Advertising and Street Art


My name is Noémie, and since August 07 I’ve been the archivist here at the ADC.

Three months before starting work here, I spent an afternoon in a dark, windowless room giving my thesis presentation to a small but attentive crowd of about fifty people. It was entitled The Shifting Dimensions of Street Art in the 21st Century. I only recount this in order to make the following point: during my first day at the ADC, I thought to myself how strange it was to land in an environment that celebrates advertising, when in fact I had spent the previous year devoted to the work of those that deface it.

I didn’t feel out of place for long, however. My first project involved archiving the winners of the 84th Annual Awards from 2005. I was thrilled to see that guerrilla advertising was included in the Annual—seven winners in that category grace its pages. Those images also brought back familiar issues that consistently pop up on street art blogs like, namely, the uneasy relationship between street artists and the all-powerful brands that are desperate to hire them. For many street artists, any such association is borderline sacrilegious. These purists advocate that street art should remain an untainted form of creativity, and that money should stay out of it. In short: don’t give in to the man.

The only problem is that, for the most part, there are strong ties between advertising and street art. For one, ad busters need ads to bust. But it’s also more than that. Street artists, whether they’re conscious of it or not, think like marketing directors. Dissemination is key—whether it’s a tag, a stencil, or an ad, more is better. More means power. And because, just like with advertising, the goal is to communicate, location also becomes crucial. It’s about finding that ideal spot—a spot where thousands of passersby a day will have no choice but to notice your visual, and register your message.

What’s more, the advertising world and the street art world have evolved in parallel. In both camps, there is an increasing trend to work in 3-D rather than 2-D (Cases in point: Volkswagen’s Ice Car, on the one end, Mark Jenkins’ tape sculptures on the other). Ads are more compelling when the environment is brought into the picture (quite literally, with Amnesty International’s Not Here But Now campaign), and the same is true with street art (see, for example, the work of Cayetano Ferrer in Chicago).

Essentially, the aim of both camps is to innovate—to find brand new ways to exploit city surfaces. It’s no wonder, then, that street artists often cross over to the advertising industry, and vice versa. Leeds-based Paul “Moose” Curtis, who has developed a wonderfully clever, unique method of working, is a great example. His images are created by washing away grime from city walls, and art directors have been quick to hire him (for those of you who came to see James Victore and Chris Rubino speak at the “ADC Young Guns Live DIY” event on October 4th, this pattern of DIY turning into commercial work will ring familiar). His website features his commercial work, in addition to his “various other exploits.” You decide which is best.