JR / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Judith Supine / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Os Gemeos & Futura / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
REVS / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
ROA / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Shepard Fairey / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo are Brooklyn Street Art (BSA), one of the most successful and influential websites dedicated to the underground ART scene that has taken the world by storm. Since 2008, BSA has been documenting the creative energies that take root and flourish in the street, like an insistent flower spouting through slabs of concrete.
Street Art is public art, usually unsanctioned work, which is executed outside of traditional art venues. Because much of it is posted illegally, it exists as a conversation between artist and audience independent of traditional realms for making, selling, and displaying art. With Street Art, there is no product. There is simply the idea made visual and expressed in physical form for all the world to observe.
Today, artists who choose the streets as their gallery are sharing their work in every corner of the globe, which makes BSA one of the most important hubs in the publishing world. BSA documents the trends in Street Art, covering the new hybrids, new techniques, and new mediums as they continue to expand our understanding of public art, speaking at length with The Click about the way in which photography and publishing preserve what is amongst the most ephemeral of all the arts.
Mr. Harrington and Mr. Rojo recall, "BSA started as an abbreviation for our first book Brooklyn Street Art (Prestel/Random House) and a way for people to quickly refer to us. The site initially was a simply page to give people an online location to learn more about the book with additional information about the scene on the street. We didn’t have any idea that it would grow into a clearinghouse for a global scene—in fact our first month we got 53 visits.
“As workers in New York’s creative fields since we both arrived as students in the 1980s we had worked separately on projects for ourselves and employers and clients in almost all of New York’s prominent fields; fashion, interior design, finance, architecture, advertising, law, beauty, real estate, nightlife, even theater.
“Jaime started as an actor/waiter and moved through prop styling and commercial photography to interior design where he eventually became a senior designer for a high end residential boutique firm owned by twin models from Warhols’ factory, Jed and Jay Johnson. After studying fashion design and advertising at F.I.T. while promoting private events at The Tunnel club, the cultural omnivore Steve worked as an artist and art director for nearly a hundred clients of all sizes—basically getting himself a look into every discipline and field he could say ‘yes’ to.
“When we self-published 20 copies of Unrestricted Williamsburg, it was a collection of Jaime’s photographs of the scene we were surrounded by since moving to that neighborhood in the 90s to live as part of an artist collective and to produce multimedia shows, performances, and have loft parties. Jaime was a photographer of street culture by the 2000s and Steve designed and laid out their book of his Street Art photos, a small compendium that revealed an exploding scene that had basically blossomed before their eyes. That book was created solely as a Christmas present for friends and family, but the enthusiasm that greeted it and the encouragement we received pushed us to market it to publishers.
“Our friends Jodi and Jeff actually packaged cash into flower seed packets and presented us with ‘seed money’ during a bitterly cold January so we could professionally produce our book pitch. We studied the field of possible suitors and mailed out 10-12 boxes with color plates and a spiral bound book of market research to publishers with stars in our eyes. After a brief courtship with a couple of publishers, we signed with Prestel and had our first rollout party and benefit art auction the following spring at Ad Hoc, the original New York street art gallery then at the epicenter of the scene and one of only a handful of galleries in the still nascent Bushwick artists neighborhood at that time.
“Through interviews with artists in studio and on the street and with a voracious curiosity and love for the creative spirit we taught ourselves how to make interesting engaged content to feed the BSA beast. At first many were skeptical of the concept of the need for a blog that really dug deep into the motivations and background of a scene that was wrestling with its own definitions and motivations. Somehow we have parsed the landscape and given voice to a solid cross-section of talents and players while keeping it stimulating and fresh and close to the ground.
“We often say that Street Art is the first global grassroots people’s art movement and that the Internet has played an integral role in freeing art from the walls or even the concept of ‘place’ in the same way that digital has freed literature from the confines of the printing press. Now we are all awash in an ocean of self-publishing photographers and writers across multiple digital platforms and devices that enable everyone to establish and grow their own audience. If net neutrality can prevail in the years ahead and we avoid a hierarchical choking of information disbursement there is ample reason to expect that publishing may give even more voices and more artists an opportunity to be heard and seen.
“Interestingly, not only has the Internet and digital media altered how people share information and raise the collective intelligence about art in the public sphere, it has also altered the very practices of the Street Artists themselves when creating their work. From positioning their physical work on the street to garner more photographic attention to actually sending the equivalent of press releases and shots of their own work to sites, blogs, and forums, and self posting with the goal of greater exposure digitally, the Street Art tribe has become global, and the local street audience is almost of secondary importance.
