It’s the second morning of waking up in a room that looks more like an installation than a place to sleep. 60+ artists here from all over the world are sleeping on blow-up mattresses, rafts or yoga mats. I’m greeted by the sun coming through the window and lighting the hospital green draping randomly hanging in one corner. Above me are white cables with heavy duty red sockets by the hundreds. They are in some kind of grid. I, like the other guests, contemplate their former purpose. I meant to ask Andre yesterday, but forgot. I feel quite at home in the space. I awake feeling inspired. Is it the room or is it the energy of these artists who are so engaged in their work?
Many would not call them artists and I am left to ponder the ever present question, “What is art?” yet again. And yet again my answers go round and round and round to one of my ever present thoughts that art must engage the onlooker. We will find out tomorrow who the onlooker will be, but for now I can only give my response and my perception of the reaction of the general public….who is, after all, the target of anyone producing something for the street.
Last night around the canfire (fire in an old oil barrel) I couldn’t help but feel I was in a playground as one of the artists jumped inside a cage (on its way to becoming a crown), turned on his LED hulahoop and then went to town twirling. Two girls were giving each other top of the head massages. On the roof two guys were spraying a huge metal reincarnation of the letter “k” primary red. It was late. No idea how late now since day and night fold into “we need light” or we don’t, unless you are in the basement where you always need light.
For artists from the street this is kind of like a week long residency. They generally work alone, sometimes even in the shadows. Here they have room to experiment and talk to others with similar backgrounds. Each has his own path and, after a long day of work, it’s nice to let your hair down and share with your peers. The history of the scene makes time of the essence. Usually you have to be quick. Here they can work leisurely. Some are acutally unnerved by this and feel pressure to finish. My mind turns to a recent Facebook status from New York based painter Jacob Hicks.
“To painters: Paint is a time-based medium. If you have never made a painting that takes more than a week to complete then you are missing out. Spending time on any kind of sustained work is an act of resistance in our current age of immediacy and planned obsolescence.”
I wish Jacob were here to talk to and see his reaction. I know that Leipzig artist Hans Aichinger only finishes a couple of paintings a year, and those he works on simultaneously. I wonder if the man in the street can feel the difference. I wonder if the man in the street will go into the museum, gallery or studio to see the canvases that take so long to produce. Is this the modern equivalent to the Realist movement where they started painting commoners instead of the rich and powerful: effectively separating today’s cultural elite? I wonder if working on one piece for a year would drive the guys here mad. And I ask myself what constitutes work?
Last night I had an interesting discussion with the guys from Innerfields. They were leaving to go spend time with their families. They are, and will be, swamped with commission work, but they took time out to come to IBUg because they relish the freedom it gave them to do a piece they’ve been wanting to do for a long time. In fact the baby in the image is now 4. Does that mean they’ve been working on it for years? Hmmm.
Now they consist of three members of what used to be a 30 member crew. The ones who remain are dedicated to graphic detail. They use a variety of paint mediums to create something very accessible and popular. This enables them to do lots of commercial work, allowing them to live solely from their painting since 2008. Sometimes they have to paint from a prescribed mandate, but more often the client is buying their style and they complete a brief. Lately they’ve been moving towards painting on canvas and want to move more into the art scene. They have outgrown the need for the adrenaline rush of getting caught tagging, but have not lost their connection to the street and express that in their designs. They continue to hone their craft and develop.
These recent developments in the rise of urban art bring Andy Warhol’s story forefront. He started in a world where the culturally advanced did not do commercial work. No one was impressed with his Campbell’s Soup cans when Irving Blum first showed them in LA in 1962. Luckily Blum bought back the few that had sold and kept all 32 together. Now they are at the MOMa and of course Andy Warhol is very much a popular culture icon. In fact if it weren’t for him, would the trend for street art even be getting the recognition it’s currently getting?
Google Urban Art Festivals and you’ll find 40,800,000 results. It IS a thing. So the question is does it have to be outside where everyone can see it to be valid? Some are even calling it post-Museum art. In Nicholas Alden Riggle’s 2010 study of street art, he prompts us to “Imagine a practice whose artworks are largely disconnected from the artworld because their significance hinges on their being outside of that world.” He poses questions about how we, as a culture, can blend art with the everyday:
How could there be an art practice that requires in a manner of speaking, taking art out of the museum, gallery, and private collection–ultimately, out of the artworld–and putting it into the fractured stream of everyday life? How could there be post-museum art?
I have heard the word “art” spoken by many in reference to these works, most of which is found outside on their daily paths. That said, what happens when it does move inside? I talked to Austrian artist HNRX who had very strict definitions of what he wanted to do or not to do. His vision is to paint on the street or in galleries for private collections. He sees taking commercial jobs as his selling out. Again, he is not so into the danger of being caught. He is mainly attracted to the unpredictable nature of surfaces. It totally makes sense to me that he generally paints food given the popularity of the hashtag foodporn. Personally I find his full room paintings the most interesting. Does that mean it feels as if it has more value because it’s inside? Maybe, but I think it’s more the feeling of being inside the work that draws me to it. He is a bit conflicted when painting outdoors. On the one hand the pieces need to be visible and on the other he likes to evoke a personal response by putting the pieces in hidden places. I found one after talking to him and was excited to show him the picture on my phone. He said, “You can keep that one.” This puzzled me at first, but then I got it. He considers these works a gift for those who find it and I genuinely do feel like I’ve received one.
Perhaps the Post-Museum theory written in 2010 has morphed into something else here in 2015.
Peace out from IBUg2015. See you tomorrow.