Tag Archives: graffiti

“I Do Not Care,” Says New Street Art

A friend recently alerted me to a charming new piece of street art in central Provo:

A photo taken by a friend.

A photo taken by a friend.

I haven’t had a chance to see this piece in person yet, but apparently it’s on 100 East, between 100 and 200 South. When I plugged it into Google Translate, I was told “je m’en fiche” means “I do not care” in French. However, “je men fiche” apparently means “I plug men.” I think I see an apostrophe in there, but I suppose each viewer will have to decide which translation is truer to her/himself.

I’ve written many times before about guerrilla art, most often in the case of Leuven, and I think it’s fair to say I’m a fan of it when it’s interesting, beautiful or intellectually stimulating in some way. I’d say this piece fits the bill and makes Provo just a little bit more delightful.

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What’s Wrong Here? Or, Bad Design Breeds Bad Neighborhoods

Work recently took me to West Valley City, where I took the picture below:

A neighborhood in West Valley City.

A neighborhood in West Valley City.

The picture doesn’t show very much, but after I took it I was surprised at how much information I could glean. And unfortunately, most of that information isn’t good.

Probably the most obvious sign of trouble is the graffiti on the street sign. I’ve written in favor of street art in the past, but this work clearly has… questionable artistic merit. In a nutshell, it goes to the broken windows theory that says that a mess in the built environment breeds additional problems.

But that isn’t the only problem here. What’s probably even more telling is that there no sidewalks. That means anyone who wants to walk has to do so in the street, with the cars. So it’s a hostile environment for people.

The chain link fence and the weeds aren’t doing the street any favors, but I think many of these problems trace back to the lack of walkability. It means there are fewer people out on the street — so there’s no one to catch vandals or other criminals — and that people who can chose to live in a more hospitable setting will.

And it gets worse. Just across the street sits this house:

A recently refurbished home in West Valley City.

A recently refurbished home in West Valley City.

That’s one of the saddest pictures of a neighborhood I’ve ever taken. It also bodes very badly for the long term prospects of this home, the neighborhood, and nearby projects like this one.

But the point is that the real problem here isn’t vandals, or chain link fence, or lazy owners who create homes that need refurbishment. All of those things are merely symptoms of a larger issue: this area is not well-designed. And until it becomes more hospitable to people all the refurbishment projects in the world aren’t going to put an end to the crime and social problems for which West Valley City is known.

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Provo Police Battle Banksy’s Legacy

Someone decided to create an “authorized graffiti area” in Provo, and the police spent Tuesday cleaning it up. My colleague Genelle Pugmire writes that the work was likely inspired by well-known graffiti artist Banksy:

[Police special operations coordinator Jana-Lee] Haigh believes the stencil idea was influenced by a 2010 documentary at the Sundance Film Festival on Banksy, a British graffiti artist whose art is typically a commentary on politics and society.

“After they screened the movie, stenciled graffiti went up in Park City,” Haigh said.

No matter what the graffiti says or looks like, Provo’s policy is to paint over or power wash graffiti within 48 hours, according Haigh.

I suspect most street artists knew about Banksy before the Sundance movie about him, but there’s no doubt that the Provo piece was inspired by that world famous artist. Daily Herald photographer James Roh took a picture of the piece, which can be viewed along with the article.

Part of a piece by Leuven that went up in June.

Part of a piece by Leuven that went up in June.

I’ve written repeatedly about street art on this blog, most often about the work of wheat-paste extraordinaire Leuven. My feeling has always been that while questionably legal street art can enrich a community and elicit thought-provoking experiences from otherwise boring places.

But it is controversial, as The Atlantic Cities recently pointed out:

Street art has long had a strained relationship with the public, with illegal graffiti and tags considered symbols of urban decay. But that relationship has become more complicated as a new generation of street artists teams up with officials and businesses on legally sanctioned projects to revitalize public space.

That article packs a lot of information, much of it about Atlanta, but the idea that emerges is that street art is increasingly recognized as a potential positive force in certain situations.

