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ABOVE (born circa 1981) has been creating public art since 1995. Above is an international street artist who chooses to deliberately keep his identity concealed. Above is known for his multitude of different mediums he paints. Above is best known for his multiple layer and full color social and political stencils, spinning wooden 'arrow mobile' installations, and large witty word play text based mural paintings. Above started traditional graffiti by tagging freight trains in California in 1995. At the age of 19, Above moved to Paris, France where he started painting his trademark arrow icon pointing 'above.' Since 2001 Above has self financed annual tours around the world, with each tour exploring a new part of the world and often a new medium or style of artwork. During the past 10 years Above has been successful in painting artworks in the streets of 90+ cities in 60+ different countries around the world.
Above was born and raised in California by hippie parents. He states that art and music were practiced and encouraged by both parents at an early age. At fifteen year old Above started spray painting the letters A-B-O-V-E on freight trains in California. Three years later Above transitioned from painting traditional letter graffiti to an arrow symbol that pointed 'above.' In an interview he stated that he thought it was useless to paint the side of a fast moving train with letters if nobody could read it. Above said he wanted something that could be seen and understood in a fraction of a second regardless of how fast it was moving.
In 2001 at the age of 19 years old Above moved from California to Paris, France. At that time in Europe and in particular Paris, France there was a new movement called 'street art.' Paris was home to early pioneering street artists like Zevs, Invader, Stak, Honet, and Andre as well as Above. Above as well as the other Parisian artists were making new styles of street art that were heavily based on a character or artist logo instead of the former or traditional ways of letter based graffiti. In 2003 Above moved from Paris to California where he started his hanging wooden arrow mobiles which seemed to be the start of Above's following years of very frequent travels and art tours.
A chronological list of Above's travels and artworks
With the previous years success and innovation of Above's arrow mobile project, the artist went ever farther and more impressive with his works and self titled "U.S.A. Tour" in 2004. He drove 5,000 miles (8,000 km) across the United states hanging 300 plus arrow mobiles in 14 major
cities. Such cities as; San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York City, and Detroit. It was in during Above's U.S.A. tour that he introduced his word play of using a word on each side of the spinning arrows to make a dialog. The emotions a person could feel from seeing these words used together can range greatly, Above generated many newspaper interviews from the cities he visited and hung his arrow mobiles. Maybe the most popular question was how Above was able to hang his arrow mobiles so high up, 'I value and respect that
we all have imaginations and for me to interfere with what your imagination is creating, or thinking, would be wrong.' Above continued to state 'Each person has their own ideas, and each idea holds its validity. No answer is wrong or absurd. This mentality corresponds and relates directly with the arrows as a whole. The arrows' subtle presence high 'above' a city has much potential to evoke a curiosity as to What? Why? Who?'
Having finished the very prolific "U.S.A. tour" Above now focused taking his artworks back to Europe for his self titled "European tour." Above was asked in an interview why he did not hang his arrow mobiles in Europe in 2005 after the successful U.S.A. tour? his is quoted saying "In the United States there are an almost infinite amount of overhead telephone wires and street cables. However I was unsure of how the different European countries "overhead" wires and supports were so I decided to evolve the wooden arrow's I made in Paris in 2002 and focus on putting these on elevated walls around Europe while at the same time observing and researching more about the overhead wires in all the countries I visit." Above traveled to 15 countries during his 4-month long European tour and put his now larger wooden fabric arrows in the capital city streets. "I counted over 500+ wooden arrows I brought with me from California to London to start off the European tour. By the end, 4-months later in Reykjavik, Iceland I had only 20 or so wooden arrow left with me." Above says in a later interview about his 2006 "Sign language tour" that "The 2005 European tour was very helpful for me to see first hand how many of the 15 countries I went to had overhead supports for the future "sign language tour." After the completion of Above's European tour he flew back to the United States to eagerly start working on his future tour, the "sign language tour."
