Banksy is, of course, the first name that comes to mind. But think street art and hyper energetic youth in poor neighbourhoods with cans of aerosol paints come to mind. Seen by many as vandalism though a cheeky slogan here and there can raise a chuckle, street art has moved from its gritty inner city roots to become legitimate tourist attractions in cities across the globe each with its own cultural stamp. The ethos remains the same. So far. It is still the voice of the unseen, from the fringes, outside the picket fences, telling the truth, commenting on the state of the world as they see it. Politically charged, witty, humorous, ironic, irreverent, fantastical, fearless. And – sudden. Street art has a stop and stare quality because the best of it appears out of nowhere and can spin you around with its message or sheer scale and awesomeness. Very often the environment suggests the art and becomes the canvas for it. For instance, loose bricks in a wall become jagged teeth when an artist paints a face around them. This other sight is what makes street art magical.
Street art is free. You don’t need to buy a ticket to view it, you don’t need expensive material to make it. You don’t need the support of a guild or the approval of a gallery. It is art for all and not a privileged elite, with their norms and acceptance levels in an unfairly designed world. Therefore, almost always street art astonishes with its scope, inventiveness and with most things born in the street, it is the shape of things to come. It is where the protests come from, unfair practices are satirically brought to light, where gentle irony raises an eyebrow at the absurdities of the way we choose to live. When society’s away the artist will play. And we’re all the richer for it.
Experiments with styles and forms and materials lead to the creation of the inconceivable. Like the multimedia rainbow origami created by street artist Marie Saudin otherwise known as Madamemoiselle Maurice which arcs over the façade of a medieval French church. She loves the idea of no boundaries to her imagination and bringing art to all. Such a sight is a delight to say the least. Saudin’s rainbow origami can now be seen all over the world cheering up psychiatric wards or adding to the already vibrant character of London subway stations.
Much loved Portuguese street artist, Artur Bordalo, uses trash to talk about trash and its ill effects on the environment creating wondrous installations of animals directly affected by our polluting ways. His explosive art pieces while arresting the eye engage the mind to ask important questions about the choices we are making as a society.
The environment is the canvas. Some of Bordalo’s visions such as his railway series that turns railway tracks into musical bars on to which he paints giant treble clefs stop the heart with their daring beauty and power.
Micheal Pederson is Australian and his work displays an Aussie sense of humour and casual dismissal of authority. He likes to subvert urban signage with jokey ones of his own that have an underlying seriousness like the mini art gallery rope barrier that protects a lone dandelion growing out of a regular red brick city wall. A serious and official sign hangs overhead with the following polite instruction: Please Do Not Touch. Another one in front of a park depicts a scale of 5 degrees with a heading: Solitude Rate For this Park with the scale marked 4 out of 5. His work is unpredictable, funny and at the same time a poignant and serious questioning of the way we live.
Russian street artist, Nomerz, resurrects old abandoned buildings or industrial leftovers in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod with giant faces or a pair of staring eyes. Buildings and structures suggest who they will become and Nomerz brings them to life with faces that stare, smile toothily with jagged brick teeth that look like strange people out of a fairy tale book.
Street art around the world tells us much about a people and a place as much as food does. It tells us about the parts of us that convention neatly hides away. It is as a large a canvas as there are surfaces. It represents an open consciousness and true communion with others. Street art is a direct line to the neighbourhood, from one artist to all. For the inhabitants there is the joy of being communicated with, of discovery, of a secret counter cultural idea that thrills and releases us from the many prisons we create for ourselves.
By Malini Aikat