Tube posters attacked with chewing gum, phallic scribbles on bus stops - defacing the work of the admen might not seem like a radical idea.
But over 20 years ago, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada was starting of a revolution which did just that: subvert advertising to make anti capitalist statements using art.
It became known as 'culture jamming', and it led to the start of a global street art movement.
For his work Expectation, Rodríguez-Gerada created a portrait of Barack Obama from 650 metric tons of sand and gravel.
Cuban-American artist Rodríguez-Gerada first became sceptical of advertising when he saw the effect billboard images would have on the New Jersey and New York communities he grew up in.
A kind of Robin Hood of street art, he'd deface billboard ads in poor minority areas, taking his own stance against the ‘Man’, and get arrested a few times in the process.
In his college days, Rodríguez-Gerada, as part of the infamous Artflux and Cicada crews, would change billboards and street signs on the streets of New York. Their work was influential - anti-advertising Bible, Naomi Klein’s No Logo, dedicated an entire chapter to it.
Speaking about the early 90s, he tell HuffPost: “Our youth, and the use of parody, moved our adbusting and street art in the direction of satire and humour.”
One of the artist's giant charcoal portraits brightens a bleak landscape in Ljublijana.
“But after a while I realised that I didn’t want my body of work to eventually be seen as a long list of one liners. I started working alone and decided to focus on a 'Culture Jamming' direction that had more poetic strength.”
Like any artist, Rodríguez-Gerada has moved on, and up. But his attitudes towards the industry remain similar now.
“Advertising and marketing create a hyper reality where happiness and success become external goals to be obtained through consumption,” he says.
“These industries sell values and concepts of success, worth, love, sexuality and normalcy. They show a world in which people are rarely poor, unattractive, overweight, living with difficulty or disabled.”
One of the portraits in process in Monterrey, Spain.
“I believe that our identity should come from within and not from the brands that we wear. We should question who chooses our cultural icons and role models, our values and aesthetics.”
These attitudes remain his inspiration in his arresting public work now, which is an altogether larger affair - taking on not just advertising, but political thought too. The results are thought-provoking work, which make typical street art look like child’s play.
IDENTITY SERIES is a body of work which makes icons out of nobodies, huge charcoal portraits Rodriguez-Gerada has transferred onto centuries-old buildings. That they are ephemeral is the point.
"Once people realise that the murals are created to fade away they become contemplative. Society has become unaccustomed to think that it is worth doing a laborious task unless there is direct economic compensation.”
In contrast, Rodríguez-Gerada explored icons in his TERRESTRIAL SERIES - notably, creating Barack Obama’s face in a vast expanse of sand and gravel, an experience the artist compares to “creating a giant Mandala to pray for change but alluding to how all the hope could fade away like sand.” The work was tagged to the 2009 American Election, but made in Barcelona - Rodríguez-Gerada’s way of showing that the election outcome would change the world.
Looking to the future, his next project is to curate the ambitious Avant-Garde Urbano Festival in Spain, an event held in a town where medieval architecture contract with murals by contemporaries such as Blu, El Mac, Sixeart, Sam3 and Suso33.
"This year the town is looking forward to new murals by Escif, C215, Dran and Ripo," Rodríguez-Gerada explains.
"It´s always a great time."
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