Archive for the 'Street Art' Category



Pigneto: The Rome For Outsiders, and Me

Here’s a little rule of thumb I learned yesterday: if a neighborhood has a shitton of street art, it’s probably the neighborhood I wanna be in.

It’s funny coming back to a place; I never really do it. I was interested to experience the difference. Three years ago, Rome was hands down my favorite European city—probably because it was the most vivaciously chaotic of the cities I’d visited in Europe. Life was different then; for one, I was traveling with my then-boyfriend, who I’d break up with a month after returning home. Nuff said.

Rome didn’t seem so intense and frenetic this time around; it felt much more manageable. I landed with 8 hours of scattered sleep within the previous 48 hour period, and decided to power through the day in order to acclimate myself to the time difference (it worked).

I wandered through the city in a haze of memory, surprised by how my legs took me to all the familiar spots—muscle memory of a city. There was the Colosseum, aching in its magnificent crumble; there was this piazza and that piazza; there was the terrible Chinese restaurant I dragged us to in a vegan moment of tofu craving. It’s funny when a place has only existed in your mind, at one very specific time, funny to see it still going on, living and breathing, like going back into a dream that had kept on dreaming without you.

I remember my dad saying that Rome made him feel his own mortality, and I can definitely say that’s still true for me. There’s something about the ancient greatness, the ruins and remains of glory, that really serve to check you. Just in case, you know, you got to thinking your shit really mattered, there’s Rome to remind you how inconsequential it all is—how small, how much of one shining moment you are. All your joy and heartbreak, your own impending ruin—it will all come and go, and Rome will still be there. You’ll be lucky if your bones last as long as Rome’s.

That being said, Rome isn’t really about anything I’m about. It’s one of the world’s great cities, and has been for thousands of years, and I love it for that, but everything that I get stoked on—diversity, punk rock, hip hop, street art, tattoos, counterculture—Rome doesm’t give a shit about. Why should it? It had Julius Caesar; Rome doesn’t have time for trends.

Walking around center, you get to feeling like an absolute slob—an(other) American slob. Everyone has so much style and grace in Rome; how do their clothes fit so well? How do they all look so effortlessly chic and beautiful, and what the hell is wrong with you in your Toms and Talk Is Poison shirt?

And then you take a rickety street car down, along desolate tracks and amid rows of block buildings, into the rundown side of town, and you realize: that’s because all the Romans in the center are rich. Rich people of any culture look good, and are inherently alientating (to me at least). You get amid a neighborhood a little more like your own, and you realize there’s more to Roman life than tailored suits and killer shoes.

Pigneto is the Mission Dolores/Williamsburg of Rome—an old-school, traditional neighborhood first overtaken by immigrants, now overtaken by hipsters artist types otherwise entirely abscent from Rome. Along its shady streets, you see little old Italian men shuffling around; African, Chinese and Bangladeshi immigrants hanging out, free of their blankets of goods to sell; young Italian sitting in doorways smoking. I love dynamic cultural collisions like that; they’ve been known to bring much of the forementioned things I love. Including street art.

I’d headed out to Pigneto in the first place to meet up with Jessica Stewart, who runs the very kick-ass Rome Photo Blog, covering contemporary art, street art and other radom wonderful things around Rome. I had some time to kill before we met, so I roamed around and took photos.

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I met Jessica at Necci, a bar/restaurant that’s been around since the 1920s and was featured in an issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller last year. We sat at a table under a tree (which only kind of shielded us from the rain) and she told me about the neighborhood, about the art scene and ex-pat life in Rome.

“Rome is a very play-it-safe, stay-with-the-pack kind of city,” she told me. She spoke about the city’s slowness to accept street art in its galleries. “It’s a very traditional city. It’s hard to impress people in Rome—you know, when you’ve got the Colosseum right there, it’s hard to feel like you can do anything in comparison, or anything that matters.”

There were, she told me (and as she’s documented on her blog), a small handful of artists, living out in Pigneto and San Lorenzo, that were doing their own thing. And acceptance was growing, along with recognition.

“The one thing one of the artists said that was true,” she told me, our shoulders hunched under the branches and drizzle, faces half-lit from the barroom light, “is that, if you can make it in Rome, you can make it anywhere.”

It seemed true enough.

Serendipity, Street Art and the Best Layover EVER

It’s a fantasy common enough to warrant TV commercials, (porno) movie plots and a voyeuristic story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: you get seated next to an attractive person on an airplane. And you’re stuck beside each other, awkwardly negoitiating the small space for hours.

