This great article in the Washington Post covers what I just read about in an art-related website. I am all for this type of thing and would encourage it on all dormant gentrification projects. I wish I could go to LA and see this masterpiece! Bravo!
Here is the article since it may be behind a paywall. I have a subscription.
It’s been about five years since Actual was a regular on the Los Angeles graffiti scene. He said he got on the “straight and narrow” when his daughter was born. But when graffitists started converging on an abandoned development in the city, he thought: “Am I going to be that guy that just said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw it happen. That was cool’ — or am I going to be that dude that was a part of it?”
The sky-high graffiti covering dozens of floors of the Oceanwide Plaza development in downtown L.A., a $1 billion project that was abandoned in 2019, has captured the world’s attention. It’s created eye candy for Instagram. It’s become fodder for conversations about urban blight and foreign investment. And despite graffiti’s undeniable rise to the mainstream, it’s reignited an old debate over whether it is art or vandalism.
To the graffitists participating and the experts watching, the “bombing” — as it’s called in the graffiti world — is more than a stunt or a crime. In a culture where visibility rules, the painted skyscrapers have become a landmark, literally taking the art form to a higher level. For them, it’s a historic moment.
Actual couldn’t pass it up. On his first attempt to enter the complex, he got caught and ran out. On his second, he saw security chasing a group of graffitists and tried to enter from the other direction. Another guard was waiting. Then, on his third try, he squeezed in through a hole in a fence that was covered by a construction sign. When he got into one of the towers, heart pounding, the real challenge began: “It was a big climb,” said Actual, who, like other graffitists mentioned in this story, spoke on the condition that he be identified by his tag name to discuss the illegal artwork. He wanted to paint higher than others, but by the time he reached the 36th floor, “I couldn’t walk; all my leg muscles were just shot.” So he scoped out a spot and got to work. “It was like a trance,” he said. “You’re so high up that it’s not until you come back down that you deal with the world again.”
The effort wasn’t wasted. Susan Phillips, author of “The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti” and a professor at Pitzer College in California, said in an email that it was “perhaps the most legendary roll call in the history of Los Angeles.” Roger Gastman, a longtime graffiti curator and historian, said there’s been “a boom in street work the last few years unlike anything I have seen since the 1990s,” and the buildings show “that graffiti is bigger than ever.”
The reaction was, of course, not entirely positive. The Central City Association of Los Angeles released a statement saying it was “disturbed by the images of the vandalism” and calling for the city to “address this blighted property before it becomes a further nuisance.” The LAPD said Wednesday that it had arrested four suspects and was investigating “numerous crimes.”
In a social media statement last week, it said that additional security measures would be “implemented immediately” and that the graffiti will be removed. The department did not reply to a request for further information. In California, vandalism is punishable with jail time as well as fines. On Tuesday, Michael Delahaut, who lives across the street, said he was watching police raid the buildings. To the 54-year-old, who has been in the L.A. graffiti scene since the 1980s, the creation outside his window was no nuisance — it was more like waking up and finding a masterpiece had been installed in his living room. “It would’ve taken hundreds of writers, tens of thousands of cans. It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been able to witness a lot of graffiti movement moments, but this might be the biggest.”
The opportunity was created by a “perfect storm” of factors, Delahaut said. Buildings in the luxury complex, put up by Chinese firm Oceanwide Holdings, reached as high as 55 stories before the company put the project on hold in 2019 because of financial troubles, the Los Angeles Times reported. In December, the security company responsible for the property sued the developer, saying it had stopped paying. Oceanwide Holdings did not respond to a request for comment. After the first night that pieces started going up, Delahaut said, he expected security to ramp up. It didn’t. By the next night, “it was clearly a scene,” he said.
Delahaut watched with the fascination of a curator. He admired the typography, kept a record of the artists’ progress — noting that he might need it for a later exhibition — and likened the work to the classic style captured on the cover of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s canonical 1988 book, “Subway Art.” (He also compared it to a smaller project on a building in Miami last year.) As a former graffitist himself, he couldn’t help but think through the logistics: “The process of getting into the building, climbing up the stairs and figuring out how much you got to carry,” Delahaut said. “Graffiti is so much more than the act itself.” Some have looked at the graffiti as a symbol for the state of Los Angeles.
