Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday ProFiles: ESM-Artificial

If street art doesn’t work out for ESM-Artificial, he could always pursue a career as a professional hockey player. In fact, the sport inspired his inner designer. He recalls, “I remember drawing sea life from as early as three years old. As far as creative endeavors go, I was about seven or eight when I started designing my own goalie equipment for street hockey.”  Growing up in Vancouver, ESM, né Kenn Sakurai, was surrounded by a group of likeminded hockeyheads that fueled his fire for the sport.

Fortunately, ESM was also immersed in a supportive group of art students. When the musical project from which he takes his name fell through, he explored street art. “I started out mainly with a fascination with stickers and a fairly wide knowledge of pop culture,” he explains.  “I’m not sure if I created my own style or not. I’d love to think I did but it probably evolved from something here and there.”  Listing influences from Keith Breeden and Margaret Kilgallen to Mick Karn and Peter Saville, ESM devours pop culture, digests it, and spits out clever new creations.  

Since 1994, ESM has plastered city streets on five continents. Aside from Vancouver, where he lives and works, Tokyo holds a special place in his heart. He adds, “There are so many interesting buildings and landscapes to work with. I simply love Tokyo.” No location is too obscure for him; he cites bombing in Tsukiji Market, one of the world’s largest fresh fish markets, as his most unusual canvas.

ESM never got into old school graffiti, but he occasionally works with a friend in a “two person crew”.  While it’s nice for someone to have his back, he says the team vibe wanes “if the other guy falls asleep with the walkie talkie on when he’s supposed to be on lookout.”  Sleepy slip-ups haven’t landed him in trouble with law enforcement and it’s a good thing he’s never had to run from the cops. “I’ve never felt unsafe, but I have felt out of shape while putting work up. I’ve bombed with Shep Fairey and watched him scale buildings like Spiderman while my buddy and I get stuck squeezing through fences or wheezing over a railing.” (Maybe those Stanley Cup aspirations need to stay on the back burner after all).

Mixing graphics, pop culture, and quirky quotes, ESM hopes his trademark stickers make viewers laugh. Cardboard boxes displaying the quixotic message “Your love was orange” wait anxiously on a table for their moment to shine. In the depths of night, a street lamp reminds travelers to “fight for love”. Posting up on the side of a phone booth, a bright sticker shouts, “Hang tight!” Tom Sellek greets commuters with a friendly “Aloha!”

Career-wise, ESM is driven by the work he sees on the streets and continues to push himself. Culture and technology continue to impact style. “The use of computers has helped speed up the working process. I think my style also changes depending on how things get perceived and ripped off on the Internet. I was to try to keep things moving and change it up every once in a while.”

The constant barrage of culture and technology leads ESM to believe that street art is still evolving. “In the future,” he predicts, “it will probably be highly advanced and more permanent, not unlike what Space Invader is doing but with lazer beams, live exotic animals, beautiful paint colors, naked people, and free hot dogs.”

Here’s to that. I’m looking forward to the day when the streets give me a free snack (that I’d actually want to eat). Have a good one.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

July 2008: São Paulo

Thursday's post comes from my friend Sven. This globetrotting Swede is also an avid street art and hip hop fan, so we get along quite well. Today, he shares a few shots from Brazil. He writes:

Nice to hear from you. Of course you can have some of the pics!

Unfortunately... I accidentally deleted about 40% of the pics I took (oops). Therefore, I no longer have documentation of Buenos Aires... :(

Here are the ones I still have.

... which turned out to be not that many. They're all from São Paulo. Can't believe I deleted so many!!

I think I have some cool ones from Lithuania somewhere. I'll try and find them and get back to you.

The blog is looking great by the way! Really good stuff. I'm also starting one (who isn't). It'll be about global hip hop, kinda like global street art! You'll be getting bombarded with promotion when it goes up!

I am ready to be inundated with hype, Sven. Tomorrow, check out the Friday ProFile with...oh please, I'm not giving that away.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

July 2008: Istanbul

This is the first of many posts on a city that I love. Straddling two continents and conflicting worldviews lies Istanbul, the cosmopolitan economic and cultural hub of Turkey. Turkey is a Muslim country but its secular government sets it apart from its Middle Eastern neighbors. French poet Alphonse de Lamartine once said, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Although Lamartine wrote in the mid 1800s, his assessment of this ancient metropolis still rings true. For tourists eager to tap into the Middle East, Istanbul is an excellent starting point.

Historically, Istanbul was Turkey’s capital. Its position on the Bosphorus made it a key stronghold of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Following the First World War, Turkish society changed dramatically. Under Mustafa Kemal (known colloquially as Atatürk), the former Ottoman Empire was rapidly westernized. 

