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What is Yarn Bombing? About the Guerrilla Knitting Art Movement

what is yarn bombing

What is Yarn Bombing?

Yarn bombing is part street art, part graffiti, and part activism, which combines the seemingly “cute” and comforting elements of knitting and crocheting, with the revolutionary and mild civil disobedience of graffiti / “tagging” of public objects, in order to make some sort of artistic statement.

Yarn bombing, aka “guerrilla knitting”, can be done to smaller, more innocuous objects like a water pipe or tree branch, highlighting them in some way and making you notice them (whereas you may not have before), or, on the other extreme, it can be done to big things like a bus or stairs, a statue, or even a tank!  Yarn bombing certainly draws attention!

The overall purpose of yarn bombing is to make a statement, by changing the way we look at things. But when did it start?  Let’s take a look!

yarn bombing tree

Magda Sayeg & the History of Yarn Bombing (Knitta Please)

Yarn bombing basically started in 2005 in Houston, USA, when a woman named Magda Sayeg created her first “yarn-bomb” artwork, inadvertently, when she put some knitting over her door knob.

Just a small gesture, but it got the ball (no pun intended) rolling, because people started to notice and give her positive feedback.

Magda would be the first to admit that she didn’t think that her one little knitted door handle would grow to become a movement, that would go on to change her life and be done throughout the world.

Magda Sayeg yarn bomb history

Visit Magda’s website here

Soon after, she started a group called Knitta Please which is a community of like-minded knitters who like the idea of beautifying public spaces.

But what made her do it in the first place?  The reason why Magda yarn-bombed her door handle was simple – she just wanted to put something warm and cozy-looking on a cold urban material that she sees every day.

When you think about it, this instinct is quite natural, but to some people, it’s a slightly weird idea. People can understand putting a cozy on a teapot, but a doorknob?  Why dress up your doorknob?  Well, why not!

Magda didn’t stop with her doorknob. She decided to go to the public space and wrap the stop sign near her house. No big deal, right?

Well, it caused a public reaction: people not only stopped by to look at it but also started to take pictures of this unique view that they saw.  Was this a joke?  Who would put yarn on a stop sign?


Peoples’ reactions to her new hobby influenced Magda to continue her work by placing her knitting over more and more things, and so the movement began.  Some people didn’t like this, but some did, and that was all it took to start the trend.

Little did the unsuspecting public know that there was a group forming, in the form of Knitta Please, where all the knitters have their own “handles”, based loosely on hip hop and graffiti culture. Names include: Knotorious N.I.T., SonOfaStitch, P-Knitty, PolyCotN, and AKrylik, to name a few.


The “bombs” began slowly.  A few poles, and then some trees, and a few other “normal” objects started to get this new “look”, providing them with a positive vibe that people maybe didn’t see before.

Knitta Please grew and grew, and together with Magda’s growing passion, her curiosity what else could be “bombed” grew as well.

They stuck to hip hop conventions, even putting knitted sneakers over telephone lines the way that gangs did it to express their dominance of a given territory, although the prevailing message in this case was a message of niceness, as opposed to aggression.

yarn bombing sneakers

The things these “guerrilla knitters” decided to “dress up” became bigger and bigger, with one big project being the wrapping of a whole bus in Mexico City.

This action gave way to another POV, a new perspective on yarn bombing, and changed her career further because she became known by her artwork to the other people.

Another interesting thing happened after the bus: according to Magda, yarn bombing had stopped belonging to only her, and it became a fully functional art movement across the world.

The more people saw wrapped up things in the public areas, the more started to repeat it by creating their own pieces in different places all around the world.

yarn bombing trees

Magda proved that there is no object in the public place, which cannot be yarn bombed. From a door handle at her home to statues, to tanks, to basically *anything*.

Her installations brought joy and gave life to the grey and cold urban environment and that showed that by using imagination, art can be created everywhere and from all kinds of materials.

The Movement Grows

Since the message of this new type of street art spread through the whole wide world, more and more artists tried to create new and exciting projects by using the yarn bombing technique.

Some of those artists became very well known, like London Kaye. (visit her website here:

She started to knit when she was thirteen years old, but her perspective on knitting was pretty much traditional, till she saw one girl with a crocheted bag and thought “ohh, that’s cool!”  From there it became more or less an obsession.

London Kaye

After she put her knitted scarf on a tree for the first time, London got excited and realized that this could be the beginning of something new and important in her life.

She loves to watch people’s reactions to her work and these many positive feelings pushed her to keep creating even more.

The main tool she knits with is a needle printed by 3-D printer. According to Kaye, yarn is a great material for creating art because it is flexible, allowing for stretching and manipulation of shapes, which opens the door for lots of different possibilities.

