Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Street Art and Graffiti as Public Dialogue

We have long advocated that street art and Graffiti are a particularly potent force for public dialogue about issues facing our urban spaces. A recent post on Arrested Motion on the interaction between Pixadores and commercial street artists in Sao Paolo helps prove the point. According to the post, some Paolistas are angry that the city is funding beautification projects while the cities poor are overlooked. Taking this issue to the streets they defaced a city funded mural project with the following sentence. “R$ 200,000 in makeup, and the city is in calamity.” In doing so they have created an important dialogue about who the city looks after in a very visible way. Sadly their commentary was removed immediately as it was clearly not to the cities liking. I do hate to see such beautiful work buffed like this but I am happy to see that conversations through public works continue to push important social issues.

VIA Arrested Motion

Proving that tensions between graffiti artists and street artists are not just a phenomena of the western world (see banksy vs. robbo),Pixacao artists in Sao Paulo have defaced a mural by Os Gemeos, NUNCA, NINA, Finok, and Zefix. They are probably angry that the mayor of Sao Paulo, after creating the project “Clean City” in 2006 (which erased much of the illegal graffiti) is using public funds for commissioning legal writers and famous street artists. This all at a time when the government is perceived by them as doing nothing to help the poor communities that were flooded after 30 days of non-stop rain, yet the mural was all cleaned in the same night, by a huge team of City Hall by using sponges and hydraulic cranes. [More Here]

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Ritual Project Vs A Love Letter For You

I was recently made aware of a very interesting art/advertising collaboration called The Ritual Project. In it, Stella Artois contracted Sky High Media, or Colossal Media, to paint each frame of a billboard sized time lapse, depicting "the perfect pour". Colossal media is co-founded by Adrian Moeller, who also co-founded Mass Appeal magazine in 1996, and is also the company responsible for the Banksy murals in Soho that appeared late in 2008. The project is as much about the team of mural painters as it is the advertisement, highlighting the skill involved in this dying artform. Watching the herculean task of painting each frame of the time lapse only to see it buffed before the next frame is painted, really gives you an incredible sense of the work and dedication it takes to create such large scale works. In fact the "performance" aspect of this project was well understood by Stella Artois, as evidenced by this tag line from the website.

"Whether pouring the perfect Stella Artois, or recreating it as a massive piece of art, the magic lies in watching it come to life."

I couldn't agree more. If there is magic associated with this project, it surely isn't in the final product. As a resident walking by this project as it took place over the many days required to complete the time lapse, I would have been excited. I would have been less interested in the image being created of a Stella Artois glass, but while the painters were racing against time, I could have enjoyed watching them play with the side of a building in such a creative way. After all, unless you knew about the project before hand, watching painters paint, then buff, then paint a nearly identical image over and over again would have been odd and amusing to say the least. In this way the project would have kept my attention and provided me with an interesting interaction in public space, something we continue to think has a positive affect on our public environment.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

Another recent project you might know about is Steve Powers' A Love Letter For You in Philadelphia. This immense mural undertaking, created over 30 murals along the Market-Frankford elevated line in Philly. The project depicts a series of "love letters" or pronouncements of love with heartfelt sentiments like, "If you were here, I'd be home" and "Your everafter is all I'm after." Although I was not in Philadelphia for the production of these murals, I can imagine the performance aspect of the project was in some way similar to The Ritual Project. As a resident one would watch these murals going up one after the other, unaware of the intention behind them as they seem almost out of place in their sincerity and eloquence. As with the Ritual Project, one could enjoy the mystery of it all while watching the streets you live on change before your eyes.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

Both projects to me provide a wonderful moment for public curiosity that enlivens public space creating a sense of interest in the public environment where there might not have been any before. What is interesting to me, and illuminates some of the differences between using the public space for advertising VS artistic production, is what is left behind. In the case of The Ritual Project, we are left with an advertisement, an expected call for our attentions, and an expected outcome in an environment often used as a venue to sell goods and services, and a disposable image. In the Love Letter project we are left with something much less fleeting. The murals are unexpected moments of kindness and their permanence allows us to enjoy this feeling on a daily basis as they become landmarks which define the neighborhoods in which they exist.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

