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Street Walker

A design expert discerns the good, the bad, and the odd in curbside culture.

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What is happening out there on the streets? Or, rather, on the walls and subways and sidewalks where street artists and advertisers show off their new ideas. In this new, occasional department, we ask design professionals to tell us what they see when they traverse the city. What tricks are advertisers using? Is pink the new orange? Michael Surtees, an art director at Renegade, a Chelsea-based design agency, and founder of the blog DesignNotes, took us on a tour of Soho (with a few other downtown stops), where bold colors, eighties video games, and surly little childhood characters are dominating street art and creeping into advertising.

1. WHERE IS ALL THE POLITICAL ART?
Candy Corn (74 Grand Street) and Windorphins poster (Crosby Street), above.

“I’m seeing a ton of bright, neon colors and bold, clean lines out there. There’s also a lot of irony, but not in the political sense. Typically, when you have major controversies in politics, you see street art reflecting that. But you don’t see a ton of characterizations of Bush the way you saw back in the eighties with Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. Instead, people are grabbing imagery from their childhood and injecting sarcastic twists on characters—maybe it’s a cute image with some snarly or sad expression, like this candy corn by a street artist named Broke Rodriguez. People in their twenties and thirties had toy figures like Transformers, Smurfs, Lego. Now that they’re older, they’re expressing a disconnect with the times that we’re in. They’re making more of an apathetic statement. This kind of aesthetic is showing up in corporate art too, like this poster for Windorphins—a campaign for eBay. It’s funny that both are sort of chemicals: the candy is sugar while Windorphins are a fake chemical reaction—endorphins that come from winning auctions.”


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