Graffiti artists often dismiss histories or narratives not of their own making, including those from their peers. This subculture, which has continuously evolved across different cities, time zones, decades, and languages over the past 60 years, is so rich in stories and counterstories that it might take another 30 years for the aerosol to clear and reveal the origins of these tales comprehensively. One unwavering truth prevails: if you weren’t there, in the same city, during the same era, didn’t grow up immersed in that urban environment, and weren’t marking the same train lines or recognized by local crews, your credibility is questioned, and the original graffiti artists (OGs) might disregard your story.
It’s meaningful when a book like “The Wide World of Graffiti” is authored by someone like Alan Ket, a native New Yorker from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who has firsthand experience writing on city trains. As a self-proclaimed graffiti nerd, historian of the movement, and co-founder of the Miami-based Museum of Graffiti, Ket brings a unique blend of metaphorical depth and frank authenticity to his writing. He skillfully combines scholarly insight and sociological context in his narrative, spotlighting selected kings and queens of the streets to further illustrate in their words details of the scene’s evolution and his informed insights to provide context.
Ket’s narrative style, marked by its directness and subtle wit, weaves through a tumultuous and ever-changing graffiti landscape across decades and cities. He captures the art form’s evolution, acknowledging its virtuosos, acolytes, critics, observers, and new entrants. His account includes appreciation for various influences, direct and indirect, allowing each shift in graffiti’s style and color to add to the overall narrative’s vibrancy. Ket augments the text with a wealth of illustrative photographs, showcasing graffiti and its extended family in both street settings and galleries, offering a comprehensive and exhilarating journey through the graffiti world.
Featuring an introduction by the Brazilian graffiti brothers OSGEMEOS, along with engaging profiles and interviews with notable figures such as Sane from SaneSmith, Hotboy Hert, DESA, and Doze Green, Ket allows graffiti’s history to unfold naturally in its distinctive and sometimes idiosyncratic way, enlightening the reader by describing its pathways. He showcases the global surge of interest as expressed through contemporary styles. He gives a quick class on graffiti’s influence in various artistic mediums, including on canvas and in public murals. Ket presents key examples without reducing them to mere tokens, offering a platform for authentic voices like Rime, MadC, Nani Chacon, Saber, and Jan Kaláb to elucidate further. Despite their diverse styles, each artist is united by the important contributions of graffiti culture in their personal histories and their subsequent artistic practices.
Ket’s holistic approach is inclusive and comprehensive, acknowledging related subcultures such as tattooing, skateboarding, and hip hop, while maintaining the focus on the writing culture that crafted a visual language for a youth movement that would eventually gain global prominence.
It’s his personal characterizations that ground the reader in the genuine beginnings of the movement in late 1960s/early 1970s Philadelphia and New York. “Week after week, more and more teenagers joined in, creating aliases and then going out and writing their names on the walls,” Ket recalls, depicting the grassroots creative spark that spread across streets and onto the sides of moving trains. Citing nearly 1,600 arrests of youth for vandalism in New York in 1972, Ket portrays an urban tableau rife with chaos, hunger, aspiration, beauty, and irony, remarking, “Little did they know that their mischievous actions were birthing what is arguably the world’s most popular art movement.”
In Ket’s capable hands, these stories are not only preserved but also eloquently conveyed.
Alan Ket: The Wide World of Graffiti. Monacelli Press / Phaidon. New York, NY.
The Wide World of Graffiti can be purchased directly from the gift shop at the Museum of Graffiti HERE
In the realm where imagination dances with audacity, Yok & Sheryo, the dynamic duo hailing from the crossroads of New York, Australia, and Asia, have conjured up a whimsical masterpiece, aptly titled “Yeahnahnesia.” Published in collaboration with the Art Gallery Western Australia, this book is a memoir and fantasy of creativity and storytelling that makes a reader question the boundaries of reality and fiction.
Picture a tropical paradise, a place Google Maps forgot, where mythology, deities, philosophies, and unusual creatures roam freely. Yeahnahnesia, the brainchild of these intrepid artists, is a fictional island brimming with tales so rich that your skateboarding dreams will tip their hats in admiration. The burning questions of its existence and location will keep you up at night until you surrender to the allure of this enigmatic and chill place.
