Photo Essays

The Best North Brooklyn Street Art of 2011

by Hrag Vartanian on January 2, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following is our latest column, Off the Wall, in The WG newspaper, which was published in early December.

North Brooklyn is indisputably an epicenter of street art. Whether it is the amazing homegrown talent painting murals, the local artists who dabble in art out in the open, visiting artists from Europe or Australia who leave their mark while exploring the city, or local businesses commissioning artists to create posters that are posted illegally, it’s a visual jungle out there and some of us really appreciate the role street art plays.

One of the pleasures for street art watchers is that every season a new batch of artists and work appear. New styles crop up, older styles wilt away, and there’s something for everyone.

We decided to compile a list of some of the most notable street art from the area in 2011. This is not a comprehensive survey but a taste of some of the exciting work that has been appearing on the streets of our dear borough.

El Sol 25 is no stranger to local street art lovers, but this year this talented artist outdid himself. Known for his hand-painted images that look like a zany remix of pop culture, his images — like the one in the center — all are original, multi-layered, and eye catching. On the left, you can also see a fantastically neon-colored series by Celso that was handprinted in Peru in the popular Chicha poster style. The series made and definitely stood out from the crowd. A memorial of sorts on the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the scale of this work was eye-popping, but sadly, it was gone within a week or two. (all photos by the author)

This year, NohJColey has been using his street art to explore a very intense series about people and their vices. The work pictured here was about the "hoodwinked lifestyle," according to the artist. When you visited this curious street sculpture you could pull its "strings" and move the figure's hands to transform from a praying gesture to one that looked like pleading.

One of the most ambitious works in all of North Brooklyn this year, Skewville painted an entire building on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick to resemble an old style boom box. Created during Bushwick Open Studios, the image brought a whiff of old skool New York to a neighborhood that is experiencing fast-paced change.

Did you know that the proprietors of the Factory Fresh gallery have been working towards their goal of transforming the block-long Vandervoort Place into a street art park? Well, just to get our imaginations going they set up a temporary version on Saturday, June 4, and made us want more. Here we see a work by Leon Reid IV, who is known for injecting his cheeky humor into the everyday.

Rather new to the scene, Enzo & Nio have been very active all year. From their clever Emergency series to their Catholic school girls with guns wheatpastes, they create jarring work that makes you take notice.

We wish it were easy to identify all the street artists who work in the area but alas occasionally there are artists that forever remain anonymous. One unidentified series this year stood out. A mixture of the famous Brussels icon Mannekin Pis (Little Boy Pissing) and a Krylon spray paint can spouting yellow paint, this clever series was posted around the area and makes us laugh each time.

If the walls are the most common place to find street art, it’s definitely not the only “canvas.” MRToll is a street poet and sculptor who creates small works out of plasticine or clay. Sometimes they are miniature sliced cheese pizzas or Smurf-like mushrooms (like the ones pictured here), but they are always like Easter eggs in unremarkable corners or ledges, for street art lovers to find.

German artist L.E.T. (aka Les Enfants Terribles) created some well-regarded works in our fair corner of Brooklyn that spoke to the city’s changing face—and those left behind. His best series played with Milton Glaser’s famous I Heart NY graphic and portrays youth who “need it more,” as the work itself explains.

Quel Beast has been very active for the last couple of years in the area, but this year his work showed more sophistication than ever. Hand drawn and shaped, his faces appeared to emerge from the walls in which they were trapped. Quel awesome.

Veteran street artist WK Interact pulled off what we think is the most ambitious work of the year. During the week of 9/11, the French native pasted up a block-long paper mural in his smudged and streaky style that portrayed some of New York’s bravest. Anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the scale of this work was eye-popping, but sadly, it was gone within a week or two.

The adorable hearts of Chris Uphues are a staple of the neighborhood. Last month, he created a large happy heart mural for the recently shuttered Monster Island building on Metropolitan Avenue and Kent Avenue. Above the work drips of paint from the closing party that involved pouring paint down the walls as a symbolic (and artistic) goodbye to the building. For those who will miss Monster Island, don’t worry. One of its most active occupants, Secret Project Robot, has already set up shop further east in Bushwick.

