Valentine’s Day Street Art
Street Art Break in VR with Tom
Love in street art isn’t like love in Hallmark cards.
Street artists push the boundaries of love and what Valentine’s Day can be about.
I don’t claim to have done the definitive Love in Street Art study but I’ve made a start. As usual, my source is the Google Street View database, all the street art recorded either by the Google-Cam on the Google-Car or by private individuals, like me, who have uploaded hi-resolution 360 degree images.
I use the images in two ways. One is to simply make one image the entire view, as if we are standing right where the Google-Camera took that exact picture. In the AltspaceVR social VR platform, this technique is referred to as a Skybox. Like Jim Carrey was under all the time in The Truman Show.
The same image recorded by the Google-Cam can also be made into a smaller version of the Skybox called a Photosphere, which has one important difference —it’s an object, a sphere with an image mapped to the inside.
Unlike the Skybox, an avatar can get right up close to the image in a Photosphere, or drop back for a different view. In a Skybox, it’s always the same view. So in fact, Truman’s world is more like a photosphere — because [Spoiler Alert] he actually bumps up against it in a boat.
When I began presenting street art for discussion in VR, I gathered everyone who attended on a semi-transparent viewing platform and we looked at one painting in Skybox mode. And talked about it.
It worked very well. I don’t know why I ever changed.
Eventually, I began to arrange a few Photospheres in a sequence, all under one Skybox. It enabled events that recreated a whole alleyway in Baguio City, Philippines, or the famous enclosed courtyard outside of Haus Schwartzenberg in Berlin.
There are technical limits to what can be simulated now. We can put 4 or 5 Spheres together under one Skybox to put ourselves, for instance, along a section of Brick Lane in Spitalfields, but we’re not remaking the whole East End, much less the City of London. So far.
The storytelling became richer as I brought more elements together, but the discussions did not. Maybe an abundance of engaging material makes it more difficult to come up with an immediate response.
Love Street Art: Selecting
My database of street art images is limited by its source, Google Street View, and by its selector, Me. I save what I respond to. I don’t tend to save what would be called ‘tagging’ or ‘graffiti.’ But very often, work that feels like art to me is swimming in a sea of what look like scribbles but probably mean something to somebody.
I have about 200 works that feel like art to me on my spreadsheet, as of Valentine’s Day, 2023. I imagined them one by one for any connection to Love. Then I eliminated the ones that I could see wouldn’t work on further consideration.
I knew that the Tour should start with something like a title screen. Not a mural, just some Love text.
Voila, the Wall of Love, in Paris, the city of romance, where Frederic Baron began collecting, “I love You” in as many languages as he could. By the time he teamed up with calligrapher Claire Kito, he had 311 versions in 250 different languages. She assembled them and produced enamel tiles to build the Wall in 2000, (pictured above).
Kurtis Kulig has built a franchise on Love graffiti. starting with his now-iconic, ‘Love Me’ image, from 2012. His Love Wall on Hayden Avenue in Los Angeles went up in 2012.
People who attended the event in VR spawned in right up close to the red design. Inside the sphere was a smaller sphere — step inside and you’re in Paris at the Wall of Love.
Step out of the larger Love Wall sphere altogether and we were suddenly in another sphere from Bryne, Norway, with “The Lovers.” The way he tells it, after years of traveling around the world painting walls, the street artist known as, Pobel. returned home during a Covid masking time in 2021. Not that it stops young passion.
“Inside In,” by Judith de Leeuw was the final street art in the first VR World of the Event. A woman looks at her reflection and sees her male self. It seemed like a perspective on love that needed to be included.
Love Street Art World II: Embraces
I set up a Hug sandwich between two pieces of D*Face. By which I mean two tall murals in the romance pop style of D*Face flanking a sweet image of two women hugging, by Lidia Cao.
The dominant Skybox in the picture below was painted by Christina Angelina on corrugated metal in 2015. It’s on East 4th in LA and it is open to many interpretations.
Love Street Art World III: Banksy
Foolishly, I did not put “Banksy” in the Valentine’s Day Street Art Event title. I am certain his name increases attendance by at least 50%. I am not a fan of Celebrity-driven anything, but the effect is real.
Among street artists and street art aficionados, Banksy is a polarizing figure. To the rest of the human race, Banksy is to street art like Kodak was to photography.
I did not feature him in the Event because he does not feature Love in his art. But. It appears, and when it does, it’s spectacular.
I wouldn’t say “Kissing Coppers” put Banksy on the map but it sure didn’t hurt his anti-authority image back in 2004. Anti-Gay violence was more prevalent at that time and this mural outside a pub in Brighton, UK took some of the attacks directly.
Now a reproduction is in its place and the copy itself needs to be covered with plastic. It is barely visible at the bottom of a large wall full of pop, mostly gay, icons.
Next to it is the famous “Well-Hung Lover,” a man dangling out a third floor window while the angry husband who presumably discovered him searches in the wrong direction with his binoculars. We can only hope that it was worth it because the Lover has been hanging there for 16 years and counting.
The last Banksy in the Event is a more recent piece, painted during his 2021, “Staycation” on the coast of England. On one of his stops he stenciled a “Couple Dancing,” with an accordion player off to the side with them on top of the bus shelter.
It might be my favorite Banksy.
Love Street Art World IV: City Love
The “I Love New York” campaign of 1975 and forever thereafter worked, but not the way it was supposed to work. It was paid for by the State of New York to promote to whole State but it was somehow appropriated by the City. Which needed it.
It is not a data-driven statement when I remind you that New York City was totally sucking canal water in the early 70s. I’m sure there is data to support it, but what matters is that everyone felt like the place had become a modern day Sodom.
The song told a different story and changed everything.
It received a new boost decades later, post 9/11. Nick Walker’s, “Love Vandal” from 2015 is part of the second wave.
Stephen Power’s, “A Love Letter for You” represents one city’s complete support and shows possibilities for working at scale that public art has barely begun to explore.
He led a team that painted 50 messages of love high on buildings from 35th to the 65th Street Station on Market Street, where the elevated tracks run. The ‘Love Letters’ are ultra-brief and are designed to be seen best from the train.
To me, this is visionary work that uses the city as a framed canvas in ways that could take storytelling to new levels.
You would have to be very familiar with Land’s End in San Francisco to recognize the Skybox as the western most point of the City where Tony Bennett left his heart.
If I turn things around and make it a selfie, you see that folks could end the Valentine’s Day Event in VR gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge as Mr. Bennett sang about little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars.
Tom’s work has not appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, The New Republic, the New England Journal of Medicine, or anything New at all.
He only publishes in obscure journals and, once upon a time, PBS Program Guides. Otherwise he just gives his work a URL and sends it packing on the web at places like Medium and Sub-Stack, where he enjoys a modest following.