Modern cities are like giant organisms that have their own pace and rhythm of “breathing”. And it comes as no surprise that they give birth to a whole visual language that embodies their essence – it’s street art.
Both New York graffiti world of 1970s and European streets of 1980s have seen various displays of what is called street art today. Not without good reason American artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat are considered to be one of the founders of painting on the street walls, as well as French Blek le Rat, who works in Paris since 1981. But post-graffiti, or street art, as a mass movement, as a cultural phenomenon, which flooded cities with various images, stencils and bright inscriptions, is, doubtlessly, a phenomenon of the 2000s.
During two last decades a real outburst of interest towards street-art appeared among various social groups – artists and art-lovers, like photographers, tourists, teenagers, who’re attracted by Banksy’s fame (With his “Exit Through The Gift Shop” he made more for street art popularization than anyone else). The phenomenon is constantly developing, gaining new features: the styles and technique get more diverse together with the growth of number of intriguing art projects, the number of the areas unofficially given by the municipal authorities for street-art (Williamsburg in New York, East-End in London, Kreuzberg in Berlin, Sternschanze in Hamburg).
Internet played a crucial role in shaping up street-art as a international phenomenon: thousands of webpages and groups in social networks, founded by lovers of urban art, help in establishing reputation of its participants and spreading information about their creations. The artists became very mobile – they actively communicate with their colleagues, fly over the oceans to paint walls in other cities. In some of them agencies even offer special “street-art tours” for those, who want to see particular works they’ve already seen in the Internet.
Despite communication between street-artists and galleries has never been easy, today it became almost a norm, mainly in the format of small exhibitions and sales of pieces, made on proper materials, or numerous catalogues with popular authors. And yet, a certain barrier between street-art and contemporary art in its institutional form remains. An artist face quite a few challenges placing their works in galleries or museums, while attempts to draw street art into the history of official art break main principles of street-art itself. Many participants of street art community, from thousands anonymous authors, who devote their free time to that passion, to tens internationally recognized artists, believe it’s exclusively street, that can be the place, material and inspiration for their work.
As many specialists notices, street art of the 2000s is really close to it predecessor – graffiti with all its diversity and complicated history. Moreover, it influences back on graffiti, prompting the latter to be more open and thematically-substantial. There’s no strict limits between graffiti and street art, but still street art is more symbolic and figurative, replacing an interesting and catchy lettering of graffiti with an eloquent image. Street art is defined by clear messages, addressed not to a narrow number of connoisseurs, but potentially to everybody; it strives for a spontaneous and efficient communication with a viewer in the urban environment.
At the same time street art is similar to graffiti in their pronouncedly non-profit and marginal (from the social point of view) character, since the creative process is connected with risk. The allurement of these spheres originates from the effect, produced by of watching the results of view illegal work, discovered by the first graffiti “writers” – New York boys from problem family, who stood on the subway platform and enjoyed watching how your name is floating by you.
Finally, graffiti and street art has the same scene – a city. They became an essential part of the urban visual culture, perhaps, one of its crucial “symptoms”. Street art shapes up an opposition to the vapidity and importunity of the street publicity, suggesting a sort of a game that is meant to involve citizens and provoke thoughts about the place they live in. They dare to break the borders and demonstrate absurdity in the surrounding areas, trying to use funny or morbid characters to attract our attention to a certain range of problems.
Street art isn’t merely a bomb that flies from the poorest suburbs to the richest neighborhoods, like it was shown in Florian Gaag’s film “Wholetrain” – it is an analytical instrument that enables transforming of the urban environment and overcoming its estrangement, peculiar for its democratic spirit and dialogic tone. Banksy is perceived like an official “speaker” of street art world, since her occurred the most successful and well-promoted author. His powerful messages, like a telephone cabin hacked with an axe, kissing policemen or a terrorist throwing flowers instead of bomb, stenciled on the wall, that divides Israel and Palestine, – all of them are recognized for their critical and ironic view on contemporary social processes.
In addition, one of the most interesting aspects of urban art is connected with its ephemerality. Street art “gangs” are very short lived, as well as their pieces that can be washed away, painted over or destroyed any minute. When it comes to “archiving” street art, authors rely on new medias, as the main forms, in which they’re preserved, are photos, made by viewers or an artist himself. Street art shapes a new type of the audience, demanding from it nothing, except from open-mindness. Thus a new sort of freedom in urban culture is born.
More and more people join every year to that “regime of liberty”. Potentially anyone can be a street artist, however it still has to overcome certain prejudice that still exists against it in some parts of the society. Or, probably, it should remain faithful to itself as a source of that rebellion spirit that push the borders, give food to thoughts and indicates major social issues.
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