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Oi You!

I recently visited Oi You! The Best of Urban Art from NZ and Around the World, in Nelson, NZ. This is relatively small exhibition, held in very pleasant surroundings. The gallery space, though not well lit, was appropriate and contributed something (albeit a little cliched) to the environment and the appreciation of the artworks. The show included three different collections, which broadened the appeal of the exhibition. Best of the World was undoubtedly the crowd-puller, and provided the most impressive works by far, but the pieces by Milton Springsteen (the unknown NZ artist working under a pseudonym) provided a pleasant surprise element of home interest. Never having seen much of Banksy before, I was really curious about his work. The quality of his work, in comparison with most of the rest of the work in the show, was very obvious. I'm still not entirely sure what it was which elevated his pieces above most of the others, however. His ideas were not more complex or sophisticated, and his execution was no more elaborate or skilful, but the difference on quality was clear.

Urban art's overlap with caricature and political cartooning was the aspect I was most interested in, and it has continued to strike me. Apart from the fact that urban/graffiti art is often political in essence, both urban art and political cartooning are meant to be easily consumable, instantly understandable but also immediately contemporary and therefore quickly outdated, ephemeral and disposable. Urban art and political art also both have links with comics art, of course, and use many of the same artistic conventions.

Furthermore, several of the pieces use images borrowed from, or at least very similar to (and probably directly influenced by) socialist realist art. Socialist realist kitsch has found a niche in modern urban art, and these pieces borrow from it in almost equal measure as they borrow from Lichtenstein.

Faile: Box 1

Cut Collective: 01

Indeed, one piece could have been lifted straight out of Krokodil. Soviet caricature artists made reference to atomic bombs, rockets and missiles in their works, and artists such as Yuli Ganf, Boris Efimov and Kukryniksy often drew characters where these weapons became body parts. Although Pinocchio (I don't think) ever appeared in Krokodil, this image could otherwise certainly have appeared there - many of the other elements of the image did - and the editors would have appreciated the idea behind the image.

Paul Insect: Who's To Blame?


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Krokodil 1952: 11, p.1

Krokodil and Russian folklore

Krokodil cartoons very often employed folkloric characters and themes. Soviet graphic satire owed much to pre-revolutionary popular prints, and in some cases, Krokodil images were composed in the graphic style of Russian folk arts. In other cartoons, Soviet satirical commentary was enacted by Russian folk tale characters.
Russian folk characters were thus reimagined in a modern satirical context, and the combination of discourses created unique visions of both old and new. Stalinist folklore/'fakelore' (Dorson 1950) co-opted folk heroes in the service of the Soviet state, but Krokodil's use of these characters was satirical and thus markedly different.

Ded Moroz and Snegoruchka also commonly appeared in Soviet satire, celebrating the turn of the New Year, or warning about the change in seasons.

Countless cartoons visualised anthropomorphised animals, but a number of images also referred to less famous Russian folk tales.

Perhaps the most frequent appearances were made by …