show

Rick Poynor

The Incidental Pleasures of Street Art



Street art by CostaH, Porto, Portugal, 2012

A few weeks ago, Rob Walker posted some examples of recent street art that he admired. His article reminded me of a set of photographs I took in Porto in Portugal, in November 2012. I had wondered at the time about posting some of them here and do so now, along with a few more recent pictures, as a response to the images and ideas in Rob’s piece.

I make no claim to be a devotee of street art in the sense of following the scene, obsessively checking out the websites and knowing the leading names. I’m not particularly interested in the large-scale, wall-filling pictures that used to be known as murals because I find a lot of them too dominating in their environment and too highly finished. Irrespective of the legal issues, I feel the same reservations about the more self-consciously artistic and all-over forms of aerosol graffiti. The “one-liner” kind of sub-Banksy intervention (modified street signs and street furniture, and so on) is of limited appeal to me, too — it’s often not much more than the return of corny “big idea” graphic design thinking in another guise. I don’t share Rob’s sense of wonderment at this kind of intervention, though I am totally committed to the pursuit of visual wonderment.

The street art that grabs me, if street art is even the right term, is much looser and messier than these manifestations. It’s less a resolved image with a clearly stated intention and definite physical boundaries, and more a sprawling, evolving process of layering and accretion. It’s often the work, over time, of multiple hands, most likely to be anonymous. For some reason Porto was especially rich in elaborate examples of this kind of collectively composed street marking. These chaotic fusions of collage, scribble, stencil and runic symbols sprang out wherever I walked. I’d barely arrived in the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context.    


Porto, 2012

As it happens, this strangely charming example of street art is signed prominently by its creator, who goes by the name of CostaH. Wandering around the area, I found other pieces by CostaH whose website reveals that he is Nuno Costah, a tattooist, illustrator and street artist in his early 30s who lives in the town of Maia in the Porto area. This apparently self-promotional piece, which he shows on his site (scroll down), turns out to be a little untypical and I identify with its air of provisionality, like a visual annotation of the building, more than I do with his usual stylized painted figures. Here, the prepared sheets of paper sit on top of earlier graffiti, which gives the piece grit and depth, and the scratches and peeling edges add another dimension to these impermanent papers. The section of wall forms a natural frame.

In fact, a wall’s grain, fissures and discoloration often interest me as much as the markings. The excitement of getting in so close comes from the way these elements interact. The wall should be part of the work, its network of pits, cracks and bruises should show through, as in the photos I post below, but ambitious street art often ends up blanketing and obscuring the surfaces it depends on. The most seductive embellishments draw out and celebrate the vital texture of the streetscape and they don’t need to be big or commanding to do this.  


Porto, 2012. The paper cutout of the figure is by CostaH
  
When the material is so casual or random, there’s no reason to be precious about its treatment. For me, the pleasure of looking at this type of street communication or babbling urban unconscious (take your pick), wherever I happen to be, is closely connected to the pleasure of transforming it into a picture. If street artists and graffiti writers can appropriate parts of public space for their own purposes, then the itinerant viewer with a camera is just as free to appropriate their interventions, edit them, recompose them, find new possibilities in them, confer an alternative visual order, and turn the source material into self-contained images for equally personal purposes. Brassaï’s famous photographs of graffiti scored into stone, taken from the 1930s to the 1950s, work in this way and these still-startling pictures are all the better for not weakening their central images with superfluous information about the places where the weird totems were discovered. My preferred position when taking this kind of picture is to be as frontally placed as possible. I want the images to be as flat as canvases, as if their contents had been composed with clearly defined edges within a frame. 


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012


Porto, 2012

The following four pictures of human figures were taken on a recent trip to Spain. All the images have been constructed by the street artists in response to their settings so I show more of this context than in most of the Porto pictures. The final picture below is a detail of a landscape-shaped painting that occupies a long wall next to a river. The larger, unshown part of the image is of a similarly dappled crocodile (there are other examples online). I prefer the separated-off motif of the man struggling with the rope and the way that the artist, Lolo, has placed him in relation to the black pole, the course of bricks on which he appears to kneel, and the steps that emerge behind the wall.


