Graffiti in Motion

An artist turns massive murals into mesmerizing GIFs

Painted by INSA, Sydney, Australia.
“I was at a point where I was really bored of static graffiti,” says UK street artist INSA. “Even if I painted a huge mural anywhere in the world I realized more people were looking at the one or two photos of it that would circulate online, and it seemed a shame the level of work going into something that was only gonna be seen at 600 pixels wide.”

In order to resolve this problem, INSA created even more work for himself, mapping out his mural-painting process into distinct stages and interjecting a photo session between each one. The result is a series of digital photos that INSA loops together into super-bold GIFs, which become an internet-exclusive viewing experience.

“I just thought, Why not make the Internet the best way to view my work — make a web browser the only platform for viewing my work,” he explains, “Then I loved the amount of work and effort that would go into just those 600 pixels. You can still see the mural in real life, but the finished piece, the moving GIF, can only be seen online.”

INSA’s GIF-iti installations are an entrancing hybrid of the physical and digital. Towering up to eight stories high or wrapping entire buildings, the actual paintings are massive, and the photos convey that, showing bits of urban context that put their scale in perspective. They’re gorgeously colorful and painstakingly painted, and when turned into digital animations they hardly seem real. But they are.

“The Future” by INSA X ROID. Dalston Yard, London, 2014.
“Paradise” by INSA X ROIDS / Pow! Wow!, 2014.

GIF-iti is created the way you probably imagine it is — a flip-book-style animation is devised, and each frame is then painted on the wall one over the other. Each step is photographed and then digitally chained together. INSA makes these animations all over the world, from Taiwan to Hawaii to Florida to the Gambia. Some are elaborately rendered figures and forms, some are simple geometric graphics or tribal-looking patterns; some are just variations on his brand.

The workflow varies as much as the designs — smaller pieces will take no more than a day, others up to a week of dawn-to-dusk sessions. Most often they’re made with the consent of the building owners, but occasionally they’re sneaked onto a wall in a more clandestine manner (a testament to how fast he can put one up). INSA says that while some of the larger works involve assistants, he usually paints them by himself or with another artist he’s collaborating with.

A straight on shot of the largest GIF-iti ever. Painted by INSA X MADSTEEZ / Pow! Wow!, 2014.

“I could in theory direct the whole thing and not do much painting myself, but I’m a sucker for punishment and enjoy the level of physical labour it takes to create one of these GIF pieces,” he says. “I like to think through each step, and all the actions that it will entail. But in the end I’m never really sure if it will work until it’s all complete!”

Something that graffiti and GIFs already have in common is their emergence at the fringes of their respective mediums, becoming increasingly legitimized as art.

Both live on the availability of public platforms where people can see them, and as social media has risen, they’re being shared more widely. There was a time when you would only ever see Banksy’s work out in the streets, and when GIFs would only be seen on your computer. That state of affairs seems to have flipped.

But the maker of this GIF-iti isn’t necessarily looking to recast the context of either GIFs or graffiti. It’s an experiment, and a way of subverting some of the drawbacks of public art, namely their static nature and tendency to decay or get painted over. GIF-iti lives indefinitely online, adding length to the life the work which has already been enhanced through motion. At the same time, it allows the painter to carry on with the work he would be doing otherwise.

Painted by INSA X UNGA, London.
“Online Love” painted by INSA, London.

“One of the things I really liked when I started the GIFs was that it allowed me to collaborate with others artists again, like I did back when I painted graffiti. Because the GIF-iti is a concept and process it’s given me freedom to paint anything I want and allows me to work with other painters,” he says. “The actual painting process is laborious, and you don’t really get any sense of how different it will look when it’s moving. So when it’s on the computer screen and all comes together in the animated loop, it all feels worthwhile.”

Painted by INSA, Africa, 2013.
“Hollywood Doom” by INSA X Donwood.

View more of INSA’s GIF-iti at: http://gif-iti.tumblr.com/

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