Street-Art: The Art of Change

Street art has revolutionised the art scene, redesigned the face of countless cities and triggered both large and small-scale changes around the globe. No art form is better representative of our topic “Change”, the overall theme running through this edition of TWELVE.

 

They greet us from house façades and walls, bring grey concrete columns to life, endow faceless electrical substations and construction fencing around building sites with unexpected aesthetic qualities and take us by surprise in unexpected locations. Street art is nonconformist, joyously experimental and, for many, is seen as the most lively and imaginative contemporary art form. Hardly anything embodies the topos of change in such myriad ways as street art. And in this sense, the street art exhibition “Magic City – the Art of the Streets”, which took place during the spring and summer of 2017 in Munich’s Olympiapark, declared: “Street art can transform grey walls into colour, make walls collapse, offer a promise of change, for a better future, shouting, whispering, provoking, stimulating new ideas or by simply bringing pleasure.” I couldn’t think of a better way of putting it.

Changing urban spaces

Street art adds visual highlights to the world’s metropolises, whether New York, Berlin, London, Melbourne or Buenos Aires. Even a lot of smaller cities like Marseille, Belfast, Rotterdam, Mannheim and Thessaloniki are seen as veritable street art hotspots – with these street artworks they have been given an aesthetic facelift or, as in Granada, have surprised us by revealing a new and, until now, unknown side.

The birthplace of street art was – where else? – New York where a huge graffiti boom was unleashed during the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, star artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat created large-scale artworks on the façades of buildings. While the street art pioneers concentrated on walls and train carriages, artists today have extended the radius of their activity to encompass the whole city. With incredible 3D illusions, sculptures and miniature worlds, monumental murals and multi-media installations, they have conquered the whole urban space, and changed the cityscape with it. The trend of urban knitting is seeing lampposts, street signposts, bridge railings and tree trunks being decorated or completely covered with cheerful, brightly knitted accessories. And adbusting is the process of altering advertising hoardings and billboards by sticking new panels over them, or by subverting their original messages.

Street artists aim to surprise passers-by with their alterations to the cityscape. Unimaginative architecture, bins, electrical substations, gloomy subways, construction site panels – not only is the aesthetic aspect of the urban environment transformed through these imaginative, humorous or provocative works of art, but they are given a new content that makes people reflect and, according to the creator’s intention, amazes them, makes them laugh or think about the artist’s message. These everyday elements of street scenery are endowed with a quality that goes beyond their essential function and in this way the artist is consciously questioning contemporary city space.

A change in artistic perception

On the one hand, street art does away with the strict separation between everyday city life and its infrastructure and, on the other, the reception of art within a clearly demarcated zone. These often entertaining or politically motivated works can be encountered anywhere, but not in traditional art venues: museums. In this way, art is made accessible to everyone. It can be appreciated in a different way and encountered everywhere, by chance or literally in passing. The trepidation that some people have in visiting galleries is not a factor with this kind of art. Street art therefore reaches people of all ages, every social class, from different backgrounds and educations.

You can discover street art on the way to the office, school, out shopping or while waiting for a bus. In Hamburg’s city centre, for instance, artists have begun a small series of street art interventions: using chalk, they have divided the waiting areas of several bus stops into two, challenging the waiting passengers to choose one of the two areas, for instance, “I love animals” or “I love meat”. In this way street art can, for a moment, awaken people from their reverie or their daily routines, encouraging them to interact with the artwork and the message behind it. Food for thought “to-go”, so to speak. The idea of these Hamburg artists is to demonstrate that street art brings about change, but also is itself subject to this process of change and is not created for eternity. Street art is predominantly an art form for the moment, or for a limited timespan that cannot always be determined by the artists themselves. How a work of art changes and when it disappears will be decided by the city’s cleaning staff, wind and weather and sometimes also the demolition ball.

Changes in society

Artworks in a public space change our image of the city. But they can also demand change. Unlike in the case of classic graffiti, today’s artists are not interested in marking out their territory with so-called tags. Their works are rather statements about contemporary social and political subjects or content within the urban space. With his street art project “Splash and Burn”, the Malayan-based Lithuanian artist, Ernest “ZACH” Zacharevic, for instance, is protesting the destruction of the natural world. During the Arab Spring, Egyptian street artists transformed whole streets of grey, concrete Cairo into a colourful open-air gallery.

With their art, street artists, like graphic designer and art historian Bahia Shehab whose works can now be found in galleries in countries including Germany, China and Italy, wanted to lend support to the revolution and make a contribution to the democratic transformation. As in Cairo, everywhere else in the Arab world, whether in Tunis, Alexandria or Tripoli, walls and buildings have become canvases on which the street artists gave artistic and irresistible expression to their demands for reform. With her bright and colourful crochet work, the Polish-born, US-based Agata Oleksiak, alias Olek has been directing people’s attention to the world’s problems, whether pollution, human and women’s rights or Donald Trump, for over ten years now. In her works of art, cars, entire apartments and even living people disappear under her crocheting thread. She has also given the famous Wall Street bulls (see our cover) a crocheted coat with bright pink patches. Like Olek, street artists around the world are standing up to dictatorships, injustice, racism and sexism. The art of change – for a better world.

“Change” is also the topic we have devoted this edition of TWELVE to. And, as always, we don’t just want to communicate our chief topic through inspiring articles, but also exceptional visual design. For this reason, alongside Olek, we have invited other exciting street artists to open each of the twelve chapters of TWELVE with one of their artworks.

