The perspective of Yoav Litvin by Street Art Mecca

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 By Anna Garbus

In the terrace of a café there is a grey family. Passing by, some cross eyed breasts looking for a smile above the tabletops. With these words the Argentinian poet Oliviero Girondo tried to describe the fragments of urban life that were passing through his pupils. It was 1922 and he was looking from the window of one of the first streetcars of Buenos Aires, a city that was quickly evolving into a bustling and frenetic modernized metropolis and changing the rhythm of life of its inhabitants. The poet made a pencil and a piece of paper his allies to crystalize some of these images–ephemeral and always changing– things that crossed his way.


Nowadays, another observer of urban life tried a similar task: in the case of the writer Yoav Litvin his partner is a camera, his vehicle are his legs and his eyes are fulfilled with a very specific urban landscape: street art. Even if “I have no formal training in photography, other than a short, three-months course I took when I was 20 years old”, Litvin has spent the last two years photographing the pieces of art on the walls of NYC and interviewing his most active creators: the results are visible in the recent publication of the book Outdoor Gallery (Gingko Press, 2014), a visual and written jump into the artistic scene on the streets. His experience suggests that “photography depends mostly on the passion the photographer feels towards his/her subject matter”. Since his passion “for people, street art culture and graffiti” has waken up, it has never gone to sleep again, in fact it also passes frontiers: from Tel Aviv to Honolulu, “I just look for it wherever I go. When I go on vacation or when I travel for business.” He has no doubt that every piece “is directly affected by the vibe of the place, so of course the flavour depends on the location”. After two years he admits he hasn’t lost the romantic idea of street art that he defines as “a non-violent form of rebellion against norms and taboos within general society and the art world. Just like the revolutionaries take the streets to protest, revolutionary artists display their art on the streets”. The political and social terms he mentions confirmed his strong interest “in the roots of conflict and the potential of conflict resolution” and his caring about “income gaps within our society and the disenfranchised”. Through his writing and his work as photographer he doesn’t only try to document a fragment of urban reality, he also tries “to convey and promote progressive causes” that lead him typically to “choose to highlight artists who are in line with these notions, and strongly believe art can be harnessed to heal after trauma, whether in individuals or nations”.


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Jilly Balistic. Photography by Yoav Litvin

American society has no shortage of conflicts that are “very sensitive to anything related to property, private vs. public and the consumerist agenda, i.e. the right to advertise”. Litvin believes that in a country where “notions of public space are also naturally affected by the fact that society is principally ruled by the wealthy upper classes”, New York City is a special case: “As the birthplace of modern graffiti and the Empire City, this art form has been especially villainized for a multitude of reasons”. Some of them are explained by almost 50 artists – such as Shiro, Miyok, Enzo and Nio, Chris Stain, Kram, Cern, Bishop203– that Litvin has quoted in his lastest work.


I wonder where I will keep the kiosks, the streetlamps, the passersby, streaming in through my pupils. I feel so full I’m afraid of bursting…, continues Girondo’s poem Note on a Streetscene. Litvin recompilation of street art pieces and voices exploded onto the printed pages of Outdoor Gallery: “I actually felt I really needed to do it. Fate placed me in the right place at the right time, and I felt I needed to produce something that will show people both in the present and in the future, the beauty, richness and uniqueness of the contemporary scene here”. So that everybody will no which kind of fragments of life were to be seen in NYC from a window in 2012- 2014 if they had focused his attention to the unique artistic landscape that belongs to the personality of this metropolis.


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Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada at Re.Set Bcn by Street Art Mecca

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Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada film and interview. (Street Art Mecca featured artist No.8)

By Anna Garbus

Haga clic aquí para la versión española

He tells stories. He does it while painting some historical figures from Catalonia in Ciutadella Park, Barcelona. And also while drinking a coffee, greeting people or socialising with other artists. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1966) cannot help it: this street artist from New York has grown up addicted to the storytelling narrative as much as to the brush (or in his case, charcoal). He’s a seeker, but not for riches as he distrusts capitalist society, but for the stories that lie behind every image and every face he paints.

“The only thing that will save us from destruction is empathy and concern for others. The market does not believe at all in the importance of every life, it teaches you not to look at others and be indifferent”. So since the nineties Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada has done the opposite of marketing: instead of using a celebrity face like a model or a politician, he portrays anonymous people. “The biggest mistake of contemporary society is its obsession with figures: 20,000 dead, 100,000 million or two … the media transforms death into an abstract concept. If you go deep into every life that is lost, every story will surprise you and would impact upon you rather than leave you indifferent”.


