Thursday, 23 August 2012

NZ Street Art Series by Milton Springsteen

"Not So Square" by NZ street artist Milton Springsteen

NZ street artist Milton Springsteen's reworks of famous NZ paintings demonstrates more than a casual appreciation of NZ art history - as you can see shown in the pictures that illustrate this article.  Springsteen's "Corrupt Classics" is the first series of street art style prints that reference the artistic traditions of NZ on the New Zealand market. The selection of artworks to parody from painters such as Dick Frizzell, Bill Hammond and Robin White has got us wondering about the background of the artist known as Milton Springsteen.  From the beginning we were pretty certain Springsteen wasn't George Shaw (organiser of Nelson's Oi You street art festival where Springsteen's artwork first appeared) because the artists' knowledge (that veers toward reverence) of the classics of NZ painting doesn't fit with someone who has only been in NZ since 2009.  We don't think these artworks are the prints of a teenage graffiti artist either, this is someone who has studied their NZ painters carefully enough to imitate their style, a practising artist who has received their art education through the NZ school system and we'd wager at art school as well.

Street Art style Bill Hammond
Surrounded every day with the iconic works of famous NZ painters (these, after all, are exactly the kind of paintings of which reproduction fine art prints are made) the Corrupt Classics were received with delight as well as some degree of trepidation here at NZ Fine Prints.  We couldn't wait to surprise visitors to our gallery with the collision of the street art ethos and fine art, however this was mixed with anxiety at the idea of offending some of our favourite artists. Dick Frizzell?  Not worried about his reaction to "Not so Square" as he's NZ's pioneer of the notion popularized most recently by commentator Kirby Ferguson as "everything is a re-mix" and has even recently collaborated with his street artist son Otis with graffiti style paintings in the "Blockbusters" show, but Dame Robin White (who had recently given us permission to re-publish this fascinating interview about her early forays into printmaking), what was she going to think about her Maketu Fish & Chip shop apparently vandalised in "Fries with That"?

However after contemplating this series of street art style re-mixes released by the artist known as Milton Springsteen in our gallery for several weeks now our conclusion is not that s/he is sneering at these classic NZ paintings, Springsteen is, well, simply remixing them, to "cast sharp light on the anomolies of the modern world."  To us it's humorous (we smirk especially at the Hammondesque "Know How, Can Do") and the prints humour echoes the surprising lightness in the social commentrary of fellow street artist Banksy, whose revolutionary use of wit was as clear a break from the previously rather heavy (agressive/macho) grafitti scene in Bristol as was his use of stencils.

NZ Street Art collides with NZ Fine Art in "Fries with That"
Street artists have a tradition of anonymity due to the illegal nature of urban art, it's self-defeating to sign with a tag that is your own name if you are breaking the law. Unmasking the artists behind street art nom de plumes is not in the spirit of the game. Now we stock prints of his work we are often asked Who is Banksy? and although this writer knows the answer telling people is like revealing the murderer before someone goes to see a whodunit, the tiny thrill of sharing something you know and they don't is not worth spoiling the show. So, yes, we think we know exactly who NZ street artist Milton Springsteen is but we are not telling!

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