The Issue of Street Art & Graffiti – Part II

Topics discussed in this part:

I.            Techniques of Street Art & Graffiti
II.            Banksy, The British Street Art Legend
III.            Shepard Fairey

Today's generation ~ Banksy

Today’s generation ~ By Banksy ~ Photo: banksy.co.uk

First let me explain the various terms used by graffiti writers. There are more techniques besides the ones mentioned above, like tagging. Another very famous form of spraying one’s nickname that can be done quickly and repeatedly is called “a throw-up”.

A throw-up is a little more complicated than a tag, often having two or three colors. They’re usually done in bubble letters with a differently-colored outline. However it is not nearly as elaborate as a piece which is considered the full and most valuable graffiti painting.

I hate this font ~ Bubble letters ~ Banksy

“I hate this font” ~ Bubble letters ~ By Banksy – Photo: banksy.co.uk

A piece is a complex graffiti work that frequently incorporates 3D effects, shading, spikes, curves and other elements. The use of a variety of colors is common for this method as well. However, pieces are hard to spray on illegally, especially because of the time and the effort a graffiti writer has to put in. If a piece is placed in a difficult location it will earn the writer even more respect.

The techniques and materials used in by street artists are much wider than the ones used by graffiti writers. As mentioned above, graffiti is generally done using spray paint cans or markers. Street artists are known for using a variety of materials such as stencils, wheat-paste posters, stickers or sculptures. These methods are not that time consuming as spraying the piece on an object which is associated with graffiti writers. Nevertheless using stickers has been very popular among graffiti writers as well. Especially among teenagers who sketched a miniature of a piece on their stickers in order to improve their skills and or to exchange their stickers with someone else’s for inspiration. Naturally stickers has been also used as a way to throw up a tag quickly. One can take a lot of time on making his sticker perfect and then just stick it on anything. The biggest advantage of all the following techniques is the fact that they can be done very quickly which therefore decreases the chance of getting caught.

The most famous method is probably stenciling. Using stencils is an effective way to put up more complicated pieces in a very short period of time. By holding the stencil against the wall and spraying over it, one can get a much more detailed picture than one would be able to get with a spray can. Street artist who use this technique have frequently more than just a one-layered stencil. With three or more layers one can get a very precise and interesting painting and yet it can be done in a matter of minutes.

Using stencils ~ Banksy

Using stencils ~ By Banksy ~ Photo: banksy.co.uk

Another favored method is sticking posters on walls around the city. This method got popular mainly for the fact that it is very inexpensive. For making a poster one can use just computer paper, masking tape and some oil-based markers. For the adhesive that will stick the poster to a certain surface is commonly used a wheat-paste. To create the wheat-paste, only wheat flour and water will be needed. And to apply the wheat-paste itself one is going to need a paint roller and a bucket.

However, using these techniques has been criticized by many graffiti writers. They consider using stencils and just spraying over them cheating. A majority of well-known graffiti writers do not respect the work of street artists, they belief that what they do loses the real meaning of the graffiti and street culture. Many graffiti writers believe that everyone can go and make same so called street art with the help of a stencil. The real skill is handling the time pressure and the fear of getting caught while taking time to make one’s piece perfect, that is what the graffiti writers appreciate. One of the other things that graffiti writers appreciate apart from the visual processing, is the placement of their work. Like the graffiti writers, street artists are also fond of placing their work in difficult locations.


A fitting example of a street artist who is known for placing his work in difficult or unexpected locations is the British street artist Banksy. Banksy is the pseudonym of a street artist born in Bristol, whose true identity is unknown. He started as a graffiti artist in 1990s as a part of the Bristol underground scene which is the culture associated not just with graffiti art but also with drum and bass, and that exists in Bristol to this day. Banksy got known worldwide for his characteristic stenciling technique and also because his work is often satirical and bears a political or a cultural message.

