Posts

LA City

LA’s Ban On Murals

Once deemed the Mural Capital of the World, LA became a ghost town for muralists. Started in 2003, the ban was directed at advertisers and simply took many artists with it. At the time, LA was concerned about corporate messages being hidden in the many public art displays around town, a guerrilla marketing tactic that made it hard to differentiate someone pushing a product and someone trying to create art. A blanket ban on murals ended the all public art displays, corporate and otherwise, but the city has been persuaded after a long decade that public art can be allowed back. LA’s own Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and documenting murals, drafted the legislation as a combined effort between the city and hundreds of local muralists and artists. Even though the ban has been repealed, it hasn’t come without restrictions.

Murals are still banned from public buildings, being restricted to privately owned buildings exclusively, and those murals can happen only after the artist pays $60 and fills out the appropriate application form. To prevent advertisers taking advantage of the changes, murals must stay up for 2 years. Unless, of course, the city itself decides otherwise. Artists are still being met with restrictions and red tape at every turn and even if they do manage to get everything in order, there is still a strong chance the city will paint over the mural if certain protocols aren’t met. The city, despite lifting the ban, doesn’t seem to eager to let local artists do good work on private property.

Even the public is on the fence about whether the ban is a good thing or not. A large mural downtown, for example, only barely managed to get made and had to justify itself against a petition with 12,000 signatures and an intervention by the Mayor’s office. Neighbourhoods have to also “opt-in” to the repeal, limiting the space where artists can work even further. Just where, what, and exactly how these murals are being made seems to be at the forefront of many people’s minds.

Of course, the ban was unevenly enforced during its 11-year reign. Celebrities like James Franco managed to get murals up when they wanted, while others were forced to take them down. Now, artists have a bit more freedom and are less likely to face any legal ramifications for their art, but the regulation still makes public art a public concern.

LA’s ban and subsequent repeal brings along a large number of questions about public art, corporate advertising, and how a city and its citizens regard murals and the people who make them. Many citizens worry about graffiti and vandalism, or murals they think are inappropriate or being made in their neighbourhood in a city where shock still seems to reign supreme. The efforts by the city are an example of listening to artists and concerned citizens, even if the result is difficult and cumbersome. Muralists still seem to be the villain, or at least a barely tolerated presence in the city that once claimed to be the Mural Capital.

picture of the artist saber while spray painting street art

Artist Bio: Saber

Graffiti is part of a city, it’s culture and visual aesthetic, no matter how its citizens feel about it. Public art like murals and graffiti document the times, celebrate communities, and demarcate neighbourhoods. For artists like Saber, it’s something to be treasured and respected, an art style that is important because it moves in and out of public space. Saber in particular knows the importance of preserving mural art, having creating some of L.A.’s most famous and widely seen murals, but he also knows that it can’t simply stay on the street. It needs to be in galleries, in homes, in places where people want to go and look at art. Saber also knows that graffiti can challenge convention, and that’s exactly where his art likes to be.

Saber first rose to prominence in 1997, when his massive mural on the banks of the L.A. river began getting international attention. The mural measured 55’ high and over 250’ in length and reportedly took over 95 gallons of paint and 35 days to complete. Highly visible from the East L.A. Interchange, Saber’s piece was seen by millions and stayed up for an astounding 12 years before it was buffed by the US military. In his signature eloquence, Saber said it was quite the “way to go out” before noting that the government could probably be spending their money better. “The Army uses millions of federal funds to help fuel the LA war on graffiti, painting out layers of raw history in the armpit of the city,” Saber said in an interview, “While schools have no books and hospitals are closing.” This commentary on America and its priorities has been a focal point of Saber’s work his entire career.

Take, for instance, the time he was accused of desecrating the American flag. By this time, Saber was travelling the world to show off his fine art, popping up in galleries in from his hometown in L.A. to Europe. He had become a renowned fine artist, someone who bridged the gap between street art and fine art while still making amazing contributions in both worlds. But in 2010, Saber once again came into the media spotlight for his work using the American flag, a mixed media piece he was experimenting with that discussed his lifelong struggle with epilepsy. Being accused of flag desecration seemed to be another instance of backwards priorities, this time by America’s citizens instead of it’s government. In response to the controversy, Saber said his intention was to “show it [the flag] as a living, breathing, changing organism, that represents me as an American trying to manage this lifelong disease without health care.”

Throughout his career, Saber has been first to defend the arts in all their forms, going as far as to hire planes to skywrite “Mitt Romney hates arts” in L.A. Since murals were outlawed in his hometown, Saber found another way to fight against America’s war on art. At the Huffington Post, he argued the state of art in America is under threat. “You have candidates like Mr. Mitt Romney saying that he would completely eliminate funding for The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and NPR if elected, claiming they’re a ‘budgetary nuisance,’ he said, “These things cost .003% of the budget, and Romney says it’s a fucking budgetary nuisance! And so art is nuisance now in America.”

