Perhaps all you can think of about street art is the uninspired graffiti that mars your favorite panelák. But there are actually many different styles of expression that are incorporated under the rubric of street art, and taking a closer look at Prague’s walls can reveal some unexpected gems. These works illustrate the evolution of street artists from basic graffiti towards more complex, challenging products that deserve the fancy label of “Art”. Let’s learn more about graffiti and how it’s done in hopes of achieving evolution as an art audience.
It’s hard not to conclude that behind the existence of street art stand the manufacturers of paint. There´s a good chance that it is the powerful paint lobby that has allowed graffiti to survive and even evolve despite the public’s decades-long protestations. Indeed, a good place to start your career in street art is at your hardware store, where spray cans of many colors are available for very little money.
Armed with your aerosol paint mist dispersion device (which was incidentally first used in its modern form to fight malaria-spreading mosquitoes in the Pacific Theater during World War 2), you are ready to start tagging. A “tag” is the most basic writing of an artist’s name over and over. These personalized signatures are what most regular people hate when they think of graffiti. It seems a bit presumptuous for someone to get to write their name over and over our daily lives.
As the artist SKARF told us, “To me personally, graffiti´s content is shallow. It’s just the name of the author and is formally restricted with dogmatic attributes like line width and fonts.” Tagging stopped satisfying Skarf as an artist and he felt the need to go further. But the roots in street art led him to current work in directing films and animation.
“Throw-up” is another kind of tag, also known as a “bombing”. It is normally painted very quickly with a few colors. In throw-ups, speed is chosen over aesthetics, usually to avoid getting caught.
A “piece” is a more complex representation of the artist’s name, with more stylized letters, and usually a much larger range of colors.
A “blockbuster” is a large piece, usually done with paint rollers and much cheap paint. It covers a wide area with contrasting colors, often to prevent other writers from painting on that same wall.
“Pissing” is tagging with a fire extinguisher, where its contents are replaced by paint. These tags can reach very high.
An even more complex writing is “wildstyle“, with interlocking letters and connecting points. These are often hard to read for the uninitiated, as the letters merge.
“Stencil” graffiti is accomplished by cutting out shapes and designs from some hard materials (like cardboard). The resulting stencils are placed on walls and filled in quickly with sprayed paint to form images. This is quickly done but can make for quite stunning and intricate imagery.
(Kill your own politician)
Another artist who started out doing graffiti work is JAN KALÁB aka POINT aka CAKES (www.onepoint.cz). The fact that he has these different names reflects the changes he has gone through as an artist.
He did his first graffiti piece in 1993. He wrote “SPLASH,” his first graffiti name. Jan says: “Of course, I was a toy (derogatory term for a new or unskilled writer), but the whole thing was so exciting! Back than there were not many graffiti around here, no Internet, no magazines… it was so mysterious. And creating something in a public space for others to see is so addictive too.”
His graffiti work grew to become 3D, as he took on the name POINT and represented the letters in 3 dimensions. “The shape is mostly determined by the material which is used. For this kind of work, the main inspiration is mostly the spot where I wanted to place it.”
After the letters, Jan moved to make just abstract forms, installing 3D art objects in various spaces around town. The difference in doing this type of art for Jan is that “you don’t necessarily need a wall, which gives you much more freedom and many more potential locations. And, of course, to create something three-dimensional is much more difficult than just painting.”
His recent focus has been painting abstract canvases. Especially in the winter as in the summer he likes to stay outside to paint murals and walls. He still makes objects but more on demand, especially when exhibitions come calling.
Like most street artists when they start out, Jan used to have issues with police but does his current work mostly with permission. Jan evaluates the further trajectory of his artistic growth this way: “I want to keep working in the same direction I have been doing until now. Just bigger, more professional and more sophisticated.”
Of course, it is hard to generalize that all the tags we see around town are simply the first steps of burgeoning artistic souls. Some tags are just plain irritating and make our neighborhoods feel dirty and chaotic. But taking a closer look at some of them can reveal the traces of future genius.