Above returned to California from traveling Europe for 4-months. Above said in a magazine interview 'as soon as I returned home to California I was already cutting wood and gathering supplies for the most challenging and enduring tour I envisioned.' Above was planning his self titled 'sign language tour' a 6-month long tour around 26 countries in Europe. Above and fellow traveler Ripo counterfeited Eurail train tickets to allow them such long travels around Europe. Above credits much of his success to his friends and "street art" community who took invited him to their country, and homes. Above's said his sign language tour was his longest and most prolific tour to date traveling Europe for 6-months long visiting 26 countries. The sign language arrows were made from wood, fabric glued onto the wood, then stenciled with a four letter word on each side of the wooden arrow mobile. Above's sign language tour focused almost exclusively on his wordplay sign language arrows. Above is quoted saying 'sign language is a form of communication using movements instead of sound. I found a lot of charm and power knowing that the arrow mobiles when hung are constantly moving around, most of all spinning around and around. It made logical sense to paint 1-word on each face of the arrow so conceptually speaking when the wind would spin the arrow mobile there would be a small word play dialog to anyone who looked at it." Above customized arrows to certain countries language such as French (J'ai/faim, chez/vous), Spanish (Hace/sol, como/esta) German (uber/alle) and Italian (ciao/ciao)"
In 2007 Above's artworks expanded from his smaller word play's he was using on his wooden arrow mobiles during his then sign language tour into larger painted wordplays. During Above's sign language tour he was working specifically with smaller words in conjunction with each other. Above said that after his sign language tour the previous year he wanted to keep making word play statements but with more elaborated words and in a sentence form. He continued to say in the interview that he wanted to return to painting letters as he used to when he was younger doing traditional graffiti but instead of painting his name he said he wanted to paint word plays that were site specific and the viewer could easily read and connect with. Above, like many of his past self financed tours was preparing his tour and to travel a long distance for upwards of 5 months long. "I returned to California from Europe in November of 2006 from the sign language tour. I had already known at that point that I still was very interested in using witty and site specific word plays as the body of my work. I just wanted to make them longer with 4-9 words painted in somewhat of a punchline format." Above prepared for his soon self titled "south central tour" in South and Central America's. Above worked in a restaurant in Alaska as a waiter for 4-months in 2007 to save enough money for his future 5-month long south central tour. Above invited Rodrigo Lopez and fellow artist "Ripo" to join him along the south central tour. While the 2 artists were making their own artworks along this tour Mr Lopez was to focus on the blog and documentation of the journey. Travel documenter Rodrigo Lopez said that Above, Ripo, and himself were to begin their travels in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and move down and over to Argentina, followed by Chile and navigate the groups way up through South and Central America ending 5-months later in Mexico City. A total of 18 countries are planned for this trip. No one is quite sure what will happen but we will certainly be able to read it on the walls of the cities and the pages of this blog."South central tour" Although Above did not attain the original goal of 18 countries along his southcentral tour, he was able to travel and paint in 13 countries within a 5000+ mile distance from start to finish.
Above's "south central tour" started in October, 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and ended six months later in April, 2008 in Mexico City, Mexico. While in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2008 Above started to expand his word play paintings into larger sentences instead of his previous 2 word, wordplays. He said that his street works have been an evolution from the previous years works and was excited to paint larger word plays with more meaning and a site specific feeling behind them." Spanish artist El Tono and Above were robbed at gunpoint while both were painting in Buenos Aires. Above seemed to bounce back from this negative start to 2008 as he continued to travel and paint larger wordplays in Santiago, Chile, Lima, Peru, Bogota, Colombia, Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica, Guatemala City, Guatemala, and the final destination of Mexico City, Mexico.
After the completion of the south central tour Above was invited to go Europe to participate in the first annual Fame Festival in southern Italy. In May, Above composed a 10 minute video called South Central tour showcasing many of the paintings and experiences he did along his south central tour featured on New york city based website Wooster Collective
During the summer of 2008 Above was invited to the 1st annual Fame Festival in the south of Italy. While painting along side other artists such as Blu, Ethos, and Connor Harrington. It was in Lisbon, Portugal later that summer that Above painted his "Giving to the poor" stencil commenting on social issues of homelessness. Above is quoted on his website "Every day I walked by this bank atm machine and this particular homeless woman was sitting in the same place every day begging for money. I found it sadly ironic that just six feet away from here there were people lining up to withdraw money. The obvious social and economic clash inspired me to make this piece." Later in December 2008 Above decided to make a giclee non-profit art print where 100% of all the profits were to be donated to 2 homeless shelters.In October 2008, Above returned to his home in California, USA and continued to evolve with his stencils. During the month of October, 2008 the New york stock exchange took a drastic crash, making many businesses go bankrupt. One U.S. bank in particular, Washington Mutual especially was effected so hard the bank had to file bankruptcy. Above stenciled on the exterior of a Washington Mutual bank a replication of the NYSE bar graph with a downward sloping red line that went all the way down into the street gutter, mimicking the same results that occurred just a few days prior on the New York Stock Exchange. Above's word play artworks from 2008 and stencil works appeared to address and comment on more social, political, and time sensitive current affairs.