And this might be on of the most important differences between advertising billboards and artistic mural productions, despite them both being painted by highly skilled artists. Endurance, permanence, and investment are all qualities of the Love Letter Project that the Ritual Project lacks. Both projects may have been interesting to watch but what Mr. Powers has created will last and continue to give to the city long after the actual production is over. Not only do these murals become ways in which the public can identify areas of the city, but they begin to define the city more broadly. No one would say, "Take a right at the Stella Artois advertisement", but they might say "Take a right at the, 'For you I got daycare money and carfare honey for now on.'" mural. This is in part because advertisement is fleeting and makes no real investment in the space it occupies, but also because the artwork does just that and therefore becomes a part of the space in which it exists and the lives of those who live there.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

The difference between these two projects I feel exemplifies why advertisement, no matter how interesting, beautiful, or artistic, falls short of using our public space in a meaningful way which ultimately adds to the city fabric. Public space can be used or spent in the typical sense, or it can be altered in ways which increase its value for everyone that interacts with it.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mini Cooper Ad Campaign Gets Trashy with Giant Cardboard Boxes

Back in April, Heineken took a page out of Bud Light's funny-book and created some pretty comical ads showing a comparison between a woman's fantasy closet filled with couture apparel and a guy's penultimate setup filled with beer. Taking things one step further, as a follow-up, massive cardboard boxes with the words 'Walk-in Fridge' were strewn around Amsterdam just before garbage day. [MORE]

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

McDonald's "Free Coffee Ambient"

I'd like to thank Shai for making us aware of this insanity.

VIA Direct Daily

As part of a national campaign promoting McDonald's restaurants, a downtown Vancouver lamppost became part of an out-of-home optical illusion, appearing to pour coffee into a giant cup on the sidewalk. At the time, McDonald's was giving away free small cups of its brew for a two-week period, in an effort to attract new breakfast customers. They developed the concept for a lamppost near 6th Avenue and Cambie Street. The post was wrapped in brown vinyl to resemble poured coffee, while an oversized carafe was attached to the end.

Agency: Cossette west, Canada.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Incredible Billboards

This image is from a link sent to me by a friend and is part of a post on 50 extraordinary and attractive billboards. There is some incredible work and it goes to show how fun and interesting outdoor imagery can be. In fact these outdoor advertisements, especially those with site specificity are often wonderful engagements with the public environment that cause you to notice relationships between yourself and your surroundings. The problem is instead of that being the ultimate goal, the thoughts created by the imagery before you end up being punctuated by the company responsible for the ad. This use of public space and artistic talent to heighten your relationship with a corporate identity is both manipulative and an improper use of public space. The public is not a commercial playground, it is a forum for public debate and interactions. Despite being incredible, these advertisements are still an abuse of our shared public environment.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Conor Harrington Buffed

I just received an email from two readers, Luna Park and Allan Molho. Both directed me to the below image on amolho4's Flikr page. This illegal NPA City Outdoor advertisement must have been recently put in place as it is sitting directly on top of an incredible piece by Conor Harrington. (also pictured) I am so upset about this I am not exactly sure how to respond. Not only does NPA operate over 500 illegal street level billboards in the city but they are covering the little public art we have in this city with their filth. The audaciousness and irreverence of NPA has made me angry before. Something will be done.

Image Courtesy of Sabeth718 13th street and Washington (before)

Image Courtesy of Allan Molho 13th street and Washington (after)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Profitable Nature of Wooster Collective?

This post is meant for anyone who has followed Wooster for any of the past 6 years, or anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy the unwavering force that is Marc & Sara of the Wooster Collective. It is also response to an article on Indy Media entitled "Commercial strategies of the Wooster Collective; appropriating a subculture for 5 years strong." I cannot say I do not in many ways agree with them, I can say I know Marc and Sara and they are well intentioned visionaries.

