Would you rather go to see the work of internationally famous anonymous artist Banksy or work of local artists? The best answer is two-in-one. Writing On The Walls: Visual Literacy Through Street Art Culture exhibition is on view in the Jax Makerspace Gallery at the Jacksonville Main Library from Feb. 14 – April 14. The group show features work by regional street artists. In the same gallery displayed a piece by the most famous street artist, Banksy.
The Haight Street Rat measures 7 feet by 7 1/2 feet and was created using red and black spray paint on 107-year-old redwood cedar. The estimated $2 million piece of street art was removed from the side of a San Francisco bed and breakfast by passionate art collector and street art curator, Brian Greif in 2010. Greif invested his own money to have the work removed from the building and conserved to be shown to the public for free in venues across the country. He served as the executive producer on the 2017 film Saving Banksy, which told the story of the Rat. The Jacksonville public library is collaborating with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and others to provide educational programming and recommended reading lists relevant to the topic of street art during this exhibition.
What is the work you presented at the show and what is the idea behind it? What was the feedback from the visitors on your piece, the most interesting or nice comments/questions?
Nico: My mural was one that was part of the walls that were set up at the Phoenix Arts district and I titled it “Feel“. I am a super emotional person, often to my disadvantage in terms of my happiness and stress levels. The mural is a commentary on finding beauty in chaos, and in this case, the chaos in my mind which has never-ending thoughts.
Someone told me, that with this mural they could see that I was becoming my own artist, that I was pushing the boundaries and blossoming. I really appreciated that.
Maiya Elaine: My works: The Rise and Extend. The Rise (female figure with flowers and blue background and gold rays): it’s about something new and bright emerging, like rays of the sun or the radiance of the moon. Women have Benny becoming prominent in many areas like science, politics, and art. It’s something that I feel will bring hope and change. Extend (female with red and blue background and yellow and orange swirls): the flow of creative thought out into the external world. Creative expression feels like you’re stretching a muscle in a way. The rhythm between extension and compression.
I’ve only observed people from distance when they look at my work, I feel kind of weird telling people I made a piece. I’ve heard good things from others. Children seem to be interested in the artistic process and that’s something that probably means the most. The fact that children look up to my work and see that it’s something that’s possible for them too.
The Rise by Maiya Elaine
Grace Bio: My piece is a collaboration with my brother, Leo Angelo Bio (A.K.A: “MERGE ONE”) called “U.N.I.T.Y: the divine in me honors the divine in you.” In order to be a balanced human being – one must surrender, honor & embody both the male & female energy we all have. I couldn’t think of a better symbol than a married couple so we painted a Filipino couple bowing to each other.
The overall feedback I received from the public was that people felt spiritually rejuvenated. They felt a sense of balance, peace & unity.
Iryna Kanishcheva: The collection for the Writing On The Walls: Visual Literacy Through Street Art Culture features photographs of the murals in 15 different places – cities, States and countries conveying the idea of connecting communities through public art. Street art has always been a tool for sharing opinions, asking difficult questions, and expressing political and environmental concerns in a public space. No matter where we are in the city of Jacksonville, the State of Florida or a foreign country, we comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication. In addition to photographs, the installation includes real objects used while creating a mural. Visitors are welcome to learn more about street art by seeing and integrating other sensory experiences of the visual literacy. Working as an urban art curator, I often document mural production. It is important to take a good picture of the completed artwork, but I feel like process details are underappreciated. We see plenty of street art in the media every day, but not many know how hard and beautiful can be working progress and creative mess around. Thisis something that I want to pay attention of the viewers in my recent work.
I loved observing people discussing different photographs, recognizing places and artworks or wondering how it was done. Kids were really interested in objects on the pedestal, some people asked if they were really used in mural production.
What is street art today in your opinion?
Nico: There are different types of street art. There is legal and not legal. The advantages of illegal street art are that you are defying and resisting authority, which is relieving. In a world that is trying to control you, it feels amazing to give the middle finger in the form of creative self-expression. Legal street art can be sincerely impactful for communities, especially when the murals are done with intention, and in a way engage the local community. Public art – street art – can be incredibly uplifting for underserved communities, a sign of hope.
Maiya Elaine: I think it’s gone in a very different direction then most people expected. Now people want it and actually pay for it. I think it’s building a larger capacity for more artwork that could bring something more to areas lacking in art or impoverished or even spread a message. Most street art is still illegal, so it becomes subject to whatever message the artist wants to portray and sometimes those messages aren’t taken well, so they end up destroyed.
