The Scope of Cities Through the Eyes of a Street Artist

// Claire McGillivray, Writer

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”: George Orwell wrote these words in the classic novel 1984. In an artistic and eloquent way, “screw that” is the underlying theme that radiates off of Los Angeles local Sebastian Buck’s international street art website, Unurth. There, Buck showcases international renegade artists from all four corners of the Earth. Visual artists from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires; Cairo to Tokyo; and Melbourne to New York are brought together in an artistic and rigorously anonymous space to share their (sometimes illegal) passions with a world-wide community. The styles are varied, and the underlying inspirations and statements are even more diverse.

Artists touch upon mental images of cities in slumber, wrath in friendship, anarchy in innocence, and creatures of the animal kingdom in the concrete jungle, sometimes in quasi-alternate universe manners. Whether it is an allusion to sleep-walking, or a hyperbole in the animalistic nature of humans, each artist represents their own social commentary or statement, and they all do it in a unique and startlingly beautiful way.

Some artists paint in the dead of the night, while others are showcased under their pseudonyms in renowned art galleries around the world. Throughout Unurth, there is a sense of respect and admiration for fellow artists, even though legal names and relationships from artist to artist are left unsaid. As British artist Mobstr expresses, “It is very interesting to see what other people are painting on walls around the world. It is fantastic [that] such sites exist, and [to see] the dedication involved.”

This article will explore the variety of graffiti articles from across the globe featured on Unurth. For a visual shortcut, just head straight to http://unurth.com/.

Passed Out by Bumblebee (Los Angeles, UNITED STATES)

The above artist is known colloquially in Los Angeles as “Bumblebee”. His art carries a delicate sense of humour, and each piece incorporates his trademark yellow and black stripes.

Much of Bumblebee’s work involves taking a negative visual aspect of society and putting a positive artistic spin on it. He has been featured in numerous successful gallery exhibitions, including one at the Carmichael Gallery in Hollywood in 2009. Looking forward, Bumblebee hints that he is “currently working on a secret solo show for 2012.”

In an interview posted on Unurth, Bumblebee explains how his focus on bees through artwork further perpetuates this positivity: “The bees represent a fear that the innocent often embrace. As a child you are sometimes told not to do things or play with things for the fear of what might happen as a result. To me, that takes away the experience and freedom of trying new things for yourself. I felt that bees would be a great representation of this even if their fear is as small as one. Street art is often feared and criticized as being vandalism and I believe that through my work I can convince people otherwise.”

He adds,“I want to make images that are nostalgic and that remind you of what it was like to be that [young] age and that innocent again.” He mentions that people often say that the children he paints have a “haunting feeling to them,” seeming to look out from the walls, and that “their emotions always look to have [that] ‘caught in the act’ look.”

Bumblebee describes the thought process behind his Phone Box Beehive Project: The project, which stretched from Los Angeles and San Francisco, to Las Vegas, was inspired by the startling number of telephone companies that had “been abandoning their public telephone booths by taking out the phones and leaving the structures behind.”

Bumblebee explains, “[I wanted] to reuse these structures as a way of communication with the public once more by replacing that empty space with papier-mâché beehives...This symbolizes the irony behind the question, 'Where have so many of the bees gone?' and the theory that cell phone signals have been misguiding their normal patterns of migration.”

Not only is Bumblebee a socially conscious artist, but the statements he makes are strong, and represented in such a beautiful and simplistic way. His quirks add yet another layer to the man behind the art: “People always ask me why I only work in the colors black, white, and yellow: It's because I'm actually colour blind.”

Poison Tree by Mobstr (Newcastle, UNITED KINGDOM)

To contrast other artist’s more subtle ideologies, Mobstr’s mission statement declares that his goal is to be “immers[ed] into the chaos and hypocrisy that has arisen in the product of the human condition known as a modern society.” He is only slightly cynical when it comes to the human race, but always daringly honest.

“The work is blunt and raw. I do what I do because I love it.” Mobstr’s visceral passion comes from having “touched on many different disciplines,” and through this experimentation, discovering that “ultimately, painting on walls is what [he is] addicted to.”

One of Mobstr’s more simplistic pieces is a simple black stencil that reads, “HERE GOES YOUR TAX MONEY.” This playful social commentary pokes fun at the United Kingdom government’s spending. The caption reads, “£67.324 million of tax money is spent each year cleaning up graffiti. Painting on walls is bad and leads to harder crime.” Though his name might indicate otherwise, Mobstr is not your everyday urban delinquent.

His key inspiration is that “cities have so much scope beyond bricks and concrete. There is a lot of visual amusement to be had.” Playing with such themes of civil disobedience and blindness, Mobstr achieves this amusement, with quite a startling flare. Getting his name out there, however, is not on his to-do list.

“Street art is an interesting discipline, in the sense that if you get up in the right spots, you are simultaneously making art and promoting it.” He even goes as far as to say, “I don’t enjoy pushing my stuff on people beyond having it in their face every day they walk to work.” This rather modest desire has had a positive effect on the respect other artists and art appreciators have for Mobstr.

Hid ambiguous artist persona has a charming origin, defiant of cultural norms. According to his Flickr page, Mobstr’s chosen name has a three part story: He previously owned a pet lobster called mobster; he partakes in “the illegal business of painting walls without permission”; and his page hints at a third undisclosed reason that has something to do with mirrors.