Atatürk drove a sharp wedge between religion and the state by removing imams from politics and replacing them with Swiss civil and Italian penal codes. Turks relearned Turkish in the Roman alphabet, not Arabic. With the support of wealthy Turks, Atatürk fostered fierce nationalism and encouraged secularization. To this day, his picture still hangs in homes and shops and on walls throughout the city.

But there's more than just Atatürk's face hanging on the wall these days. Street art and graffiti are everywhere. Today's photos highlight my favorite large paintings. A melting pig's face oozes off the side of a building. A decapitated creature (the caption translates to 'scalpel') bleeds onto an unsuspecting napper. What appear to be large hippo teeth take a bite out of a nearby pipe. A creature with two megaphones for a head stands ready to make an announcement. A skeleton with a wonky eyeball gestures with his bony finger.

These pieces were not hidden on the streets. In fact, they were quite prominent in certain neighborhoods. I'll return to Istanbul for many a post to showcase the different stencils, stickers, and posters that make up the city's street culture.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

February 2007: Paris

Paris holds a special place in the hearts and minds of creators everywhere. Museums like the Louvre, le Centre Pompidou, and le Museé d’Orsay teem with masterpieces by Gaugin, Monet, and Degas. Writers gather in cafés in le Quartier Latin just like the Sartres, Prousts, and Zolas of days gone by. Considered one of the major cultural capitals of the world, Paris and its avant-garde scene is the quintessence of cool.
I paid a visit to the City of Light in 2007. During my trip, I explored the city’s prolific museums, lunched in its spacious parks, and wandered its vibrant neighborhoods. Combining mosques with churches and baguettes with baba ganoush, the city contained more Middle Eastern influence than I expected. In galleries or on the streets, I was inspired by the location, the creativity, and the people (Contrary to popular American opinion, I have yet to meet an unfriendly Parisian). I felt at ease and excited simultaneously; the city felt sleepy and electric at the same time.
Today, it appears that a new genre of art is exploding in this remarkable city. I noticed a colorful collection of street art decorating the historic landscape. From gothic architecture to modern post-war buildings, street artists displayed their creations on every available surface. Before, the French art scene was confined to gallery walls. Today, artists like Blek le Rat and Miss Van share their work on the street and garner attention at home and abroad. With countless new members emerging, the French scene continues to grow and expand stylistically.

In my first photo, Miss Tic's fierce female stared back at me from an apartment building. Roughly translated, the text says, "It's life; it will pass." After wandering for hours trying to find the Pompidou Center, I appreciated her message. Who knew that Paris had so many undocumented side streets? Clearly, not me or my tiny map. While I was tired and hungry, this saucy mama put things in perspective.

Next, I stumbled upon a little boy, a red umbrella, and a monkey. This graphic combined such unusual subjects that I was left with a lot of questions. Why is this boy hugging his knees? Is he trying to stay dry? Is he hurt or scared? And what is the monkey doing? Wacky.

My third photo was found in a small neighborhood as I searched for a place to eat. This sea foam green stencil of Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian-French political activist held hostage by FARC for six years, carries even more significance since her 2008 release. 

On rue Descartes, I looked up to find this large mural and poem. Painted by Pierre Alechinsky, the mural illustrates "Feuilles d'automnes," a poem by Yves Bonnefoy. I certainly appreciate the trees of the city, but I also felt this poem captured how I feel about street art. I felt lucky to find these pieces and they opened my eyes to another side of Paris. Someday, I'd love to return and continue my search.

Monday, January 26, 2009

In The Headlines

This past weekend was lovely and fantastic (thanks to my fabulous ladies in NY Sizzle). Vic and I checked out a powerful exhibit at the New Museum by Michael Blum. The exhibit, "Be(Com)ing Dutch at a Distance", featured a hypothetical Israeli refugee camp in the Netherlands. What? Exactly. Check it out. I also snagged a few choice shots this weekend, including a Space Invader down on the Lower East Side. While I grab some green tea and nurse off a headache, take a look at this week's headlines.

With work on the street and in the National Portrait Gallery, don't miss Shepard Fairey's work as it makes a stop at Boston's ICA.

In Perth, you won't have trouble remembering where your car is parked. Just look for the giant fish with the horns and a spikey tail.

Perth's 'Reface' project raises questions about the nature of street art and its role in the city.

Stay inside and explore Pittsburgh galleries as they display street art indoors.

If committing to art school doesn't suit your fancy, these one-off classes will teach you the ins and outs of tagging.

Melbourne street art collective The Everfresh Studio discuss what happens when money and street art collide (cue Banksy).

