I saw this on New Art, a blog that, albeit with infrequent posts, is pretty reliable for quality.
It’s the most interesting, intelligent, and imaginative “graffiti” I’ve seen in a long time. And, yes, it’s a time lapse animation of paint on walls the artist most likely didn’t ask permission to paint on.
It’s been a little more than two decades since the Artforum-conscious art world turned an interest toward graffiti, most popularly represented by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat (link to Brooklyn Museum exhibition). It was however, its own type of “outsider art” infusion; I think comparable to the Parisian interest in African art or the American interest in Native American Art during the first half of the 20th century. Of course, while “outsiders” were invited in for a little visit (Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat did indeed contain a scene in which Jean-Michel essentially pisses on the carpet) “not-so-exotics” like Keith Haring also traversed the graffiti and “high” art communities. Haring may also be the earliest graffiti-artist-as-guy-who-paints-his-symbol (a la Street Logos) that I know anything about. And, alas, my experience has been that the “Art” and graffiti communities remain light years apart.
Furthermore, at the same time that I can’t help but chuckle when faced with claims about average “quality” in art, the overwhelming majority of paint applied to walls without permission across the urban world is just so, so unambitious. I’m thinking of “writers” (aka “taggers” and maybe they’re calling it something else now), and all the dumb gang kids with their territorial markers. Then, for the many graffiti artists I’ve met who make astonishing and beautiful paintings, their work is overwhelmingly visual to the exclusion of direct external references. (Very inexpertly) based on my limited travels of western Europe, American graffiti seems comparatively and strikingly uninterested in intellectual content and political commentary. The international art biennial circuit couldn’t be more opposite. On the one hand, I admire the joy in just looking at things that is far more prevalent in the graffiti community that the “Art” world. I’m also aware of the oft read-into-the-art subtext of existentialist assertion inherent in making elaborate large scale abstractions of your name (pseudonym). However, on the other hand, my cerebral inclinations are often left wanting more.
Muto by BLU simply blew me away.
It is, first of all, engaging as an animation. Then, the understanding that it is a stop-frame animation of large scale paintings made in public over an extended period of time across a very large space, under a context that could certainly get the artist into trouble, is, to say the least, ambitious and daring. Rest assured, my sorry teaching butt hasn’t dedicated that much time to an artwork since before dirt was young.
The drawing conveys personality. The narrative is surreal and imaginative.
Another thing that about Muto that piques my curiosity is that in its concrete (non-video) form, it can only reveal a fragment of its larger identity. What of passers-by on the street? If you walk by once, you see a drawing. If you pass by frequently enough, you see change over time. But, until the video is released, the work, though of as a painting, simply can’t be engaged in its entirety. Maybe like a section from a Chinese scroll seen in a textbook, what life does each fragment have?
I was also intrigued by a subtext I willingly inserted: the ongoing, shall I say, “dialogue” between graffiti as vandalism and municipal governments painting over said non-“permission pieces” (and too often graffiti-style murals done with permission alike). A timely quote:
“Judge Christopher Hardy said [to the The DPM Crew in London]: “It would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that some examples of your handiwork show considerable artistic talent, part of what is now known as the graffiti subculture and on the way to being recognised as a valid form of art. The trouble is that it is has been sprayed all over other people’s property without their consent and that is simply vandalism.”
From the (other?) Cranky Professor, originally from the Times Online.
That is, that in some form, consciously exercised or not, all painting of your art/something-you-think-is-art on someone else’s private or public property is a form of defiance against the law. The act may even be a protest against the legitimacy of those who made those laws. More than a few brilliant rounds have been fired back and forth about the control of public space and its effect on the enfranchisement/disenfranchisement of ideas. (See Pixelator – highly recommended). It’s a sharply politicized subject implicating democracy, equality, and the right to property, that’s riddled with land mines and that I dare not weigh in on here. I’ll just say that one thing I like about Pixelator is that it doesn’t cause any damage to physical property.
So first, MUTO paints over a lot of (other people’s) space.
Second, MUTO “whites out” a lot of space including places where it covers over other graffiti with a nice fresh coat of clean paint.
(Can the city come and paint over your art when your art is painting over things? )
Then, in the end, without that political subtext, it’s still compelling to watch for enough other reasons that I’m more than willing to enage in their own right, that you’ll have to watch the video to think of for yourself.