New York City may be the birthplace of graffiti, but the epicenter of the broader genre known as street art is moving ever farther away. The most skilled, imaginative and sophisticated work, it seems, isn’t being manufactured locally. Artists like Roa, the Belgian painter of billboard-sized birds and rodents, and DAL, a similarly gifted Chinese artist, repeatedly display a facility with paint and a keen sense for scale rarely demonstrated by home-grown talent.
And Paris is home to not one, but two, particularly noteworthy urban artists. The more famous is the photographer/provocateur, JR, whose massive, wide-eyed portraits of the marginalized and disenfranchised have graced the neglected alleyways and shanty rooftops of inner cities from Rio to Nairobi. If being a street artist instantly raises one’s coolness factor, JR may be the coolest artist in the world, a sort of Bono of the urban jungle, with a social conscience as sizable as his creative output.
And if issues like environmental degradation, corporate greed and mindless consumerism are not exactly new subjects for artists, they’ve never looked quite like they do in Ludo’s art. Taking his motifs from the natural–rather than the built–world, his oversized flowers, butterflies, and fruit make unexpectedly beautiful visual statements, rendered in hues of that least urban color–green–pasted across decaying city walls and abandoned vessels.
But look more closely, and stamens, roots and grape clusters turn out to be hypodermic syringes, semi-automatic weapons, and human skulls. Ludo seduces urbanites with the beauty of the natural world, and then wallops us with a dose of man-made ugliness. Nothing, literally, is what we think it is. That’s pretty smart street art. And it’s being made a world away from the streets of New York.