I’m an amiable fan of street art, not quite an enthusiast, and certainly not a scholar of it. As such, the aptly named World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti fits me quite well. It’s first and foremost a coffee table book and it features a wealth of beautifully presented images, but it also links them together with a unique and quite informative organizational strategy: it’s literally an atlas, organized by geography and grouped into continents and cities. In addition to profiles of artists, Rafael Schacter details specific places and gives site-specific mini-histories of localized street art movements.
He starts in New York, in the 1960s, when the first taggers competed to make their names stand out in a sea of graffiti, and moves on to anti-dictatorship pixação in São Paulo, the heavy historical politics of graffiti in Berlin, the painting brigades of late-’70s Stockholm, and many more cities and street art cultures. It’s simultaneously a light and browse-able format (each city profile is only two pages), and a quite thorough introduction to the fascinating history behind a street art movement that has been gathering steam for decades, though it has only recently come into the public zeitgeist.
As part of the atlas conceit, each major city gets an artistic map designed by a profiled artist. The introduction calls them “psychographic representations.” Oddly, I’m not allowed to use any of those images in this review… but I can link to one, like this map of New York by Momo (which is even cooler when you find out that Momo actually wrote his name across New York with paint). This was my favorite part of the book, as they’re not only cool on their own, but they make for good entry points into a hefty tome.
Between these brief history lessons/city profiles, Schacter presents and explains a stream of artists and work. Almost all images are from the past five years, but that makes sense since street art is inherently more ephemeral than other genres and one reason for this book’s existence seems to be establishing a baseline for future study.
Each short artist profile features a mix of personal and artistic history. Schacter explains the art seen on the accompanying panels, how the artist thinks about his or her art, and often that artist’s unique features and place in street art history. A brief example, taken more or less at random (“Independent Public Art” is Schacter’s unifying term for street art, graffiti, and public installations):
As a physician, documentary photographer, and Independent Public Artist, Jetsonorama (or Chip Thomas as he is known in his formal medical role) is an inspirational figure whose efforts to contribute to his surroundings reach far beyond the scope of most ostensible “community” art. Being truly integrated with his central subjects, the Navajo Nation—with whom he has lived and worked as a physician for more than twenty-five years—Thomas’s output has an unsurpassable authenticity.
There is a bit of sycophancy in Schacter’s praise-filled profiles, but that’s to be expected somewhat, with a community as private as street art: if you don’t know them and like them, you can’t get close enough to write about them.
In sum, if most of your knowledge of the street art movement come from the (excellent) movie Exit Through the Gift Shop, as mine does, this book is pretty much perfect for you. (Side note: there’s no Banksy in this book, so if you are strictly a Banksy fan, you might want to just get a Banksy book.) Likewise if you think of most street art as spray paint based, the wealth of other media in this volume will surprise you. Most of it is public “installations” but that can range from people in odd locations to shapes floating in the air in public to clouds of smoke in the woods.
This is a great overview of a fascinating art genre, and its excellent presentation will make it a great gift, too.
[Click on the pictures to get non-weird full-size versions. Sorry for the weirdness, don't know what happened there.]
Radya Page 267 – 4 Red Square, Ekaterinburg, Russia, 2011 PHOTO BY Radya
Tec Page 141 (2 images) Osasco, São Paulo, Brazil, 2011. Image by Pedro Perelman, Chu and Tec. PHOTO BY TEC