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Favela " Morro da Providencia" by JR

Matt Small and JR win first ever Street Art Awards

Last night, Small was announced winner of the urban art category, while JR won the street art section.

The same week that Mark Leckey was announced winner of the Turner Prize 2008 Matt Small and JR scooped top prize at the first ever Street Art Awards. Last night, at the end of an evening of urban bazaar-style partying, Small was announced winner of the urban art category, while JR won the street art section.

To an outsider street art and urban art may seem like the same thing. But delve a little deeper and you will notice that street art is public and is usually done outside, whereas urban art is private and is usually done inside. It’s not a question of different aesthetics, rather a question of different production ethics.

As Mark Bracegirdle, founder of the awards explains, “Urban art is really the stuff that street artists do to pay the rent.”
However, someone like Small, who paints abstract portraits on scraps he finds in the street, seems to cross the urban/street divide. A street artist by trade, his paintings are more than moneymaking urban spin offs.

According to Spencer Hickman, manager of Rough Trade East, where the awards were held, Small considers himself a proper painter. The fact that a painter has stolen Banksy’s proverbial crown is perhaps indicative that the tide is turning towards a more painterly approach to street art. “People want more than a political statement now,” says Hickman. “If you look at who was nominated last night, like Conor Harrington and Herakut, they are painters and highly skilled.”

French street artist JR also has his fingers in both pies. He is a photographer as well as a street artist. His winning piece, 28 Millimetres: Women, is a series of photographic portraits of local women blown up and pasted on the sides of makeshift houses in a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro.

A monumental homage to these women, JR’s work managed to turn a slum into a living, breathing open-air gallery.
Perhaps it was just pure coincidence that the Turner Prize and Street Art Awards happened in the same week. But in an increasingly blurred climate where street art begat urban art and they both gate crashed the contemporary art scene, it’s a significant coincidence nonetheless.

And what could be more fitting than two portraitists winning the Street Art Awards? I just wonder how long it will be before a street artist finds their way into the annuals of Turner Prize history.