S treet art has come a long way from its gritty beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s. The creative practice has its roots in graffiti and guerrilla tagging, illicitly covering public spaces with wheat-paste posters, stencil art and text-based iconoclasm. Street art is in its nature a form of open rebellion, reflecting our own natural instinct to challenge authority. Artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Blek le Rat revolutionized tagging and graffiti as an art form, and their visionary works broke boundaries of the art world. Successors to the earlier legends continue today to challenge those very boundaries, leading the way for continuous reinvention. That strain of rebellion has come of age and now extends through the works of today’s artists.
Street art has redefined the public’s perception art, and because of its success in doing so, it has changed its own nature. By taking art to the streets, artists have liberated art from the confinement of gallery walls and subsequently transformed the public’s understanding of where and how to view art. With the gradual acceptance and validation of the art form, what has once sprouted from the streets has now made its way back into the gallery space, testifying to the increasingly permeable boundary between the two spaces, as well as the public’s accessibility to art.
As so many of us continue to practice social distancing and remote working, we’ve become much more sensitive to the boundaries of public versus private space. Transcending limits of place, street art in its evolution still retains its spirit of rebellion, provocation and social commentary. It connects us to a larger world when many of us have been walled off from the outside. We’ve selected highlights from the Contemporary Online Sale to bring the art from the streets to your walls, including works by Banksy, Invader, Pure Evil, Vhils and Jerkface.
He Told Me He was a Graffiti Writer But He was Just a Street Artist
"Pure Evil" is the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym of graffiti and street artist Charles Uzzell-Edwards, known in his early days for tagging the streets with his famous vampire bunny. The name is intended to make light of sinister imagery. His Nightmare series features stenciled celebrities and cultural icons with long dripping spray paint tears.
Presenting The Past
KAWS’s work invites viewers to reflect on the world they live in. Upon closer examination of Presenting the Past, there is something uncannily familiar about the silhouette, until you realize that it is in fact Felix the Cat. Pulling source imagery from popular culture, KAWS revamps timeless, iconic characters and appropriates them with his trademark XX-eyed characters.
Banksy's art is an intersection of satire and social commentary, employing the streets as a showcase for his message. Morons is a screen print depicting a packed auction room with the crowd bidding on a painting that reads: "I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SH*T."
"Finding the right spots to display my work is the key part of the invasion process," Invader says. The French street artist began his first "invasion" in Paris in 1998, and today his signature pixelated mosaics have become a global phenomenon. The artist describes his work as "urban acupuncture" and injects artistic spirit into urban social spaces.
The pixel, an emblem of digital innovation of a bygone era, is transferred onto ceramic tiles and placed into the physical world. The simplicity of the artist's gestures yields a wide scope of creativity and rich conceptual interpretation about nostalgia and technology, the virtual and the real. Invader explains in an interview, "It was symbolic of the new world of technology and now we are being invaded by digital technology...It's just a little square, but when you put them together, it can create many things."
Cleon Peterson presents a brutal vision in his images of clashing figures grappling for domination and inflicting unspeakable violence. Useless Idiot confronts us with the social and economic divisions of contemporary politics, comparing them with the bloodshed and brutality of ancient history.
Stare Into The Sun
"To stare into the sun is to look at something omnipresent that refuses to be looked at, which the human body is reflexively hardwired not to see. After the pain subsides, the vision of the bright white sun endures as a black spot, a negation of its light, a hole: a space of doubt and anxiety in place of solidity and certainty."
— Cleon Peterson
Portuguese artist Vhils destroys to create. He has been developing his notion of the aesthetics of vandalism in a plurality of media – from his trademark oversized carved portraits to 3D modeling. His striking form of visual poetry has been described as brutal and complex, expressing the struggle between the aspirations of the individual and the demanding, saturated urban environment.
Jerkface has attracted a large following worldwide for his playful re-imaginings of cartoons and other pop culture icons, manipulating the images of childhood and distorting them into provocative visual narratives. These works employ his signature painting style of repetition of abstract patterns and shapes, which lend the work a childlike spirit and optimism.