Phillips, the author and professor, said that in a place increasingly molded by private money, the work is a “powerful commentary about who gets to shape what.” Stefano Bloch, a cultural geographer at the University of Arizona who studies graffiti, called it “an exposé on the failure of oversized development,” made “in vibrant colors that force us to look up.”
But the artists are split on their motivations. Aqua, a graffitist and fine artist who worked on the high-rise project, said in an email that for those involved, it was all about location. “It is in the heart of the city with high visibility. What a gem!” For Actual, the work gave new voice to the streets. “The money invested in [the buildings] could have done so much for this city,” he said. Now, he said, the graffiti is a reminder: “That’s every single kid in this city just putting their name down, showing they exist and taking the city back.”
New York. London. Paris. Public art tends to cluster in major cities around the world, taking center stage in downtown districts and in major institutions. But a lot of truly incredible art exists on the fringes, and some of it is even made by major artists. For a truly unique experience, you’ve got look off the beaten path, away from museums and towards the oceanfronts, mountains, and remote highways of the world. You never know what could astound you.
From the northern tip of Norway to the wilderness of the Namib Desert, we rounded up 10 major works of public art that are hiding in plain sight in some of the most remote corners of the world.
My Favorite - and I have seen it in person - Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain (1984–2011)
Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain (1984–2011). Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Corbis/Getty Images.
WHAT: Leonard Knight (1931–2014) never called himself an artist, but he created an epic piece of multicolored land/folk art in the southern Californian desert. Called Salvation Mountain, it overlooks the Salton Sea, surrounded by vehicles he customized in the same visionary style. Every surface preaches Knight’s gospel of love and faith in Jesus in primary colors. When the first “mountain” he made collapsed, Knight decided it was God’s will, and he started all over again—only on a bigger scale. He did, however, abandon the idea of having a hot air balloon float above the site, as it proved impractical in the harsh desert climate.
WHERE: Salvation Mountain is next to Slab City, and a short drive from Bombay Beach, which boasts its own biennial and thriving art community. All are around a three-hour drive southwest from Los Angeles, and within easy reach of the Coachella Valley.
FUN FACT: The first Salvation Mountain, which Knight began in 1984, was made with unstable building methods and collapsed. So Knight changed locations and started again.
He was there almost from the very beginning in 1970, until the last days of his life. His influence was felt by multiple generations, and his impact on style can be seen in some of the most famous writers in the world.
Michael Tracy was born February 14, 1958, in the Bronx. As a kid he spent three days a week in Manhattan with his Puerto Rican grandfather, and four days with his Irish mother in the Bronx. His father had left the family early on. Tracy roamed the Bronx fearlessly, at night he broke into the Bronx Zoo to play with the animals, and drive the carts around.
As the graffiti movement blossomed around him in the early '70s, he started writing with a group of kids from his school, Sacred Heart. Those kids would turn into some of the most talented writers of the 1970s.
In 1974, he officially named the group Wanted. He quickly turned over the presidency of the crew to his right hand man, Chi-Chi 133.
In 1975, he started a newer group with limited membership called Wild Style. To Tracy, wild style was more than just a style, it was a way of life, as he said in a recent interview. “To me it’s almost like a religion or way of life, but it started as a series of interlocking mechanical letters that we did our pieces with. So people would see a TRACY 168, or a PNUT 2 piece and they’d have a little WS inside them and whether they could read them or not they’d say “Yo, WILD STYLE!“ So it was not only a crew but it was also the type of style we represented.”
To later generations it would always be the title of the Hip-Hop film by Charlie Ahearn.
The bulk of Tracy’s work was done on the trains from 1972 to 1976. His earlier pieces were just outlines of his eponymous tag. By 1973, he started to blossom, adding his innate artistic ability into his works.
In 1974, he painted a perfect rendering of Yosemite Sam on the side of the trains. Cartoons were fairly new at the time, and his rendering was highly sophisticated.
