Spray Where You Are: Sweden’s Top Graffiti Artist

| May 23, 2015

Image: Youtube

Words by Miranda Hine

SO  you probably don’t associate the clean, polite, blonde streets of Stockholm with a burgeoning graffiti scene, right? Well, you may be surprised to learn that Sweden has one of the most liberal policies on graffiti in Europe, and it’s producing some big names in the international street art scene.

Nug (real name Magnus Gustafsson) is arguably Sweden’s biggest name in graffiti art. His graffiti began in the 1990s with his crew Vandals In Motion and he now works as a solo artist. His work strays from traditional styles of graffiti, using spray paint to cover walls with gestural patterns. The end effect is a sort of mess of squiggles covering the surface. What I find most interesting about Nug is what walls he chooses to paint; inside as well as out.

Nug is an interesting example of a link between street art and the commercial art market. His work has been selected for display in galleries and museums around the world, but it remains socially defiant at its core. He’s certainly not out to please.

Image: Thrld

Like any graffiti artist, Nug has generated mixed opinion on his work, including some harsh judgements. The Swedish Minister for Culture claimed that Nug’s work was simply ‘not art’, while the Finnish Minister for Culture apparently purchased one of his pieces. Nug’s Master of Arts degree included a video of a man spray-painting the inside of a train (entitled Territorial Pissing), which brought great criticism to both the artist and his university. However you look at it, Nug is certainly drawing attention.

So where does his spontaneous, unfamiliar style of graffiti fit into the broader canon of art and street art?

In its aesthetic and how it’s physically created, it could be said that Nug’s work has more in common with the action painting and Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s (think Pollock & Krasner) than it does with traditional styles of graffiti. Having said this, the action painters certainly fuelled their fair share of controversy in their rejection of realistic depiction. This fuelling of debate seems key to the aims of Nug’s work as well.

Image: Ever Fresh Studio

The political theorist Chantal Mouffe uses the term ‘agonism’ to mean the production of true democracy through argument and debate in the public sphere. I can’t help but think that Nug feels a need to keep this disagreement alive, by dividing people with his work, as a means of questioning the standards of the art world and society in general.

In terms of the street art canon, Nug seems to fit into the post-graffiti movement, which has formed as a digression from the traditional model of New York graffiti writing. Post-graffiti has a complex relationship with the gallery and museum sphere. This is obvious when we consider, for example, Banksy having solo shows at Sotheby’s galleries. This is in complete juxtaposition with the original intent of graffiti as a means to connect with the public without the gallery intermediary. Nug fits somewhere into this newly emerging, intricate relationship between graffiti and the gallery. Who knows where it’s headed from here?

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Category: ART, FEATURED, MUSIC, Uncategorized

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