In his book “Wall and piece” he claims he decided to change to stenciling when he was eighteen years old. He spent one night trying to paint “LATE AGAIN” in big silver bubble letters on the side of a train. However, the British transport police showed up. Banksy was trying to escape and stayed hidden under a rubbish lorry with engine oil leaking all over him. At this moment he realized that he had to either cut his painting time to half or give up altogether. He was staring straight up at the stenciled plate on the bottom of a fuel tank when he realized how quick and precise this technique is and that he could just copy that style and make it bigger. Since then he started making his iconic stencils for which he became internationally renowned.

His stencils often include rats, apes, policemen, soldiers and others. As mentioned they are mostly a critique of politics and society. In his book he devoted a short paragraph to explain why his work includes rats so often: “They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing the entire civilization to their knees.”

PAINTTOESCAPE

Paint To Escape ~ By Banksy ~ Photo: banksy.co.uk

Banksy is also recognized for his ability to present his opinion in a very unique way and the fact that he is able to engage common people in his work and make them think about it. This happened for instance when Banksy visited the London zoo. “Inside the elephant and penguin enclosures at the London Zoo, he painted, ‘I want out, this place is too cold; keeper smells; boring, boring, boring’ in giant handwriting, which looked as if it had been written by the animals themselves” [1] Because of the intended visitors, this piece differed from the intention of graffiti writers who primarily want other writers to appreciate their work, they do not seek the recognition of common people.

In 2005 Banksy went to Palestine, where he created nine paintings on The Israeli West Bank barrier that separates the Israeli and Palestinian population. In the book “Wall and piece” stands that Palestine has been occupied by the Israeli army since 1967. In 2002 the Israeli government began building a wall separating the occupied territories from Israel. It is controlled by a series of observation towers and stands allegedly three times the height of the Berlin wall and will eventually run the approximate distance from London to Zurich, which is 700km.

Banksy claims that the separation wall is an attractive destination for graffiti writers and street artist. In the book “Wall and piece” Banksy mentioned that while he was painting an old man came to him and said: “You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful”, Banksy thankfully replied and the man continued: “We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home”.

Mauer-betlehem

The West Bank Barrier ~ By Banksy ~ Photo: banksy.co.uk

On the 24th January of 2010 the premiere of Banksy’s film called “Exit through the Gift Shop” occurred. His film was later nominated for a 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, eventually it did not win the award. One of the main characters in the “Exit through the Gift Shop” is a French immigrant in Los Angeles, Thierry Guetta, who films everything he sees. Once he decided to film a documentary about street art. Thanks to his cousin, a street artist called “Space Invader”, Thierry gets the chance to go out at night with other artists and film them while they are working on their pieces. His cousin even arranges a meeting with famous artists like Shepard Fairey for him. Thierry is obsessed with the thought of having the mysterious Banksy in his documentary. Later he managed to meet the legendary Banksy face to face thanks to Shepard Fairey. Once Banksy came to LA for the first time he needed a guide who knew a lot about good places for street art, so he called Shepard who then contacted Thierry. Thierry became Banksy’s guide in LA and followed him back to England, as they became friends. He even won the privilege to film Banksy while working as Banksy got excited about the idea of making a documentary about Street Art.

Despite that, Banksy’s identity stayed hidden through obscuring his face and altering his voice. After a while Banksy insisted that Thierry started working on his documentary. Sadly he is not a professional and editing several thousand hours of footage is not an easy thing to do. Thierry later produced an unwatchable film titled “Life Remote Control”. After that he started to make street art himself and got completely obsessed with it. Since then he called himself “Mr. Brainwash” as he wanted to own a “more artistic name”.

Meanwhile, Banksy decided to produce a documentary on his own while using the unedited footage. He stated that it was a very long process of editing and that he wouldn’t be able to ever finish it on his own. For an interview he said: “I spent a year watching footage of sweaty vandals falling off ladders… The film was made by a very small team. It would have been even smaller if the editors didn’t keep having mental breakdowns. They went through over 10,000 hours of Thierry’s tapes and got literally seconds of usable footage out of it.”

