The Streets are our Studio – the Rise of Berlin Street Art
Reclaim Your City: A global call to arms from urban artists to refresh bland, gray urban areas with statements of political and individual intent.
While in most cities they work under constant risk of arrest, Berlin, Germany’s capital, has become an urban artist’s Utopia - areas left empty both by the city’s division and unification are a morally, if not a legally legitimate canvas; posters, cut-outs and stickers splattered across once rotting fences and luminous, surreal images lightening the murkiest of industrial wastelands. Neighborhoods such as Prenzlauer Berg may have all but lost their artist population but new well-to-do inhabitants and families still tolerate the so-called ‘graffiti’ that has shaped its identity. It is- as much as the Nazi architecture of the Olympic Stadium, and the Communist spectre of the TV tower – a major part of their legacy.
What follows is a selection of images from the Berlin urban art scene including direct paint application, stickers, paste ups, cut outs, stencils and murals.
Direct Paint Application
A technical sounding term, direct paint application is the closest form to what most people define as graffiti: an artist spraying seemingly random, in your face images and words on walls, doors and fences. Many are merely a collection of signatures and scribbles, but major artists create spontaneous and edgy work, one finding their best examples in the most secluded and derelict of urban wastelands; empty lots, alleyways, apartment building hallways and parks- anywhere the police are less likely to catch them at work.
From shops to youth hostels, from playgrounds to sports centers, a trend has started among businesses and local authorities to commission street artists to paint murals on their walls. While this has gone some way to forcing it into the public sphere, it has not quite pulled it out from its roots. Check out Kripoe’s flying fists at the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn, Just’s Sheep in Friedrichshain and the 1Up crew’s signature atop the city’s numerous derelict buildings – each work defined by a rough quality that not only leaves one to ponder the meaning, but how the how the hell they got up there in the first place.
Stencils – more than any other urban art form – have dragged urban art away from the negative connotations of vandalism and hoodies into the arena of art galleries and even film. The British artist Banksy is just one of many to have made it big. In Berlin, El Bocho, Alias and XOOX have all used stencils to produce hard-hitting images that, though easily painted over, they can reproduce all over the city. It has the added advantage of allowing an artist to meticulously design and nurture each piece. While it may have taken away from street art’s traditional spontaneity, few can doubt its current influence on popular culture.
Stickers / Paste Ups / Cut Outs
If stencils have introduced street art to the connoisseurs, then stickers have handed it to the people. With some plain, some not so good, some hard-hitting and some surprisingly artful, one can find stickers anywhere from trash cans to café toilets. Many renowned Berlin sticker artists, such as Tower, print their work on professional and resistant material, while others hand draw their work using cheap or free adhesives: Deutsch Post labels, address labels and cheap My Name Is stickers- anything they can get their hands on.
Paste-ups are equally accessible with the artist printing or drawing their images on thin paper before pasting it up with cheap paste made from flour and water. Bad weather quickly wears them away though, so one mostly spots them in doorways, windows and other sheltered spots.
Cut-outs are usually commonly popular images taken from sources such as magazines, with the artist then twisting their meaning to create something humorous or political, and sometimes both. Around the Kreuzberg area, Magazine cut-outs of models with their faces blanked out are a popular motif. Like so much of Berlin’s street art, a damning indictment of capitalist society.