Hera + Akut – Herakut

Chapters 1, 5 and 11

German street art duo Hera and Akut began their fruitful partnership in 2004, having worked together on various successful global art projects. Their artworks can be found in big cities around the world – from Toronto to Kathmandu and San Francisco to Melbourne. Their joint creative process is dialogical, amongst themselves, as well as towards the outside world. It’s about storytelling, the creation of imaginary worlds and inspiring their figures with individual characters. Hera sets the characters’ form and proportions, whilst Akut paints the photorealistic elements. The further process is determined jointly by the two artists. Together they experiment with different formats, materials and methods. The ‘natural home’ of their artworks is the public space, where everyone can take a break from the city buzz and pause in front of one of their massive murals. Their gallery pieces, installations and canvases are characterised by the exceptional artists’ narrative style and ability to lead the viewer into their imaginations.

Web: www.herakut.de

Instagram: @herakut

Ernest „ZACH“ Zacharevic

Chapters 3 and 9

By fusing the physical world with his imagination, Ernest Zacharevic, better known as ZACH, makes street art that is realistic but creative. The Lithuanian-born artist combines fine art techniques with a passion for creating art outdoors. Experimentation lies at the heart of his style, with the only constant being the dedication to his ever-changing concepts. He removes the restriction of artistic boundaries, moving freely between the disciplines of oil painting, stencil and spray, installation and sculpture, producing dynamic compositions both inside and outside of the gallery space. Ernest’s primary interest is in the relationship between art and the urban landscape, with concepts often evolving as part of a spontaneous response to the immediate environment, the community and culture. He is based in Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia.

ICY and SOT

Chapters 4 and 6

ICY (born in 1985) and SOT (born in 1991) are artists from Tabriz, Iran. The two brothers started stencilling in 2006 and have contributed to Iranian and international urban art culture with their murals, interventions, videos and installations depicting human rights, capitalism, ecological justice and social and political issues. They transcend their histories of artistic and political censorship by using public art to envision a world freed from borders, war and violence. Their work appears on walls and in galleries throughout Iran, but also globally in countries like the USA, Germany, China and Norway. The Iranian government saw their messages to be “politically disruptive” and accused them of “Satanism”. After this, the consequences became far too dangerous, causing them to leave their home country. Since 2012, ICY and SOT have been based in Brooklyn, New York.

Web: www.icyandsot.com

Instagram: @icyandsot

JPS

Chapters 2 and 8

JPS is a British street artist from the south west of England. Back in 2009 he was homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol. He decided to face these addictions and seek help. This was also when he started to teach himself street art. Since then his life has changed for the better dramatically. JPS has artworks all over his home town of Weston and local businesses even hand out maps of their locations. His work can also be seen in the city of Stavanger in Norway and has been featured in TV ads, newspapers and street art books. He has had successful solo shows in Bristol and on the island of Utsira. These days he remains clean from drink and drugs and has moved to Germany to live with his fiancée Steffi who is also a street artist (PZY). JPS is currently preparing for his biggest show to date, a solo exhibition in downtown Manhattan, New York.

Web: www.jpsart.co.uk

Instagram: @jps_artist

OAKOAK

Chapter 10

Since 2006, the streets have been OAKOAK’s favourite playground. The French street artist likes to play with urban elements and has an eye for the details most people ignore. He likes to create poetic and often funny characters and situations on mundane urban elements, hoping to put a smile on the faces of passers-by. OAKOAK draws his inspiration from 80s and 90s pop and geek culture. In 2015 and 2016, he did some street art in Amsterdam for Schiphol Airport and the Street Art Museum Amsterdam, and in Puerto de la Cruz, Spain, for Puerto Street Art. His first exhibition was organised by The Outsiders Gallery in Newcastle, England, in 2012. Since then, he has had several solo shows in France and the USA. His work has been published in street art books and magazines such as Urban Interventions, Gestalten and GraffitiArt Magazine.

Sérgio Odeith

Chapter 12

Born in Damaia, Portugal, in 1976, Odeith held a spray can for the first time in the mid-1980s. From an early age he showed a special interest in perspective and shading in an obscure style, which he later called “sombre 3D”, where the compositions, landscapes, portraits or messages stood out for their realism and technique. In 2005, Odeith gained international recognition for his ground-breaking incursions in the anamorphic art field, standing out for his compositions created in perspective and painted on different surfaces, generating an optical illusion effect. He created large-scale murals for major enterprises such as the London Shell restaurant, the Coca-Cola Company and Samsung. His work has been shown at the MuBE – Brazilian Museum for Sculpture in São Paulo, and at the first Bienal del Sur in Panamá, among others. The painter and muralist lives in Lisbon.

Web: www.odeith.com

Instagram: @odeith

Skurktur

Chapter 7

Skurktur is a full-service illustration and graphic design studio currently based in Trondheim, Norway, and Berlin, Germany. The studio was founded by Arne Sigmund Skeie and Emil Khoury in 2009. Born in Bergen and Vestby, the duo first met on their industrial design degree at NTNU and started the art collective as an incentive for creating projects related to street art. Arne and Emil have since developed their art to become Trondheim’s predominate illustrators and the studio has evolved to serve a wide range of corporate and independent clients. Working in the intersection between analogue and digital techniques, Skurktur combines elements of ink drawing, spray painting and printmaking along with digital editing software throughout the design process to tell visual stories that last.

Web: www.skurktur.com

Instagram: @skurktur

Other articles in this chapter