You can access the subtitles by clicking on “captions” on the bottom right of the video player. 

Film by Justin Donlon, Silvia Vidal Muratori and Anna Garbus

He has been working for more than twenty years on the street. At first he changed the meaning of ads on advertising billboards to criticise consumer society and its monopoly of public space. “I started watching what images were on the streets of New York: advertising for harmful products like alcohol or poor quality cigarettes used only in poor or minority neighbourhoods. We modified hundreds of posters to open a dialogue on the visual manipulation of the capitalist system and the semiotics of the city. Without dialogue advertising monopolises all urban spaces. So we wanted to highlight the real effect of the marketed products and show the political ideology that drove them”. Deconstructing an image and analysing it critically to modify its meaning became the touch stone of a movement called “Culture Jamming”, which Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada was a founder member, and whose motivations were compiled in Naomi Klein’s anti globalisation book “No Logo”.

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Nowadays, behind the photorealistic anonymous portraits, social criticism is just as prevalent as before. You just have to go a step beyond and trick the limits of the visual, to look for the narrative. If marketing uses the human face for commercial purposes, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada uses critisism; if advertising immortalises your icons, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada offers us an ephemeral life. All their faces are destined to disappear “so that we can reflect on the importance of the here and now. If we do not work now in coexistence, for example, this will also disappear”. So he paints with materials that fade such as “charcoals, a watercolour wash and some spray for the darker parts”. He also has a liking for party walls and walls with damage. There his passion to tell human stories matches his desire to create temporary works. “I love the actual texture of the layers of an old building: not to modify the colours of the wall but to enhance the aesthetics of the families who lived there, imagining the moment that they chose this specific colour for the baby’s room, the kitchen … with charcoal you get respect for what someone else “has painted and keep its history alive”.

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Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada’s portraits don’t just have physical layers but also conceptual ones. Just as with the “Wish” project in which Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada used the face of a girl from Belfast in such a large scale that you could see from a satellite. “I was walking down Belfast and I saw this little girl playing. She was so happy, you could tell she had the love of his parents. They allowed me to take a picture at the moment that she expressed a wish. At this age a wish is magical: you believe in Santa Claus, fairies … “. The intention was to use the magic that was in the eyes of the girl internationally to remind adults that “we should all try that little bit longer to maintain with this feeling of magic. But, how many things are happening in the world that will impact future generations? How much lack of vision do we have not to change those destructive aspects in society such as consumerism and pollution? Using Belfast as a basis, which is now experiencing the longest period of peace in it’s history, I wanted us to think in this future”.

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The hope for better times was also the feeling that motivated the project “Expectation”, one of his most famous works in Barcelona, where he portrayed the U.S. president, Barack Obama. “In this piece I wanted to open a dialogue about the euphoria of the paradigm shift of power. The excitement surrounding Obama’s candidacy shows that we were fed up and that, given a little hope, the world reacted. “Today the expectation, Rodriguez admits that it, “went to hell”. He believes that for “America it is too late, now it is controlled by corporations”

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Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada en Re.Set Bcn por Street Art Mecca

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Entrevista a Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada. (Street Art Mecca featured artist No.8)

Por Anna Garbus

Click here for the English language version

Cuenta historias. Lo hace mientras pinta unos personajes históricos de Cataluña en el Parque de la Ciutadella. También mientras se toma un café, saluda la gente o se entretiene con otros artistas. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1966) no lo puede evitar: este artista callejero crecido en Nueva York es adicto a la narrativa tanto como al pincel (carboncillo). Un buscador, pero no de brillantes monedas – desconfía de la sociedad capitalista- sino de las historias que se hallan detrás de cada imagen y de cada rostro.