“Street Art (and its precursors) was probably always wide in scope but it didn’t become such a global phenomenon until the Internet and digital technologies reordered our means of communication and sharing. In many first and second world countries the individuals’ access to self-publishing digitally has become almost effortless. The art is on the street or in the public sphere but it is not confined to the bricks upon which it is painted nor to the neighborhood where it is created. We like to say that the streets are a reflection of us back to ourselves, so naturally there is a huge variety at play today.
“A few of the better known names in the Street Art world would be Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Swoon, JR, Os Gemeos, Vhils, and Faile. Each of them has a distinctly different approach to the street and even radically different methods of art making, but all have harnessed the power of the Internet to further their fan base and reach into galleries, institutions, festivals, collections and the commercial sphere.
“LA based American Fairey comes from a graphic design background and uses his marketing savvy to advocate for a variety of social, political, environmental, social issues.
“Bristol/London based Banksy is the high profile yet strangely still anonymous court jester specializing in the ironic and perfectly placed stencil – paired with rather adept string-pulling of the media.
“Brooklyn based Swoon creates linocut prints and paper cut portraits that she wheat-pastes on the street and within which can contain the entire diary of the person’s life.
“JR from Paris has made his name through his first love, photography, and by creating large-scale black and white campaigns commenting on the exigencies of everyday people.
“Os Gemeos are twin muralists with a solid graffiti footing from their native Brazil who have developed a captivating illustration style that evokes a dreaming world navigated with childlike whimsy.
“The Portuguese Vhils pioneered a reductive relief portraiture technique involving drilling away old plaster forms as reliefs and has distinguished himself with the humanity and poetry of his grizzled subjects.
“The duo Faile are Brooklyn-based originators of the current scene and have created a pop-pulp copy/paste visual language that references familiar iconography but separates it from its original meaning and re-creates within Faile’s fantasy contexts. We easily can name another ten artists of this stature and perhaps 150 more who are important players of some renown in the global Street Art eco-system.
“With new participants jumping into and out of the game regularly, the vast variety of the offerings is head-spinning. It would be wrong to assume that the motivations of all artists are to pursue those traditional goals of critical acclaim or recognition and commercial success—many are simply expressing themselves publicly through an unregulated means, or experimenting with new ideas that will develop elsewhere.
“The ephemeral quality of Street Art continues to be the primary inspiration for our attraction to the scene. Because the main definition of true Street Art is that it is done without permission you are almost guaranteed to see it disappear or be destroyed within a relatively short period to time. When you know this, you make quick friends with it and try to appreciate it fully because tomorrow it may be gone. Because of the sudden appearance of a new piece as you turn a corner it has an element of surprise and that keeps things exciting. Photographers who do this kind of work are in love with it, consider it a pleasure, an honor, and a hunting expedition.
“The challenge is to present the Street Art piece in the way you think it needs and there is an ongoing discussion about the importance of the piece of art in the context it appears on the street versus presenting it more tightly framed, or even selecting details or angles with filters or finishes. Our approach has been to principally record, but with an artists eye. We are not simply documenters of someone else’s art however—they should do that themselves and usually do. We like photographers who bring a point of view to their work or who are honoring an inner dialogue.
“There is no glory in simply recording the work of another artist, and most artists simply appropriate the photos we publish to promote their own work without offering a payment—you are lucky if you even get photo credit these days. The Internet is basically the Wild West where all of your hard work and skill is instantly taken by others without even telling you. Even print and online publishers of high repute have been discovered publishing photos that we never gave permissions for. More sophisticated image recognition software is beginning to close this gap and future use of copyrighted images will be more restrictive.
“We’ve been documenting the scene since the turn of the century and in that time the participation has broadened, diversified, ebbed and flowed, with new kids putting a wheat-paste or a stencil out on the street for the first time and twenty year veterans putting something up right along side of them. While many new artists continue to join the fray some drop out after only a year while others move on to related pursuits. Today we see many more labor intensive, individual one-offs alongside the campaign-style printed multiples.
“We still keep our eye on the one-off relatively small illegal pieces that pop up like urban mushrooms overnight. Those contain clues about what is coming next. As far as our contribution to the conversation, we’re asked to speak on panels and give presentations to museums and universities and to give our perspective to major media about where we are now and what is the significance of this outpouring of creativity on the streets. By continuously bringing new and established voices to a somewhat even playing field, we’ve established a de facto narrative that didn’t exist previously and we are grateful for the trust that is often placed in us to speak about it. We know that our work has helped numerous artists to get personal and professional opportunities and we are told regularly that we provide a valuable resource to artists, collectors, galleries, museums, designers, researches, historians, academics, archivists and brands who are always looking for eye candy as well quality timely relevant metrics and information. To stay clear of cheapening the offerings and our own body of work we have steadfastly refused advertising on the site and have retained our editorial voice.”
Faile / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Swoon / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Vhils / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com
Dan Witz / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com