The history of western art owes a great debt to Europe and their art institutions. The art academies of previous centuries were the premier centers for arts education in the 19th century and models for art schools around the world. The political power of both France and England significantly contributed not only toward the production of artists, but also the acquisitions of masterpieces, which supplied many of their museum collections. This history casts a large shadow over the contemporary artists working in these countries, and is a ripe comparison with our young landscape in Los Angeles.
Much like the most adventurous and motivated artists of the 19th century, artists sought to study in a European academy or exhibit in one of the many salons. While there is no center to the art world in the 21st century, Angelenos wanting to extend their mark have crossed the pond to add to their international reputation, extend their fan base, and contribute to a larger dialogue. No one in L.A has accomplished this more than Shepard Fairey, and his mark was felt instantaneously in both countries. His stickers were riddled throughout both countries, in addition to several large-scale murals that remain in excellent condition.
Yet he was not the only Los Angeles based artist working abroad. Contributions to the streets by Kenny Scharf in Paris, along with Thrashbird and Zio Zlegler in London were a welcome sight among many new names. A peak inside local London galleries saw works by Skyler Grey in Graffik Gallery and Plastic Jesus at Walton Fine Arts. The lone museum-based installation included an impressive mural by Cleon Peterson at the Palace de Tokyo in Paris.
The landscape for exhibiting in Europe is not quite like the salons of the 19th century, but there are still traditions that are hard to break. While visiting notable galleries such as Stolenspace, The Pure Evil Gallery, and The Outsiders galleries in London, it was evident they are all run by notable figures (D*Face, Pure Evil, and Steve Lazarides respectively) in the street art world, which contributes towards their social standing in the community. Not unlike the social class system in England, the tiers of respectability and quality were well known among locals.
Yet nothing is quite as rewarding than street works that reward investigation and the absence of a gallery. Invader's mosaic characters around Paris and London continue to delight for their conceptual power and supreme simplicity. While you may think that all of these characters are the same, the invasion maps and conceptual framework that display an organized invasion is quite rich.
Cosmo Sarson's "David and Goliath Selfie" is also worth noting, in the Shoreditch area of London. A wonderful comment on contemporary culture, the mural was influenced by Caravaggio (1571-1610) and is a brilliant comment on our obsession with documenting achievements through social media.
Equally interesting were Donk's wheat pastes that changed color amidst the abuse from the damp London weather, a context specific application that showed a good knowledge of materials, where the aged art actually improved its aesthetic reception.
The rich history of artistic tradition is a wonderful backdrop for art in streets and neither England nor France disappointed. The grand history and the age of European cities are unmatched compared to our relatively young country. The concrete river in Los Angeles is a world away from the texture of European streets, alleys, and architectural details. While both France and England may be small countries compared to the United States, the consistent International dialogue on the streets allows for a cross pollination that is very helpful for creative practice and makes these streets that much more lively.
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