Monday, July 23, 2007

Spray Painting

Depending on many variables (most of which I think have to deal with culture, upbringing, formation, sense of inferiority, elitist aspirations, and hidden wanna-be issues), often artsy people stand on definite sides when it comes to what the art world describes as "low brow art" and "high art."

In the various earlier discussions here on what makes good art, a lot of theory and art history has been discussed and written about.

I'm of the opinion that the only proven and tested art critic of what makes good art is time.

And often what was once considered low brow art, or art that wasn't good enough, stands the test of time just as well (or even better) than what the contemporary critics or artsy folks of the time would have selected.

History is full of such examples: Ukiyo-e in Japan, Salon des Refus├ęs in France, most 19th century steelpoints, Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Norman Rockwell in the US, most photography until Steiglitz dragged it into art galleries, Florida's Highway Men, and on and on.

But now, even though anything and everything is art, there's still a world of low brow art that makes most members of the artworld scene roll their eyes. We all do it.
lisa yuskavage

On the other hand, some low brow art has managed to make the jump to the high art side.

Like John Currin. Or Lisa Yuskavage and many others.

And that's OK - everything is art.

Perhaps one of the most refreshing developments of the last few years has been the recognition of the artists sometimes described as "street artists." Many, like Banksy, and in the DC region artists like Kelly Towles and Mark Jenkins, have made the jump and show equally at ease in galleries. In Jenkins' case, he has become a worldwide fixture and now creates his street tape sculptures all over the planet.

Another form of street art, which is new to me, are "spray paint artists."

A few weeks ago I was wandering around South Street in Philly, when I came across a group of people, including a cop, avidly observing a young man create artwork while kneeling down on the sidewalk at the entrance to the South Street Pedestrian Bridge. In front of him were displayed 20 or 30 pieces of art on cardstock... about 30 x 20 inches each.

He worked with amazing speed, to the tune of a very hip beat that played on the boom box next to him. His paper was taped to a spinning table, and he sprayed, dabbed, removed and spun to the beat of the music. We all watched hypnotized as image after image appeared.

It took him about 90 seconds to create a painting from scratch. "I may not be the best," he told me when I started talking to him during a break and while I was buying one of his pieces, "but I am the fastest spray painter around."

The subject imagery is of no consequence. It seemed to focus on otherwordly landscapes, Star-Trekkie vistas, or surrealist dreams. Mine was a mixture of some sort of a Anakin Skywalker viewpoint married to a glowing penis.

But the imagery is the least of the concerns here. What hypnotized and mesmerized the crowd was the performance of this young artist, arms flying, spray cans tumbling, music playing and the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" of the crowd as he created work after work every 90 seconds.

See for yourself in the below video (filmed in Mobile, Alabama earlier this year):

His name is Joshua Moonshine, and the streets of US cities are his galleries.