Archive for the ‘C215’ Tag

Berlin’s visitors….

As I mentioned before, I’ve recently been visiting Berlin. Like many cities with a reputation for interesting street art, Berlin attracts a wide range of artists who pass through the city for a short time and leave their work on the walls. So I thought I’d put up a selection of images by people who, like me, have been visitors to Berlin.

In the first few days that I was there, I went to see the Kunsthaus Tacheles, a massive building famed for its history as a squat and now as a centre for creative activity (although to me its atmosphere of hippie-chic cool seemed a little contrived and also somewhat dated…). On its external wall there’s a huge work by one of my favourite French artists, Yz (also known as Open Your Eyes) – and above it is the tag of one of Melbourne’s most prolific graffers, Bones (whose tag, along with those of other members of the 70K crew, I saw all over Berlin):

Here’s a small cat by C215, almost hidden in a corner to the rear of the building currently occupied by Kunstlerhaus Bethanien.

Bethanien is inextricably associated with Backjumps, the creative venture of Adrian Nabi, who over several years produced magazines and curated exhibitions and cultural events in Berlin, involving artists who work in public space. Over the years, artists such as Swoon, the London Police, Nomad, Brad Downey, Dave the Chimp and many other exhibited in Berlin under the Backjumps aegis. Part of the Backjumps events involved the curation of walls around the Kreuzberg area of Berlin for the display of works which would remain after the events were over. Here are a couple of examples, one from os gemeos and one from the London Police:

The area of Friedrichshain is also well known for its art on the streets, and the warren of bars, warehouses and skate park on Revaler Strasse contains hundreds of pieces, some commissioned, some added spontaneously. Amid a riot of tags, stencil, paste-ups and pieces near the Cassiopeia skate park I found a piece by Orticanoodles, with – once again – a tag by Bones accompanying it:

The River Spree constitutes a boundary between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, and as you travel over the Oberbaumbrucke (a wonderfully gothic looking bridge), the landscape is dominated by a massive piece by Blu, one of a number he has done in the city. Here’s a close up of the work:

Roa, the Belgian artist who has been achieving a lot of well-deserved attention recently, was in Berlin while I was there, and produced some fantastic work, such as this:

I also saw some old pieces in Kreuzberg by the French artist Nelio, whose work I admire greatly for its beautiful placement within any particular space (and which I’ve written about previously on this blog, see here). Here’s one:

And on my last night in Berlin, as I walked down Danen Strasse in Prenzlauer Berg to go back to my apartment, I discovered that Nelio must have been visiting Berlin once again, since a new piece had appeared:

It was nice to think that the phenomenon of artists making visits to this amazing city and contributing to the flux of images in public space was continuing, even as I was about to leave….

Refiguring the Walls of Paris

Street art and graffiti, when spoken about by those who don’t enjoy the experience of discovering unauthorised art in city spaces, are sometimes said to deface the walls of the streets in which they are found. Calling it ‘defacement’ is a way of saying ‘damage to property’, of course, but interestingly, when street art’s detractors want to focus on the question of purely physical damage to property, they usually use the term ‘vandalism’. So the term ‘defacement’ seems to speak to something else, as though the walls of the city have an outward face, which has been altered, spoiled, or even destroyed by the artwork – literally de-faced. (There’ an excellent book on the concept of defacement by Michael Taussig, if you are interested in thinking more along these lines…)

Thinking of city walls in this way sounds odd, until we start thinking of how we are quite accustomed to speaking of the facade of a building, for example; both ‘facade’ and ‘face’ share the same root, from facia (face) in Latin.

On my way home from Paris to Melbourne, I was thinking about the term ‘defacement’ and how it gets used as a negative descriptor of street art and graffiti (well, it’s a long, long flight, you have many hours in which to ponder these things). If walls have faces that can be ‘damaged’, then that sets the street artwork up as operating as a form of disfigurement.

[If you don't look at street art as a form of disfigurement, then of course the addition of artworks to the city walls by its artists can be construed in many, positive lights (as written about in previous posts on this blog): as a gift, as a contribution to the community, as a means of beautification of drab spaces, as a form of communication between the artist and other members of the community, and as a means of celebrating the city itself.]

