Monday, December 22, 2008

In The Headlines

Mondays always get a bad rap; they're manic, blue, rainy, stormy, and sometimes it feels like they'll never end. Pairing a Monday with a chilly meteorological mess makes me want to plug my ass with leaves and berries and konk out until March (the bears know what's UP). Fortunately, prior to my quest for hibernation, I surfed the 'net and compiled a yummy winter snack for you. Enjoy it while it lasts because this tasty dish only comes once a week. 

In this week's news:

Nick Stillman waxes poetic about his graf roots.    

It's too damn cold outside so Canadian street artists are taking the buildings indoors. The Royal Ontario Museum presents "Housepaint", a unique take on art in public spaces.

Avid knitters Rachael Elwell and Sarah Hardacre take to the streets with the cuddliest brand of urban art to date: yarn bombing.

French artist Koralie is taking her peaceful geishas to the streets of Brooklyn.

In San Francisco, street artists are passing on their knowledge and skills to a younger generation.

If you're in Mumbai any time soon, keep an eye out for Tracy Lee Stum and her optical illusions.

And the big question: DOES street art deserve a place in art history? (feel free to use the 'comments' section to discuss!)

For now, I'm on vacation. Hopefully the new year will bring some interesting surprises to the blog. Please keep sending me your stuff and thanks for reading!

Friday, December 19, 2008

April 2007- Buenos Aires

I’ve been excited about this post all week. Today’s update comes to us from Annie, who’s currently teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Her story behind the images is so personal and poignant that it needs some extra space. Enjoy the weekend and get ready for a news update on Monday!

"In the fall of 2006, one of my best friends died two weeks before I was to leave for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Despite surgery to fix a preexisting heart condition, Cassandra had a heart attack and died on her way to retrieving her misplaced purse."

"My heart was entirely broken. Cassandra, my friend, was the most inspiring and selfless person that ever graced me with her presence. She encouraged me to be myself and taught me how to live without fear. I thought that it would be easy to run away, but I couldn't forget, or even temporarily escape, the memory of our friendship. My trip to Chile was an attempt to find what I had lost."

"When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was exhausted by the naiveté of my classmates and frustrated by the fact that I had no one to share my loss with. So I took off for Chile during Semana Santa with no significant plans and only one night's reservation at a hostel."

"On my first morning in Santiago, I wandered the neighborhood and stumbled upon these paintings on my first morning in Santiago. I was amazed at how the images so clearly articulated my feelings at the time."

"The first painting, the sinewy blue two-headed person, captures the intense agony I felt. It is amazing how perfect it is: the clouded mind, the explosion of essential matter from mouth and heart, even the words "...pena..." and "solo yo!"  I could identify with the internal struggle that manifested within and emerged uncontrolled from the person's body. It is unbelievable that I happened upon such a piece of art during such a difficult period of my life. Some people might think of this phenomenon as destiny or fate, but I think that perhaps it is simply that I could relate."

"Under Pinochet, many Chileans experienced horrific violence and the loss of their fundamental rights. Fortunately, I never experienced such dehumanization personally. I cannot imagine that anyone could ever feel safe or secure again after living through the repression and violence of Pinochet’s policies. I don't think I could ever go to another soccer game without imagining soldiers slaughtering my friends and neighbors on the field. This specific piece of street art spoke to me as a person who was suffering. I doubt that there is anyone in the world who could not relate to it in a way, whether miniscule or significant."

"I also felt a strong connection to the painting of the hooded man in the tunnel. I am fascinated by the mystery of tunnels. There a sense of hollowness yet comfort in the nearby undeniable density that complements the empty space. The two states of existence are codependent, just as my sorrow could not exist had I never experienced great joy. I felt that the darkness of the man in the tunnel, shaded by circumstance, would be transformed upon his exit. His feelings of powerlessness to change such circumstances, represented in the painting by ill-defined hands, were not permanent. This painting gave me more hope for the future than any consoling words."

"I will never believe that there was a reason for Cassandra to die. I feel like these paintings are on the same plane of thought. We may not be entirely in control and we may be hurting, but there is no shame in sharing our feelings. It is the acknowledgement of such universalities that makes us feel human again."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More From Mile End

I'll keep it short and sweet today. Since I loved USINE 106U so much, I figured I'd toss on some additional shots from the building. Check out USINE's Myspace for more events. It makes me think a bit of Real Art Ways in Hartford but with a much more do-it-yourself vibe. Brace those tummies for a filling post tomorrow. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

August 2008-Berlin

Today's post comes from Yasmine in sunny Montréal, Canada. Her photos come mainly from the Mitte section of Berlin. She writes:

"The one with the blue gentleman and green around him is super popular because it is by a hostel around Rosenthalerplatz and a design firm built out of shipping containers. That combo in itself was freaking sweet! There are so many sweet things in Berlin but you see so many that you get desensitized. That one stuck out regardless."