As most travelers will readily tell you, this is about as rare to air travel as getting bumped up to first class. No, rarer. The cast of characters usually beside you in the sardine can of coach include snorers, fidgeters, wiley children and consumers of mysterious day-old food. It really serves to drive home to actual percentage of datable people in the world’s population. I, for one, had given up on the fantasy and resigned myself to the mere hope of a recently showered individual that can fit in their own seat (which is also more or less when I’ve resigned myself in dating—and have been known to compromise on as well).

Well, holy shit if the travel gods didn’t smile down on me. And homeboy wasn’t just attractive—he was rad. As I discovered, not just during the flight, but on our 10-hour layover spent adventuring around Brooklyn together, spotting street art and searching for obscure vinyl.

I’d noticed him passing through security (as I was being pulled aside to have my purse dismembered in search on nonexistent weapons): hip without being pretentious, stubble beard, cowboy boots, a bulging bag of records. But I didn’t give it much thought until I was settling into my dismal seat in the back of the plane, next to the bathrooms. I watched him struggle to jam his record bag into the overhead compartment and smiled. When he looked down at his boarding pass, scanned the aisle numbers and ended up standing right beside me, we both smiled.

Sebastian had been traveling around the US for 5 weeks, and was on his way back to Zurich. He had a couple lines in his forhead, the well-traveled beginning of wrinkles. He had the worn-smooth hands of a cook, the black strand of a necklace peeking out from under his shirt. He had killer taste in music.

We chatted about life and travel and bands (“I saw some great shows in San Francisco.” “Like who?” “Ty Segall.” “On Wednesday? At the Rickshaw Stop? I was totally there!”). We talked about his trip and my trip (“I’ve got a 10 -hour layover.” “Me too. I was gonna go into the city, hang out. Better than being at the airport.” “That was my plan too.”) We fell into the fitful half-sleep of confined space and over air-conditioning; woke up stiff necked and lip smacking, ditched our bags at a luggage locker and rode the subway into Brooklyn.

It was a shuttered-up and bare-sidewalked Sunday morning on Bedford, ground zero of Brooklyn hipness. There was a record store Sebastian wanted to get back to, that wouldn’t be open for hours. We rubbed our aching eyes and looked for coffee.

I consulted my iPhone. “Oh shit, there’s a Blue Bottle?!” I exclaimed. “Yeah,” said a girl passing by, “it’s around the corner.”

We sat in the sun and drank our hand-dripped cups of black, watched the parade of dogs and toddlers and cool kids. We bombed around the neighborhood, going nowhere in particular, until the shops thinned and the wide walls of warehouses took over. And we began spotting some kick-ass street art.

All the pictures are on my phone, which for some reason my new (new to me, that is) netbook won’t download. So expect a post when I get home. But just to tease, I saw Roa, Faile, Space Invader, Gaia, and a whole bunch of folks I didn’t know but really wanted to.

We hit the record stores that had brought us there. Sebastian confessed to me that he was a music nerd with a record fetish. “There’s so many more records in the States,” he told me. He’d already shipped a crate back to Zurich. “It’s okay, though, it’s still cheaper than trying to buy it in Europe. If you can find it at all.”

We got back on the train, dazed and subdued with our long flights looming. We looked back through his pictures—he’d ended up going to Burning Man, on (another) serendipitous whim, and I leaned in over his shoulder to look at the small viewfinder, its story of dust and fire, the wind that moves through desolate places.

Our shoulders touched, just a little in the shudder of the train. I felt no desire to make a move, so to speak; it was enough to have a small flutter in my stomach. It was enough to have met someone awesome, totally serendipitously. It was enough to have wandered around sleep-dazed and discovering, to have sat on stoops smoking in the Brooklyn sun.

Sometimes you don’t need a big climax, don’t need to get all flirty and sleezy or anything at all. Sometimes it’s enough to feel liked, not just desired, and to genuinely like someone back. Not cause you want to make-out with them necessarily, but just because they’re rad.

We sat at the bar of a jokey airport restaurant, where Sebastian indulged in the last American hamburger of his trip. NFL games were flashing on the various television sets, the jarring loudspeaker announcements of boardings and departings echoing through the space.

“Sebastian,” I said, “you are by far the coolest person I’ve ever sat next to on an airplane.”

We hugged. “I had a great time,” he smiled. “Me too.”

And I walked away, through the terminal to my own adventure.

Gaia in Seoul

Something excited me. I wanted to write about it.

That’s pretty much how it goes for me, and even better when it goes well. Making my internet rounds a couple weeks ago, I came across some coverage of US-based artist Gaia‘s recent work in Seoul, a five-piece street art project that explored conflicts in Korean culture.

