More than a Movement: Street Art in Austin

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Digital Issue V

Even though there are various laws prohibiting it, street art and graffiti appear in practically every city in America and around the world. Some artists use it as a means of adding beauty to urban landscapes, while others use it simply to put their art in public spaces. “To me, street art is kind of like a dialogue with the other people who walk the same places you do,” a local street artist known as Salamander says.

By Kristin Evans

Illegal street art is all around us, especially in Austin. “Street art isn't an art movement, it’s just something that happened,” another local artist known as Bort says.

Four local artists (whose real names are kept private in order to maintain the anonymity of their work) gave ORANGE insight into this often-ignored art form: Kaps, an artist who crosses the line between what’s considered street art and traditional graffiti tagging; Salamander, a sticker artist who specializes in happy amphibians; Bort, whose work covers almost every medium of street art; and RabbitSnake, a photographer who also creates sculptural pieces and who just released a book on amazon titled RabbitSnake.

“The character is meant to be something that’s adaptive,” Bort says. “Since it’s relatively dynamic, it becomes its own thing that can take on the personality that the person attributes, and that’s why phrases will be relatively vague, because the personality you attribute to the phrases can match that.” Most of Bort’s work includes short phrases such as “believe yourself” or “it sucks.”

“The character is meant to be something that’s adaptive,” Bort says. “Since it’s relatively dynamic, it becomes its own thing that can take on the personality that the person attributes, and that’s why phrases will be relatively vague, because the personality you attribute to the phrases can match that.” Most of Bort’s work includes short phrases such as “believe yourself” or “it sucks.”

Kaps says that Austin has one of the most vibrant street art scenes in North America. “I’d say Austin, Portland and Seattle are the three spots and those are the most cliché cities, but those are the places where the scene’s cultivating itself,” Kaps says.

RabbitSnake says that street art is art that you physically put on the street. You choose your canvas, you put your art up and you let the street judge it. “Street art is coming from a space of no longer wanting to submit my work,” RabbitSnake says.

RabbitSnake says that most stuffed animals purchased at Sea World, like orcas, end up in a thrift store. He repurposes them to comment against Sea World, as pictured here.“Hopefully people see that I’m against slavery, whether it be a phone pole or a cetacean,” RabbitSnake says.

RabbitSnake says that most stuffed animals purchased at Sea World, like orcas, end up in a thrift store. He repurposes them to comment against Sea World, as pictured here.“Hopefully people see that I’m against slavery, whether it be a phone pole or a cetacean,” RabbitSnake says.

Community and collaboration are important aspects of the street art scene. “It’s weird to say that there would be internal rules, because it’s something that’s inherently illegal and something that’s inherently like, ‘There’s no rules!’ But there are,” Kaps says.

Every artist spoke about the importance of respect and how it is important to them, whether it be not going over other artists’ work or avoiding putting pieces up on small businesses.

Salamander says Austinites are fairly receptive to street artists and the work that they do. Many of the artists have amassed a large social media following as more people begin to recognize their work. “There’s like a really cute fan base,” Bort says, “everyone’s been really nice.”