The lighter side of street art

Last Saturday I had the honor of being Freshly Pressed. Many thanks are in order: to Cheri at WordPress; to everyone who read, “liked” or reblogged my post on street art; to my new subscribers (welcome!); and especially to the more than 200 readers who took the time to comment.

But what most surprised me was the amount of interaction my post inspired — and the passion many of you expressed in your comments.

I was intrigued by the guy who wrote, “They WERE pieces of art until they got ‘chained up’ in a gallery and ‘validated’ by the establishment! Surely the whole point of street art is that its OUTSIDE the galleries, scrawled across the cityscape, making a stand for the little man?”

I also heard from a few people who see it as vandalism, not art: “I don’t like it. There is a lot of really hostile crap out there. … If you are naïve and live in a nice part of town you can still find it charming. Until someone paints a vagina on your garage door.”

I’d also be angry if someone spray-painted obscenities on my home or my car, so I really can sympathize.

Van go BLOG

In fact, there was only one comment with which I couldn’t at all sympathize:

When the person who made the decision to paint onto someones private property gets caught, and then gets their ass beaten and bloodied, at that point the artist becomes the art. That’s the kind of art that I can appreciate.”

I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that only 0.5% of my readers would rather see a human being vandalized than a wall.

Still … because the idea of vandalism resonated so strongly with so many of you, I’d like to introduce you to an artist who used to create graffiti, but who has now turned to a less-destructive medium: Light.

(Note: All of the photos that follow are property of the artist.)

TCB logo

TCB bridge

TCB figure

Twin Cities Brightest (“TCB”) works primarily in the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in the northern U.S. After stumbling across his work on Flickr a couple of years ago, I wrote to inquire about his background, his inspiration and his techniques. To my surprise he wrote back — and then met me for lunch.

The son of a painter and a photographer, TCB grew up steeped in the visual arts. But it wasn’t until he began skateboarding that he started “to look at the world differently.” In his quest for skating venues, he began exploring urban locations most people didn’t even notice.

TCB non light painting

He found some like-minded artists while studying at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. “I was meeting a lot of people who were painting and doing graffiti … but I was never into the destruction that much,” he said. “You’re not going to tag on sandstone, on a 100-year-old bridge. That would be mean — and it wouldn’t look good anyway.”

He eventually abandoned graffiti. “But I still liked the locations,” he said. And that’s how he discovered light painting.

“I was exploring … this tunnel in St. Paul. We were just walking through the tunnel and I think my camera was just set on automatic. Because it was really dark it was going to take a 30-second photo. So I clicked [the shutter] and it just keeps going and someone’s walking with a flashlight. The photo [was] totally out of focus, but I looked at it and saw that my friend had sort of created this trail as we were walking, and it was really cool. That was my first light painting where I realized what I was doing — or what I could do, I guess.”

TCB alphabet

The experience sparked an idea. “I went to AxMan Surplus on Snelling and picked up a tripod, which I realized I needed. … And the next day I realize that the camera only takes 30-second exposures, and I need a cable release. And then I’m picking up all these weird lights from AxMan and waving them around with friends.”

TCB light tools

“But the funny thing was that you’re doing it in the middle of the day in these tunnels, which are dark. It was just perfect because I wasn’t doing graffiti anymore, but I was still in these locations. And it was even more fun. I’d never seen anything like it … it was all new. All of the colors were super-vivid, and … it doesn’t run out. It’s not like you have six cans and you come with two scraps. And then it lives there, you know?”

TCB biohazard

TCB kaleidoscope

TCB kaleidoscope 2

Since I met him a year ago July, TCB has created a couple of tutorials. Here’s how you can make a spirograph like the one below, for starters.

TCB light wheel

He’s also branched out to develop what he calls “light art performance photography.” Check out the extensive gallery of images, like this one, on his website.


When I meet people like TCB, I feel grateful to live in a community that gives artists the freedom to explore and push their creative boundaries. And I feel lucky to live in an age when we can use a platform like WordPress to build a global community of curious, engaged, and truly engaging people.

Thanks again!


    • Thank you, though I can only take credit for the van photos! One of the things I loved most about TCB (apart from the fact that he’s a very intelligent, very well-spoken guy) was the fact that he’s a brilliant photographer in addition to being a wonderful artist. So I’m glad you appreciated that, too. Cheers!

  1. I like your post and the fact that when you wrote to TCB he wrote back! Like the idea of non permanent, non damaging art! We have some amazing canal tunnels that would suit this type of art! Angex

    • Right, Angie? I was blown away that TCB actually wrote back. And even more blown away when I met him — he was very intelligent, articulate, and deliberate about his art. As for the tunnels in your corner of the world … why not give some light art a go? 😀

  2. Great! I love street art, I do, it’s not all beautiful, but art isn’t all beautiful. I yarn-bomb, so my wee art offerings are completely not permanent, and are always removed. Most couldn’t be considered art, by any stretch, except in the fact that I’ve placed something soft, made with a piece of myself, into the world, whether at a park, or in a parking lot, sometimes in a dr’s office, or even on a statue…my wee yarny bits “don’t belong,” but, to me, make the space better. They’re almost always gone right away, but my picture and the smile I get when I walk away are all I need.

    • How very cool that you”yarn-bomb,” kimperial 1492! I always wondered what the motivation or intent was — so it’s wonderful to hear yours. Thank you so much for your comment, and for making my world a bit bigger today. 🙂

  3. I like street art. It’s art from the younger generation if you look carefully it portrays a lot of emotion, elevation and concentration. It’s beautiful but it isn’t everyone taste.

    • Thanks for your comment, Faye … You’re so right that street art isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I’m glad most people can at least appreciate the emotion and creativity that go into it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Thank you, Patti! I think I’m so fascinated by these visual artists because it’s a skill I completely lack. 🙂

  4. I’m glad you and your boyfriend can communicate so well, and that you’re open to each others’ points of view. The world would be a better place if we were all as open-minded as you two! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Living in London, I felt that a lot of the graffiti tags I saw were mindless and aggressive looking. The instances of real ( as I would see it) art, created with thought, talent and ingenuity, were as rare as they are in any other medium or setting. But this light art…this is fantastic. Beauty without a footprint, transient and astonishing. Bravo that man!

    • “Beauty without a footprint.” Wow, but you have a way with words! I’ll send your comment on to the artist … I’m sure he will appreciate it (as do I). Thank you, DB!

    • Thanks very much for the reblog! And thanks for complimenting the artist, as well. His work is very beautiful indeed. Cheers!

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