The emergence of Street Art as a recognized genre in recent decades has brought with it fresh issues regarding copyright and ownership of art. The style lends itself to removal, vandalism, and forgery; firstly because of its somewhat below board execution, and secondly because of the fact that the works are notoriously difficult to authenticate. While many Street Artists' work here in Houston is legally commissioned, there are still many operating under the radar, and their work does not often last long...
I recently read an old post on Houston Press listing Houston's Most Gorgeous Graffiti, and was stunned to see how many of them have since been painted over. Now, Street Art by its very nature is not meant to last forever, but I did begin to wonder.. Does the artist, or anyone for that matter, have the right to preserve it? After endless legal reading (that I will spare you), I discovered that unless of course you own the "tagged" property on or the work was legally commissioned the answer is sadly no, not really.
First I need to point out that there is an important distinction between commissioned and therefore legal "Street Art", and noncommissioned and illegal "graffiti". The long and short of it is that Street Art is wholly copyrightable (although that particular version is still owned in most cases by whoever owns the wall), and graffiti is not. Instances of graffiti being removed, vandalized, or sold without the artists' permission are therefore commonplace. One of the most high profile examples of this is probably "Slave Labour", a Banksy mural that was painted on the side wall of a Poundland store in Wood Green, London in May 2012. It was mysteriously removed and later resurfaced for sale at the Fine Art Auctions, Miami for $500,000.
Here in Houston there have also been countless cases of removal, including the work of such notorious Street Artists as Ack! or the Give Up Crew. Notoriety, apparently, bears no meaning against vandalism laws...
In traditional cases, the Visual Artist's Rights Act (VARA) - a subsection of the CopyRight Act - protects artist from having their works removed, vandalized, or reproduced without consent. VARA even has a subsection which covers works on buildings, and while not all graffiti is eligible for protection (for example tags and type faces are not copyrightable) even the most illegally executed works satisfy the necessary minimum requirements in that they originated with the author, and are fixed in a tangible medium, i.e. paint on concrete. However, all of this is only really of use if the artist is willing to come forward and claim this right. A true graffiti artist is unlikely to claim authorship of noncommissioned works, unless of course they enjoy paying hefty vandalism fines.
All in all, I can't see much of a solution.. If the graffiti is welcome, then there are measures that can be taken by owners and local councils to protect it. If it is not and the artist does not own the property, they can still claim rights against its reproduction but there is very little they can do to prevent its removal. Fortunately, graffiti artists embrace the fleeting nature of their work, and I think really we ought to as well. It's as much of an art form as oil on canvas, but the two will never be one and the same, and that's what makes it so expressive and unique in my opinion. Graffiti: Here for a good time not a long time.
If you look really closely here, you can see a tiny little me jumping for joy in front of the BIGGEST MURAL IN HOUSTON. And yes, it really does warrant the name, this 11,000 square foot monster really has to be seen to fully gauge its enormity. Located at 2800 San Jacinto Street, Preservons la Creation (Let's Preserve the Creation) is a masterpiece of truly Texan proportions. French-born Sebastien "Mr. D" Boileau (the same artist that brought us the #biscuitpaintwall) and his company Eyeful Art partnered with the Texan-French Alliance for the Art's "Open Door" project and the Midtown District to create Preservons La Creation in 2014.
I have already mentioned Mr. D and Eyeful Art in a previous post, but in case you missed it, let's recap:
Mr. D was born in Versailles, France, and according to his bio, was inspired by the American graffiti movement of the 1970s and '80s to begin his artistic career at the tender age of 14. Following his migration from France, Mr. D founded Eyeful Art in 2000, and has established himself as a creative force to be reckoned with in Houston over the past decade and a half.
So, back to the matter at hand - The Biggest Mural in Houston. The piece is a modern twist on Michelangelo's most famous work, The Creation of Adam both in title and in subject matter, and depicts a God-like figure holding a can of spray-paint (clever right?). Boileau is no stranger to large-scale projects, as his "Love You Houston" mural in Midtown previously held the title of the largest mural in Houston at 5,000 square feet (until he beat his own record with this, of course). In an interview with Houston Chronicle, Boileau revealed that this project required 27 consecutive days of painting, two 65-foot boom lifts, more than 500 cans of spray paint, and 150 gallons of wall paint mixed with water to complete. UP Art Studio, who continue to represent Boileau to this day, said that the mural cost over $90,000 (raised largely through philanthropic giving) to make. A ton of work, evidently, but what's the point behind this gargantuan mural?