In 1975, he painted a rocket going sideways, the flames shooting out and enveloping his name, taking a great concept and rendering it perfectly. At the same time as doing these elaborate pieces, he continued to blanket the lines with his name, and painted in billboard letters with silver and black in under ten minutes. His speed and efficiency were so great that he could do twenty of these in a night.
Guess who's about to move into Jean-Michel Basquiat's old studio in Manhattan's Bowery neighborhood? It's the film star Angelina Jolie, who will pay a monthly rent of $60,000 for the property. From now on, call it Atelier Jolie.
The Manhattan building that once housed the studio and living quarters of late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has found a new tenant. Last week, actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie announced that she had secured 57 Great Jones Street, a two-story structure owned by Andy Warhol for 20 years, for a new creative endeavor platforming underrepresented fashion workers. With 6,600 square feet at her disposal, Jolie is working to create “a community of creativity and inspiration, regardless of socio-economic background” by providing resources and support to an international network of tailors through Atelier Jolie.
John Roesch and Garrett Kelly, the two Meridian Capital Group brokers who negotiated the deal, confirmed to Hyperallergic that Jolie signed an eight-year lease on the historic building that had been on the market for $60,000 a month since last November. Pop artist Andy Warhol bought 57 Great Jones Street, situated in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood, in 1970 before leasing it to his close friend and fellow artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in 1983. Basquiat both lived and made art in the space until his untimely death at age 27 in 1988.
Basquiat, a Brooklyn native of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, worked prolifically in the space as he continued to contest the boundaries between so-called “high art” and “low art” through his signature street art style that addressed themes of race, class, religion, and mortality. During the 1980s, Basquiat and Warhol shared a very close friendship, operating as collaborators, confidantes, and even creative competitors. Their friendship was widely publicized, but became fractured after their joint exhibition’s poor reception also yielded characterizations of Basquiat being “an art world mascot.” Though the two never formally reconciled, Warhol’s death in 1987 reportedly contributed to Basquiat’s downward spiral alongside his intense rise to fame and mistreatment as a Black man in the arts scene. Basquiat was found dead in the Noho apartment on August 12, 1988, from a heroin overdose.
In 2016, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation installed a plaque honoring Basquiat on the building’s exterior, which had long been tagged by graffiti artists paying tribute to the late visionary. Village Preservation’s Executive Director Andrew Berman described the building as “a uniquely significant part of New York City’s cultural heritage and landscape,” expressing pride in its landmark designation.
“It is our hope that this building will remain intact and in some way accessible to the public forever, in order to allow all who wish to the ability to appreciate its historic significance,” Berman told Hyperallergic.
The building’s first floor is home to an exclusive, invite-only Japanese restaurant called Bohemian. Neither Atelier Jolie nor the restaurant could be reached for inquiries.
Roesch told Hyperallergic that Meridian Retail Leasing negotiated the deal with Jolie for about six months. “We had a ton of offers from reputable operators, but her concept seemed best fit for the building and its history,” he said. Perhaps nodding to Basquiat’s reuse of existing materials for the surfaces of his work, Atelier Jolie pledged a commitment to sustainability through the use of “leftover, quality vintage material and deadstock,” focusing on the production of “quality heirloom garments with personal meaning.”
Steel and other community members will create large-scale works for an exhibition in November.
Ant Steel is not the type to scale walls or stealthily spray-paint street corners under the cover of darkness. Steel asks for permission to paint. Always. He’s not interested in tags or gaudy throwies and tends to paint vibrant, highly realistic works as community projects.
Steel’s more formal approach to graffiti stems from a career in graphic design that involved preparing images for advertisement. If it was a spray job, Steel would go and watch the painters dangle off the side of giant billboards, his feet firmly on the ground. Only more recently has Steel begun creating a different type of public art: a mural of Queen Elizabeth II outside a shopping center, an extensive pro-Ukraine painting on a town wall—and now, a series of works as artist-in-residence at St Albans Cathedral, Britain’s oldest site of continuous Christian worship.
The wall depicting a peregrine falcon Steel painted for St Albans Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Ant Steel.
