Below are four different murals:
~Tom Kramer, in Portland (at Williams Ave and Failing)
~Giant Graffiti Piece in New York City (with, amongst others, Daze, Tkid, Risk, Ovie, Ewok, Cope) (was at 163rd St. and Park…I don’t know if it’s still there)
~Charquipunk, Inti, and Gigi in Arequipa, Peru
~Philly Mural Arts Program (Chesnut b/w 7th and 8th)
Okay, so besides style and location, one of the qualities of these murals that makes them all very different is the process by which they were painted. From the top: Tom Kramer, a well known-Portland artist, painted this mural entirely from his own head (however, of course, with help on the actual painting)
The next mural is a collaboration of an absurdly large number of graffiti writers, each doing their own individual piece, but which come together with the background to make one (more or less) unified painting.
Mural number three was painted by three Chilean graffiti artists that I became a big fan of. They, similar to the New York Graffiti artists above them, each have their own individual style and image that they always paint, and their mural here is a collaboration of those different styles that complete one finished look (if you look, you can see that the birds, the man and tree, and the large face on the right are all done in very different styles).
Then, at the bottom, we have an example of one of the most collaborative mural processes going on in this country, with Philadelphia’s own Mural Arts Program. Philly MAP spends months during the process of designing and painting their murals, during which artists, community members, and various groups (such as students, members of an organization, or prison inmates) discuss the design and imagery, and work together to paint it. They are still led by a lead artist or two, but these artists function largely as facilitators of the people’s vision. (See below post, “Catalyzing…” for more info on that process and the ideas behind it.
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“The mural movement has been a unique experiment in the possibility of a democratic mass culture that is public, authentic, and activist, in opposition to the manipulative culture of alienated spectator-consumers produced by the commercial bourgeois media and the equally alienated obscurantist ‘high’ culture of the elite institutions.” -from Toward A People’s Art: the Contemporary Mural Movement (published 1977)
If you haven’t smashed in your computer with a marxist dictionary yet, the above quote is an amazing (though dense) summary of the community power of murals. At their most community oriented, they bring many different people together to express themselves equally and artistically, and put that expression up for everyone who’s interested (and many of those who are not) to see. And they give art a social power that is often entirely removed in museums and galleries.
If that quote expresses the most community-oriented end of the spectrum, how do the above murals, with their varying degrees of individual and communal/community expression, fit within it? Tom Kramer’s mural is the product of pure individual expression, as are each of the individual tags in the New York graff piece (which are radically individual, because they are simply the names of the artists). The Chilean artists have developed a style of working together with their individual styles; Philly Mural Arts brings together everyone’s ideas into one collective product. But is anything lost during that crossover from individual to community expression? If the quote represents the ultimate standard in democratic, leftist, anti-commercial mural art, should all murals be working towards it?