists like Jay Shells have been using social media to preserve their art after it’s been washed away, but is social media just a tool for street artists, or are they already social media mavericks?

When you look many street artists’ work, it purposefully injects viewers into the project. It’s designed to turn heads, make people talk, and convey a message. The same can be said about art in galleries or installed in people’s homes, however, so what makes street art a more social form of art and media?

Some argue it’s street art’s baseline interactivity and use of public space, it’s very origins as vandalism as a means to encourage participation and interactivity. At it’s most basic form, street art is paint on a surface in a public forum, be it a building wall, billboard, public transit vehicle, or other similar medium. It’s left out for others to see and uses the space on which it’s used as a part of it’s picture and message. Take Zevs’ controversial Visual Attack series for example. Each piece uses existing advertisements to change the message on billboards by adding paint to the project. It interacts and encourages participation. In that way, street art can become social media.

And the level needed to participate is arguably lower than that of traditional social media. For example, Instagram requires some of the following: a smartphone with a camera, internet access, and a membership to the app. An original Banksy painted on the side of a house in Bristol requires walking down the street in Bristol. Theoretically, if you already live in Bristol, the threshold for becoming part of the Banksy audience and community is much lower, not barring people based on their ability to access technology and internet, but their ability to walk down a street.

Street art breaks the boundary between vandalism and art to comment on many different aspects of our everyday lives, but billboards in particular. Billboards are a particular form of street art that has special protections for one simple reason: it has been paid for. They are unique only in their protection while street art is continually washed away and scrubbed from our streets at a great cost to the city. Naturally, the boundary between lewd graffiti, street art, and billboards is porous but always discussed, but only one of these is legally allowed to stay up. Street artists use these spaces to their advantage and, by doing so, challenge why special provisions are given to corporate street art over other forms of public art.

How One Man’s Love of Hip-Hop is Subverting the Law

Geography has always played an important part in hip-hop and rap culture. Where you’re from is important. It could connect you with like-minded people. It could get you killed. Dropping lyrics about where you’re from is a way of saying who you are, where you started, and how far you’ve come. NYC-based artist Jason Shelowitz, a.k.a. Jay Shells, understands the important of place in hip-hop, so he’s taken the lyrics to where they started.

Taking the form of red street signs, Jay Shells’ “Rap Quotes” puts shout-outs about specific places exactly where they came from. One sign in Stapleton House Village, for example, has lyrics by RZA: “Grew up in Stapleton House Village, where blood flood the waters in the streets like oil spillage.” Up on Broadway and Myrtle, a sign quotes Mos Def. A street post near Carnegie Hall sports lyrics by Busta Rhymes. Slowly but surely, Jay Shells’ signs are popping up all over NYC.

Since the signs themselves mimic official street signs, the very medium of “Rap Quotes” delves into the rebellious and anti-authority sentiments found in much of the hip-hop Jay Shells quotes. The project is less about praising these areas and more giving a visual history to a largely auditory medium. Cam’ron’s lyrics about 145th and Broadway speak directly about the violence he experienced in that area.

With over 60 of these signs now gracing street poles in New York City, Jay Shells crossed to the West Coast to give L.A. a similar treatment. Over 45 signs have been put up in L.A., celebrating the city’s rich hip-hop culture. “Where you at? Western & Imperial, It’s the pure West Coast coming out your stereo” reads one sign that quotes WC. Another quotes Gangsta Rap pioneer Ice Cube: “I never forgot Van Ness & Imperial, look at my life Ice Cube is a miracle.”

Since the East-West Coast is rivalry largely over, Shells had no problem finding some help for “Rap Quotes,” from helping put up the signs, comb rap lyrics for the perfect quotes, and snap some photos so the signs are immortalized in proper place before the signs are taken down by fans, detractors, or the authorities.

Since posting street signs without a permit is illegal pretty much everywhere, Jay Shells is used to seeing his work taken down. But these days, the authorities are the last people to take them down, because fans and detractors usually get to them first. In Harlem, for example, Jay Shells and his colleagues watched from across the street as a freshly installed sign quoting Sadat X was removed. Jay Shells seems unfazed by the entire removal process “He removed the sign and threw it in the trash,” he said in a recent interview, “You can’t please em all.” But despite his laissez-faire attitude about the signs getting removed, he does try and preserve the sentiment on his Twitter (@TheRapQuotes) and by taking the signs off the streets and into galleries.

The most recent gallery to showcase Jay Shells “Rap Quotes,” along with some of his other art projects, is Gallery 1988. Jay Shells hopes to expand the project outwards to other American cities and galleries, taking his subversive work, quite literally, to the streets across America.

Montreal Mural Festival: Celebrating an Artform with a Giant Party

Imagine getting some of the best people of your particular interest all together in one place. You all get the opportunity to show off and then, while you’re enjoying doing your favourite thing in the world, you get to head off and party with your peers, your idols, and your friends. Does that sound like an okay time? Well, the Montreal Mural Festival thinks it’s a great idea.

Montreal is already home to a bunch of great festivals. Jazz Fest, the Comedy Festival, and even events like Osheaga attract the best artists, comedians, and musicians from around the world. They have an amazing setup for their events, encourage people to get excited and involved, and do it in one of the greatest cities in the world. The last time I was in Montreal, my friend told me that it was the first city they’d been to that felt like it breathed. I tend to agree. It has a special energy to it unlike other North American cities and wears that on its sleeve. Go anywhere in Montreal and you’ll experience something different from elsewhere.

In keeping with their love of only the best, the Montreal Mural Festival reached out across the globe, nabbing Australian muralist Rone and France-based La Diamantaire for their efforts. These two and many more international muralists were joined by Canadian artists like Stikki Peaches, Alex Produkt, and Matthieu Connery, all of whom worked together to give Montreal a mural facelift.

And while the muralists were glad to do their work, almost all of them took some time to enjoy the city, it’s people, and their fellow artists. The Festival itself proved to be a great distraction, scheduling no less than six official after parties packed with great music and plenty of other distractions. The event turned out to be somewhat of a meet-and-greet, the greatest networking meeting for mural artists in North America, and in one of North America’s greatest cities.

The Festival itself had a slow start and some organizational difficulties starting out this year. Anyone who knows Montreal has experienced its bizarre weather and the Mural Festival wasn’t spared. Supply shortages also lead to some delays, but all the murals were up and completed by the end. And, unlike other festivals that just leave behind abandoned tents and a lot of litter, the Montreal Mural Festival left behind some beautiful public art that everyone can enjoy.

Such highlights include Zoitan’s comic book and War of the Worlds-inspired mural, 2501’s kaleidoscope of black and white shapes and animals, and Cyrcle’s perspective-changing Pantheon. These are all just a taste of what Montreal got out of it’s latest mural festival. Hopefully these pieces will stay up until at least next year’s events, any hopefully the festival continues to attract the world’s best muralists and public art enthusiasts.


For more great works of art visit the festival’s muralists page.