Started with water pipes and trees, London had created many works for various companies.

She implemented an idea of a crocheted 25-foot-by-50-foot billboard for Miller Lite Beer in Times Square, New York.

Miller Lite Beer yarn bomb

Also, Kaye did some yarn bombing in one of the New York metro trains on Valentine’s day and people’s reaction was generally very friendly – they smiled, took pictures, and said compliments to the artist for her idea.

Kaye’s activities have in and of themselves, inspired many knitters to take up the needles and start knitting. She invited knitters from New York to bring various pieces of knittings, they could all create together.

As a result of this gesture, one big crochet was created and hung on one of the fences in the city. It showed that everyone can try to create something in unison and yarn bombing can help to bring the community together.

Yarn bombing as a political statement

Since the beginning of the yarn bombing, it has brought people together, but it is more than a happy-go-lucky movement.  There is a sense of activism around it.

One of the examples of “political” yarn-bombing is a tank in Dresden, Germany. This idea to do this controversial act was born for Kristina Kroemer, who is a political scientist and owns a fashion design store.

She was interested in Dresden’s history, the city was completely destroyed during WWII, so the war topic was always inseparable from the town. Her cause was, in a nutshell – good vs. evil.

So, she put her knitting on this tank, which was in front of the Military Museum. According to her, after this act, the tank looked rather innocent, almost harmless – creating an anti-military statement.

yarn bomb tank

Similar statements had been made about the war in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

With all kinds of crocheted objects bringing joy and inspiration to people, yarn bombing has spread through many countries and inspired many meaningful movements.

Have you seen any yarn bombs lately?  Leave a comment below!

What is a Flashmob? History and Meaning Behind the Movement

Recommended Yarn Bombing Videos

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Death to Drab – The Wall Murals and Street Art of Belgrade

The city of Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia, have been in existence since 279 B.C.

Several empires fought for it and ruled it. All of these empires had a certain influence on its culture, people, urbanism, and architecture.

The 20th century brought several wars (Balkan Wars, First World War, Second World War, the civil wars in the 1990s) that left countless consequences.

The town’s leadership was drastically changed and the lifestyle of the people changed. Crowds of people from the countryside came to live in Belgrade after World War II.

Impoverished by wars and conditioned by a large number of people who wanted to live there and needed a home, the city got many buildings (entire settlements) built cheaply and quickly.

These were concrete buildings with no decoration, very simple, in different shades of grey. So, the once vivid and romantic city became concrete – cold and grey.

Bringing Back Life

Luckily, there were people who hated the monotonousness of their city.

These people were painters, professors and students of the faculty of arts who started to paint murals.

The first known murals appeared in 1970s. The greatest project was done in 1977, within the manifestation The Week of Latin America.

A group of Chilean artists painted a wall of Student Cultural Center (SKC). The mural was called “For unity and solidarity with people of Latin America.”

Professors, especially Čedomir Vasić, and students of the Faculty of arts gave the biggest contribution to mural popularizing.

Their campaign started in 1983 when professor Vasić engaged some students to make suggestions on what to do with some of the city walls.

The goal was to repair the city, to do ‘artistic beautifying’ and murals were the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that.

The peak of the campaign was the year 1988 when City Hall adopted mural painting as a legal way to improve the city – it got official then and was legal for the first time.

There was caution in the beginning, so it was hard to get permission.

Through years, responsible organizations accepted this kind of interventions in their city and came as support.

Despite that, out of ten projects, only one was realized.

Popularization of Murals in Belgrade

Many murals were painted during the 1980’s. Most of them were painted by professor Vasić and his co-workers, mainly his former students who were working on popularizing murals with him from the beginning.

The most interesting mural from this period is the one on the facade of the cinema in the center of Belgrade.

It was painted when the President of France visited Belgrade in 1984 as a gift from France to Belgrade.

It shows six vertical and horizontal interlaced lines – two of them are blue, two are red, and two are white, which symbolize French and Serbian flags and friendship between these two countries.

Today this mural isn’t visible because a building was made in front of it and hide it.

In this period, some other artists were active and many walls, buildings, schools, walls of Belgrade Zoo and even a theatre, were painted and decorated.

The first great act of decorating the city was carried out in 1989, regarding the 9th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, that was held in Belgrade.

On that occasion, several art projects were produced, including five murals. After that, only a few murals were painted, and all were damaged or destroyed.


After the year 2000, the most significant murals were made within the Belgrade Summer Festival (Beogradski letnji festival – BELEF).

Main characteristics of this wave of painting the city were graffiti popularization and foreign street artists participation in it.

