As much of the world continues to shelter in place, those states and countries slowly easing restrictions are heading out into a world adorned with new art. Graffiti artists, street artists and muralists have been taking over public spaces during the pandemic, using their art forms to express beauty, support and dissent.
One of the newest pieces is in Milwaukee, a colorful, geometric mural by local artist Mauricio Ramirez that depicts a front-line medical worker in prayer. In Dublin, a neon-hued psychedelic coronavirus graces a wall, painted by SUBSET, an artist collective that focuses on social issues. In Berlin, there's a mural of Gollum from Lord of the Rings worshipping a roll of toilet paper. Even more coronavirus-inspired art can be found on walls in Russia, Italy, Spain, India, England, Sudan, Poland, Greece, Syria, Indonesia and elsewhere.
Smithsonian magazine spoke to Rafael Schacter—anthropologist and curator focusing on public and global art, senior teaching fellow in material culture at the University College London and author of The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti—about the current coronavirus art movement. Schacter addressed why the art is so important to our collective experience during this pandemic, and what it means for the art world in the future.
Why is this type of creativity needed right now, during this time of crisis?
The very concept of 'the public,' both in terms of people and in terms of space, is really being stretched right now. We’re also in a time where scrutiny of public policy, discourse and debate is hugely important. One of the spaces where that debate can emerge, especially among those who are marginalized or less able to speak within the media, is the street. A lot of issues of public space that were issues before the crisis—like increasing privatization, surveillance, increasing marginalization, corporatization, housing—are coming forward with the crisis. And these are issues which are often discussed through the medium of the street.
The crisis is not a leveling one. This whole idea of the crisis targets everyone the same, it really doesn’t. All our struggles are being exacerbated by the virus. Discourse emerges out of our ability to congregate, to protest, to come together. At a time where our ability to be in public is lessened, when the public space is being evaporated and displaced, it’s even more important that we’re able to have that space for debate. Yet we’re in a situation where we can’t be in that space. When one’s voice needs to be heard in public and public becomes a danger itself, it’s even more important that scrutiny and dissent is able to be articulated. Graffiti is a space where dissent can be articulated and discourse can be pronounced. And even though it’s in many ways more difficult to produce because you can’t be in the public space, the focus on it becomes ever sharper because everything else is so empty around it.
How is coronavirus street art and graffiti pushing forward the world conversation about art and the virus itself?
We’re having to use the digital public sphere for sharing and viewing art for the most part. So on that side of things, perhaps this will be the moment where that shift really does take place. There will actually be more thought taken about the way we view art online. On a more a local scale, there’s a lot of graffiti popping up about issues such as rent strikes and issues related to basic needs of survival. Plus, a lot of graffiti now is about 5G or conspiracy theories. Of course, that leads us to think about the people who fall into conspiracy theory thinking. When you’re most powerless, it’s the safest thing to have a conspiracy theory to make us feel better about understanding things. I’m noticing a lot of that kind of graffiti emerging.
Have you seen any parallels between graffiti and street art during the coronavirus and during other pivotal moments of history?
It’s such an odd situation we’re in now, where just being in a public space is more difficult than ever. Not only does that make it more difficult to produce graffiti because there’s a more surveilled view of the public space, meaning you can’t hide in plain sight, but also our ability to see it is lessened because we’re all at home. The public is now in private so in many ways it’s hard to parallel this with anything in the more recent frame. I think the rent strike graffiti, which is what I’ve seen most prominently, is something we’ve seen throughout politics of the last ten years. I saw some really interesting graffiti from Hong Kong recently. It said, 'There can be no return to normal, because normal was the problem in the first place.' That’s very powerful. A lot of the most powerful work I’ve seen is coming out of that occupy, anti-austerity protest aesthetic. This is political graffiti. This is graffiti that is part of the debate around contemporary politics, but from a voice which is often unable to enter into more mainstream political debate.
What does art mean to the human experience?
Humans have been producing art before they were even human. We’ve found wonderful cave paintings, Neanderthal decorative art. There’s an innate need to relate our experience, and I think a lot of art is also about relating with each other. It’s about trying to transmit one’s experience to others or create experiences together in a more classical ritual. The way we understand art now, in western history, is a tiny dot in the history of humankind’s relationship with producing art. But an integral part of human existence is producing art. It will always be a necessity. There’s this idea that it’s only produced when you have all your other basic needs taken care of, but art is a basic need.
How do you feel that this current movement will be reflected in art in the future?
The one thing I hope is that we rethink digital public art [public art that is shared online through social media or other internet capabilities]. Rather than just being an addition to the existing practice, we can really try and start thinking about a way to use the digital public sphere to really engage the people that otherwise wouldn’t be engaged by this kind of practice. There’s a real possibility of creating new audiences.
Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was raised in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He developed a love for drawing at a very early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father and from the popular culture around him, such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.
Upon graduation from high school in 1976, Haring enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, a commercial arts school. He soon realized that he had little interest in becoming a commercial graphic artist and, after two semesters, dropped out. While in Pittsburgh, Haring continued to study and work on his own and in 1978 had a solo exhibition of his work at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center.
Later that same year, Haring moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). In New York, Haring found a thriving alternative art community that was developing outside the gallery and museum system, in the downtown streets, the subways and spaces in clubs and former dance halls. Here he became friends with fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the musicians, performance artists and graffiti writers that comprised the burgeoning art community. Haring was swept up in the energy and spirit of this scene and began to organize and participate in exhibitions and performances at Club 57 and other alternative venues.
In addition to being impressed by the innovation and energy of his contemporaries, Haring was also inspired by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Robert Henri’s manifesto The Art Spirit, which asserted the fundamental independence of the artist. With these influences Haring was able to push his own youthful impulses toward a singular kind of graphic expression based on the primacy of the line. Also drawn to the public and participatory nature of Christo’s work, in particular Running Fence, and by Andy Warhol’s unique fusion of art and life, Haring was determined to devote his career to creating a truly public art.
As a student at SVA, Haring experimented with performance, video, installation and collage, while always maintaining a strong commitment to drawing. In 1980, Haring found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with the wider audience he desired, when he noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. He began to create drawings in white chalk upon these blank paper panels throughout the subway system. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. This seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.
Between 1980 and 1989, Haring achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York.was held at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981. In 1982, he made his Soho gallery debut with an immensely popular and highly acclaimed one-man exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. During this period, he also participated in renowned international survey exhibitions such as Documenta 7 in Kassel; the São Paulo Biennial; and the Whitney Biennial. Haring completed numerous public projects in the first half of the 80’s as well, ranging from an animation for the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square, designing sets and backdrops for theaters and clubs, developing watch designs for Swatch and an advertising campaign for Absolut vodka; and creating murals worldwide.
In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho selling T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his images. Haring considered the shop to be an extension of his work and painted the entire interior of the store in an abstract black on white mural, creating a striking and unique retail environment. The shop was intended to allow people greater access to his work, which was now readily available on products at a low cost. The shop received criticism from many in the art world, however Haring remained committed to his desire to make his artwork available to as wide an audience as possible, and received strong support for his project from friends, fans and mentors including Andy Warhol.
Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages. The now famous Crack is Wack mural of 1986 has become a landmark along New York’s FDR Drive. Other projects include; a mural created for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, on which Haring worked with 900 children; a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France in 1987; and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and produced imagery for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.
Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS.
During a brief but intense career that spanned the 1980s, Haring’s work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions. In 1986 alone, he was the subject of more than 40 newspaper and magazine articles. He was highly sought after to participate in collaborative projects ,and worked with artists and performers as diverse as Madonna, Grace Jones, Bill T. Jones, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Jenny Holzer, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol. By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery, which has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.
Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990. A memorial service was held on May 4, 1990 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, with over 1,000 people in attendance.
Since his death, Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. The work of Keith Haring can be seen today in the exhibitions and collections of major museums around the world.
Around the 60s, following the death of the great Charlie Parker (12 March 1955), a number of “Graffiti” on the urban walls in Philadelphia appeared: "Bird Lives" or simply "Yardbird". These were the nicknames given to the musician (because he often listened to other jazz bands from the courtyards, outside the clubs and also because he was considered "free as a bird").
Parker was a “virtuoso” who introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas into jazz.
He was an innovator, an icon for the Beat Generation as well as a ground-breaking counter-cultures for hipsters, rappers, hip-hoppers. His death fertilized a new Revolution: Street Art was born.
This language, which later became more articulated and is now seminal, reversed art fruition (no longer limited to museum or sold to wealthy collectors, or serving the market and institutions). This new form of revolutionary art could be “seen” by everyone, becoming explosive, widespread and extensive in several cities. A new Urban Art was giving voice to those who had been “silent” or out of the ordinary art circuits through the “scratches” of Artists, among which Jean-Michel Baquiat, Keith Hering, Cornbread, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, JR, Banksy. They express in a powerful, intense, rebellious and concise way, concepts and human situations that are difficult to illustrate otherwise. This way showing, a contemporary counter-cultural “music of dissent”.
Cities around the World, beginning with the American ones, Philadelphia first, and New York then (from the 70s, in Washington Heights, in Uptown Manhattan), and Detroit (especially after the car industry “crash”), became centers of this widespread and permanent artistic movement, despite the war waged by some mayors.
