Cities Project Culture

Graffiti Graphics: Three Artists from NYC’s Street Museum of Art Take their Art Above the Streets

by Erin Joyce

October 27, 2014

Street art and graffiti are intrinsic to the visual landscape of many locales in the United States, but New York has a particularly colorful relationship with this more guerilla form of creative expression. Driving, walking, or biking through the streets of Bushwick, the Bronx, Manhattan, or any borough of New York, for that matter, allows you a view of a stunningly vast array of murals, wheat paste posters, tags, and stencils—an array which includes anything from a thought-provoking, social commentary piece from the famously elusive Banksy to a seemingly artless, expressive outburst of a phrase hastily scrawled on a wall. And the diverse range of street art peppering New York’s landscape is indicative of many characteristics of the city—an incredibly diverse population, the breakneck speed of city life, the tumultuous emotional rollercoaster of trying to make it, or simply survive. 
 
In recent decades, street art has increasingly gained credibility both in the art world and broader culture, making the leap out of streets and alleyways to infiltrate galleries and museum spaces. Harnessing this interest and uptick in popularity, the Street Museum of Art, an anonymous public art group based in NYC, meshed the worlds of the museum and of the street in an unconventional way. Instead of removing the art from its natural environment and transporting it into a stereotypically sterile gallery or museum environment, SMoA installed descriptive text panels alongside the art in its urban environment, in its original context, in a guerilla curatorial move. SMoA has also curated exhibitions of street art with a unique ‘traveling exhibition’ museum model, taking their operation on the road to collaborate with local artists in cities from London to Montreal to Melbourne, where they currently reside.

For the GOOD Cities Project, SMoA has set out to create a three-part billboard series by three New York City-based artists: Elle, Skewville, and Rubin. The Street Museum of Art interprets and synthesizes its experiences with New York by incorporating photographs of street art found around the city by three local artists they’ve worked with over the years, and superimposing a brief written love letter in spray paint across the top—a unique, collaborative approach to their personal histories. Elle, a Brooklyn-based artist, who originally hails from California, has been practicing street art for over five years now. Her practice as a street artist is prolific and her methods are varied, as her work manifests itself in a myriad of mediums utilizing stickers, extinguishers, wheat paste, rollers, acrylics, and more to create fascinating street art installations that illustrate her personal New York experience. Elle has climbed the Brooklyn Queens Expressway to paint billboards and projected a 200-foot video installation upon the façade of the New Museum, for two particular New York-centric works. 

Since childhood, Rubin, a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, had dreamt of inhabiting what he envisioned as “the graffiti capital of the world,” often taking imaginary walks through the streets of New York, marveling at the street art he one day hoped to see in person. When he was finally able to call New York home, Rubin relished the experience of roaming the streets firsthand. With a background in graphic design, Rubin’s work bridges the worlds of abstraction and geometrically-oriented work with that of the more typographical hallmarks of graffiti, resulting in an aesthetic that is a unique blend of his adoptive Brooklyn home and his native Scandinavia.

And, finally, Skewville is arguably the most quintessential New York of the artists. Born and raised in Queens, Skewville’s work is primarily comprised of unconventional self-portraits done in large format urban murals on walls and buildings, cutouts hung from light posts, and even pasted pieces to the sides of city buses. These likenesses self-incorporate the visual characteristics of New York in a way that is deeply personal and referential to Skewville’s life experiences.

Altogether, these three artists with their different backgrounds are representative of the colorful microcosm that is New York. Though their practices may be fundamentally diverse, they each hold a special reciprocal relationship with their city, as their works live throughout the streets they are informed by. Collectively, they hope that they may help the public visually rediscover the city they hold so dear. 

Stay tuned to the GOOD Cities Project this November where the Street Museum of Art’s visual love letters to New York will be exhibited, featuring images of actual street work by Elle, Rubin, and Skewville. And, if you find yourself in New York come November, keep an eye out to see their works displayed on local billboards. 

For more, watch the video below made by Elle, Skewville, Rubin, and their friends at SMoA, who were so inspired by the GOOD Cities Project and, ultimately, this place that they call home. New York City has given them so much—it's the creative backdrop from which and on which they draw, and subsequently want to share with the world. Witness their love for New York firsthand through this compelling behind-the-scenes video that shares their individual experiences with this city that has shaped them, both as people as and artists. 

The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.

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Graffiti Graphics: Three Artists from NYC’s Street Museum of Art Take their Art Above the Streets