During the BELEF in 2003, artists from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina created a graffiti mural in the center of Belgrade, which was one of the first multi-national projects.

An expansion of street art and creating murals happen in the last decade.

Worth mentioning are murals made by Grobari (Gravediggers or Undertakers), organized supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, one of two major football fan groups in Serbia.

They painted portraits of former Partizan players, its famous fans, and great individuals (Serbian actors, musicians, Nikola Tesla etc.) all over the city.

These murals are all black and white because colors of the club are black and white. An accident occurred earlier this year when someone ruined many of these portraits.


One of the liveliest murals represents the friendship between Serbia and the Netherlands.

The author is TKV (The Kraljica Vila – The Queen Fairy) and is made in cooperation with Netherlands Embassy in Serbia.

The orange color and Deft porcelain are clear connections to the Netherlands and its culture.

Pijanista / A Pianist

The artist who stands out among the others is Pijanista (A Pianist), a professor at Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.

He is the founder of a campaign named #usracuse that stands against trash in Serbian culture (against bad music, literature, TV shows etc.).

Also, he is the founder of a street art festival called Runaway, that is happening in Belgrade three years now.

The festival is more popular year after year, and many foreign artists take part in it.

Pijanista paints portraits of celebrities who are supporting him in his campaign and who stands against trash by themselves.

He paints walls in his neighborhood, buildings in Belgrade and areas under bridges, as well.

His murals are most numerous and the most vivid murals in the city.




Visit Pijanista on Facebook here

Foreign artists

Not only Serbian artists paint in their capital city, but many foreign artists come.

Moreover, some of the most impressive murals are the works of foreign artists.

For example, mural Tree-eater is the work of experienced Italian artist Blu.

It is located at the entrance to Stari Grad (Old Town) municipality, the heart of Belgrade.

It shows a businessman who is eating trees and has skyscrapers instead of teeth, symbolics is clear here.

Artistic duo Nevercrew from Switzerland also left their mark in Belgrade in 2009.

Here is a video about Nevercrew.

This year, Israeli artist Dede donated a mural to Belgraders. He painted one of the city symbols – sparrows.

The mural of Argentinian artist Francisco Bosoletti carries the most meaningful message.

He said that the mural was inspired by his impression of sleepiness of Belgrade that he got in the first few days being there.

The image of a sleepy girl, or a girl who suffers, surrounded by geometric figures, one of the main characteristic of his work, should make the citizens of Belgrade see their country the way he saw it.

He wanted to remind them that its time for waking up, that ruins of past times in the center of the city should make them rise and look into the future, the same way as they inspired him.

Destiny of the Murals

There were more than 50 murals painted in Belgrade over the years.

Unfortunately, many of them are damaged or destroyed. Different factors affected this situation, but probably the most important is the ignorance and the lack of interest of the community.

There is still hope that these new projects and campaigns (such as #usracuse and similar) will change something and bring a brighter future to the Belgrade murals.

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Takashi Murakami – Everything’s Melting

“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami

Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.

Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.

During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically. 

The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.

Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.

As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.

Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work

In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese painting that combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).

Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)

These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.

In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).

In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.

In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.

In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.

The Arrival of Mr. DOB

At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.

Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.

In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.

The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.

The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.

The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.

Fine Art?

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.

Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?

Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applauded Murakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.

In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.

At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).

Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. 

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.

Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Kaikai Kiki Co.

In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.

The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.

In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance. 

In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.

Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.

This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.

Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.

Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.

Mr. Pointy

In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.

Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.

Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.

This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.

Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.

Luis Vuitton Collaboration

In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.

One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.

Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurring the distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)

In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.

The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.

Everything is Transient

According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.

In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.

Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo is roughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.

Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.

Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.

He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.

Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.

Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?

Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.

He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.

In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.

In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.


Oh, and he has worked with the American provocateur himself, Mr. Kanye West.

Here’s an interesting interview video with Murakami that touches upon how he thinks about things.

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Helen Levitt – Streets of New York

“Since I am inarticulate, I express myself with images” – Helen Levitt

A mother of modern colour photography, Helen Levitt is perhaps one of time’s most forgotten jewels.

Roaming the streets of New York with her precious Leica, she captured an era of front stoops and chalk drawings; of children playing and elders waiting. Prolific from the 1930’s to the 1990’s, her work remains a definitive guide to the sentiment of an era.

Taking Notice

Street photography requires an appreciation for the impermanence of circumstance. The sparks for Levitt’s particular genius were the ubiquitous chalk scrawls of children. Struck by the temporary nature of these works, she sought to document them; eventually becoming fascinated by the the children themselves. Soon the very fabric of New York with its splendid characters and gritty streets became her passion. Chronicling the living nature of working class neighbourhoods, Levitt led us into a paradox of fanciful reality.

