Friday, August 28, 2015

Street Legal

Copyright © Edward Riojas
Lodz, Poland

Some time ago, I stumbled out of my little bubble and came across the work of Etam Cru – a creative and talented art duo comprised of Bezt (Mateusz Gapski) and Sainer (Przemek Blejzyk). Now before you get all over my case about my sloppy typing, you should know that Etam Cru ‘s tandem artists are Polish – hence, their consonant-laden names.

The work of Bezt and Sainer is not only well-known in Poland, but can also be seen all over Europe, and is showing up in places like Montreal, Honolulu and Richmond, Va.  On top of that, it’s legal.

I’m talking street art – as in, graffiti. I realize a large chunk of graffiti is not legal, so I’m not endorsing the crap that shows up overnight in the uglier parts of town. On the other hand, some graffiti – tagging and moronic junk aside – is beautiful, clever and provoking. The West Coast barrios, for example, are prime locations for what can happen when artistic talent explodes under the radar.
Vienna, Austria

But the work of Bezt and Sainer is much different. Theirs isn’t the kind of crap you see on overpasses. You won’t find their work clogging the bottom third of a box car. In Etam Cru’s case, their art has been elevated out of the gutter of juvenile graffiti to a place of great sophistication and beauty. It is planned with care and executed from bucket lifts. It is sought after. And it is brilliant.

Using a slick, visual style that is more akin to illustration than muralism, their work most often combines three ingredients: conglomerations of visually dissimilar elements, large surfaces of otherwise boring buildings, and intense color. And one might add a fourth ingredient: playfulness.
Honolulu, Hawaii

On a wall in Lodz, Poland, a birdhouse perches on the blue topknot of a teenager, her image screaming with vibrant reds and blues. A wall in Vienna features a flaming redhead with fish swimming close to her demure, but classy, dress. On a building in Hawaii, an image of a girl  sticks out her tongue to catch – of all things – flakes of snow. On a wall in Richmond, Va., a sultry beauty can be seen bathing in a jar of strawberry-infused moonshine.

While the pair uses cans of spray paint, and while they can be frequently seen wearing hoodies and grungy jeans, don’t think for a second that they sleep under bridges or hustle a buck to make ends meet. They have a state-of-the-art studio filled with all manner of equipment to supplement their exterior work.  Prints of their murals and smaller work are available from their website, and videos allow a peek into their process. Art shows of their work have hit all the global hots pots. Business savvy oozes from their pores. If you’re interested in a 16-color litho print of their work, you’d better start saving your pennies, though, because their signed/numbered prints are in high demand and often end up in swanky galleries.
Richmond, Virginia

The artistic duo certaily realize, of course, that the ginormous murals they create must stand the test of time. Folks who actually live nearby must daily look at the visual behemoths and not grow tired of them. I can only imagine the surprise and delight when rounding a street corner and facing one of their murals. I also imagine that, even as the surrounding cityscape changes and grows dull, Etam Cru’s work will long remain brilliant.

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