Saturday, December 23, 2017

Graffiti Versus Post Graffiti Art
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This will be the last post for 2017. The next post will be published on the 13th of January, 2018.

I hope this is not your family's idea of Christmas!

No matter what your religion or what your belief system, I hope you have a very enjoyable festive season.


What is Graffiti Art?
All of us have witnessed the rise and rise of Graffiti Art. It has abounded on such surfaces as public and private buildings, pavements, fences, electricity poles and garbage dumpsters. Millions of dollars have been spent world wide to eradicate it. It has been labelled as “Nuisance Art” by local governments, by the public, fellow artists and art critics alike. For example, in 2008 the Encyclopaedia Britannica online version has defined Graffiti as a “… form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group”.

Although the common image of Graffiti is a stylistic symbol or phrase spray-painted on a wall by a member of a street gang, some Graffiti is not gang-related. Graffiti can be understood as anti-social behavior performed in order to gain attention or as a form of thrill seeking - but in reality it is an expressive form of art.

Graffiti Art on wall in New York – Artist unknown.

Graffiti Art on a wall in New York – Artist not known.

Has Graffiti Art Generated Itself From A Vacuum Or Does It Have An Unspoken Heritage?
Graffiti in terms of cave art is defined as the inscriptions of figures, designs or words on rocks or walls or sidewalks or the like, or on artifacts made of plaster, stone or clay. An image created on a rock wall is humankind’s oldest form of graphical communication. The first primitive artists, although they depicted hunting scenes on the walls of the Lascaux caves in Southern France, did so without tangible rewards.

Aurochs on a cave painting in Lascaux, France (15,000 to 10,000 BC).

In the last decade Graffiti Art has been recognized as a genuine Art form. Local governments and building companies have now set aside public spaces for displaying Graffiti Art as can be seen in Melbourne’s CBD in Hosier Lane.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD (Australia).

One wall in Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD (Australia).

The former National Gallery of Australia's curator of prints and drawings - Anne McDonald - views Stencil Art as the contemporary equivalent of the political posters of the 1970s and 1980s. Whenever she visits Melbourne, McDonald drops by Hosier Lane to see how the stencil graffiti scene is progressing. The gallery, she says, is considering ways of incorporating Stencil Art into its comprehensive collection of Australian prints (Melbourne Newspaper, THE AGE).

Another wall in Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD (Australia).

A Couple of Graffiti Art Practitioners – Swoon & Tsang Tsou-Choi
Many of the Graffiti Art practitioners remain largely unknown. For example, a better-known Graffiti artist is Swoon, who is located in New York and whose worlds are often populated by realistic, rendered, cut out street people. Inspired by both art historical and folk sources, ranging from German Expressionist wood block prints to Indonesian shadow puppets. Swoon uses cut paper to play with positive and negative space in a conceptually driven exploration of the experience of the streets.

Swoon in Berlin.

Swoon is a street artist from New York City who specializes in life-size wheat paste prints and paper cut outs of figures. Swoon studied painting at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and started doing street art around 1999. Swoon does not release her real name to the public to avoid prosecution for the crime of "vandalism" associated with street art.

Another well-known Graffiti Artist is Tsang Tsou-Choi (who passed away in July of 2007 aged 86). He had been writing Chinese characters in Hong Kong for most of his life on public installations, such as electricity boxes, lampposts, walls, etc. He has proclaimed himself “King of Kowloon” and had been arrested and sent to police stations many times.

His works have become an identity of Hong Kong culture and he has inspired fashion designers, art directors and movie directors. He was probably the oldest Graffiti Artist in the world. His works have been exhibited in many international exhibitions and biennales. For example, he was represented at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.

Hong Kong's graffiti king Tsang Tsou-Choi poses with a Daihatsu car he decorated with his calligraphy during the "Japan@Cool Expo" show in Hong Kong in August 2002.

Tsang Tsou-Choi writings at the construction site of the Hong Kong Central Library.

What is Post Graffiti?
Post Graffiti is not Graffiti as per the definition of the latter being: “Inscriptions of figures, designs or words on rocks or walls or sidewalks or the like, or on artifacts made of plaster, stone or clay”. It is also not Graffiti Stage II. Graffiti Stage II includes additional techniques such as stenciling, wheat paste or techniques that are used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti and vandalism.