I have always looked down upon street artists that fail to see, and embrace, the political nature of their work. Often I am critical of those who have profited from the pursuit of commercially viable ways for their original ideas to exist. I gaze with simple eyes, desperate for the pursuit of truth and idealism. Along side this sits a quiet jealousy I rarely reveal. It is something I continually grapple with, and in the end something I continue to come back to in my analysis of street art works. I know artists must make a living off their work, but the sacrifice of ones ideas is not an acceptable way to strive for artistic greatness.

Street art, illegal public art, whatever you want to call it, holds an ideological promise far greater than other art practices for me. It has at the heart of its process a philosophy and determination greater than most studio arts. It is inherently a political act and is closer to protest than decoration as far as I'm concerned. If art is to fulfill its role as activism and provide anything worthwhile to society, it must challenge ideas and not merely postulate aesthetic values.

I began my street art career, naively, at the end of the year 2000. I was at best seeking stable footing for what I was doing as an artist at that time. I desperately attempted to make sense of the actions I was taking and the politics I was slowly trying to define. I found Wooster Collective early in my career, and their support as early as 2003 was invaluable. I have never seen eye to eye with Marc & Sara. The art movement they saw, and helped define, was never something I fully understood, yet it was always an inspiration.

Yes they have parlayed their incredible thirst for street art into a viable business that has supported them, as well as the artists who have been lucky enough to benefit from their foresight. Yes this may be sacrificial to a select few and their definition of public projects, as well as the purity they wish to attribute to the street art movement, but let us not forget, as I have not forgotten, that we are not all in this for the same reason.

My ideas could never have surfaced without graffiti, street art, the publicly absurd, and the random happenings so joyously created by all the artistic misfits in this world. Despite my ignorance of those before me, my access to what I consider incredibly deep felt street work, was largely made possible by the history Wooster created.

I despise Wooster for moving beyond the simple initial act of placing images amongst us, and yet I commend them for daring to present us with those initial images that allowed us all to look in the same direction. We don't need to revere Wooster as the definition of truth within the street art movement; in fact it would be a foolish move. But we need to respect Marc & Sara for audaciously building the archive of public communication that was the result of their simple interest in the writing that a rare few decided was worthy of the walls.

This is what I am reacting to....

VIA Indy Media

Commercial strategies of the Wooster Collective; appropriating a subculture for 5 years strong.

This article is in response to the show put on by the Wooster Collective this weekend at 11 Spring Street St.

The Shill of Marc Schiller or
A little background info on the Wooster Collective

Marc Schiller, Wooster Collective's co-founder, is the CEO for an advertising corporation. His company, ElectricArtists, works with other corporations including Warner Bros., Microsoft, and CNN.

The following is a description copied and pasted directly from the ElectricArtists website:

ElectricArtists is an innovative marketing services company that
develops and implements unique "community based" marketing campaigns.
Led by a team of seasoned marketing executives, ElectricArtists
fosters and nurtures relationships with a client's most influential
audience by providing the tastemakers with brand information that
triggers consumers talking to each other and spreading the word. Since
1997 ElectricArtists has seen 100% growth in PROFITS EACH YEAR while
serving a diverse list of blue chip clients in the global media and
entertainment sectors including Ralston-Purina, Levis, Sony Pictures,
and BMG Entertainment. ElectricArtists success has been given
extensive media coverage with features in Forbes, Time, Billboard,
Variety, ABC's World News Tonight, and others. The company has
expanded FROM its New York base with offices in Japan and England,
thus enabling ElectricArtists to develop and deliver GLOBAL MARKETING

Strategic Philosophy
By targeting the "ideal customers" and providing exciting brand
messages, from behind-the-scenes news to downloadable samples,
ElectricArtists converts fans into loyalists and ultimately, into
advocates. Meanwhile, clients gain valuable market research insight
and honest consumer feedback. EA manages the trust and credibility of
your brand so that your message is heard and believed above the
clutter. Yet, the success of our strategies has everything to do with
you. ElectricArtists considers our efforts part of the bigger
marketing picture-if the other marketing pistons are firing, our
efforts will be considerably more effective.