For the original article of “The Best North Brooklyn Street Art of 2011″ click here.

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  • http://www.lancerautzhan.info Lance Rautzhan

    Eh. Street art is boring. Same old. New ideas make people wonder.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I think a great number of people disagree with you, Lance, including me. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t find it boring, but I definitely don’t think it’s great work. There are concessions in being or even becoming masterful in an art form that has a contingency of not getting caught or arrested while in progress. In context with high quality artwork historically, this work pales dramatically, reading more like the work of a student or hobbyist. The one thing that I always felt fondly of in regard to street art is that it at times subverts the role of a gallery in achieving visibility to an artwork, but with the hyped up bull market surrounding this eclectic genre that rogue aspect has become diminished and even the streets are now subject to moderation by art establishments. There is a sweet quality to the youthful vigor of its abundance and hysteria. I’m glad it’s there and that there is so much of it, but my ideals for guerrilla art in the public forum are that they play complimentary to the risk of total loss and the candor of anonymity. These guys look like they’ve got it pretty easy.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          The street is a place for experimentation IMHO, so some artists have many personas (and bodies of work) so that elusiveness is great. Also, this is aimed at a mass reading and audience so the objective is not critical discourse. The language here is more akin to advertising, where certain messages are attacked, distorted or mocked. I think that playfulness gives it an appeal that gallery work doesn’t have to the general public.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          The street is a place for experimentation IMHO, so some artists have many personas (and bodies of work) so that elusiveness is great. Also, this is aimed at a mass reading and audience so the objective is not critical discourse. The language here is more akin to advertising, where certain messages are attacked, distorted or mocked. I think that playfulness gives it an appeal that gallery work doesn’t have to the general public.

          • http://www.lancerautzhan.info Lance Rautzhan

            “The language here is more akin to advertising” This is why I’m bored.  

          • http://www.lancerautzhan.info Lance Rautzhan

            “The language here is more akin to advertising” This is why I’m bored.  

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            So you must be bored with the work of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Warhol, Richard Prince and others too.

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            So you must be bored with the work of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Warhol, Richard Prince and others too.

          • http://www.lancerautzhan.info Lance Rautzhan

            I have no problem with those artists. 
            My point is, these street artists are using their “tags” “logos”whatever you want to call it, AS advertising for THEMSELVES.  Anonymity is lost and along with that, the message. 

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            Point taken but Holzer started on the street in the late 1970s and 80s. And the fact is most people see almost all this work as anonymous. Only people who do their research can identify them (and as you probably noticed, one we listed is still anonymous).

            I think the reasons for street artists are complex and it’s not all for fame. MRToll for one seems very unconcerned with publicity of any kind.

          • Anonymous

            mrtoll.com alone, sans the artist’s press clippings from juxtapoz, seems to disagree with your claim. Also, I don’t agree that the street is definitively a place for experimentation. Sure, it can be, but most street art reads as being more calculated than impulsive and more typical than unusual. If the work already exists in some capacity and is simply being installed or recreated at site, the experimentation was conducted elsewhere. Though I’m not sure if you meant experimental in reference to my noting that in some cases they look like the developmental works of an art student or if you meant experimental in the introduction of new techniques or content. The later I’m not recognizing. As for appealing to the general public, the trend is at the height of its popularity, so there’s no disagreement there. Street art used to contrast with the work being represented by gallerists similarly to how music from independent record labels had contrasted with that from major labels. Similarly indie rock is now a genre of music being marketed by major labels and street art is the most mainstream product of the art establishment. The ideals have inverted, the polar ends eclipse and its about time to finish the book.

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            Just having a website doesn’t read that way. This is 2011. Everyone has a web presence and should. The internet is actually the complementary medium of street art, hence the reason it exists on Flickr and other places very prominently.

