Collaboration is an important element in the world of urban art and something that sets it apart from other artistic spheres. In recent months, as part of the now yearly exodus of Latin American artists to Europe and the United States for summer in the northern hemisphere, Cordobese artist Elian has been one half of two contrasting collaborations in Barcelona and London.
The dual show “Fallas” in Montana Gallery, Barcelona, saw him team up with fellow Argentine and friend Pastel to explore the aesthetic outcomes of a glitch, a default, a systematic failure. Both artists contributed individual works in their signature styles on paper and canvas, but where the unity of their collaboration was most evident was in the mural painted at the back of the gallery. This monochrome piece juxtaposed Elian’s broad and furling linear study against Pastel’s delicate floral composition, creating a wall where opposites harmonise with each other, where the graphic collides with the decorative. Taking two contrasting yet complementary components and pitting them against each other is a technique used in everything from typography to architecture, and the superimposition of Elian’s minimal gestures on the intricacy of Pastel’s flora exploits this to create a dramatic effect that is at once arresting and absorbing.
In London, Elian hooked up with Puerto Rican artist Alexis Diaz in advance of a group show in Mya Gallery to paint a mural in the city’s street art mecca, Shoreditch. This time, Elian reverted to his freeform mergings of primary colours to interact with the surreal biology of Alexis Diaz’s oft-seen heart and eye. Diaz’s detailed studies of hybrid animalistic/skeletal creatures are sometimes set against a subtly gradiated background of colour, and the pairing of his work with Elian’s here echoes this, albeit that Elian’s slashes of red, yellow and blue across the arrow-pierced heart give the mural decidedly more punch. Again, the visual clash of opposites gives the wall a great aesthetic tension and commands the viewer to reconcile the sweeping with the precise. Social media erupted with images of this impressive wall, cementing the power of bringing together two stylistically opposite artists but whom are equally matched by their talent.
Jaz – new residence and global tour
Franco Fasoli, aka Jaz, has relocated from Buenos Aires to Barcelona, one of the European meccas of urban art. The Spanish city has long been embedded in Fasoli’s artistic trajectory – he first encountered public art as a young adult while visiting the Catalonian capital, the influence of which subsequently marked a move away from the traditional hip-hop style of graffiti he had been practicing since the 90’s towards the large scale murals on which he now works. Jaz’ steadily rising international profile means he now spends more than 6 months of the year attending street art festivals, doing artist residencies and exhibiting worldwide. Barcelona’s central European location aligns more with Jaz’s current lifestyle and will see him splitting his time between working in the studio for exhibitions (both group and solo shows) and painting externally.
Although the Argentine artist is now counting Europe as his new home, his first wall since leaving Argentina was in Morocco. Participating in the Jidar Festival in the Moroccan capital Rabat along with international artists such as Pixel Pancho, Maya Hayuk, Tilt , Ron English and Inti and local artists Simo Mouhim, Kalamour and Rebel Spirit, Jaz’s huge mural, entitled “The Shoe Thief”, sees the artist delve even further into the thematic and stylistic synthesis he has been pursuing in recent months. The mural translates the aesthetic of collage he has employed in pieces in the Dominican Republic and Mexico into a stylised painting that deals with the themes of conflict and identity.
Jaz continued with this aesthetic subversion of his material experimentation with the mural painted at the second international festival he attended, Mural Festival, in Montreal. The wall, which depicts two men clashing and the emergence of two bulls from the fray, stays true to the compositional use of duality that Fasoli often incorporates into his work. However, it is in fact a reproduction of a collage done as part of a solo show for the Celaya Brothers Gallery in Mexico City last February, entitled “Popular”. Again, Jaz has transferred the visual of the collage on canvas onto a painted wall, and the effect is graphic and imposing. Check out a recent interview with Street Art News to find out more about his process.
Franco Fasoli has a busy year ahead, and 2015 will see him dedicating himself to the following festivals, residencies and exhibitions:
June – Group show – SUBEN. London, UK July – Pangeaseed Festival – Cozumel, México. August – Diego Rivera Project of MAF – Amberes, Belgium September – Cityleaks Festival – Cologne, Germany September – Group show. Athen B. Gallery – Oakland, California. USA November – Solo show – Elsi del Río Gallery – Buenos Aires, Argentina
If you would like to know more about Jaz and his art please get in touch.
Physical Graffiti – The connection between urban art and architecture in Argentina
Urban art cannot and does not exist in a vacuum. The built fabric of cities and towns provides the canvas on which street artists exhibit their creations, inextricably linking it to its environment. The relationship between the work and the physicality of its condition brings it into a unique artistic realm, where it is visible in the public space as opposed to the walls of a gallery, and as such, is unequivocally affected by the architecture that acts as its backdrop.