All my little interest antennae were piqued. But coverage was all on art sites that focus mainly on photos rather than text. I needed to know more: Why Seoul? Why this project? What was his connection? How did the project come about? How did this dude, this outsider, this traveler, find a way down into the pulse of a place, the cement aorta of the city—and leave a mark on its walls?

So I found him and I asked him. Lovely guy. You can read the text version of our 45-minute conversation over at Hi-Fructose, here.

What interested me most about the project was its deep interaction with place. It goes beyond site-specificity, for me. All street art, one could say, involves a very visceral, physical interaction with a place, its architecture, cement, rooftops—its placeness. Which I love. But this project went beyond that. The pieces spoke to very deep conflicts within the culture—tradition versus modernization, internal versus external—conflicts you could say define the culture. The project did this, not in essays or lectures, but in art, on the street. It spoke to the cultural elements of the place through the physicality of the city itself.

Pretty bad ass. And some damn good travelin.

FAME Festival Pre-Coverage @ Hi Fructose

Remember those impulsive plane tickets to Italy I purchased a couple months ago? Well, the impetus for the irrationality was FAME Festival, an annual street art event that takes over the ancient ceramics town Grottaglie. Aside from overall dopeness, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the connection between street art and place—because what better way is there to explore a subject than to travel and write about it?

So I’ve been not-so-secretly trying to weasel my way in to writing for arts and culture publications. I’ve managed to work my way on to Hi-Fructose’s blog, with some pre-coverage here. Be sure to check in for updates as the event draws nearer!

Voices in the Dark: Coral Graffiti Along Hawaii’s Highway 19

Hot air. A plumb-cloud sky and a mile of black. This is not paradise; this is death. This is the rocky remains of an ancient burning, shot out from far below the surface. This is a graveyard of fire.

Sometimes the earth can be scarred like skin. This is what I thought as we drove up Highway 19, up from the Kona airport, along a coastline charred with volcanic black rock. Burnt earth and a whispering silence.

So it was startling to see, scrawled into the black, white words, like voices in the dark. They call it coral graffiti, Hawaiian for street art. It’s not really, but it’s the closest thing I saw. Hawaii isn’t very urban, and I definitely didn’t go into the urban parts—but coral graffiti was the local take on tagging.

It appears to work like this: you pull over on the side of the highway, hissing wind and heat. You arrange white coral gathered at the beach; you write messages, declarations of love and tributes to the deceased, sometimes a little hometown pride. It blazes against the black, long after you’ve whizzed away—becomes, not a relic of you, but its own entity, its own little prayer, living on in the stretch of rock and wind.

I didn’t write any. But I did pull over to snap some photos. Enjoy.

Painting the Town: Street Artists Bomb the Bay

One of the nice things about living in the Bay Area is that people come here. Just, you know, to visit. We’re coming up on the high season, when the streets swell with tourists, clicking their cameras and speaking their different languages, hanging limbs off cable cars and sharing undoubtedly brilliant commentary in the halls of museums. We don’t complain so much about tourists in the Bay Area—aside from the fact that they spend a shitton of money (and have hopefully read the part in their guidebooks about tipping), it makes us feel good: we live somewhere people want to come to.

It makes us feel especially good when those people are street artists who leave us little gifts.

The Bay Area has been freaking out over the past few days about 6 Banksy pieces that have surfaced in San Francisco. We’re a medium-sized city, so it makes us feel special that an artist that big would come out and leave his mark. I, for one, had to take advantage of a sunny spring day and go on a taco-fueled, MUNI-powered mission across the city (cause, you know, why not?) to see as many as I could. But here on the quieter, slower side of the Bay, a couple other street artists/collectives have made visits. They may not be as big as Banksy (who is?), but spotting their work made me feel, I’m not gonna lie, a little warm and cozy about my hometown.

The blogosphere has been abuzz over Banksy lately. With the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, everyone’s favorite British recluse has been hitting up spots where the film’s debuted. (His recent work in LA caused quite the stir when it was physically removed to be sold in a shady art gallery.) The San Francisco debut of the film went down recently, and we were all waiting, holding our collectively aerosol-stained breath, to see if any Bay Area pieces would surface.

They did. Warholian broke the news, spread the word and even got himself on TV:

I had to wait a few days, for a full day off (new waitressing gig = mucho trabajo) to embark on the mission. Luckily, Warholian posted exact locations on his Flickr stream (along with far better photos than I took). Oh, the digital age…

What was funnest about missioning around to find the pieces wasn’t really the art; it was seeing all the people come out. Folks were really excited to see the work, like a treasure hunt where the reward wasn’t some crappy Easter egg but sick-ass stencils that spawned social commentary—and a nice dose of civic pride. One guy I met was super stoked that a piece ended up abutting his soon-to-open bar (“It’s like free publicity!”). A group of European kids posed for photos by the Native American stencil while a hip dude explained in Spanish to a passer-by what all the fuss was about. On Haight Street, I met an old dude with a serious camera—miles of lenses and clicky gadgets—who told me, “I’ve never been that into this whole street art thing. Always looked like a bunch of scribble to me. But I read about this in the paper and thought, well, that’s pretty cool. So I wanted to come out and document it.”