As you delve into the book’s 120 pages, you’ll be transported into an alternate dimension where art intertwines with narrative, and history plays a sly game of make-believe. The “Temple of Frivolous Wishes” at AGWA, Art Gallery Western Australia, Perth, is a mere glimpse of their artistic prowess. Bound in fabric with gold foil accents, this bound edition of 800 is a treasure.
They talk about creating and inventing belief systems based in fictional folklore, complete with talismans and totems, and temples. “It was just so fun.” Yok describes the show and the book preparations, “We’re creating these temples out of mostly plaster so people with have this feeling of a lost artifact created out of sandstone, which was inspired from our travels,” he says in a video about the project. “The color scheme for the show, Yeahnahnesia was based on the folklore that we’d written for the island, which is rich in iron ore. So that brings the red out. But there’s also a story based on the 12 dragons….”
Yok & Sheryo’s escapades have led them from the crazed and colorful streets of New York to the hidden gems of Yeahnahnesia. They’ve absorbed cultures, painted murals, and surfed waves, all culminating in their artistic vision of this exotic island. They’ve unearthed cultural artifacts, shared stories, and created a simultaneously fantastic and familiar world.
“Yeahnahnesia is a tropical island with the best lifestyle you could ever want or wish for,” explains Sheryo. “We spent three months in Australia working on the show, and we took over a warehouse. Yeah, it was the first time we got to make a lot of 3-D sculptures. You just get in a meditative mode, especially when I roll sausage rolls, and then you just wanna roll as many as possible in the shortest time possible.”
Their playful, freewheeling work has earned them a unique spot in the art world, where walls, galleries, and corporate giants have all been inspired by their creativity and its eclectic route to truth. “Yeahnahnesia” is more than just a book; it’s a portal to a place that blurs the lines between reality and imagination, a testament to the audacious spirit of Yok & Sheryo. A guidebook to the journey, you can let your mind wander through the lush landscapes and vibrant cultures of Yeahnahnesia, where the surf is perfect, the beers are cold, and peace, love, and relaxation are the day’s mantras.
Also included in this book are photos from their recent show featuring the “Temple of Frivolous Wishes” at AGWA, Art Gallery Western Australia, Perth.
Edition of 800, 17cm x 24.5cm, 120 pages
120gsm paper, fabric bound book with gold foil
Co-published with Art Gallery Western Australia and supported by Dept. of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries Australia
📖 | Title: ICY and SOT. Let Her Be Free 📚 | Media group: Book 🖋 | Authors: ICY (author); SOT (author) 🗓 | Year: 2016 💬 | Language: English
Text: Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo
“Let Her Be Free” chronicles the journey of Iranian brothers Icy and Sot as street artists and the evolution of their work over the decade from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s. The book showcases the brothers’ activism through their art and their efforts to bring attention to many important social and political issues, including human rights, women’s political and personal autonomy, environmental justice, migration, gun violence, capitalism, the effects of war, homelessness, police brutality, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, free speech, and child welfare.
Growing up in Tabriz, Iran, Icy and Sot participated as teens in a street culture that encompassed skateboarding and a slowly burgeoning street art scene, perhaps feeding their desire for self-expression and personal activism. They began experimenting with different techniques and styles in places like Tehran, where local artists like A1one, Magoi, CK1, and Bigchiz dominated the street art scene, in turn inspiring others. As news of the emerging growth of street art in the West gained cultural currency on the Internet, the brothers were also influenced by international street artists such as Banksy, whom they looked up to as role models.
To learn more about the Martha Cooper Library at Urban Nation Museum Berlin and to continue reading the review, click HERE to go to the Urban Nation website.