Well, there are many, actually. First and foremost, the mural is "intended to beautify, as well as to educate”, said UP Art Studio's Elia Quiles at the time of its unveiling. As I have mentioned before, Street Art is becoming an increasingly vital part of Houston's artistic identity. It is projects like this that continue to show how important the arts are in this city, while at the same time increasing traffic and civic pride in a somewhat dilapidated area. According to the Daily Cougar, the unveiling of the piece also helped to raise money for a children's hospital, so lots of win-wins there!
The title, Preservons La Creation is also a comment on the need to preserve and protect art, especially urban art which is particularly vulnerable to damage or removal (Boileau's own #biscuitpaintwall was defaced by taggers in 2014). Of course, there is always a little room for a little self expression too, despite the sheer size of the piece preventing any free-hand work. Boileau's own style mixes elements of Renaissance, Impressionism, and Urban Contemporary influences, a self-defined style he calls "Canpressionism" or "Urban Fine Art". The same poured paint seen in the #biscuitpaintwall is also present here, tying Mr. D's works together as a cohesive collection across a vast urban landscape.
All in all, the best summary of this piece came from a commenter on my first blog post on glasstire.com: "The giant god as graffiti artist is splendidly ridiculous, embarrassing, audacious (bodacious!), ferociously dumb, and awesomely Houston." Wiser words have never been spoken, now go see it!
Let's play a game. Think of as many Street Artists as you can name. Now, how many of those artists are female? I'm pretty confident in assuming that it's either zero, or very close to that..
We are used to hearing about sexism in the world in general, and despite huge progress in gender equality in the last century, it still lingers. Fact. In a sector as ostensibly liberal as the arts, one would expect (or at least hope) that in this day and age, credit would be based on creative merit rather than the artist's ability to grow a beard.. Street Art has the added luxury of being a potentially anonymous art form, so sexism isn't an issue right?? Wrong.
In fact, the first thing I did in this post was prove that women are a massive minority in Street Art, with females achieving notoriety only as "the Female Banksy" or other such subtly undermining rubbish. Anywhere female artists are mentioned, they are subcategorized as "Female Street Artists", making a clear distinction between them and their male counterparts. Articles that are intended to empower female artists are really just part of the problem: "10 Female Street Artists" "10 Women Street Artists that are Better than Banksy".... I could go on... Yes, it's awesome that female Street Artists are starting to gain recognition, but the underlying premise of "look, women can do this just like men!" really gets my goat.
Last year, GQ Magazine published a list of the world's best Street Artists, just two of which were female (Olek and Vinie). In Street Art aliases don't often indicate gender (take UK based cbloxx as an example). It should therefore be easy for any artist to blend into the urban landscape without gender-bias, so why is Street Art still such a boys club?
I think the problem is actually twofold. One part stems from the art world as a whole, the other really comes back to Street Art as a movement, and the darker roots of this now widely appreciated genre. Back in the day, graffiti artists were traditionally men, and this was largely because of the risk involved in being out at night alone, scaling buildings, and generally breaking the law. The fact that there is a lot less risk involved in legally commissioned graffiti these days has done little to sway the gender imbalance, but why?
Perhaps Street Art becoming an accepted and (more significantly) commercially viable genre has something do do with it. If recent reports are to be believed, sexism in the commercial art world remains rampant. Just a few months ago, anonymous female art collective Pussy Galore (sorry mum, I swear that's their actual name) posted a faux-report card revealing the percentage of female vs. male artists represented in various NYC galleries. The results (although a marked improvement from the Guerrilla Girls' similar report conducted in 1986) are fairly telling, with the worst offender carrying just 5% female artists. And it's not just the galleries and buyers who are prejudiced, it comes from the artists themselves too. Who can forget the infamous 2013 Spiegel interview with artist George Baselitz, in which he declared "Women don't paint very well. It's a fact"...!
