Street Art: Expression through Origami, Yarn Bombing and Wheat Pastes

Heather Atkinson

Art is always expanding; its methods of display are constantly shifting and morphing, its materials ever challenging and redefining what we as observers think and understand about expression and the world around us.

Nvate street urban art, wheat paste by swoon, yarn bombing, origami by mademoiselle Maurice, tape art by tape over

This is a 2009 wheat paste in New York City by street artist Swoon. She attaches paper to outside surfaces with a homemade mixture of glue.
Credit: Swoon via FatCap.com

Art is not restricted to the confines of museum ropes and wealthy mantelpieces—it possesses a necessary niche in practically every aspect of our lives, from billboards to CD covers; magazine ads to portraits; T-shirts to china sets.

Among the vast collective world of artistic methods is one growing movement in general that is particularly fascinating and possibly even more controversial: street art. Also known as “urban art,” street art is any art that is performed or displayed in public areas, according to the artrepublic.com definition. It is one large, colorful canvas that encompasses a wide array of uniquely individual art forms, the creators of which usually choosing to stay anonymous through secrecy and pseudonyms.

Evolution of Street Art

Street art may have begun its adolescence among the hooded sweatshirts and spray paint cans of thrill-seeking youth all over the world, but this is not strictly the case anymore. Many street art exhibits today and in recent years have showcased a more sophisticated style and have followed in the footsteps of nearly all influential art movements by infusing their pieces with statements, opinions, politics and propositions. Despite this shift in position and the increasing favor street art has obtained in the eyes of the public, a stigma still stands in the way of its full and unabridged acceptance.

Graffiti, to give an example, is against the law in most places. According to the Q-and-A section of Graffiti.org, graffiti is largely illegal, but many cities have “legal walls” where artists are free to manipulate them to their imaginative will; however, these are somewhat off-putting to artists who are more concerned with actually creating art than merely leaving a mark. Because of these and other restraints, as well as the natural desire to push the limits, street artists all over the world have had to add a little more creativity to their artistic arsenal.

Swoon: “Real World” Engagement through Art

One imaginative artist named Swoon has taken street art to an elegant new level with large hand-cut and hand-painted portraits that she attaches to the walls of abandoned city structures using a process called wheat pasting, which uses a homemade glue mixture from water and flour to attach paper to a surface in a decoupage-like fashion. But her efforts aren’t all pointed toward creating memorable and beautiful works of street art.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, or ICA, explained that “Swoon’s work is often about forming a community in order to practice what she refers to as a ‘real world’ engagement.” The ICA further noted that Swoon is continually involved in humanitarian efforts, from sailing reclaimed material boats in Venice to participating in the Konbit Shelter Project, which builds sustainable buildings for victims of the wildly destructive Haiti earthquakes.

Other Forms of Street Art

Other brands of street art abound in cities throughout the world such as “yarn bombing,” or “guerrilla knitting.” This is a non-destructive variety of street art that is a bit on the stranger side, displaying all types of common structures such as statues, bike racks and park benches swathed in soft, warm-knitted coverings, blanketing them in bright colors and bold patterns. Another medium for street artists is simple installations, where art is added to the scenery and can be easily removed. Such an artist is Mademoiselle Maurice, who used 30,000 origami pieces to decorate the background of Angers, France in May.

Nvate street urban art, wheat paste by swoon, yarn bombing, origami by mademoiselle Maurice, tape art by tape over

This is a June 2013 origami installation by Mademoiselle Maurice in Angers, France.
Credit: MademoiselleMaurice.com

Even with the heightening credibility the street art scene is receiving from museums, critics and spectators alike, the opinion that street art is vandalism and nothing more still drifts through some communities, and it’s true to say that not all works of art on brick walls and under bridges are made for the sake of creative expression, so where do we draw the line? Can a compromise be reached?

The Vandalism Debate

In a Bettery Magazine Q-and-A article, it was asked: “How can the public opinion of street art be improved?” Tape Over, a Berlin-based duo who specializes in tape art, answered, “Whether street art is considered vandalism or a form of art is dependent on the spectator. However, we think the public opinion of street art can be positively influenced if street art itself improves and it is.”

“Urban art is a strain of various artistic styles out on the streets that mirror urban subculture and contextualize urban lifestyle. For us, urban art is a visual form of communication and thus subject to an evolutionary process,” the duo continued in Bettery Magazine. “It is about adapting visual artwork to formats that tap the public space. It is meant to give people something to think about and to encourage people to reflect on their environment.”

One thing’s for certain—you can expect street art to be around for a long time, because, according to Tape Over, “Urban art is like visual food for your mind and your soul.”

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