As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of Banksy’s iconic residency on the streets of New York, we also mark the beginning of our reviews for the Martha Cooper Library (MCL) collection at Urban Nation in Berlin. As stewards of the library and holders of the #2 and #3 library cards, we take pride in introducing you to the ever-expanding collection of materials dedicated to the global street art and graffiti movement. This repository is a valuable resource not only for academic researchers but also for ardent enthusiasts. Our aim is to transform it into a world-class hub for research on this remarkable grassroots art movement, and we believe it’s essential to acquaint you with its contents.
Books in the MCL: BANKSY IN NEW YORK. Ray Mock. 2019
MARTHA COOPER LIBRARY: BOOK RECOMMENDATION
📖 | Title: Banksy in New York 📚 | Media group: Book 🖋 | Author: Mock, Ray (author); Banksy (artist) 🗓 | Year: 2019 💬 | Language: English
Text: Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo
For 31 days in October of 2013, UK street artist Banksy “gifted” New York City with daily new surprises on the streets in all five boroughs – effectively involving citizens in his self-designed residency. It is traditional for graffiti writers in New York to claim to go “all-city,” and author Ray Mock has covered the tags, fill-ins, and pieces by hundreds of writers as a one-man documentarian of graffiti at Carnage NYC Publishing. Here he tracks the daily movements of Banksy through the city to document the usual, unusual, and often witty acts of one of the most famous, yet anonymous, street artists and his presumed team of assistants, actors, and performers. Each installation has a social or political story, often with a deep sense of critique.
Banksy in New York is well-illustrated with shots of the odd and interesting installations of his “Better Out Than In” show as it was unveiled via social media. He also captures the scenes, sometimes containing mayhem, that popped up around them as word spread on social media that a new Banksy had appeared. For a New Yorker proud of his turf and a wizened observer of the rise in popularity of street art, Mock examines the various installations and looks for a personal firsthand voice to describe the art and the events so the reader may feel like they understand what it was like to be there.
To learn more about the Martha Cooper Library at Urban Nation Museum Berlin and to continue reading the review, click HERE to go to the Urban Nation website.
“In a world where the system alienates the most vulnerable, imposing a cynical or pessimistic outlook seems impossible to me,” says French street artist Seth. “Walls remain the space of resilience. Unlike cartoons, which leave no room for ambiguity, the choice to interpret a mural is essential. The curious are free to discover the hidden meaning.”
His new book “Seth On Walls” candidly offers these insights and opinions, helping the reader better understand his motivations and decisions when depicting the singular figures that recur on large walls, broken walls, and canvasses. A collection that covers his last decade of work in solo shows, group shows, festivals, and individual initiatives, you get the central messages of disconnection, connection, and honoring the people who live where his work appears.
“On the street, the first audience for the paintings are the people who live there,” says the former graffiti writer who has developed a distinctive otherworld for his usually faceless children that lies just through the looking glass, parallel to ours, its feelings running deep. The list of rural areas, often in the margins of the dominant culture and overcoming significant obstacles, is longer than your arm. Each time he creates a new mural, he consults the history, the stories that resonate in the tales told.
“They belong to the realm of childhood, where the impossible does not exist. But make no mistake: the apparent gentleness of the palette is not without menace,” says Sophie Pujas in the foreword. “Like children’s games, in which cruelty is always lurking, Seth’s murals are bearers of melancholy, imprinted with a secret darkness.” Pujas is confirming what you had been thinking, but could not quite identify; a longing for escape from the dramas and traumas that often scar us from the youngest age.
With rich, well-framed color plates, the collection takes you to towns and parts of towns you didn’t know about but are still familiar with. The attendant brief descriptors of mission and technique are matched in their conciseness by his account of his interactions with the locals, who many times help to fill the colors of his murals.
From his home country of France, he has traveled and stayed in communities far from his familiar environs, such as Palestine, Djerba Island in Tunisia, the Sichuan province in China, Indonesia, Haiti, South Korea, French Polynesia, and even in war-torn Ukraine. Conditions may be far from ideal, and sometimes are dangerous.
Still, he enjoys meeting new people, understanding their history and culture, and gifting them with pieces that sometimes resonate so profoundly that they build around them to preserve them when new construction threatens to destroy them. If he can find a way to encourage, that is also part of his mission; he says numerous times in various ways. In Ukraine in 2017, he reflects on the bitterness that fueled hostilities that were too unsafe for him to complete his project, he says in his account.
