Just as we are all indubitably aware today, something important started when youths in New York started writing their names on train carts, underground passages, phone boxes and walls of buildings. Back in the 1970s (and some years during the 1960s), street gangs joined in and the whole game changed. From single hitting to train bombing, graffiti changed rapidly as youths which weren’t part of gangs started painting and repainting various surfaces within the urban space. Everything changed as the spray can became accessible and affordable. Soon enough, the repeatedly sprayed over walls became a surface for more complex pieces (the writing was larger and started to involve a third dimension – and this was now known as a graffiti piece). The tendency within the movement continued to evolve (perhaps it is not a question of uniform progress or some sort of “leap forward”), making way for what we now refer to as street art. So, what of this short lesson in graffiti origin? We want to ask ourselves, where is the movement, in terms of forms of expression, going to go in the days to come? Is there a shift toward some form of reduced aesthetics? And if there is, what can this mean? With more and more murals, and an exponentially rising number of walls painted over, maybe we are realizing how much of the space actually isn’t touched by street art… Or, is it something else?
Let us take us step back and try to understand what does minimalism stand for and what it means. Minimalism is considered to be a next stage in the development of Abstract Expressionism. It could be argued that it was a logical step forward, a way of expression which aspired to “purify” an art piece, relinquishing feeling and emotion with an attempt to strive toward “true expression” and “purity” of expression. Thus, only a concept would remain, no emotion, no individuality. In this sense, minimalism can be related to Conceptualism. However, it is hard to say how this relates to the street art phenomenon. After all, street art incorporates in its core a personal message, creating a connection with the world and always residing within a certain context. In terms of what is today called Post-Minimalism, there is an emphasis on how something was done, conveying a certain form of understanding theoretical concepts. In this regard Post-Minimalists are, in fact Conceptual artists, creatives who have shifted a focus of art from form to image. This includes different styles of painting, sculpture and other innovative contemporary art forms. In the face of street art, we can see an influence within the practice of those artists who have been classically trained but devoted their work to street art, especially in the form of various urban installations… Perhaps all of this will make more sense if we would to turn to the “voices” of contemporary street and urban artists. Who are these individuals?
It is difficult to talk of something we can refer to as minimalist tendencies, since this can mean different things, especially in the light of the meaning of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism. But, let us turn to some of the artists we think carry the latent spark of this kind of expression. Perhaps, they can be the key to understanding this elusive trend within the street art culture. French artist L’Atlas may be the perfect way to begin, since this street artist’s devotion to typography and sculpturing relates to our topic. In his work, every letter is shape, and every shape is a letter. In this regard, L’Atlas represents a perfect paradigm of some sort of reduced aesthetics – devotion to language and lettering pays an homage to the beginnings of street art, yet it conveys a step into a direction which is “pure” and innovative. Another artist who is devoted to typography, Rero, investigates the social questions with the influence of philosophy. His street artwork is often an expression addressing a concept directly – use of the letter and the word to their full potential. Finally, in the work of Peeta, we can see the transformations we have been trying to follow from the decades of the first tags and train bombing. In order for his shapes to jump out of the wall, this artist needed to understand the notions of sculpture. Peeta has transpired traditional lettering onto a new plain of three dimensional concept art. These are only a few artists which have been (re)shaping an innovative direction within street art…
We have tried to talk about two things here: one concerns the nature of street art and a tendency of some sort of a reduced aesthetics – in a way that the pieces are more and more looking like huge canvases in an open gallery, but reminding constantly of the temporality of beauty in public space; the other question concerned the nature of minimalism, and a way to see if there is a tendency toward something which art history has come to understand as Minimalism. These two things might appear to relate to one another, but perhaps they should be perceived as different phenomena. What is important, unlike the first graffiti artists whose tags have been a representation of their individuality, their own identity or alter ego, the artists which we have been talking about today have shifted the trend in the movement to the focus on the concept itself and devoted their work to a form of reduced aesthetics in order to shed light to the concept. Is this something we are seeing (or are going to see) more and more in the urban spaces in the future?