One of the unique things about street art we noticed in Berlin are the giant murals. Splashed across the side of residential blocks, they not only bring colour to an otherwise plain wall but are a statement sometimes in itself.
We wandered around all over Berlin looking for these pieces and as they are really scattered everywhere, we got to know a lot of the outer suburbs. The most famous of this I reckon has got to be the gigantic astronaut (or cosmonaut) by Victor Ash. Born in Portugal in 1968, Victor grew up in Paris and wanted to use the idea of the Cold War when thinking about what he would paint.
“I wanted to do something that related to the location where I was painting. And I thought of this huge astronaut because, for me, one of the most important things about the Berlin was that it was an icon for the Cold War. So I made the astronaut in relation to the space race between America and the USSR, to the idea of fighting for something that isn’t with soldiers, that isn’t here on Earth—it’s in another dimension. That’s the kind of idea that inspires me: it’s more global, more human.”
Victor Ash’s astronaut has turned out to be the classic stencil mural with black paint still seemingly running down the wall. The sight of the weightless astronaut hovering across Berlin is immediate and inspiring. Standing beneath it with the figure overhead, you feel dwarfed by the work and in awe at how it was done. Then when you want to figure out if it’s called the astronaut or cosmonaut, you are reminded of the space race and ultimately the Cold War.
“No, it’s not a gift of beauty; it’s mostly some kind of comment on society. Look, it’s very difficult to make something on the street that will please everybody. To use the example of the astronaut again, it’s a work that pleases people who don’t understand the deepness of that because aesthetically it looks good—but for someone who is studying art and who is more intellectually involved, there is still a deepness to it. So in general that’s what I try and do when I work in the street: I don’t do things to please people, I do them to make people think, but I try to make my art do both”
Next up is the Face time mural which is a relatively new arrival in Berlin. It is painted by Various and Gould, a local artist duo who met at art school in 2004 and have since worked closely together. As you can tell, they have an interest in collages and bringing art to the streets is a way they connect with society and the city. They also say that their art “tells the other citizens that they are worth being an audience and being made a gift by a stranger. When people understand, that they and their city are being appreciated and being relevant of so much effort, it might give these people an understanding of what it means to be living in a “society”.
When asked to define what is street art or even art in general, they liken art to be “like a wet piece of soap. The tighter you want to grab it, the more likely it will slip out of your hands,” and “However useful these definitions may be to explain something, yet they feel some kind of narrow, incomplete or hollow – and they’re mostly based on subjective interests and gradings.
For us art has the power to break out of the daily system. It can question things and turn them around. But that’s our personal view. There a so many truths about art, but in the end they are all condemned to be wrong. If there is anything that defines art, then it’s art itself! Art doesn’t want to be unravelled. Its allure is the indefinable!”
Another local from Berlin who is an “old timer” on the street art scene is Nomad. Born in 1970, he spent years on the Berlin graffiti scene before going to San Francisco and living life as a homeless street artist. Sleeping on park benches and using the local McDonalds as a bathroom, the vagabond lifestyle has made an imprint on his work.
Today though, things have turned around and Nomad has artworks hanging in the homes of Hollywood stars like Ashton Kutcher. Living and working from Grunewald, Berlin, he is happy to be able to do what he loves which includes stints as a DJ and also charity projects for young people. He is even thinking about film directing and writing children’s books.
“For me it is about spiritual growth in everything that I do. And spiritual growth is impossible without freedom. Spiritual growth and conservation of energy are my drive. To become a better person and help others to do the same. This can be achieved in different ways.”
Finally in this post, we introduce Os Gêmeos, which is a name that refers to Brazilian street artists Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo. It is a Portugese word meaning the twins as Otavio and Gustavo are identical twins born in Sao Paolo in 1974. They are famous worldwide for their yellow-skinned characters and this five-storey contribution over Oppelner Strasse is one such example.
Their inspiration came when they discovered that they shared dreams about the same yellow-skinned figure. This genderless figure has come to trademark their artistic style and since then, their work has evolved into murals involving family portraits, social and political commentary and Brazilian folklores.
They have works all over the world now and when you see one of these yellow skinned characters in New York or Milan, you would know that Os Gêmeos have left their hand prints behind.