Gothamist interviews Poster Boy about his subterranean marketing mash-ups.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday ProFiles: Michael "Flower Guy" De Feo

My friend Will has a theory that people need super-heroes more in times of crisis. The Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages of comic books conveniently coincide with major history events. On the eve of the Second World War, comic book icons like Wonder Woman and Captain America appeared during The Golden Age. These icons reinforced patriotic propaganda and set an example for readers to support their country. After Cold War censorship thwarted cartoonists' dreams, the Korean War kick-started the Silver Age with a host of new adventures. Captain Marvel spent time in Korea fighting Communist spies while The Flash and Aquaman revamped their images. Stretching from the Vietnam War into the 1980s, The Bronze Age appealed America's shaken confidence with revivals of X-Men and Teen Titans. Today, films like The Hulk, Spiderman, and The Dark Knight attempt to fill the void that comic books once did. Regardless of the format, dredging these characters up from the past gives people confidence and optimism. In times of crisis, people need a beacon of hope.

Could street artists be modern day super-heroes? The two seemingly unrelated groups share common traits. Street artists usually display their work anonymously or under a pseudonym. The mystery surrounding street artists breeds rumors, turning them into mythic figures. While sometimes misunderstood by the public, street artists are united by the desire to improve their surroundings. 
Michael De Feo is a modern artist with a double life. Born and bred in the suburbs of Westchester County, De Feo teaches art at a high school in Stamford, Connecticut. When he's not teaching, he loves spending time with the leading lady in his life: his five year-old daughter, Marianna. By night, he transforms into The Flower Guy, bringing his trademark blooms to city streets worldwide. De Feo describes the contrast as "enforcing the rules by day and breaking the rules by night." 
From an early age, De Feo knew he wanted a creative career. "In nursery school, all I wanted to do was paint and draw," he recalls. "I wasn't sure what job I wanted when I grew up but I knew I wanted a life full of art." As a child, De Feo was exposed to street art but didn't yet realize its significance. "My dad would always comment on how ugly the city's graffiti was, but I thought it was neat. When I was in middle school, my shop teacher brought in some older students to tag the walls.  Then I got my hands on a copy of Subway Art. That book was crucial!  I realized, 'Fuck, stuff’s happening only 30 minutes from my house!'” As a young adult, art school conventions left him feeling discouraged and constricted. Acceptance into a gallery took ages and limited the number of viewers. The do-it-yourself style of artists like Phil Frost and Dan Witz inspired him to say "Fuck it, I'm going to hang my stuff up in the streets where everybody can see it." De Feo has since worked in cities across the US, Puerto Rico, and Europe. While he doesn't pick favorites, New York is high on the list. "It's not my favorite for the process of installing," he adds, "but it makes for an excellent setting." Sharing his work with a broad audience was such a thrill that he was unfazed by the dangers of getting up. He says, "Getting up is like an opening; a whole bunch of people are judging your work and it's awkward in the beginning, but I've always been a button-pusher and I'm no stranger of getting nabbed for stuff."
Over time, De Feo's style has evolved to include several trademark figure. In the beginning, he replaced the heads on street signs with TV set stickers. Later, he moved on to wheatpasting and painting colorful daisies in urban landscapes. On a recent trip to New Orleans, new characters emerged as he pasted a curious scuba diver and a school of fish onto a lonely building. "I try to mix things up so the viewer has an art experience," he explains, "but I've stuck with flowers because they're so rewarding. I'm learning about myself and the world around me so I'm still exploring this project." Lately, his work has become more introspective and personal. "When my wife and I broke up," he discloses, "I did a lot of introspection. Street art became less of an exercise and more of a personal activity. The self-portraits were a way to put my insides out for display." Plastered across Chelsea's Meatpacking District in New York City, the intimate portraits feel like an intrusion on De Feo's personal life. No matter the medium or subject matter, he hopes his work spreads joy as viewers interpret pieces for themselves. "I'm just trying to share with others, look at the world in a new way, and spread a little magic if I can."
With exhibitions, commissions, and even the occasional children's book on the table, De Feo shows no signs of stopping. "I’ll never stop learning. I want to seek new challenges, travel a lot, meet people, and have art in my life all the time. Sharing it with my daughter has been a dream come true; I love taking her to places and sharing the experiences with me." De Feo doesn't see the scene collapsing any time soon, either. He notes, "I thought a while ago that the scene hit a critical mass and that the bubble would burst, but there’s really no sign of it. As long as there’s the powers that be, whether it be the government or marketing people who litter public spaces with bullshit, there will be people like me who want to take the space back."

