Oxygen’s newest reality art competition is pulling art from the gallery and taking it to the streets. In a move to make art accessible to everyone, and bring beauty to public spaces, the Street Art Throwdown elevates street art from vandalism to value.
The competition pits 10 of the country’s most promising artists against each other in a series of physically and demanding challenges. The battle takes the artists to the streets of Los Angeles where the head to exciting locations like tunnels and bridges to create public, unexpected artwork.
I chatted with the show’s host executive producer, host, and co-judge, Justin BUA — a legend in the world of street art. He also taught drawing at USC for over a decade, and he relishes his role as a mentor in the street art scene. “A lot of the perception of the culture is that it’s bad, it’s taboo, it’s vandalism,” He says. “I come from a street art background and growing up in New York City I saw a billion murals. We really wanted to show the world that this is a beautiful, educated culture, and that it really is the epitome of culture.” BUA is seeing some of that acceptance coming from high profile artists like Banksy, whose guerrilla-style art pops up and has an immediate draw.
We met at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, where several of the show’s participants were creating mini-works of art, known as “taggies” for the gathered journalists. As we watched the artists create masterpieces from spray cans, we talked about how street art has changed the way that people look at art in public spaces. BUA and co-judge Lauren Wagner, a pop and street art expert, told me that where once, art on the side of the building was seen as an eyesore or a scourge, now colorful murals help build a community by creating objects of beauty that residents protect and preserve.
I was lucky enough to have a taggie created for me by artist Ivan Preciado, whose street name is “Gath.” The 19-year-old is the youngest and admittedly the least experienced in the competition, but he has an eagerness and excitement for art that is contagious. Preciado admits that he learned art by doing graffiti in 4th grade with his older brother, but his attraction to street art wasn’t the deed, but rather the words. “I love letters,” he says. “I’ve always loved them. I love making letters bend and dance.”
As he sprayed my taggie, he revealed, “My experience on Street Art Throwdown was amazing. I loved it so much. It was crazy doing all of the challenges, It was like, ‘Run here!’ then we’d hop a fence, and run somewhere else. Jump over something else. And then you’d get to your spot. It was a roller coaster!”
Preciado is not only an artist; he’s an art student, majoring in graphic design in college and thinks that the changing sentiment of public art will encourage future generations of artists. “When younger kids get into it, they’re not going to get into trouble,” he says. “They’re not going to think of street art as, ‘Having to prove myself to my friends,’ and get caught up, and get tickets, and get into fights. They can think, ‘Maybe I can be like the guys on Street Art Throwdown — they’re professional artists. They’re getting paid, and traveling around the world.’ It’s going to change the future of art. I think there will be less illegal graffiti, and you’ll have a lot more legit street artists.” Preciado compares the newfound acceptance of street art as an art form to the change in public opinion of hip hop once if found play on the radio. “Once it was brought it to the light, it became legitimate,” he says.
Preciado explained that the work he created for me is from the San Francisco hand style. “When you think of tagging, and tags, we call them ‘hand styles’ and hand styles differ based on where an artist is from. Where I’m from, the hand styles are very jagged, sharp, they have an evil look to it. San Francisco has a very fun, funky feel to it.” Preciado signs his tags as GathONE, from the JHF crew, or the “Just having Fun” crew of artists.
Street Art Throwdown Premieres Feb. 3, 9pm ET on Oxygen
Images © Andrew Eccles/Oxygen
Freeze taggie: courtesy Kellie Freeze