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Guerrilla art is a street art movement that first emerged in the UK, but has since spread across the world and is now established in most countries that already had developed graffiti scenes. In fact, it owes so much to the early graffiti movement, in the United States guerrilla art is still referred to as ‘post-graffiti art’.
Guerrilla art differs from other art forms in it has no external boundary between the image and the environment. While a traditional painting can be moved from one gallery to another without the meaning or the artistic credibility of the piece being affected, street art is environmental, the surface to which it is applied to being as fundamental to the piece's meaning as that which is applied. Without the dynamics of modern life, guerrilla art is reduced to ‘art for arts sake’ and would be defined by what it is as opposed to what it does.
The production of guerrilla art is focused on cause and effect, not the material piece itself. It aims to produce an effect within the minds of those people who live within the environment being altered. It does not necessarily aim to produce meaningful art in itself.
Guerrilla artists increasingly seem to be moving towards a philosophy of painting a continuous work of art, adding to it over time as less developed elements of the piece are erased by graffiti cleaning efforts or in the battle for space. Art on canvas is not guerrilla art. Although many guerrilla artists regularly produce ‘trapped art’, they do not generally consider it to be the same thing. This has manifested itself in a wave of new canvas styles that have a guerrilla art style, but are more comprehensive and finished. Few traditional artists would create artwork intentionally meaning for it to be mass produced with little fidelity and put up with wheat paste. Many guerrilla artists hijack major branding for their own publicity and identity, often at odds with the brand itself. This can be seen with D*Face's hijacking of the Walt Disney signature.
It's not a movement that attempts to support or to oppose brand conditioning. It is the general public's artistic response to it.
- Banksy is an English-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director whose real identity is unknown. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world.
Early guerrilla art
In 1978 in downtown Wellington, New Zealand artist Barry Thomas, in collaboration with Chris Lipscombe, Hugh Walton and others, planted 180 cabbages "on the demolished Duke of Edinburgh/Roxy Theatre site in the centre of Wellington. This cabbage patch, planted in such a way as to spell the word CABBAGE immediately captured the imagination of both the media and the public and engendered a flurry of other activities on the site, culminating in a week-long festival... when the cabbages were ceremonially harvested." While a work of conceptual sculpture, this intervention is also an early example of Guerrilla art and guerilla gardening in New Zealand. Thomas' work remained for six months, "astonishingly unvandalised, as a living, breathing sculpture in the heart of the city."  Christina Barton writes in the following months, "it captured the hearts and minds of Wellingtonians, who followed the growth of the cabbages, adding their own embellishments to the site, and contributed to the week of festivities (with poetry readings, performances, and the distribution of free coleslaw) that celebrated their harvest", describing the work as "a provocation to the local council and the city's developers". Thomas' documentation of the project was recently purchased by New Zealand's national gallery Te Papa, who described the work as an "important moment in New Zealand’s art and social history" with links to the "Occupy movement, urban farming and guerrilla gardening".
Artistic movements are responsive. This movement is a response to the ever increasing power and importance of the brand in everyday life. Developed, inner-city environments are where both branding and guerrilla art flourish. This is not coincidental.
The most important development in the street art movement and the reason for its 'guerrilla' tag is the adoption of guerrilla marketing techniques over traditional artistic methods. The use of guerrilla marketing methods to create ‘artistic publicity’ has seen the evolution away from artists as creative individuals and towards artists as brands.
It is this branding and the profound effect it has upon the minds of the general public that drives the guerrilla art movement.
- "The Banksy Paradox: 7 Sides to the World's Most Infamous Street Artist[permanent dead link], 19 July 2007
- Harper, Jenny; Lister, Aaron. Wellington: A City for Sculpture.
- "The Artists' Co-op: Barry Thomas; Eva Yuen; Ian Hunter; Ross Boyd; Terry Handscombe; Robin White"
- "‘Vacant lot of cabbages’ documentation enters Te Papa’s archives"