Street art in Williamsburg has become embedded in the consciousness of the neighborhood. It’s easy to walk down a given street and stroll past several pieces of art without even knowing. According to street art guide David Meade, it’s because the medium of street art can be as grandiose as a wall painting or as subtle as stickers with interesting graphics.
“Medium is an important part [of the tour], because you want to talk about stickers, what’s using spray paint, what’s using house paint, what’s considered graffiti, what’s considered street art,” he explained. “You have to draw distinctions so that people understand.”
Meade, a former project manager for a construction company was laid off in December, and began his tours in March. Through word of mouth, the excursions have become increasingly popular, mostly among tourists.
Meade was heavily influenced by the street culture of graffiti and Hip-Hop in his native Bronx, and developed a passion for photographing what he saw. “I think of street art as almost a separate movement that came into its own maybe 10 or 15 years ago. It uses a lot of stuff like printing techniques and stuff that’s developed in the studio. It also has less of a street element and more of an artsy background.”
The tour takes in a loop around the North and South sides of Williamsburg, walking at a good pace and never lingering too long on one piece in the interest of squeezing in as much art as possible. Meade usually starts a tour by pointing out different artists whose work is ubiquitous in the area, gradually familiarizing his group with certain tags and styles. C215 for instance, is a French stencil artist who does portraits of marginalized people, such as orphans. His work is recognizable by his signature, the letter C over the numbers 215 in the shape of a box. Others like Roa, an artist from Belgium, use animals as their muse. A giant painting of a squirrel on the side of a building with its tail curved around the window is a prime example of an artwork deftly integrated into its space.
Meade speaks in a loose, nonchalant manner, but when he riffs on particular artists, it is clear that he is no mere novice posing as an amateur tour guide. He can effortlessly pair artwork with artist, even when no signature is visible, and he can often reveal at least a few nuggets of background information about each piece. He said he has made a conscious effort to understand the artwork beyond a purely visceral level, while also learning when to guide in silence.
“I’m starting to build my vocabulary with the repetition of doing the tour,” he said. “I want to tighten up what I understood but also push it deeper and try to understand it better. Sometimes the piece speaks for itself. I would try to explain it, but people are smart and they can interpret it themselves.”
Meade runs his tours every Saturday at 2:30pm, but also arranges private appointments as well. The tour costs $20 and runs for roughly two hours. For more information, visit www.streetartwalk.com.
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