Perhaps art history may act as a guide to help us to understand the differences between isms and post-isms and so more clearly distinguish Graffiti from Post Graffiti Art.

Ism Versus Post Ism
The relationship between art movements and post art movements has a long history in the 19th and 20th century. For example, whilst the Impressionist Movement aimed to create impressions of moments in time by reproducing fleeting effects of light by short strokes of pure colour, the Post Impressionists reacted against Impressionism by emphasising the subject, formal style, and structure of the work.

Modernism in the late 19th and 20th century broke with the past in search of new forms of expression. On the other hand, Post Modernism, which dominated in the 1980s and 1990s, reacted to the adoption of limitations by art movements. In principle, to be Post Modernist is to accept that any style can be appropriate, anyone can be an artist, and any object can be a work of art.

Graffiti is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property. The term is now associated with the 20th century urban environment. Spray paint and markers have become the most commonly used materials. Sometimes graffiti is employed to communicate social and political messages.

On the other hand, Post Graffiti is a reaction to imagery and marks that are illegally created on public property. It incorporates a plethora of materials and techniques that are cloth specific. Imagery has the “feel” of, but is not Graffiti. It is therefore a reaction against Graffiti Art in the sense that it takes elements from Graffiti Art but regurgitates these elements in an unstructured and unfettered manner. The heavy structured compositional style of the Graffitists - with strong use of typography to deliver socio-political messages - is largely deconstructed by the Post Graffitists. As the Post Graffiti movement on cloth is in its infancy, I have unabashedly labeled it a “Neu Kunst” - from the German meaning ”New Art”.

The tools used in both Art forms reflect the differences in the supporting media. Walls, pavements, fences etc. used in Graffiti Art makes way to a different set of tools in Post Graffiti due to the use of cloth (such as silks, cottons and a range of cloth fibres). Even though the effect or feel is the same, the different surfaces generate the need for different tools.

Building materials and the need to generate quick images lends itself to spray cans, stencils, stickers and wheat paste – the hallmark tools of Graffiti Art. On the other hand, in Post Graffiti there is no need to produce images quickly and moreover, the surface is now composed of cloth fibres. Hence, dyes, resists and digitally generated images are employed. Some common tools bridge both forms of art - namely that of paints and stencils.

Whilst the media is different and the tools and approaches are not necessarily the same - what is the same is the feel that both art forms bring to the viewer: a vibrancy of form, a socio-political “voice”, a mark making that screams of survival. Just as in cave paintings when survival was at the front and centre of existence, Post Graffiti Art attempts to capture survival at the front and centre of existence in the framework of today’s society: namely it is Art that is witnessing or expressing a way of life in an urban wilderness and so the icons in this wilderness are replacing the wilder beast icons that the ancients depicted on cave walls.

Another Brick
In 2001 I started to work on art issues that have surfaced in the street art movement - more commonly known as Graffiti Art. The installation titled - “Another Brick” - was exhibited at Watt Space Gallery in Newcastle in 2004 and subsequently at the Ewart Gallery in Willoughby in 2005. The installation consisted of thirteen 3-4 x 1-2 meter lengths that were displayed on building safety construction fences.

Another Brick: Caves were Formed…Walls Were Born
The iconography of this first piece centers on the historical and continuing need for human beings to communicate on ‘walls’ throughout the ages.

The Graffiti Art of Neolithic man no longer needed realism. It became more abstract, thereby indicating a deeper phenomenon; that is, an imaginative depiction of inner feelings and thoughts (re: concepts). With abstract images, a giant leap in organizing consciousness and expressing it had emerged. Repetition of graphical images to represent fixed or “agreed” concepts were therefore the first steps taken in developing a written language.

I have used this repetitive style to encapsulate this concept. This cloth length was dyed in “Royal” Blue then discharged, mono-printed, discharged again, stenciled and silk-screened. Glow magenta, a popular ‘hot’ color was introduced to capture the spirit of colors used in the graffiti palette. To encapsulate the concept of ‘Caves were Formed . . . Walls were Born’ (as in the title), contemporary and ancient wall imagery were chosen to convey this theme and to create the multiple layers of texture.

