Stay Strong Japan!

There have been talks that the world is going to end in 2012. Terrifying websites are dedicated to the entire year and of course there’s even that pesky little movie properly entitled 2012 that we’ve all grown to love, well sort of.

Although some people have their doubts, like me, it is undeniable that horrific natural disasters have been increasing in size and destruction as we approach the inevitable date. There was Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and most recently the events that took place in Japan.

It clearly isn’t the end of the world, at least not yet, and although it has been a couple of weeks since Japan was hit by the 8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami, efforts to help aid those in need have not yet ceased.

From celebrities to non-profits, all have been lending a helping hand to increase awareness or aid to the country. Efforts range from donations to simple tweets on the topic, all with the common goal in mind: helping rebuild the country that once was.

Street artists are no different. Although they may not have millions of dollars to give away or Twitter accounts to share their thoughts, artists and designers have taken on the task of creating pieces to get the word out.

These efforts, uniquely different from that of others, still play a large role in spreading awareness to the public. They even help target a new audience that may not find popular media outlets like Twitter or CNN as the way to go.

Some artists, like Pure Evil have even created prints specifically for the tsunami to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that the world is actually ending… or if you are a fan of street art, all efforts are positive ones. Although the events are tragic and unfortunate, this should not mean that Japan is forgotten about. That is why I admire the work done by these artists.

Photo by Flickr user Kent Ng

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In the midst of a tornado warning in the Bay Area this week, my friends and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and hit up Ocean Beach for the day in search of some local graffiti. Although there was no camo in site, I was equipped with a camera and ready to shoot.

Before we got there, I never realized exactly how much graffiti actually covers the sea wall. Much of work is painted over and over several times, but that hasn’t stopped street artists from consistently taking advantage of the mile-long stretch of wall.

Thank God.

Because of that, I had the opportunity to see pretty much every form of graffiti that day. The most common was lettering, but there was also a fair share of characters and even some stenciling.

And to think street artists ventured off into this far-off land to plaster their alias or their iconic character on a wall for a few to gawk and others to despise.

I mean it tends to be easy to forget that although someone like me enjoys seeing the influences of the street art world throughout the city of San Francisco and especially in places like Ocean Beach, others don’t share the same enthusiasm as me. Crazy, isn’t it?

The Department of Public Works hosts a Community Clean Team that helps paint out graffiti throughout the city, with much of their efforts focused specifically on Ocean Beach. This citywide volunteer program considers street art to be a form of vandalism, a belief that is common throughout big cities.

While their main mission is to beautify San Francisco by covering up the street art that so many of us admire, they can’t stop the persistence that so many of these artists have. These sea walls represent just that, persistence.

Clarion Alley 13

As I mentioned before in my previous post about Jet Martinez I had a lot to learn about murals. Jet thankfully schooled me about that part of the street art world and shared some of his own personal views as well.

If you thought the first half was good, which it was, just wait. It only gets better from here…

Q: How would you describe your art to someone who may be blind?

A: I would start from big to small. I generally paint nature inspired scenes. They are bright and bold and usually involve some type of pattern for everything from [the] sky to the minutest detail. I use patterns to reference the idea that there is no empty space in our world, everything has texture and everything connects. Then I slowly build down to very small details. Every leaf on a tree. No big green washes that are meant to be grass, every blade must be there. You can see the patience. There are metallic colors in strategic places to give depth and increase the inner light. Some are enormous and some are small, but all of them will allow you to come very close and get very personal. I hate blurry painting; things must be crisp, sharp and in focus. They have a lot of love in them and in the right light, it shows.

Q: How do you feel about the art scene in San Francisco? How does it measure up to that in Mexico?

