Beauty Walks A Razor's Edge
I took this photo last fall, while on a Sunday morning wander through the 'hood. Public art installations are one of the things I love about NYC, but I had some questions about this painting. Like - who was responsible for it? Squatters living in the building, a passer-by graffiti artist? Or was it a commissioned piece to commemorate a landmark in Bob Dylan's life?
Time to go to Google.
I learned that the painting is the work of reknowned graffiti artist, Jef Aerosol. Rather than free-handing a design, Jef first cuts his image into stencils (between 1-4 layers, depending on the complexity & number of colors) and then transfers the image to a wall using spray paint.
(To see more of his work, go here. For a step-by-step of his process, look here.)
Stencil graffiti finds its roots in a technique called Pochoir (French for stenciling; Aerosol is a Frenchman himself) which originated in Asia, before making its way to France in the 19th century. There it was used to create prints for illustrations in books and fashion journals. The pochoir process had its gilded age during the 1920s – not only in France but in other publishing centers in Europe and the US as well.
Stencil graffiti took pochoir to the streets and gained popularity in the early 1980’s with artists such as Blek le Rat, Miss Tic, and Jef Aerosol1. Aerosol often depicts cultural icons – Charlie Chaplin, Patti Smith, Mick Jagger, Brigitte Bardot, Dylan, and more recently, JayZ – but he also paints anonymous figures, too. Some works are witty, some playful, some seem raw and reflect a surprising amount of emotion.
Says Aerosol of his work, “I have tried with pictures and words to call forth memories, emotions, feelings, joy and sadness to honor those who have fed my life with their music, words, art works, movies, ideas and ideals.”
For the past few decades, Aerosol’s art has appeared on city walls all over the world – Paris, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and beyond. He currently has a show of some of his canvas work open here in New York! If you're interested, it's at the Ad Hoc Art gallery in Brooklyn, through Feb. 21st.
1 As graffiti is kinda illegal, many street artists use an alias.