Children Are the Future Past

Life in New York in the 30’s, before air conditioning and television, was lived on the stoop. Children played intricate chalked games with enigmatic rules that have no analog today. Entire universes of imagination sprung from every sidewalk and alley as mothers washed and watched. Feet were black soled and faces smudged. Everyone was inspirational in their vivid character borne of hard labouring lives. This is the world Helen Levitt sought to immortalize.

Her early silver gelatin prints set the tone for generations of street photographers. Voyeuristic in nature, Levitt would wait until she was of no notice and choose her shots carefully. Kids were her most beloved subject. She caught the nature of their childish realities in her lens; often creating images bordering on surreal.

Children in masks watch an unseen drama as mother dozes. It is a painterly composition and emphasizes the private world of children; separate from the doldrums of adulthood.

Here we see one of the now nameless chalk games of New York. The complexity of their play is offset by the angle taken from the perspective of a watchful parent. Can we ever truly know the meaning of their symbols? No. We are too far away in age and time.

Pioneering Colour

Though more confident in black and white, Levitt received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1959 and 1960 for her breakthrough work in colour. Most of her colour work from the 60s was stolen in 1970 by a burglar, ostensibly still at large.

The use of colour takes Levitt’s work from fanciful to devastatingly real. The method of colour transfer used creates saturated tones, evoking the constantly moving wiles of New York. Even these men standing still give a sense of motion, as though seen by one quickly walking past.

Children laugh while standing with a laundry basket; each one floral in their unique beauty. Each face a solitary vignette. Every one a work of art. There is something pleasantly heartbreaking about the way Levitt frames time itself.

This writer’s favourite shot in Levitt’s grand catalog takes a purely absurd moment and sanctifies it. A small boy sits next to his sibling. His serious face made more so by the penned mustache and beard. The drawn scar on his forehead only serves to bring more attention to his strong gaze. I feel as though Helen was being committed to memory as much as her subject. It is an intimate moment between them.

A Very Private Life

Levitt eschewed interviews. She was a woman of few words, though it is easy to pretend to know her from her work. Born August 31, 1913, to Sam and May Levitt, the child of Russian, Jewish immigrants flourished in the small neighbourhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Before marrying Sam, mother May was a bookkeeper; experience that benefited her in her new life married to the proprietor of a wholesale knit goods business.

Not a fan of guided study, Helen dropped out of high school in her senior year. She began working for J. Florian Mitchell; a family acquaintance. Mitchell, as a commercial photographer, put Levitt to work in 1931 developing portrait prints. With her six dollar a week salary, Helen managed to save up for a used Voigtländer camera, which she deployed to practice by photographing her mother’s friends.

Inspired by the work of members of the Film and Photo League; particularly Evans, Ben Shahn and Cartier-Bresson, Levitt was lucky to meet Cartier-Bresson during a year he spent in New York. It was 1935 when Helen accompanied him on a photo walk of the Brooklyn waterfront.
This experience as well as that of frequenting galleries to train her eye in composition fueled her already aflame creative mind. In 1936 she purchased her signature Leica, also favoured by Cartier-Bresson.

Over the course of the next two years, Levitt frequented the colourful working class neighbourhoods of New York, with Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side being favourite haunts. Her shy, wallflower personality suited her well for the task of being an unobserved observer. She had quite the breathtaking portfolio by the time she decided to take her work to Evans. She rapidly became friends with him and helped prepare his exhibition, American Photographs.

Through Evans she was introduced to who she credits as her greatest influence, Ben Shahn. His spontaneous style and honest characterization of his subjects is something Levitt carried through her work all her life. Shahn was impressed with her and sent her to meet James Agee who was both influence and admirer. Helen’s work was a perennial favourite of Agee, especially in his role as a journalist. Not technologically inclined, Levitt never made the jump to photo journalism despite the documentary nature of her work stating, “I was a lousy technician. That part bored me.”

During 1939, MoMA launched it’s photography department. One of Levitt’s most celebrated photographs, Halloween, was a crowning piece of the exhibition and in 1943 she had her first solo exhibition there.

Every artist must eat, so by 1949 she found herself a full time film editor under Luis Buñuel, editing pro American propaganda films. Art finds it’s way though and in 1948 a collaborative film between Levitt, Agee, and painter Janice Loeb (then married to brother Bill Levitt) was released. In the Street, a 14 minute documentary of Levitt’s beloved Spanish Harlem, was met with little fanfare. A little later also in 1948, they released a full length film called, The Quiet One.

