Urban citizens of cool

There’s a story in my hometown of Newcastle that reads more like folklore than fact. The story is about a legendary piece of graffiti that was written by a frustrated uni student on the upper extremities of one of the city’s most unsightly destitute buildings. Abseiling down from the roof of the building one night, he scrawled the immortal words, ‘This Is Not Art’. The rest they say is history. This famous act of vandalism has since become the title for an annual national ‘Independent, emerging and experimental arts festival’, which provides ‘a platform for innovative and passionate culture makers to present their ideas.’ (This Is Not Art, 29 Sept – 3 Oct, Newcastle, Australia)

Needless to say, I’ve been intrigued by graffiti and street art ever since. It stops me in my tracks and takes me by surprise. It makes me angry and it makes me smile. It gets me thinking and it opens my eyes. In fact, rarely do I visit a new city without snapping shots of street murals, wall art and stencils. You can’t miss them, they’re everywhere – in wide-open public spaces, dark alleyways and car parks. Stairwells, fences and overpasses. Bridges, doorways and trains. But what’s the difference between street art and graffiti? Is it a battle of culture makers and political & social commentators? Or is it just plain vandalism? Who’s to say? Does street art legitimize vandalism?

It seems this debate (and the tensions between the two camps) has been festering for years. Surely the common link between street art and graffiti is that they’re both trying to make a statement in their own way, with the difference being between their ideas, aesthetic approaches, culture and history.

Perhaps the answer lies in the eye of the beholder…Check out my pics of urban expressionism from Berlin, Bondi Beach, Buenos Airs and Barcelona.

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121 Responses to Urban citizens of cool

  1. M says:

    Well written Zoe!. M in Norway

  2. tita buds says:

    The first mural is obviously a REALLY old one and no one has dared to paint over it, it’s that good, haha.
    The third mural, though — I want that on my own wall. :)

  3. Fiona.q says:

    i love the Berlin one :D

  4. galya2uk says:

    Hi there, I stumbled across your blog and am not sure what i enjoy more your photos or your writing! Love your blog and this post. Great food for thought too

  5. I wouldn’t mind having the third one (Banksy!!!) on my wall either! As a great lover of graffiti, I am delighted with the other examples also!

  6. Jacqueline says:

    Awesome photos! Love the way you captured them!

  7. livvy30 says:

    I really like this! I’m definitely in the this is art camp!

  8. lunasealife says:

    Since art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,” I definitely count graffiti as art. :) I’m living in one of your ‘B’ cities, Buenos Aires, and there is so much fantastic graffiti art here!

    • Lucky you – I just loved Buenos Aires when I visited recently. Everywhere I went I saw amazing street art. In fact, if you think about it, the cities with the best street art and graffiti all have a rich history.

  9. I love the photos. First and second one are my favorites…..http://www.thehelmetheads.com/page/page/8181739.htm

  10. restlessjo says:

    Anything that makes me smile can’t be all bad!

  11. sensitive photography! these graffiti shots say so much!

  12. Anne Schilde says:

    Haha, this sure isn’t Oakland is it? Is there a Vandal Exchange Program? :) Great photos!!

  13. Pingback: boboontherun « minimo necessario

  14. Raw beauty! . . . Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed”!

    http://arabianmusings.wordpress.com/

  15. lrntn says:

    I haven’t been to Bondi Beach or Berlin yet, and Barcelona was so long ago, but Buenos Aires street art has got to be up there with the best. Enjoy your wanderings! Best

  16. I agree with the previous poster, both the pics and the wrting are equally well done. Surprised that this did not make “Freshly Pressed” sooner. Still Congrads on a well deserved award.

  17. moses_murphy says:

    Mind-blowing. Great stuff…

  18. Great photos! I love the surprise of new street art. I live in Los Angeles, where we recently had the first ever (I think) exhibition celebrating street art. The exhibit at MOCA was cool, but the best part was that street artists from all over came to our city and decorated our downtown and surrounding areas with amazing murals and funny/colorful/thought-provoking images. This is a video of the creation of one of the commissioned murals on the museums facade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcYkJQQtQ8w

    • That sounds great! Sydney has just opened an exhibition of street art on one of the harbour islands – I can’t wait to check it out! I just love the accessibility of street art. And you’re right, it does present such a nice surprise, especially when it’s so unexpected.