“Street art has a loud voice and I want it to shout as loud as possible,” Steel told Artnet News. “At the cathedral, I have a remit of running workshops and events. My goal is to be involved within the community.”
To be clear, Steel won’t be transforming the stone walls of St Albans with color, though, in a curious echo, the cathedral is riddled with thousands of carved graffiti marks dating back hundreds of years. Instead, Steel will be creating large-scale works on boards as well as working with children, asylum seekers, refugees and adults to create an exhibition in November, one he believes will “turn some heads.”
Steel’s wall for Ukraine in St Albans. Photo: courtesy Ant Steel.
The Cathedral approached Steel after learning about the workshops he led for the St Albans Film Festival as part of its broader push to attract younger and more diverse audiences. The landmark has been running its artist-in-residence program since 2018.
“The Cathedral has long been a patron of arts and is keen to support local artists,” Kevin Walton, the Cathedral’s Canon Chancellor, told Artnet News. “Ant Steel’s fresh and engaging artistic offer and his dedicated approach to community work matched our vision.”
Walton was also drawn to the idea of a contemporary graffiti artist playing off the marks worked into the Cathedral. “We are consciously building on our long heritage in this place,” Walton said.
See more images from the artist in resident program below:
Ant Steel at work outside St Albans Cathedral. Photo: courtesy Ant Steel.
Hyperallergic reports - On February 24, the first anniversary of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the Ukrainian postal service released a new stamp featuring a Banksy mural and the shorthand “FCK PTN!” in Cyrillic. The mural, which the British street artist painted in the fall of 2022 on a bombed building northwest of Kyiv, portrays a young boy in Judo robes flipping an older man. Many speculate Banksy depicted Vladimir Putin getting body slammed, as the Russian President is reportedly a Judo practitioner.
In a press statement, the national post shared that the image is “allegorical,” representing the struggle between Ukraine and Russia. “Our small country, compared to Russia, courageously entered into an unequal battle with the enemy and, despite all the difficulties, is fighting for the Victory,” wrote Ukrposhta.
Expecting high enthusiasm for the stamps with Banksy’s mural, Ukrposhta set circulation of the postage at 1,500,000 copies with a limit of 10 sheets per online order. A sheet of stamps costs 180 Ukrainian hryvnia (~$4.90), and the agency says 42 UAH (~$1.14) will go toward ongoing humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, such as rebuilding schools.
‘An Addiction I Could Never Shake’: Street Art Pioneer Risk on How He Brought Graffiti From the Street to the Gallery
To write his first bit of graffiti, a young Kelly Graval didn’t travel very far. He staked out his high school until it was dark, before jumping the fence with four cans of red and white spray paint. On a wall, he painted “a big piece” that simply read “SURF,” a nod to his hobby.
“It was terrible,” he said of his debut as a graffitist—though by the next day, the work managed to draw the attention and admiration of his classmates, most of whom, back in the early ‘80s in Los Angeles, had yet to encounter any form of graffiti.
From there, Graval’s canvases would only grow larger and farther as his adventures in graffiti took him to train yards and freeways across L.A. His legend would develop alongside his tag, Risk, an apt moniker that captured the rebellion and peril inherent in graffiti writing, and that, yes, he borrowed from the board game.
For Risk, it made sense that he should persist in writing and tagging the city. “You have the art form and you have the strategic form,” he told Artnet News of graffiti. “It’s just an addiction that I could never shake.”
Decades on, his endurance is paying off. Recognized as a pioneer in the West Coast graffiti scene, Risk has seen his work included in exhibitions from “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to “Beyond the Streets” in Los Angeles and New York. His recent forays into fine art and sculpture, too, have fetched prices upwards of $200,000.
Over Art Wynwood weekend which was from February 16 through 19, Risk will be collecting the fair’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for continuing to “innovate and shape contemporary art through his work.” His sculptures will feature within the fair, which is presented by Art Miami, and his graffiti art will take up an entire mural that flanks the entrance.
Certainly, the honor is “mind-blowing,” he said, but it’s also been gratifying to watch what once was deemed vandalism enter the art conversation.
