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Take it to the streets

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-07-21


It is a logical error to equate gang tags with an intricately painted mural. That would be like comparing a kick with a kiss — both may be physical acts, but the essential nature of the two couldn’t be more different.

And yet so many still consider the use of spray paint in an art piece as debased, subversive, and anathematic. This ignorance can be found most acutely throughout the Midwest, including much of Fort Wayne. A lot of this is due to a lack of responsiveness on the part of our art institutions, which do not stay current enough with the contemporary art market to educate the populace of this relatively new art form, and the pressures from those artists who express themselves through these “heretical” means, as they try more and more to be seen through their works.

Over the past decade especially, Street Art, which is an all encompassing title for any artistic expression which works outside of the confines of institutions and many times outside the realm of governance, has been gaining momentum, both in pop-culture and the contemporary art market. This can be seen through the commercial and critical success of street artists like Faile, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, or even an old school artist like Dondi(and Martha Cooper). This branch of the art world can take numerous forms, from wheat pasting, to stickers and stenciling, to mosaic tiling (like the artist Space Invader), video projection, and street installations. The consumer side of this subculture has quickly branched into clothing, accessories, and publications. What was once only considered a deviant undecipherable language scribbled onto walls, has become big money and commands a consumer base in the millions.

This phenomenon has really been taking shape since the “Golden Age of Graffiti” which took place in New York City approximately from 1974-1984. That period also saw a rise in comic culture, which has and has had a large influence in Street Art. However, the combination of our nation’s affluence, and of its younger generation’s feeling unheard, unrepresented, and curious about action outside of governance has fueled this recent need to take to the streets and speak graphically to each other.

It appears that Fort Wayne, although somewhat seemingly “off the grid” to many cultural changes, has seen some action when it comes to street art. This includes the appearance of many street influenced artists coming into the local art scene, the legal wall of Sunset Hall for graffiti murals, Fort Wayne’s vibrant hip-hop community, and more and more artistic tags which can be seen around town. Many of these artists are more than deserving of public praise, but because of the nature of their art, are often forced to recede into hiding. All this being said, it is also sad to see all of the infantile tags being done by gangs, poseurs, and the like which truly are eyesores and have garnered so much attention from the city and police. In fact, the Anti-Graffiti Network was developed to contend with this activity and has existed since 1993.

The legitimacy of street art has gone all the way up the cultural totem pole to include the Tate Modern Museum in London, organizations like New York City’s Wooster Collective, Deitch Projects, and the critical attention of voices like Jerry Saltz. With all of these cultural forces working in the favor of street art, what will it take for the everyday people to embrace it? The answer is simple. It takes beautiful examples of this art so that people can identify it not with the D-Boyz, PAC, or other local gangs, but with works of art like that of successful contemporary artists mentioned before, and even masters through history like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and the other Mexican Muralists.

One opportunity for street art has come about through the 2008 Three Rivers Festival Art in the Park event. Local artists were given the opportunity to display large format works in the Northwest corner of Freimann Square, overlooking Clinton Street. These artists were David Carpenter, Stephanie Fenstermaker, Beckie Stockert, Mandy Korchyk, Alethea Gerardot, David Birkey and Marie Gardeski (working collectively), Daniel Dienelt, and Josh Angel. These artists offer up a wide range of imagery and style in their 4’ x 8’ panels. While Fenstermaker’s graphic design influence produced a clean edged illustration of an Oscar Wilde quote, Stockert created a “Hierarchy of mating calls” with brightly painted birds with speak bubbles, and Carpenter produced a large scaled portrait, a la Chuck Close, in oil paint no less.

Two of the artists who have a more distinctly street art background, Dienelt and Angel, opted to create a wall which took the form of two 8’ x 8’ walls attached with hinges, something like a large-scale book, and to create their work on the spot, getting the attention of those walking by, some stopping to watch them work. Angel, using only spray paint created a large scale Cardinal with stylized clouds behind it, while Dienelt used both the brush and the spray can to create an abstracted image full of mouths, muffled words, and a hearing aid.

The reason for this public display, like all street art, and any piece of more traditional art is fairly simple: to be appreciated. Hopefully as more street art becomes available to the public, both through events like TRF Art in the Park, Sunset Hall, not in places hidden to those passing through like the River Greenway murals, local citizens and businesses will learn to trust these images and understand that they give the cities that they inhabit so much character, which is registered by those visiting. This work gives more character than municipal constructions and tourist spots, and garners longer lasting recognition that signage and new branding slogans.

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