Top Street Art of January

Last month’s street art list caused quite a ruckus, and received the most feedback out of any Top 10 street art list so far,  prompting a need for explanation and transparency on my part. What started out as a simple and fun way to document Chicago’s street art for the casual observer quickly turned into a complicated balancing act as well as a study of the impact a top 10 street art list had on the general public and the street artists themselves. My love of lists and SEO work initially made it easy for me to use the Top 10 format for its trope value, but the street art list quickly came to mean so much more to various people.

The general public’s reaction to the Top 10 list was expected, and indicative of how accepting the general public is to street art (I’d use the word “mainstream” but I don’t want to offend any one so early in the game). This acceptance was probably facilitated by people’s inherent love of  Top 10 lists. The pictures, either taken by tourists, residents, street art photographers and fans, or by the artists themselves, create a monthly archive of a consistently ephemeral art form.

In contrast, the reaction from the street artists was unexpected and varied greatly over different misunderstandings. Fear of persecution, given the illegal nature of the art, permeates throughout the street art community and this fear makes interaction with the street art community more difficult than if I was contacting an ordinary artists collective. This paranoia, whether justified or not, could explain why some street artists became upset over statements regarding buffing and application techniques, or by the very nature of a timely, monthly list displaying their work, not realizing all information accumulated in the monthly lists is easily accessible via a google or flickr search. I made a concession to the latter complaint, and almost immediately began including works out of monthly order.

Other street artists were upset over the Top 10 list for its casual and controversial tone, or that it was a ranked list and not a series of interviews or reviews. The illegality of street art requires some seriousness, though the irony of being asked/told by vandals to be more respectful is not entirely lost on me. The uproar over street artists being ranked also revealed an art community that gets very little exposure by the media, despite its widespread appeal. A Top 10 list typically doesn’t incite this much controversy.

Still other street artists asked for more analysis of their artwork, hungry for detailed descriptions explaining why they were ranked in the order they were. This request showed a desire by the street art community to be seen as a more legitimate art form, craving critical insight and judgment on their practice. Currently, the community’s legitimacy is slowly being established by street artists taking their work indoors. This displacement of street art makes one question if the temporary, outdoor nature of the art form is fully understood by the gallery world. To be fair, not all artists that use the streets as a venue can be considered “true street artists” though I don’t know who exactly is qualified to make this distinction.

Finally, some folks assumed that each art displayed on this list were  viewed in person – while others assumed none of the works listed were. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I cannot see every piece of work in person, so I rely on browsing flickr groups to keep up to date on artwork. Calls for me to frolic with the street artists at night and to catch them in the act are a bit unreasonable given the late hours street artists keep. If I was a burly man or had bodyguards, I wouldn’t have a problem with this idea. Sadly, I am not a large male, nor do I have hired protectors. I do what I can.

But enough postulating on the nature of this monthly column (more than 400 words in!), when you, dear reader, came here just for the pictures…

10. the growth of MOTA

Flickr photo by theres no way home

Additional photos of recent work taken by Billy Craven can be seen here and here. I like to think I captured the first photo of MOTA’s work on my cell phone in late summer/early autumn here (the date is wrong), and watching the work improve has given me some degree of personal pride.

9. The laughing baby head artist returns
Use Crosswalk

flickr photo by CHHAHH

Additional images of the above piece were taken by photographer Nanley (Kate) here, and she also captured babyheads on truck signs, over recycling symbols, and bus stop signs. Check out this babyhead on an Obama sticker by flickr user theres no way home here. This laughing babyhead appeared on my radar back in July. Just saying…

8.  “Louis Vuitton Banana Men” stickers
Louis Vuitton Wheat Paste

Flickr photo by Left Handed Wave

The banana man gets a ritzy make-over, heightening the absurdity.

7. Nautilus
Nautilus falling snow pasteup

My Nautilus choice for this month was difficult, as I found this piece equally striking (additional context in this photo here).  Given the historic snowstorm of the first week of February, “the ocean sounded like snow” wins out.

6. Just Seeds Collaboration with Iraq Veterans Against the War
Eugene Cherry, Travis Bishop, Rodney Watson paste up

Flickr photo by Molly Dolkart

This collaboration with Just Seeds Collective and Iraq Veterans Against the War has been up for months, but I include it this month as a reminder that we are still at war in the Middle East despite Obama’s statements before he was sworn into office two years ago. I don’t care if you have “war fatigue”, the accompanying exhibit “Intrusive Thoughts” will be on display until May, at the National Veterans Art Museum. Go see it!

5. geometric shapes by Mental
flickr photo by Zachary Johnson

Additional photos by Johnson can be viewed here, and a different, recent mental can be seen here.

4. Nice One’s “Working Class”
Nice One

flickr photo by Kevin Tao

This work was ripped recently.

3. WE ARE WIKI, featuring Julian Assange

Flickr photo by theres no way home

A photo offering more context can be seen here, and Mikey Brick snapped this version on a Chicago Tribune box. Not to overstate the obvious, but many times the placement of street art is an essential part of its function.

2. Dont fret’s King Daley posters
King Daley

flickr photo by Nanley (Kate)

An additional photo of recent King Daley’s can been seen here, snapped by Molly Dolkart. A very dont fret-like face has appeared on stickers, making me wonder if dont fret is trying out new styles.

Tied for second place is Swiv’s “Swiv For Mayor” pastes. It is important to note street artists are not political junkies, rather, they have been personally affected by Mayor Daley’s harsh buff program.

1. Nick Adam’s “Daley Forever and Ever” signs
Forever and ever. Mayor Daley.

photo courtesy of Nick Adam

These faux political signs have been up for months now, but their pertinence for this month is stronger than ever. February 22nd is just around the corner! Remember to vote, and vote early if possible…