In the same year Banksy created an opening-credit sequence for The Simpson’s third episode of the 22nd season called “Money Bart”. The sketch was inspired by the fact that The Simpsons are partially created in South Korea. The sketch caused a lot of controversy for depicting Asian workers forming the series under horrible conditions. The beginning of the sequence started as usually with the exception of some “Banksy” tags sprayed on some buildings and on the billboard gag from “Take My Life, Please”. The chalkboard gag “I must not write all over the walls” is written by Bart all over the classroom walls. After the Simpsons arrive home, the shot moved on to a sweatshop, where Asian people, kids and even animals work on The Simpson’s pictures, dolls and other products. While being surrounded by toxic waste, human bones, rats and more, one of the employee uses the horn of a unicorn to make holes in the center of “The Simpsons”-DVDs.

A lot of people were curious how “The Simpsons” producers managed to contact the mysterious Banksy and get him to create the opening sequence for them. In a New York Times article Dave Itzkoff interviewed an executive producer of The Simpsons – Al Jean. The main questions aimed at Mr. Jean were, how he did get the contact of the pseudonymous street artist and how he can be sure that he was dealing with the real Banksy. Al Jean replied: “The original boards that we got from him were in his style and were certainly by an extremely proficient artist. We were dealing with the person that represented him making the movie. I haven’t met him, I don’t even know what he looks like, except what the Internet suggests. And he’s taken credit for it now so I’m pretty sure it’s him. We went through the people that made the movie so I assume they would know how to get to the real him.” [2]

SIMPSONS

The Simpson’s opening credit sequence ~ By Banksy ~

Even though, Banksy gained a lot of popularity throughout the years, there are still many critics of his work. He has been long criticized for copying the former French street artist Blek le Rat. He was famous for using the stencil technique in the early 1980s mainly in Paris. Many people claim that his work contained similar aspects like humorous political commentary and most importantly a lot of rats, which Banksy grew fond of and uses a lot. Others simply believe that Banksy’s work is just vandalism and that it should not be tolerated and certainly not be recognized as art. Despite everything Banksy will remain one of the most influential street artist in the United Kingdom and even worldwide.


Shepard Fairey was born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. He is an renowned American graphic artist and street artist known for his work on the images of Andre the Giant, the OBEY clothing line and for his famous “Hope” poster, which is an image of Barack Obama that even came to represent Obama’s presidential campaign. Fairey also took part in the previously mentioned documentary “Exit through the Gift Shop” by Banksy.

Nevertheless, Fairey made his own short film as well. It is a twenty minute long video named “Obey the Giant” that presents the true story of Shepard Fairey’s first street art act. The story goes back to the time when Fairey was attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the late eighties and early nineties. While in school he held a part-time job in a skateboarding shop. He was very interested in art and the skateboarding community. He started to make his own stickers and pasted them on walls, newspaper boxes, street signs and other places. He soon realized his desire and interest in street art and graffiti culture. During his school years he hung out with “a group of hip-hop loving skaters”, known as “the Posse”. His first creation was a reproduced black-and-white image of the Russian wrestler Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff that he saw in the newspapers. He also added the text “André the Giant Has a Posse” on the image. Later he added the word “obey” to his stickers. People who noticed his sticker were wondering what meaning it carries and if it actually carries one. The Obey Giant website[3] says: “The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker“.

For an interview Fairey revealed that: “At first I was only thinking about the response from my clique of art school and skateboard friends. The fact that a larger segment of the public would not only notice, but investigate, the unexplained appearance of the stickers was something I had not contemplated. […] I began to think there was the potential to create a phenomenon.” [4]

Andre The Giant ~ Shepard Fairey

Andre The Giant ~ By Shepard Fairey ~ obeygiant.com

In 1990, Fairey posted a manifesto on his website in which he links his work with Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology. He stated that his OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in phenomenology which was explained by the German philosopher’s theory as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.” He wrote that people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious. With his stickers he aims to revitalize the viewer’s perception and attention to detail.