If the City talks to its Inhabitants, these in return talk to the City by means of the Street or the Urban Art. Graffiti represent their emerging “texts”. Sometimes even though non-authorial, they mark and re-invent places, especially in marginal or abandoned areas (when ghost industry areas appear, empty walls increase); Urban Art gives these places a new life.
Walls are no longer only borders but are “aggregating” mediums, clean "sheets" where everyone can write and rewrite, changing the image and perception of the city, which is no longer monumental or cold, but vibrant, rhythmic and vital.
Street Art has a political value, it is a "scream" which manifests a counter-power: this way persons’ “screams” conquer the fragments of urban space.
Screams that invade freed spaces, making them even more free. Artistic actions, through "Revolutionary" acts activate "agreements" among art, people, institutional power and the City, as well as a different balance of social conflicts. A new anti-monumental cityscape is created, in which the new landmarks change places and people, becoming more accessible to everyone and more connected.
Art Basel is an art fair that has been held annually in Basel, Switzerland since 1970. Here more than three hundred of the most eminent galleries in the world exhibit. They are selected from over a thousand nominations by an international jury made up of renowned gallery owners.
It was conceived by the gallery owners and collectors Trudl Bruckner, Balz Hilt and the spouses Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. Art Basel of Basel, takes place in mid-June and has established itself over the years as an important international appointment not only for the art market, but also for eclectic artistic research.
More than 2,500 artists, ranging from the great masters of modern art to the latest generation of emerging stars, are represented in multiple sections of the fair. Art Basel, in its three geographical expressions, specializes in Modern and Contemporary Art and offers space for all types of artistic language: painting, drawing, installation, photography, performance and video art. This fair hosts the stands of almost three hundred international galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and also dedicates a space to Site-specific artistic projects ravishing in quality and expression.
Given its huge success since 2002, the Basel fair also realizes a winter edition that takes place every year in December in Miami Beach: “The Art Basel Miami Beach” which has perhaps surpassed its reputation, certainly as regards the glamour. The choice of Miami as second location, the third is Hong Kong, was favoured by the proximity of Miami to South America consisting of an extremely lively artistic market.
Last year's edition of the American city was visited by 75 thousand people including gallery owners, artists, collectors, journalists and art lovers. There were over 300 exhibitors and they came from all over the world. This latest edition was perhaps the event that most impressed us among all the exhibitions, salons, vernissages, that characterized the Miami Art Week.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, born in New York in 1960, was an American writer and painter. He is remembered as one of the most important exponents of American graffiti, managing to bring this movement from metropolitan streets to art galleries.
His life and artist career has been very complex but his talent has made him one of the most established geniuses of the past century, making some of the most expensive works that have ever been sold.
From an early age he showed a strong interest in art, probably encouraged by his mother who accompanied him around the museums of the big apple. At 17 he discovered the love for graffiti and from there he began to fill all the walls of Manhattan, signing himself as SAMO, acronym for "Same Ol'Shit" but his artistic turning point came in 1978, when he sold some postcards to Andy Warhol illustrated by him in a Manhattan restaurant. The two discovered they had a common idea of art intended as popular and public, so much so that shortly afterwards he moved to the famous Warhol Factory, learning to perfect his pictorial style. Basquiat's style, absolutely recognizable and unique, is inspired by the subjects from his Caribbean heritage, as the father was Haitian and the mother of Puerto Rican origin. These elements have merged perfectly with other inspirations that derive from African American, African and Aztec cultures with classic themes and contemporary heroes such as athletes and musicians.
In a short time the young artist had a great success, while keeping his distance from the world of the press. After Warhol's death, Basquiat appeared increasingly depressed, so much so that just a year later, in 1988 at the age of 27, he died in his New York loft due to an overdose. In his short career as an artist he has created an invaluable patrimony of masterpieces. His first exhibition dates back to 1980: the Times Square Show and since then his life changed radically. Among his most famous works we remember:
-Irony of the Negro Policeman
-Riding with Death
Despite his young age, Basquiat has left an indelible mark on the artistic world, which is why he is still remembered as "the wild king of the urban jungle".
Andy Warhol, born in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, is considered one of the greatest artistic geniuses of his century. He was not only a painter but also a sculptor, screenwriter, film producer, director and actor. Major figure of the Pop art movement is remembered as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
He began studying Commercial Art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. After graduation, he moved to New York and the "big apple" immediately offered him many possibilities to establish himself in the world of Advertising: he worked for celebrated magazines such as Vogue and Glamour.
Repetition on a large scale was his method of success: he reproduced on large canvases the same image many times, altering its usual bright, strong and visually striking colours. Through advertising images of the major commercial brands, such as Coca-Cola bottles - among his most famous and remembered works - or impact images such as road accidents and electric chairs, he was able to empty the imagery he represented of any meaning.
