“Art is an evolutionary act. The shape of art and its role in society is constantly changing. At no point is art static. There are no rules.”
Raymond Salvatore Harmon, BOMB: A Manifesto of Art Terrorism
Street art is often seen as a crime instead of art, and it used to be dismissed by art critics and many observers as a lower kind of artistic expression. However, while the street artists themselves remain anonymous and work under cover of the night to avoid arrests and persecution, some of their works have become known all around the world, and more and more people walk around their cities with their eyes open, searching for another piece of art in the streets. The most famous street artist in the world, Banksy, has already found his way into the most prominent galleries (including 2008 Tate Modern Street Art Exhibition), and while some of his works are sold for astronomical prices, others, scattered around the streets, have proved to be capable of raising housing costs in their neighbourhoods.
What is it about street art that led to the current hype around it? Maybe it has something to do with the romantic image of the artist in a hood escaping the authorities and reclaiming the streets to raise awareness of important social and political issues. The issue of certain subversion with the goal of creating something meaningful or beautiful in the boring and alienating urban environment echoes in many street art fans, law-abiding citizens who sympathize with a little creative rebellion or “smart vandalism” as some put it. Turning public space into a gigantic open-air gallery is quite a noble idea, after all…
Street Art Techniques
Besides traditional graffiti created with aerosol paints, street art uses a much wider variety of techniques. Even though stencils and sticker art pieces dominate the scene, artists also use mosaics, murals, street installations, wheat-pasting, or wood-blocking, as well as some newly created techniques such as guerrilla knitting or LED art. Sometimes, artists just write a message or a poem on the wall, using a simple marker, giving up on delivering their idea in a fancy way. It’s very interesting to note the solidarity among people who express themselves in the streets. While the public often appreciates quality street art, people tend to hate simple tags on the walls. However, for street artists, there’s no difference between creating a mural on a run-down wall and a tag on a newly painted house — plain walls are just too boring to be left untouched.
Vancouver Street Art Masterpieces
The city of Vancouver hasn’t missed out on the street art trend either. Some great street artists reside and work here, and the number of works found in the streets is constantly growing. Walking around the city, you have to run into some of them. Whether you love this kind of artistic expression or consider it a criminal offence, check out our choice of the ten most amazing street art pieces found in Vancouver and see if you don’t change your mind.
Two Girls by Dark
We chose the black and white poster of two little girls in lovely white dresses by the guru of the Vancouver street art scene, an artist who calls herself/himself Dark, as the opening work of the list. Dark’s works often feature some kind of nostalgia, taking us to the middle of the 20th century. The image evokes the feeling that the two innocent-looking and lonely girls in the big city don’t really belong there and might not be safe in the urban jungle of contemporary Vancouver. While the girl in the front is interested in something she sees above her, the other sticks to her, probably more focused on not getting separated from the curious girl than on the thing in the air.
The improvised checker board painted on a tile and attached to a brick wall takes us to another important aspect of street art: fun. It’s just enough to have a quick idea in your head and make it real. This unknown artist simply prepared a game scenario of an unreal game of checkers that actually fits the wall amazingly well with its yellow background. Passers-by can stop and take a look at possible the game development and maybe even paint it over the original. Everything is allowed when it comes to street art!
It must have been quite difficult to paint this devilish grinning monster behind the bars protecting what used to be a window in a run-down house. By putting the red creature with scary fingernails there, the protective bars take on a brand new connotation and look like prison bars keeping the monster out from the streets. The ironic thing is that many people tend to see monsters behind the windows of deserted houses, so the artist just depicted our usual fears in a playful way.
Alife by Dark
Number four is taken by another piece by Dark. This time, the possible interpretation is not so simple, and it’s up to everyone to consider what’s meant by the image. It consists of two parts: a picture of a girl, who looks a bit disadvantaged, in a dancing dress, probably making a bow to the audience, and a big, orange statement above her saying “alife.” It might be a reference to the fact that all of us crave success and acceptance and being the star of the show giving, thanks to the audience, makes the girl feel truly alive. Again, Dark uses spleen and evokes a bitter-sweet atmosphere in the work.
Number five could be called “Unreturned Love.” This piece showing a girl replying to, “I love you,” said by an unknown person by calling him “wood” stretches back to the best of the pop art and comic art tradition. Hitting the topic of anonymity and inability to form and keep any meaningful relationships in the city, the anonymous artist created a deep and very elegantly executed piece of work. The red and blue crates piled up in front of the painting create a great and unexpected supplement to the work itself. Roy Lichtenstein himself would be jealous of such a prominent showing space!
Houses by Soké
A picture of a series of little, cute houses on a white rod prove that street art doesn’t need to carry deep ideas to be great. Naive, child-like depictions of houses on four legs under the stars by an artist that calls herself/himself Soké simply brightened up the corner of the street in a calm residential part of Vancouver by ushering in a bit of fairy-tale beauty. Probably everybody would agree that works like this really shouldn’t be criminalized.
Obey by Shepard Fairey
The series of posters in front of General Motors Place were created by one of the most famous street art artists in the world, Shepard Fairey, who became a star after creating a portrait of Barrack Obama saying Hope, as well as by his signature series of works titled “Obey.” The series in Vancouver also belongs among the latter, and even though more than half of the posters are damaged or taken down at the moment, the army boot of someone striding on the grass and the girl with a scarf remain clearly visible in this Obey mosaic.
Some People Wanna Fill the World
“Some People Wanna Fill the World” is an exceptionally well done poster that can be found on a wall full of boring commercial posters, which, however, features a series of street art posters on the top. Group of rams in the image seem to be slowly advancing into the space of the poster. A simple look at them immediately evokes the thoughtlessness of people who lack their own ideas or decisions but devotedly follow the direction of the crowd. The red colour of the picture somehow makes the message of the work even more alarming.
Hope by Dark
Dark’s work “Hope” certainly belongs among her/his best and most often mentioned pieces. In “Hope,” Dark returns to her/his usual issue of glamour and success versus the reality of a typical person’s life in the big city: the beautiful woman in designer dress in the image is painted just next to the trash container on the hidden side of the corner. By the way, here’s a little trivia for you: can you recognize the woman on the wall? We believe we’re right saying that it’s Rita Hayworth. The work is located in Mount Pleasant, near Kingsway and Broadway.
The last piece on the list is simple but certainly deserves a mention. Sometimes street art can be just a poem or a statement, leaving as strong an impression as an image. Here, an unknown artist probably wanted to state “Capitalisn’t” on the wall of the jewellery store on Robson Street. However, someone changed it to “Capitalisn,” which still makes sense, but transforms the meaning to a completely different level. In a way, this captures the essence of one feature of street art: the artists can’t ever complain about alterations to their works!