Street art is an art form that seems to grow in popularity (and in controversy) on an almost daily basis. Mural Arts’ new exhibition …in the house… features work by stikman, a street artist whose pieces have appeared throughout Philadelphia. It was curated by blogger RJ Rushmore, founder and writer for Vandalog. Rushmore introduced the exhibition at a reception at the Mural Arts building on October 18, 2013, as part of the State of Young Philly event series.
In his talk, entitled “Street Art 101,” Rushmore starts by explaining his background with street art, starting with a piece his dad bought from an artist collective called Faile. From there, he began to learn about various methods for installing art. He explained processes such as wheat paste, stenciling, and stickers, and the artists who use them across the world.
But it’s his approach to street art that is so compelling and refreshing in what can sometimes feel like an elitist art community. He immediately got to the common question: what the hell is street art? On the PowerPoint presentation behind him, there was a slide of a sticker on the back of a sign that says “You are beautiful.” Rushmore then went on to say that he approaches this as, “If you see it, great, if you don’t, whatever.” He brought up stikman’s sculptures and other artists’ performance art, citing the no-pants subway ride in New York City as an example. At this point, he confronted the typical notion of street art as stencils, spray paint, and wheat paste, because street art can be so much more than that.
“At its core, street art is the unmediated distribution of art from the artist to the public,” Rushmore said, challenging the idea that to be a “real” or “credible” artist, it’s necessary to have a studio. This made an interesting connection to Mural Arts, which he said he would not call street art because of its legality and the meticulous planning the artist needs to go through before the creation stage.
One of the parts of his talk that I found the most interesting was the history, particularly the beginnings, of street art in the New York City subway system. Keith Haring used blank ad space to create a “comfortable intervention in the public space.” As time went on, street art became more of a vehicle for an artist to make his/her way into the main stream culture without jumping through hoops to get the gallery’s attention.
Another issue that I found myself wanting to hear more about was graffiti, but it was only briefly mentioned in the presentation. Rushmore stated that we couldn’t have street art without graffiti, because street art has either been inspired by graffiti or has transitioned from it.
Finally, he explained why he chose to put stikman in the Mural Arts space. Rushmore explained that great street art is about placement, an area that stikman seems to have mastered. Because his pieces are so small, finding them makes you feel as though you are part of a secret club, but those who venture to the exhibition are able to become temporarily involved in the stikman art culture. The exhibition featured sculpture pieces, large frames around small stikman figures, and even large canvases with the typical “stikman” incorporated in a variety of ways.