"The Garfieldesque cat described my mood at that moment. Plus it is a random find in this tunnel area. But really, a toaster, a cat telling you to shove it, and a volleyball? Brilliant."

"The talking cameras were in the same area as the cat. The entire tunnel was plastered with awesome things (even some Lego hearts and mirrors reflecting from the other side of the wall). It's funny because we are always being watched somewhere, somehow. You can barely ever waltz around freely anymore! The cameras are talking and from what I can make out of them, one of them is saying "Bernie is sick!" and the other one responds "Oh, I know Bernie!" Haha ah! I like."

"The following stencil reminded me a lot of Banksy. I don't if it's him or not, but I quite enjoyed the little boy on the steps, just hangin' out. You know how it is!"

"Finally, the last one is Oje/Lucy! My camera batteries were dead most times when I saw awesome graf (again, there was SO much of it), but Lucy was everywhere: on the sidewalk, in little corners of here and there, up high, down low! Super cute. She's kind of comforting but also taunting, like 'HERE I AM!'"

"The Berlin wall is basically only graf. After a certain point, you think "Okay, this wall is loooooooong." You have to pick which things to take pics of when you know your batteries are about to die. I'm going with twelve cameras next time. Okay, maybe two. Maybe we can meet up there. YES!"

I agree, Yas. From what I've heard, Berlin is a place I desperately need to see. Does anyone have other shots from Berlin or elsewhere? Send them my way! Also, get ready because Friday's post is shaping up to be massive. Fast your seatbelts and brace for impact.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 2007-Boston

Until December of last year, I found the Boston street art scene to be fairly dry. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough or I was missing the good neighborhoods, but after spending four years in the area, I'd yet to stumble on something impressive. That all changed when I picked up an issue of Boston's Weekly Dig and found an article on Modica Way. Located at 567 Mass. Ave. next to Cambridge's Central Kitchen restaurant, the alley is packed full of tags, wheatpastes, stickers, and stencils. When I visited, Niñeta's coy nymphs flirted with Goldenstash's mustachioed macho man. Nine Revolutions proclaimed their undying love over a of leaves chicken heads? Flowerguy's pretty perennials sprouted up over quirky wheatpasted collages while Billi Kid's retro stickers flew headfirst into a chalk horse's mouth.  The best part about the alley? You'll never see the same wall twice. Every so often, local artists hit the "refresh" button and paint it over with a whole new crew of contributors. I returned this fall to a completely new view (and yes, I will post those later). Check the wall out for yourself and see what's fresh; take the Red Line to Central Square and follow the trail. (More photos coming soon...)

Monday, December 15, 2008

March 2008-London

My lovely friend, Cara, sent me this photo last week. She spent time in London during the spring of 2008. She writes: 
"Okay, so the picture isn't very good; I took it at night so the flash created a little glare. This is a stencil that my friend, Nelson Fox, made. He put her all over our neighborhood in London. Nelson's pretty crazy at making stencils. This picture happens to be in a phone booth at the end of our street. Above the phone, there are all these cutouts from porn magazines and numbers for phone sex. Then, if you turn away from that and just look at the inside of the booth, there's this stencil of a really pretty girl with a super seductive look on her face. I just think it's gorgeous. Nelson said he was going to make one of my friend Anne and me, but then he disappeared off Facebook. I don't know if I'll ever have my face spray-painted all over a wonderful city or not."

It must be wild having your face plastered all over buildings. However, I'd be disconcerted if I were waiting for the bus and found myself staring back at me. Thanks for the shot and the story, Cara! For those of you who'd like to share, send your words + images to 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

March 2007-Belfast

NOTE: Sorry this post has become so mangled over the past two days. Being a fresh little blogger muffin straight from the oven, I'm still getting used to the format and posting procedures. 

After a ridiculous work week, it's Friday and I'm itching for a tasty post. I'll keep the text short and let the photos have their say.

In the spring of 2007, a day trip to Belfast sparked interesting discoveries. The city was completely different from the tank-infested combat zone of the 1990s. In the city center, posh shops lined the bustling streets while locals and tourists alike packed trendy restaurants. 

