Monday, December 8, 2008

Why I'm Here

When visiting a new city for the first time, don't ask me to come along. I am the last person you want to keep you company. As you unfold the map and try to find the best route to the art museum, I will scour the sidewalks and park benches for grainy stencils. While you elbow your way through a crowded marketplace, I'll pop in and out of alleyways searching for wheatpaste posters plastered on the sides of adjacent buildings After crossing an intersection, you will turn and find me missing. I'll most likely be across the street peering at the back of a street sign and grinning. By the end of the day, you will grow tired of my antics. Throwing up your hands, you will sigh, "What on earth are you looking at?"
The answer is street art. Growing up, I was exposed to the sculptures, paintings, sketches, and prints that comprise the world of fine art. However, no genre grabbed my attention more than street art. Street art for me is a work posted in a public space, be it a mural, a sticker, or a poster, that is independent of government initiatives. Unlike the tags of graffiti, street art focuses less on the artist's fame and more on using public space as a canvas.
This type of art forces the observer to look at a space in a new way; an abandoned building can become a gallery with the spray of a can. Often neglected and considered lowbrow, street art is a crucial part of a city's culture. Free from the conventions of fine art, street artists have the freedom to rebel and actively engage in shaping the appearance of their communities. Alleys become safe places of liberation as artists resist oppressive power structures, think independently, and hash out their city's complex identity. Street art allows people to reclaim their streets and create a sense of ownership; the passion and energy behind this art is infectious, making it my favorite art form.
Street art resonates so strongly with me because I admire many of the qualities it possesses. I like to push boundaries and view ordinary things from an eclectic point of view. My desire to turn convention on its head began with Andy Warhol. Viewing a retrospective of his work forced me to reexamine my beliefs of what art was. Could a Campbell's Soup can be considered art? What about carbon copies of flowers, cows, or Elvis? Warhol's work showed me that anything could be art. As a rebellious 16 year-old, I chose to push the envelope with my own style. In my opinion, an empty laundry detergent box made an excellent purse. Instead of keeping my Levi's jeans pristine and neatly cuffed, I splatter painted them in homage to Jackson Pollack. With my small stash of tools, I fashioned earrings out of soda bottle caps, sewed purses from magazine pages covered in contact paper, and painted poems onto tee shirts. What started as a rebellious act morphed into my trademark style. I own a notorious purse collection ranging from watering cans and guitars to a tote fashioned out of old rice bags. My style defines me and challenges me to reexamine the way I view the world.
I also find it impossible to live in an impersonal space. As a young child, I pulled large cardboard boxes out of the trash and pretended they were my own houses. My room wasn't truly my own. The floral wallpaper and teddy bear border reflected my parents' style, not mine. Inside the box, I could create and possess my own space. Crayon drawings covered the walls, reflecting my own unique taste. In high school, I pinned sketches and photos up inside my locker. In my new room, world maps and my own paintings adorn my walls along with trinkets I've collected in my travels. Even when I'm in a space for a short period of time, I always carry a postcard or photo to claim it as my own. Armed with a piece of my own identity, I'm able to exert control over a setting and prepare myself for the task at hand.
Traveling through Europe during my junior year of college was a perfect opportunity to embrace my passion and add to my street art collection. I packed my bags and headed out alone for Paris, Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, and Belfast. Through my observations, I hashed out my own perceptions of each city and returned home with heaps of questions. Belfast's murals on Falls Road and Shankhill Road exposed me to the power street art has to shape a community. Even as an outsider, I felt the palpable tension present in the neighborhood. Relations between Protestants and Catholics have improved significantly since the Troubles, yet the murals are a constant reminder of the deep-seated hatred that cannot be erased. I saw my passion in the context of something so much bigger. The messages displayed on the streets seemed to reinforce the sectarian beliefs that imprisoned the community in the past.
Amsterdam made me question my initial perceptions of street art. Throughout childhood, I was told not to draw on the walls. In psychology, broken window theory taught me that when there is graffiti, excess trash, or other minor problems in a community, its residents feel less ownership and responsibility, leading to more of a muddle. Amsterdam, however, supported the converse of this theory for me. Although some neighborhoods were splattered with paintings, the crime rate at the time was quite low. I walked home at 1 a.m. and never felt threatened. I snapped hundreds of photos of the gorgeous fresh murals juxtaposed on old architecture. Krylon sneakers crept up the sides of buildings and stencils of Anne Frank overlapped a sky of neon shooting stars. I felt the vibrancy and energy of the city bursting onto the streets. The artists used unconventional spaces and methods to create something raw and beautiful.
This page is for street artists and the people who love them. I'm excited to share my photos and stories with you and I hope you share yours with me, too. If you paste/post/tag/spray/chalk/paint/stick/stencil etc., show me your stuff and I'll probably say nice things about you. The more people that read this, the larger the pool of photos and art. And if no one reads this, then at least I'll finally organize this beast of a collection that's eating away at my hard-drive.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, M.D.
    I visit your blog every day, as I am sure many others with interest in the subject, does!

    Keep up the good work - and enthusiasm to this field of art.

    Drumstick (Denmark)