"Too much "space" in our urban cities is sold to advertisers and large
corporations. Street artists are trying to reclaim a bit of their
space, even if it means doing it without the approval of the people
who control that space."
Marc Schiller, co-founder of Wooster Collective



I mean it is just kind of incredible that so many graffiti artists and street artists
have gathered together to get on board with this man. On the one hand it makes loads of commercial sense to align yrself with Wooster, but how can it be considered in the vain of graffiti, or street art or anything but a marketing strategy?

Unless we think of the street artist as a
self-interested paranoiac who wants to be seen (but not seen) plastering the streets
with their wares. Who naively enters the market disgruntled by the value of production only to turn around and produce themselves. A somnambulist is a person who is too
awake in the morning to put on a McDonald's hat, but too asleep by the afternoon to stop flipping

Street and graffiti artists you are smart enough to feel disturbed
and want to change the commercialism of yr city, but you have
becomes beauticians in a competition with capital. If you do well you will be paid with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap. Selling a look.

This is the recipe to extract profit.
Collectors, museums and street art vendors make money off playing the
art market with you. Of course a good collector will do their best to promote
their artist(s). Selling their look to prestigious corporations and collectors, exposing their work on a global level with a website will get the largest return value for the collector. A huge show.

If you bought into Marc Schiller's New York Times article, or the 7 step premiss, you have been sold more than just a paper.

The underground is important, you are important. This, look around, is the life blood of capital; where
the collector's money places bets; markers in a horse race, be new, and above the pace, you will pay off -- if not in the short term, in the longer term investment.

Magazines, books, T-shirts, stickers, curated gallery shows, over the Internet, in museums, or
through private purchase, the art needs to be bought and the artist sold. But everywhere it
is the same and the pockets bulge.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

According to the Toronto Star, When People See Dan Bergeron in the Street, They Seethe and Stomp Away in Disdain

This post comes from Rami Tabello of Toronto's The long story short is Fauxreel, or Dan Bergeron was active in Canada as a street artist and then produced an ad campaign for Vespa that was almost indistinguishable from his personal street work.

Support comes from the public as well. On Queen Street West, a passing cyclist hears Mr. Tabello talking about billboards and stops to congratulate him on his efforts.

“Commercial activity or captivity?” by Susan Krashinsky, The Globe and Mail, June 2, 2008

We covered the Fauxreel sellout issue before, namely in Fauxreel Sold Out For Real where we noted that Dan Bergeron’s fellow street artists had a thing or two to say about his decision to become a blatant criminal shill for Vespa. The issue was also covered by Torontoist and by Anne Elizabeth Moore.

The Toronto Star has now written an interesting article about Bergeron. First, Bergeron uses the opportunity to piss on his critics:

Not long after being outed, one of Bergeron’s personal pieces, a woman in profile with a gravity-defying mohawk pasted up near Dufferin St., had scrawled on it the street-art equivalent of a scarlet letter: “SOLD OUT FOR REAL.”

Bergeron shrugs off the debate as juvenile. “Some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction if something is commercial – because they’re too cool,” he says.

Then this remarkable tidbit from the end of the story:

Bergeron squats low, pasting the boots of his subject to the wall on Dowling St., when a young woman crosses the street and beelines towards him. “I just wanted to come up to congratulate you,” she says. “I’ve seen this all over. It really makes a statement.”

Bergeron quietly thanks her and turns back to his paste, when a young man in a fedora and cargo shorts approaches. “Is that the same ad for the scooters?” he says, glaring. Bergeron just smiles. “Yeah, man. It is,” he says. The man stares, seething, and stomps away. Bergeron slathers the last of his paste on the image’s toes, and moves on to the next.

Actually, some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction because it’s not just an unmitigated criminal sellout — it’s an unmitigated criminal sellout that threatens public support for street artists. Perhaps Dan Bergeron can explain to us how can campaign against illegal advertising and support street art, when the ads are camouflaged as street art. That’s why Dan Bergeron’s corruption is a collateral attack on, and that’s why people seethe when they see Dan Bergeron, and that’s why they stomp away: because Dan Bergeron was an irresponsible, selfish asshole whose criminality pit public space activists against street artists, and who then had the hauteur to call us “juvenile” and “too cool” for pointing that out. You may think it’s “juvenile,” but we’re not the one who is counting Vespa’s money in our basement while fending off random haters on the street.