Another Brick: “Cultural Graffiti 3”
This piece investigates the influence of graffiti on different cultures and is based on the work of Tsang Tsou-Choi. The ArtCloth piece is titled - "Cultural Graffiti III". It highlights the universality of Graffiti Art in that Asian typography is juxtaposed with Western images, providing a bewildering array of movement, haste and explosive defiance of the established modes used in surface art and design. It is not composed of deconstructed images, but rather takes on the appearance of deconstruction, even though the images formed would be recognizable by a cohort of Graffiti Artists. The piece is completed with the addition of a gold foil character that encompasses features of a non-typical Asian palette of blue and purple hues.

Another Brick: “Casula Walls . . . Textures and Surfaces”
The location for this study was the Casula Powerhouse Art Centre and Museum, which is in a predominantly working class area in the western suburb of Casula in Sydney. In Casula, the Graffiti is created in a highly competitive, sophisticated and territorial environment. This slide highlights some of the Graffiti Art on the old fuel storage tanks that inspired this piece. The investigation of textures and distressed worn surfaces was an integral element in creating this Post Graffiti work.

This piece was initially dyed in bronze and then sprayed in a spattered mode with bleach to capture the aesthetic of an aged and distressed rusted metal surface for the background. Images of graffiti typography were layered using the carbon release method and hand colored with marker pens using the graffiti palette to add emphasis to the bold colors and mediums that cover the surfaces so effectively. Layers of worn corrugated iron panels and deconstructed, distressed wall surfaces were overlaid to create the multi-layered and a time worn aesthetic of Graffiti.

Another Brick: “Urban Mark Making”
The iconography of the piece centers on the urban mark making and mediums associated with contemporary Graffiti Art and the development of a new visual language.

The visuals consisted of: intertwining letters in a highly inventive composition, deconstructed images, scratch marks, marker pen marks and a large ‘X’ using spray can paint. These images were then spliced together to form the component images of the matrix print on the cloth.

To continue the depth study, resist was applied through a silkscreen to the matrix image, which was later over sprayed using a graffiti palette of glow magenta, orange and purple paints. The matrix was then overprinted in a random mode using pigment in the same hues.

Another Brick: "Mona on the Urban Wall".
The iconography of the my latest Post Graffiti artwork centers on Graffiti Artist’s attitudes towards the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa, and its journey into contemporary wall art.

Banksy, is a well-known pseudo-anonymous British Graffiti Artist. One of his recurring motifs is that of the Mona Lisa. His work was the inspiration for this piece, which examines her evolving iconography.

The piece has been dyed, mono-printed, stencilled and silk-screened. Handprints have been printed in the background to emphasize the act of human interaction in expressing thoughts on modern walls and referring back to the same techniques as expressed by the ancients. Another layer has been printed with an acetate stencil depicting brickwork on a building to emphasize the alternate art of the street. The final layer consists of safety pins applied to the images of the - Mona - as contemporary jewellery. The act of adhering safety pins through her nose, eyebrows etc. references 20th century pop and counter culture application of jewellery. It also refers back to the original - Mona Lisa - painting in that da Vinci painted her very simply, no lavish dress, no richly appointed room and no jewellery.

Another Brick: “Urban Blues”
This work investigates the concept that painting is not a dead creative adventure. It should be noted that museum curators declared painting to be ‘dead’ in the 1990s and so filled exhibitions with high-tech installation art, digital art and computer-generated video art. Painting was certainly deemed a tired and embattled medium, but was it dead?

Being a “color contrast piece”, I scrunch dyed the cloth in turquoise and purple hues to create a richly colored surface using bright and bold colors from the graffiti palette. An image of a large “tyre mark” has been printed as the initial layer to reference the ‘street’ and its associations. The next layer is overprinted with an image of a ‘graffiti wall panel’ from my personal portfolio of graffiti photographs. This work was digitally reworked to remove solid areas and translated into black and white line art for silkscreen. The piece was then hand-painted, aerosol sprayed and smudged with coal.

When presenting my Post Graffiti Art Installation – Another Brick - in a gallery setting, I decided not to hang the cloth pieces from walls or ceilings. Rather I fixed them on construction building fences to bring a volume to the work and moreover, to give the installation a conceptual framework related to the urban environment.

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