John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
In Berlin, a shadowy street artist known as Vermibus transforms mundane billboards into creepy macabre frightscapes
Many municipal bus-stop advertisements leave much to be desired, especially this one – ugh. Enter Vermibus, a Berlin-based street artist who's on a mission to turn soul-deadening billboards into museum-quality masterpieces, although in his own wonderfully creepy way.
When Vermibus sees a street poster he thinks could use some sprucing up – Kate Moss has been one target, to judge from this distressing glimpse into what's either his studio or Charlie Manson's old basement – he pulls it from its protective frame and takes it back home. There, he defiles the people depicted in the ad with a corrosive solvent, so that their bodies look like pillars of melting lard. Then he slips back outside and puts the new and improved billboard back in place, where it lies waiting to shock the grocery bags out of some poor grannie's hands.
Regarding his unique process, the Open Walls Itinerant Street Art Gallery has this to say:
The gesture of erasing the images with solvent is similar to the gesture of painting, but it is painting counter action. The process is the same, but it is not adding colours on a canvas to create an image, it is removing the colors of an existing photographic image to create a new image and new characters. The models of the adverts have mutated. Some look like ghosts or mummies, some are reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s paintings, some of tribal make-up.
This process evokes voodoo art which uses human elements like hair, or teeth to create anthropomorphic sculptures. In this context, Vermibus uses “glossy paper” as his flesh to manipulate. There is something very organic about the emaciated creatures that emanate from the billboards. The impersonal and sanitized perfect bodies have turned into shadows or mummies that have much more presence and singularity.
Emphasis mine, to fete this outstanding use of understatement.
(Photos courtesy of JUST.)