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.

6 comments so far

  1. RASH on

    Thanks for the NY update! I am curious A, do you travel with a bunch of stickers?

  2. CherylAnneNY on

    This is so fantastic. As a denizen of the Upper West Side, I can attest to an appalling lack of street art…. Great project and great photos

  3. Mamma Taz on

    Good old home town.

  4. gp on

    neat
    that last image is from kid acne (eng)

    one of my all time favourites
    a big influence on me

    http://kidacne.com/

  5. imagestoliveby on

    Thanks, ‘Rash’. Why, have you seen stickers that look like they might have been put up by me? I don’t travel with stickers – not to date, anyway…

  6. imagestoliveby on

    Hi gp

    You are right – it’s Kid Acne. So: not a French duo, as I had been told! Anyone else know anything about the person making the oval images? They were always in the same locations as the Kid Acne ones.


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