A: Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Mexico, just like the U.S. is quite different from city to city, so I can’t really encapsulate the entire country to compare it to the scene in this one city. I get what you are saying, but I do think that folks in the states tend to have a 2d image of Mexico and see it all as one homogeneous place. But let me speak on the places I know. I grew up in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. I also have friends and family in the state of Oaxaca in the south. These regions couldn’t be more different.
One thing that you can generalize between the U.S. and Mexico, as far as art goes, is that there is an incredible amount of folkloric/craft art that is very region specific in Mexico. This folk art can, and often does, define a region very clearly in its motifs and often these symbols and motifs will find their way into the fine arts and even into the street art of the region. So, for example, in Mexico City, there is a lot of Aztec motifs in the graffiti, while in Oaxaca, you’ll find Zapotec and Mixtec motifs in the graffiti. Mexico City tends to be a bit more of a melting pot than other regions, but it definitely has a real edge in its art scene. DF, as it’s known, really dwarfs SF in size, intensity and variety as far as the art scene goes. Probably the most amazing murals you can see are found in DF. It can make SF feel like a cozy little provincial town. It’s dirty, corrupt, scary and oh so beautiful. Oaxaca, on the other hand, is a place that lives and breathes art. [Oaxaca] has always been known in Mexico as one of the cultural treasure troves of Mexico and has done an excellent job of banking on its folkloric and fine art. It lives and breathes art and music and dance. It’s pretty spectacular. In some ways, however, it does tend to get a little protective of its cultural heritage and friends of mine who are artists from there often complain that the art scene can be a little limited.
SF, and Oakland (gotta represent as a new transplant), are also very special places. In a way, I have always looked for ways to recreate that sense of art being an integral and defining part of our society. SF is world renowned for its murals and I am proud to be a part of that community and that tradition. Obviously there’s a whole other world of street art, Upper Playgroundish type of things. Everything gets mass marketed here, and it’s easy to get swept away or depressed by the trendiness of things, but murals persist. They really do have some soul and I think they do speak to something that most people who live here know about SF: that this place is special and we are blessed to live here.

Q: Have you ever had to sacrifice anything for the sake of your art?

A: Definitely. Times are a bit tough right now trying to make this thing work. It has been a bit of a struggle now with two amazing, beautiful, wouldn’t-change-them-for-the-world kids. I know things will even out later, but financially, it has been hard to pull it all together and still continue making work. But there’s a million phrases in the realm of “no pain no gain” that I could apply to remind myself that this is the cause. What I want to imbue onto my kids is the sense that if you have a passion, you must follow it. You must make it work. It needs to be a priority.

Q: What current events have served as inspiration to your public work?

A: Phew! We are living in a time of great changes and social upheavals. I listen to a lot of NPR while I am working, so I am really up-to-date. Egypt was really inspiring in a way I don’t think we can really comprehend in the U.S. Just amazing. In a way, what has been going on in N. Mexico has been an inspiration. It’s strange, but sometimes it’s the bad news that really reinforces and inspires a lot of the reasons why I make my public work. My work is never overtly political, yet it comes from a place of true resistance. It feels like a revolution against the constant reminders of how horrible this world can be and how horrible we can all be to each other. On the surface, I am painting pretty little natural scenes. Underneath all that, I am revolting against all the angst I feel and see my friends and family feeling. I want to be a part of the reasons why it is good to be alive. Creating beauty is a revolutionary act that can defeat all the things that seem to hold us down. So, in the case of Mexico, all we hear here is of these incredibly brutal things that a few assholes are doing to tear the country apart, for the benefit of their corrupted souls. I know that Mexicans are some of the warmest most beautiful people in the world, capable of incredible acts of beauty. That’s why I am currently really inspired to do a series of murals based on Mexican folk arts. Because a war hasn’t seemed to be working, I think maybe beauty might stand a chance. It’s worth a try.

Q: Who has inspired you?

A: My wife, Kelly Ording, is my light. She keeps me together. Not only is she the best friend a guy could have, she is a phenomenal artist. She does things with paint that I can’t understand. There is a simplicity and universality to her work that astounds. My Kids… ‘nuff said. Diego Rivera, John Biggers, Rufino Tamayo, Victor Vasarely, Albert Camus, Chor Boogie, APEX, Manny Pacquiao, Ussain Bolt, Yamazaki, Rigo23, and on and on.

Photo by Flickr user grahamc99

Mural: U‘WA

It’s easy to get swept up by the more traditional forms of graffiti that you see driving along the freeway or sitting in a BART train going from Daly City to Fremont. If you get hungry, like I probably would, crave an amazing quesadilla suiza from El Farolito and decide to take a little detour in the Mission… you will be bombarded by a different form of street art.

Murals are brightly handcrafted masterpieces that can be found throughout the Mission on the sides of buildings new and old. People often don’t associate murals with street art because they tend to see it less as vandalism and more as welcomed pieces of work. In the Mission, however, it’s neither. Instead, it’s part of the districts rich history that goes as far back as the 1970’s.