“My whole life I wanted graffiti art to be a mainstream art form—to just be considered a genre of art. I wanted to see this art form be in galleries and museums, and celebrated around the world,” he said. “And now it is.”
Banksy has unveiled a new mural highlighting the fight against domestic violence on the morning of Valentine’s Day, drawing applause from fans around the world who praised the artist for not forgetting the reality of abuse on this supposedly romantic day.
Titled Valentine’s Day mascara, the work appeared overnight on a white brick wall in the British seaside town of Margate, one of the most economically deprived areas of Kent.
It depicts a woman dressed as a 1950s housewife tossing a man into a real abandoned freezer, around which Banksy created the work. The woman in a blue checkered dress, apron and yellow household rubber gloves has a broken tooth and a black eye probably caused by a punch. She appears to be enacting her revenge on her abuser, while only his legs are visible, sticking out from the end of the freezer.
Banksy, Valentine’s Day mascara (2023). Credit @banksy.
The work went live on the elusive artist’s Instagram page on Tuesday morning, and garnered more than half a million likes within a couple of hours. Many have left comments praising the artist for drawing attention to the issue.
Levels of domestic violence rose during the pandemic lockdowns, and the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 5 percent of adults aged 16 years and above—6.9 percent women and 3 percent men—experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022, equating to 2.4 million adults.
“Sheeeessssh but that’s some people’s reality,” one user wrote on Instagram. “Fighting violence used against women. Even on Valentine’s Day. Always!” wrote another user.
Another speculated if there were other hidden messages behind the work. “Anyone else notice the Ukrainian colors? I think that’s the message,” another user pointed out.
One user guessed if Banksy was female. Another shared their horrible accounts of domestic violence and abuse their family experienced. “Anyone who’s experiencing abuse—get help, get out, get free,” the user wrote.
If you or someone you know is being abused, support and help are available.
Paris is waking up to the beauty and fun of street art thanks to Space Invader's long creative project in that city.
WHAT IS A SPACE INVADER ? A Space Invader is a small mosaic pasted by the artist Franck Slama on the street corners of more than 70 cities around the world. Franck Slama is a street artist and mosaicist French, born in 1969. He was trained at the Beaux Art de Paris.
As a tourist in Paris, you will likely find yourself near the Notre Dame cathedral. Consider a short detour about a thousand feet south, and you’ll a small space invader on public display: PA-03, which originally appeared 1998.
While walking the streets of Paris, you have undoubtedly spotted small tile mosaics on the sides of buildings, typically one story above street level, ranging in size from a square foot to much larger. Many are in the shape of the pixelated characters from the 1978 video game Space Invaders.
The artist known as “Invader” (Franck Slama), a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, started erecting this street art in 1998. A bit of a rebel, he gravitated toward street art, though he favored ceramic tile over spray paint, as he liked the permanence of the medium.
Knowing his work was created to last, Invader kept a comprehensive database of all of his art. Each piece has a catalog number. For instance, PA-199 is the 199th piece to be placed in Paris and LDN-147 is the 147th piece to be placed on London—you get the idea. As of July 2019, Invader has placed and cataloged more than 3,700 works of art in 78 cities worldwide. Paris, where it all started, has more than a third of the total.
A few blocks away from PA-03, where Rue Monge hits Rue d’Arras, you will find PA-04, also originally dating back to 1998. PA-01 had a known location, but it has been “deleted,” as has PA-002 (though it has been re-activated by others). As of July 2019, PA-04 was also partially destroyed. It appears as though PA-03 and PA-04 may have been completely destroyed at some point but were later restored, though it’s unclear if the restoration was the work of the original artist.
Know Before You Go
If you enjoy the hunt for Invader art, it is recommended that you install the Flashinvaders app on your smartphone, which allows you to snap a photo of each invader. The app will analyze the image and inform you if the artwork is made by Invader or an imitator. It will also display the catalog number, the date of creation, and the name of the piece. For the fun of it, you score points for each unique acquisition. You can also see a live feed of other snaps being taken around the world. Enjoy the hunt.