Grace Bio: Street Art to me is exactly where street/graffiti artists & humanity want it to be: in the public, appreciated & making a powerful statement. Graffiti/Street artists did what they did back in the day to create their artwork on the streets without the confines of a gallery, so for it to be in both platforms now is revolutionary. When it comes to illegal works, it is always a risk for the artist(s) going to jail, facing legal issues & so forth. Legal works benefit the artist(s) & those that commission the artist. Both benefit the public by providing a sense of wonder, inspiration, admiration for the creators & builds culture.
Iryna Kanishcheva: Street art today is definitely not as it was even 5 or 10 years ago. When I just started photographing street art, I literally took pictures of almost everything painted on walls, but there wasn’t that much… I had to spend some time looking for murals. Today’s street art is more accepted by the general public, it became a tool for urban beautification. Resembling street art festivals aka museums on the streets, with works often far from the museum quality, appear in almost every town. Sometimes, the artists’ line-up is ridiculously identical. Traditional graffiti and street art motifs have increasingly been incorporated into the mainstream, this has led to a loss in its original thrill. That’s why many artists try unusual surfaces, techniques and places to stand out from the crowd, which is good… I think we live in interesting time observing all the street art movement transformation.
Iryna Kanishcheva (photographs) and Maiya Elaine (mural)
How do you find Banksy’s piece?
Nico: For me, Banksy is a special artist. He is an icon and a legend. He still never ceases to amaze me. He pushes the boundaries and makes statements that are directly relevant to the truth behind the corrupt establishments that are oppressing people. I think it was special to have Banksy’s art visit our city, it provides a global perspective. For those who know his art, it is inspirational and motivational. For those who don’t know his art, hopefully, they will research him and see the work that he does and how impactful it is. He is a perfect example of the impact that art can have on society.
Maiya Elaine: It’s very interesting seeing in person. I’ve always seen pictures as most people have but it’s a different feeling being in front of it. I think that it definitely peaked an interest for more things like these, not only in Jacksonville but places everywhere.
Iryna Kanishcheva: He is a legend and nothing can change this fact. Incredible feeling to share the gallery space with Banksy… The estimated $2 million piece along with way cheaper artworks, many of which the visitors would prefer to buy rather than Banksy’s Haight Street Rat, if they didn’t know who is the artist. It is kind of weird but at the same time reflects the whole contemporary art system. There are many artists who try to copy him either using same stencil style and technique, hiding identity, sending strong messages paying no attention to details of artwork, even following no one on Instagram having lots of followers and so on. Banksy was the first and nobody can replace him.
Grace Bio: The “Rat” represents the underdog, the one that is overlooked & tucked away from society. It’s so powerful for the fact that the rat is standing up for itself/what it represents and says, “this is where I draw the line,” this is what I’m saying. This is where I stand & that no matter what, you cannot stop me.
U.N.I.T.Y: The Divine In Me Honors The Divine In You by Grace Bio
How do you think such shows may help to elevate urban art?
Nico: Like I said before, art can be sincerely impactful and powerful in terms of bringing to light the issues that hold back individuals as well as communities and society as a whole. His work shows people how impactful art can be, and this influences these people to believe in the importance of urban art.
Maiya Elaine: It exposes people to things that they’ve never seen before, sort of like seeing from another perspective and they would actually be interested in seeing and investing in more.
Grace Bio: First off, it is an honor to have Banksy’s piece in Jacksonville & to have our community’s artwork in the same space with it. Banksy is the most popular street artist internationally, so to have an artist of his caliber in our city puts Jacksonville on the map in the art world. All exhibits are a strong source of inspiration for everybody. I think it’s so important to have various types of exhibits to ensure every type of artist & art form is represented. This is no different from Urban Art. All exhibits represent the artist, it’s movements & ensures that it keeps moving!
Iryna Kanishcheva: Really important to have the support of the cultural and government organizations. This helps people to understand the difference between vandalism and art, and appreciate the work of street artists more. I’ve been involved in different urban art related programs since 2013, trying to show our community the process of mural creation which is hard work and we all spend a lot of time and strength producing something beautiful for people. I can surely say the shows like this and efforts like Brian Greif does help elevate street art a lot. People by nature need to be guided and love all the popular and famous. By showcasing Banksy’s piece along with local artists’ work, Brian Greif makes people learn their local art, support local artists and enrich the community with better art programs.