8 must-have books on street art to put under the Christmas tree!23 November 2021
The first books on street art were published in the 80’s and I can’t fail to mention the very underground Subway Art by Martha Cooper which has become an iconic book that has inspired generations of graffiti artists. In recent years, the craziest projects have been carried out with urban artists and publishers are riding this colourful wave. Some graffiti artists are now creating more institutional murals, but there is an unprecedented creative momentum. The claims written in the streets predate the first spray paint can, and the artists are influenced by other more classic artists, but also by current events, whether social, political or ecological.
If you follow the blog, you know that my eye enjoys beautiful blazes, graffiti writing and also monumental works. When I read books on street art, the text is as important to me as the works selected; it is the gentle balance between writing and images that dictated my selection! So I selected 8 titles; some new ones, but also some must-reads that I will review soon on the blog. Before going on with this selection, I wanted to make it clear that none of the books was offered to me by one of the publishers mentioned 😉
A must have: the graffiti bible! “Subway Art” by Martha Cooper and Henri Chalfant published by Thames and Hudson
The New York underground graffiti scene exploded in the 1980s. Illegal, ephemeral, secretive and above all rebellious, this graffiti practice went from rough tagging to structured typography / calligraphy representing the Blazes of their authors. By chance two experienced photographers managed to convince, not without difficulty, a publishing house to publish the photos resulting from this incredible epic. Thus, thanks to Martha Cooper and Henri Chalfant, the taggers of the New York underground came out of anonymity, opening the way to a whole generation of budding graffiti artists! This book, published in 1984, has been given a new lease of life for our greatest pleasure. It documents in detail this urban culture born from the depths of the underground. You will discover its origins, its history, the different styles and techniques, its vocabulary, its conventions and the philosophy of its authors too. A gold mine on graffiti, the most complete testimony on this urban adventure that has made emulators all over the world.
Rich and tasty: “Une STREET histoire de l’art” by Cyrille Gouyette at Editions Alternatives
If you follow me, you already know that I had a real crush on the book “Under the Street Art, the Louvre” by the same author. I was therefore impatiently waiting for this new opus and it is with great enthusiasm that I threw myself into this STREET history of art. The author’s dynamic writing opens our eyes to the bridges between art history and street art as if it were all obvious… disconcerting! Certainly, some urban artists claim a style close to an artistic movement and in this precise case the existing link is easy to highlight. But the research work in this book is impressive and will make you revisit the history of art with relish. The concordance between the different artistic currents or styles and the chosen urban works leaves you speechless… It’s close to perfection! The author’s ever so rich vocabulary and his cadenced phrasing prevent you from looking up from the book. Under his pen, neo-classical, pointillist and expressionist styles become contemporary art, and what can I say about antiquity or the Middle Ages, which are dusted off! This book is for me a must for all those who love Art with a capital A.
Exciting and surreal: “Le BESTIAIRE fantastique du STREET ART” by Chrixcel and Codex Urbanus at Editions Alternatives.
In the course of my articles, I have often written to you that Street Art was a formidable bestiary… I had a little omitted to specify to you how much it could be fantastic! The urban artist has many constraints to be able to express himself; but when he has or takes this freedom his creativity is limitless! I’ve been wondering how to review this book for a while, but now stocks are running out and not to tell you about it would be heresy. This book is of high quality! I am serious 😉 It is written in a rich and sustained language. The authors were clever enough to bring the subject up with a flashback on the history of art and its various animal representations… This opens your mind to a very wide imaginary world and above all it makes you realize that monsters and other chimeras have been represented for centuries.
The authors have carefully selected 21 artists who offer completely different worlds and working techniques. Their portraits and intentions are described with passion and the choice of works is simply monstrously magical! This beautiful book is a journey to the land of the imagination, of fantasy in which nature has a nice place. Every time I open it, I can’t help but dive in for a while.
Le BESTIAIRE fantastique du STREET ART is available in all good bookshops at the public price of 29,90 € TTC, in some Fnac shops and on Amazon for the most hurried. As the edition dates from 2018, there will certainly not be enough for everyone!
Historical and deeply humanistic: “Confinement” by Etienne Bensaali and Alessandra Antonelli at Sandrot Editions
You were confined, I was confined, the artists were confined and the whole world suddenly paused. Except for the nursing staff who fought night and day to save lives without really knowing what they were fighting! During this suspended time, which we will remember for the rest of our lives, I tried in my small way to highlight the incredible solidarity of urban artists in the face of this deprivation of their workplace! I also talked about this creative force that even when locked up does not die out! What pushed me to continue writing articles during this period of confinement was the generosity of these artists, the formidable Saato project initiated by Raf Urban, which offered me new works to see every day. A project that brought together hundreds of artists to help the only people who could save our lives: the nursing staff!
This book is a story of the heart, it is the small story of the big story. The testimony of an unprecedented human adventure. This book brings together all the works donated by the artists to the Parisian Public hospitals; there is tenderness, resignation, even humour. The works are interspersed with the testimonies of the artists, the nursing staff and also the anonymous people who have followed the project on a daily basis. In fact, Confinement is not a book of street art; it is a beautiful story born of a very dark period in our history.
