The notion of street art emerged in the early 1980s with the aim to bring art to the streets. Although the American Galen Gibson-Cornell is inspired by street aesthetics and urban discourse, he subverts this idea by working with entities from the streets that are not normally considered art and takes them into a gallery context. His main interest lies in analysing political ideology, biased advertising and the characters of a certain city, all shown through his reassessment and interpretation of posters.
Galen Gibson-Cornell found his way to art through music. He was raised in a musical family and played the viola from a very early age. During his time in high school the repetitive process of practising the instrument turned into the pleasure of drawing and producing artwork. “The wonderful feeling that I got when I finished an image has always been a driving force for me,” he says.
Hence creating something worthwhile and not fleeting has become more exciting for him and he started his journey to become an artist. He attended Truman State University in Missouri and the University of Wisconsin, where he developed further knowledge of his main interest, print-making.
“My classical training had a great influence on me as an artist. Spending time with learning how to work a pencil or a paintbrush is like an exercise of learning to see the world in a different way,” Gibson-Cornell adds. Even though he does not use the exact methods of drawing any more, he exploits the foundation of these skills. Being able to see critically and notice things that other people might not is crucial in his occupation.
Gibson-Cornell’s recent projects mainly revolve around the idea of using posters as an art form. “Posters for me have come out of my general interest in prints. I was always intrigued by print as something that was one image but then reproduced, and in that reproduction it’s allowed to be spread throughout the world.
“So each of those prints then have their own lives in other parts of the world. Moreover I was interested in what happens to posters when they’re put up on the walls, when they begin to deteriorate due to weather or to passers-by. I’m particularly intrigued by that moment when the function of the poster disappears.
“When this happens I think there’s room for some aesthetic reading or there’s a possibility for something else to be read into what happens to the poster. My operating question is, ‘What’s the value of posters and what can we learn about our cities and our societies by examining the structures behind poster advertising?’,” he explains.
Before moving to Budapest, he researched the effects of posters and the attitudes of artists during political troubles such as the Nazi Occupation in France. “I was looking at photographs which were taken on the day of the liberation and one of them depicted old women attacking these propaganda posters, ripping them down and painting them over. It became a very vigorous symbol of finally having the power to strike back, even if only this way.”
This balance of the powerful and powerless certainly can be sensed in his art as well. “Also, the fact that I knew that street where the posters were and that it is still there today fascinated me. The same wall that recorded those actions is still recording Muse concerts or political posters now, and through that, history became really apparent.”
Eventually the vibrant historical-political circumstances manifested in street art attracted him to continue his mission in Budapest.
Gibson-Cornell first came to Budapest a few years ago mainly out of curiosity and was immediately blown away by the city’s vibrant youth culture and interesting history. During his first visit he became interested in the posters that covered the walls of ruin pubs, of which he took photographs and continued working on them in the US.
“When I left Budapest for the first time I felt the urge to return so I applied for a Fulbright scholarship, which provided me with the basis of my work and also motivated me to continue.”
His artwork is greatly derived from his encounter in cities, and living in Budapest provided him not only with a wonderful experience but also served as a source for his work. While living in Hungary he was associated with the Hungarian University of Fine Arts and Printa where he worked as a screen-printing assistant.
“Having affiliation in both the academic and the creative sphere was really important to me and I believe my work reflects this mixture,” he says. Being an expat also influenced his way of relating to art. “I don’t have more than one year of experience of thinking and working with Hungarian politics. People start to tone out things that always surround them and being an outsider gives me a unique viewpoint on these political conversations and the ability to discover new things, such as the power of these posters.
“Without a strong knowledge of the language, I can concentrate on the semiotics of these posters. All I can gain from them is the emotions when people draw moustaches, write or rip. There’s emotion in them and I can read that without being blinded by the background of the situation.”
His most recent project reflects on Hungarian political discussions demonstrated by the posters of the parliamentary elections of 6 April. For months he was walking around the city photographing every time these posters showed up altered, vandalised or in their normal form, as well as taking the posters from the streets which he later used to produce his pieces.
He concentrated on District V and on the two candidates from the two major parties, Rónaszékiné Keresztes Monika and Dr. Oláh Lajos. “Politics is something of which people need to be aware. Focusing on politics or at least the way it affects average people is something that has always been very interesting to me, no matter where.
“There are some things about political campaigns and elections that are universal, like these posters or the way people have a general distaste for politics or political conversations. Just by focusing on these you can learn something very specific about Budapest, about Hungary as well as about the world and about politics.”
Gibson-Cornell’s most recent work shows the number of different approaches to these posters. With his incredible attention to detail and artistic intuition all pieces differ while also having something in common. There are pieces which show the same posters next to each other affected by different external factors such as weather or passers-by, and pieces which show posters cut into parts but arranged in a certain way to create a visual illusion. The most interesting composition is certainly the one formed as a viewing hole.
“Photography allows you to be in one place but to look at another place and that’s what I aim for in my latest work. For example I excised rectangles from this poster and I used them as viewing stations. I mounted them at a height where somebody can look through these holes and progress into the distance. Something about posters is that at one point they’re site-specific, they belong to a particular space but they’re also a universal phenomenon that belong to any city in the world.”
Although Gibson-Cornell is unsure what the future might hold for him, he certainly regards his time in Budapest as influential. “Further projects at other cities that I go to will always relate back to what I’ve learnt in Hungary. The artwork that I’ve made here will be the foundation for what I’m going to do in the future.”
Wherever his posters take him, Galen Gibson-Cornell is an artist to watch.
More at: http://galengibsoncornell.com