Street Art’s Fleeting Beauty

Street art by nature is ephemeral, here today gone tomorrow.  Artists have come to accept that their works, once completed, are often subject to the effects of weathering, covered by competing graffiti taggers, or in some cases cleaned by governmental agencies.   The transient nature of the art has come to be expected by many artists.  Once finished, the artist may take a photo of their piece for their profile and expect to never see it again, or at least not in the same form.  However at times the art, once left unattended, often undertakes serendipitous changes due to its interaction with the urban environment.  The fleeting aesthetic of the art is often heightened and contextualized by an odd stroke of luck, adding an element the artist could never have predicted or indeed produced.  Often times the result can enhance the work resulting in short-lived masterpieces that encapsulate this spirit.

In 2015 I found myself in the atypical Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.  Unlike Southern Bolivia, Santa Cruz is low-lying with hot and humid weather.  The people of Santa Cruz also are warmer and more liberal than most of Bolivia, using brightly colored clothing, listening to modern music, and possessing a more urban vibe.  The ring-shaped city, just hours from Brazil, seems to have taken a cue from their neighbors as the culture also has a much more urban feel.  In much of Bolivia graffiti is absent from urban settings, however adjacent to Parque Urbano I came across a piece by the French artist, Pol Corona.  Corona is known for his fantastical caricatured figures with cool colors and his storybook, whimsical houses.

Pol Corona Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Pol Corona –  Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

Corona painted the façade of a home with his two preferred subject matter: a rounded cartoonish face flanked by typical cottage style homes. On this particular day the artist’s funky composition was supporting a wire frame of a mattress, completely devoid of its stuffing, with worn out, rusted springs and curvilinear lines adding to the playful linear composition. From a distance the coiled springs of the mattress added to the story book emotion of the playful depiction.

Detail of mattress blending with whimsical houses.

A closer examination showed the mattress adds yet another element to the piece, it fused perfectly creating three-dimensional, multi-media effect.  Most street artists will never witness chance encounters of their works in this context.

Another time, in a working class, industrial neighborhood in the South of Buenos Aires I came across a darker subject matter. In the neighborhood of Barracas I discovered the work of El Marian, an artist that often depicts marginalized elements of society.  In this particular mural, El Marian has captured an inhumane yet brutally honest likeness of society’s rejects.  The image of a boy sleeping amidst a group of stray dogs while clutching a bag of pegamento, or glue that many adolescents huff for a cheap and easily accessible high. The location of the mural was carefully chosen due to its proximity to a shanty town directly across the road.  On the day that I discovered this work, I hardly noticed the pallet that was propped up against the building, it was so tightly integrated into the piece that it complemented and added to the dramatic composition which the artist had achieved.  The discarded pallet, seemed like a natural environment for the motionless child and made a poignant comment on the throw-away nature of impoverished at-risk-youth.

El Marian – discarded youth, Buenos Aires.

Another day while hunting for hidden street art in the upper-class Quito neighborhood of Buena Vista, I stumbled upon a playful interaction with a mural and some unexpected bystanders.  Only in the Andes is it possible to find a heard of llama’s watching over a collaborative graffiti mural.  Just beyond the hilltop, residential neighborhood stood an open clearing surrounded by a concrete wall. The wall was painted by a series of artists and include various brightly colored works seemingly influenced from hip hop culture.

The wall was strewn with a series of stylized cartoonish figures interweaved with vibrant wild style, bubble letters, and tags, some of the most traditional graffiti elements.  The contrast of the camelids grazing in front of such art gave the collaboration a very localized and bizarre feel, even if it was something the artists could not have planned. As I stealthily encroached on their territory I was unsure what would be a more appropriate soundtrack- Run DMC or Andean pan pipes. The llamas stood their ground cautiously grazing from a safe distance, fully aware of an outsider intruding on their turf. I quickly took several happy snaps of the art contrasted by the furry creatures and continued on, not wanting to cause trouble with the saliva spewing quadrupeds.

Street art is passing for better or worse, but at times this is more impressive than curated works which are intended to last the test of time.  While hermetically sealed museum art may last much longer, it lacks the possibility of interaction that allows street art the opportunity for spontaneous and fortuitous interaction with its surroundings. Street art is an improvised jazz composition, it may only live for the very moment in which the audience experiences it, lives it, never to be repeated again in history.  This temporary one time nature does not make it any less special, it actually makes it more so.  The transience can also be compared to a summer romance, a short but intense fling understood to have and end point, but none the less beautiful while it lasts.  These fleeting interchanges can perhaps be taken as a lesson for all of us. In today’s fast paced, future-focused world, perhaps we need to take more opportunities to enjoy the present.  We too, much like street art, someday in the not-so-distant future will also be gone.

Fugaz, como vos mi amor 🙂

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