The rule breakers and the mark makers
Authored by Bianca Mataua
Beyond the Streets was an exhibition that was a celebration of the Graffiti and Street Art tradition of New York and Philadelphia in the early and late 1950's. It brought together a variety of contemporary street artists who have made their impact globally to create a versatile and rich experience that can only have been done in New York. This post is to introduce Beyond the Streets by looking beyond its facade of an exhibition, but to delve deep into its significance.
Street Art is loosely defined as a the process of creating an image in a public space. Despite this formal terminology, you can utter the phrase street artist and it's often met with eye-rolls, sighs or "oh hooligans". Okay, maybe not the last bit but I'm sure you're thinking it. Street art, to me has always accompanied a sense of legality and acceptance while graffiti art has not, despite the process being the same. Graffiti is officially defined as writings or drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed illicitly onto a wall or surface in a public space. One is negatively looked upon while the other is accepted as legal. However, the word and the wall has always been an important tool for social protest and awareness. The wall itself is symbolic for either protection or rejection by keeping out those unwanted or vice versa. This meaning is not lost on those who "scribble" or "spray" illicitly on these public walls. Street Art or Graffiti, whatever you label it, is an expression of social tension for the minority and for the voiceless. It demands attention, it creates beauty and it embodies social struggle.
A friend of mine, who may remain nameless and who is now a successful commercial artist, made his debut with street art on Detroit trains. He once questioned at a lunch we were having, "Why can't I just make a wall beautiful? There are so many walls out there that are delipidated and ugly, why can't I just beautify this world? Why won't anyone let me?" That comment shook me to the core, because despite the social commentary and blah blah, street art is beautiful. It brings in colour, fantasy, dimensionality, movement and beauty into a public space that no poster or blank wall can. And if there is one thing that is especially obvious about street art; it is bold, bright and beautiful: colour psychology in practice.
Goethe in 1810 penned his Theory of Colours where he linked colours with emotional response. Since then, Goldstein (1942) has expanded on his work by stating that colour manifests emotional experience, while contemporary research has focused on colour wavelength and emotional response. Why am I talking about this for a Beyond the Streets scooter girl blog? Well it's important to note this because street art is just filled with colour. As you go through the exhibit with me, I want you to see beyond the work but see what it represents and how it makes you feel. An important element in street art is the emotional response and street art is large in scale. The building that was a brick corporate development (a bland and interchangeable corporate space) has been transformed with sprays of colour and smooth figurative line to create an emotional response and experience that transforms the soul and mind. The brain is stimulated rather than suppressed and that is what Beyond the Streets has done so successfully. I often talk about the feel of a space when visiting an exhibition and that is because feel is important. You feel bored? You become disinterested. You feel comfortable, you become interested and open to learning new things. Feel is just as important as understanding a theory or reason behind an act, and that is because as human beings I feel like we are largely irrational and base many of our decisions on feeling. ( DISCLAIMER: That is a purely subjective statement that reflections personal opinion and not based on fact. LOL )
Historically, the wall and the word have significance from the Berlin Wall to Ghetto Walls during WWII. Paris was well-known for their graphic works displayed on the wall from Moulin Rouge posters to Ballet announcements. Street Art is a European tradition that is prevalent today, most significantly in Austria, France and Russia. (More on this subject at a later date)
So, in saying all this, approach the Beyond the Streets exhibition with an open mind and look for four things: Scale, Colour, Subject and message. Go beyond the colour and feel, Go beyond the image and understand. I hope that as a viewer you can appreciate the brilliance of these contemporary artists through a different and unconventional yet traditional medium.