Still photography, being Levitt’s first love, called her back in 1959 and she came back with a bang. For two years she received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to explore colour photography. Unfortunately, in 1970 her apartment was burglarized; the only things being stolen were her prints and negatives. She returned entirely to black and white photography in the 90’s because colour was not always appropriate for her vision.

In her later year, Levitt continued to stay out of the spotlight, never being one for attention seeking. This and other factors kept her relatively unknown despite her importance to street photographers and artists of her association. She allowed few books of her works to be published and remained fairly unsung until a traveling retrospective by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1991. By this time she had given up developing her own prints because sciatica made standing and moving around painful.
She passed quietly from this world on March 29, 2009 at the age of 95.

There was little left for her to photograph anyway. With a changing fast paced culture, people spent more and more time inside. Of this she said, “I go where there’s a lot of activity. Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”

A boy and girl share a private dance in now empty streets. A sombre woman disappearing against the fabric of their fancy watches unregarded. She holds a heavy Leica in which she keeps the echos of their laughter. She is Helen Levitt.


  • A Way of Seeing (1965), Helen Levitt and James Agee
  • In the Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City, 1938-1948 (1987), Helen Levitt
  • Helen Levitt (1991), Maria Morris Hambourg and Sandra S. Phillips
  • Helen Levitt: Mexico City (1997), James Oles
  • Crosstown (2001), Francine Prose
  • Here and There (2004), Adam Gopnik
  • Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt (2005), John Szarkowski


  • In the Street (1948): cinematographer
  • The Quiet One (1948): writer and cinematographer
  • The steps of Age (1950): producer
  • The Savage Eye (1960): cinematographer
  • The Balcony (1963): assistant director
  • An Affair of the Skin (1963): co-producer
  • In the Year of the Pig (1968): co-editor
  • The End of an Old Song (1972): editor

Written by: A. Martellacci


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What Is Street Art? Its History, Definition, Purpose, and Importance


Emerged from the urban spaces, street art now lives in the cultural spaces of virtual communities, galleries, public spaces and public discourses. It has become an object of appropriation by the pop culture and the mainstream symbolism of contemporary art scene worldwide.

In few past decades, there has been an increasing interest in an ephemeral form of art which is marking urban settings worldwide, and has developed a sub-culture all its own.


History of Street Art

Some of the earliest expressions of street art were the graffiti, which started showing up on the sides of train cars and walls, and it was the work of gangs in the 1920s and 1930s in New York.

train graffiti from the 1920s

Truly impact of this subversive culture was extraordinarily felt in the 1970s and 1980s. These decades were a turning point in the history of street art; it was the time when young people, by responding to their social and political environment started to create a movement, and took the ‘battle for meaning’ in their own hands.

In the next few years, this subcultural phenomenon gained the attention in the official art scene. One of the most respected names in the field of street art scene documentation, who would testify to this with pleasure, is Martha Cooper, a photographer.

Very soon, photographs were not the only medium for displacing street art into different contexts.

Watch this interview with Martha Cooper talking about what kinds of creativity goes on in the streets.

Creation Through Destruction

A process of creation through destruction, as essentially illegal activity, began its evolution into variety of forms of artistic styles and expressions, and eventually found its way to galleries and the art market worldwide.

Street art has become an inevitable integral element of contemporary art.

But, it should not be presumed that the beginnings of what we consider street art today define the notion, or a concept, in general. Also, there is no mistake in saying that with graffiti began the concept of the street art.

Some aspects of the first graffiti artists’ urges to create in urban settings still remain in the contemporary art expression of street artist worldwide. It is the same energy that is present in the activities of the street artists emerging during the beginning of the 21st century. However, one thing is certain, the origins of the street art reside in the creative process molded by the artist’s intention to create, or to form, an antithesis to the prevailing social context.

Differences Between Vandalism and Official or Public Art

The legal distinction between permanent graffiti or the other forms of street art, and official art is permission; the subject matter becomes even more complex regarding impermanent, nondestructive forms of street art, graffiti in particular, such as video works, yarn bombing, urban intervention and street installations.

Traditional painted graffiti, with permission, is considered public art. Without permission, painters of private and public property are committing vandalism, and by definition, are criminals. However, it stands that most of the street art in unsanctioned, and also, many artists who have painted without permission have been glorified as socially conscious and legitimate artists.

Check out this video where we hear from female graffiti artist Jerk.

Copycats & Societal Decline

Legally speaking, vandalism is destruction of property, and has been shown to have negative repercussions on its setting. Also, it has been observed by criminologists to have a ‘snow ball effect ‘of generating more negativity within its vicinity.

