Temporary Street Art That’s Changing The Graffiti Game
Public space has become a playground for artists of all disciplines in the last few decades, in part due to the popular embrace of graffiti, hip-hop culture, street art and the D.I.Y. movement. Thanks to a greater rate of participation than perhaps ever, public space is actually becoming more, well, public.
While much work on the street art scene is typically done without permission—and by definition illegal to some extent—it doesn’t necessarily fall into the vandalism column… especially when it leaves no harm or trace after a short time. Call it street art, call it post-graffiti, call it a way to get your artwork out of your studio (or off the kitchen table). The below artists are all taking pains to devise techniques that are minimally impactful to property in pursuit of getting their vision on the street. There are no limits on materials or message; these examples just skip the damage.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="720" caption=" Aakash Nihalani’s geometric street art stops traffic in the most striking way. "]
Aakash Nihalani began using painter’s tape by accident, when attaching screen prints to the wall for a student exhibition in the late 2000s. More interested in tracing the shadow of the pedestal on a wall, Nihalani stumbled into his signature approach, which he’s taken to the streets. Using optical illusion and a captivation with city architecture as his muses, Nihalani has been pulling shapes out of thin air and tracing them with fluorescent masking tape for passersby to run into and consider. He likes the experience to be playful, but the geometry and the context he uses when creating the work are pure science.
ART IS TRASH
Art is Trash (aka Francisco de Pájaro aka El Arte es Basura) has been converting garbage into art for about six years, in cities like London, New York, and his native Barcelona. Following his gut and imagination, Art is Trash utilizes filled garbage bags, packing boxes, and discarded furniture as canvas and building material for his sculptural installations that are satirical and entertaining. With tape and hand-painting on the spot and in-the-moment, he thinks of his work as a free expression that is personal, political, and comical. Once the work is finished, he walks away, leaving his art for the sanitation department.
Inspired by Dick Tracy and stacks of comic books starring the square-jawed, hard-hitting detective, street artist Damon Johnson attaches his hand-painted comic stills on chain link fences surrounding abandoned (and sometimes toxic) lots around the city, adding more mystery to your urban explorations. His is a world of femme fatales, villains, and the occasional thorny rose in the industrial wild. The New York native tells us that themes of anguish and despair recur in his street pieces because he has fought inner demons himself—and naturally, there is a little autobiography in every artist’s work on the street.
Carving surly block prints for two decades, the graphically intense work of artist Dennis McNett has a wild side that borrows from Nordic mythology, skater culture, biker tattoos, and performance art. He’s well known for his high-energy parades of hellions in Viking-inspired ships, wolf-bats, war shields, and terrifically ornate costumes, masks, and head wear. Re-imagining his art as urban sculpture, McNett occasionally gives the street a shocking installation that scares the heck out of people. Next thing you know, they’re posing for a selfie with it.
Once arrested for using the same materials as kids do when playing hopscotch in front of their house, street artist Ellis G. is known for working in shadows and light with traced shapes across sidewalks and city walls. From bicycles to street signs to trash on the corner, Ellis G. draws your attention to the fleeting shapes that appear in the night and evaporate, leaving his temporary chalk diagram on the street until the rain washes it away.
Borrowing his name from the American Revolutionary War, General Howe re-enacts battles around Brooklyn on a small scale by placing plastic soldiers in historically accurate locations on the street. By drawing attention to the location, General Howe hopes to help people draw connections to past and present wars and their very real significance in people’s lives. By using toy soldiers, he recalls the attitude of play and imagination that many an adult and child can relate to, but his installations also tie to geography and history. A school teacher who once worked in the United States Senate, the street artist says, “Places where we live, work, eat, and socialize are the same places where people fought, killed, and died during a revolution.”
A former aerosol graffiti writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hot Tea now looks for opportunities and techniques for doing non-destructive, un-commissioned installations in public spaces. Using yarn as his primary tool, Hot Tea takes a minimalist, un-crafty approach to redefining space that you are accustomed to and designing new environments and effects. With a mixture of straight-up graphic design and installation art, Hot Tea is breaking barriers and definitions on the street, and is now creating even larger-scale installations for art institutions, as well. Even his “tag” is an axiometric incarnation in yarn that takes a moment to study before you see the letters “HOT TEA.”
