As street art goes mainstream in Asia, Art Radar takes a look at its roots.
Modern graffiti art originated as an underworld activity and coincided with the hip hop movement in the late 1960’s and early 70’s in New York City [Associated Content], but many artists who started as ‘taggers’ have been recognised by the art world and achieved commercial success. This post will provide an outline of the humble beginnings of street art culture and the artists who have emerged from this culture and into the international art scene.
The common unsanctioned art visible in urban areas is the work of graffiti ‘writers’, who compete for recognition and respect (‘fame’) by having the most pervasive street art in a community. Each artist has his or her own graffiti name (‘tag’), which is creatively written as a signature or autograph and repeated throughout an area. Walls within an area that are sites for expressions of an artist’s or group’s dominance are known as ‘Walls of Fame.’
A strict hierarchy, visible through imagery
Although the graffiti art community may seem unstructured, it adheres to a strict hierarchy among its writers. The most visible or skilled artists are known as ‘kings’, and iconography of crowns within their work is a reference to the writer’s status. Lesser artists can only gain status by impressing a ‘king’.
Unfortunately, part of the reason these writers create graffiti is because it is illicit, and it helps the artist gain notoriety. Lady Pink, a socially conscious veteran street artist whose work is on display at The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Queens Museum of Art, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, the Museum of the City of New York, says:
“You can’t give them a legal wall. They’re not interested. They’re more interested in the aspect of breaking the law, being vandals and being rebellious. They don’t have the skills for it or the desire to paint something in the daytime.” [Queens Tribune]
From street to chic
In past years street art has progressed beyond its gang related origins and is now appreciated among the highest contemporary art, with a matching price tag. Ralph Taylor of Sotheby’s, who has organized contemporary street art sales for auction in London, says:
“There is a natural progression from the young artists collected by Charles Saatchi in the 1990s to the street artists of today. People used to be looking for the next Damien Hirst; now they are after the next Banksy.” [Telegraph]
The artist Banksy, whose identity is kept secret for fear of the legal consequences for his art, is perhaps the best known street artist today. Banksy’s You Told That Joke Twice surpassed price estimates to sell for $266,000 at Christie’s on February 11, 2010, in a sale among pieces by Andy Warhol and Anish Kapoor. Another piece by Banksy, titled I Fought the Law is scheduled for auction at Christie’s on March 23, 2010, with an estimated price of $15,020-$22,530. Another two works by Banksy, titled Bomb Hugger and Armoured Car, sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Sale on February 11, 2010, selling for $88,396 and $73,976, respectively.
Works by the American graffiti artist Barry Mcgee, also known as ‘Ray Fong’ and ‘Twist’ (and variations of the word twist, including Twister and Twisty) have also frequented the Christie’s auction, commanding prices up to $113,525.
Art Radar’s Top 5 Street Artists who have achieved success in the art world
Possibly the best known street artist and an icon of the street art movement. He began his career creating street artworks in and around London, but has been legitimately accepted into the higher realms of the art world. He has been a regular at art auctions fetching high prices, and is presented with the most exclusive contemporary artists at gallery shows. Banksy will be on display in Hong Kong at Fabrick Contemporary Art in the company of artists Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon, and Gilbert and George, in The Great British Show, running Feb 25- March 25, 2010.
Banksy’s Asian museum exhibition debut was the show ‘Love Art 08‘, which ran April 30-May 13, 2008 at the Hong Kong Art Center, and featured other contemporary and pop art heavy weights like Damien Hirst and Robert Indiana.
He has also recently completed a film titled Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is touted to be a ‘street art disaster movie’, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan 24, 2010.
Educated over 20 years ago at the Rhode Island School of Design, he began his career making guerilla street art in Los Angeles, but has since expanded his concept, which revolves around the image of Andre the Giant, into an entire product line branded ‘OBEY’. Canvas artworks have also been developed from this iconography, including his Peace Goddess, which sold at Sotheby’s for $80,500 in the company of works by Banksy and Andy Warhol. His first museum exhibition, titled Supply and Demand, was at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, from Febuary 16-August 16, 2009, and included his iconic Obama Poster, which now hangs in the United State’s National Portrait Gallery.
3. Adam Neate
This UK graffiti artist has been recognized by the London National Gallery, the Tate, and the London National Portrait Gallery. He has been shown by the Elms Lesters Gallery in London, and in 2007 his painting Suicide Bomber sold for £78,500 at Sotheby’s. On November 14, 2008, in an event The London Show, he and helpers left 1,000 prints, worth a total of £1 million, around London streets for anyone to pick up and keep. He says: “The whole concept of the free art thing was challenging the notion of art as a commodity and its worth in society. Now I’m taking that to another level, testing the viability of separating art from commerce.” [Skyarts]
Adam’s Neate’s Asian debut was at the Schoeni Gallery in Hong Kong on June 19-July 18, 2009.
4. Swoon, whose real name is Caledonia ‘Callie’ Currry, is a New York City street artist, and has been recognized by the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Art Basel Miami, MoMA, and the Brooklyn Museum. She crashed the 2009 Venice Biennale with a 30-person ‘Swimming Cities’ performance project, titled The Clutches of Cuckoo. She and her ‘pirate’ crew sailed from Slovenia to dock off the Grand Canal of Certosa Island in a ship made of New York City garbage, to make an extraordinary entrance.
5. Barry McGee, also known as Ray Fong, Twist, or Twisty, is a San Francisco, California based street artist and cult figure whose work was included in the Venice Biennale in 2001, and the 2009-2010 Biennale de Lyon, France. He has been exhibited at the Watari-um Museum in Tokyo, the 2008 Carnegie International, the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Maryland, and the BALTIC Centre in UK. His work has also sold at Christie’s, commanding high prices.
Erin Wooters Yip
- What is Street Art? Vandalism, graffiti or public art- Part I – Jan 10
- Street artist Zevs detained in Hong Kong for defacing Chanel logo – interview– July 09
- Why is Thailand difficult for street artists? Graffiti artist Bundit Puangthong explains– July 09
- Chinese urban art exhibition in London shows new art medium laser tagging– Oct 08