Tristan Manco is an acclaimed art critic, author and art director. His new book, ‘Raw + Material = Art: Found, Scavenged and Upcycled,’ recently published, is the latest in a long list of published books and he has had articles published in publications such as The Observer Magazine, The Independent On Sunday and Juxtapoz magazine. He has also previously worked with Pictures On Walls, EMI Records and a multitude of film festivals.
Beautiful Crime caught up with him to discuss crashing over at artists’ houses in Brazil, street art’s impact on advertising, the ability its had to change the way we perceive art in public space and the emerging shifts and trends within the scene.
How do you think street art has changed the relationship we have with art in public spaces in recent years?
In recent years street art worldwide seems to have gone from strength to strength. It now enjoys more recognition than ever before with a number of well known institutions such as MOCA, Foundation Cartier, BALTIC, Tate Modern and many others celebrating this global movement with major exhibitions. Street art has also flourished on the Internet through blogs and social media creating a huge audience who enjoy and engage with street art even if they have not seen the art in real life. The powerful works of Italian street artist Blu are a case in point, whose ingenious animated film Muto filmed on the street has received close to 10 million hits on Youtube. None of this will be news to your readers but its worth reminding ourselves that street art is no longer a small cult movement, it has captured the public’s collective imagination both online and at a local level.
While street art often represents an alternative voice, its popularity has brought it to the mainstream. City councils are wising up to the creative and cultural potential of street art festivals and street art zones – the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol being a case in point. With greater acceptance, street art has flourished to become bigger and bolder in its ambition and scope and consequently with the way it interacts with the public. Its strength comes in being a grass roots movement that is at the same time beginning to receive more official backing. It could be argued that non-commissioned and sanctioned street art has in turn created a growing appetite and openness towards more traditional public art, such as community murals and public sculptures. What public art and curators of institutions can learn from street art is how to harness popular talent and to find ways to emulate its principles of creativity, community and inclusiveness.”
Street artists such as Stik and interactive design pioneers like Shane Walter have talked about how advertising invades our lives in public spaces, for example: on billboards, posters at bus stops and in the underground stations. Are we becoming immune to the effects of advertising because there’s so much of it and do you think street art has offered the public a welcome and alternative landscape to it? (Will this perhaps help to sustain its popularity in time and its legality?)
Advertising and street art are two topics that often get compared and contrasted to each other and there are both parallels and obvious differences between them. Historically a number of street art pioneers since the 70s such as the New York artists Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer innovated the use of advertising billboards and street signage to create unorthodox messages that subverted advertising and made social commentary. While their works and the global ad-busting movement is a powerful influence on urban art today, the last decade has perhaps been more inspired by the copy-shop and Photoshop generation of artists such as Shepard Fairey who borrowed from Barbara Kruger and used the contemporary language of logos, characters, signs and symbols that advertising employs in their own work.
Advertising and graffiti share the same cityscape and to some degree they have a similar function, which is to catch people’s attention to say ‘Look at this’ or “Remember my logo.” Stylistically there are links too: if advertising and graphic design in any form didn’t exist then graffiti lettering may not have developed in the way it did since many of its typographic tricks came from styles of signage such as drop shadows, neon and bubble lettering that came from street advertising. However street art and graffiti is viewed as an antidote to advertising as it presents more of a personal response to the world and an alternative voice to the status quo and marketing ploys of multinational ad agencies. For artists such as Kruger, advertising was a chosen target since it was symbolic of the status quo that moulded social behaviour.
Ironically advertisers are very quick to adopt current trends and “urban art” has very much been a strong theme in advertising over the last decade in an attempt to associate the freedom and creativity of a grass-roots movement to make brands look hip. Tragically this has led to embarrassingly bad campaigns – the worse offenders being ads that mimic the stop-motion animation of the Italian artist Blu. The shame of it being that Blu’s animations and gigantic murals are the antithesis of the establishment that with wonderful imagination remind us of the machinations of global capitalism that have wrought havoc on the planet.
Who have been the most interesting artists you’ve worked with as an art director and why?
Over the last ten years or so I have worked with a number of artists in various ways such as commissioning designs, curating street art festivals, creating screen prints and putting on art shows. I’ve ended up on many strange adventures visiting artists across the globe, seeing artists at work or attending many inspiring events. Rather than naming names, I would say the most interesting part has been sharing peoples lives as I’ve researched my books whether it’s been a few days or weeks or years on and off. I’ve been very touched by the artists who were happy for me to stay on their sofa while I got to know their work, their city and their friends. I’ve been struck by the passion many artists have to make art even when the money’s tight and there is literally nothing in the fridge. This may sound sentimental but I’ve met some very talented individuals particularly in Brazil who have had very humble homes and welcomed me with a great humility and these experiences have taught me many life lessons. The whole process of meeting artists and learning about them has been the thing that I carry with me and the books have become a memory of that.
What sort of shifts do you think are starting to take place within the street art and graffiti scenes? How is the scene developing or changing?
I think most of the big shifts are plain to see, such as the moves towards ever-bigger walls, painting in abandoned industrial zones and a tendency towards muralism, Stylistically there are trends towards abstraction and old school flavours, but more importantly artists continue to develop their own styles. Collaboration remains important in particular experimental crews such as the French DMV crew become stronger than the sum of the parts. For me, community projects which are ever more popular are also a very important way of keeping street art and graffiti at a grassroots level.
I helped write the press release so I probably can’t do any better than reiterate that… Raw + Materials = Art: Found, Scavenged and Upcycled showcases the work of 38 truly innovative and inspirational artists who use low-cost, low-tech media and often totally original techniques to produce work that defies categorization and pushes the boundaries of art itself. Many of them repurpose utilitarian or scrap materials, from unglamorous items of domestic waste, found wood and even organic detritus such as skin and nails to recycled toys, books, skateboards, firecrackers and lights. Others show creative approaches to traditional or proven media such as paper, stone, concrete and steel. The ingeniously crafted and thought-provoking results range across a broad spectrum, from intimate paper collages to large public sculptures constructed from discarded wood. Anyone fascinated by the extraordinary creativity currently emerging at the raw edge of contemporary art will find this book compelling reading.
Although the book includes a few street artists for me it’s a shift towards looking at contemporary art more broadly and focusing on how different artists use materials. In short its full of breathtaking and inspiring stuff!
To find out more about Tristan Manco, his work and the books he’s written, please visit www.tristanmanco.com
To buy a copy of his new book, please click here