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.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

25. East End London Walking Tour

I (Heather) was in London for a few days last October and decided to take one of the many street art walking tours offered in the East End. I chose Alternative London as they had very good reviews and also because they included some history of the area. Spitalfields and Shoreditch have seen many waves of immigrants from different lands over many years.

These houses on Fournier Street, Spitalfields, date back to the 1720's when the persecuted French Huguenots arrived and set up their silk weaving industry. When the silk industry declined the Jewish community expanded into the area and as they moved out the Bengali community moved in. Now down the road in Brick Lane you will find many curry restaurants and in the general area lots of street art.

An equally diverse number of artists showcase their talents in this area of London, many of them from Latin America. Here, our guide, Doug Gillen, of Fifth Wall TV, introduces us to the work of Otto Schade, a Chilean living in London. He is a successful architect but painting has become his strongest passion.

British street artist Stik is very recognizable for his stick figures.

A barber's shop had a door window painted by Paris-based French artist, Christian Guémy, known on the street as C215.

The Puerto Rican muralist, Alexis Diaz combined with his Argentine friend Elian Chali to produce this impressive work.

One of my favourites is this piece by French artist Bom K. on Pedley Street, featuring an individual in a Hazmat suit that's filling with toxins.

ROA from Belgium is well represented in the East End and many of his murals are well-known. This smaller one I particularly like as it can be found on Bacon Street. Although being a vegetarian I prefer to think of her as a liberated pig.

Japanese-born, London-based Saki & Bitches loves to paint her creatures behind bars.

More Latin Americans, again from Chile, Cines (Cynthia Aguilera) and Jekse (Sammy Espinosa) of Un Kolor Distinto Crew are active in Shoreditch. The very first mural of this blog is their's and the one below.

There are also some tiny bronze statues perched on road signs and posts around the neighbourhood by Jonesy, a Welshman by birth who now lives in the area. He found a dead pigeon in his studio one day and incorporated a wing from it into the design shown below. 

 Ant Carver is a London-based artist working from a studio in Hackney Wick. His non-commissioned street art work consists of large paste-ups, mainly portraits, often of celebrities.

The area around Brick Lane is full of street art that is forever changing and well worth a visit next time you are in London.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

24. Here Be Giants: Supersized Street Art in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, as we've mentioned in a few earlier posts, is home to one of the longest stretches of street art in the world. But KL's outdoor mural scene isn't just about width, it's also about height and artistic beauty. That's probably not surprising given that the Malaysian capital is also home to the PETRONAS  Towers - still the tallest and grandest twin towers in the world.

In the spirit of elevated grandeur, we're going to close out our series on KL with a small sampling of the city's largest street murals. Some of these giants were created as part of the 2014 Tanah Hairku (Our Homeland) celebration of Malaysia's Independence Day.This includes our favourite, a six-storey inspirational piece by Anokayer and Yumz, members of the MediumTouch crew:

The mural is loaded with symbolism: the tiger represents Malaysia; the child embodies the spirit of the tiger; and the iPad symbolizes Malaysia's future.

Another big one brought to life for Independence Day was this one by street artist Kenji (Chai), and artist and illustrator Cloakwork. It's called "The Village and The City" and that's Kenji caricaturing himself on the right and Cloakwork doing the same on the left.

And there was this festive one by K.I.S., called "The Smile", displaying a variety of Malaysian symbols:

K.I.S. is the pseudonym for Escape Va, who we spotlighted in our last post, and Perol.

Other larger-than-life pieces were designed with more commercial purposes in mind, like this atmospheric one by Ernest Zacherevic. His massive 69 x 81 ft. artwork, which covers more than four stories, was commissioned by the Allianz insurance company as the centrepiece of its launch festivities for a new plan aimed at rural communities:

The Lithuanian-born Zacherevic now makes his home in George Town on Penang Island. Sometimes referred to as "Malaysia's Banksy" he is credited with almost single-handedly kick-starting the country's street-art movement in 2012. His work now appears across Malaysia and Singapore, and we'll be showing you much more of it down the road.

Another obviously commercially inspired piece was this 2,100 sq. ft. mural spray-painted by Kenji on the corporate headquarters of chicken franchise Nando's:

Fortunately, Kenji is much better known for his efforts to draw attention to the plight of stray dogs in Southeast Asia through numerous paintings of his trademark dog, Chaigo:

We'll close now with this absolutely sensational work. It isn't actually in Kuala Lumpur - but in Johor Bahru, the first Malaysian city north of Singapore. The mural, called "We Protect Together", salutes the friendship between the two cities:
The hands cradling the towers represent Malaysia's diverse population, while the colourful Lego blocks are a nod to Johor Bahru being the home of Asia's first Legoland. It was painted by duo Taib Aur (a founding member of Johor Sketchers) and Jeps. We look forward to discovering more of their work.