  19. Although I wouldn’t like someone painting in bright colors on a building I owned, I do love the second image.

  20. Franchesca says:

    Graffiti and Street art, just different names for expressing oneself.. Cool Photos!

  21. Eva McCane says:

    i love street art. and i wish my city had more of it. the colors and the messages are more often creative and beautiful than profane. great pics. thanks for sharing!
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

  22. For me graffiti and street art are two overlapping things, but the thing they both have in common is that some thought is put into them, whether it’s to send a message or just to make a bare wall look better. Vandalism on the other hand is the human equivalent of a dog pissing up a lamppost, it’s the ugly scrawls that make up tags and gang signs. Great pictures by the way, I think the last one with the two men holding the fish is my favourite!

    • Yeah, it got me thinking too. Vandalism feels senseless and with bad or negative intent. Whereas graffiti and street art can be thought provoking and inspirational. Glad you like my shots!

  23. Love the Capitalism photo. But the stick figure with a gun to its head should have a bunch of bags of plastic,unnecessary junk.

  24. artclubblog says:

    You’ve got some great shots of some interesting work. I also enjoyed your thoughts about graffiti and street art. I believe we are in the midst of an amazing urban art movement, which will be examined and studied like all others in the years to come. How cool to be living through it! I’m a big fan and invite you to check out some of the images I’ve collected from around the world: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella3/

  25. I am also fascinated with graffiti and street art; and how some cultures embrace it while others do not.

  26. I love these pictures! They’re amazing! Great post and congrats on being freshly pressed. :) These pictuers made my day!

  27. One of the main things I miss about cities,now I don’t live in one, is the street art. It often takes you by surprise and occasionally offends, but it also makes you relate to time and place and overall environment, sometimes simply because of the contrasts between the art and its surroundings.. Love the stuff, when it’s ‘good’, the bursts of energy and occasional pathos. Thanks for the posting, much appreciated.

    • Nicely put! I love where I find street art sometimes. I only just noticed that a small water hydrant outside my work had a face painted on it. So unassuming! Yes, indeed there’s creativity all around us :-)

  28. Thanks for making me smile today …. especially the wonderful little piece of always looking on the bright side of life.
    Like your other posts as well. If you pass by Sweden I’ll take you to some nice graffiti places, just give me a message (Uppsala/Stockholm)

    peace

  29. Dava Greely says:

    Proof that art comes in so many different forms! I would love to have some of that work in my very own home.

  30. TJ Johnston says:

    Great shots. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  31. Rae says:

    I love the one with the horse/unicorn and the monster-ish horse. My eye keeps finding new images and compositions in it.

  32. natasiarose says:

    Great pics! My cousin actually studied street art in college. He makes the most amazing murals now.

  33. Jan Simson says:

    Very interesting and thought-provoking artwork. I wanted to do some street art myself, but I never really got around to doing it…
    Congrats on being FP!
    Cheers.

  34. Artistic inspiring post. Thank you “)

  35. spacefuels says:

    This is so cool. I also go around taking photos of graffiti. Very awesome photos you have! My Website

  36. I’ve always loved street art too. Have you seen the film Exit Through the Gift Shop?

  37. ChelseyArt says:

    These are awesome. I have always loved graffiti. You know it’s passion when you spend so long on something and don’t even get a paycheck!

  38. blouisdaniel says:

    Excellent piece and I love the shots. Whenever I travel I enjoy taking in the graffiti and urban art. Often it’s where you find the true character of a neighborhood or city. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    B Daniel
    http://theworldandherstage.net/

  39. susiejeong says:

    Berlin’s graffiti art scene is remarkable. I traveled there for a bit and couldn’t consistently keep my feet moving because I would stop too often to snap a photo of some of the art I saw. Great to see someone who shares the same love for it!

    • Yep – I was exactly the same! I have so many street art / graffiti shots from Berlin it’s not funny. They’re literally on every street corner! I think I’ll have to go back one day :-)

  40. It is really odd, i was just going to type…”i love street art. I wish there was more of it where I live”… but that is exactly what the last commenter said. (-: Anyway, I love your photos and post because it’s often the only street art i get to see when others blog about it. I think graffiti, street art, it can all be a very valid form of expression. Some graffiti is meant to hurt others or express hatred, but i’ve seen so much beautiful graffiti that makes me think “art”! thank you for posting this.