I must admit that I never really considered muralists when working on this blog either. Then I looked up at the wall in my room and noticed that a lot of the photos I’ve taken in the city were of random buildings in the Mission with murals on them. That’s when I decided to do some research and found out about a San Francisco muralist by the name of Jet Martinez. I read his bio and instantly fell in love with his work. The guy uses colors that we take for granted every single day and creates the most amazing form of eye candy! I was enamored by Jet’s story and then saw that pesky little link that said contact me. I thought… oh why the hell not! So I proceeded to email him hoping to hear back and before you know it I did.

Even though he is a busy man, Jet took the time out to answer some of my questions. The interview is quite long, so I split it up into two as equally amazing parts. Please enjoy.

Q: How did you get involved in the art world? How long have you been doing this?

A: I have been painting or drawing since I can remember. I’ve always had the ability for drawing and color but only got serious about it three years into a Spanish literature degree at the University of Colorado. I came out to SF to go to [San Francisco Art Institute] in 97, and have been pretty serious about gallery and street work since.

Q: Do you feel that your educational background at the Art Institute was beneficial to forming the artist that you are today?

A: In a round about way, I do feel like SFAI was instrumental to the artist I am today. I think the “tute” is a different place then than it is now. For one, at 24 years old, I was one of the youngest people there. There was only a small handful of kids right out of high school, so most of my peers were already along in their artistic careers. I’m not completely sure about this, but it does seem like there are lots of younger folks there these days. The professors I had were all showing artists and really gave invaluable lessons about life as an artist. SFAI was not the place you went to if you wanted to learn technique. It was the place you went to if you wanted to delve deeply into what you were already doing and surround yourself with other people who were quite serious about their art as well. The things I learned at SFAI were the intangibles: how to organize a studio, how to translate thought into image, how to feel and most importantly, dedication to your craft. Sadly, what I didn’t get too much of at the “tute” was a strong art business education, marketing, etc. That would certainly have been helpful considering the tremendous loans I had to take on to go there. But, I love the “tute,” and will always cherish my time there.

Q: How long does it take you to develop an idea for a mural/painting?

A: That’s kind of a tough one and it really comes down to the fact that I have a family now and need to make a living. On the one hand I have all these ideas that I would love to do, and will do when I can fund them. I have been lucky in that I am mostly commissioned to do the things that I already do. Back in the day, when I got an idea, it was just a matter of finding the wall and I would make it happen. Now, I’ve gotta make those hours count towards a mortgage and all that good stuff, so I try to work through grants and city funds. About half of my work now comes from private and public commissions. Often these types of projects involve translating the client’s desires into imagery. I really have to tread the line carefully because on the one hand it is absolutely important to me to retain my artistic integrity and be able to own up to everything that I do (For example, I don’t want to find myself painting scenes of Tuscany or other typical cheesy murals). On the other hand, sometimes you’re dealing with potentially large budgets and do need to take the client’s desires into consideration. Sometimes, in the design process it’s hard to find the balance where you know that you’ve been hired because the client likes your work, but they also want you to do something different than your usual work. In this kind of case, coming up with a design can take a while. The last couple of years has really been a struggle with exactly this topic. I have famously taken incredibly long on not necessarily the biggest walls and frankly, it’s not good for business. When I start busting out the one hair brushes on a wall in an alley where I’m almost not getting paid I know I’m in trouble. This has made me change it up a bit and some enormous commissions I’ve had in the last couple years were really quite simple designs. It’s good to do different things, but I do fear that my work can suffer a bit when I have to consider my budgetary limitations. I never want to let money hinder my vision, but for the time being, these little babies at home are the biggest project going.

Q: Can you describe your most memorable experience?

A: Recently, while painting in the Tenderloin, a group of winos who always hung out and watched me paint whilst getting completely obliterated…They would get wasted then start yelling, then fighting with each other, then telling each other how much they loved one another, then start jonesing crack or whatever… in short, they became a daily bummer to paint around. One morning, I came to the wall around 8 a.m., and there were about 15 of them camped out in front of my wall. Long story short, the entire alley got blasted by taggers the night before, but they said they would stay out there the whole night and make sure no one tagged my wall. To this day, the wall is squeaky clean. When it comes to painting, I probably have hundreds of stories about how people really become affected by seeing someone paint something in public. I really feel like it can change people’s day, if not their lives to see someone create art in a public space. That’s why I love painting on the streets. That’s why I am true to it like I am to my girl.

