David Sharabani

Recently released by Schiffer is Tokyo Graffiti, a delightfully intriguing and wonderfully informative survey of  Tokyo’s current street art and graffiti scene documented by London-born photographer David Sharabani aka Lord K2. After reading the book, I posed a few questions to Lord K2:

You’ve documented urban art in several cities and have previously published a book on Santiago’s rich street art scene.  What drew you to Tokyo?

Tokyo’s street art scene has never been documented and published before in a book of this format, and its urban art is relatively overlooked by locals and tourists alike. The walls and streets are so pristine and well-organized — many with an abundance of logos and commercials – that you may get the impression that street art is not needed. But when well-placed and in the right context, it enhances Tokyo’s well-planned and maintained architectural surroundings.

Also, I saw this book as a challenge. I was in Tokyo photographing the Sumo wrestling culture. The majority of my time was spent handling bureaucratic paperwork, and out of frustration and impatience, I decided to hit the streets. Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure there would be enough art out there to justify a book. But the more I dug in, the more hidden gems I discovered. Since Tokyo’s graffiti is not so apparent, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a book of some of the most significant pieces in one format to be viewed easily.

How does Tokyo’s street art and graffiti scene differ from other cities you’ve visited?

Regarding graffiti and art that is often regarded as vandalism, it’s not in the nature of Japanese to vandalize, rebel or speak up. Their economy functions well; there is virtually no street crime, and the education system is excellent. It seems that there is not too much to protest about. Also, conformism is an integral part of the Japanese way. Going against the flow of polite dignified behavior is considered a far more extreme form of misconduct than it is in most other countries.

Another distinct difference between Tokyo and many other cities is that in Tokyo it is a nightmare-of-a-process to obtain permissions, limiting the quantity of “decorative art,” even though the quality is generally high.

There are, though, a fair amount of stickers mounted in the highly populated central neighborhoods of Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku, since these are quick and easy to put up with a minimal chance of being caught. Many of these stickers have been put up by foreigners.

What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in documenting it?

A big challenge was getting the artists to talk. They were happy to be interviewed, but cautious as to what they would reveal. It was hard to extract any juicy or emotive information. Fortunately, I was introduced to Little Pink Pills, who was already well-informed on the scene. She ended up writing the book’s text that accompanies my photos.

The other challenge was sourcing the graffiti. Even though artists would pinpoint locations, this didn’t suffice. I had to scout the streets for hours on end on my bicycle. I was inevitably much fitter for it.

Do any particular images or styles stand out to you? Any that are distinctly Japanese?

The mural that stands out most to me is one that was painted by German artist Case Maclaim. It’s a gigantic mural on the back of a building in Tennozu Isle painted for Pow! Wow! Japan depicting Sumo video game fighter E .Honda. It’s striking to see it in the distant urban scape.

Half the street art in Tokyo is painted by Westerners. They often incorporate images from popular Japanese culture such as Samurai, Geishas, Sumo, as well as comics that portray social issues. Japanese artists do not have a collective style of painting, as each individual/crew has its own distinctive style. Many of them incorporate less commercial elements of Japanese culture. For example, Usugrow blends Japanese calligraphy with pointillism and Los Angeles Cholo culture. Shizentomotel paints Namahage, a traditional Japanese folklore demon. Dragon‘s style is a fusion of graffiti, manga and ukiyo-e. Tamura Yoshiyasu, a manga artist, painter and illustrator, mixes modern manga with traditional Japanese art.

I’m so glad that you and Little Pink Pills made this book happen! Congratulations!

Photos 1 Book cover 2 Fin DAC 3 Unidentified 4 Kami and Sasu aka Hitotzuki 5 Assorted stickers 6 Little Pink Pills 7 Case Maclaim  & 8 Makoto; interview by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Okudua-street-art-on-Lafayette-David Sharabani-in-NYC

A huge fan of Lord K2’s photography and his outstanding book, Street Art Santiago, I was delighted to discover that Lord K2 has also been photographing NYC’s street art and graffiti.  During his most recent stopover in NYC, I had the opportunity to speak to him.

Why NYC?