Always on the fringe and never one to stand idly by, Saber is a voice for street artists and the arts in general, unafraid to get political and fight for what he believes in.

mural routes website

Mural Routes, Bringing Artists, Business & The Public Together

Here at MuralForm, we like to talk about awesome street artists and cool projects, but we also love showing how street art can improve communities. Street art and murals can help cities develop tourism, document their history, or even celebrate their triumphs. Murals can define a city’s aesthetic or even contribute to a national identity, as many saw in Brazil this year during the World Cup, and there are many organizations both local and international that try to encourage street art for these reasons.

One such organization is Mural Routes, a not-for-profit organization based in Ontario dedicated to “the promotion of wall art as a public art form for the general benefit of communities and artists,” according to their website. The organization works with local and international agencies, volunteers, and artists to bring mural art to Ontario communities, predominantly Toronto, and to helping mural artists and enthusiasts to stay connected and mutually supportive.

A Little History

Mural Routes has been around for nearly 25 years, starting in the 1990s as an art project with the Scarborough Arts Council. By 1994, Mural Routes had expanded its scope and incorporated itself apart from the Arts Council while still working closely with them. Much of their artistic work results from collaboration with local businesses and governments. The recently unveiled “Eastern Gateway” mural, for example, is the combined efforts of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes. Located at 277 Old Kingston R. in Scarborough, the mural is a permanent piece designed to welcome people into the town. While designed by local artists, the project came together through the volunteer efforts of Scarborough youth interested in street art and making their town that much brighter.

Mural Routes was also integral to the Warden Avenue Underpass mural. This piece documents the local history of the area while adding some colour to a usually ignored part of a city. Once again a collaboration of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes, the piece was praised by city councilwoman Michelle Berardinetti.

While Mural Routes is interested in getting murals onto walls, their major focus is connecting and educating the public and artists on the benefits and opportunities tied to murals. The organization regularly hosts networking events and professional development workshops, embracing the business end of street art while promoting its benefits to Canadians. Much of the information shared and exchanged at Mural Routes various meetings was compiled into Mural Production: A Resource Handbook for artists and business owners.

Mural Routes continues to bring artists, businesses, and the public together by promoting the many benefits of street art, whether its through community meetings or murals made with community involvement. The program is great for aspiring artists, community members, and business owners together and it is this multifaceted approach that lets Mural Routes stand apart from other muralist organizations. For more information, be sure to visit their website.

mural by os gemeos

Os Gêmeos Bio

Brazil today is internationally renowned for its grafitti and street art scene, intensified recently by the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The whole country embraces their street art scene more than many other countries, with some municipalities passing laws to encourage street art. The city of São Paulo, for example, has banned public advertising like billboards, freeing up more space for street artists to create and display their talents.

Perhaps one of the reasons São Paulo has laws to encourage street art is because they are the birthplace of one, or rightly two, of Brazil’s most important and influential street artists. Born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, these identical twins are better known as Os Gêmeos, the Portuguese word for twins. But even those who don’t know their name would know their work in Brazil, it has come to dominate and guide the country’s street art aesthetics.

The twins were born in 1974 and grew up just as hip-hop began its swift movement through Central and South America. The familiar beats and youthful energy captured the attention of Brazil’s youth, including Otavio and Gustavo. They started out as breakdancers, but soon graffiti became their favourite activity.

At the time, the New York street art scene was the most prevalent and famous in the world and the twins began tagging and reproducing the style that could be seen all over NYC. They weren’t interested in their own style at the time and, much like the early adoption of any artistic practice, reproduction was vastly more interesting than creating something entirely new. Os Gêmeos, as we all know now, quickly became disinterested in mere reproduction, and a definitive style that incorporated Brazilian aesthetic, folklore, and culture began showing up in their work.

A chance encounter with Barry McGee, then known as Twist, gave the twins their first direct contact with an American graffiti artist. McGee was in Brazil for several months for school and provided local artists with examples of the New York scene as it was happening. McGee also put Os Gêmeos in contact with other artists and street art professionals, giving them a way to advertise themselves outside Brazil.

Os Gêmeos began experimenting with their style and giving their work a distinctive Brazilian flavour, including differing colour palettes, subjects, and approaches from their New York influences. A trademark for their work now, the yellow skin of many of their characters actually comes from dreams they have both had that feature people with yellow skin. They started making overt political statements as well, focused on local issues of poverty and infrastructure in their homeland.

Nowadays, Os Gêmeos’ work can be seen all over the world, from Europe to North America to all over their native land. Special commissions include art festivals around the world and, surprisingly, local transit systems in Brazil, who are famously against street art on their trains. Murals and graffiti have become part of Brazil’s cultural makeup, individual expressions that together help a local and national identity, and two artists working under one name are a large part of this continuing mode of expression and internationally renowned scene. Their name is Os Gêmeos.

Richard ‘Seen’ Mirando in Paris

Seen Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

banksy eavesdropping mural

Banksy Admits to Eavesdropping Mural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The street artist still is a bit like Robin Hood.

street art toronto mural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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