Confinement is available exclusively at the Lavo//Matik gallery in Paris or on its website at the public price of 39,90 € TTC.
Another look at urban art: “Street art contexte(s)” Volume 2 by Olivier Landes at Editions Alternatives
In this magnificent book, you will find few flashy or showy works! On the other hand, sumptuous photos that pay tribute to thoughtful works and that manage to make poetic an unbridled, even chaotic urbanism. I have just opened this new opus of Olivier Landes’ Contexte(s) and, as in his first book, this urbanist geographer offers us a magnified tour of the world. Meaning is the main motivation for his selection. The works are certainly masterful, but above all they are integrated into the landscape with a natural fluidity. They reflect the political, social or environmental context of the place where they are located. The artists chosen are driven by ecological, health and political concerns and their work is committed and often breathtaking. This book on meaningful street art shows how this art, considered minor, can become major for those who live it on a daily basis. A rare gem.
Tribute to the ephemeral: “DéDalE” by Nicolas Gzeley and Violaine Pondard published by Land’Artic
Street art is an ephemeral art. Even the most untouchable of murals will eventually fade with the help of time. There are unique places where you can have an emotional experience. The last few months have seen the incredible ephemeral transitional space in Abbeville come and go; the former sorting centre occupied by L’Essentiel Paris is already undergoing work, and the most astonishing wasteland in the heart of the capital, Spot 13, is destined to disappear at the pace of urbanisation. Soon, one of these places that one imagines to be eternal will close its doors after 3 beautiful years of existence. DéDalE in Vannes has seen 119 artists succeed one another in its walls and create works from floor to ceiling. This 3,000 square metre space, a veritable laboratory of experience, has seen more than 100,000 visitors pass through. On December 31, 2021, this place will close for good before being destroyed! This book, or should I say this Encyclopedia, is the memory of the place, the trace of an exceptional adventure! The artists testify, talk about their inspirations, their experience within DéDalE, explain their works. Whether you have been to DéDalE or not, this book is an archive like no other ephemeral place has ever had!
DéDalE is available exclusively from the publisher Land’Artic at the public price of 89 € TTC.
The essential for taking action: “Le Manuel du Pochoir” by Christian Guémy, Editions Eyrolles
If you take this book in your hands, you will have only one thing in mind: to make your own stencil! I can’t even tell you how much I’m itching to do it 😉 Educational but not boring, enlightening and more than affordable, this stencil manual is a gold mine. The interviews with the artists who took part in the game are more than enriching and we learn a lot about the reasons for their choice, their way of using stencils and also about the limits they see. For each part – technique, tutorials or interviews – the book is illustrated in such a way as to accompany us as well as possible towards this sometimes complex universe. And even if you don’t want to get into it, it is still a fascinating book that changes the sometimes limited vision that we can have of this ancient technique. The most complex as well as the simplest works that illustrate this book will give you another look at this art that sometimes looks like goldsmithing!
Irresistibly acidic: “Pourquoi l’art est dans la rue?” by Codex Urbanus, published by Critères
Simply jubilant! This essay, or should I say pamphlet, almost revolutionary, written by the artist Codex Urbanus is anything but consensual! It’s a blast and we love it! From the very first sentences, proclaimed experts, art dealers and other institutions take a sufficiently powerful blast for us to understand immediately that this book is in the image of its author: free and spontaneous! For him, Street Art is either illegal or not. Street Art is ephemeral and it is a gift that cannot be exchanged! This artist who compulsively distils his chimeras on the slopes of Montmartre offers us his truth with his words. He has the delicacy to specify that he does not hold the truth, and that is honourable. This is an essay without images, without embellishment, the language is raw and often the turns of phrase are shocking! It’s a book that does a lot of good and I agree with the author who describes the urban artist as an awakened citizen! It’s been more than two years since this book left my bedside table and as a proof I open a page at random and I read “The question of the ego is central to urban art. It is, along with freedom, the second crucial need that leads the street artist to leave his den.” I really wanted to serve you the passage on Catherine Millet – a ruthless art critic – which gave me a violent laugh; but not being an expert, I’ll refrain. This essay will not leave you without a reaction and the artist’s unfiltered writing is a real treat. Thank you for this moment!
Still wondering which book on street art to choose?
In reality, you are the only one who can choose, I have just cleared the way through dozens of publications. Personally, I love to offer Cyrille Gouyette‘s books to people who make fun of my interest in Urban Art. And I enjoy reading them and leafing through them whenever I have a minute. To my friends who have younger children or are attracted to spray paint, “Subway Art” is a must-read that they will love! And if they are interested in the world of stencils, “Le Manuel du Pochoir” could quickly become their bedside book. Far from the bling-bling street art that flirts with pop art, the book “Contexte(s)” is a beautiful demonstration of what urban art can be when you put a good dose of sense into it. The one that gives me the most emotion remains “Confinement“, perhaps because the works that compose it have brightened my daily life as a confined person! I’m sure you’ll be able to make the right choice in this tight selection of Street Art books; you can trust me, there are only the best! I’m sorry for the publishers, authors and artists who are missing from this one… I still have a lot of books to read, so maybe it will be for a next selection.
It’s time for me to put my trainers back on and go on a new urban adventure.
See you soon.