‘Art’ is in the eye of the beholder?

Is it art or graffiti? If you’ve been meaning to check out the record breaking Rise street art exhibition, that is showing at Canterbury Museum, you’ve only got a little while before it wraps up on March 23rd.

Cover of Subway ArtI expect the huge colourful murals created by local and international artists currently adorning walls around the central city, will be with us a lot longer and may continue the discussion that’s been sparked over what constitutes art as opposed to graffiti.

Vigorous debate has played out in Christchurch newspapers over the past few weeks, but you can make your own mind up!   For more on the world of street art, there are plenty of books available, and an excellent starting point would be the seminal work Subway Art by Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfont.

The exhibition features a private collection of works by Banksy, who is no stranger to public comment and curiosity. More on this mystery man can be found at our libraries.  I’ve just finished Banksy: The man behind the wall which, while it could have benefited from some judicious editing in my humble opinion, does give an insight into the secretive artist and his street art/graffiti origins in Bristol.

Cover of Banksy: The Man Behind the WallOne of my Banksy favourites of the exhibition, was ‘Kids on Guns’, but ‘Kids on Gins’ by the artist known as Milton Springsteen is a brilliant take on the original.  As are his subversions of iconic New Zealand art works.  His series of ‘Corrupt Classics’ was one of the exhibition delights for me.

On the flip side, if it’s graffiti and tagging that’s an issue for your own property or neighbourhood, the Christchurch City Council wants to know.  If you’d like to take an active role in helping remove graffiti from around the city then the team at the Graffiti Programme would love to hear from you!

Two of my favourite large street art works are these ones on a couple of walls in Sydenham.

Street ArtStreet Art

What’s your take on this style of art? Love it or loathe it?

Exit Through the Giftshop

Cover image of "The Birth of Graffiti"This weekend I headed along to the 2010 New Zealand International Film Festival to see Exit Through the Giftshop, the (supposed) documentary directed by and featuring Banksy, enigmatic street artist extraordinaire. Deciding there’s a better story to tell than his own, Banksy turns the camera on one of his more interesting admirers Thierry Guetta. In true Banksy style, the film manages to make clever observations about popular culture in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way that you can’t help but grin at.

Thierry Guetta, you see, is a man on a mission. He takes his video camera wherever he goes and records everything he sees, desperate to capture each moment before it is lost forever. Introduced to the art of graffiti through his cousin, the Invader, he becomes obsessed with following various street artists as they sneak around the city at night with their spray cans and stencils. One serendipitous moment leads to the next, and Thierry’s biggest wish comes true – he gets the opportunity to meet the elusive Banksy. He becomes Banksy’s accomplice, helping him paint elephants and cause havoc at Disney Land, all the while with camera in hand. Eventually Banksy realises Thierry is not the documentary maker he has made himself out to be, and encourages him to ditch his film-making ambitions and start graffiti-ing the town instead. Thierry embraces Banksy’s instructions like God himself has spoken to him. He is reborn as Mr. Brainwash and sets out to take street art to a whole new level…

My favourite bit? Watching Thierry sit in the LA sun in all his 70s shirts and sideburns glory, waxing lyrical about his passions. His French accent and confused use of the English language makes him the new Bruno in my eyes. I’ll be quoting him for weeks to come. Oh, and the TV monster was AWESOME.

While Exit Through the Giftshop clearly points and laughs at the art world, you get the feeling that Banksy is having a bit of a giggle at his audience too. Hoax or not, it’s one worth seeing. Brilliant.

Graffiti – urban artform

Love it or hate it, graffiti is a part of the urban landscape. I’m a fan of graffiti, but not a fan of random tagging.

I love the colour and style of big graffiti pieces, but I don’t personally see the value of random tags. However, I am learning that these seemingly random scribbles are often a precursor to graffiti artists learning their trade and building into bigger and stylier works.

I recently watched Style Wars, which documents the early years of graffiti in New York. It’s a fascinating look at the birthplace of urban graffiti, and outlines the overlap between graffiti, hip-hop and breakdancing as outlets for visual, spoken and physical expression for urban dwellers. It is an intriguing look into the community of graffiti artists, who talk about why they ‘write’ (usually just words) and why they ‘bomb’ (typically more substantial, pictorial works).

The library has copies of the 25th anniversary edition of Subway Art, in which photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant document the diverse work of graffiti writers who (illegally) painted subway cars throughout New York City. The larger style of this new edition showcases the work in fantastic form.

For a New Zealand perspective, check out Elliot O’Donnell’s book InForm, where New Zealand graffiti artists talk about their work, their style and their influences.

Jonny Wartman is a director for the only professional graf company in New Zealand. He’s originally from Christchurch and was interviewed for The Pulse.

Graffiti is everywhere, whether you love it or hate it. To whet your appetite to find out a little more, here’s a selection of covers to give you a taste – the books on non-English language graffiti art, for example, graffiti paris and RackGaki, were really interesting to get a different cultural perspective of graffiti.