Updated March 17, 2019
If you’re wandering around New York City you might come across these stickers that read “Are you addicted to street art? You’re not alone. There is help! 24/7 Street Art Addiction Hotline,” followed by a phone number. It’s just a clever street art campaign, but if your Instagram feed is anything like mine, you might wonder if this is a real thing. And for months, there was a LOT of street art around NYC, thanks to world-famous street artist Eduardo Kobra.
Kobra and New York City
Throughout 2018, Kobra added color to the New York City landscape with an incredibly ambitious series of giant murals. It’s a continuation of his long-running international “Colors of Liberty” project, which ostensibly seeks to both highlight iconic figures who have promoted peace and inspire public dialogue about such complex issues as race, violence, and the cause of immigrants. Most of Kobra’s works are portraits punched up with vibrant hues, and his subjects run the gamut from entertainers to humanitarians to physicists.
But this isn’t the first time Kobra has left his mark in New York City. In 2012 he recreated “The Kiss” by Alfred Eisenstaedt in a giant space at 10th Ave and 25th Street, in full view from the High Line. [Captured on August 14, 1945, the iconic photograph portrays a US Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger on Victory over Japan Day in Times Square.] But this time, he’s back with 18 incredible new murals. Here’s a handy map of where you can find all of them:
Making a statement
Like many of his contemporaries, Kobra is a street artist who uses his murals as a platform for his political and social views. He joins the ranks of other renowned artists like Banksy and JR, who refuse to shy away from discussing important current events. He attributes this to the anti-establishment legacy of hip hop culture he grew up with. In his New York City residency, there’s a C3PO mural that sits along the West Side Highway with a sign reading “Stop Wars”. The play on words is similar to one of his murals in Miami’s Wynwood Walls, where Yoda is holding the sign.
There’s also a tall mural of Einstein in Midtown East, which mirrors one he did in his home of Sao Paulo in 2015. The artist wanted to weigh in on a heated debate about adding bicycle lanes to the city to relieve congestion, and he did so with a mural of the famous physicist on a bicycle. [Einstein is rumored to have hatched many of his theories while cycling.] This one is simply titled “Genius Is To Bike Ride”.
Some murals are less of a statement and more of an homage. Kobra, who is self-taught, has not only referenced famous street artists like Banksy and Basquiat as inspiration, but also more traditional artists like Gustav Klimt and Jackson Pollock. A portrait of New York City pop artist Roy Lichtenstein is one of the pieces in his 2018 New York City residency, and it masterfully merges Lichtenstein’s signature style with his own. A portrait in Brooklyn is the amalgamation of Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera. Meanwhile, on Rivington Street, Kobra immortalizes five members of the 27 Club–all artists who died at the age of 27. The 27 Club mural includes the faces of Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.
A Mount Rushmore of artists featuring Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat was Kobra’s final mural in New York City. Located above the historic Empire Diner in Chelsea, the work of art doesn’t just feature the faces of the legendary artists. Kobra included references to their personal works like Haring’s figures in motion and Basquiat’s dinosaur with a crown.
A rebel with a cause
Some of Kobra’s 2018 New York City murals also acknowledge a few important dates. His side-by-side portrait of a child and adult Michael Jackson celebrates what would have been the deceased entertainer’s 60th birthday. A mural of a kneeling New York Firefighter celebrated “The Braves of 9/11” on an anniversary of the tragedy. And one of Mother Teresa and Gandhi was completed in time to celebrate World Humanitarian Day.
Kobra set a Guinness World Record when he completed the Etnias mural for the Rio Olympics; it was the largest mural to be painted by one person at the time. [He later surpassed his own record.] As Kobra stated on the Rio 2016 official website, “These are the indigenous people of the world. The idea behind it is that we are all one. We’re living through a very confusing time with a lot of conflict. I wanted to show that everyone is united, we are all connected.”
Along the same lines but with a more domestic message, Kobra’s Ellis Island mural–which addresses the hot topic of immigration–will be part of The Biggest Mural In NYC. The project graces the walls of City-As-School, once attended by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and will feature work by multiple artists, including students. Depicting the faces of five men and women who actually passed through the immigrant inspection station 100 years ago, the Ellis Island mural stands as a pointed reminder of the America’s history as a nation of immigrants.
One of the things we enjoy most about Kobra’s work is its depth. The onlooker can come away from the experience with so many of their own ideas and interpretations. Take, for example, the frequent imagery he uses of faces merging in a pixelated blur, reflecting a transformation of sorts. Three recent examples in particular illustrate this perfectly. The aforementioned Michael Jackson mural illustrates the disparate appearance between the child who later became the reclusive celebrity. In Minneapolis, his Bob Dylan mural boasts three images of the iconic singer, with two of them–old and young–merging, with the ironic inscription “The times they are a-changin’”, speaking to both the singers longevity and how cyclical the issues of our time can be.
The Frida-Diego mural in Brooklyn joins the husband and wife artistic team of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in a much more straightforward manner: a portrait made up of a subtle collage of their distinctive features. This could be interpreted as a merging of their personalities, a physical representation of the concept of a partnership, or a clever inference to Frida’s artistic legacy usurping Diego’s.
How it all comes together
Over the few months Kobra was in NYC, we were fortunate to witness Kobra put his street art pieces together. The artist makes use of a numbered grid to take his ideas from paper to larger-than-life murals. He often has a team that helps him execute his vision, but the portraits are entirely Kobra’s brainchild. He’s been known to visit galleries and museums to look for inspiration once he’s decided on the character or event he wants to portray. He doesn’t simply capture a likeness, he infuses it with depth that goes beyond a two-dimensional image.
With New York City being the benefactor of 18 of Kobra’s unique, candy-colored portraits, you can literally spend days pondering the artist’s intentions or exploring your own interpretations–we certainly have. Keep checking back, should Kobra return to the city that never sleeps for another residency, you can be sure we’ll be following along and covering every line and every splash of kaleidoscopic color, down to the very last grid.
If Kobra’s amazing murals have ignited a new interest in the art of graffiti, then you’re in for a treat. New York City is home to an amazing number of expansive street art galleries. Our definitive guide 10 Exciting Places to Find the Best Street Art in NYC is a great place to start.
Somewhere to eat nearby
Whenever we feature something to see or do in New York City, we also like to offer up somewhere to grab a bite to eat. Mostly because one of the absolute joys of wandering around New York City is indulging in the myriad food options available. As Oscar Wilde said, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Here’s one of our favorites:
If you were to translate Kobra’s work into food, you couldn’t find a more perfect embodiment than in a brigadeiro. The traditional Brazilian dessert manages to be sweet, yet powerful. Made primarily with condensed milk and butter, brigadeiros offer a deep, satisfying creaminess that pairs perfectly with coffee or as a sweet treat on its own. At the Brigadeiro Bakery in SoHo, you’ll find a range of flavors from Nutella to Pecan Pie to Pistachio. Any purchase of coffee comes with a free brigadeiro of your choice, but since the truffle-like desserts are on the delicate side, you can definitely justify ordering more. Lots, lots more.
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