Doubt this one will be winding up in a gallery

Yeah, my camera sucks. You should really just Google this shit.

Say what you will about Banksy—publicity stunt conspiracy theories and cries of being too mainstream—but that Bristol boy got San Francisco juiced, taking pictures and making missions and actually chatting with each other (usually a more Oakland phenomenon). And at least one cool old dude seeing street art as something other than vandalism.

But I’ve been noticing more cool pieces around lately, on my own side of the Bay. One of my favorite street art blogs alerted me to that fact that Feral was in town, and I spotted one of his pieces (now gone) by the MacArthur BART station.

Abandoned furniture and trash-feasting pigeons: that's my town!

And up on Telegraph, the epicenter of gutter punks and flip-flop-wearing bros, I spotted one of TrustoCorp‘s guerilla street signs. These have been making me giggle for months, and I was stoked to see some stuff locally.

I’m not sure who did this piece, but I liked the placement of it—a busy intersection across from a Whole Foods—and its stark insistence on being noticed.

I’m continuing to think a lot about street art and what exactly it is that draws me to it—what exactly it is that seems so undeniably related to travel. It’s got something to do with place, with the insistence of place, the immediacy and intimacy of interacting with a place on such a visceral, physical level (the subject of one of my first ever blog posts). The words are forming, the drooling gibberish shaping itself into discernible sounds under my wet pink tongue (“mama,” “dada”).

In the meantime, I’m thinking a trip to Italy for Fame Festival might answer some questions and cure some wanderlust. Just in case the Bay doesn’t receive any visitors for awhile…

Smog City Street Art

Second and Traction. I wouldn’t have ended up there if three degrees of separation and a vaguely pointing finger hadn’t sent me, the intersection pulsing on my iMap like a gleam off buried treasure. Does every town have a warehouse district—posed delicately between decay and revitalization, a hushed breath that sends the trash dancing ecstatically down deserted streets. Abandoned buildings, chain-link fences, art collectives, lofts, hip cafes on whose terraces a gothic bartender I once knew squinted her eyes against the LA sun (she never did get sober). Dogs and day laborers and cute girls on bicycles—and a shitton on graffiti.

I’m thinking this little tract of Downtown LA is something like the hill (or dug-outs or BART tracts) where the cool kids in high school smoked weed. There were pieces from big names like So-Cal native Shepard Fairey and the UK’s D*Face (who recently made a stir with his Zombie Oscars installations), as well as wheatpastes and stencils and tags galore. I came across a friendly crew of dudes painting a legit mural on the side of an abandoned building that read “Still Kicking Ass.”

Damn straight.

Shepard Fairey

A lot of the work was heavily politicized—making poignant to satirical comments on the imperialism, immigration, consumerism, commodification and other fun subjects not typically conjured in my LA stereotypes. Just more proof that there’s more going on than teeth whitening and Botox injections.

Interesting comment on the commodification of political figures--especially considering the man responsible for the oh-so-famous Obama image had a piece up a block away.

Mad skills

Reminiscent of Banksy mice, no?

D*Face: Siiiick

Word.

Dudes painting mural

"Can I get a picture of your bird tattoos?" "Sure." "Aw, dude, show her your Booger tattoo."

At work

More pieces on the same building

One of Nomade's Roman fellows

Down on 9th and Mateo, another abandoned building was getting seriously hit up by some bad-ass murals, part of the LA Freewalls Project. Local boy Saber had just completed an impressive piece, as had D*Face.

Saber's mural

Detail: buffed graffiti

And, why not, a couple more gems from elsewhere in the city…

Sherpard Fairey & Saber alley, Silverlake (thanks for the correction, Daniel)

Note the can: Campbell's Soup. How Meta.

If all taggers and graffiti artists looked like this, they'd have a much easier time.

Health care reform passed while I was in LA. Was delighted to see the Monopoly fellow around.

So what does it all tell you, these smears of paint and peeling papers, about Los Angeles? If street art and place really do have as much of a connection as I suspect they do, LA’s told me this: that even within the belly of mass culture and consumerism, pangs of outsider aches burn acidic. And they don’t sit quietly, politely, hands folded and waiting their turn. They’re illicit, guerilla and goddamn beautiful.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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