Orchestrated Chaos and Superior Nonsense A closer look at street art collages

A delightful chaos composed of arbitrary pictures and words that even after repeated viewings allows you to spot new things. What can this be other than a collage? Throughout the centuries, collage-like application techniques appear at different moments and in different locations, but it was only after 1900 – in conjunction with the rise of modernism and courtesy of the pioneers George Braque and Pablo Picasso – that this art form made a real breakthrough.

Cubists, dadaists and surrealists were fascinated by the idea of experimenting with techniques, mediums and messages in a way best described as at once serious and tongue-in-cheek. Ever since the turn of the 20th century, the appeal of the collage has not been lost. Images and materials (by no means just pieces of paper and glue) can be used and combined in infinitely different ways, while many new possibilities have been presented by the digital age. And thus collages are being made up until this very day. Not least by street artists, for whom this appears to be a beloved genre. One of the first artists to distinguish himself with collages in public space already back in the eighties, was actually a graffiti writer; the legendary Rammellzee who passed away in 2010.

Judging by the pictures below, street art collages are certainly no less absurd than those of their modernist precursors. Most collages outdoors make no sense whatsoever, but that’s exactly what makes them so good. Generally speaking, I think it's fair to say that it’s art without any underlying idea or specific intentions, merely superior nonsense that is aesthetically pleasing and fun to see.

Take, for example, one of the works by Pablo Malik Art; a man who’s taking a dive (or doing push ups?) while the Virgin with Child is watching him and while a fighter jet above them is flying out of the picture. All this against the background of huge flip flops that contain toes in the form of favelas. And what about the sticker made by Zephyr in Brussels (no, not the graffiti legend from New York)? Two toddlers with pixel faces that have climbed on the back of a Great Dane, while further down in the adorable landscape a dinosaur breathes fire towards them. Seeing that, you cannot but chuckle.

By and large, this form of art has a cheerful character. However, the black and white collages created by the talented Trollux2luxe from Mons can rightly be called eerie and grim. The images used by him (including the disquieting rendering of SpongeBob and Squidward Tentacles) seem to come straight out of a nightmare or haunted house, but are also extremely refined and sometimes almost symmetrical.

The piece by Konkel & Kraan in Rotterdam may look ominous, but the 3D explosions that are a part of it and are made out of toys (what an effort!), look remarkably colourful.

In regard to the different techniques, I discern three types of street art collages:

  1. The collage in its purest form, consisting of different parts and made up of different layers;
  2. A sticker or paste up that contains an image of a collage;
  3. A graffiti and street art hotspot, which unintentionally forms a collage in and of itself. Think of a wall or a door that is covered with tags, pieces, stickers, paste ups, stencils, tiles and the like. It’s the messy result of a complete lack of coordination and concord among the contributors. Such a collage gradually comes about thanks to the contribution of an unknown but increasing number of artists. It’s subject to continuous change, hence it concerns work in progress which will never be finished. This is well illustrated by the visualisation of the transformation of a single wall in Paris over a time span of five years. Although there are many people who will think this is nothing but steet pollution, a hotspot can have a dynamic appearance and be full of energy and surprises. To me, the wall in London with the bollard in front is a prime example of this. The same goes for the London ballerina who is rendered evocatively with a spray can.

Before lighting today’s fireworks, let’s first take a few looks in the rearview mirror.

Juan Gris, Still life with pears and grapes, 1913
George Braque, Still life with Le Jour, 1929
Hanna Höch, Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands, 1919-1920
Kurt Schwitters, Difficult, 1942-43
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