Cities – A blank canvas | Graffiti | Street Art

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  An essay on the use of the city as a canvas by various grafitti or street artists and how this serves to bring art to a wider audience than gallery shows.
  CitiesA blank canvas ‘The problem with galleries is that… 99% of urban artists use urban art as a stepping  stone into the galleries. It’s a fatal error because in galleries they’re seen by 40 people, in museums they’re seen by 10 people, but in the streets they’re seen by100,000 people. And that’s the integrity of an artist’s work: to be seen. Not be sold or to be recognized in a museum—but to be seen by the world.’  -   Blek le Rat I like the idea you can stumble across art in any environment, not just a gallery - youcan walk along the street and find a painting” – Adam Neate Art is not to decorate apartment walls but to wage war against the enemy. - PicassoArt is often considered to be rather elitist in its nature due to the exclusivity of someshows and the high price of srcinal works and the work of artists outside this closecircle being frowned upon. This has created a strange culture in the art world in whichart is seen more as a investment than a exhibition of talent or skill which effectivelyrenders beautiful works of artists such as Monet worthless sentimentally and simplyrich in the financial sense. Through the use of the city as a canvas, which isn’t limitedto exhibitions or galleries, art is becoming more accessible to the public. Artists, suchas Banksy or Keith Haring, see the city as just another medium to manipulate and onethat has the ability to expand their viewing demographic to a great extent. Thecontemporary emphasis on the need for public space creates great opportunities for aspiring artists and means they have the availability to pass their message onto amuch wider audience than at an exhibition or gallery.The main use of the city as a blank canvas is through stencilism, which is a relativelyquick and easy way to spread a message that essentially involves cutting out shapes,words or pictures from card or a similar material then spraying the stencil with spray paint onto the nearest wall. This process can be used to spread a message in very littletime and an effective artist could spray and disappear in a matter of minutes. The mostBen Gore- 1 - QuickTimeª and adecompressorare needed to see this picture.  famous of these artists is Banksy, whose satirical work mocks everything from popculture to the institute of art itself.Banksy’s work has been produced around the world, most notably on theIsraeli wall, and varies from stencils on street corners to ‘guerilla exhibitions’, inwhich he placed his own work upon walls in various art galleries without permission.The photo above is of one of Banksy’s works, which portrays what appears to be aclassically stereotyped artist holding a palette who seems to be painting a cartoonised penis upon a wall. This piece serves to satirise the institution of art in the sense that itis mocking the detiriorisation of the definition of art and could possibly be satirizingartists such as Tracey Emin or Damien Hurst who, it could be argued, don’t producewhat many people classify as art. Furthermore the piece seems to represent anyonewho creates graffiti as an artist themselves in their own right. The piece has been produced on a wall through the technique of stencilism. It appears that he has usedroughly 6 stencils; one for each of the colours used and adapted the graffiti, which itappears, was already in place. The style of stenciling and the way the subject matter is portrayed is reminiscent of earlier graffiti artists, such as Blek Le Rat, evident in thelayered approach, high contrast imagery and the way shadows are used.Blek Le Rat is a French artist, a major influence on the modern graffiti movement, began painting in 1981 drawing upon his influence from his desire to bring art to the people and comment upon the collective social conscious. Banksy acknowledged hisinfluence stating that ‘every time I think I’ve painted something slightly srcinal, Ifind out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier’. Blek’sstencils are very clear cut with a strong use of light and dark and are often placed soas to blend in with the environment.The above is a photo of a work by Blek Le Rat, which depicts a homeless mansleeping on the roof of a buildingwithBen Gore- 2 - QuickTimeª and adecompressorare needed to see this picture.  his dog. The work has been produced using a 2-layered stencil, one for each of thecolors, and then sprayed using spray paint to create a strong contrast between lightand shadow. The piece seems to highlight the problem of the homeless in France, the birthplace of the artist, and implies that the streets are so filled with the homeless thatthey must resort to roofs as a place for rest. There also seems to be an underlyingtheme of companionship as is evident in the manner that the dog holds himself aroundthe man, which illustrates a powerful bond between animal and human as they onlyreally have each other to rely on. The artist of the piece has used the city as his canvasto impose his beliefs and make a socio-political comment about the problem of homelessness. Furthermore this piece is not as commercial as other works of stencilism because as opposed to being on the wall of a street in which thousands of  people would pass each day it is in a select location to enhance the poignancy of themessage.The use of stencils as a commentary on the wrongs of society is a very popular technique. The Norwegian artist DOLK, or Dolk Lundgren, is one notable for usingsuch techniques and turning previously innocent walls into powerful politicalmessages. Frustratingly his work is often confused with that of Banksy in that the wayhe approaches his subject and the way he uses stencils is very similar but his work seems to be slightly less light hearted.The photo below is of a work by DOLK that was created on canvas using a one-layer stencil and was then hung on a nail on a wall in the street. The style of stenciling, theuse of shadows and sharp lines, is very similar to that of Banksy and Blek Le Rat butunlike the other two the artist has tagged the piece to make sure that he himself isgiven credit for the work. The srcinal image above, which the piece is drawn from,Ben Gore- 3 - QuickTimeª and adecompressorare needed to see this picture.  depicts a man about to get shot in the head during the Vietnam War and was a verysignificant image in the various protest movements against the war. The piece depictsa man holding a water sprayer, which he is spraying at a man whose head is a flower.It seems to be a protest against the inhumane treatment of humans and the disgust thatactions such as these create. The fact that the head of the man, who was getting shot in the srcinal image, isthat of a flower serves to show how ridiculous suchvenomous acts of violence are but the shapes usedmake it appear as though the man’s head is getting blown off which almost serves to catch the attention of any passers-by and initially shock them. This piece isvery similar to a piece by Banksy in the manner that itsatirizes violence through the use of almost surreal props, here a gun is replaced by a water sprayer and inthe Banksy piece a brick is replaced with a bouquet of flowers, as shown on the right.The city can be used as a canvas in various other ways with some artists choosing toturn nearby walls into their own public exhibition. Artists, such as Adam Neate,simply take pleasure in the creation of works of art and after finishing a piece theywill put a nail in a wall somewhere and hang their painting for all to see. In a similar manner to stencilism, this is a way of getting your art seen and appreciated by thelargest audience and a way to bypass the charade of exhibiting in a gallery. Thismethod is also very free as if you are simply putting your pictures where you like youdon’t have to worry about appealing to a particular audience or fitting with a gallery’sgenre of art. This concept is almost anti-art as to give away for free what theestablishment encourages you to pay to view at galleries is almost self-destructive anddoes suggest that he must earn enough money to be able to support his hobby but asBen Gore- 4 - QuickTimeª and adecompressorare needed to see this picture.
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