LEON REID IV
Using a number of alter egos, Leon Reid IV is a thinking man’s installation artist who pushes the limits of three-dimensional street art. Whether it is affixing shopping bags and bling to public statues (without harming them) or exploring the physical relationship of signage by slightly bending it, Reid IV isn’t vandalizing as much as pranking the public space with sculpture.
Emblematic of the new generation jumping into the street, London Kaye is crocheting every idea that enters her imagination and affixing it to fences around New York. From whales to eyes to thin-limbed fashion models to an iWatch complete with all its icons, Kaye’s gaze is omnivorous. She’s even crocheted cozies for subway poles and handed out hearts to people on the subway on Valentine’s Day. A classically trained dancer, Kaye moves easily between her freewill fence installations and a variety of commercial partnerships on products and advertising.
Founder of the artist collective named Mosstika, Edina Tokodi has been called a street artist and an eco-warrior because of her focus on flora when greening the street. With plants, moss, and other organic materials, Mosstika has managed to bring a biodegradable bit of life to city walls, in parts of the urban landscape without any trace of landscape. An act of environmental activism, when you run into one of these pieces it can be more surprising and curious than spotting a spray-painted tag—a reminder that eco-warriors are everywhere, including in street art.
A queen of the crochet art form on the street, Poland-born New Yorker Olek dreams big and crochets bigger. We’ve called her the Christo of street art, as Olek transforms spaces and objects with her signature crocheted camouflage in hot pinks and purples, including iconic forms by other artists—like Bernard Rosenthal’s Astor Place Cube, Wall Street’s charging bull statue, life-size human sculptures by Antony Gormley, even a bomb-shaped sculpture off the coast of Cancun for the underwater museum there. While the work is accessible and can be playful, Olek considers herself an activist with her work, creating her large-scale crochet transformations to bring attention to LGBT issues in Russia, homelessness and poverty in India, a hero of the Holocaust, and the prevention of violence against women and girls in Mogadishu.
Architect to the urban aviary set, you could say that street artist XAM is one rare bird. The California-born former graffiti writer designs, constructs, and installs eco-friendly bird shelters on city streets in New York, usually just above your head. Made from biodegradable materials and homemade natural inks, XAM has painstakingly planned and executed every detail of these city dwellings, which simply balance atop items on the street, including street signs. But don’t worry; it isn’t all so serious. He also adds humorous touches like mini satellite dishes, potted plants, and a night light by the entrance that is powered by roof-mounted solar panels.
Two Zipsters Who Do Non-Vandalizing Street Art
To illustrate the wide range of participation on the street today, here are a couple of cool Zipsters adding their voices to the conversation, as well.
Working with removable adhesives and magnets, Allison Tanenhaus (a Brand and Content Copywriter at Zipcar HQ) is sticking to the small scale when affixing her thought-provoking, philosophical truisms and comedic wordplay—typographic versions of her tweets—to Boston lampposts, fences, and payphones around town. Part poetry, part deconstructed sloganeering, the subtle textplay of this word-artist is meant to amuse or inspire when you run into them (if you even spot them, that is). They may also bring to mind the influential work of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, the latter of whom is said to have begun her art career with stickers and her “Inflammatory Essays” pasted on New York streets. The work doesn’t stick permanently, but the words might!
This Seattle-based Zipcar brand ambassador is also a magician. When it comes to his project on the street, it’s “now you don’t see it, now you do!” With an eye on new technology, Xack Fischer and his partners Peregrine Church and Forest Tresidder are exploring the effect of superhydrophobic street art, or, invisible art that is revealed after a rainstorm, through a signature spray they developed, called “Rainworks.” Using the contrasts of wet concrete and the parts spray-stenciled with their original water-repellent coating, Fischer and the Rainworks team are hoping to inspire more cool stuff on the street to turn people’s rainy days sunny. Even on gray days, Rainworks goes green: The material is biodegradable and—according to a representative at the Seattle Department of Transportation—actually legal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo have been experts on the evolving street art scene for the past two decades. The duo are co-founders of the influential art blog Brooklyn Street Art and have written a weekly arts column for The Huffington Post since 2010. Curators and published authors, they travel the world to attend festivals and speak to students and academics at various panels and art events. Follow BSA on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to keep up with their latest street art finds.