“Two years after my first visit to Popasna, I returned to paint the school’s last wall. The fear of sniper fire had deterred us from finishing the project. Although still fragile, the situation seemed more stable,” he says. “Despite the lull, propaganda ended up dividing families fed up with the situation. This painting spoke of the need to stick together, despite the events.”
We primarily chose Seth to paint the only mural inside the UN Museum for Martha Cooper’s career retrospective “Taking Pictures” in 2020 because the two have an overlapping interest in the anthropological, ethnological study of children’s play. During successive trips to Haiti and her most recent one with Seth, Cooper marvels at the innate creativity of humans when we are kids, and how resourceful children can be – even when there are few resources.
“Our shared love for the world and the imagination of childhood brought us together,” he says, “Forty years after her first trip to Haiti, off together to meet these creative children.” Remarking on the daunting economic, political, and environmental challenges faced by most of the folks they met, he says the kids were ingenious in their resourcefulness in making tools for their play world. “Bottle cars, yogurt telephones, spinning tops, flying kites – treasures of ingenuity that the children were proud to share.
“Seth On Walls” reiterates his connection to the otherworld we inhabited as children, almost as a way to get back there. The work in one decade is prodigious, yet in many ways, it is uniquely targeted to individuals, and in the process, finding the universal.
“Murals are nods and tributes to the spirit of the places they are part of,” says Pujas. “Each people has its own ghosts, spells and stories. Interpreting them on walls provides a continuation, further journeys. Bringing them to life helps to save them, to keep them alive. From wall to wall. Seth composes an artistic and subjective ethnography, recording the collective history of the countries visited as well as the warmth of remarkable encounters.”
SETH On Walls. Editions de La Martiniere. 2022. Distributed by Abrams. An imprint of ABRAMS, 2023.
“Like a small team of ants dragging a slice of Wonderbread down the sidewalk to home base, we persevered,” writes OG New York graffiti writer and curator Al Diaz about the collaborative process that produced an exhibition and catalog this winter called “City of Kings: A History of NYC Graffiti.”
A wildly dispersed and organic scene like the one birthed by graffiti over more than five decades ago has had thousands of authors, making it a daunting task to tell this story at times, says Diaz. To do so he made sure to work with two other curators who could complement his own knowledge and abilities when researching and collecting proper history to illustrate this movement correctly.
A compact, attractive, and dense show at Howl! Gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the timeline colorfully climbs around three of the space’s four walls. It presents a cogent, multifaceted historical record of the secretive yet public graffiti culture thanks to Diaz and co-curators Eric Felisbret and Mariah Fox.
Felisbret, also known as DEAL CIA was a member of the graffiti crew “CIA” (which stood for “Crazy Inside Artists”) during the 1970s, and he co-authored the book “Graffiti New York” in 2009. He also founded the website “149th Street” in 1997 to document the history of graffiti in New York City – over the years featuring a vast archive of graffiti photos and interviews with graffiti writers, as well as articles and essays on the history and culture of graffiti.
Mariah Fox is an educator, graphic designer, illustrator, and curator who has played a vital role in elucidating the graffiti landscape through her scholarship and love for the scene that formed the practices of pioneers like Diaz and Felisbret. In addition to her expert execution of a design theme and vernacular that supported the history but did not overwhelm the show and the book, Diaz says that Fox kept the project on track for its ultimate success.
Working within the larger community, the three pulled off a comprehensive, educational exhibition and program that included essays by the three and Chris Pape (Freedom), as well as panel discussions with graffiti historians, documentarians, and graffiti writers who were there during the formative chapters New York’s history on trains and walls.
In the beginning, and in the end, it’s all about the writers, say the curators.
“What makes this exhibit different from others,” says Diaz in an essay from the catalog, “is that the chronological narrative is told through the lens, and voice of the actual players who created graffiti, not observers, gallerists, art historians, collectors or academics. New York City graffiti artists have historically been underrepresented and our narrative has been misinterpreted or skewed. An accessible, concise, clear account for the general public is long overdue.”