On Valentine's Day Above stenciled "First love." This situation depicts a young girl blowing hearts to what can be assumed as her "first love" who is jumping in the air trying to grab a hold of the young girl's floating heart(s)."First love" video In April Above addressed the issue and then current scandal of the US company A.I.G. and how they took millions of American tax payers money to reward themselves. Above created a stencil situation with 4 different children searching for "Easter AIG's""Easter A.I.G. hunt" video
In May 2009 Above started another tour around Europe for 4-months. That tour does not seem to have a title as with most of Above's previous self titled tours, but judging by his artworks he was focused on his political and social stencil works. Above painted and installed a piece in Copenhagen, Denmark titled "The naked truth" "The naked truth" video where he incorporated an unused cage in the street to create a shower scene. One month later Above painted a social and political stencil piece directly on the Berlin Wall. Above created a multiple layer, and color site specific stencil that is a distinct visual style from other popular stencil artists like Banksy,Dolk,and Logan Hicks. In August 2009 Above starts a benevolent project involving the homeless population of Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. "What I noticed upon my arrival to Portland less than 3-months ago was the abnormally large amount of homeless people sleeping on sidewalks and under the many bridges here in Portland. I wanted to address and draw more attention to the homeless crisis here in Portland. I wanted to learn more about this homeless epidemic by listening directly to the homeless community on an individual person to person level. During the month of November, 2009 I rode my bike around Portland wanting to listen to homeless individuals that wanted to share their story and suggestion on what shelters really help out with services as well as where I should donate the money fund raised from this "Homeless not hopeless" print.
In January 2010 Above went to La Havana, Cuba to make a site specific stencil commenting on the recent earthquakes in the neighboring country of Haiti
Above is quoted saying in the text of his video he made about this piece " Cuba is less than 90 miles (140 km) away from Haiti making them very close neighbors. The young and courageous neighbor is embarking to Haiti to help out those who have fallen victim. The recent earthquakes in Haiti has taken over 230,000 innocent lives, wounded 300,000 and made 1,200,000 people homeless. "Help thy neighbor" video
Persuaded by friend and fellow artist, Blek le Rat, Above and Blek le Rat did a duo indoor gallery show together at the White Walls Gallery in San Francisco on May 1, 2010. This was the first and only time Above has ever worked inside a gallery space. White Walls wrote this about Above "Above has devoted the past 8 years to creating street art in 45 countries around the world, refusing to take his focus off the streets even for gallery exhibitions. It is only because of Blek le Rat’s strong desire to show alongside him that Above finally conceded to his premier indoor exhibition. Transitions is based on three themes from his outdoor works: sign language arrow mobiles, wordplay murals, and colorful figurative stencils. The overarching sentiment is one of optimism, honor, overcoming struggle, and a desire to rise above."
Above flew to Los Angeles in July and hung his celebrity arrow mobiles from overhead wires around the Hollywood district. The celebrity images seen on the arrow mobiles was a new addition to his works and transition from his previous word play to close up face shots of famous Hollywood celebrities. "Above: Hollywood" video After hanging arrows in Los Angeles Above was invited to New York City to start a new project called Gatescapes. Above was invited to paint a dozen roll down metal store front shutters in Manhattan.
In August Above was invited to participate in Concrete Playground and flew to the west German city of Essen where he painted indoor and outdoor works.
In September Above was in Paris, France and did a site specific stencil that was of an art thief stealing a Banksy canvas. Above did an appropriation of a former stencil done by the English stencil artist Banksywhere as the rat was depicted painting the new phrase 'because now i'm worth it." The video is here where Above explains more about the piece and meaning behind it. "Because now I'm worth it" video
After his stencils in Paris, Above went to Berlin, Germany to paint what seems to be perceived as a self depiction of him (a hitchhiker) and his lifestyle of being addicted to painting and traveling. Above made a quick video showing the piece and is quoted saying "I have travel addition problems and can't stop painting or traveling for more than a few weeks before going crazy." "Looking 4 ride...anywhere!!" video
in early January, 2011 Above flew to Australia for his self titled 'Down under' tour. That same month the northern city of Brisbane, Australia was flooded with intense summer rains. Above decided to fly from Sydney to Brisbane to make some site specific stencils around the situation of the Brisbane floods. "I tried my best not to make fun at this drastic and horrific situation but instead to empathize and portray just how serious and large the scale of these floods had been with the relative depiction of Noah's ark being sunk due to the floods. In February Above did his first Australian solo show in Sydney. The show's title was 'Here today gone tomorrow' and all the artworks were based around life, death and the fast paced world we live in. Above's older brother had died in an accidental car crash just 3 months prior and the solo show's works and theme dealt with the fragility of life, death and how important it is to live each day to the fullest.
