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When Cracked Sidewalks Become Art

St. Etienne's Oakoak finds inspiration in crumbling infrastructure.


We’re suddenly feeling embarrassingly unimaginative after encountering the winking street art of French artist Oakoak (thanks for that, Colossal). Most of us see a cracked sidewalk, a wall of peeling paint or a crumbling roadway, and our first instinct is to whine about urban decay. Oakoak sizes up the same imperfections, largely in his industrial French hometown of St. Etienne, and he sees, well, this:

His playful public-works improvements wrap street art around an unusually narrow set of mediums: busted cement bollards, hairline cracks in retaining walls, missing metal grates. We love the concept for the way it changes the pedestrian relationship to urban eyesores while drawing attention to them. In an email, though, Oakoak cautioned us against interpreting any grand critique of city officials or St. Etienne’s decline in his googly eyes and stick figures. “No, this is not that,” he writes us. “I have no particular message. Perhaps it's just to show that urban elements or walls could be not just grey, and ‘sad.’”

If nothing else, we’d like to think these images invite the rest of us to have a little sense of humor about the aging character of older towns. “I don't really remember how I started my art,” Oakoak writes. “I walked a lot in the streets and one day, I saw a fire hydrant. And thanks [to] putting just two eyes on it, it became a funny monster.”

All images courtesy of Oakoak.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.