“I couldn’t tell the story,” said Terror 161 at the exhibition’s opening, “because you know what? It’s everybody’s story. Like, somebody’s truth is my fiction.” The writer, author, and historian hosted two of the panels – one with first-generation New York City writers Wicked Gary, Coco 144, Mike 171, Ree 2, and Jester, and the other with famed photographer and documentarian Martha Cooper.
Looking over the timeline, it’s clear that this is a commonly held sentiment.
“The exact moment and origin of graffiti as we know it today is complex and heavily disputed,” say the curators in opening Part 1: Genesis, The Wall Era. “The narrators of this story pay credence to their unique New York City socio-cultural landscape as a spawning ground.”
But differences of opinion characterize the entire scene in the telling and the retelling, perhaps giving additional meaning and context to ‘Beef’, a primary feature of the history. For example, the music commonly associated with graffiti culture is Hip-Hop – it is even a forgone conclusion by many. Not so, say some of the pioneer graffiti writers who refer to hard rock as being more influential in their aerosol history.
Terror 161 says graffiti doesn’t need to be paired with either music genre. “I don’t connect music to it at all,” he says. “I say it’s a standalone visual art form that needs nothing attached to it. Dudes listened to what they listened to.”
The chapters of “City of Kings” are loosely gathered according to significant developments in the evolution of the graffiti scene, its practices, and players – all set across a backdrop of benchmarks in the social, economic, and popular aspects of local and worldwide news.
Chapter 1: Genesis (1967-1971) The Wall Era
Chapter 2: Foundation (1971-1973) The Code Forms
Chapter 3: Peak (1973-1976) Refined Tenets
Chapter 4: Revival (1977-1981) Revival
Chapter 5: Buffed (1981-1985) Survival of the Fittest
Chapter 6: Reset (1986-1989) The Die Hards
Chapter 7: Eternal (1989-Present) The Fields Blur
The latter chapter is a catch-all that attempts to contemplate the reverberations of the original scene, which many, including Pape in his essay, say “met its demise” in 1989. Graffiti continued to adopt, adapt, and mutate as it was absorbed into popular culture, adopted by advertisers, and endlessly coupled with the dreams of artists and creatives of all stripes worldwide. Blur is an apt descriptor.
In their brief tutorial named, “Code of Respect” Felisbret and Diaz describe foundational guidelines for writers as a guide, such as “Respect the Name,” “Don’t Bite,” and “Racking Up.” Lest you think there are no rules in graffiti, in the final section called “Following the Code, they offer the proviso, “this attitude always ends in conflict.”
“It’s comprehensive; it’s like a lesson plan,” says Diaz of the show, particularly the illustrated catalog accompanying it. It serves as an excellent primer, vetted and written by the people who were there.
“As an educator, I love covering new topics but it is often difficult to create sound lesson plans from scratch when teaching innovative new courses. The materials exist in various formats, but always need to be organized in a digestible way,” says Fox in her “Note to Educators.”
“This exhibition and accompanying catalog may serve as coursework for a range of all-age students. The content was curated with an inclusive, accessible intent, though this was often challenging to achieve. The time constraints upon us limited our abilities, so this isn’t a perfect package.”
As institutions and researchers continue to build their knowledge about the global democratic people’s art movement spawned by graffiti, “City of Kings” ensures that many of us will have a textbook that helps form the foundation in this ongoing education.
New York’s PORK is one of the few fire extinguisher writers who reliably has can-control, or nozzle control, as the case may be. If you know your extinguisher tags, these are examples of fine penmanship. Additionally, his necessarily brief cursive bon mots are cryptically funny, even if you don’t know his intention.
In this new softcover of street photography, many of his rattled-looking words are framed in their natural/unnatural environment and given their own page, or spread. In the index, you may get an insight into what the artist was thinking by the title given to the corresponding pages in the body. You’ll also gain insight into the irreverence, tempered at times with exquisitely poised timing.