It seemed particularly fitting to me to think through the idea of street art and graffiti as a form of defacement and disfigurement after having spent two weeks in Paris this May. I spent hours walking through the streets and saw some amazing and inspiring work. One of the things that was striking about it is the preponderance of figurative work: there are hundreds of portraits by dozens of artists adorning the walls of Paris, and here is a selection of some of the ones I enjoyed most.

Here’s a section of a large work by the Vancouver-based artist Indigo:

One of the curving black figures created by FKDL:

A beautifully placed image by C215:

The incomparable Miss.Tic, making stencils since the mid-1980s:

Two works, dancing together. The corps blanc, or white figure, is by Jerome Mesnager, the female figure is by Jef Aerosol, both also veterans of the French scene:

And here is one of Nemo’s typically segmented scenes, in which a dark silhouetted figure tumbles through various scenes against a backdrop of sandstone:

As a graduate student, much of my time was spent reading the work of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (and since becoming an academic, a lot of my time is spent teaching his work too), so it was a great pleasure to come across his face on a number of walls, placed there by the stencil artist PITR:

And I was fortunate enough to catch some freshly painted stencil works by Jana und JS, stunning in their photorealistic detail:

Finally, a slightly different kind of portrait, that of the grinning yellow cat made famous by Monsieur Chat. These cats apparently bound across many of Paris’s rooftops, but I caught sight of only one. You can just see its Cheshire-cat happiness high above the street, beaming down at the passers-by:

It’s easy to find this kind of street art appealing: well-executed images in bright colours, skillfully applied in well thought-out spaces. What’s not to like? Who could call these images a disfigurement of the walls? But I think that what I saw in Paris was more than just a negation of the criticism of street art’s detractors. And so I’ll say this: instead of simply being not-disfigurements, these works actively re-figure the streets of Paris, opening for the passer-by moments of narrative and instances of beauty where previously none had existed.

Lapse of Time, Shift in Space: Street Art in Brooklyn

In the last several years, there has been a shift in the location of much of New York’s street art. This is not to say that there is no street art in Manhattan: one of the reasons for writing the previous entry was to emphasise that people are still putting up work in Manhattan and that areas such as the Lower East Side, the East Village, NoLita and SoHo are still easily able to be distinguished from areas such as the upper West Side of Midtown by virtue of the ways in which people interact positively and creatively with the spaces around them.

But a shift has definitely taken place, and it’s a geographical one, driven by economics. Gentrification of the areas which had been prime sites for street art has meant that many artists have been compelled to seek studios and/or accommodation in other places. Those other places seem, in the most part, to be in Brooklyn (as can regularly be seen through posts on the sites Brooklyn Street Art, Wooster Collective, Hyperallergic and Arrested Motion).

I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that gentrification is necessarily the Big Bad. It’s a process, it’s economically driven (which usually means profit for some development corporation) and it can mean that many people get displaced, having to move from an area that has been their home for many years into other parts of town, often ‘further out': at a greater distance from cultural, educational or other amenities (unless the areas they move to have already been fortunate enough to be enriched with those amenities). But gentrification also can have its benefits: for the traders and shop owners whose businesses may well start to make more money instead of struggling to survive, for the people who get jobs in the service industries that are required by a gentrified area, and for those who live in or pass through an area which had previously been troubled or rundown.

So it’s a complicated issue, one I can’t possibly do justice to here. And it’s an ongoing one: people I spoke to in Brooklyn spoke of how they were being obliged, by virtue of rising rents to move; at the same time, the economic downturn has meant that many development projects have been halted, with construction sites now standing idle (and providing useful canvasses for artists on their walls and hoardings).

Thanks to gentrification, I was also able to discover more of Brooklyn than I’d previously visited. I have been visiting Park Slope for many years because friends live there, but Park Slope is not where the street art is. So on this trip, I was given the opportunity to go to Greenpoint, Kensington, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

Williamsburg, as is well known to many readers, has been a hub for street artists for some years now. For anyone visiting New York, it would certainly be where I would suggest starting out: you can spend hours walking around its streets, and there’s a rapid turnover of work, which keeps things extremely fresh, at the same time as you can enjoy deciphering faded and tattered wheatpastes that are on their way to disappearing (the remnants of work by Faile, Swoon, Imminent Disaster and more can be seen in fragments on the walls).