As mentioned above, Fairey got renowned for creating the “HOPE” poster in order to support Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. His poster got very popular, however, it also received a lot of critique. Fairey has been called a “sell out” as well as a “copycat”, for incorporating others’ images into his own work. In the street art world, sadly reproducing someone’s idea is not uncommon. Fairey doesn’t hide his inspirations, which include Soviet-era propaganda, paintings from Works Progress Administration campaigns, and ’60s-era psychedelic rock poster art. [5]

The Hope Poster ~ Shepard Fairey

The Hope Poster ~ By Shepard Fairey ~ obeygiant.com

In February 2008 Fairey received a letter from Barack Obama:

“I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can change the status-quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support. I wish you continued success and creativity. – Barack Obama, February 22, 2008” [6]


Despite what people say graffiti and street art are not the lowest forms of art. As Banksy wrote in his book “Wall and piece”, it is actually one of the most honest art forms available. The beauty of street art is that one does not need an expensive canvas or a frame to display one’s creative expression.

Banksy mentioned that the people who run our cities do not understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it creates profit, which makes their opinion worthless. He continued that even though some say that graffiti is symbolic of the decline in society, it is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people; politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers. Companies put giant slogans across every available surface and expect to be able to shout their message in one’s face. Graffiti and street artist feel that they should be allowed to answer them back.

In the end there is a quote from Banksy’s book:

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.” [7]

How do you react to Street Art? ~ Banksy

How do you react to Street Art? ~ By Banksy ~ Photo: banksy.co.uk


Thank you for visiting!

[1] Citation of “Manco 67”, http://schriftfarbe.com/the-difference-between-street-art-and-graffiti
[2] (Itzkoff, 2010) Arts beat, The New York Times
[3] http://www.obeygiant.com/about
[4] Steven Heller. “Interview with Shepard Fairey: Still Obeying After all These Years”
[5] Geoff Edgers, http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2009/01/25/shepard_the_giant/?page=3
[6] “Thank You, from Barack Obama!”. ObeyGiant.com. February 22, 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2011.
[7] Wall and Piece, by Banksy, 2006, Century

11 comments

  1. Nil · December 23, 2015

    You’ve really studied the subject, I think! 🙂
    I’ve always loved graffiti/streetart… the two expressions point indeed to different things as I realize now after reading your post, They did and do that for me as well in a more vague, intuitive way. Some graffiti feels like street art. But street art can also be a performer becoming an almost undistinguishable part of statues – so much that people would walk by without realizing that the four figures have become five over night if the artist would not move – and frighten them out of their thoughts… 😉
    There is one thing that all its forms have, though – they hit your feelings, make you smile or stop in wonder in a very direct way… at least that is how I feel about it… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aneta Somvarska · December 25, 2015

      Thank you very much for the comment and taking the time to read the whole article!
      I can relate, some street art makes me stop, think and smile – how creative and clever the message behind it is.
      I wish you a merry christmas and a lot of great art in the streets! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David · January 3, 2016

    Aneta! Thanks for liking my New Year’s Day post. You would love the street art in Bogotá. Though there are several politically motivated artists, there are so many more exploring the medium as a forum for their creative expression. Recognizable styles and multiple possibilities, along with the relaxed, even supportive public stance toward graffiti, makes walking around the calles and avenidas a days-long museum visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aneta Somvarska · January 4, 2016

      Thank you for your comment and for stopping by at my blog, David! It sounds amazing and I hope I will be able to see the streets of Bogotá one day. Happy traveling and have a nice day!

      Like

  3. lexklein · January 3, 2016

    I wish I’d read this before going to Bogota to see the incredible street art there! Very informative post – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aneta Somvarska · January 4, 2016

      Thank you for the nice comment! I really enjoyed your post about street art in Bogota, so many great photos of urban art! Have a nice day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pamela Hodgdon · January 5, 2016

    Very informative. I look forward to reading more of your blog. I’ve just discovered a passion for urban photography and graffiti.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aneta Somvarska · January 7, 2016

      Thank you Pamela, I am happy to hear that you like street art! I hope you will enjoy the urban art here on Street Art Rat as well!
      Have a nice day!

      Like

  5. che12pm · September 4

    Your post gave me a lot of information. Thanks. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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