Saturday, 25 March 2017

29. George Town: Pushing the Fast-Forward Button

What do you do if you're a city that already has a pretty good core of street art, but you want more, more, more - both in quality and in quantity? Well, if you're George Town, Malaysia you invite 16 of the best local and international street artists and set them loose on your blank walls. That's exactly what George Town did in 2014, under the umbrella "Urban Exchange: Crossing Over."

As luck would have it, we were in Penang just a couple of months after the festival, so we saw the murals in relatively pristine form. The most colourful ones by far were those brought to life by Brooklyn's Elle, a graffiti artist turned muralist. Her work, as always, was big and bright - maybe that's what you have  to do to get noticed in New York:


Local artist Bibichun was no slouch in the colour department either, whether working on his own:

Or as a member of 4Some Crew, :

Elle's Australian friend, Vexta, created the mural that we saw first and most often, perhaps close to 50 times. That's because it covered the enormous side wall of our hotel. Like much of her work, it has a dreamlike quality to it as she tries to connect the dots between the personal and the universal:

Vexta's second mural was the complete opposite: small, well-hidden in a garage, and we were lucky to have spotted it even once:

Antanas Dubra, from Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed a pair of portraits on buildings across the street from each other. Both portraits were caricatures of the artist himself.

American Addison Karl added a more sombre note to the proceedings:

As did Australian Rone, who says he tries to capture the friction point between beauty and decay:

Tank Petrol is a Polish street artist who relocated to Manchester, UK. He actually was a tank gunner and tank driver in the army. Like many of his other works, his mural in Penang contains a woman surrounded by animals and geometric forms like upside-down triangles:

And last but not least, Ernest Zacharevic, who launched the George Town street-art movement in 2012, teamed up with Etoja on this rather unusual piece:

Penang is now one of the world capitals for street art, and it's onward and upward for this Malaysian town.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

28. The Cats of George Town

Street art embellishes our communities in so many ways. It offers a kaleidoscope of images to contemplate, appreciate or maybe just laugh at as we go about our daily ways. It beautifies and revitalizes derelict areas and often serves as the first step toward renewal. It provides an outlet for the type of political and social commentary at which artists like Banksy excel. And it even raises and magnifies the awareness of social issues that demand our attention.

Today we're going to focus on a great example of the last point above. We're also going to show some fun cat art. That's art about cats, not art by cats.

Back in 2013, a group of artists (Malaysians Tang Yeok Khang and Louise Low, and Thai Natthaton Muangkliang) came together in George Town, Malaysia to launch a project called 101 Lost Kittens. The purpose of the project was to raise awareness of the plight of stray and homeless animals in the city and to encourage people to adopt. The name came from the number of cats that were included in 12 murals painted across the historic part of the city. 

We didn't come across all of the murals, but we did discover most of them. The largest one is called Skippy Comes to Penang. Skippy was a stray cat with a deformed leg who was eventually rescued by the co-founder of an animal shelter on another Malaysian island, Langkawi.

Our favourite, was Cats and Humans Happily Living Together, shown at the top of this post and immediately below. The mural presents a Taoist procession (most of Penang's Chinese-majority population follows the Taoist religion) with cats taking the place of humans. The cats are carrying banners, lanterns and other religious paraphernalia.

In the picture below, the two cats bringing up the rear are carrying two tiny Taoist deities on a dais.

Another crowd-pleaser is The Real Bruce Lee Would Never do This. We've read in several places that this image of Lee karate-kicking a cat is supposed to discourage animal cruelty, but if there's a logic operating in there, we fail to see it.

No Animal Discrimination Please is a play on words. It sounds like it's encouraging people not to discriminate against animals, but what it's really promoting is equal rights between cats and dogs.

Perhaps the mural that best reflects Asian culture - and its obsession with money - is called Love Me Like a Fortune Cat. It features a normal cat surrounded by fortune cats, those kitschy porcelain dolls that you often see by the cash register in Japanese and Taiwanese restaurants. Shopkeepers believe that the cats bring good business.

I Can Help Catch Rats encourages homeowners to adopt cats as a means of reducing the rat population.

Whereas Please Care and Bathe Me reminds people that it's not enough to adopt a cat, you also have to look after it.

And let it not be said that the cats haven't done anything to help themselves. The evidence is right here in Cats March for Animal Awareness.

Finally, the trio of artists, who operate under the name Artists for  Stray (ASA) contributed a number of bonus murals to the project, including this one, perhaps heralding the arrival of the next 101 kittens?