“Vote” was placed in Prospect Heights to remind folks of election day, which seems quite civic-minded. “Woke” appeared during the Black Lives Matter protests on the Bowery Wall. “Prey” is a sly indictment sprayed upon a church being converted into high-end condos. These messages look wild and unnerving, injecting a visual shock into an otherwise run-down or decaying lot or boarded-up window or upon a semi-trailer.
The cover is reserved for one such burst of springtime exuberance; the white trailer set against a blue sky and framed by a cherry tree with it light pink blossoms simply declares, “Lovely Day.” The index informs us that it is of course, the song that must be running through your mind by Bill Withers as the soft breeze caresses your cheek.
PORK – “I LEFT A NOTE”. The first edition published 2022 by @BLURRINGBOOKSNYC
“I LEFT A NOTE” is a 500-copy limited edition, and each copy is signed. You can purchase the book at BlurringBooks.com
The traditional architecture in the Medina Atiga may be what attracts you initially, but it is the 150 street artists who will keep you wandering through the maze of tiny streets. The outdoor curation of Djerba by Mehdi Ben Cheikh, a bi-national with a gallery in Paris, happened over the last decade among the sun-blasted domes, arches, and towers here.
“Djerba was exceptionally well placed for an operation with worldwide impact.” says the visionary Cheihk in the newly released Part 2 of Djerbahood, “On this, the southernmost island of the Mediterranean, the climate is pleasant and temperate for more than half the year.”
In this village of Erriadh on the Tunisian island of Djerba, you are twenty-five kilometers from the airport, adjacent to a long shoreline of fine white sand, and officially walking inside a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also helps that here you’ll find palm trees, olive trees, figs, pomegranate, carob, apple, and apricot trees, crystal clear water, and a fairly mild climate.
“From my very first contact with the village and its inhabitants, I was persuaded that I was in the ideal place to launch an operation of this kind,” he says. “…The Djerbahood adventure had just begun.”
But aside from the hundreds of artworks in this outdoor museum, the new faces coming here also have infused the traditional community, businesses, and small industries. Mr. Cheihk spends some time detailing a tile business that has recreated itself with interesting new patterns and motifs and speaks of the newly engaged folks from the neighborhood who are proud of the artworks and ask for more when the originals have deteriorated.
It is an unusual project bringing street artists and muralists from 30 countries around the world, and the results have been enriching in culture and relationships. The unique atmosphere encourages unconventional artistic experiences, he says, stretching and blending new influences with the traditions of the area. It has become a laboratory of sorts where international meets contemporary.
As we prepare to celebrate 15 years of daily publishing stories and insights about street artists from around the world here on BSA, you’ll know that there are some whose work has merited hours of writing and photography much more than others – perhaps because we first knew her work here in our neighborhood of Brooklyn long before we began this site. Following her through almost every iteration and project, we’ve interviewed her on many stages and in her studio as she continues to unfold, self-examine, recognize the damage, heal herself, give to others, and create on the street, in the studio, gallery, museum, and now on screen.
For her second bound monogram, Caledonia Curry, AKA Swoon, reviews her path as a collection of psychological and emotional journeys, or perhaps one all-encompassing voyage with concurrents and tributaries running alongside and underneath. Whether she is showing you her early work on the streets here or in Italy at a festival called FAME, her Konbit Shelter days, her Braddock Project with the church in Pennsylvania, her Perly’s Beauty Shop, her epic installations at Jeffrey Deitch, LA MOCA in Los Angeles, ICA in Boston, the Brooklyn Museum, or DIA in Detroit, we’ve reported to you on them all – so you have an idea where this new book The Red Skein will take you. It is great to see the memories and the people all pulled together here cohesively and to understand the skeins that all weave as one, whether loosely and tightly.
In many ways, it is now evident that Swoon’s path has been entirely necessary for her and for the many it has touched.
The honorable Gabor Mate describes it so well here at the beginning of the book: “Sometimes people create art and don’t even know where it came from, but it came from some deep place inside themselves. And if they can do that consciously, then it is a form of therapy. Not that it is designed that way, but it can have that effect. People can also express art unconsciously, and to the extent that it stays unconscious, it’s not going to be very healing. So it has to be artistic expression, with some degree of consciousness, which is what her art is.”