“La única cosa que nos va a salvar de la destrucción es la empatía y la preocupación por los demás. El mercado no cree para nada en la importancia de cada vida, te enseña a no mirar al otro y a ser indiferente”. Por eso a partir de los años noventa Rodriguez-Gerada hace el opuesto que el marketing: en vez de un famoso, un modelo o un político, retrata personas anónimas. “El error más grave de la sociedad contemporánea es su obsesión por las cifras: 20.000 muertos, 100.000 o dos millones… los medios transforman la muerte en un concepto abstracto. Si se profundizara en contar cada vida perdida, cada historia te sorprendería y te impactaría en vez de dejarte indiferente”.

subtítulos están disponibles en Inglés y español: clic en el “Captions” de abajo

Película de Justin Donlon, Silvia Vidal Muratori y Anna Garbus

Más de veinte años en la calle: al principio cambiando el significado de las vallas publicitarias para criticar la sociedad de consumo y su monopolio del espacio público. “Empecé observando qué imágenes había en las calles de Nueva York: la publicidad para productos dañinos como el alcohol de mala calidad o los cigarros se hacía solo en los barrios pobres o de minorías étnicas. Modificamos centenares de carteles publicitarios para abrir un diálogo sobre la manipulación visual del sistema capitalista y sobre la semiótica de la ciudad: La publicidad monopoliza sin diálogo todo el espacio. Por eso queríamos poner en evidencia el efecto real de los productos promocionados y mostrar la ideología política que los impulsaba”. Descomponer una imagen y analizarla críticamente para modificar su significado se convirtió en el toque de piedra del movimiento artistico denominado Culture Jamming, del que Rodriguez-Gerada fue uno de los fundadores, y cuyas motivaciones fueron recopiladas en la obra anti globalización No logo, de Naomi Klein.

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También hoy, detrás de los rostros anónimos hiperrealistas, la crítica social late fuerte como antes. Solo hay que ir un paso más allá, engañar los límites de lo visual  y buscar la narración: Si el marketing utiliza la cara humana para fines comerciales, Rodríguez-Gerada la utiliza de forma crítica; si la publicidad inmortaliza sus iconos, Rodríguez-Gerada  les dona una vida efímera. Todos sus rostros son destinados a desaparecer “para que podamos reflexionar sobre la importancia del aquí y ahora. Si no trabajamos ahora en la convivencia, por ejemplo, esta también desaparecerá”.  Por eso el artista se dedica a pintar con materiales muy efímeros como “los carboncillos, las aguadas y un poco de spray para las partes más oscuras”, y tiene una predilección para las medianeras y las paredes muy cascadas: allí su pasión de contar historias humanas encaja con su voluntad de crear obras pasajeras. “Me encanta la textura real de las de capas de un edificio antiguo: no modifico los colores de la pared en homenaje a las familias que vivieron allí, imaginándome el momento en que ellos eligieron este específico color para el cuarto del bebé, la cocina…  Con los carboncillo consigo respetar lo que otra persona “ha pintado y así mantener viva su historia”.

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Los retratos de Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada no tienen solo capas físicas, sino también conceptuales. Así fue en el caso de su proyecto Wish, en que el artista reprodujo la cara de una niña de Belfast tan grande que se podía ver desde un satélite. “Estaba caminando por Belfast y vi a esta niña jugando. Estaba tan contenta, se notaba que tenía el amor de sus padres. Me permitieron hacerle una foto en el momento en que expresaba un deseo. A esta edad el deseo es mágico: crees en Papa Noel, las hadas…”. La intención era utilizar la magia que se hallaba en los ojos de la niña a nivel internacional para recordar a los adultos que “todos intentamos que los pequeños se queden el major tiempo posible con esta sensación de magia. Pero ¿cuantas cosas están pasando en el mundo que van a impactar las generaciones futuras? ¿Cuánta falta de visión tenemos para no cambiar aquellos aspectos de la sociedad como el consumismo o la contaminación que los destruirán? Utilizando Belfast como base, que ahora vive su periodo de paz más largo, quería que pensáramos en este futuro”.


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La esperanza en tiempos mejores fue también la sensación que motivó Expectation, una de sus obras más famosas en Barcelona,donde retrató al presidente de Estados Unidos, Barack Obama. “En esta pieza quería abrir un diálogo sobre la euforia del cambio de paradigma de poder. El entusiasmo que provocó la candidatura de Obama demuestra que estábamos hartos y que, frente a un poquito de esperanza, el mundo reaccionó”. Hoy la expectación, admite Rodriguez, se “ha desaparecido al igual que su obra. Ambas han tenido un carácter efímero del que Rodriguez-Gerada invita a sacar conclusiones”. Opina que “para Estados Unidos es demasiado tarde, ahora está demasiado controlada por las corporaciones…”

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