Whenever I am in Johannesburg I am on a mission that usually involves shopping, wining and dining. I never have enough time to go sightseeing. On this visit, I determined to explore more of the Johannesburg Street Art scene. I looked for an expert to enlighten me and the natural choice was Jo Buitendach of Past Experiences.

 

Betty Fox - Falko
Betty Fox – Falko

Falko is one of the forerunners of graffiti in South Africa. He has a unique style and has worked for more than 25 years to establish graffiti as a credible visual art form.

 

Jo is clearly passionate about what she does. She gives back to the community in numerous ways and as we walk through the streets there are smiles and greetings from people along the way. She knows many of the artists personally and some of them have partnered with her on the tours as well. Knowing the artists gives her an insight into their work that allows you to discover their journey and the motivation behind the art. She points out little details and suddenly there is a light bulb moment when you also understand the story.

 

Street art in Johannesburg Mars
Night time nature – Mars

Mars is one of the city’s most prolific artists. His signature is the use of bright colours and a look at the lighter side of life.

 

What Is Graffiti?

Within street art, there are numerous subcultures. Graffiti is often thought of as defacement of property, but even so, it has a message. It might just be a name or a political commentary by those who want to influence public opinion or it could be a territorial statement. Sometimes it is simply a personal message. It is a way to have a public voice and give back something at the same time.

It can essentially be categorized in 3 forms:

Tags – this is the writer’s signature

Throw-ups – two coloured outlined text

Pieces – the riotous colourful murals

Artists refer to themselves as “writers”. Even then there is a hierarchal system amongst the writers which Jo explains as we continue on our tour.

 

Mr Morris Tag
Tag

If you look at this tag carefully you will see the letters in the tag forming the writer’s name. It’s there a couple of times!

 

What is Johannesburg Street Art?

Johannesburg street art is mostly about smaller scale pieces. There are stencils, stickers and wraps, but most of the work is tags. As we walk through Maboneng it is wonderful to see the edgy urban regeneration of the area. It is fast becoming the trendiest part of the city to explore.

Jo defines 2 categories of the art we see as we walk. Public art is more formal, paid for and commissioned usually by the government or large corporations while street art and graffiti are sometimes commissioned or happily permitted in places like the precinct we are exploring.

 

Mandela - Freddy Sam
Mandela – Freddy Sam

Freddy Sam’s Nelson Mandela tribute mural took just 4 days to complete and is 10 storeys high and was a commissioned work.

 

Artists from around the world and all over South Africa are finding that they are able to express themselves freely in Johannesburg. A new creative generation is looking at art differently which promises an exciting future for the city.

 

Mama Afrika - Steve ESPO Powers
Mama Afrika – Steve ESPO Powers

New York street artist Steve ESPO Powers is renowned for his unique typographic style. “Mama Afrika” celebrates the city.

 

Even though it is a contentious topic in South Africa local street artists are gaining recognition both here and internationally. Large corporates and brands like Adidas and Ray-Ban are jumping on the bandwagon and injecting vast sums of cash into the city and using street artists for their advertising.

 

Johannesburg Street Art - Leaping Leopard - Sonny
Leaping Leopard

 

 

 

 

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23 COMMENTS

  1. I have seen the street art of Johannesburg before but the tour adds a lot of context. I love both the grand scale and vivid colors the artists use in their work. In particular, I like the shading that creates a 3-d effect so the image jumps off the building.

    • There is so much skill around that you otherwise would not be exposed to. I also love the bright colours that pop off the walls and buildings.It is such a wonderful way of spending a few hours exploring the street art.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post! I love street art of any form. Of course graffiti is a defacement of property but it also showcases the hidden talents in the city. In Mumbai the authorities have ear-marked walls where people are encouraged to paint!

  3. That tall Nelson Mandela looks towering – as he should be in South Africa. I am amazed that the artist took just 4 days to finish a 10-storey mural that too when it is a portrait of one of is leaders. Lovely story of artists who make the city look pretty. Most of the times they remain just the tags with no story known to the world, so Jo is doing a great job by telling their stories.

  4. I’m a big fan of street art around the world – it must have been great to have an expert like Jo show you around and point out all the details you normally would miss. I can’t believe that the Mandela tribute mural took only 4 days to finish!

  5. Well, I certainly learned a few things about street art today. I had no idea there was so much information behind the artists (writers) or the different types of art. I’m always looking for good street art around the world, and I’ll be visiting Joburg soon, since this is the country my dad grew up in. Thanks for the information!

  6. I love street art, and it’s always a pleasure finding it in every city we visit. I haven’t been on a tour, but it sounds like Jo was able to add a lot of value to your street art experience. It’s interesting that big corporations are now getting in on the scene and utilising an art form which is, in essence, rebellious!

    • Big money is obviously starting to realise that many people like and admire street art so they are cashing in. It is also interesting that the style of their advertising fits the street art ethos very well.

  7. I love street art! I took a tour in Bogota which was amazing, it is great to get an insight into what the art really means – I love looking at it but you do realise there is so much more to the art than just pretty pictures. I’m glad it is becoming more acceptable beacuse it really is art – I don’t like the tags and ‘mess’ that some people leave, but actually works of art like this help to brighten up the city and are important modern art works for sure!

  8. I believe that street art is becoming more acceptable and it is an expression of today’s contemporary art.- Agreed on to that. In the city where I lived for months, it’s also becoming more popular, in fact, it becomes an attraction for Instagram people which is cute by the way. This street art in Johannesburg is gratifying, especially that Mandela one. It only proves that people are truly creative.

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