”WOON: The Red Skein. DRAGO Publisher. Rome, Italy. 2022
A new book here features six years of selected works from a Polish graffiti writer, muralist, and professor of art and painting at a secondary school in his hometown of Olsztyn, Poland. He reckons that his life is one of ‘Planned Freestyle,’ meaning that having structure imposed upon him is very helpful in focusing his creative mind. You may quickly appreciate this characterization if you know any artists.
The collection of selected works here by Bartek Swiatecki is as luminous and optically rewarding to the viewer as they are opaque to the mind and stirring to the heart. With prolific and gently evolving abstractions in movement, you can see an artist at work, at play, and at his personal best – topping his previous work. The grandson of another painter and professor (of philology), Miroslaw Swiatecki, and the nephew of a famous painter and animator, Marek Swiatecki, perhaps it was only a matter of time before this 90s graffiti writer moved into more formal practices on canvas and walls.
In an in-depth interview, Pener reveals his sometimes complex feelings about the label of street artist, almost as if it diminishes his abilities and craft.
“Almost all of my friends I paint with are graduates of art faculties at universities or academies; most of them are architects or graphic designers,” he says. “Each of us works hard, so I get angry sometimes when we are labeled street artists because it is a huge simplification.”
The sentiment rings true, although we have never had anything but respect for street artists, regardless of their formal training. We witness a struggle for definitions at nearly every juncture along this graffiti/street art/fine art/mural art/contemporary art continuum.
In the end, the work speaks for itself, as this book can attest.
Color-blocked basketball courts appreciated from a plane, cheerful abstract murals for restaurants, hotels and cafes, and massive wood collages comprised of assembled pieces that are each finished before joining. What do these expressions of artist Scott Albrecht have to do with one another? If you study the patterns, in time, you will see.
A handsome cloth-covered hardcopy of works by the Gowanus, Brooklyn-based public/studio artist presents a selection of works from 2017-21 that have a rational color theory, smoothly dynamic geometries, and a soothing certitude in their complexity. Spotlighting public art projects, studio processes, exhibitions in New York and LA, and his residency at Hyland Mather’s place in Portugal, the collection is refined yet human.
In his description of his work, Albrecht is focused on the process as much as the product. “Most of my works are made up of a collection of pieces that go through a series of steps before they’re
assembled. Any single step per individual piece doesn’t take long–laminating, sanding, painting-but if a work has a couple of hundred pieces, and all those pieces go through the same process, time feels less linear and more compounded as I work through the steps.”
Together these steps appear to be a decoding mechanism that is necessary to understand fully. “While the work itself may be speaking to a single idea, it’s made up of a collection of individual elements coming together to form the whole,” he says. “I often equate these individual pieces to the micro-experiences we encounter that inform our relationship to an understanding.”
First encounters with Albrect’s work are gripping and calming – a deliberate collection of shapes and hues arranged in a way that is not readily apparent. It’s all about pattern recognition, says David Pescovitz, a research director at a think tank and co-editor of a tech/culture Web magazine. He writes the introduction to the book and tells us that the works are meant to be meditative, a brain exercise and visual riddle that, once solved, is rational.
“We’re so practiced at seeking patterns – searching for structure in the flood of signals coming our way, connecting the dots, trying to make sense of, well, everything–that we’re usually not aware we’re doing it.” Sighting neuroscientists and various peer review journals Pescovitz makes his case, and you are inclined to go back through the pages and let your eyes glide, parry, sense, and decode the patterns’ greater logic.
In time, you will.
Scott Albrecht: In Time. Click HERE for information about purchasing this book.
One of the exciting book releases this fall drops today in stores across the country – which is appropriate with a name like Spray Nation.