But beyond Williamsburg there’s still much to see. there are some excellent galleries such as Mighty Tanaka in DUMBO, the Willoughby Windows in downtown Brooklyn, curated by Ad Hoc Art, Brooklynite gallery in Bedford-Stuy, Pandemic gallery, and the awesome Factory Fresh, run by Ali Ha and Ad DeVille, proprietors of the old Orchard Street Gallery in the Lower East Side.

And here’s a selection of what was on the walls and hoardings around town. I was particularly interested to see the use of objects, fabrics and other media, including (of course) moss:

There’s some great drawing going on: Ohm, as can be seen on the left of this picture, has a nice hand:

This is a section of a permitted work, but it showcases the beautiful art of Gaia:

And QRST’s figures (all different) are excellent. This one is in Bushwick, opposite Factory Fresh:

Here’s an Ellis G shadow figure, just off Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg:

Lots of visiting artists have been here: there are works by C215, os gemeos, and in the third and fourth pictures you can see the work of artists that I’m told are a French duo (she does the oval portraits which are placed high on a doorway; her male collaborator makes the small wheatpastes of female figures which are placed on the lower sections of doorways. If anyone knows anything about these artists, I would love to hear from you – I really enjoyed seeing these works).

I’m typing this while waiting to go to the airport, to fly back to Melbourne. Fortunately, my flight is heading in the opposite direction to the volcanic ash cloud which is causing chaos for people in Europe. And while I’m looking forward to going home (I’m always happy to go back to Melbourne, the city which I love to live in more than all others), it would also be true to say that I feel sad to leave New York. It has been an utterly inspiring visit here: from the smallest sticker on a mail box to the largest wheatpaste on a hoarding. Thanks to everyone here who made my trip so fantastic: Jared and Tanley from Arrested Motion, Marc and Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective, Ali and Ad from Factory Fresh, Swoon, Jose Parla, Steve and Jaime from Brooklyn Street Art, Garrison from Ad Hoc Art, Elbow-Toe, Logan Hicks, Hrag Vartanian and the folks at Hyperallergic, Nick Riggle, and of course my friends Richard, Gilda, Christine, Tom, Matt, and Jill.

And now it’s true to say that not only do I heart NY, but also that I heart Brooklyn.

Losing the image

I’m in London right now, and yesterday I went to Shoreditch, to meet with a gallerist. The area is filled with street art, so, after the meeting I went walking, to see what was on the walls. I had spent a day doing this when I was visiting in July, and had come across some fantastic images.

I thought I would revisit one of these, a work by the French artist C215. It’s the image I used to accompany the very first post on this blog (see ‘inaugurations’). It was a diptych, portraits of two children, each one filling a small tiled panel low down on the outside of a pub. I had come across it by accident, in the way that sometimes happens, and which makes the artwork really feel like a gift. The pub was on Leonard Street, and a tiny side street connected Leonard Street to Willow Street. Walking down this side street, I had suddenly seen this image, quietly and perfectly placed close to the ground.

Yesterday, I walked purposefully to find it, almost as if I wanted to say hello to an old friend. But it was gone.

The tiled panels had been buffed – whether by the council or by the pub’s owners, I don’t know.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of loss I experienced in seeing it had gone. It was much more than a momentary flicker of disappointment, much more than any sense of annoyance at my objective being thwarted by circumstances. I actually felt quite disoriented by its absence – I found myself looking around, as though to check whether the image might have migrated somewhere else nearby. I felt really, deeply, saddened by its disappearance, and it’s a feeling that resurfaces now, when I think about those blank panels.

I’m not sure why. Images on the street come and go, right? It’s meant to be ephemeral. I know all that. But clearly I had become attached to that image – maybe because I admire C215’s work generally, maybe because that particular image seemed so perfectly placed. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched a really excellent video on YouTube (by romanywg) which shows C215 putting his work up in London, probably at the time he did this image:

Maybe it’s because when I came across it back in July it had that fantastic sense of being a gift from the artist to the passerby, to the spectator – to the city.

At any rate, it’s gone, and I feel its loss. I photographed its absence, and here is what that looks like:


Images appear and images disappear. Their disappearance says something about time, and its passing. The way we respond to the loss of an image on a wall says something about how we see street art itself – do we celebrate the empty space, as the opponents of graffiti and street art do? Do we plan the next image for that empty space, as an artist might do? Do we mourn the loss of an image?

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