Granada, Spain, 2013


Granada, 2013


Granada, 2013


By Lolo, Seville, 2013



Photographs: Rick Poynor



Posted in: Art, Cities + Places, Photography, Public Art

Comment 45  |     |     |   Like 0  |   Tweet 8
Comments [45]
This is wonderful, Rick. And I really love those images from Granada. And meanwhile I just randomly encountered (online, not in the world) another piece that reminded me of the one image that worked for you in my earlier post. I figured I'd pass it along here for street-art watchers, casual or devoted, and whatever their tastes may be!
http://www.streetartutopia.com/?p=11307
Rob Walker
07.12.13
09:17

Thanks, Rob! And also for the link. What I particularly liked about that image you posted of the face and the foliage hair was its meandering incompleteness — in that sense it seemed a little untypical of so much street art, which fills in all of the space it occupies. It's interesting to see how the image in your link here acknowledges and deals with the need for visual transition by trying to fade off (somewhat clumsily) by means of the disconnected white cinder blocks at the edges of the otherwise filled-in painting.
Rick Poynor
07.13.13
05:22

What I particularly liked about that image you posted of the face and the foliage hair was its meandering incompleteness . . .

meandering incompleteness
Rick, some street artists create videos of their work changing over time in an effort to capture that “meandering incompleteness” of the street.
See MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU
http://blublu.org/

Thanks"!"
Carl W. Smith
07.19.13
06:03

Some of those 'tags' or aerosol pieces (though i'm not sure you are referring to the monochromatic signatures i use and see) are a celebration of typographic artistry. I grew up in and practiced 'tagging' for years in and out of high school, it is an expression of locality and some of these forms we and our peers admire warrant merit and a kind of 'bro' value in street culture circles
Faron Graham
10.22.13
02:58

I know a great streat art project in Medellin Colombia where kids draw the story of their past years with people dying and gangs doing to law in their town and then a desire for peace and harmony.jk
Alexey Mirnov
10.25.13
11:59

barely arrived in the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context. women leather wallets
aileen jimmy
05.16.15
10:54

Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription... how to become the man every girl wants
ahmed raza
05.16.15
11:22

These websites are really needed, you can learn a lot. premium iphone mockup
ahmed raza
05.16.15
02:15

You have done a great job. I will definitely dig it and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site Virgo Horoscope
jak down
05.16.15
05:52

the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context. atlas gym clothing
aileen jimmy
05.17.15
06:23

Hello! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice info you've got right here on this post. I will probably be coming back to your weblog for more soon custom home builders ontario
jak down
05.17.15
10:42

Quality articles is the important to attract the people to pay a visit the website, that's what this web site is providing. Astrology Forecast
jak down
05.17.15
08:47

thinking in another guise. I don’t share Rob’s sense of wonderment at this kind of intervention, though I am totally committed to the pursuit of visual wonderment. ice prince mutumina lyrics
aileen jimmy
05.18.15
12:59

I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research motor honda terbaru 2015
jak down
05.18.15
01:00

I also benefit from learning the assessments, but learn that alot of people ought to stay on essay to try and add worth in the direction of the authentic weblog release. Toronto Prom Limo
jak down
05.18.15
02:09

Incredible posting this is from you. I am really and truly thrilled to read this marvelous post. You've really impressed me today. I hope you'll continue to do so! Toronto Party Bus
jak down
05.18.15
07:22

You have done a great job. I will definitely dig it and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site Toronto Wedding Limo
jak down
05.18.15
08:28

Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you are a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back very soon. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great job, have a nice weekend. ecommerce
jak down
05.19.15
07:43

Always so interesting to visit your site.What a great info, thank you for sharing. this will help me so much in my learning ClearStructure financial software
jak down
05.19.15
09:20

I’m happy I located this blog! From time to time, students want to cognitive the keys of productive literary essays composing. Your first-class knowledge about this good post can become a proper basis for such people. agenzia seo milano
jak down
05.19.15
09:29

Just pure brilliance from you here. I have never expected something less than this from you and you have not disappointed me at all. I suppose you will keep the quality work going on. social media marketing
jak down
05.19.15
10:24

Hello! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice info you've got right here on this post. I will probably be coming back to your weblog for more soon simply learning tuition
jak down
05.19.15
11:26

I love the humor your post has offered. I enjoyed this site a lot. Keep posting article like this. It is fun.bestessays.comNice photography too! find it now
mical3211 mical3211
05.19.15
11:52

Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbour were preparing to do some research about that. We got a good book on that matter from our local library and most books where not as influensive as your information Text Psychic Reading
jak down
05.19.15
01:37

thinking in another guise. I don’t share Rob’s sense of wonderment at this kind of intervention, though I am totally committed to the pursuit of visual wonderment. Tomsk
aileen jimmy
05.19.15
11:59

The Learning Lab is providing the best Maths and English tutor in Sydney and if you are looking for maths tutor for your child contact us now!
steve7876
05.20.15
12:34

I am genuinely thankful to the holder of this web page who has shared this wonderful paragraph at at this place web agency
jak down
05.20.15
04:57

graphic design thinking in another guise. I don’t share Rob’s sense of wonderment at this kind of intervention, though I am totally committed to the pursuit of visual wonderment. Garment manufacturer in Nigeria
aileen jimmy
05.20.15
06:45

Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You've really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up! social media marketing companies
jak down
05.20.15
05:15

Such sites are important because they provide a large dose of useful information ... webseite
ahmed raza
05.21.15
03:50

This is cool post and i enjoy to read this post. your blog is fantastic and you have good staff in your blog. nice sharing keep it up. euromillions
jak down
05.21.15
04:52

the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context. artworker
aileen jimmy
05.21.15
07:16

This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing this great article! That is very interesting Smile I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this! watch movies online
jak down
05.21.15
09:28

For some reason Porto was especially rich in elaborate examples of this kind of collectively composed street marking. These chaotic fusions of collage, scribble, stencil and runic symbols sprang out wherever I walked. annonces
aileen jimmy
05.21.15
09:43

thinking in another guise. I don’t share Rob’s sense of wonderment at this kind of intervention, though I am totally committed to the pursuit of visual wonderment. Cloud backup
aileen jimmy
05.22.15
06:22

Just pure brilliance from you here. I have never expected something less than this from you and you have not disappointed me at all. I suppose you will keep the quality work going on. Fake Grass Manchester
jak down
05.22.15
07:25

Incredible posting this is from you. I am really and truly thrilled to read this marvelous post. You've really impressed me today. I hope you'll continue to do so! Fake Grass Liverpool
jak down
05.22.15
10:03

symbols sprang out wherever I walked. I’d barely arrived in the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context. vape subscription box
aileen jimmy
05.22.15
10:19

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated. klinik aborsi
jak down
05.22.15
02:03

2014 has witnessed a great investment in the dermatology industry which is much more than the total investment done each year, during the past seven years. About $446 million as invested in skin products by the end of September 30, 2014. The great activity that has been done in the first three quarters of 2014 has placed the year as the strongest for dermatology investment. business finance
aileen jimmy
05.23.15
01:19

. These chaotic fusions of collage, scribble, stencil and runic symbols sprang out wherever I walked. I’d barely arrived in the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context. iphone 6 case
aileen jimmy
05.23.15
04:54

Ciao a tutti sono anch'io un fortunate possessore di iPad benchè nonostante che si sia rotto il vetro da poco Volevo semplicemente fare i complimenti al redattore dell'articolo sia per i contenuti interessanti che per il modo chiaro di esporli Un caro saluto a tutti gli iPad lovers rottura vetro ipad
jak down
05.23.15
05:55

Blue Paisley Fine Rugs is Toronto’s newest premier provider of luxurious high quality rugs offering the widest selection in size, colour and services. We believe that every fine rug tells a story and manifests a tradition; it is an investment for generations to come and selecting one should be a tailored fulfilling experience. Our family works closely with our clients and suppliers to ensure that every selection leads to satisfaction for decades. toronto rug services
aileen jimmy
05.24.15
01:10

At this point you'll find out what is important, it all gives a url to the appealing page: APP Mobile Bot Review
ahmed raza
05.24.15
01:32

Just pure brilliance from you here. I have never expected something less than this from you and you have not disappointed me at all. I suppose you will keep the quality work going on. Website ranking Kansas City
jak down
05.24.15
04:54



Creative Opportunities
  • Twitter Facebook Google+
    Tumblr Pinterest RSS

    Design Observer
    social media à la carte
  • Newsletter signup










Porto Summer Program