Q: What do you think is the biggest difference, if any, between graffiti artists and muralists?

A: Graffiti artist are animals! Just kidding. I love ‘em. The first real graffiti artist I became friends with was Saber, a really intense cat from the MSK crew. He and Revok used to own this town for a while and they were some very serious dudes: serious about art and serious about territory and respect. I wont generalize because I don’t think that I am like most muralists, so I definitely give the benefit of the doubt, but there is definitely a strong code with graffiti artists and that code can get you mad respect or in serious beef. I think there is also a third tier to this conversation and this is self styled “aerosol artists.” Folks who use cans to create ridiculous work that can no longer fully be described as graffiti. A good friend of mine called Chor Boogie is doing some pretty amazing things and I think he is trying to break out of the politics of graffiti and just identify himself as an artist. There’s a few others, and they all bring that amazing energy of the speed of the can but are creating amazing new forms. Frankly, I’m a bit jealous of graffiti artists, and really, the crux of that jealousy is the speed with which they can get things done. There’s also an unspoken way in which collaborations are easier and that comes from the letter forms. I definitely could have, and still could, pick up a can but the look I am trying to get needs brushes. Muralists are a bit different. To tell the truth, I do relate a bit more to the energy of graffiti artists. I want to feel like I own the city one wall at a time. I want to push visuals to a new realm. I want to create a new original aesthetic.

A lot of my favorite muralists are graffiti artists. In some ways, muralists, and again there’s all kinds, but muralists can be a bit more precious. In the public realm, graffiti artists expect that their work may be tagged and they are ready to reclaim their space. When muralists get tagged, they have a community event to declaim the problems with society and raise funds to repaint the mural. I’m exaggerating, but I do sometimes feel that we muralists can be a bit too precious and this probably has something to do with the fact that it does take a lot longer to do something. In that sense, a public muralist really does get more of a chance to get to know the community they are working in. I’ll put it this way, the best thing about graffiti art is that it is pure passion and raw talent exploding on a wall reminding us of the potential for spontaneous creativity. The best thing about public murals is that it is also pure passion and raw talent, but slowly growing on a wall, creating community, reminding us not only of the importance of art in our communities, but also of artists, living out their passion in the day-to-day.

Photo by Flickr user Franco Folini

Exit Through the Gift Shop

We were all waiting for Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop to take home the Academy Award last night, but no other site or forum was more on edge than Twitter.

The biggest mystery to the millions of Twitter users wasn’t who will take home best picture, but whether Banksy will show up and reveal himself, something the Academy was dreading to find out.

While Oscars were ever so delicately handed out to schizophrenic ballerinas and kings with speech impediments, everyone on Twitter was anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of the handsome bloke.

Although Justin Timberlake claimed to be Banksy at the award ceremony, Twitter users had their own theories about who the elusive street artist really is. Sarah Thyre claimed that Banksy was in Natalie Portman’s uterus while others guessed that he may be Charlie Sheen or even the great Oprah. I’m gonna go with the latter.

In the end, it’s sad to say the documentary lost to the Inside Job but that doesn’t change the fact that people are truly enamored and borderline obsessed with this man. His recent stint in Los Angeles had people going crazy and last Sunday even the Simpsons jumped on the Banksy train, yet again, in support of the artist’s Oscar nod.

Will this country’s love affair with this unidentified man ever end or are we all destined to be stuck in this tumultuous relationship for years to come? I don’t really know and that’s okay with me, because I must admit that I fall for the stunts just like everyone else… and it feels so good.

Photo by Flickr user E Von Zita

Since I’m pretty green when it comes to this whole street art thing, I don’t know many… scratch that….. I don’t know ANY street artists. Kind of sucks when you’re trying to make a blog about just that.

Luckily, my friend introduced me to someone who happens to be a graffiti artist by the name of Huems. This is an alias the 18-year-old artist, who recently moved to San Francisco from West L.A., uses to maintain his anonymity.