Dr. George Kelling and James Q.Wilson studied the effects of disorder; in this particular case a broken window, in an urban setting. They found that one instance of neglect increases the likelihood of more broken windows and graffiti will appear.

There is an observable increase in actual violent crime. The researchers concluded there is a direct link between street violence, vandalism and general decline of a society.

This theory, named The Broken Window Theory, published in 1982, argues that crime is result of disorder, and that if neglect is present in a place, whether it is disrepair or thoughtless graffiti, people walking by will no one cares about that place, and the unfavorable damage is therefore acceptable.


Although it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to define what unsanctioned imagery is art and what is not, the effects of such images can be observed and conclusion can be reached regarding images’ function within a pubic environment.

Defining Street Art

In order to define a movement or an art form in general, there is a one simple question – how would it be possible to define street art? Talking about art history, the discourses seem to flourish immensely from one to another into many more.

For cultural theorists and art historians seems to be in need of temporal distance; there has to be a significant and determined period with origin, climax and a future perspective. At the same time, it is always question referring to a cultural context, or question of social structures and semiotic interpretations, eventually, it is a question of identity. In the context of the street art, it can be said it is a movement, most definitely an art expression, even more than this – an art form in its own right.

In an urban context, the street art was primarily based on the notion of repetition. Since the impact of the messages becomes notable only through the perceivable presence in the urban and social settings, graffiti artists are trying to reproduce their typography or different symbolic expression over and over again.

In the world when the global digital community we take for granted today wasn’t even conceivable, artists needed to fight for the possibility for their work to be seen.

Some of the famous names in the world of street art such as, for instance, Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, based their activities on creating the seemingly same art piece repeatedly in different cities and different urban spaces.

In fact, they had been building an identity, one print and mosaic piece at a time. The repetition became a process of unimaginable proportions, taken away from the hands of the artists, finding its way to the vastness of virtual space, but never to have its presence questioned.

And this came to be a revolution for the street art phenomenon. Some artists who had begun with graffiti, started to explore some innovative and inspirational methodological plains.


BLU’s Graffiti Art Videos

In the work by the artist named BLU, art comes to life in the context of video art. The end product represents a mesmerizing form of artistic expression, but also, it is a journey which happening on the streets, as the artist creates.

The story conveyed in BLU’s videos can be retraced in the urban setting, pieces and bits of the expression building up to narrative; still one cannot but realize that it is not the video file that carries the art, but the street and the walls, and the artists who is willing to take one step further.

By the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, street art has evolved into complex interdisciplinary forms of artistic expression – from graffiti, stencils, murals and prints, through large scale projects and paintings of various artistic collaborations to street interventions and installations, as well as video and performative art.

The Different Types and Forms of Street Art

Stencil – this type of street art includes a homemade stencil, usually a paper or cardboard cutout, in order to create an image that can be reproduced in an easy way. A form, desired design, is cut out of a selected medium and the image is transferred to a surface through the use of spray paint, roll on paint and so on.

Mosaic – is art of creating an image with an assemblage of smaller parts or pieces to resemble an integral piece of art work.

Traditional Graffiti painting on the surface of private or public property, visible to the public, commonly with a roll-on paint or with a can of spray. It may be comprised of a simple words, such as artist’s name, or be more complex and elaborate, covering a surface with a mural painting.

Video projection – digitally projecting a computer-manipulated image onto surface via light and projection system.

Sticker, sticker tagging, slap tagging, sticker bombing – usually means a propaganda message or image in public settings using homemade stickers. These kinds of stickers usually promote a political agenda, comment on some issue or policy or comprise an avant garde art campaign.

It has been considered a subcategory of postmodern art.

Wood blocking – include artwork painted a small portion of plywood or similar inexpensive material and attached to street signs with bolts. Very often, the bolts are bent at the back to prevent removal.

Yarn bombing – while other forms of graffiti may be expressive, decorative, territorial, socio-political commentary, advertising or vandalism, yarn bombing is almost exclusively about beautification and creativity. It employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk.

The practice is believed to have originated in the U.S. with Texas knitters trying to find a creative way to use their unfinished and leftover projects. Nowadays, it has spread worldwide.

Read more about this art movement in our article, “What is Yarn Bombing?

Street installation – street installation is growing trend within the street art movement. Whereas conventional street art and graffiti is done on surfaces and walls, street installation use 3-D objects and space to interfere with the urban settings; it is non permission based and once the sculpture or the object is installed it is left there by the artist.

Flash mobbing – large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, than disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social networking or via viral emails.

The term in not applied, in general, to events organized by public relations companies or as publicity stunts. This can also be considered mass public performance art.