My thoughts are as a street artist, reclaiming public space for public consumption, you can't also be taking public space for private commercial means. The two ideas mutually exclude each other in their efforts and therefor confuse the intent of the artist. To think that as an artist you can practice such different ideal, shows ignorance to what you are actually doing as a street artist and ultimately depoliticizes your work.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can a Rebel Stay a Rebel Without the Claws?

BOSTON — You will be seeing a lot more art by Shepard Fairey on the streets of New York this spring. But it won’t be in the form of the illegal guerrilla strikes he has been committing since his days as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design 20 years ago, nor anything like his famous Obama Hope poster. For starters, it is in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, for whom he has also designed swanky red, white and black Russian Constructivist-style limited-edition shopping bags.[Read More]

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Watches The Watchmen? Hopefully the Anti-Vandal Squad

I won't go into a rant on this one. We have all seen similar amazingly insidious forms of outdoor advertising taking advantage of graffiti and street artists. These campaigns exploit these artists by having them create content for advertising in a medium they developed for self expression. What once challenged the use of public space has become a commodity held hostage to the desires of the advertising industry. And this does not even begin to talk about the fact that the Anti-Vandal Squad should be on this one like flies to shit, but obviously won't pay any mind. You think they have as extensive a file on the company that does this sort of illegal commercial graffiti as they have on PosterBoy? I doubt it.

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Ji Lee, I'm Your Newest Fan

Ji Lee's work goes from creating advertising content for the likes of Cheerios and Tylenol, to deconstructing similar content with his Bubble Project. Until recently, I was only aware of the Bubble Project work and wasn't aware of the advertising he helped create. It seems more and more artists these days are traversing this slippery slope, creating incisive commentary on our consumer culture and lack of individual voice in the public, while creating ad content at the same time. I'm not so opposed to this, though fighting against advertising in the public becomes difficult when you produce public advertising as well. Luckily, the only example I've found by Mr. Lee of creating outdoor advertising content is this amazing 2008 campaign for The New Museum. This project would not have worked anywhere but outside. Not only does the New Museum Advertisement erase countless ads but it builds a visual understanding so that you see this actually happening. The new museum poster is at once the two images and yet you are reminded of what the top images has obliterated. It's a tiny stroke of genius and I wish more indicative of what the New Museum has to offer.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poster Boy and Aakash Nihalani rework Monet, Smells of Appropriation and Publicity Stunt

This seems to be the only commentary I've found on the PosterBoy, MoMA mashup that happened a few days ago at the Atlantic/Pacific train station in NYC. Mr. Gould's initial response to the MoMA installation is expected, yes it's clearly a publicity stunt and yes it is equivalent to an advertisement in every way. That said, it is expected PosterBoy would find his way to this station to call attention to this fact by treating the work the same way he has treated advertising throughout the subway system.

Mr. Gould's final remark about the connection between PosterBoy and Doug Jaeger turning this into a publicity stunt instead of a well guided attempt to continue along an artistic trajectory set nearly a year ago by PosterBoy, does not sit well with me. On some levels I agree that this wreaks of a partnership where both parties are clear about what they will gain from the stunt and are taking advantage of an opportunity. On another level I am aware of more of the back story than I think Mr. Gould is, and thus realize what an amazing opportunity for PosterBoy this was. The Atlantic/Pacific station is heavily trafficked and nearly impossible to hit. Without Doug Jaeger's participation this project probably could not have happened.

So as an artist, PosterBoy is in a strange position. By doing the project he is able to continue his work in an interesting way by leveling MoMA's art advertising stunt and thus comparing it to the regular advertising you see. He is also able to draw attention to his project on an unprecedented level, thus gaining momentum for what he hopes will be a strong investigation into who controls public communication in the public environment. The only thing he has to do is team up with someone involved with the MoMA project. Remember MoMA had nothing to do with this stunt.

And so the question remains. Does aiding a PR firm while moving his own ideas forward become caustic to his project as a whole?