His art, which got the shelves of a supermarket in a museum or an exhibition, was a provocation not even too veiled. In fact to Warhol art had to be "consumed" like any other commercial product.
He often reiterated that mass products represent social democracy and as such must be recognized: even the poorest can drink the same Coca-Cola that any iconic character drinks.
His artistic activity includes many works, which he produced in series with the help of the screen printing system. Among his most famous masterpieces there are representations of the most famous characters of that period, who have now become real icons: Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and also some family members.
Through the analysis of Pop Art images and works, it has been understood how the economic boom of the 50s and 60s started the consumer society to which we also belong.
After his death, the fame and the quotation of the works of Andy Warhol grew to the point of making him the "second most bought and sold artist in the world after Pablo Picasso".
A short background ...
At the end of the 2nd world war in 1945, the US experienced not only a post-war economic boom but also ″The Baby Boom″. Nearly 76 million babies were born in America between 1945 and 1957.
Pop Art comes from and is inspired by the people, places, things and events happening in popular culture. As such, it can be found in the different forms of mass media: packaging, television, advertisements, comic books, etc. The purpose of Pop Art was to challenge tradition. It attempted to break down the barriers between high art and contemporary culture. It believes in the concept that there is no hierarchy of culture and that art may borrow from any source.
Pop Art′s colors don′t reflect the artists′ inner sensation of the world. Instead, there colors refer to the popular culture.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POP ART
The predominant colors used in Pop Art are yellow, red and blue. The colors used were vivid. It employed images of popular culture, emphasizing ordinary elements of any culture, usually through the use of irony.
Utilizing commercial art techniques made it easy for pop artists to mass-produce.
Material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated or combined with unrelated material.
SOME INFLUENTIAL DESIGNERS
He was one of the best-known designers of psychedelic posters. He is known for inventing and popularizing a psychedelic font around 1966 that made the letters lkook like they were moving or melting.
He developed a style using bold colors, black outlines, and tones rendered by ben-day dots. These were the methods of printing tones in comic books during the 1950′s and the 1960′ss.
He became the most famous American pop artist when he used silkscreen to paint commercial objects such as Campbell′ss soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles and for portraying major celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.
POP ART VS. TRADITIONAL ART
Pop Art critics, mostly art authorities of the 60′ss and 70′ss, think that Andy Warhol′ss works were boringly “unoriginal″s and ″scommercial″s. Their greatest objection is coming from pop artists′s lack of pedigree and training. That doesn′st seem to be stopping the popularity of Pop Art though.
Today, Pop Art is everywhere, in all forms of mass media and now even in the social media. Logos, banners, posters, graphic icons, you name it. Pop Art is widely used not just because it can be mass produced and reproduced digitally and in print, but also because it is easily ″sconsumed″s by the public.
Where to start
No matter what you are purchasing, an impulse buy can be a tempting and exciting way to shop. However, when it comes to purchasing a canvas online, it is a good idea to spend some extra time checking out the artist, considering your space and taking your own personal style into account.
Decoring your home with Canvases bought online has become quite popular these days because of the ease and convenience it can offer you. But, in order to find the perfect piece for your needs, you need to consider these top tips for buying art online
Take your time
Sure, a big benefit of internet shopping is that it is super-fast, but when you want to buy art, it is recommended that you take your time in browsing online, reading about different artists and then make your final selection.
Similar to the artwork, choosing it is a very personal experience because everyone has a different personality and style. The trick is to find the perfect balance between not letting an excellent piece of art slip away and mulling over your decision.
Consider your existing interior décor
If you want to add personality to your home, art is the best tool for this job. Nevertheless, when you are buying a piece of art, it is important to consider how it works with your current interior décor. Are you trying to spruce up an otherwise dull room? In this case, you can inject some color with a bold graphic print. Are you trying to detox your cluttered space? You can use a calm and neutral picture for this purpose.
Even if you fall in love with something really unexpected, there is no harm in that because your art collection will most definitely outlast your current decorating and styling scheme. Sometimes, a modern room can be made quirky with a piece of traditional art or a contemporary piece can shine in a traditional interior space. You can also shake up your choice in unusual ways like creating a clash with your furniture or incorporating your artwork into a room’s color palette.
Think about the space
Shopping for art is a creative and imaginative process, but you also need to be practical in order to make the right choice. First, take a look at the space you have for placing the art. Consider the light in the room you want to use it in and if it has other artworks.
Even though these questions are simple, they are necessary and you need to ask them before taking the plunge. For instance, if you like a bright abstract painting, your office space might not be the best fit for it as it can be distracting. Think of the practicalities and take dimensions beforehand so you can choose a piece that can fit easily.
You can also ask questions online through the customer service option and eliminate any doubts you may have about the artwork you are purchasing. As long as you use these tips, you will be able to buy art online easily.