Never mind the fact that this is bigoted and ludicrous, it's also totally outdated, because things are changing around here! At the risk of sounding like one of the Women Can do it Too!! articles, I'd like to point out a few things that helped me to come to this conclusion: Cindy Sherman and Ellsworth Kelly were voted as two of the best living artists by Vanity Fair last year. Artist Cady Noland was listed as the tenth most expensive living artist in America. In the last five years, the Turner Prize has been won more times by women than by men. Compare this to say, 1985-1990 when the winners were all male, and you can almost see the tides turning. Thankfully, this shift is taking effect in the Street Art world too, with women garnering attention across the globe in this traditionally male-dominated genre. In 2011, numerous female artists made it into Complex.com's list of the Fifty Best Street Artists Right Now. Strong female artists such as Kashink were also listed as Street Artists to watch in 2014 by the same website. Yes, females may still be in the minority in a lot of cases, but I think we can finally look forward to a time when talent outweighs gender.
For a look at some of the most talented female, male, and female/male collaborative Street Artists of the moment, check out the awesome site: Women Street Artists.
GIRL POWER, Y'ALL!
Hungry for more?, You can watch an interview with the artist here.
The title of this is perhaps a little misleading. No, I'm not using (probably un-)fashionable slang to say that Houston's cultural scene is disappearing, or uncool, or anything else. Houston isn't going anywhere, a fact that is actually in some ways down to this very mural! Now you may recognize this one. Not only is it a now-famous landmark in Houston's Street Art scene, but it has also featured on my blog before (lots).
The Houston Is... mural was commissioned and sponsored by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2013 as part of a campaign to rebrand the city as a colorful, fun, and most importantly, YOUNG place to be. The initiative, dubbed the "Houston is Inspired Campaign", aimed (and still aims) to unite Houston's disparate artistic neighborhoods and organizations: The Museum District, the Theater District, Houston Arts Alliance, and Fresh Arts. Yes, there is still a long way to go in making Houston's cultural sector a cohesive whole, but it's come a long way in two years and you can thank initiatives like this for that!
Two years after its unveiling, this poster child (or should I say mural child...ha) for the Houston is Inspired Campaign still adorns the south wall of the Treebeards restaurant building in Market Square. The central words read "Houston is inspired, hip, tasty, funky, savvy", surrounded by psychedelic tendrils of color that seem to flow outwards from the mural, stretching beyond its concrete confinements to join the skyline above.
The artist responsible for this 3,300 sqft hallucination-provoking masterpiece is well-known local Street Artist GONZO247. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, GONZO247 said that he spent over a month (not to mention 250 cans of spray paint!!) on the wall. His work is vibrant, loud, colorful, and this is no exception. What I think I miss in this particular mural however, are those amazing throw-back references to the old-school graffiti tag style that are incorporated into the designs of many of his other works.
Unlike many Street Artists, GONZO247 is not a secretive guy. In fact, he's a very active part of the Houston community, and I don't just mean the Street Art community. He is well known as a teacher, collaborator, entrepreneur, and public figure. I mean, he has taught at Rice - "The Ivy League school of the South". Who, twenty years ago, would ever imagine a graffiti artist would be doing that??
According to an interview on travel site Visit Houston, GONZO247 has been operating in Texas for over 25 years. He is the founder, owner, and general advocate for the awesome Aerosol Warefare, an exclusive outlet for graffiti, outsider, and hip hop artists that, according to its manifesto, "blends art studio, exhibitions and urban art education into a vortex of creativity and energetic output".
On a personal note, I am intrigued to discover that the further I delve into Urban Art in Houston, the more I see that everything is connected in some way or another. The spider at the center of this carefully constructed spray-can web? Aerosol Warefare, without a doubt. I hope that I will discover the same kind of cohesion in other sectors as I continue to explore the city, but if not, I hope that this at least serves as a precursor to a Houston that is culturally and socially united.
Sounds like an interesting organization? It is! Go check it out, what are you still doing here anyway??
British-born arts blogger living in Houston, Tx. A mixture of Street Art, Fine Art, Installation, and anything weird and wonderful. Follow me if that sounds like your cup of tea.