Friday, 27 July 2012

Street art, Part 1

Banksy, probably the most celebrated street artist of the world, is once again very topical because of the critical works on the London Olympics he revealed on his personal website on Monday. London has been busy cleaning up the streets before the Games. The precautions went even so far that a few street artists were prohibited from owning any spray and being within one mile of any Olympic venue. So I guess it will be only a matter of days when Banksy’s great works will be found and painted over.

Some time ago when I spent the day in Helsinki I saw the above fabulous street art work on such a location – on the street-level rooftop piazza of the Forum shopping centre – that I immediately realized it must have been commissioned. Helsinki used to have zero tolerance for graffiti and street art but fortunately things are a-changing.

The large tag in the middle reveals this is a piece by Jussi TwoSeven, a talented local street artist Jussi P. Koistinen who took some art classes when he was a schoolboy but lacks any formal education in art. Instead, he studied at the Helsinki University of Technology. You wouldn’t be able to tell he is an engineer and not an artist when looking at this sweet work called ‘Family portrait: little vandals’.

The vandals slightly resemble some street art pieces we saw in Barcelona when we stayed there for a few days in late April, especially some stencil work by SM172, a local artist by the name of Caesar Baetulo. If I have done my homework correctly the following photos show his work.

We had an apartment (found through Homelidays, naturally) in the Raval, which is the district to the west of Las Ramblas. It is regarded as a rather seedy and dark area not to be recommended for the unseasoned traveller. Most of the people living on our street were immigrants and I dare say the stairway leading to the apartment was seedy. However, we were completely happy with the neighbourhood, neighbours and apartment, which was simple but comfortable enough and not even noisy at night as there weren’t any restaurants too close.

Moreover, we saw very little red-lights activity which used to prevail in the Raval. These days the area was clean, too. Cleaning vehicles were washing our street at least once if not twice daily. We found the Raval a lively and colourful district with nice uncomplicated little restaurants and cafés full of locals, with lots of small one-off boutiques and workshops selling their own unique products and with an abundance of graffiti and street art. There were so many of them I decided to limit my photographing to the ones representing a person.

I knew street art is flourishing in Barcelona. However, I didn’t know there would be so many fascinating pieces, often on top of each other in such a colourful mess that every now and then you just had to take a moment to admire the details on a ground-floor door or a shop shutter.

Tagging is a field I knew nothing about but C215 was another one easy to recognize. The artist behind this tag is the Paris-based Christian Guémy, sometimes called France’s answer to Banksy. He has studied art history at the Sorbonne, has been a graffiti artist for more than 20 years and has in recent years turned into stencils, mostly portraying the down-and-out kind of people. The whole does tend to be a terrible mess but the individual works are fascinating.

Alicè or the Italian artist Alice Pasquini, on the other hand, uses spray paint and acrylics. The Huffington Post recently featured her in an article stating that her feminist work proves street art can be subtle. We happened to see only one piece by her in Barcelona. Again, I was impressed. I want to learn more about this art form.

Have a look also on Street art, Part 2 here.

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