On streetart – right after two grand premieres

At he beginning of this month, one of my favourite publishing houses has released an unusual guide, which, instead of describing places, deals with a certain phenomenon – street art. I’ve hapened upon it, while ordering books on places I’m planning to visit. Instantly, I added it to my cart. I was dying to see it, compare it to my experience with street art hunting and to look for inspiration for another street art themed trip. I was also curious about the way the author managed to deal with this broad subject.

Another reason, why I’m writing this was a screening of a documentary – „Saving Banksy”. I had a chance to see the film on 15th April at Arnolfini. After the screening, a meeting was held, where you could talk to the director and camera operator, Colin Day, but also meet the Ed Bartlett, the author of the aforementioned guide. Ed Bartlett is considered a modern guru of street art, also known as Blek le Rat.

Ed Bartlett i Colin Day

Street Art

Before I share my imperssions, I’d like to tell you a couple of things about street art. It’s been a part of the mainstream contemporary art for a while now. Although everyone has heard of it, or seen a few examples of street art, its understanding varies between observers. For me street art encompasses every kind of artistic activity in public space, all effects of said activity, available for everyone to enjoy. To get a better grasp at the history of street art both in Poland and worldwide, I recommend reading the article Street art in Poland by Marcin Rutkiewicz, published in ZNAK. The author is an expert on street art – he knows, what he’s talking about and can do so in an interesting way. I don’t want to repeat his opinions here, although I wholeheartedly agree with him. The article by Rutkiewicz deals with two, in my opinion, essential topics – graffiti and its relation with street art; and graffiti as an integral part of the place, where it was created.

It is common for people fond of street art to regard graffiti as but an act of vandalism. Such people forget, that there would be no street art without graffiti and that there’s a thin line between art and vandalism. All those middle-aged men, nowadays regared as artists, were once kids with markers and spray cans in their backpacks. Back then, much like today’s youth, they didn’t care, what the society has to say about them and what they’re doing. Street art is not just the act of painting – setting the stage is equally important. Mind you, most masterpieces of street art were – and still are – created illegally. These works are not devoid of any contact with reality. To the contrary, the place, where they were created is integral to them. They showcase particular styles, contain shout outs to the history of their „birthplace” and the people, who created them. They are a form of dialogue with other social groups. I’m planning on making a separate article on specific street artists, their style and activities. It is a broad subject and even Ed Bartlett called his book „more of a guideline, than a compendium”.

Street Art guide by Lonely Planet

I don’t know how, but they did it. For a paltry sum we get a beautiful edition of the guide. Hardcover, with a matt dust cover and quality paper – as is befitting for an album on art. For the stay-at-home type of people, it is a perfect book to browse through by the fireplace – there’s plenty of photos inside. Choosing the right works from all around the world must’ve been a difficult task, nevertheless some iconic pieces were chosen – ones that perfectly represent the feel of the city they were made in. But these are just a first step to the world of street art. I’m certain, you’ll feel as enthralled as I was with the photos, and will soon be browsing the Internet for the artists’ other works, always hungry for more…

You’ll get a better grasp on street art not only by reading the preface by the author and by Remi Rough, a street artist, who talks about the phenomenon based on his own experience, but also beacuse of great interviews with the world’s leading street artists, contained in the book.

Bear in mind, though, that it is a tourist guide – a book to read, when planning a trip. And it serves its purpose perfectly. Of course, it is but a starting point, as it’s impossible to create a complete guide to street art around the world. Nevertheless, several European capitals have been described in this book. One of them is Kiev, as most street art fans consider Eastern Europe to be today’s mecca of street art. There are also some examples from both North and South America and other parts of the world. We get to know the differences in style of street art in various cities and their districts. There’s a bit on the history of street art and a map of important street art regions, with famous works pinpointed on it. Many street art festivals – which recently gained popularity – were also mentioned, including something from Poland – Danzig’s Traffic Design. Another palce, never mentioned before, is Bristol – Banksy’s hometown and the host of the Upfest. Artists travel the world to aint their works. We can do the same to enjoy their masterpieces.

Saving Banksy

Before the screening started, Colin Day mused, how his girlfriend was wondering, whether the film will be completed, as the director rarely finishes his projects. He also said, that this is probably his last film on the subject, as it took lots of time to make and Colin’s had enough of it. Whatever he’s planning to do next, I’d love to see it, as it’s been long, since I’ve seen such a well made documentary as Saving Banksy.

The theme of the film is a wiedly discussed topic – street art disappears from the streets, becoming a part of private collections. Many controversies and doubts have risen over this phenomenon. Since the film deals with them, I won’t re reiterating them in this article. I’m sure you’ll have similar opinions about this situation. The film is also an example of great journalism – the problem has been well detailed, we get to see, how it develops, while being able to hear both sides and their arguments. I was shocked to learn, that Colin was also the camera operator, not just the director. And the photos were amazing, as was the editing. I could go on and on about the film, but it’s best if you check out the trailer and see for yourself.

Did you see, who’s in this film? By watching it you get to learn about the opinions the world’s leading street artists have on this subject, including Ben Eine, Risk, Glen E.Friedman, Niels „Shoe” Meulman, Doze Green, Hera, Anthony Lister, Revok or Blek le Rat – all of them are featured.

Banksy once said about Blek le Rat: „Whenever I feel like I have this unique idea, it turns out Blek le Rat did something similar two decades ago”. One of the viewers asked the whether he feels bitter because he’s not the most famous, although his contribution to street art was so great. Blek le Rat denied, argumenting that Banksy’s popularity brought him more recognition too. He thinks, that the success of one street artist is beneficial to the whole community, and therefore it’s a reason to be happy.

Ben Eine also got to answer the fans’ questions, although reluctantly. Ben is known for painting huge letters and for the way he mixes colors. He used to paint with Banksy in Palestine. He brought an important thing to the discussion, saying he’s ainting for all people and hates to see his works stolen, but at the same time acknowledges, that it’s the only way for his works to survive. He’s regarding graffiti as inferior, stating that „graffiti is crap, while his works are true art”. When some lady protested, he asked, whether she’d like to have one of his works at home or just some random, shitty gangsta tags. This proves, that even among experts, opinions may vary.
John Nation, dubbed „the godfather of Bristol street art”, was also a guest at the screening. In the 80s and 90s, Nation was doing courses for kids at the local youth center. These kids grew up to be artists themselves. On the 20th March 1989, John Nation and his proteges were arrested during the infamous Anderson Operation, launched against graffiti artists. He stood up to defend the kids he’s been teaching. After that incident, it took him years to regain the people’s trust an reputation of a social activist.These two works on street art are but a tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, they are worth mentioning and should persuade people to search for more street art on their own. Just take a look around. All these colorful murals are for us to enjoy.

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