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Interview with Rafael Schacter, Author of the Amazing New Book: The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti


The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti  (Yale University Press; 9/3/13; 400 pages, 750 color illustrations, $35.00) by Rafael Schacter is perhaps the most extensive survey of contemporary global public art yet produced. We get sent a fair number of street art and graffiti books, but this one immediately caught our eye because of its high quality images, impressive writing and research, and truly global focus. If you want to know who, where, and why public art is one of the dominant cultural forms of expression in the world today, this book will educate and inspire.

First of all, thank you for doing this Q&A. The images and writing in the book are superb and I feel both inspired and educated after spending a couple of weeks with the book. What was your inspiration to create the World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti?

Thanks for the kind words! Our inspiration for creating the book was simple; to represent the huge diversity of work being produced within the remit of Independent Public Art today, from the most ostensibly “artistic” to the most seemingly “vandalistic”… plus everything in between. And we also wanted to give sufficient weight and respect to these artists works by having a fair text to image ratio. We didn’t want the book to focus on the ‘spectacular’ and be all about pretty images without sufficiently explaining the influences, the histories, and the themes of each artists discussed.


It's almost overwhelming to realize how much public art is being created worldwide. Was there a place where you didn't expect to be amazed but were? Was there a place where the street art and graffiti wasn't at all what you expected?

I think the place which I was most amazed by was the Ukraine, in particular Kiev of course. The three artists we feature from there - Interesni Kazki, Homer (Sasha Kurmaz), and Vova Vorotniov - are three of my favourites in the entire book, all totally different from each other, but all amazingly interesting. The combination of the influence of “western” graffiti culture and the communist visual culture they all grew up with has created a quite unique aesthetic, something which just looks so totally new and fresh to my eye. I absolutely love all there of them (or four of them really, seeing as Intersni Kazki are a duo made up of Wane and Aec).


Is there is a tension between "Street Art" and "Graffiti"?

There is a tension, of course, but I think this tension is a fruitful one. The problem for me is the terms themselves however. They are both very baggy and unwieldy; they mean very different things to very different people, and therefore issues arise due to semantics more than anything else. I try to use the term Independent Public Art - a term coined by the theorists Javier Abarca from Madrid - as I believe this is a sufficiently neutral term whilst also covering both of these practices and everything in between.

The cover image on the book is one of my personal favorite pieces ever, (El Mac x Retna) was it difficult to select a cover image and how was that one chosen?

It’s a fantastic piece. For each edition we wanted a piece of work from that location so that narrowed things down. But whilst I pushed the publisher in certain directions, in truth this was a decision of theirs not mine. I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out though!

How is street art part of a global phenomenon, and how do artists influence each other across continents? Conversely, how is it still local?

The internet has obviously radically changed how street art is consumed. Much of what people see now is mediated through a computer screen or via their smart phones. At the same time, the ease of communication has meant that unofficial networks have been formed enabling artists to travel to far flung locations and meet up with other local practitioners with ease. Of course this has always happened, but I think it is easier now. And this means that this cross-cultural influence can only increase. In terms of its locality however, whilst global influences are strong, one can never escape one’s local environment. The structure of the city itself will always effect the work being produced, let alone the local styles and regulations which have grown out of the location. Global and local influences can and do work hand in hand however.

Can you point to a couple of campaigns or specific artists who you think have had an extraordinary level of influence in the world of street art and graffiti?

To be honest, every artists who we feature in the book have had a huge influence on others. They’ve all been chosen specifically for this person, each of them acting as emblematic examples of a certain style of Independent Public Art.


What is the largest piece in the book?

Hmm, I’m not too sure! DOMA’s “Colossus” is pretty, well, colossal.

How long did it take to complete the book and how many cities did you visit?

The book took around a year. I’ve visited a lot of the sites but also spent a lot of time on Skype!

Who do you consider to be currently exceptionally innovative and moving things forward?

Again, I think all the artists chosen are pushing the way we understand what graffiti and street art can be. If I had to choose anyone, I’d probably say Eltono and MOMO, Katsu, Brad Downey, Sixe Paredes… but there really are so many!


Is all graffiti political? How do local/global politics affect and influence this art form generally?

I think all art is political, in that all art either reproduces a normative ideal, or tries to deconstruct that ideal; every piece of artistic production sets out a position whether it likes it or not. So all graffiti is political implicitly political, but not necessarily explicitly so. In terms of politics (as in party politics), graffiti is generally seen merely as an “issue” from this level, something good or bad, something to score points with. It effects everything and all of us every moment of the day.

Did you run into any crazy situations with the police etc. when photographing/researching the book?


The concept of graffiti outside of an urban environment gets some play in the book. How are artists translating the site specificity of graffiti to nature, or suburban places? Is it street art if there is no street? Is it graffiti if nothing is vandalized?

You’ve just explained exactly why I prefer to use the term Independent Public Art rather than street art and graffiti! Street Art is reductive. If it can only be produced in the “street”, it is hamstrung. And equally, the graffiti - vandalism equivalence is one which is so commonly used graffiti just ends up being a byword for vandalism. In truth, graffiti is just a form of contemporary ornamentation (as I argue in my forthcoming academic text), it is a scratching upon a surface, an embellishment upon a medium. Its conception as vandalism is relatively recent in historical terms.

You discuss the idea of "no middle ground" in this medium, how did that influence your approach to this book? Perhaps more specifically, how did you decide who to include, what was the criteria and how was that process difficult or not?

The no middle ground is in terms of how people relate to it. It is either loved or hated, with normally nothing in between. In terms of the criteria (which was tough) we based it on three key issues; Those chosen were practitioners currently operating within the field of Independent Public Art today; they were fully active, working outside in the unrestricted, communal areas of the environment; and their work was emblematic of a certain form of street art or graffiti, the artist in question being a prime exemplar of his or her particular style.

Lastly, what's your favorite place to get a taco?

La Taqueria on Westbourne Grove in London (my favourite restaurant in London full stop). And La Esquina (upstairs not downstairs) in New York.

Image 1 by Tec, Pedro Perelman, Chu. Photo by Tec. São Paulo, Brazil.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance on this page)

Page 241 - 2
Vanity, Gdańsk, Poland, 2011

Page 19 - 1
Knocked On Your Door, 5027 Market Street, Philadelphia, USA, 2009.
Image by Adam Wallacavage.

Momo and Eltono,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2011

Los Contratistas
Page 110- 1
Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, 2011

Buff Diss
Page 361 - 4
Plucking Pennies, Adelaide, Australia, 2011
PHOTO BY Mick Bradle

Dal East
Page 392 - 2
Milestone, Cape Town, South Africa, 2012

Nuria Mora
Page 284 - 1
Starfish Project, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2011

Anthony Lister
Page 378 - 1
New Year’s Party Balloon, Brisbane, Australia, 2011
PHOTO BY Keiron McMaster

Nazza Stencil
Page 138- 4
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2012

Aram Bartholl
Page 209 - 4
Map, Taipei, China, 2009

Page 57- 4
Cow Springs, Arizona, USA, 2012

Page 166- 1
La Vrai Croix, Prague, Czech Republic, 2012 / PHOTO BY HONET

Page 267 - 4
Red Square, Ekaterinburg, Russia, 2011

Page 308 - 1
Tolerancia 0, Barcelona, Spain, 2011

Page 141 (2 images)
Osasco, São Paulo, Brazil, 2011. Image by Pedro Perelman, Chu and Tec.

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