Questions about Street Art (or answers rather)

014.jpgWow, isn’t this the topic of the day? Memo Pisa El Lodo is documenting it, LA City Nerd is complaining about it, Curbed LA is discussing it and L.A. Voice is asking some questions. There are an endless string of discussions to have about this stuff, and we’ve had a few of them here in the past, but since Mack asked one question I can answer right away, I figured I would. He writes:

“Initially, I resented 20MG plastering giant pills all over the utility boxes around Silver Lake – mostly because they looked like shit when people tried to remove them (what is that adhesive made of?) …”

Bingo. That is the point. With most street art, the idea of it being put there in the first place is for people to see it, however being that it is street art, it’s temporary by nature. So anyone involved with this stuff who spends more than 5 minutes copying an image onto sticker paper at Kinko’s has a delema to solve – how to put something up, that you know is going to come down, but keep it up at long as possible. There’s two pieces to that puzzle that most street artists have figured out. First off, the harder the art is to remove, and the worse it looks mid removal, the more chances that next time someone will opt to just leave it intact rather than try to remove it. (Shepard Fairey has actually addressed this in the art itself, with OBEY stickers that advised “it has been determined that this sticker can not be removed without damaging the integrity of the surface, please do not touch” and “it will take you at least an hour to remove this sticker, is that really the best usage of your time?”) So the harder it is to get the art off and the worst that looks, the better chance the piece will be left alone. Of course nature doesn’t read, or care about the visuals which brings us to the adhesive question. It’s nothing too crazy actually, but very effective. Every artist has their own flavor, but in most cases it’s a powdered wheat paste base. Just add water and you are good to go, however one rain and that is gone so the weat paste is mixed with a combo of sealents and water proofing liquids that you can pick up at any hardware store. Ideally, this combined with very thin paper that won’t peal off easily makes for a lasting image. Without human intervention, some posters that have been put up with this kind of mixture have lasted 3-4 years here in LA.

24 thoughts on “Questions about Street Art (or answers rather)”

  1. Ummm… sometimes I enjoy “street art” – but if it intended to leave a mess when you bring it down, shouldn’t this be considered nothing less than vandalism?

  2. I’m still all for it. I think watching both street art and commercial images disintegrate and become other things is part of the process.

    I didn’t think people cared so very much about disintigrating street art. Everyone happily tolerates a giant 50-images-in-a-row strip of iPod posters going down one entire city block on the walls of a construction site, but an Obey Giant poster half coming off is a municipal plague?

  3. Lets not get into the whole Commercial vs. Expressing yourself aspect of it. Which I did at Curbed LA yesterday But the point is leave it up and you’re left with art. Take it down, and you get nasty looking torn up shreads on a utility box.

  4. Yeah, I don’t like it when it’s taken down either – but usually it seems like very angry or frustrated folks are the ones trying to do it too. Everything ends up shredded even worse (as in the photo posted)…

  5. I don’t understand the justification in this – sounds like intentionally making “art” difficult to remove without making a mess is a little like an intimidation tactic.

    Is there a code of ethics anywhere dictating where and where not “street art” can be posted? Are other billboards okay? Private business fronts? Subway and bus seats?

    Are stickers okay, but spraypaint not okay? What about people who carve into the plexiglass windows on buses? Are they just artists?

    Could taggers claim this artistic expression as well? Perhaps under the guise of “minimalist” artists?

    I’m sure if the “art” was pro-war, pro-Bush, or just merely not of your taste, your views on its acceptance as being anything less than destructive vandalism would be much different.

  6. I’m not complaining; I’m merely pointing out an issue that adds to a negative portrayal of our City (all perception, I know). This is being said, though, in context of what was pointed out yesterday by a commenter: there is a difference between street art and tagging/graffiti. I’m a fan of street art, both permitted and guerrilla; graffiti, not so much.

  7. David, you are making so pretty big assuptions with that last comment. Especially the last bit, do you have any justification for that or are you just trying to be antagonistic?

  8. I’ve asked my friend who is a pretty big street artist to come and join in this discussion.

  9. Sean:
    Indeed, my last comment is a big ass assumption, but not, not trying to be antagonistic just for the sake of being antagonistic.
    I tend to appreciate SOME street art, but this is irrelevent.

    My larger question asks where’s the line between “street art” and “destructive vandalism”?

    Hate to read like an old codger here, but removing said art costs tax payers money, just as graffitti removal does, and even taggers often claim to be “expressing themselves”.

  10. Street art – I have mix feelings about the medium. Of course I like the idea of free art and expressionish but isn’t its akin to someone listening to their music really loud. But maybe I don’t like that music/art/whatever but yet here I am, forced to tolerate it. Yea I know, move along move along. Nothing to see/hear here. But there is.

  11. As to the ethics of “Street Art”. It varies widely from individual to individual. The majority of the “rules” that street artists “choose” to live by involve the covering up or not covering up of other artists works, or are adopted as they tend to keep one’s ass out of jail.

    Most of the street artists I work with seem to make efforts to stay above petty vandalism, choosing locations that best promote their projects. If an art gallery is regularily showing street art, or attracts a hipster crowd, look for the fresh posters & stickers put up in the day or two before an opening – that’s prime advertising space for these guys.

    At this point there’s little seperation between the commercial posters and the “street art” posters. The street art posters essentially function as advertisements for the artist’s hoped for career as the next Shepard Fairey/Paul Frank/Hello Kitty… Lots of street artists now have business and licensing plans that they are shopping to apparel manufacturers and Hot Topic. It’s more a grass roots product advertising movement than a grass roots art movement at this point. That being said – there is some truly beautiful and amazing street art out there still.

