‘Graffiti‘ is a term many would use to describe street art, yet, I’ve no doubt that there are hundreds of urban artists on this earth who would be horrified if they heard their work described as such. The sort of artists that – if you’ll excuse the pun – wouldn’t want to be tarred with the same brush as the average, uninspiring chav who thinks it’s cool to ink his nickname all over a bus shelter. The sort of artists that take to the streets in order to create truly awesome and/or politically relevant works of street art. There are probably thousands of them, most likely content to keep their identities a secret. Some are so good that their identities are eventually revealed whether they like it or not. Here are six of them, who I’ve either stumbled upon in real life, followed on Instagram or read about on other blogs. And no, before you think it, none of them are Banksy.
Valencia has emerged as one of the European hotspots of urban street art since the late nineties. Barcelona used to be the go-to hub if on the hunt for politically motivated and indisputably excellent graffiti in Spain. Now, a myriad of artists have made names for themselves in Valencia and there is even a local and extremely creative collective by the name of ‘XLF’, who count the brilliant DEIH among them. Recently, DEIH has been livening up his city’s walls with works inspired from his Insider series, which combines the portrayal of skeletal, mechanic and samurai sword wielding figures in a very cool modern comic style. Check out his Facebook page here.
Expressive street art became an international trend in the late eighties but there had been advocates of the practice long before then. 74 year-old Isaiah Zagar, from Philadelphia, is perhaps the best example of this. This arty American specialises in creating mosaic murals, and has been adorning much of Phili’s South Street neighbourhood with his works since 1968. His magnum opus is his majestic ‘Magic Gardens’ project, which is made up of everything from porcelain crockery and ceramic shards to bicycle spokes and discarded fluffy toys. And it covers an indoor/outdoor area half the size of an average city block. The work of art features various, thought-provoking messages, all imbued within the composition. These days the Phili-born artist hosts monthly workshops in the South Street neighbourhood where participants can help fashion the next of his elaborate murals. If there ever were an example of an urban artist who is just in it for the fun and will to inspire creativity, Isaiah Zagar is it.
Street art, especially outside the Western world, is still seen by many as a symbol of chaos and anarchy; a glaring rejection of what ought to be intrinsic and upheld values. Shameful though this is, it does serve as a medium through which persecuted groups can convey their discontent. Egyptian women, for instance, continue to fight for social and political justice in a country where they are inherently oppressed merely because of their sex. Mira Shihadeh, of Cairo, last year made a strong statement with a work of street art depicting an Arab woman in a tightly-fitted red dress, one hand on hip, the other brandishing a spray can with the nozzle pressed down, spraying her comparatively tiny assailants away. The young objector is not alone in her cause; an ever-flourishing bloc of female street artists are striving for change through way of artistic expression on Egypt’s streets. Blogger Suzee in the City regularly writes on the subject.
All eyes are on Moscow this week; will the most expensive winter Olympics ever staged be a swaggering success or an unqualified failure? Lord knows Russia is trying desperately to align itself with the rest of the modern world, despite its outrageous policies on homosexuality, blatant reluctance to hasten the removal of Syria’s chemical arsenal and the general fact that winter sports are about as significant in Russia as workers’ rights are in North Korea. Only time will tell.
What spectators can be sure of though – should they go looking for it – is some of the finest street art on the planet. The very best urban street art combines politically and socially motivated commentaries with a playful and totally original interpretation of inanimate objects. P183 is a well-known name among Muscovites, yet, until his untimely and mysterious death in April of last year, remained something of an enigma, much like our very own Banksy. His death came just weeks after attaining global status as one of the very best urban decorators by transmogrifying a lamp post into a pair of giant, one-framed spectacles in the snow. The Guardian ran a feature on him in which they could only reveal his name – Pavel – and that he studied communicative design at University. In the wake of the feature (also covered by the Huff Post), people began to draw comparisons with Banksy and even dared to say he had surpassed the British street art maestro. What do you think?
Lisbon is a city bursting with creativity, which, thanks to a generation of highly talented urban artists, extends beyond breathtaking architecture into street art. VHILS, whose real name is Alexandre Farto, has been interacting with his unique urban environment since the early 2000s. His work received global attention after one of his works – a giant face sculpted into a wall – appeared alongside one of Banksy’s at the Cans Festival in London in 2008. He is well-known in street art circles for his groundbreaking carving technique, which involves intricate drilling and gentle chiseling on a wide range of materials like concrete, wood, metal, paper and billboards. Thus, VHILS creates by altering and removing what is already there in front of him, as opposed to adding more. This, he insists, is the fundamental key to his concept, as he can never be sure of what patterns and images await him beneath the surface. Check out his site here.
El Niño de las Pinturas
Granada is a Spanish city best-known for its Moorish architecture and interminable stream of free tapas; the exhibition of incredible street art rarely gets the attention it deserves. At the forefront of Granadino street art is El Niño de las Pinturas – ‘child of the painters’ – who has slathered countless works of eye-catching art across various areas of the city. Perhaps his most impressive mural is an entire house covered in his handiwork. Just next door is the newly inaugurated Plaza Joe Strummer; the singer-songwriter used to make regular trips to the city in his heyday and inspired a generation of local musicians with his knack for creating excellent music and not giving a shit. In memory of Strummer, El Niño daubed a fantastic portrait of him when the square’s name was officially changed. You can see all of his works on his personal website or in real life by winning this competition for a FREE HOLIDAY in Granada.