Read our article, “What is a flashmob? – History and Meaning” for more info


There is no simple definition of the street art, and yet, it seems like as amorphous beast encompassing art which is found in or inspired by the urban environment. With rebellious and anti-capitalist undertones, it is self-reflexive, introspective, form of popular public art, and probably best understandable by seeing it in situ.

Also, the street art can be seen as a tool for communicating views of dissent, expressing political concerns and asking some difficult questions. The definitions and its uses are extremely changeable; basically a tool to mark territorial boundaries of urban youth nowadays, it is even seen in some cases as a means of urban regeneration and beautification.

In general, street art may represent an extraordinary hybrid form of artistic expression, and it could be taking an easy way out. However, there are some relatively stable stances which could be taken into consideration in defying the concept of the street art: street art represents a phenomenon that is, through self-transformation, constantly transforming the reality of contemporary art; street art incorporates a strong devotion to social activism ( not always the case, but it seems that is an attribute of artwork that survived the test of the time ); as a particular urban practice, street art has a great role in shaping and constructing new social and cultural discourses.

The discussion on the meaning of the street art remains in the halls occupied by scholars and critics, who ponder the interaction between notions of Visual Art, Performance Art, Conceptual Art and the ways of articulating these art forms into the wondrous world of street art.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat – Street Saint


I wanted to be a star not a gallery mascot. – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work is one of the rare examples of how early 1980’s American Punk or a graffiti-based counter-cultural practice could become a fully recognized, critically embraced, and popularly celebrated artistic phenomenon. Also, Basquait’s work is an example of how American artists of the 1980’s could reintroduce the human figure into their work after the wide success of Conceptualism and Minimalism, thus establishing a dialogue with the more distant tradition of the 1950s Abstract Expressionism.

irony of the negro policeman

Despite the “unstudied’” appearance of his work, Basquiat skillfully brought together in his art a host of disparate traditions, styles and practices in order to create a unique kind of visual collage, one deriving, partly, from his urban origins, and in another a more distant, African-Caribbean heritage.



Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December, 22 in 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in a middle-class home; his father was Haitian immigrant, with whom he had a difficult relationship and his sensitive, emotionally unstable mother of Puerto Rican heritage.

In his early childhood, learning to draw and paint with his mother’s encouragement, Basquiat displayed an obvious talent. Together they attended New York City museum exhibitions, and by the age of six, Jean-Michel found himself already enrolled as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum.
After the divorce of his parents, Basquiat and his sister lived with their father because his mother having been determinate unfit to care for him owing to her mental instability. This period was extremely difficult for young teenage boy, who eventually ran away from home, claiming physical and emotional abuse.
Troubled by his early childhood, he attended school sporadically, but he finally dropped out of High School, in Brooklyn, in 1978, at the age of 18. Sleeping on park benches, homeless, Jean-Michel supported himself by dealing drugs, panhandling, and peddling hand-painted postcards and T-shirts.
He frequented Club 57 and Mudd Club – both teeming with New York City’s artistic elite.

mudd club new york


Jean-Michel’s art was rooted in the 1970s, New York City-based graffiti movement. In 1972, with Diaz, his artist friend, he started spray-paintings in Lower Manhattan under the name SAMO ( an acronym for Same Old Shit), painted anonymous messages and statements .
The anti-religion, anti-politics, as well as anti-establishment credo packaged in an ultra-contemporary form, SAMO soon received media attention from the counter-culture press. Citing artistic differences, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Diaz chose to severe their collaboration, with the three-word announcement- SAMO is dead.
Carried out episodically at various cities as a piece of ephemeral graffiti art, the phrase surfaced repeatedly on walls and buildings throughout Lower Manhattan. At one time a sign of trespassing and vandalism, graffiti in the hands of Diaz and Basquiat became a tool of artistic ’branding’ repeated here and there throughout the billboard- dotted city, ‘’SAMO is dead’’ slowly took on the status of a corporate mantra, such as for instance ‘’Seeing is Believing’’.

basquiat samo graffiti


In June 1980, Basquiat’s work had included in the historic punk-art Times Square Show, and in 1982, he had his first solo exhibition in SoHo, at the Annina Nosei Gallery.

Jean-Michel early canvas-based work, Untitled (Skull), from 1981, features a patchwork skull, a sum of incongruent part; it seems to be the pictorial equivalent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Suspended before a New York City subway map-like background, the skull is at once a contemporary graffitist’s riff on a long Western tradition of self portraiture and the signature piece of some anonymous, streetwise miscreant.
Basquiat’s recent past as a gritty curbside peddler, virtually homeless floater, and occasional nightclub interloper are all equally stamped into this troubled three-quarter profile, making for a weary icon of the displaced Haitian and Puerto-Rican immigrant forever seemed to remain even while successfully navigating the newly gentrified streets that were SoHo, in the 1980s.