    LA City Nerd – I wouldn’t group tagging in with graffiti. Graffiti artists almost never start out as taggers, the two communities have very little overlap, even though they employ similar tools. Taggers are sub-human wastoids, IMHO.

  12. David- Owning an art gallery, having a lot of friends who are street artists, and being a pretty vocal advocate of free speech I’ve had the “is this art” discussion far more frequently than I want and am not really interested in revisting it. Everyone has their own opinions which aren’t going to change based on anything I say. What I’m disturbed about is your statement that “if the “art” was pro-war, pro-Bush, or just merely not of your taste, your views on its acceptance as being anything less than destructive vandalism would be much different.”

    Freedom of speech applies to everyone, no matter what their message is and I don’t know why you would assume that I, or anyone else in this comment thread would think it only applies to things we support.

  13. I spent some time with Fairey while he was stickering.

    David asked if there was a code of ethics: I know Shepard makes a point of not covering any gov’t signage, anyone else’s images, or any private property signage.

    That’s only him, but I also know most othe rmajor artists feel the same. A “do no harm” kind of thing.

    I wrote about ’em in the first issue we had after our relaunch. It was fun to write & to spend time with the artists, and I got to analyze Shepard Fairey (I don’t think he likes me any more as a result):

  14. There is no such thing as street art. Anything put up illegally is Graffiti. This goes for over half the movie & corporate posters in Los Angeles. Most of these posters are not put on sanctioned walls. They are put up without permission, and for some reason we accept this. These marketing companies are graffiti artists in disguise. This division with how we refer to graffiti leads to a lot of problems in my opinion. You either support people putting stickers, tags, posters (guerrilla or advertising), bombs, or full color burners in front of your face or you don’t. A sanctioned wall would help to create less tags and more full color burners (which most people like), but it will not get rid of the problem completely.

    The poster artist….
    Most poster artist wants their image to decay naturally. That is part of the process. This is why they tend to use the best glue possible (my recommendations – acrylic, wheat paste, wood glue, and the new shit I found but won’t tell you here mixed together magically). With good adhesive the image will become a part of the environment, because the inks in the paper will eventually absorb into the surface. When torn down it ruins the process for the poster artist, because there is no natural decay. The natural decay is what makes the poster more raw and alive.


    Check out Fi5e Ni9e graffiti analysis project. You might also want to scroll through his other projects. He has some pretty amazing stuff.

    It helps one to understand that “tagging” is also an art form. With any art form there will be bad artists, but in the mix there are some extremely talented writers. Fi5e goes into how writers are typographers. It takes years to master this form. To be able to write anyway you want. It’s almost like the calligraphists, but only you are dealing in space that is never comfortable (need speed, and complete understanding of how the landscape will affect you).

  16. “Freedom of speech applies to everyone, no matter what their message is and I don’t know why you would assume that I, or anyone else in this comment thread would think it only applies to things we support.”

    My issue isn’t with freedom of speech per se, but with selectively calling vandalism art or art vandalism, depending on medium, placement, and content. Even if you’ve already discussed this to death in private, I would think that a public discussion on the topic as it relates to this thread is important.

    I think one decent example is this post by Will:

    wherein he writes, “Being so decidedly anti-vandalism, I suppose I should provide some rationalization as to why I’m not as vehemently infuriated by taggers of pavement as I am by taggers of walls.”

    Different medium, but still vandalism, but he finds the “more permanent” of the two more acceptable.

    To be honest, I would think liberals would be more tolerant of all forms of speech than conservatives… and, by that measure, would be more tolerant to ALL forms of street art and content. But everyone will have a bias as to what legitimate art is, and sometimes this will involve the content of what is being said.

    Am I making an ounce of sense?

  17. Well if you have a issue with something Will wrote, might that be better in the comments in his thread rather than this one? It seems you are challenging me over something he wrote. hmm?

    Anyway – “selectively calling vandalism art or art vandalism, depending on medium, placement, and content.”

    I’m not selectively calling anything one or the other – and medium, placement, or content has nothing to do with it – as with traditional art it’s all about the intent.

  18. Branded – thanks for the links.

    Tagging may be an art form, but I don’t have to like it. Out of all of the behavior associated with graff, tagging creates more problems than any other. If more writers abandoned it as a means of expression/promotion the whole scene would be better off. Also, because it’s so easy to tag, it attracts wanna be writers who have no skills, who can quickly deface property that other graffiti artists would avoid – shop windows, residences, cars…

  19. Almost all graffiti art is vandalism. Anytime that property, private or public is intentionally altered without the permission of the person or agency responsible for said property, it constitutes vandalism. The real question is “How much vandalism is acceptable, and under what circumstances?”

  20. I just have the feeling this isn’t a discussion in other countries. Have you been to Europe and seen their vibrant, often joyful street art? Now, nobody puts that shit up on Notre Dame itself granted, but it’s everywhere in cities like Paris and Amsterdam.

    The big question at hand is, what do we want LA to be?

    To me so much of our urban landscape is a dumpo anyway (oh boy, I am probably gonna get it for saying that) and I love to see those little artistic reminders that not all is dead and lost in LA. Even when some angry codger (wink) tries to tear it down afterward.

  21. Hey, I just found this site while searching for two particular street art posters – I’m not sure if this is the appropriate place to ask, so I apologize if it isn’t. Anyway, a friend recently sent me some photos she took of a couple of posters she passes on her way to work. Both are orange and black – one is of a man with his face partially obscured by his hands, The other is the L.A. skyline, with the words “Los Angeles” near the top in graffiti-style lettering. Is it possible that anyone can give me some lead in contacting whoever makes these? I would love to have copies of them, if possible. Thanks for any help, and I apologize again if this is an inappropriate question or place to ask it.

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