The centerpiece of the complete boxed set released this spring, this thick brick of graffiti tricks will end up on as many shelves as Subway Art; the book of Genesis that prepared everyone for the global scene of graffiti and street art that would unveil itself for decades afterward. See our review from earlier in the year, and sample some of the stunning spreads here, along with quotes by the book’s essay writers, Roger Gastman, Steven P. Harrington, Miss Rosen, Jayson Edlin, and Brian Wallis.
“Culled from thousands of her Kodachrome slides from the early 1980s, the celebrated photographer and ethnologist worked with American graffiti historian Roger Gastman over many months during the initial Covid period to select this rich collection of images of tags, walls, and pieces. Each turn of the page more profoundly deepens your understanding of the graffiti-writing culture Cooper captured with Henry Chalfant in their book Subway Art nearly forty years ago. That clarion call to a worldwide audience took years to reverberate and shake culture everywhere. With time that book became the standard root documentation for what many see as the largest global democratic people’s art movement in history.”
“To create Spray Nation, Cooper, and editor Roger Gastman pored through hundreds of thousands of 35mm Kodachrome slides, painstakingly selecting and digitizing them. The photos range from obscure tags to portraits, action shots, walls, and painted subway cars. They are accompanied by heartfelt essays celebrating Cooper’s drive, spirit, and singular vision. The images capture a gritty New York era that is gone forever.”
~ Prestel Publishing
“Martha’s photos have backed up graffiti writers’ tall tales more times than I can count. They’re like this crazy high school yearbook. As a result, Cooper is who every graffiti writer, fan, collector, and researcher wants to come and see. Most of them have not had the privilege of going to her studio and seeing the great amount of work she has amassed over the years – it’s truly awe inspiring. But every so often she pulls out yet another gem where we all scratch our heads and think, “Oh shit, what else is Martha holding?”
Roger Gastman, from the Foreward of Spray Nation
“‘If you want to publish your work, you cannot be ahead of or behind your time,’ she says as she reflects on an impeccable sense for capturing the birth of scenes like graffiti, hip-hop, and b-boying. ‘I was lucky to be at the right place and time.’”
“Martha is heralded today for capturing those trains and scenes along with Henry Chalfant in the seminal graffiti holy book Subwav Art, but few appreciate how painfully ahead of their time they were at that point.”
~ Steven P. Harrington, from Who is Martha Cooper?
“With a single snap of the shutter, Martha Cooper captured the searing rush of seeing a whole car make its debut on the line after being painted all night. You can all but hear the train thunder along the tracks and feel the ground rumble beneath your feet while a gust of wind hits your face. Is that the smell of spray paint?”
~ Miss Rosen, from Better Living Through Graffiti
“Martha took pictures of painted trains and b-boys because few bothered to at that time. Once people caught on, she considered her task completed. Martha followed the paint trail as it rose above ground. QUiK and IZ on the streets with Scharf and Hambleton. Madonna clubbing with Basquiat, Patti Astor with DONDI and FAB 5 FREDDY. Subway graffiti gradually died, street art rising from its ashes. Disinterest, drugs and AIDS decimated NYC’s cultural apex, its brightest stars perishing before their work hit the seven-figure mark – lives as ephemeral as our pieces on the train. These fleeting moments of births, peaks, and deaths live in perpetuity thanks to the foresight of Martha Cooper and a handful of others who tracked cool’s scent like underground bloodhounds.”
Jayson Edlin, from Peter Pan Haircut
“In a sense, Cooper’s photography picks up on the New Documentary approach of the early 1970s, in which independent photographers such as Larry Clark, Susan Meiselas, Jill Freedman, Mary Ellen Mark, and Danny Lyon recorded insider’s views of various closed societies of outsiders, social groups and “others” shoved aside by postwar American society in thrall to consumerism. The alienated drug users, prisoners, bikers, and prostitutes that those photographers lived among and depicted were largely invisible and had been further marginalized in America by class, race and gender prejudices. In a similar vein, Cooper sought to expose and legitimize the young subway writers as earnest and mildly rebellious artists with a purpose and a rational aesthetic agenda, rather than as the lawless urban vandals the police and the media sought to represent.”
~ Brian Wallis, from Graffiti As The People’s Art Form