The story only adds to his ambiguity, which, as a street artist, generally translates to an increased popularity and fan base. “The less I say the better,” Mobstr responded when asked if there are any other details about him or his artwork that he would like to share.

Rebel Kids by Alias (Berlin, GERMANY)

As the West Berlin Art Gallery notes on their website (www.westberlingallery.com), Alias “delivers a great deal of gravity through his loaded imagery and mindful aesthetic.” At first glance, it is difficult to discern a single concrete meaning for much of Alias’ work, but this is fairly common for much of the work of street artists.

His profound creativity is immediately noticed, however, particularly in his piece Rebel Kids (shown above). The juxtaposition here, of an aggressive anarchy represented in the innocence of childhood, is quite effective.

The motives behind Alias’ artwork “are often introverted and emotional but at the same time they have a direct and striking impact.” This is an interesting contrast to the extroverted nature seen in the work of other artists on Unurth. Some of Alias’ goals for his own work are “to inspire people to interpret the motives on their own.” The audience is given much freedom to interpret what in his art has personal meaning for them as individuals. What might come across as offensive to some might be spiritually and emotionally lifting to others, a fact that Alias can be proud of.

Though Alias never attended art school, he grew up in a creative environment. He describes it as “a kind of street life with skateboarding, graffiti, and lots of self organized illegal parties.” His main reason for dedicating all his time and energy into street art is because he has always “hated working in a regular job.” Luckily for the artistic community, Alias took that hate for the mundane 9-to-5 lifestyle and twisted it into something that reverberates in both art and life, in all its inspiration and glory.

Monkey by Liqen (San Cristóbal de las Casas, MEXICO)

Liqen’s piece, simply titled Monkey, is intriguingly captioned, “An irony between the origins (roots) and the stupid present and future.”

Liqen’s art takes a stab at the wildly controversial theory of evolution, but does so in an extremely simplistic and accessible way. Perhaps that is the beauty of his street art; it is accessible for all to experience and open for a wide variety of conflicting interpretations.

The style that runs through much of Liqen’s work has a playful, almost cartoonish attitude. His themes are broad and debate-worthy, but the style is simple and pleasing to the eye. Like many of the artists featured on the website, he uses a lot of animal imagery, but he does so in a quasi-alternate-universe manner, where the animals dominate and humans play minor roles in the animal kingdom.

Liqen’s animal artwork is very local to Mexico, mostly found in Guadalajara and a select number of small Mexican states. He, along with some of his work, has also made brief appearances in Spain, specifically in Madrid, and Ordes, a small municipality in the province of A Coruña. Like his ideology, Liqen’s work has a universal feel, both physically and figuratively, as it expands across two very distinct, very different countries.

Rabbit & Fox by ROA (Vienna, AUSTRIA)

Without a doubt, the most elusive persona in the Unurth artist database is ROA. Those three letters are all that define this jet-setting, country-shaking artist. He came. He drew. He went. ‘He,’ the god-like figure, presumed male by his online community of followers, has no legal name, no origin, no gender, no education, and no contact information whatsoever. His Flickr account does not even disclose a relationship status, let alone a phone number. This ambiguity however, does nothing but increase ROA’s popularity in the online artistic community.

Some of ROA’s latest work, such as the exquisite Rabbit & Fox, was done as a part of the Inoperable Art Gallery Exposition in Vienna in August of 2011. The gallery, in conjunction with urban art photographer Toni Tramezzini, secured ROA the space as part of an untitled house project, incorporating numerous artists from around Vienna. As a kind of catharsis, all of the art will actually be demolished along with the old house at the end of 2012.

As sad as the idea of any of ROA’s art getting destroyed, his followers can take comfort in the fact that his art can still be experienced and appreciated in over 11 different countries world-wide. That number only counts those documented on Unurth. Whether traveling to Croatia, Austria, Germany, Mexico, the United States, Moscow, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, France, or Poland, street art fanatics will always be able to find some of ROA’s trademark grayscale murals.

His pieces are a terrific way to sum up universal street art. They carry personality and attitude in a way that transcends both distance and obstacles. His trademark black and white sketching is perhaps the most noticeable and poignant style represented on Unurth, the effectiveness of which is evidenced in his number of hits.

ROA is Unurth’s number one link under the “popular” section, beating out such renowned artists as Bansky, and even beating out massive street art hubs such as London or urban parts of Italy.

Perhaps ROA’s most outstanding quality is his ingenuity when it comes to street art. Many of his pieces, such as Rabbit & Fox featured above, are actually sketched across surfaces that jut out, giving it a three dimensional pull. Zooming in on the above photo, the fox’s tail actually bends seven times to accommodate the wall extension and concave window space. Even more creatively, the door upon which the rabbit’s face is painted actually opens to reveal a sketch of the rabbit’s skeletal features. This could seem creepy to some, but one can’t deny that his methods are unbelievably artistic and genuinely innovative.

There is no peace in war; the only possibility of this occurs in the positive escapism that artists achieve when they wage war against the mundane. Freedom in slavery? Not even close: It is artistic freedom that breaks the chains of apathy in society. From Amsterdam to Buenos Aires; to Cairo and Tokyo; to Melbourne and New York, art is opening the eyes of individuals all across the globe. Whether or not language is a shared understanding, art has the ability to bridge these cultural gaps through shared artistic experience. And finally, no, ignorance is not strength, but ingenuity definitely is.

// Claire McGillivray

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com