I’m Shirley Griffith.
I’m Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. Today, we travel
through city streets all over the world to explore street art, a popular and
lively art movement.
Street art can be found on
buildings, sidewalks, street signs and even trashcans from Tokyo to Paris to
New York City. This special kind of art can take the form of paintings,
sculptures, cloth or even stickers. Its international presence is supported by
Web sites, artist communities, books and magazines. Street art has become part
of a global visual culture. Now, even art museums and galleries are collecting
the work of street artists.
is not easy to provide an exact history of the street art movement. This kind
of art has developed in many kinds of ways in places all over the world. Also,
because it is illegal to paint public and private property without permission,
street artists usually work secretly. This secretive nature of street art and
its countless forms make it hard to define exactly. And people have different
opinions about the movement. Some think street art is a crime and destroys
property. But others see this art as a rich form of non-traditional cultural
experts say the movement began in New York City in the nineteen sixties. Young
adults would use paint in special cans to spray their “tag” on walls and train
cars around the city. This tag was a name they created to identify themselves
and their artwork. This colorful style of writing is also called graffiti. It
is visually exciting and energetic. Some graffiti paintings were signs marking
the territories of city gangs or illegal crime groups.
also became a separate movement expressing the street culture of young people
living in big cities. Graffiti art represented social and political rebellion.
This was art that rejected the accepted rules of culture and power. These
artists could travel around areas of the city making creative paintings for
everyone to see. The artists could become famous without being officially
recognized. Sometimes this street art created a dispute between artists and
city officials. Graffiti artists created their images and city officials
quickly painted over them.
the nineteen eighties two New York painters who began as street artists became
very famous. Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat started creating their
paintings on the streets. But soon they began showing their work in art
galleries and museums. This is when street art started to become part of the
more general popular culture.
art today takes many forms. One well known New York City street artist goes by
the name of Swoon. Swoon creates detailed paper cutouts of people that she
observes around her. She places these life-size images on walls in different
areas of New York. For example, one of her artworks is of a little boy playing.
He is turning his smiling face and seems to be running into the distance. The
lines of Swoon’s drawing give energy and movement to the picture. She placed
the picture of the boy next to other large graffiti images. It looks like he is
running around between the different pieces of artwork.
did not start her career making street art. She studied fine art at the Pratt
Institute in Brooklyn, New York. But she says she lost interest in the official
workings of art galleries. She soon started taking her art into the streets.
likes how her work changes slowly after it is outside for a while. The art
slowly disappears because of the effects of time, sun and rain. She also enjoys
the freedom of expression which street art permits. And people enjoy Swoon’s
strong and imaginative pictures. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art in New York
City has bought several of her works.
In Houston, Texas you
can see a very different kind of street art by Knitta Please. This group of
artists is made up of people who like to knit. Knitting is a way of creating
clothing by looping together long thin pieces of material such as cotton or
wool. Two members of Knitta Please became tired of starting knitting projects
and never finishing them. So they decided to become street artists. They place
their knitted projects on door handles, street signs, and cars around town.
Many people in Houston collect the colorful creations of Knitta Please.
art is also popular around the world. For example, many street corners in
Paris, France show the work of an artist known as Space Invader. Space Invader
was the name of a video game that was very popular in the nineteen eighties. This
French artist uses small colorful squares of glass to make an image of a space
creature. He places these creations on buildings all around Paris. Space
Invader has been making this art for about ten years. He has been arrested
several times. But this does not stop
him from working. He says that he is leaving a gift to the city with his art.
On Space Invader’s Web
site, you can see the many other cities where he has placed his art. Space
Invader has traveled to places like Dhaka, Bangladesh; Mombasa, Kenya, and
Istanbul, Turkey.If you like his work,
you can even buy Space Invader clothing, shoes, and pictures.
streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil are also rich with artwork. For example, you can
find the work of two brothers who go by the name Os Gemeos.
They paint images of funny flat-faced people with orange-yellow skin. Their
imaginative characters have many different forms and expressions. Art galleries all over the world have shown
the artwork of Os Gemeos.
artists have different reasons for choosing this special kind of creative act.
Some artists do not approve of the profit-making business of galleries and
museums. They think that these organizations disconnect art from every day life.
They also like the fact that street art stays part of the city environment.
artists express their political beliefs with their art. Some see street art as
protesting the culture of big business and corporations. They do not like city
walls covered with advertisements that sell products. These artists see these
advertisements as examples of corporate aggression. They think that if an
advertisement can be on a wall, so can their art. Still other artists like the
excitement of working in the streets and trying not to get caught.
But some people pay a price for
making street art. Shepard Fairey is a street artist who has become very famous
for his image of Barack Obama that became popular during the presidential
campaign. In February, Fairey was arrested as he arrived at a party to
celebrate an exhibit of his work at The Institute of Contemporary Art,
Boston. Police accused him on several
counts of graffiti charges. Fairey says he is not guilty. He says he is being
punished for suggesting that public space should be filled with more than just
advertising for companies.
Fairey is also involved in legal action with the Associated Press. The AP accuses him of using one of its
photographs of Barack Obama for his famous poster. Fairey says he used the AP
photograph as a reference, but then changed it greatly for his own idealized
and colorful picture of Barack Obama.
Street art has become a popular
kind of design for advertising companies because it gives an image of youth,
boldness and energy. For example, the
American department store Saks Fifth Avenue recently chose Shepard Fairey’s
design company to create window displays and shopping bags. His bold black and
white designs are influenced by Russian Constructivist art of the nineteen
twenties. This Russian art was used as a propaganda tool to represent the goals
of the socialist state. Fairey’s designs change the meaning of the Russian
propagandist style by applying it to the costly shopping goods of capitalism.
The Internet has had a big
influence on street art. For example, artists can show their work to people all
over the world.
Web sites like
WoosterCollective.com have thousands of pictures of street art from all over
the world. Also, artists and fans can communicate with each other and exchange
However, people say the Internet is
not a replacement for the experience of seeing street art live. To really
understand this art you have to see it in its environment. The street art
movement depends on the energy and life of the city. And like cities, this
imaginative and exciting art will continue to change and grow.
This program was written and
produced by Dana Demange. You can see examples of street art at
voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.
I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next
week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.