In Provo, moreover, a young and fast-growing population means there will not likely be a decrease in the number of artists willing to go out and use other people’s blank walls for canvases. Police can fight that trend, but it might also be worth officially embracing it with just the sort of authorized area that someone recently invented.

The entire piece includes images of two people looking at each other.

The entire piece includes images of two people looking at each other.

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Street Art Invasion

Friday night was Gallery Stroll in Provo, and with it came a new wave of street art. Much of it was the product of a BYU art class project, though I have no idea if my favorite piece was part of that group or not:

A piece of street art at the historic court house seems to have been inspired by Space Invaders, or possibly Invader.

Close up of the Space Invaders art.

While the pictures above were taken along University Ave, most of the art was clustered along Center Street. The picture below, for example, was taken outside Sora.

Shards of broken glass and ceramic appear to leak out of a pipe.

Shoes in a row along Center Street. These shoes remained on the sidewalk a bit longer than some of the other exhibits.

If you’re interested, I wrote in July that street art can actually play an important role in making a city successful. In May, I also wrote about why street art is generally good for a city, despite debates over its legitimacy.

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Leuven Speaks Out

Provo street artist Leuven — whom I first reported on back in April — recently chatted with Gavin Sheehan of City Weekly. Though the beginning of the piece includes some broad generalizations about Provo, it quickly moves on to interesting information about Leuven’s background and objectives.

Leuven’s Jimmer piece, on 400 East.

Near the beginning of the interview, for example, Leuven reveals the origins of his name — it came from a trip he made to the eponymous Belgian college town — and, later, how he thought up the popular Provo bike image.

Leuven’s popular bike image, pasted to a metal box in downtown.

But a few especially important points from the interview stand out, at least in the context of this blog.

For starters, Leuven seems to spend a lot of time riding through the city on his bike, which is a great way to see what makes a city unique as well as what it lacks. If everyone did this, I suspect we’d have a better city.

It’s also no wonder, then, that Leuven also apparently tries to put up art on abandoned buildings and parking complexes. As I’ve been saying all along, street art beautifies otherwise ordinary spaces:

Leuven: I think when you offer people on the street something to think about, it makes the area so much more interesting. Street art can have an entertainment value. I don’t think it has to be political, but it is a powerful way to make a point. It seems like people pay attention to graffiti more than they do to flyers or advertisements.

Even more interesting is the fact that Leuven apparently thinks it’d be beneficial for Provo to become more artistic:

Gavin: What’s your opinion of our art scene as a whole and the impact it has on our community?
Leuven: There is a lot of talent. It would be cool if Provo suddenly transformed into this art hub in Utah. I think the city should get more involved in promoting art. It’s an investment, but I think it really pays off. I would love to see Provo get covered with street art.
If his artwork didn’t already make it clear, Leuven is clearly someone who is trying to make the community a more interesting, beautiful place.

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A Door to Nowhere

A new piece of street art has sprung up in downtown, this time near Sammy’s.

This artwork is a door, glued (or caulked) to the south side the Marriott Hotel’s parking structure on 100 West.

When you open the door, you see this:

Laura and I had a heated debate about whether or not this was a reference to a Rihanna song. I didn’t want it to be, but I think in the end Laura persuaded me that it is.

Like a lot of street art, this piece may generate discussion about the form’s legitimacy and its impact on property. But I like it.

This wall is so plain it otherwise blends into the surrounding environment to the point of near-invisibilty. With this new piece, however, I’m surprised, intrigued and curious. I have something to look at and think about. I’m forced to wonder why this door exists, who put it up, and what they meant.

In other words, this is clearly rising above more pedestrian examples of vandalism and giving the viewer a unique experience. And for that, I’m grateful.

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Street Art Leads to City Success

Sarah Goodyear at the Atlantic Cities recently wrote about how street art is revitalizing Miami. Goodyear’s article includes photos of some stunning murals in a neighborhood that was once only characterized by illegal graffiti but is now the site of more legitimate art as well.