The Artforum article by Rene Ricard, named The Radiant Child, published on December, 1981, solidified Jean-Michel position as a formidable figure in the international art world.

Got 90 or so minutes? Watch this:

Basquiat’s persona and talent might have been made to order for a moment when the prestige of international Neo-Expressionism tricked down to the streets and clubs on East Village, and social mobility became talismanic in art even as it declined in society.

1982 was a crucial year for Jean-Michel – he opened six solo exhibitions in cities worldwide and became the youngest artist ever to be included in Documenta, the international contemporary art prestigious event held every five years in Kassel, Germany.


He developed a signature motif: a heroic, black oracle figure with crown. Among Basquiat’s inspirational precursors were Sugar Ray Robinson, Dizzy Gillespie and Muhammad Ali; the portraits are sketchy and Neo-Expressionist in appearance, capturing the essence rather than the physical likeness of their subjects.
The ferocity of Jean-Michel’s technique, dynamic dashes of line, and the slashes of paint, presumably revealed his subjects’ inner-self, the hidden feelings and their deepest desires.

basquiat dizzy gillespie

The hundreds of paintings he created in 1982 mirrored the roaring spirit of a time that, after depressive seventies, had discovered the bliss of art, tremendous amount of money in rapid circulation, fashion, and other forms of concerted indulgence.

Flexible, from 1982, features two of Jean-Michel’s most famous motifs: the venerable crown and the griot. A black figure, half cadaver, half living entity, stares ‘’blindly’’ at the viewer; the subject takes on the visage of the Everyman, with few distinguishing characteristics.
This figure is not just any figure, but one of African ethnicity and proud heritage, a clear reference to Basquiat’s own identity. A West African griot, also, features heavily in Basquiat’s work of the Neo-Expressionist era.
Given that the griot is traditionally a kind of wandering philosopher and street performer, as well as social commentator all in one, it is more likely that Basquiat saw himself in this role within the New York art scene- one that nurtured his artistic success, but also swiftly exploited it for material profit.


Collaboration with Andy Warhol

After 1982, painting was increasingly less fun for Basquiat; pictures become forced, inert and congested.

Basquiat, at the height of his fame in the 1980’s, was undoubtedly loved in the way that charismatic celebrities are envied and loved. One of his admirers was Andy Warhol, if not in love in Basquiat, certainly desired him, and was his champion at a crucial moment in Basquiat’s ascendance.
The two collaborated on a series of works in the period of 1984-1986.

Arm and Hammer II, from 1985, demonstrates how Basquiat and Warhol would pass a work between them for their mutual intervention, like a game of chance happening, free association, and mutual inspiration. Warhol’s typical employment of corporate logos and advertising copy as shorthand signs for the materialistic modern psyche is frequently overlaid by Basquiat’s only partially successful attempt to deface them, or ‘humanize’ them, freehand, as though he were vainly railing his first at a largely invisible and insidious monster. The other collaboration, for instance, The Ten Bunching Bags (Last Supper), 1986-87 was originally intended to be displayed in Milan directly across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Opposite the Renaissance masterpiece Ten Punching Bags was to function, playfully, as a ‘’call to arms’’ for contemporary art against all forms of ideological oppression.

the ten lunchbags basquiat warhol

Where Excess Leads

It is in the nature of all styles to burn out, but none perish as abruptly and irrecoverably as the precocious. Basquiat was in for a painful artistic crisis even if he could have kicked drugs and developed choirboy habits.
As it was, the toll of his bad choices was exacerbated by exploitative dealers and collectors, corrupt companions, and the inevitable backlash that follows extravagant public success. Increasingly addicted to heroin and cocaine, Jean-Michel died on August, 12, 1988, at the age of 27.

A product of the hyped-up 1980’s Basquiat and his work continue to serve for many observers as a metaphor for the dangers of social and artistic excess. Indeed, Basquiat’s life and career adhered to a classical trajectory of rise, fall and doom though with an unusually sunny epilogue.
Like a superhero of a graphic novel, Jean-Michel seemed to rocked to fame and riches, and then, fall back to Earth.

Not only do his paintings now sell for ever more millions at auction; serious critical appreciation and art-historical validation, withheld from him in life, are coming around. Basquiat turns out to be the essential American Neo-Expressionist painter of the early nineteen-eighties, the one who made the most of that time’s revival.

jean michel basquiat first exhibition

His counter-cultural example persists. His art remains a constant source of inspiration for contemporary artists, and his short and seemingly epic life a constant source of intrigue for art-loving public worldwide.