Architecturally speaking, Argentina is something of an anomaly. The country’s urban identity reflects its history and, in many ways, is a physical manifestation of its development as an immigrant hub. After the arrival of Spanish and Italian immigrants at the end of the 19th century, Buenos Aires became a far-flung European outpost. Urban planners looked to Baron Hausmann’s reconstruction of Paris when constructing the newly anointed capital in 1880, earning it the name “Paris of the South”. During the construction boom between 1880 and 1910, much of the old Spanish colonial architecture was replaced with the popular Neo-Classical style, and the 20th century saw the city accumulate a number of stand alone buildings constructed in the Art Deco and Brutalist styles.
In recent years, the architecture of Argentine cities such as Buenos Aires and Cordoba has become somewhat schizophrenic. Poeta , an artist who searches for “tools” within the urban fabric to form his geometric compositions, says that the absence of a defined style in Buenos Aires reflects the lawlessness of the Argentine capital, creating an environment of architectural anarchy. Typical low-rise residential buildings sit alongside 20 storey apartment blocks all over the city, resulting in a spiky, undulating skyline. Pastel , himself an architect, notes that this “gives the painter a new spatial perspective” and that looking for new walls within these physical peaks and troughs becomes “an everyday sport” for a street artist.
This “sport” is largely facilitated by the legal grey-area that street art occupies in Argentina. Most artists would concede that the tolerance towards the technically illegal medium makes it one of the best places to paint in the world. But its reputable standing within the street art community is also due to the abundance of walls within the city itself, negating the need to venture further afield, as is the case in many European or North American cities. In Argentina, paintable walls are rendered “legal” solely by receiving permission from the owner, meaning walls are not solely confined to places of isolation or those dedicated specifically to graffiti.
Porteno neighbourhoods with a mix of commercial and residential uses such a Palermo, Colegiales and Villa Crespo are traditionally where graffiti and street art has been most pervasive, with commissions of murals by retailers and proprietors of restaurants, shops and houses commonplace. More recently the industrial area of Barracas in the south has emerged as the new mecca of street art, while Villa Urquiza has also become an artistic stronghold in the north. Perhaps the only areas in Buenos Aires where graffiti is not widely apparent are the upscale neighbourhoods of Recoleta and Puerto Madero, the former owing largely to the decorative and elaborate Parisian-style architecture that dominates, and the latter due to prominence of the go-to dockland regeneration typology, the glazed skyscraper.
Undoubtedly, context has a unique influence on each of these murals. Elian , a minimalist painter from Cordoba, clarifies this, saying “A wall doesn’t occur in isolation. If that was the case, I would just paint on canvas. It’s not totally influenced by the architecture either, but it always is by the city”. Pastel concurs – “It needs to be understood that architecture and murals are two of the many elements that make up the city. An analysis and understanding of the context forms the relationship between the architecture and the mural”.
Both artists seek to create a dialogue by contextualising their respective works in situ to achieve a harmonious synthesis between the work and the wall. For Pastel, the inclusion of flora from the immediate vicinity of the wall grounds his compositions in their context and provide a link between it and the social themes he explores. Elian sees the architecture of his canvas as integral to his work and feels that a mural is incomplete if it is not taken into account. “Breaking The Structure” (Cordoba, May 2015) is an example of this thesis. The artist’s trademark geometric layers, subtly overlapped in an optical subversion, play with the facade of the building to “respect the geometrical language but breaking the principal lines” in an overt expression of of his intention. The relationship between the wall and the work is built on establishing an visual lexicon that references the mural, the background and the wider context of both.
The wall itself has a huge impact on the work, and the search for good walls is constant. The blank wall of a bus depot in Chacarita is better than the chiseled marble facade of an ornate house in Recoleta, the side of an abandoned building more desireable than underneath a bridge. The context, scale and texture of wall all have an effect on what will be painted. For Elian, it is history that attracts him to a wall. “I prefer a wall that has a story, that something happened in these walls or that you have some kind of wealth, such as moldings, windows, etc.”. Pastel says “Each wall has its charm, either in scale, its particular location, its architecture. It depends on what you want to paint”.
The circumstances under which an artist paints can also dictate the resultant piece. A graffiti artist doing a bomb or a throw up is less likely to have permission, so the piece will probably be smaller and faster than, say, a wall done as part of a street art festival which would presumably have all the necessary licences, so the artists could dedicate more time to the work. The medianeras commissioned by the Buenos Aires City Government as part of Proyecto Duo in Palermo last November are a good example of what can be achieved when a body with resources curates a project. Medianeras are a characteristic feature of the architectural landscape of Buenos Aires, the ubiquity of them defining the visual language of the city. Access and permission to paint on these huge, expansive walls is almost impossible to procure, limiting the frequency with which they are painted. However, the backing of a municipal authority overcomes these procurement issues, bringing large scale murals to a barrio where small scale works are the norm.
For street artists, the influence of the environment by which they are surrounded, whether physical or social, or both, is undeniable. Pastel and Elian, speaking for themselves, assert that the architectural particularities of each situation they paint in have an effect on the work produced. The awareness of their environs and freedom to interact with it in a meaningful way results in Argentine artists not just passively engaging with their surroundings, but actively seeking out walls with certain characteristics that they can incorporate into their murals. The process is not just about finding an empty space to fill, but about consciously merging art and architecture to elevate the relationship between the two.