Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Risk and Ron English are part of a new ‘Urban Art’ exhibition at the Opera Gallery in London. Urban art, and its perception, have considerably evolved in the past forty years. The basic graffiti on underground seats that was regarded as sheer vandalism has become a rich aesthetical statement left in the public space – notably thanks to the deve- lopment by urban and street artists of new artistic skills and techniques.
“Art is about passing on references and creativeness. Most people know that Banksy and Blek le Rat, the founding fathers of stencil art, have inspired a generation of young contemporary urban and street artists – making street art one of the most successful genres of the century. But it is time we give this new generation a say, and let them tell us their story, tell us who inspired them personally and what made them the artists they are now.” – Jean-David Malat
In the early 1970s a unique form of art emerged, inspired from New York’s skateboard culture: a form of art with strong political content and a powerful protesting message from those who rejected the mainstream ideas and took the initiative to express themselves on the walls and streets of the metropolis. Street art was born.
Urban art, the generic term often used to combine street art and graffiti, is therefore essentially the expression of a counter-culture that takes you, us, the passers-by, everyone as witnesses of their art. Having said that, we must keep in mind the duality of both movements included in the definition: indeed, some graffiti artists insist that they are not trying to deliver a message but only leaving their mark on the world; while street artists truly convey a statement (political, subversive or purely aesthetical) through their art.
We will therefore use the term of “urban art” to define all human expressions on or using street furniture and urban equipment, both on the streets and in public spaces. It may include diverse forms and techniques such as graffiti, stencil, painting, chalk drawing, sculpture, ceramic, installations, stickers, etc.
From this angle, the City no longer appears as a de-humanising individualist structure accommodating the modern man; but really as a wide blank canvas for him to express himself.
Like any other genre, urban art has a history and founding fathers. Nowadays, still, the main figure of the movement is undeniably the mysterious stencil artist Banksy who gained a widely shared recognition for his extraordinary sharp and accurate humour. He is also the first artist to have brought street art into art galleries and museums.
Alongside Banksy, we must not forget that the forefathers of street art were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Blek le Rat. American Basquiat is indeed the artist considered to have built the bridge between pop art and street art, while Blek le Rat is regarded as a pioneer of stencil art as he has been using street walls as canvases since the early 1980s.
Who else? Through Urban Masters, we are asking 33 contemporary graffiti and street artists that very question. Because we believe that beyond the history of the move- ment, every artist has his own rich personal history.
In an alternative art installation, we question nowadays’ urban art and its relation to the past, encou- raging artists to give their point of view on the traces left by those who made the history of art and who helped them become who they are today.
Complete list of artists featured in the urBan masters installation
BoM.k, Blo, Brusk, GrIs1, Jaw, kan, sowat, da Mental VaporZ lek, roa, daVId sHIllInGlaw, ZeZão, sweet tooF, Blek le rat, ron enGlIsH, MaC1, Matt sMall, aleXandros VasMoulakIs el MaC, C215, Joe BlaCk, seen, rIsk
reMI rouGH, sIXeart, Zeus, MentalGassI, nICk Gentry, tHe london polICe stInkFIsH, rone, Banksy, kId ZooM, nICk walker ,sHepard FaIrey