    • Thanks :-) Yes, I love checking out other people’s street art & graffiti shots too – mainly because everyone notices different things. What might be interesting or thought provoking to one person, may create a completely different reaction to another. Means that this art form can definitely be re-interpreted by the eye of the beholder. Thanks for reading!

  41. inidna says:

    wow, these are fantastic! street art is so amazing – i myself am a big fan of Banksy and i have a lot of friends that are stepping up on the street art (or just art / graffiti) scene in Cambodia and other parts of Asia. it’s so amazing to see and be inspired by! i too never go to a place without stopping to stare at walls with awesome art work that people generally tend to overlook or pass by. thanks for sharing these photos :)

    • Sounds great. I haven’t done loads of traveling through Asia (only Thailand), but would definitely love to visit soon. Good to hear that the street art scene is alive and well in your part of the world.

  42. I love street art, I wish you could buy it and put it on your wall.

  43. Nice eye…..the images/paintings are bright and colorful…..there are many going up in Asheville, NC. Also, we were in Brussels this Spring…there’s an entire tour of real comic strips painted on buildings as you walk around the city…it’s very nice…check it out at: http://www.comicscenter.net/en/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions

  44. leadinglight says:

    Mural 3 is so pretty – makes you feel relaxed in an instant.

  45. fr3lancer says:

    Graffiti is a modern way of expressing of yourself strongly and of portraying what you feel in a more immediate way to the watcher. This is a superb article on how it can be taken in a right way by the new world,rather than tolerating it!

    Street art 15 and 8 catch the eye.
    6 has this girl which catches my eye :D :P

    1 and 2 are sublime :)

    -Saurav from India

  46. Its really great that you did this, the down side to street art is that it doesn’t usually get the audience it deserves

  47. aparnanairphotography says:

    Very very cool. I love photographing graffiti too. Actually I am picky about my art – I like it to be asymmetric, a little off-the-beaten-path looking. Looking at this has inspired me to post up my own photos of graffiti (assuming I can rummage through all my hard drives and find them!). Thank you for sharing ~ I find these to be inspiring and very cool.

  48. Author Shauna says:

    Crazy beautiful…

  49. Yay for street art. I love the photos. Hell, I love the entire post. :)

  50. Jess says:

    I love all the colors one sees in street art. Lovely photos and interesting post!

  51. yisha says:

    greattttttssssss

  52. Yo That Capitalism one needs to be a poster on my wall – Cheers

  53. Jezzmindah says:

    Great post! I find street art one of the most exciting things about any new city. It’s the art of the commoner.

  54. Jack Dayton says:

    Inspired and inspiring.

  55. bebestyles says:

    What people don’t realized is that this is art no matter where it coming from. Even though it came from the hood, true art needs to be appreciate and love like anything else. Cool post dude.

  56. GiaMedia3 says:

    This is amazing stuff!

  57. topiclessbar says:

    Great post! Love the pics – going to show them to my class today (I’m a teacher) and hopefully inspire them! (to…vandalize I guess…but in a good way)

  58. adartee says:

    Great pictures! I have shot many graffiti on my last trip to Venice CA too, I think – It is impressive how tecniques varies in this “street art”. I personally love the last one – it’s 3D and color depth is impressive!

  59. A Pakistani Boy says:

    GOD!!!! This is cool!

  60. Street art is so important as a means of self-expression for people in urban centres. People need a way to release the frustration caused by social injustice in inner cities and to deal with the pressure of such a busy, crowded, often claustrophobic environment. Some beautiful examples in this post.

  61. Incredible compilation — I’m so glad this was Freshly Pressed, as it shows such diversity of expression!

    Congratulations!
    :)

  62. DianaX says:

    Great street art, thank for sharing

  63. pbrombal says:

    Love…your photos and writing!

  64. Great post.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  65. That last one with two guys carrying a fish is weird! I love street art, there are so many possibilities, from fantasy to political comment to whimsy. Not enough quality stuff around my local area, but I keep looking.
    Great story about the Newcastle Graffiti!

