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Flickr user Garret Zeigler
Flickr user Garret Zeigler

14 Street Art Terms—Illustrated!

Flickr user Garret Zeigler
Flickr user Garret Zeigler

Street art has gone mainstream. Artists who started in the street now show in museums and galleries (rather than on them), and their stencils or posters can be worth millions. Cameras watch to catch not bombers putting up tags but people defacing what’s already on the walls. Just about every city in the world—as well as suburbs and deserts—has stickers, murals, and wheatpastes to admire. But what if it’s all graffiti to you? Here are 14 terms to know when it comes to street art.

1. TAG

Wall at 5 Pointz

A stylized name or signature done with various materials, such as a marker or an aerosol spray can, often freehand. Depending on its format or complexity, a tag may be called a throw-up, as in “that throw-up is amazingly detailed,” not as in “this Sharpie scrawl makes me want to throw up my cookies.” A person who tags is known as a writer or bomber.

2. CHARACTER

Sweet Toof

Cute or creepy, cartoonish or realistic, a character serves as a signature or visual shorthand. If you know the character, you know the artist. Some artists take their characters from comic books or television, but many invent wholly original beings. A character can be put up on its own or as part of a larger narrative scene.   

3. WILDSTYLE

Tag on Bogart Street, Brooklyn

Elaborate, interlocking letters or symbols used when tagging. Wildstyle forms a complicated code that excludes non-writers, as generally only experts or practitioners can read the name.

4. PIECE

Kobra

Short for “masterpiece.” The term is frequently used to describe a more labor-intensive work, usually with at least three colors. A street artist might be said to get up a piece or a tag. Pieces are sometimes called burners, as in “this piece is so hot, it’s burning off the wall and onto my retinas.”   

5. ROLLER

Skewville

A work done with a roller brush. Most rollers consist of block-letter tags or phrases, sometimes with drop shadows or intentional drips. The brush’s long handle enables artists to paint in hard-to-reach or tricky spots, such as down the side of a building, or to complete really large pieces.   

6. CREW

Robots Will Kill

A group of artists who regularly get up together. The crew’s collaboration might consist of unified pieces that tell a coherent story, or it may be a series of individual tags done in a concentrated area.

7. LEGAL WALLS

Sheryo, The Yok, Flying Fortress, Never, Nychos, and Most

In recent years, property owners and even entire neighborhoods have allowed artists to bomb their houses or buildings. Legal walls have helped bring about the transformation of graffiti into public art. Because artists don’t have to execute quickly, at night, or with one eye out for police, legal walls allow for bigger or more involved pieces that seek to beautify, moralize, empower, or entertain.

8. MURAL

How & Nosm and RRobots

A huge work, often on a legal wall. It might be done by an individual, an informal group, or a crew. A mural might depict a single scene, or it might be a series of standalone or loosely connected images or characters.  

9. INSTALLATION

Invader

A site-specific work, often 3D or sculptural. Temporary or permanent, an installation may combine several techniques, as when a stenciled scene of a child pulling a wagon includes part of an actual wagon attached to the wall. Some installations have a political bent, such as a street sign that has been altered, and some are optical illusions.     

10. STICKER

Various artists

Easy to make, easy to tote, and easy to place, a sticker is a fast, simple way to disseminate a character, tag, image, or message. The drawing or tag may be done quickly, on a priority mail label from the U.S. Postal Service or a “Hello My Name Is” badge, for example. Or the sticker may be designed and printed in a studio. Regardless, stickers show up on street signs, poles, doors, ATMs, walls, benches, subways, and pretty much every other surface you can think of. As with artisanal coffee shops, the presence of one in the neighborhood somehow beckons many others to follow.   

11. WHEATPASTE

Swoon

An adhesive made from equal parts flour and water; also the name for a type of street art that relies on it. To put up a wheatpaste, an artist covers an area with the paste, then unfurls a poster, drawing, painting, or photo made off site. After smoothing out the paper’s wrinkles and bubbles, another smear of wheatpaste goes on top. The result is sometimes called a paste-up.    

12. STENCIL

Icy and Sot

A design cut into heavy paper or cardboard, then spray-painted onto a wall. A stencil may be a phrase, an image, or a combination thereof. Some stencils are one-offs; others are repeated throughout a geographic area or around the world. Blek le Rat, the so-called father of stencil graffiti, popularized the form via images of rats he began putting up in Paris in the early 1980s.

13. YARN BOMBING

Olek

In 2005, Magda Sayeg knitted a cozy for a doorknob at her Houston boutique, and spawned a movement. Since then, knit bombers have covered statues, buses, signs, trees, grocery carts, telephone poles, benches, and other objects both sentient and non. Also called “grandma graffiti,” yarn bombing brings an element of domesticity into the streets, counterbalancing the traditionally male world of street art with a traditionally female art form.

14. POST-GRAFFITI

Hellbent

Another name for street art. The lines between graffiti, street art, and public art have begun to blur. As legal walls have proliferated, street artists are no longer marginalized, but are lauded for their creativity and craftsmanship. Perhaps in response, they have pushed past spray paint, stickers, and other common approaches. Today, work on the street encompasses a fantastic range of materials and styles from LED throwies and light projections to skywriting to abstract collage.

All photos by Flickr user Garrett Ziegler.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi
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The Louvre Abu Dhabi Just Opened the World's First Radio-Guided Highway Art Gallery
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi

One way to plan an epic art road trip is to drive from museum to museum, but in the United Arab Emirates, you can take in masterpieces without leaving your car. As Artforum reports, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has lined a stretch of highway with billboards displaying works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, and Piet Mondrian.

The 10 works on display along the E/11 Sheikh Zayed road connecting Dubai to Abu Dhabi are recreations of pieces at or on loan to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which developed the project in partnership with three radio stations. Dubbed the Highway Gallery, it was "created to reinforce art's role in elevating everyday life into something beautiful and memorable," the museum website reads.

Like in a traditional gallery, the 30-foot-by-23-foot displays along the road are accompanied by a guided audio tour. Drivers can learn the title, artist, technique, and other details about each piece by tuning into a participating local radio station (Radio 1 FM, Classic FM, or Emarat FM). There they will hear descriptions of Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, 1887, and Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow, and Black, as well as the Islamic sculpture Mari-Cha Lion and the sarcophagus of Egyptian princess Henuttawy.

The Highway Gallery will run through mid-March. After that, art lovers can drive their cars to the Louvre Abu Dhabi to see the items in person.

[h/t Artforum]

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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