As an art lover myself, I’d love to check out this neighborhood for purely aesthetic reasons. But more relevantly, the new art is a major asset for the city:

The second Saturday of every month, as many as 20,000 people come to wander the streets of what was once a blank spot on the map. They check out the murals, they visit the ever-growing number of galleries, and they pack into the few restaurants and bars on the once-desolate streets. And it’s not just second Saturdays. Increasingly, this is a place where Miami’s creative minds come to hang out and work and do business.

Those are the kinds of benefits that Provo, or any city, absolutely should go after.

According to the article, the new art-oriented developments were spurred by the work and investment of one person. Later, the area also experienced rezoning but remains a site for spray paint and wheat paste art.

I’d recommend reading the entire article, but essentially it supports the assertions I made in this post about the benefits of street art. Basically, the idea is that street art attracts creative people and also can be harnessed into an economic asset.

Leuven street art in Provo. I took this picture over a month ago and this piece is still up.

More Leuven street art, this time with a bicycle theme.

A historically-themed mural on a building in downtown.

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More Street Art By Leuven and Others

This post is a little late insomuch as the Leuven street art below has been up for a while. However, I only recently visited the Provo River Trail with a camera, so this is the first time I’ve been able to capture it:

Leuven bike art on the Provo River Trail.

Looking at this piece, I’m again struck by how street art can improve an otherwise dull wall, much as I argued in this post.

My desire to see this image codified — into signs or shirts or stickers or whatever — is also renewed when I see this picture. I have no idea if city officials or Leuven him/herself would be interested in that sort of relationship, though Shepard Fairey‘s career arc indicates that street artists can successfully partner with mainstream civic leadership.

In any case, this is a great image that would be a shame to lose.

In other street art news, I also recently noticed the image below near the convention center.

A wheatpaste poster of the Doors’ LA Woman album cover.

I happen to like The Doors, so I like this piece, but it certainly lacks the wry conceptual juxtapositioning that characterizes Leuven’s work. But in any case, there it is.

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Leuven Fights Back

Not long after Provo street artist Leuven put up the 3D piece in this post, someone came by and tore it down. The scraps of the poster hung on the wall for well over a month, but a few days ago Leuven returned to the same spot and replaced the damaged image:

Leuven originally placed this piece near the corner of 500 North and 400 East in April. More than a month after someone tore it town, the image was replaced.

This time, however, Leuven one-upped him/herself by placing a new image directly across from the original:

A new piece by Leuven in the same parking garage as a formerly damaged piece.

Both pieces, interacting.

The fact that a part of this piece was originally torn down indicates that someone obviously didn’t like it, and as I wrote here, street art will probably always raise questions about legitimacy and damage to private property.

But I think these pictures show that Leuven’s work, like a lot of street art, is actually enlivening an otherwise drab location. This parking garage is suddenly more interesting and intellectually stimulating. Whereas before there was simply something functional, now there is something to actually see. Even people who hate these pieces are going to end up thinking a little more critically than they would have after passing an otherwise nondescript retaining wall.

In the end, is this legal? No, but is it worth having anyway? I think so.

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Leuven’s Latest: Provo Bike Art

If you’ve been downtown in the last few days you’ve probably seen the latest from street artist Leuven:

Corner of Center Street and Freedom Blvd.

Corner of Center Street and University Ave.

Corner of Center Street and 100 West.

Close up.

As is apparent, Leuven pulled off an art blitz sometime in the last few days. And I’m not going to lie, I love this design. It’s striking, witty, and generally more interesting than any other Provo-oriented graphic design or branding materials I’ve seen. Someone should hire this guy. Relatedly, Laura’s reaction to seeing this work was to mention how much she wished she could get a shirt with this image on it.

Anyway, I also happened to google Leuven and discovered that there is now a Facebook page for his work. You can read past posts about Leuven’s other work here.

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