Commentary

Just An Online Minute... "Up There" Celebrates Hard Labor Artistry And Beer

Up There Premiere, Crosby Hotel, New York
April 15, 2010

"We don't care about real artists any more," said Carrot Creative's Mike Germano, as I gushed to him on a Union Square bench this morning about "Up There," the documentar-mercial I saw last night in the company of about 40-something other invitees at the Crosby Hotel. No, no, he didn't mean it like that. We were yammering back and forth about the state of commercials as art, art as commercial, and how middle America consumes advertising now less as the art it used to be. What the hell am I talking about? Continue...

I stood in front of the Crosby Hotel wondering where the Crosby Hotel was. Frickin' boutique no-sign-sporting nonsense. Happily entered into tasty eyeball treats, though. If I ever feel bored in my brain, I might just walk into the hotel lobby for a little creative noggin jog. What are they going for anyway? Log cabin hipster disco hunter encyclopedia carnival? I dig.

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Downstairs, past the clipboard mafia (who later became sort of annoying cattle herders), I found a warmly lit lounge, with dangling lamps that resembled dislodged eyeballs. Adorning the walls were beautiful, visually confusing canvases. Were those paintings or photos? Upon closer inspection, I discovered they were indeed paintings. Fitting, der, as the documentary I was about to view was an extension of Mother New York's outdoor Stella Artois campaign.

So really, Mother is delivering a campaign with aftershocks. Originally the direction was to capture the essence of Stella Artois' 9 steps of serving Stella (which ends in the one step of consumption) - likening it to an art form. They captured this through the gritty, gruff, longshoreman-like appeal of the artists at Sky High Murals. The guys at Sky High are a humble bunch; they see themselves performing hard labor more so than art. But they treat their work as art - taking the prep process seriously, and appreciating their view as they dangle 60 feet or more above the streets of New York. "I've seen naked people... fights... they have no idea we're up here."

After the premiere, reps from Mother, Mekanism, and Sky High opened themselves to audience questions. I think they were surprised when most queries were focused on the Sky High artists and their process, their lives, rather than what the plants in the audience wanted to talk about, which would obviously be the marketing speak and campaign. When you see the spot yourself, you'll understand why. You almost forget that you're watching a commercial.

But see, isn't that what happens when consumers are treated not only to a unique brand message but also art itself? This is where the digital world keeps sawing its own nose off - trying to convince themselves that consumers will watch a commercial if they get to choose what message they consume - and the old-school world has executed it with ease in this case. Why? It's a COMPELLING STORY. It's presentation and conversation 101. While watching a billboard being hand-painted onto the side of a building flanking a parking lot, I learned that this craft, this SKILL, is a dying art that was once used by big names like ClearChannel and Lamar. What's gnawing away at artisans like the dudes at Sky High? Vinyl.

The biggest technical advancement for Sky High hasn't been augmented reality or location based gaming theory boastfests ("Just became Mayor of the sky @ Park n Go") or pre-rolls or 3DTV. No, it's motors -- so they don't have to yank themselves up the side of a building winch style.

One guest asked Mekanism's (and Up There director) Malcolm Murray why he chose shots using shallow depth of field. Murray, like the Sky High artists themselves, didn't overthink it, saying the interview and in-work shots were an "intuitive choice." It was a choice that appeals to my eyeholes - when I shoot in my real life it's how I prefer things, too - fuzzy outlines, lots of bokeh, focus on eye wetness, wrinkles, dirt, and texture.

Once a pervasive craft, hand-painted advertising is now carried on by about 75 people total in the US. However, it sounds as if the Sky High guys are still seeing their fair share of work, with 40 paintings looming in 30 days and six to eight teams with two to four people per project, depending on the size of the project.

Said one painter: "There are a few of us still keeping it going...which is good...cuz I don't know how to do anything else..."

Seen at the reception were Art Directors Christine Gignac and Jon Lancaric; painters Ray Baxter and Austin Golding; Mother New York's Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmstrom; Brad Wiener from Men's Journal; AgencySpy's Matt Van Hoven and his bicycle; and a slew of other painters and their supporters.

Photos of the hardworking peoples mentioned in this article are on Flickr!

Keep sending your invitations to kelly@mediapost.com!

Watch the documentary, you'll want to change career paths.

*updated at 4:22p.m. EST to add Men's Journal reporter's name and link to "Up There"
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