There is street art. There are cliches. And there are street-art cliches (SAC). That said, we think “trope” is the better suited word here rather than the word “cliche.” So, “street-art trope.” (SAT, of course). There are street art tropes! There is, dare we use the term, “tropey” street art. There we said it.
“What are some of these street-art tropes?” you ask, savvy reader? That’s a fair question, if ever there was. There are a few broad categories and types. But the most obvious type, if most flagrant, is the use of cheery pop-cultural icons, often cartoon characters, juxtaposed with some very un-cheery and serious imagery, like a gun.
There’s practically a formula matrix you can follow to create this kind of street art. For example …
… say, you want to make a wheat-paste street art poster based on this formula. Take an image of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, but make an image of Mickey holding a machine gun. Et Voila! Tropey street art.
Or take McDonald’s Ronald McDonald and show him dressed as a soldier making a fascist salute. Or have Elvis Presley playing a machine gun instead of a guitar. Or create an image of Snow White’s Dopey holding a machine gun. Or MIckey Mouse as a gun-range shooting target. As you can see, guns are a popular and powerful visual component — Basically just adding a gun to any street art image is a trope too!
Even if it’s prone to being dismissed as a cliche, some of these tropes can be used in clever ways and make for compelling and evocative — and provocative — street art. But lot of it seems … well, lazy. Too easy. Unoriginal. Not just unoriginal, but insanely unoriginal. We’ve seen it before and … yaaaaaaawwwwwn.
But, wait, there’s more. Animals, especially pets, cats and dogs, are a trope, too. These are either photorealistic renderings of canines or felines, sometimes life-size, as stand-alone artworks (also see pic above and below of dog street art we found in Venice, Los Angeles), or the pets are engaged in some other activity, like riding a skateboard or as ringmaster of a circus.
Or how about mashing up tropes? How about a dog with a machine gun!!! Or a man in a suit wearing a dog mask and carrying a hand-gun?!?!?
And yet there’s more. Another street-art trope is the mixing of celebrity images with other iconic and tropey images, like the above, or depicting celebrities in preposterous situations.
For example, mashing up Kanye West and Ronald McDonald. Or, say, Donald Trump with a “toy.” (One could argue that Donald Trump is an outlier insofar as he himself is preposterous.) In fact, Donald Trump is now a street art trope unto himself! Albeit he is a street-art trope largely in the form of biting and witty political commentary and/or humor or activism or all of these things rolled into one.
So there there you have it, kids! Your starter list for go-to street art tropes: Guns, Mickey Mouse, guns, Ronald McDonald, guns, dogs, machine guns, cats, hand-guns, Kanye, (did we mention guns?), Donald Trump.
What are some others? Let us know!