Check out more of De Feo's work at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 2009: Hebron, Connecticut, USA

I find street art in some odd places: winding up cooling vents, plastered on dumpsters, clinging to fire escapes. The thrill of finding art in unexpected locations drives my search. Last week, I found stickers in the most unusual place to date: my home town.
Hebron, Connecticut is a sleepy New England town. There are two stoplights, hundreds of acres of farmland, and nothing to do. To break up the monotony, the town holds two annual festivals. Taking the edge off of winter, the Maple Fest features sugar on snow, tours of sugar shacks, and other activities involving sucrose in sub-zero temperatures. According to the town's website, "winter can't end" until you've experienced it. However, I'm sure there have been years when, lacking snow, many Hebronians poured syrup on their hands and basked in the sugary goodness.
Hebron's other claim to fame is September's Harvest Fair. Traffic backs up the two main routes for miles as people come to watch the pig races, eat fried dough, and bet on the tractor pull. With a little luck, the rain holds out so the Charlie Daniels Band can play to a full field of people. When the fun's over, everyone starts counting the days until the Maple Fest arrives.
Don't get me wrong; Hebron was a pleasant town to grow up in. While lacking in diversity of any kind, the strong school system and nice folks made for a fine childhood. But this cookie cutter environment was not the place I expected to find today's photos. The other day, while I was filling my gas tank, I looked up to notice a pair of eyes staring back from the pump. Yipe!
Later on, I went to the post office to drop off some mail. To my surprise, the same face peered back from the mailbox! Fortunately, I put the car in park or I would've rolled the stop sign. Apparently, the sticker was designed by The Figurehead Experiment, a street artist from WILLIMANTIC?. What's the deal? Did he stick it up himself or did someone else do it? To the person sticking this man around town: I am receiving your transmissions and want answers! Where can I find you and when can we be friends?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

March 2007/2008: New York City

Today's post comes from my friend Meg in Boston, MA. Meg and I went to high school and ran track together. She's an amazing artist in her own right and takes great photos no matter the subject. Fortunately, some NYC street art caught her eye and she had her camera at the ready.

"I can't remember much about these, but they were cool enough to take pictures. 
The first one I took while walking around near my cousin's apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was in March of 2007 and I think this is near Bedford Ave. I really like rusty, broken down places that artists make their own."

"The second isn't exatly graffiti but you could call it street art. I liked how it was just a painted shoe hanging from a sign. It was on W. 24th St. in Chelsea outside all the galleries." 

"I went back to New York this summer. The last two images are also from W. 24th St. in Chelsea when I returned to visit the galleries. I think I noticed these walls when I was there the first time but I didn't take pictures. When I came back this summer, they were different but just as interesting. Good luck with your blog. I just got a Holga camera so I'm going to be experimenting with more photos. If I see any worthy street art i'll take a pic for ya."

Thanks, Meg! Hopefully, tomorrow's post will feature work from a most unlikely place: my hometown. Yipe!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 2009-Obamarama

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth."

"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction."

"This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

"For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

Because what else is there to talk about today? 

Cross your fingers for Ted Kennedy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

In The Headlines

Another birthday come and gone. This weekend, I've stuffed myself with food and drink, received heaps of Facebook birthday greetings, and bought myself a birthday present. Thanks to, I'll be hitting up London and Berlin come April. I'm pretty sure I'll need to be sedated between now and then because the excitement will be too much. Until then, I'll bide my time with this week's bumper crop of headlines. Pour one out for the homies. 

According to Gothamist, another bastion of street art is about to get the scrub.  

In Charleston, South Carolina, people get their panties all in a bunch about graffiti. Read the original editorial and the reader response.  

In Sydney, Australia, Denise Lichfield replaces wheatpaste with wool for her stringy street art creations.  

FTW Crew wants to make sure everyone in Berlin keeps it real with their large and in charge Photoshop images.  

Legendary site Wooster Collective launched Wooster Comix 1, a collection of graphic story telling dedicated to street art.  

In Sydney, Australia, Denise Lichfield replaces wheatpaste with wool for her stringy street art creations.  

FTW Crew wants to make sure everyone in Berlin keeps it real with their large and in charge Photoshop images.  

Legendary site Wooster Collective launched Wooster Comix 1, a collection of graphic story telling dedicated to street art.  

Over at ArtCal Zine, British artist Mike Marcus discusses Zionism, human rights, and, on occasion, his work

In Northern Ireland, konstABLE is unnerving the locals with his wheatpasted tribute to Sister Aloysius McVeigh.  

Can we get an ID on this Tyneside fella

Oh yeah, I guess a plane crashed into the Hudson last week. Who knew? 

Take a minute for MLK today.