            Who is talking definitively? You are making massive generalizations about a huge field of work. Some do it for publicity, others don’t.  To generalize is inevitably inaccurate. Like most art (in galleries or otherwise) most street art is subpar but not all of it.Also, why are you commenting anonymously? How are people supposed to understand your bias and stake in the debate? We normally don’t allow anonymous comments but I am enjoying your feedback. 

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            Just having a website doesn’t read that way. This is 2011. Everyone has a web presence and should. The internet is actually the complementary medium of street art, hence the reason it exists on Flickr and other places very prominently.

            Who is talking definitively? You are making massive generalizations about a huge field of work. Some do it for publicity, others don’t.  To generalize is inevitably inaccurate. Like most art (in galleries or otherwise) most street art is subpar but not all of it.Also, why are you commenting anonymously? How are people supposed to understand your bias and stake in the debate? We normally don’t allow anonymous comments but I am enjoying your feedback. 

          • Anonymous

            Basically, to further complete my thought, it’s an easy drink young but I wouldn’t cellar it.
            NohJColey’s work might be the most redeeming of those cited, for me. I’m interested in what the full range of medium was and would find it especially likable if he used found abandoned or found stolen clothes from the homeless for the jeans.

          • Anonymous

            Basically, to further complete my thought, it’s an easy drink young but I wouldn’t cellar it.
            NohJColey’s work might be the most redeeming of those cited, for me. I’m interested in what the full range of medium was and would find it especially likable if he used found abandoned or found stolen clothes from the homeless for the jeans.

          • Anonymous

            mrtoll.com alone, sans the artist’s press clippings from juxtapoz, seems to disagree with your claim. Also, I don’t agree that the street is definitively a place for experimentation. Sure, it can be, but most street art reads as being more calculated than impulsive and more typical than unusual. If the work already exists in some capacity and is simply being installed or recreated at site, the experimentation was conducted elsewhere. Though I’m not sure if you meant experimental in reference to my noting that in some cases they look like the developmental works of an art student or if you meant experimental in the introduction of new techniques or content. The later I’m not recognizing. As for appealing to the general public, the trend is at the height of its popularity, so there’s no disagreement there. Street art used to contrast with the work being represented by gallerists similarly to how music from independent record labels had contrasted with that from major labels. Similarly indie rock is now a genre of music being marketed by major labels and street art is the most mainstream product of the art establishment. The ideals have inverted, the polar ends eclipse and its about time to finish the book.

          • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

            Point taken but Holzer started on the street in the late 1970s and 80s. And the fact is most people see almost all this work as anonymous. Only people who do their research can identify them (and as you probably noticed, one we listed is still anonymous).

            I think the reasons for street artists are complex and it’s not all for fame. MRToll for one seems very unconcerned with publicity of any kind.

          • http://www.lancerautzhan.info Lance Rautzhan

            I have no problem with those artists. 
            My point is, these street artists are using their “tags” “logos”whatever you want to call it, AS advertising for THEMSELVES.  Anonymity is lost and along with that, the message. 

      • Anonymous

        I don’t find it boring, but I definitely don’t think it’s great work. There are concessions in being or even becoming masterful in an art form that has a contingency of not getting caught or arrested while in progress. In context with high quality artwork historically, this work pales dramatically, reading more like the work of a student or hobbyist. The one thing that I always felt fondly of in regard to street art is that it at times subverts the role of a gallery in achieving visibility to an artwork, but with the hyped up bull market surrounding this eclectic genre that rogue aspect has become diminished and even the streets are now subject to moderation by art establishments. There is a sweet quality to the youthful vigor of its abundance and hysteria. I’m glad it’s there and that there is so much of it, but my ideals for guerrilla art in the public forum are that they play complimentary to the risk of total loss and the candor of anonymity. These guys look like they’ve got it pretty easy.

  • http://twitter.com/Thestachelife M. Hahn – A. Maness

    Why North Brooklyn, and what is North Brooklyn?… curious side kick. 

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      We write the column for WG News, which is a north Brooklyn monthly, so we limited the piece to the geography they serve. North Brooklyn is the Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

  • righttrue

    If you take money, fame, and ego out of the equation, you will find art is not boring.

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