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2005 12 04
An Introduction to Street Art, Part II
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Image by End, photography by the author.

By Emily Raine

Like any taxonomy, street art is a slippery one. Another way we might try to define, it is in negative relation to large-gallery art and commercial design work. While a great deal of street art marks a renewed interest in the techniques of European classical art—at least in relation to graffiti—it tends to be fervently anti-corporate, and even its most successful artists express frustration with the mainstream gallery system for its commodification of their work and the behemoth prices charged in so doing.

Often, the difference between a street artist’s hot-gluing mundane objects to a wall and, say, Tracey Emin doing the same, is that the street artist, more often than not, will not see any money for his or her troubles, and risks arrest in the execution. Like graffiti, street art challenges the authority of urban aesthetics, where the monied hold a tight monopoly on the legitimate means of visibly occupying city spaces—most private citizens cannot afford to rent a billboard, and so must resort to either vandalism or invisibility. There is an inherent polemic in the very act of staking out a space in the city, even if it is merely at the level of contesting the aesthetics of authority.

Because of this form’s evident orientation toward the city itself, it is a medium that takes its self-definition from its canvas. At its best, street art interacts with its visual environment to reflect a given piece’s relationship with its surroundings, providing a distinctive series of alternative landmarks that resonate with the local artistic culture. It indexes the unique icons and personalities of its home city in a world where culture is increasingly globalized and homogenous. In Montreal, for instance, there is a strong tradition of portraiture, reflected in works by Kops Crew, Omen, HVW8 and Francisco Garcia. There is a preponderance of chalk and oilstick images, a medium heavily influenced by the hobo culture of train streaking with stylized monikers and pseudonyms, and one nurtured by prolific local standouts Other and Labrona and taken up by younger artists including Produkt, Giver, Leeny and End.

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Paste-up by Other, photograph by the author.
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