  66. Love this…it is TOO art ;) I even teach about it to my students who eat it right up. They may snore over color and composition of a Monet, but they’re all ears on a Banksy!

  67. Alessandro Paiva says:

    Amazing!

  68. hadass420 says:

    I think whether it’s grafitti or street art, it definitely makes a city more colorful and more interesting than the usual boring white or gray or brown buildings.
    Great post! And thanks for sharing these awesome photos :-)

  69. Carlie Chew says:

    Great post. I love street art and you captured them so beautifully. Congrats!

  70. abichica says:

    wooowww!!! those are some insanely cool pictures.. :-D

  71. myrna alies says:

    AMAZING* Graffiti shots !!

  72. Mike Staf says:

    Since vandalism/graffiti is not usually done for personal fame or recognition, (Notice we don’t know Banksy’s real name) it can be argued that “Street art” is the most valid form of artistic expression. Just a thought.

  73. rohillz says:

    Awesome article! Love it!

  74. streetinspiredtoronto says:

    I really love the pictures you have! I can really identify with the emotions you associated with graffiti. It sometimes makes you angry, yet sometimes makes you smile. I think the debate between graffiti and street art will never die. It’s a topic I am very passionate about myself. I love street art and it truly inspires me (which is why I have a “Street Inspired” blog). I feel that there is a fine line between graffiti as vandalism and art. When I see “tags” on nice buildings I see it as graffiti and doesn’t represent more than a name, it has no meaning or inspiration or deeper truth to reveal. But if you see something on the street that inspires you, to me that is art. Art should inspire, and if it does it shouldn’t matter what form it is in. I also want to add to your question of “does street art legitimize vandalism?” I think this is a very interesting question. On one hand it seems an easy answer. No because street art is not vandalism. But on the other hand, sort of, because if its not authorized, technically it is vandalism and subject to charges! Such a thin line! It also may interest you to know that in Toronto, where I am from we have an alley way known as graffiti alley. It is covered, and typically not reprimanded. Yet we all know graffiti is supposedly illegal, yet every year there is a 24-hour legal period in which people from any walk of life can participate in adding graffiti to the alley! Please check out my blog as well, as a fellow graffiti lover and follow it if you like it! I really enjoyed your thoughts and the pictures as well!

    • Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. I completely agree – it’s such a fine line. Tags scrawled on residential property etc really gets me – what’s the point of it other than to make an angry statement? (They’re attacking the ‘little man’ anyway). There’s no artistic merit and to your point – it doesn’t inspire. Whereas, I think thought-provoking street art has a place. I really appreciate local councils opening up public spaces to creative expression too – glad to hear about it in Toronto. Cheers, Z

  75. rishikam says:

    Love the pictures!

  76. This is great. It got me thinking about an article I read a few months ago where (I think it was in Brazil) a street artist did some beautiful things on a dirty wall that hadn’t been looked after for ages. Instead of painting it, he used some sort of detergent to clean images into the wall, thus avoiding adding anything to the wall and avoiding what some people view street art as; vandalism. However, the Brazilian equivalent to the council ordered a mass clear up of the wall. They still saw the cleaned-on images as vandalism and offensive, which prompted them to clean the wall that had been neglected. Seems like a power thing. And total nonsense. I always see massive walls and think a painting could brighten it up and open people’s eyes.

  77. The grafitti artist left out half of the picture on the “capitalism” grafitti:
    Here’s the whole thing:
    http://www.theworkzine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/socialism_vs_capitalism.jpg

  78. Pingback: 3D STREET ART « As My World Turns

  79. jamieonline says:

    I love the pictures!! I’ve written a few pieces about street art and graffiti. I was in Prague a few months ago where they have the Lennon Wall. It’s incredible.
    Great post! I loved it.

  80. ellimacha says:

    So cool street art, I like it all.

  81. gaycarboys says:

    Wow. It sure makes my neighbourhood like mighty tame. I just get the regular tasless graffiti. Great shots.

  82. Lemon Colly says:

    The world of street art is a complex one. Some one can do a huge piece on the side of a building and no one will touch it for years while bridges, tunnels, and walls have changing graffiti every day. Its all about some level of respect, toward other artists and toward your surroundings…

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