Fresh off the heels (and in the middle of the curated portion) of the RVA Magazine and Art Whino organized G40 Art Summit, Richmond – the City – has sponsored its own RVA Street Art Festival being held now through Sunday along the Flood Wall downtown. A bit about the thought behind the event in this interview with Ed Trask and John Baliles on richmond.com. Last night, Scott and I headed over to the VMFA for a forum with some of the artists to hear about their background, why they do what they do and a few odd details here and there, to get a sense of the personalities that the works will take on this weekend.
From right, the forum was moderated by Ed Trask, with speakers Mark Jenkins, Pose, Hense, El Kamino, Hamilton (HAM) and Nick Kuszyk (RRobots), which was – for lack of better term – super cool. This was a pack of real people telling their stories, not for fanfare, but to explain their motives and methods. And I learned a lot about their personal evolution of graffiti arts. The artists had a lot of similarities across the board – dealing with illegal art as a form of art-proper, expressing ideals on behalf of a community rather than solely for personal expression, making the jump from guerilla/street artist to gallery artist. I really enjoyed the honesty of each artist in that they continue to evolve and better themselves, occasionally wallowing in the confusion of potentially “selling out,” and trying to make a statement in the confines of a curated space. So good to hear a real conversation about all of it – whether you’re a former/current graffiti artist or a regular designer like myself, it’s okay to pick and choose clients based on your values, no matter what those values are.
Another point I found interesting came pretty early on the in the talk, brought on by Trask’s tale of watching his first piece of guerilla art viewed by a passerby. He got a pretty (really) negative reaction from the gentleman, but it was the fact that it got any reaction that made Trask want to keep going. The other artists’ opinions ranged from being completely narcissistic and needing the attention to letting the art speak for itself, with no one monitoring – a tree falling in the woods sort of appeal, it seems to me. One artists said he felt funny watching reactions – like he was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Others do a lot of commissioned work and can anticipate that at least some of the reaction will be positive.
Last thing I wanted to share about the talk was the conversation about the feeling when someone paints on or over your work. The general consensus from the panel was that it’s a bummer but it’s the reality of the job. These guys have all had their work covered by the city or the structure owner (some even witnessed it) at some point, and it’s the chance you take. They’ve all moved on to a point where you have to hope your message was received by someone, and you have to be comfortable knowing that you expressed yourself, large-scale, the way you intended to, and just be content with the process. This is good advice for any artist, no matter what surface or medium they use to express themselves.
Any they said their worst work, of course, never gets painted over.
More to come from the RVA Street Art Festival – tons of pics, I promise. Full list of artists here.