"The statement ‘Here today gone tomorrow’ has been ringing in my head like a fucking broken record with no DJ to stop it. The skipping record keeps playing over and over getting louder and louder with each new rotation. Recently I’ve been hit with a lot to say the least. Less than 3 months ago my older brother was killed in an accidental car crash at the young age of 32. Life can be beautifully fragile and amazingly raw. You never know when your number is going to be called. You’ re here today, then gone tomorrow. I’ve been consistently traveling the world and the theme “ here today gone tomorrow” applies to how I have been living my lifestyle for the past 10 years. It’ s hard to say goodbye when traveling and even harder when you don’ t even get the chance. I was deeply moved by the loss of my brother to make the new body of artworks that dealt with the fragility of life, death and how important it is to live each day to the fullest." Above translated this theme into his artworks via large wooden arrows with a collage element and screen printed image of a celebrity that had died at an early age. Above choose celebrities who had died no older than 36 years old to represent in his body of work. Such celebrities were Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Bob Marley,Tupac Shakur, and Princess Diana to name a few. Above's solo show in Sydney was very well received and the whole show sold out on the opening night. This video shows some of the process clips of the artworks for that show being made. "Here today gone tomorrow" video
After Above's solo show in Sydney he was invited by the Adelaide city council to paint a 65 metre long wall. The city council organized Above to collaborate and mentor 3 Australian artists; Chris Edser, ANKLES, and Tristan Kerr. Above had the misfortune of falling off a ladder while painting and fractured his scapula and ended up in the hospital. As a group the artists decided to turn this accidental fall into the theme for the word play painting. All four artists painted and installed wooden elements on the wall to have the piece to read 'Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will always save me.'A video documents the 65 metre long painting seen here:"Sticks and stones" video
After Above's 5-month long 'down under' tour in Australia he flew to Los Angeles to work with book publisher ZERO+ on Above's book titled Passport. In October the 156 page hardcover book was printed. Passport book followed Above's travels and artworks around over 90 cities in 60 different countries around the world.Passport had supporting quotations from such artists as Banksy, Swoon, Blek le Rat, Space Invader, Stephen 'ESPO' Powers, and Anthony Lister among other contemporary artists. Most notable was the introduction written by Shepard Fairey. Shepard Fairey wrote 'I first encountered Above's art on the streets of Paris in early 2003. His large scale trademark arrows were painted on roll down gates, trucks and walls with impressive coverage throughout the city. Above is extraordinarily driven and Above's ambition makes the streets look very engaging. I am very impressed by Above's diligence, but after I got to know him and his artworks I began to realize that his output is not evidence of selfish ego, but of a lust for life, a utopian life, where his generosity, and curiosity, and his pursuit of creativity and social consciousness have led him around the world making more friends than enemies.'
In October at the height of the global Occupy Wall Street protest Above flew to Miami, U.S.A. and did a city block long word play that read 'Give a wall St. Banker enough rope and he will hang himself." In addition Above added a hanging effigy installation which shocked and gained a lot of attention from drivers on the I-95 interstate freeway in Miami. Above's is known for his social, and politically charged messages and this wall street piece he made had gained the attention of national and international news for it's controversial message and even more importantly the hanging wall street banker mannequin he hung up from a noose. While being interviewed by London daily mail he said 'I tried to clothe him and dress him up as if he was what I imagined a Wall Street banker might wear, it was the cherry on the top of the word play installation. He continued to say 'It's extremely shocking which is part of the point as well. I think it is really gone too far, but then again I think it's my retaliation to how far Wall St, has gotten in general. It is shocking to me when I look at these numbers when I see that one per cent of the people have all of the money. Above explained that he was inspired by the proverb 'If you give a fool enough rope, he will hang himself' and simply adapted it to fit the theme. Republican news channel FOX NEWS covered the piece and called the piece "this is not art, this is sick." When NBC news did a news report on Above's wall st. piece he told them 'You don't have to read it, you can just get it immediately when you see it. It's extremely aggressive and that's actually the point.' Above's final reply was 'Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, and some people will praise it, others will deny it and criticize it and shoot it down, but the point being is that it's getting people talking about the movement." Above published a video online of the start to finish process of the painting and installation of the hanging effigy "Give a wall street banker" video
Aotearoa - New Zealand/ Auckland visit
Above: Passport is a 156 page book made by ZERO+ publishing documenting the artworks and global travels of Above in over 60 countries and 90 cities spanning from 2004–2010
- ZERO+ Publishing, Above: Passport (2011)
- normal edition ISBN 978-1-937222-03-1
Boxed edition of Above:Passport
(edition of 200) ISBN 978-1-9377222-04-8
Deluxe edition of Above:Passport
(edition of 15) ISBN 978-1-9377222-05-5