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As the influence of Street Art, or Graffiti Art, becomes ever more popular, we are increasingly able to research and appreciate the work of professional graffiti artists who no longer have to hide from the illegality of their own creations. One of these is Norwegian born Martin Whatson who, unlike the elusive Banksy, is unafraid of working openly under his own name.

Martin Whatson (b. 1984) is of a younger generation of street artists and as such perhaps never experienced the nervous thrill of working under very strict graffiti laws, as over the years these laws have become increasingly relaxed. He only started spray painting and stenciling in 2004, when he was twenty and nearing the end of art school in Oslo, but his bright and intensely colourful works have meant he very quickly gained international recognition. It is true his pieces have a certain, unique aesthetic to them and Whatson himself feels that he hit upon this winning formula at just the right time, saying...

“I believe it’s much harder to stand out from the crowd now than 10 years ago.”

This sentiment can be also linked to the recent boom of appreciation for graffiti art, and therefore a more diverse field of graffiti artists, as 10 years ago there was not such a receptive market for art that was often seen as vulgar and detrimental. To read deeper into this genre, look no further than our article Urban Art or Street Art?

 

 

Another way in which Whatson’s blasts of colour stand out from the crowd is that the message behind his work is not one often associated with street art. Street art, as we have discussed in a previous article, is usually seen as a means of disseminating a political or controversial message to a wide, public audience (the political or often anti-political message contained both within the content of the work and the illegal act of the graffiti itself). Although Whatson has confessed that Banksy is a major influence on his work, this is more in terms of technique (his use of stencils) rather than satirical style. Whatson has consciously moved away from overtly political pieces, and instead aims at capturing a certain stylised beauty in the way that many artists aspire to using more traditional techniques. To explore the relationship of two other masters of stencilled graffiti, check out our article Is Blek le Rat still influencing Banksy?

 

 

One of Whatson’s aims is to reinvigorate ugly, urban environments and call people to question in what type of world they want to live. His trademark contrast between a grey background and a figure or scene covered head to toe in all the colours available to him, is spreding the message that we live in a grey urban world, but colour is always there if we choose to apply it. His work pertains to hope, dreams and what is possible with a little bit of vision and effort. Again, this isn’t work hidden away in museums or galleries, this is a message he sends to as many people as possible on the streets, asking them to see the social possibilities in transforming their local environment.

One of my missions is to open people’s eyes to something more than just what is perceived as the norm. I would hate a world that is not visually challenging! In my opinion we need some contrast and change in our life to see the variables and open our minds a little more.

 

 

Visually he takes a lot of inspiration from the work of Cy Twombly and José Parlá, bringing their abstract energy into the colourful layers of his compositions. Whatson’s use of colour, combined with his youthful vigour and awareness of the world we live in is also factoring into his success in other, more mercurial ways. His images are, for want of a better word, very “Instagramable”, their pop and vivid expression capturing the hearts and hashtags of people from all around the world, who otherwise might not have come across them.  

“What I find really refreshing about work on the street is that when painting it you have no guarantee how long it will stay and how many people will see it. It may disappear in a couple of days, but to me if only 10 people see it, I’m happy about it. And I will have my photos to spread the word further.”

 

The instantly recognisable style of Whatson’s work means that his photos, spread far and wide cross the internet, are fantastic ambassadors for his work and his message of spreading joy, colour and hope to places where previously there was little.

 

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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