Straying from the CBD, however, the mood changed. The murals of Shankill Road and Falls Road shed light on the lingering tension between Catholic Unionists and Protestant Loyalists. On Falls Road, "Free Palestine" and "Santa is a British agent" stretched across whole buildings. These Unionist messages sharply contrasted the "Years of Resistance" and "Never Surrender" murals on Loyalist Shankill Road. Negotiations and treaties may have quelled the violence, but the historical roots of the problem are on display in this snug square mile.

What surprised me most about the trip was how disconnected I felt. Despite my Irish decent, I viewed the murals from a historian's perspective. Growing up miles from the source, I could not connect to the strong emotions fueling the fire. This conflict was never mine. I appreciate the Einstein stencil because he captured the absurdity that I felt. His playful face didn't fit in the middle of West Belfast and neither did I. Someday, I'd love to return and wrap my head around this complex city.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

April 2007-Dublin

Although the quality of the photo is not the best, I love the story behind this skeleton. I found him scrawled on an abandoned building in the Ballymun section of Dublin. What was I doing scrounging around condemned property? Well, to be fair, it was not yet condemned when I set foot in it. While working for an Irish music magazine (shout out to Hot Press and their amazing staff!), I wrote a piece on a hotel in the top floor of an old housing project. Below is an excerpt from my HP article:

"Until last March, the likelihood of a hotel opening its doors in Ballymun was about as likely as Ireland winning the Euro Cup. For years, the neighborhood's reputation for crime and drug problems preceded it, fostering a host of negative stereotypes. Built in the 1960s, the Ballymun flats housed low-income families, many of who were removed from inner city areas during a period of "urban slum clearances". 
However, the area around the flats was not equipped with the amenities to properly serve the community. While the government spoke of schools, shops, and play areas, action did not match the rhetoric. Lack of basic services combined with high unemployment created one of Ireland's worst ghettos.
With little government assistance, the citizens of Ballymun took matters into their own hands. Starting in 1997, the Ballymun Regeneration Initiative set out to revive the local economy, improve housing conditions, and develop more community facilities. Then, in 2002, the group launched Breaking Ground, an organization committed to local art programs.
In 2006, Breaking Ground enlisted the help of Kilkenny artist Seamus Nolan. Nolan decided to look at the flats from a different perspective...Over a 10-month period, Nolan and his partner, Lisa Marie, and a team of local artists, worked together to prepare the Clarke Tower. A group of designers scoured the flats in search of abandoned objects to transform into furniture. With the exception of the beds, nearly everything in the hotel belonged to former tenants. 
The result is truly remarkable. Each room is stripped down to the bare essentials: a bed, a chair, the occasional side table. Everything is renewed; old books are transformed into chair seats and an old VCR, fitted with legs and a top, is reincarnated as a table. In the garden room, sweet-smelling flowers are potted in old cupboards. Wall decoration is sparse save for the occasional painting found in the abandoned flats and patches of wallpaper still clinging to the old concrete." --Duffy, Meg. "How Suite It Is." Hot Press Magazine, 2 May 2oo7: 25.

The towers have since been imploded to make space for new construction, but I just loved this sketch. I think I like him because he embodied my feelings about the hotel at the time: artistic and beautiful but a little bit creepy. Artistic space and bright rooms above were in juxtaposition with the derelict flats below, giving the space an odd undertone. The crux of Nolan's project also represents why I love street art so much. By thinking of the space in a completely new way, he was able to attract a crowd who otherwise would never set foot in Ballymun. I'm glad I captured this sucker before he got away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

April 2008-Montréal

I found this creeper while roaming around the Mile End neighborhood of Montréal, Canada. This neighborhood is teeming with graffiti throw-ups and street art alike. I found this blue beanpole on the outside of USINE 106U, an art gallery/laboratory where art is shown and created simultaneously. This blue beanpole took me by surprise as I rounded the corner. I felt that way about most of Montréal; everywhere I went, I craned my neck to find another sticker or stencil nestled away in an unlikely place.

Thanks to Mish for following me around for five hours. I apologize to everyone who's ever been dragged out on one of my tireless searches. It must be incredibly taxing if you're not hunting for fresh paint.

P.S. I apologize that I'm not posting artists with my photos. I'm currently working on compiling a guide in my spare time but it may take a bit. If you can enlighten me or anyone else,       please post a comment!

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.

Greetings, Fellow Earthlings

I'm starting this blog because I've got a secret I can no longer keep to myself.