The Huffington Post released its selection of the Best Art Books of 2014 last week. Readers may have noticed a pattern: the two street art books featured in this year’s list are both about the New York street art scene: Outdoor Gallery by Yoav Litvin, a book on the “leading figures in NYC’s graffiti and street art scene” [Huffington Post] and the 2013 story of Banksy in New York by Ray Mock.
Through his personal relationships and friendships with many key actors and artists involved in the New York street art scene, Yoav Litvin was able to put together an insider’s literary gem standing out from most of the street art books that you usually find at your bookstore. Outdoor Gallery documents the New York street art scene, artist by artist, via the author’s own street photography and direct interviews, questioning each one on their perceptions, process, influences and how they envision the future of their art.
The curation of artists featured in the book is a close as it gets to a true contemporary experience of New York’s street art: presenting 46 of the most active “illegal” New York artists, including some of our favorites “vandals” such as ASVP, Sheryo, The Yok, Robots Will Kill and Icy & Sot. The photographic documentation presents both legal and unsanctioned works found around the five boroughs of New York.
Street Art Anarchy had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Yoav Litvin to discuss the story behind the success of this first book an what’s happening in New York’s street art scene.
Street Art Anarchy: How long did it take you to put it all together from the initial concept?
Yoav Litvin: Just a bit over 2 years.
SAA: How has your perception and understanding of Street Art evolved throughout the years?
YL: I love the way street art blends and communicates with the surrounding communities and streets. I’m constantly amazed by the creativity of so many artists. I am also grateful for their generosity in taking the time, risk and effort to make art on the street for public consumption.
Street art attracts people from all rungs of life: I’ve met street art fans who in their lives are corporate lawyers, doctors, scientists (such as myself), teachers, cops, you name it! And people of all ages too, from teenagers to retired folks. The creative and unpretentious nature of street art speaks to a common humanity in all of us.
SAA: Unlike more “classical” street art book, you bring forward a fresh new selection of some of the most active urban artists hitting the streets of New York City over the recent years. What made you decide to focus the book on these “new” artists?
YL: As a documenter, I tried to stay as unbiased as possible when deciding on the lineup for Outdoor Gallery. Meaning, I let the streets dictate my choice, not personal alliances, or other political considerations. I approached the artists whose work I encountered most while walking through NYC. Pure and simple.
SAA: Through the artists’ interviews in Outdoor Gallery, you recurrently question each artists about their views on Street Art, New York and the Future. What do you make of so many different views from artists being part of the same Art Movement? and what would be your own answer to these questions?
YL: On Street Art? I see street art as a nonviolent and creative form of rebellion. I feel it unapologetically challenges conventions in society in general and in the art establishment in particular. In its core it is grounded, generous and unpretentious, and I appreciate that.
SAA: On personal art?
YL: My own art is documentation. I’m a scientist and use my training in experimentation, planning/executing ideas, thinking outside the box, writing/editing and collecting data to create. This includes photography, text editing and design. On Outdoor Gallery I worked with a fantastic graphic designer, Steven Mosier, who helped me bring my vision of the book to life. I feel documentation is an emerging art form, especially with the popularity of social media and photo sharing apps like Instagram.
SAA: On NYC?
YL: I grew up here in the 80s. I remember riding the subways when they were bombed with tags, looking at pieces as the trains went by etc. New York City attracts the best of the best in all fields. It has so much character and history, and is the birthplace of modern graffiti. Because of NYC’s history, character and beauty, street art and graffiti are all the more impressive and relevant here.
On the future: I plan to continue to contribute to this movement as much as I can. I feel that my style is evolving and I am always looking to collaborate with both established and up-and-coming artists on challenging projects in the future. At the moment I got several projects in the works, but I’m not ready to share details quite yet.
SAA: And on your techniques and influences?
YL: I use my Nikon and Lumix cameras for photography. They are not top of the line cameras that cost thousands of dollars, but they have more than enough features for my purposes. I believe what makes a great photographer is not the equipment (which helps of course), but the technique and most importantly the passion s/he feels toward the subject matter.
Otherwise it’s just a matter of doing appropriate research, respecting the art and artists and working professionally and collaboratively to create documents that convey the spirit of our times, while subtly communicating my own personal narrative.
When i conducted the interviews, I asked many different questions, and noticed an incredible diversity of answers that affected my choice of editing and design: In Outdoor Gallery I present the interviews in a very clean and identical way for each artist, as a means to bring out that richness. The diversity in message, technique and the artists’ motivation is what makes Graffiti/Street art so exciting for me. This movement is like an evolving organism and nobody knows how it will develop!
SAA: What are some of the most memorable challenges you faced in putting together Outdoor Gallery?
YL: There were many challenges throughout the process. To begin with, collecting materials: documenting and interviewing 46 artists is not easy! Once all were pleased with the materials, I worked with a graphic designer to bring my vision to life. Finding and securing my dream publisher, Gingko Press, was no easy task either. Then, once that was secured, for the release of the book I produced and curated a show that included all artists in the book. I had 250 books available at the show – which sold out), screening of movies by Dega Films, a DJ, collaborative mural at the entrance and many more highlights.