Introducing Urban Art

23 Jun 2014
Artists are most often inspired by what happens in their immediate surroundings. One of the many aims or motivations for art is also to reflect society and life as we know it at the particular or present period of time. With this in mind, it's inevitable for urban scapes to be a pivotal subject and urban art a major art form or movement within the contemporary art world.

Tokyo Noir II by Yolanda van der Mescht

Artists like Banksy uses the urban environment as canvas and medium, creating site-specific social artworks that challenge and change people's perceptions about political and social systems. In South Africa, initiatives or organizations such as Such Initiative and A Word of Art  creates public artworks that either delights and beautifies the urban environment or raises questions about the way we live, and the leaders we choose for our country. A lot of debate exists around urban art, as it is often viewed as vandalism or destruction of private property, unless done with the permission of the owner - whether it be a home owner with a wall ideal for a mural, or the city council when a public space is used. This is one of the many reasons why most artists keep to the traditional art forms - painting, drawing or sculpting what they see in their cities and towns.

Nightscene: III by Tanja Harbottle, depicts the night scene of the Jozi-skyline, with Ellis Park athletics stadium lit up on the bottom left hand side.

Jozi: VI, Tanja Harbottle's cityscape painting of a typical scene as one drives onto the Nelson Mandela Bridge heading towards Newtown in Johannesburg

Some other artists also use printmaking in its many forms to comment and illustrate - using photography, digital media or traditional printing techniques such as etching, lithography or woodblockprinting.

Plains For View, from the Nuances series by Janet Botes

Urban Ranger takes photos that show street art within the context of the site its created in, creating narratives that draws in the viewer to look closer at the photographs but also at what is around us when we walk, work or commute in the city.

Saleem's by Urban Ranger

Save Our Rhino by Urban Ranger

"I try to capture reflections of every day life – real, unaltered impressions of public places, places that everybody visits every day, the street where you live, the parking lot of your favorite corner shop, the subway. The camera is an unobtrusive extension of the eye in any given situation, capturing the mood in a fraction of a second." - Urban Ranger
Artists often use grafitti and street art tools or techniques such as spraypaint in paintings or mixed media artworks, as can be seen in the following work:

So Cool by Mary-Louise Bicket

The Entrepreneur by Roscoe Reid Masters

Roscoe uses social commentary in his work to create visual narratives that highlight his concerns and hurts about society.
"I use the mundane images and symbols of my environment, as a metaphor to bring a new composition to the world around me. I draw inspiration from street art & graffiti that speaks about the realness of the times and issues in the challenged communities. I believe art is a calling and a responsibility to engage with the public at large. I use visual images and juxtaposed them to construct my thoughts and dreams to form new possibilities and defrag stereotypes that my culture and others try to impose on us." - Roscoe Reid Masters
Urban Art, Street Art and cityscapes are such a wide and varied genre of art, that this feature does not even succeed in deeply scratching the surface. It does seek, however, to make you think and look at your cities and the art created in and about this environment.