Because it is the epicenter of it all.  It is where graffiti was born, and where the best artists from across the globe come to paint.

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Any distinct standouts?

Os Gemeos immediately comes to mind. But just about every artist who has painted on the famed Bowery wall is extraordinary. And the L.I.S.A Project, too, has brought so many first-rate artists to Manhattan.  My initial focus was just Manhattan because the borough attracts so many outstanding artists.

But you had begun to photograph beyond Manhattan.

Yes. I decided that I did not want to limit myself. And among the sites I’ve photographed outside of Manhattan are the Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria, Queens and the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn.

David-Sharabani-At-Welling Court Mural Project

Many of your photos are in black and white. Why is that?

Too much color in a book can oversaturate the senses. And when I capture the artists in action, I find that limiting the image to black and white often creates a more satisfying overall portrait.

Any particular inspirations among the photographers out there?

I was definitely inspired by Martha Cooper’s work. And the late Garry Winogrand’s photos of Manhattan have influenced my approach to street photography.

Geobany

How have the artists you’ve photographed responded to you?

They’ve all been welcoming and warm.

How long have you been working on this project?

I began two years ago  Taking my time allows me to photograph the new art works that arise which, in turn, allows me to curate from a larger selection.

Gumshoe-art-photo-David Sharabani-NYC

You spent a considerable amount of time in South America. What are some of the most striking differences between the street art scene here in NYC and what you experienced there?

I found that in South America the artists generally paint for the love of it. And making a living out of art is a bigger challenge in South America than it is here. In NYC, financial considerations come more into play, as many of the artists have more opportunities to get the attention of gallerists and collectors.  Also, in South America lines are blurred between what is legal and what is illegal. There’s a general leniency towards unsanctioned art, while here in NYC painting illegally is quite problematic.

Icy-and-Sot

Absolutely! And accessing legal walls can be quite challenging! When can we expect to see you back in NYC?

I plan to return in the summer.

That sounds great! The walls are waiting for you!

Interview by Lois Stavsky; all photos Lord K2

Images: 1. Okuda  2. Buff Monster  3. SweetCrimes  4 .Geobany  5. GumShoe & 6. Icy and Sot

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Street-Art-Santiago-.

Penned by London native David Sharabani aka Lord K2, Street Art Santiago is a fascinating foray into 14 neighborhoods within Santiago, Chile. With his stunning photography and revealing conversations with the artists, the author presents us with an intimate, striking portrait of an historic capital city.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with David and ask him a few questions.

Street Art Santiago is quite amazing.  When did you first start documenting street art?

It was in 2012. I was on vacation in Bogota, Colombia, and I was struck by the texture and quality of the pieces on the walls there.

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You’ve been quite passionate about public art since. I’m a huge fan of your site the Museum of Urban Art. What other cities have you explored?

I’ve also photographed street art in Buenos Aires, São Paulo and here in New York City.

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Why did you choose the street art in Santiago as the subject of your first book?

I discovered so many distinct styles that I loved, many representing the rich political and social history of the city.  And I also felt a special bond with the Chilean artists whom I met. They love to share walls, and they love to collaborate. They invited me to paint with them, and they are extraordinarily humble.

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You have a formal education in art. Did what you see on the streets impact your work as an artist?

Yes, after a few months in Buenos Aires, I was inspired to learn how to do stencil art. And I’ve been doing it since!

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What were some of the challenges you faced in producing this book?

I was working with an inexpensive pocket camera. I was new to graffiti and street art, so I lacked any credibility. My knowledge of Spanish was limited. And I didn’t have a clue as to how to publish a book.

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You seem to have brilliantly overcome these challenges. What’s next?

I’m off to Thailand at the end of the month where I will be documenting another kind of art, the art of Muay Thai, Thailand’s principal spectator sport.

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What about street art? Any other books on the way?

Yes, my next book will focus on the street art in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

That sounds great!  Good luck with it all!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos: 1 Piguan 2 Piri 3 Salazart 4 PiguanPiri & Guztok 5 Grin, Cubdos, Derik & Sick 6 Brillos Graffiti Crew 7 Jony

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