That giant bearded man blowing on a dandelion or that Mystery Science Theater 3000 stencil at the bottom of a wall is trying to tell you something about your city. Street art and those artists who make it, that is, might be trying to show you something about the place you live, not just their art.
Exploring the work of one Baltimore street artist, who goes by the name Gaia, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson writes in the October issue of Urbanite that through his work “one can almost hear the city speak.” So, what exactly is the city saying? For Gaia, who is also a gallery artist, his images of desperate looking animals with human arms and hands are “expressive of the contention between the wild and civilization.” That contention has led us to a point where, according to the artist, “we know that we are going on the wrong path, and there are messengers telling us that our lives aren’t sustainable, but no one is listening.” Dickinson would probably categorize Gaia, and other street artists like him, among those messengers. The way she sees it, simply making people notice the abandoned and destitute buildings is bringing a message to them:
It's easy to overlook the abandoned building near the corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street on the edge of Mount Vernon. Traverse this city enough, and the sagging facades, the sunken roofs, the boarded windows become so commonplace that they are invisible. But here, on a weathered brick wall, a drawing of a man looms over the alley demanding attention. White, elderly, plump with success, he is rendered in black and white and looks toward Franklin with a dispassionate eye. His presence somehow amplifies the condition of the structure: With the roof gone and the windows blown out, sunlight pierces a seemingly moth-eaten shell. Trees grow where they shouldn't. Exposed wood roof trusses give the feeling of a beached ship, as though the building has been marooned and left to rot.
Suddenly, you see the building. Really see it.
Image at top courtesy of Dustin Luke Nelson.