Five essential books for a street art researcher

street art books, gabriela berti, escif

I’m packing my life into boxes: four-month field study of Spanish street art is about to begin. While I went through book shelves I couldn’t help myself evaluating my street art books and picking five essential ones that I tend to return again and again.

BOOK 1: Chaffee, Lyman G.: “Political protest and street art: popular tools for democratization in Hispanic countries” [written in English] (1993)*

This book seems to be my street art bible. Keeping in mind that this books was written already almost 25 years ago, it is revolutionary how Chaffee sees the street art in social conflicts as a communication tool and also as a part of political expression.

“Street art communicates something: people use it, know about it, and are aware of it, and that in itself makes it effective. If the desired outcome is to draw attention to an issue, event, group recognition, or election process, street art is effective if citizens or the government acknowledge it in some way.”

Chaffee describes street art in Latin America and Spain as politicized medium through which social conflicts can be characterized. He makes no evaluations on the aesthetic qualities of the street art. For this reason his examples of street art vary from simple wall writings to large murals. This I find very interesting. By including the whole repertoire of street manifestations, Chaffee achieves to analyze voices of variety of people, not just street artist, inspired to paint their views into the city space.

BOOK 2: Berti, Gabriela: “Pioneros del graffiti en España” [written in English, Spanish and Catalan] (2009)

Berti’s book “Pioneers of graffiti in Spain” is one of the best looking scientific street art books. Wonderfully designed book with hundreds of photos and colorful sheets with metallic print is indeed very inviting. But the content is delicious too. Berti successfully specifies the birth and the expansion of Spanish graffiti scene in both detailed and in-depth manner.

“Modifications of pre-existing [painting] materials fell under the slang term ‘Homeini’, an adaption of the English term ‘home made’. Ingenuity and originality were supplementary traits that helped a writer stand out.”

Even Berti’s book is about Spanish scene, it tells a very familiar story about the birth of graffiti that was influenced by Hip Hop movement, break dance and fanzines. Therefore I recommended this book to anyone interested in the history of graffiti.

BOOK 3: Yory Garcia, Carlos Mario (ed.): “Espacio público y formación de ciudadanía” [written in Spanish] (2007)

It is almost impossible to talk about street art without considering the public space. The book “Public space and formation of citizenship” brings together the aspects of the city, citizenship, public space and politics. It also emphasizes city as a stage or a setting for one’s self-expression and communication. Even there is no mention about graffiti or street art in this book, I notice myself thinking about them while reading the lines:

“The public space is especially from which arises the exploration of new possibilities of being.”

BOOK 4: Sorando, Daniel & Ardura, Álvaro: “First we take Manhattan. La destrucción creativa de las ciudades” [written in Spanish] (2016)

Sorando & Ardura go through gentrification of cities from the 1970’s until today. Writers analyze for example situations from Manhattan, Berlin, Belleville and several Spanish cities. The mechanism and motives for gentrification appears to be very similar everywhere in the world. Writers mix historical perspectives, academical views and texts of inhabitants in an interesting way making the book very descriptive and comprehensive. There are references to graffiti and street art, even the cover has a picture of El Rey de la Ruina’s ‘Gentriffiti’ street art piece.

“In Berlin, the graffiti paintings advise: We do not want yuppie apartments / We are happy with our rats / No tourists, no hipsters, no photos “.

BOOK 5: Escif: “Elsewhere” [written in English and Spanish] (2015)

Spanish street artist Escif gives a wonderful insight to his artistic process. This carefully executed book with over 300 pages contains pictures and photographs that have influenced on his works. There are also a vast collection of sketches that illuminate Escif’s working process. Escif concentrates on social and political issues. Therefore some of his pieces are difficult for a passer-by to interpret. Seeing and reading about his artistic voyages all over the world opens up his works in a profound way.

“Aalborg, Denmark. Once the wall is located on the city map, we draw a circle 100 m around it, so we describe a working area. We spent one day walking and taking pictures of this area, letting our imagination and intuition roam. The painting on the wall will be a composition that relates to this experience.”

After reading this book I truly hope that another my own personal favorites, Maismenos, will one day write a book about his intriguing career.



*This book is not on the picture, unfortunately not been able to find a copy for myself

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