While street and graffiti artists using the internet to further their notoriety is not exactly groundbreaking, a new generation of artists have embraced the internet as a virtual platform that can augment and influence their work—not just showcase it. They’re creating work that begins in the street but becomes complete when viewed online, and these digital works are disrupting the medium and forcing people to rethink what constitutes street art in the digital age.
Anyone can wield a black spray can (and they do—all over the building where I live), but few are able to create a commercial career from their art, let alone a viral online presence. While street art superstars like Banksy and Shepard Fairey can practically take a dump and put their fanboys panties in a twist, most enthusiasts look at images for a few seconds and move on to the next artist—hungrily searching for something else to be excited about.
The likes of Katsu, Kidult, Blu, Insa and Lush are some of the artists turning street art on its head by adding a digital dimension to their work. These artists are not only documenting their process, but rejecting the commercial direction of the medium and using the internet to ensure their works are seen by millions—in the process establishing a new definition of street art, one whose sole intention is to be consumed by online audiences.
The most controversial of the bunch, the French bad boy of the graff world made a name for himself when he began "bombing" or spray painting luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, Agnes B, and most recently Marc Jacobs in New York City. Using a fire extinguisher filled with paint, Kidult quickly tags his name in a grand scale on the front of these buildings.
Kidult’s “Illegalize Graffiti” where he tags a series of designer stores.
Creating videos of his illegal activities, Kidult has gained a widespread fan base amazed by the fact that he is painting in such prominent spots and getting away with it. His short films are not just hard evidence proving his affiliation with the works, but are well shot high quality packages that could sit right next to the footage in Bansky's film Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Since Kidult's work is "buffed" or cleaned away so quickly, the videos are the only documentation that the piece existed in the first place, backing up the point that the work is created solely so he can film it and make a video.
Katsu uses simple technology to create films that like to mess with your mind. The artist films himself tagging his name in prominent areas, such as a Picasso painting in the MoMA or the curb in front of the White House—and while the videos may be fake, Katsu has gained immense notoriety from them. To confuse matters, he’ll throw into the mix footage of him actually vandalizing areas, such as tagging the outside of MOCA in Los Angeles with a fire extinguisher.
Fake-tagging Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” at MoMA
Actually tagging MOCA, L.A.
With only films as evidence of his craft, Katsu easily dupes audiences while questioning the nuances that separate reality and fiction—he also looks at the notion that graffiti doesn’t have to be a physical product, instead it can exist purely digitally. To this end, he’s also collaborated with Theo Watson on a graffiti app.
Blu’s identity is one of the best kept secrets in the street art world despite millions of people viewing his films. The masked artist from Italy is respected for his large scale surrealist, politically charged international works, but is most well known for popularizing the time-lapse graffiti video—an edited film sped up which shows an artist creating a work from beginning to end. From there, he branched out into creating video works using the time-lapse technique that are reminiscent of animated flip books.
Big Bang Big Boom
Films like Muto and Big Bang Big Boom—which traces the evolution of man—are made by creating thousands of variations of outdoor painted pieces, which when edited together create movement and a story. It’s a laborious process that takes weeks for the artist to complete, but the end product is fascinating to watch.
Polarizing street art and graffiti fans, no subject is too controversial for the Australian graffiti artist Lush. Self-described as the “Graffiti Asshole,” Lush has created expletive-ridden works that are as funny and offensive as a Doug Stanhope routine. If his shock tactics ensured the graffiti community took notice, his short performance films got them talking.
Jesus vs. Satan Round 1
Taking the piss out of the unwritten rules of the graffiti scene, Lush targets the hypocrisy and stereotypes associated with tag writers. He explains: "Because painting a static one frame graffiti thing gets old, sometimes I have grander ideas then just a shit spray painting on a wall. Videos get the most blog fame; people talk about the videos more then anything if you do them right."
Most people know Insa from his Girls on Bikes series, which has lingerie-clad women posing on fixed gear bikes in front of his colorful abstract pieces. But the artist has more depth than just boobs and bums—even though people may stumble upon his works on the street, Insa also promotes his work as animated GIFs. Like Blu, Insa repaints various nuances of a piece to create the images for the frames. He says the key to making a successful GIF is to, “Create a loop so the last frame flows straight into the first frame.”
Despite being painted on the street, the work is created primarily to make a GIF because it is seen by "Hundreds of thousands of people online and not just the thousands that walk past it before it is painted over," he says.
So why create these online works in the first place? Simply put, this digital street art is more aligned with the core values of street art before dealers brought the genre from the streets to the white walls of the gallery. “Graffiti was once a very free art form that anybody could enjoy but it has truly been commodified, packaged and sold to the highest bidder.” Insa laments. "I quite like the fact my GIFs can’t be brought or sold or hung on a gallery wall per se. Once a GIF has been uploaded it is free to travel and be seen by many."