Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: street art

Time, Place and Purpose: The Identity Art of Jorge Rodriquez-Gerada

Maria Tudela (all images from Jorge Rodriquez-Gerada website)

Some artists like to work on a grand scale.  Then there’s urban artist and former “culture jammer” Jorge Rodriquez-Gerada, and his Identity Series.  

Aurelio Monterrey

Concepcion Buenos Aires
Emma Barcelona

For the Identity Series, he portrays everyday people who have a strong connection to their community and then finds a suitable space for their portrait.

The artist at work on Julio Granada

But these eloquent images are only part of the story.  Jorge creates all of these portraits in charcoal.  As they gradually fade away they encapsulate identity, memory and the tenuous nature of our existence.

Maria Barcelona

Here’s a short video showing the creation of Maria Barcelona, while Jorge explains what he’s working towards.

If the video doesn’t play you can watch it here.

Jorge began the Identity Series in 2002, with a complex vision.  It’s about the process of capturing the person in charcoal, the impact that enlarged image has on the neighborhood as they see one of their own on such a grand scale, and then the collective memory of the work, after the wall portrait fades over time.  Jorge says, “the memory that is left confirms the importance and fragility of every existence. My intent is to have identity, place and memory become one.”

There’s still another dimension to his imagery which, he believes, counters the political and advertising images that permeate the cultural landscape. “I believe that our identity should come from within, not from the brands that we wear. We should question who choses our cultural icons and role models, as well as our values and our aesthetics.” 

David Vitoria

This portrait of local resident David quickly became a political statement when Jorge created it in Spain’s Basque country. The video below explains:

If the video doesn’t play, you can watch it here

There is so much we take for granted about the impact of art and the artist. We assume the artist has uncommon skill and talent and that great art is a creation that lasts for the ages.  

Of course I’m oversimplifying, but in Jorge’s work we have a strong visualization of what the winds of change both create and destroy. And I think there’s something at once inspiring and humbling about his art, as it celebrates our common humanity and points towards the impermanence of everything.

There’s more to his story that you can check out on his website. Here’s a link to an interview he did last year. And I’d like to end this post with two images from his Terrestrial Series. 

He created this homage to a beloved Spanish architect from colored sand:

Homage to Enric Miralles

Here’s a link to a video showing how he did it. 

Then there’s the image below, made from 650 tons of sand and gravel, created just before the 2008 US election.


a girl in salt lake city, Street Art & 300 Curators

This is how it was billed on Kickstarter:

“A public spectacle essay. Multi-city letterpress poster installation—curated by project supporters.”

Well, that sounded interesting: a street art concept proposed by “a girl in salt lake city.”
Here’s her pix:

She describes herself as:
“Writer+printer+lives in a white house with a small desert.” 
Sounded intriguing. And when I read the pitch, I was hooked. Here’s an edited version of what a girl in salt lake city wrote:

This past summer, my best friend and I found ourselves crying in public for various reasons and in various places (multiple sidewalks, a gas station, an auto parts stores, a concrete bench outside a law building). We made total spectacles of ourselves. 
People who cry in public force everyone to witness—it’s completely embarrassing and also sort of awesome. We want our essay to perform this kind of spectacle. 

So! We’re printing our essay over four 11 x 17 broadside posters and posting the edition of 350 (that’s 1400 posters!) You’ll choose 3 posters to display somewhere in public (on a top-secret designated day in November) and keep the fourth as a thank you prize. 
Help us out. It’s going to be rad.  
Well, if it’s going to be rad, I wanted in. So I became a supporter/curator. And started getting updates and photos:

You can see each poster required three runs, one for the header, one for the QR code and one for the essay at the bottom.  More updates,  and we caught a glimpse of a girl in SLC.

Each poster quartet would be placed in a “gigantic 
envelope” and mailed out to the supporter/curators.


And soon, each of us would be posting her broadsides and offering random passersby the opportunity to reflect on acceptable reasons to cry in public. I liked it.

I also liked that, by connecting with us via Kickstarter, a girl in salt lake city was able to conceive her art in one part of the country and export that vision to people from all over the place. 

And soon my envelope arrived, with instructions announcing that the top-secret day to put up the posters was at hand. After thinking about possible locations and a little trial and error, here’s what I did:

This place gets a lot of foot traffic as people walk back and forth to the Metro.  And I like that it’s kind of tucked away. You can see the tiny figure of a policeman observing the poster installation – he’s standing on the island in the center of the street by the intersection.