VIA Free Williamsburg

C/O Dan Gould

My initial reaction to the MOMA installation at Atlantic Ave. was mixed. I concede that people are inundated with advertising, and this was an opportunity to offer people something more cultured. Still, the motivation seemed a little suspect. Seeing Poster Boy and Aakash Nihalani, however, remix the works made me very excited about the installation. While the public display makes the work vulnerable to vandalism, it also provides for the images to be appropriated and enter the larger cultural dialogue. It, therefore, brings a new life to the pieces and provides for more social commentary.

C/O Doug Jaeger

What I don't quite understand in this story is why Doug Jaeger, the advertising brains behind the original campaign, was photographed participating in the vandalism? The move reduces Poster Boy's street art to a publicity stunt. This makes the project seem calculated and doesn't bode well for the MoMA or Poster Boy.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's The Difference?

One is done free of charge by residents who by participating in the production of their city space become concerned and involved citizens. The other is paid for by non existent corporate entrepreneurs hellbent on convincing you that the products they are pushing are worth paying attention to. You be the judge of what serves us better.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SVA Street Art Discussion

My good friend Ava Heller made me aware of a wonderful discussion that took place last night at the School of Visual Arts. The panel included Marc and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective, Elbow Toe, Thomas Beale of Honey Space, and Frank Anselmo who teaches "Unconventional: Guerilla Advertising" at SVA. Amy Wilson moderated the talk in which "The panelists will discuss the history of street art, how art and business have blurred on the city streets, and what recent mainstream attention means for the art form: Is it a blessing or a curse?"

I was interested in the fact that art and business blurred on the city streets a long time ago, and how these panelists might define the differences and similarities between the two, if they exist.

Elbow Toe remarked that after ten years of creating ad content he decided to stop pushing product and imbue his life with personal meaning by creating street art. He is a classically trained painter. Marc and Sara Schiller seemed to keep hitting on the idea that "good" street art creates intimate city moments. Shared experiences within the city space where messages or folly were exchanged to the betterment of both parties.

They seemed to be explaining street art as something which is deeply personal for the creator and viewer. The methods and tactics used in street art are all in service of this simple idea of creating an interactive space out of our normal city environment.

My immediate question was what are the problems facing outdoor advertising which uses these same tactics? Does advertising which uses the methods of street art retain a similar potency?

The answer lies in the definition of what that "intimate" moment looks like. Street art tactics often use surprise, serendipity, and amusement to draw in the viewer, creating a space where the unexpected moment becomes a connection between the viewer and what is viewed. That connection defines an interaction in which ideas are exchanged between both parties. Street art, being an offering, asks nothing more of the viewer than to bring what he or she has to bear on the situation. This open ended conversation, started by the artwork, gives in that it provides opportunity without asking for anything in return. Street art advertising, which uses these same tactics of surprise, is different in that the motivation is not an open ended conversation, but the transfer of a singular idea, the recognition of product. The use of street art methods then becomes a wolf in sheep's clothing, drawing you in to relay a message as opposed to invite conversation. The lack of exchange is what renders the moment impotent, not the methods by which it draws you in.

The difference between the two is relatively black and white. Using the same methods, street art manages to invest thought in the public environment while street art advertising attempts to solidify and control thought in the public environment. One gives and one takes. Simple as that.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mia Nilsson | Levis 501 “Live Unbuttoned” Art Wall

Point made. The intersection of Street Art and public advertising negates all of Street Art's power to communicate individual messages and instead champions the market as the only voice worth listening to.

from Hypebeast Luis Ruano

Two years in the making, Levis found their creative mind to showcase his/her artwork at a wall in Stockholm. With the help of Vice Magazine, a list of 200 contributors was narrowed to the winner, Mia Nilsson. Her illustration can be seen at Grevturegatan 8, on a 5 X 11 meter wall for the next couple of months. Following an inspiration of childhood memories, Mia’s Levis 501 campaign showcases a nostalgic experience of kids trying to be cool in their 501’s.

See more at Mia Nilsson | Levis 501 “Live Unbuttoned” Art Wall

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Illegal Colt 45 ads in Philidelphia

Illegal advertising murals in Philadelphia have sparked community challenges as citizens attempt to get them removed. Article

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