I was nervous throughout this whole thing, I’m not gonna lie. But what came out of it is pure genius if you ask me. So ask me… because if you want to find out what happens when a confident street artist joins forces with a meek journalist listen to this audio clip.

exit through the gift shop - monkey

The power of the Internet never ceases to amaze me. I first found out that Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for an Oscar via Twitter. I was shocked and damn right impressed that The Academy recognized a film done by someone who tends to wear a monkey mask in public.

Once my shock turned to curiosity, I hit the blogs to find out what everyone else was saying. I quickly found out that it wasn’t the nomination itself that was on everyone’s minds, but exactly how the elusive street artist would accept the Oscar if he were to win on February 27th.

That’s when my imagination took over and I started to fantasize about all of the different ways that I would want Banksy to accept the award, with the craziest of all involving him simply going up to the stage and accepting the award!

After turning to Vandalog, I read a post by RJ Rushmore on the exact topic. It linked to a New York Times article that touched on the touchy subject of Banksy and the possible shenanigans that may take place.

The article was mildly entertaining, but I wanted to know more so I decided to get in contact with 20-year-old Vandalog Editor-in-Chief RJ Rushmore, not actually believing he would humor me and respond.

Later that day I received a Tweet from the Haverford College student and this is what came out of it all…

Q: How did you get into blogging about street art?

A: My dad got me into it at first and I just took off running. Pretty randomly, he bought a stencil on wood by Faile. After that, we both fell in love with street art. That was about three years ago. Then, almost two and a half years ago, I started Vandalog as a way to involve myself in the street art scene separately from my dad and the collecting side of things (although there’s nothing wrong with collecting art).

Q: Do you think that Banksy’s film is worth a nomination? How likely is it that Exit Through the Gift Shop will win?

A: I just rewatched “Exit” this week for the first time since seeing it at the London premiere. I was surprised that I liked it better the second time around. It’s a good film. I haven’t seen any of the other films that were nominated for the documentary feature award this year and only a few of the other films that were short listed, so it’s hard for me to say “Exit” stacks up against the competition, but I’m (generally) glad it was nominated. If the awards are based on PR and that sort of thing, it will have to win. If the awards are based on the quality and importance of films, I’m much less sure that it will win.

Q: You mentioned the authenticity of the documentary in one of your posts. Where do you stand on that?

A: A lot of people originally speculated that Mr. Brainwash was some sort of Banksy creation to prove that the art world is full of suckers (and upon hearing that rumor, people of course starting buying MBW “art” at inflated prices, completely missing the joke that they were supposedly in on). I don’t believe that, entirely. I don’t think “Exit” was staged or that those events did not happen. I just think that it’s almost inevitable that a misleading story was told and that some key facts were left out. For one thing, I have to believe that Banksy and Shepard helped out with the Life Is Beautiful show more than they care to admit. But Thierry is real. That is something I’m sure of.

Q: Who do you think will be there on behalf of the film? Do you think it will just be the producer or do you think Banksy will pull some sort of stunt?

A: Banksy’s already pulling stunts in LA with the work he’s putting up. It’s hard to say about the actual awards ceremony. On the one hand, he has to pull a stunt. On the other hand, Banksy is too mainstream to flip off The Academy like that. If he does a stunt inside of the award theater, it will be something pre-organized like that Eminem/Bruno stunt at the VMA back in 2009. I wouldn’t rule out a stunt right outside of the awards.

Q: In the perfect world how would you like to see Banksy accept the award?

A: This is the speech I’d like to see: “Thanks for this award. It’s going on eBay tonight with the proceeds going to charity. I’m out. Gonna go live in the English countryside with Penny Rimbaud from Crass.” But that’s not going to happen.

Q: What do you think this nomination means for the street art world?

A: A generation of street artists is “graduating” and a new generation is going to get energized by the film. Like The Sex Pistols, this film will either expose a bunch of people to something completely different, and they will either embrace it (the punk bands inspired by The Sex Pistols) or rebel against it (bands like The Smiths and Joy Division). Either way, it’s more people exposed to a great scene, even if it shows the poison side of the scene. Maybe this means that bad parts of the scene will be less prevalent. Maybe less street artists will use the streets purely as advertising for gallery work. I doubt it though. If anything, this is proving to people that any half-decent designer with connections can put up some posters and become famous.

Photo by Flickr user centralasian