Variations on a Theme: Street Art in Berlin and its lessons for Data Murals

This week I visited Berlin for the first time and excitedly signed up for a four-hour street art walking tour.  The guide, a graffiti writer himself, took us to see some of the most important examples of graffiti and street art and explained the methods, the graphics and the politics of street art across the city.

Many of the pieces that we saw were political commentary, referencing the merging of East and West Berlin, wealth,

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environmental degradation,

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and  immigration.

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Others probably had a political message, but were harder for me to understand. The graffiti writing and tagging can be political too, but often on a smaller, more community-specific scale.

The day before my art tour I’d walked along the “East Side Gallery”, a length of the Berlin Wall that was painted entirely in murals by artists from around the world.  What struck me as I walked along, from one mural to the next, was how many different styles of painting can be effective at telling the same story.  All with the similar messages of peace and reconciliation, or reflections on the division of the city, the styles ranged from cartoon to photo-realism, clean and flat to stippled figures, hand prints to careful representation. Each of those many styles worked, in their context, to convey the artist’s message.  It was hard to tell whether the variety was because each artist always works in his or her own personal style and so many artists had been involved, or whether the style and technique for each image had been chosen by the artist as the best way to tell that particular story.

Here’s a small sampling:

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While digging through dusty boxes in the basement recently I came across an exercise from my High School art class. We were asked to take one image and paint it in the style of many different artists.  Though challenging, it pushes your own stylistic tendencies and forces you to practice multiple techniques.  Each of the styles produces a unique effect.

When I’ve worked on data mural designs this year I’ve left each collaborative design workshop with sketches and ideas developed by the group. It’s been my job to combine and refine them to create a cohesive image. I’ve then brought that image to the group with a number of potential color schemes.

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Through the four pilot projects I’ve kept the style clean and flat to make it easier to paint as a group.  However, after seeing the variety of styles that can lend such different tones to the murals in Berlin that all deal with the same theme, I think I’ll now start to bring data mural designs back to the group in different styles as well as different colors to let the group decide which one is most effective for telling their story and which one is most appropriate for the space where it will be painted.  Wish me luck!

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