Who are those spray-paint art vendors I see in Times Square?
June 17, 2006 3:57 PM   Subscribe

For anyone in the NYC area, you know those spray paint artists who make the "galaxy" pictures? They're usually around Time Square, making their pictures for crowds and selling them. Do you know what this style of art is called?

Bear with me, this is a long explanation:

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, or think I'm talking about graffiti art (like Google), allow me to elaborate: Sometime on the NYC streets you'll see these guys with 6-10 spray paint cans working on a piece of cardboard about 10"x15." Over the course of several minutes, they will lay down many layers of paint, using common tools like can lids or pieces of newspaper to block, scrape, or otherwise manipulate certain layers of paint at various points in the process. After about ten to fifteen minutes' worth of work, they've produced full paintings, almost always of planets on a sky background, occasionally with impressionistic buildings or rainbows. The paintings have a "luminous" quality, like those annoying Kinkaid pictures, and part of the 'sell' is having the crowd ooo and ahh as the artists produce some impressive effect by scraping a newspaper across a solid field of paint. The vendors are obviously working off of pre-set paint schemas applied over and over: I'd imagine this is the kind of mass-produced "gimmick" work that drives art school folks bonkers. Morever, I think they work in groups, as I've seen guys come buy and give them "refills" of spray paint and scrap newspaper. Is there one organization that trains these guys and sets them out? Is it a trend that caught on? And above all else, is there a specific word for what they're doing?
posted by ®@ to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
I've wondered the same thing.

These painters used to work --- maybe still do --- on Sixth Street in Austin on weekend nights. Although the technique is gimmicky and the subject-matter cheesy, I found the paintings pretty cool for five minutes' worth of work.

I watched a guy do an entire painting one night. I thought it was cool how he angled the stream of paint from his paint can to create the appearance of a futuristic glass bubble enclosing a settlement on a planet.
posted by jayder at 4:19 PM on June 17, 2006

I first saw this done in Times Sq about 15 years ago. Great fun to watch. The guy yelled at someone who was trying to videotape him.
posted by found missing at 4:22 PM on June 17, 2006

I think the name of this genre is, not surprisingly, "spray paint art." A quick Google search turned up this site:

Spray Paint Art

(The link leads to a gallery of representative works. The main page is here.)
posted by jayder at 4:23 PM on June 17, 2006

Aren't these samples of the School of Krylon?
posted by rob511 at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2006

You're right about the painters working in groups. A decade ago, spray-painted "banners" made from bedsheets were all the rage. I used to find vendors hawking spreads with home made Batman and Yankees logos - whatever would get the tourists' attention.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:28 PM on June 17, 2006

Looking at the pics, the style is more derivative of "Starving Artist" pieces featuring a unicorn prancing near a moonlit ocean. The spheres, "stars", cloud/wave formations are quite easy to produce for anyone with basic airbrushing experience. The matal lids under the table in rob511's link are most likely stencils. The paints themselves are most likely acrylics (which dry faster), and the funky sheen could be enamel highlights and clear-coating. Custom spray-paint caps allow for a wider or more precise appllication.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:47 PM on June 17, 2006

They're not just New York, I've seen 'em elsewhere, can't recall just now 'cept I think Crakow.
posted by Rash at 8:25 PM on June 17, 2006

Just last week, I saw one guy, seemingly working alone (had a duffel bag full of his supplies) on the corner of Mill and 5th in Tempe, Arizona. So it's not just a New York thing, nor is it as organized as you seem to believe it must be. (There's no "school for homeless-looking galaxyesque spraypainting works.")
posted by disillusioned at 11:51 PM on June 17, 2006

I saw a guy doing this in Waikiki in like... 1994, maybe. I liked the picture he produced, thought it was quite lovely (though I was not the buyer). It wasn't nearly as advanced / sophisticated as the stuff on the "Spray Paint Art" site linked by jayder, though.
posted by beth at 2:59 AM on June 18, 2006

Yeah, this isn't just an NY thing: I've seen them also over Europe. Anywhere touristy, basically. There's a bunch of videos over on YouTube: spray paint art.
posted by blag at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2006

"also" = "all"
posted by blag at 7:49 AM on June 18, 2006

While on Freemont St. in Vegas, I asked a painter of this variety what he called his style. "Spray-paint art", he replied. Good enough for me.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:42 PM on June 18, 2006

Response by poster: Coolness. Thanks for all the help & linkage, guys.
posted by ®@ at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2006

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