Based in Bologna, Italy, Blu makes very large-scale images of monsters and figures, often involved in scenes of barbarity. These have the look of cartoon creatures, or characters from Greek mythology. Drawing is integral to his work. He uses a very limited palette, which has the effect of highlighting his fascination with line and form. ‘I use paint just to fill in the drawing,’ he has said.
Blu sees buildings as ‘sheets of paper’ to sketch on. Due to their massive scale, his works often give the impression that the buildings they’re painted on aren’t quite big enough. What is unique about his work is his ability to doodle in a seemingly casual way on an epic scale. In terms of production, the work happens in two stages: first, he draws images in his sketch book but when he comes to working on the walls he often improvises something completely new.
His influences include underground and independent comic-book artists such as Robert Crumb, but he is also inspired by the fresco tradition of his native Italy and though it is quite removed from his practice, by the work of Gordon Matta-Clark. As Blu puts it: ‘The way Matta-Clark used the building as a sculpture; it’s something I try to imitate when I paint.’
JR’s images can now be seen internationally, but he started out on the streets of Paris, using only his initials because of the illegal nature of his work. He is known for pasting large-scale photographs of people in public spaces. ‘The street provides me with the support, the wall, the atmosphere, but especially the people. Depending on where I put the photo, the whole thing changes,’ he says.
For one project, JR created portraits of ghetto inhabitants of the suburbs of Paris – the scene of riots in recent years – and installed them on the walls in the city centre. In doing so, he aims to provoke and question the social and media-led representations of such events. JR’s work often challenges widely held preconceptions and the reductive images propagated by advertising and the media.
His work with Palestinian and Israeli citizens explored the similarities of their daily lives, rather than focusing on the ever present divide, highlighting fundamental human emotions. Israelis and Palestinians doing the same job – such as taxi drivers, teachers and cooks – agreed to be photographed crying, laughing, shouting and making faces. Their portraits were posted face-to-face, in huge formats in an unauthorised project, on both sides of the separation wall [security fence] and in several cities, demonstrating that art and laughter can challenge stereotypes. For his new project about women in post-conflict situations and the Third World, JR has already travelled to Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and is planning to visit India, Asia and South America.
The New York artist collaboration Faile, formed in 1998, takes inspiration from the detritus of city walls. The decay of advertising and flyposting provides a platform to present their own take on the world of found imagery. These recognisable pop culture images are visible in their large-scale canvas works, representing a rich collage of the urban experience. In the spirit of collage, they’ve diversified into other areas including sculpture and bookmaking yet their work remains heavily indebted to printmaking and stencilling traditions.
Their first projects on the street had the title A Life, of which their name Faile was an anagram. The name was also an acknowledgement of the inevitable process of deterioration that an artwork suffered when exposed to the elements.
Sixeart’s mixture of psychedelic abstraction and comic book inspired figuration has become an essential element of the urban fabric in his hometown, Barcelona. His work has a childlike innocence that is combined with an almost hallucinogenic sense of second sight. ‘Sinister tragicomedy with notes of psychopathology and touches of acid’ is one definition he has offered of this unique style. Having painted from an early age, he made a name for himself as a graffiti writer before developing his own highly personal visual language with a host of recurring figures and animals. ‘My own universe of characters comes from a happy childhood and a close contact with mother nature,’ he explains. ‘Also, I feel that that childish style of mine helps keep me younger.’ The dreamlike quality of his work shows an affinity with Surrealist artists, particularly Joan Miró, another native of Barcelona. In addition to his large-scale street paintings, Sixeart makes sculpture, screen prints and works on canvas. His work is beginning to be shown in galleries, and he has also collaborated with fashion designers to create clothing based on his distinctive style.
Os Gêmeos (The Brothers) are twins Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo. Based in Brazil, they have been painting graffiti since 1987, and their work is now equally at home in the museums and biennales of the world as it is on the streets of their neighbourhood, Cambuci, in São Paulo.
‘We wanted to try to break from tradition and make it different from graffiti that can be seen in Europe or the US,’ Otávio Pandolfo says. ‘We tried to search for more Brazilian roots, not just folklore or popular Brazilian culture, but something that myself and my brother always believed in, the world that we created.’ While adhering to many traditions of New York-style graffiti, Os Gêmeos bring a sense of lyricism and romanticism to their work.
Their dreamlike subjects range from family portraits to social and political commentary, often depicted in a distinctive bright yellow: ‘When we dream, everything we dream has yellow tones’, Gustavo Pandolfo explains. ‘This is something of ours, myself and my brother. We use it in our painting. We can’t use another colour. We have to use yellow.’
Nunca (Never) started writing graffiti and pichação (a uniquely Brazilian form of tagging) on the streets of São Paulo when he was twelve. Over the years, his work developed into a more pictorial form of communication whose use of colour and style strongly evokes the ancient traditions of the Brazilian people. ‘I like to look more to indigenous art,’ he explains, ‘because for me the Brazilians still have something of the Indians, in the culture, in the blood.’ By placing his images in contemporary settings such as motorway underpasses, he creates a timeless dialogue between ancient and modern. Often improvised, Nunca’s works on the street reflect what he sees as the inner character of the Brazilian people, fighting for survival in the modern metropolis. The faces he depicts are based on members of the public whom he sees while walking through the city. Though made with spray paint or acrylic, they often have the look of ancient woodcuts or etchings. ‘This was the first way of depicting people when the conquerors came here,’ he explains. His use of dark red ochre similarly relates to the urucum (a red pigment) used by some Brazilian tribespeople to paint their faces and bodies in ritual.