You can understand that all the new cats in town might intimidate the local mouse and rat population. But the artists may have taken this into account by giving the rodents a hero of their own.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

27. Penang, Malaysia: One Man Can Make a Difference

Little Children on a Bicycle

When we first visited Penang, a small island off the west coast of Malaysia, there was nary a lick of street art to be found in its capital city George Town. That was back in 1988 when you probably wouldn't have found a smidge of outdoor urban art anywhere in Asia.

Last year, we had the good fortune to revisit George Town, and the city had practically transformed itself into a street-art showcase. Murals, large and small, contributed to a new vibrancy. The local tourist office gave out brochures touting the new artwork and maps of where to find it. And it wasn't just about quantity, it was also about quality. It was some of the best street art we had seen anywhere in the world.

So what triggered the big turnaround? We can give you the answer in two words: Ernest Zacharevic.

Zacharevic is a Lithuanian-born artist who almost single-handedly created the Penang street-art scene with a series of six world-acclaimed murals for the 2012 George Town Arts and Culture festival. It was a gutsy move - painting in a city without a single piece of public art, in a culture that wasn't his. But it paid off big time. The BBC called the classically trained artist, "Malaysia's answer to Banksy". 

Zacharevic could also be called an "organic street artist", though in truth, we've never heard anyone actually call him that. In other words, he doesn't just paint fantasies that come out of his imagination. He paints what he sees around him. His works are a combination of 2D art and 3D installations, recycling objects he finds on the streets. Not only do people photograph them, they actually line up to have their photos taken with them:

Boy on a Bike

Little Boy Reaching Up

Kung Fu Girl

The Awaiting Trishaw Peddlar

Two years later, "Zach" as he sometimes calls himself, made a massive contribution (literally) with his first solo show at an abandoned Art Deco bus depot, now re-purposed as the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre:

Boys with Cones

Young Acrobat

The Roadwork Wizard

But he didn't stop there. Zacharevic went on to leave his hand print in other parts of Malaysia, like Kuala Lumpur:

Commissioned Ad for Allianz Insurance Co.

And other countries, like Singapore:

Girl with a Lion Cub

And while we're on the subject of tabbies, if you're a feline lover, make sure to stay tuned for our next post. We guarantee you'll love it!

Following that, we're going to continue our slow saunter through the street art of Malaysia - it's that good - and Zacharevic will feature prominently again.

Friday, 22 April 2016

26. Portraits of Barcelona

Barcelona used to be a great city for street art. Who would expect anything less from the birthplace of Antoni Gaudi and a host of other architects who promoted the value of colour in urban design:

Casa Amatler (left) by Puig i Cadalfach and Casa Batllo (right) by Antoni Gaudi

Casa Chino by Fernando Guardiola

A city whose favourite colour is polychrome:

Torre Agbar (photo via Atelier Jean Nouvel)

Barcelona has always loved to strut its colours.

Or at least it did until 2005, when the city's over-zealous guardians began flexing their muscles. Having random acts of artistry popping up on Barcelona's streetscapes just didn't fit with their image of the city as a la-di-da world-class destination. So, out came the whitewash and long rollers; in came by-laws and regulations; and, down went Barcelona's reputation as a city where subversive art would be, if not venerated, then at least tolerated.

That's not to say that Spain's second-largest and most outward-looking city is now free of street art. Quite the contrary. The city may be down, but it's not out. In 2015, Barcelona was chosen as having two of the top-20 most stunning street art projects in the world.

The first, by Axe Colours, you'll recognize as everyone's favourite meth producer:

Walt White from Breaking Bad.

The second, by ManuManu, and with a nice touch of 3D, is known more generically as La Cubana (the Cuban woman):

In this spirit of great portraiture, we'd like to share with you a small sampling of our Barcelona favourites. Some you'll recognize, like this portrait by Balu (Naiz) of Peter Dinklage, better known as Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones:

The stencilled skull of zombie Andy Warhol, ironically shown without any colour whatsoever:

The equally dead, but somewhat more colourful Amy Winehouse by Btoy:

Paste-ups of those great America cultural icons, and all-around good parents, Gomez and Morticia Adams:

Madonna and Friends

And if you're a bona fide street-art aficionado, you might even recognize Feeling Blue by the wonderfully named Vegan Bunnies.

There were others that we couldn't quite recognize, so don't feel badly if you can't either:

Strange as it may seem, the celebrity whose image you'll most often see on the streets of Barcelona, isn't a TV or rock star. It's not even a person. It's none other than Pez the Fish, a name that's somewhat redundant given that "pez" means "fish":

Pez (the fish) was created by El Pez (the street artist) in 1999 as a symbolic way of signing his name. Not long after, Pez and his giant smile became a character in its own right. Then a star flashing across Barcelona. His image and his fame spread across Spain and now you might find him popping up just about anywhere in the world. Pretty good for a celebrity who only really exists in the mind of his creator.