That’s the side of the Supreme Court on the left and the Capitol dome peaking out above the poster. Honestly, I kind of chickened out on this one, so I went back at night and moved it.

There was a Capitol police car about 20 feet away from me when I posted this. But I figured, what with free speech and all, it would be cool. And, if busted I could always claim, “art project!”

The final installation site was Peter’s Tree. 

Peter Bis was a street person who cheerfully sat under this tree for years, greeting people on their way to the Metro at Union Station. As we passed by, he’d shout out “two days to the week-end” or “no skinny-dipping” or, to me he’d add “how’s the puppy?” I looked forward to those little encounters as a way to mark the start and end my work day, and often saw him in conversation with others, charmed by his friendliness. He died suddenly a few months ago and his tree was festooned with remembrances.

The morning after I took this photo of Peter’s tree, there was a single yellow rose affixed to the poster. Just another reminder of how many of life’s events and experiences we all share. And I’d like to thank a girl in salt lake city for reminding us about the random ways we connect with each other. 

If you want to see the efforts of my fellow curators, you can follow them on her site here. If you do, make sure to check out the twitter feed on her site. 

JR Is Changing the Way You See Things

Street artist JR creates work on a grand scale, putting a human face on some of the world’s poorest communities.  He might show up in a shantytown or favela, photograph people he finds there, blow up their images and paper their neighborhood with the results.  Where Christo would wrap buildings and bridges to recast a city as a surreal abstraction, JR creates a different cityscape, working with photos of people to construct a heightened reality.  His images celebrate his subjects while insisting on your attention, bringing new meaning to the phrase “larger than life.”  There’s an enormous sense of humanity there.  

NYT Photo JR in his studio

In a recent NYT article he talked about why he does it:  “I think it comes from several things.  Firstly, a real curiosity about the world.  Then there’s the fact that one of the things that touches me most is injustice.  I’m of mixed origins – North Africa, Eastern Europe, Spain – and this generation today, we’re all a little bit from everywhere.  I was born in France, but I feel comfortable everywhere – I don’t see the borders.”

He recently opened his expressionistic film in France, Women Are Heroes.  The trailer is hypnotic as it juxtaposes scenes of daily life in some of the world’s most forlorn communities, moments spent with the people who live in them, and speeded-up footage of JR’s gigantic photos being affixed to the structures that populate those places.  

He’s recently won a TED prize, $100,000 for “one wish to change the world.”   Here’s a great blog and another where you can see some images of JR’s Work.  His work reminds me of James Agee‘s profiles and Walker Evans‘ portraits of sharecroppers from the book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”  Although separated by years and genres, each found a way to bring attention to people hidden from view.  As JR sees it, “To change the way you see things is already to change things themselves.”     

See Me Tell Me

Subway Saints (on going)

Continuing on the theme of collaboration and innovation, my daughter Jennifir sent me info about an artist friend, See Me Tell Me who collaborates directly with the public, bypassing galleries, dealers, critics, marketers, and the like.  See Me Tell Me has created a new definition of public art as she scatters her works all around the city for people to discover.

Bound Numbers (completed)

And she asks whoever happens upon her latest art installation to let her know which work they find (there are different series and are all numbered) and where.  A very cool idea.  

Little Monsters (on going)

And her work has it’s own intricacies 
that resonate on a number of levels, 
from comic to cosmic.  Her inspiration comes from people and places in the city.  And are quite a gift in their own right.  I think all of us love the idea of the hand-made object, and here with the art of See Me Tell Me we’re bumping into work that has been lovingly crafted.  I find the whole thing ingenious.  And I like the idea that the person discovering the work is asked to get in touch with the artist.  Completes the circle, doesn’t it.  

I also loved reading about it on the Subway Art Blog.  What?  Of course there’s a blog about subway art. Where else in the city is it such a delight to encounter the unexpected?  And blogger Jowy documents finding one of her works.

And, since we’re talking about collaboration, there’s also all  that music that flows through the tiled halls of the NY subway system.  The Subway Art Blog posts about that too. 

And there’s New York’s Underbelly project that I wrote about last year, where a hundred artists created work in an abandoned subway station deep in the bowels of the city.  And the lush and festive places that inform Sweden’s Metro that I described here last month.  Wow, under+ground = fertile+ground.  Transforming the routine into the sublime.