Context and placement are key to the success of Street Art. Jay Shells’s project, “The Rap Quotes” more than meets those standards. Indeed his project might be one of the most relevant examples of street art responding to a specific time and place in history that you’ll ever see.
We’ve been repping Jay Shells (Jason Shelowitz) for years since we first found his text-based signage on Brooklyn streets in the oddest of locations. Within a short time they began to make sense, and then brilliant sense – since they acted as a GPS for some of your favorite rap lyrics.
“What if somehow these lyrics existed
visually, in the exact location mentioned?” he says to illustrate his original
Since that time the artist has taken
his Rap Quotes across the country (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles),
faithfully hunting down streets and neighborhoods and corners and businesses
referenced by a host of recordings from classic rap era and a few of the new
kids on the block as well.
“I’ve always had a serious passion for
lyricism, partly because I’ve always been envious of people who are gifted with
words,” he says in his new hardcover book that documents the 5 year campaign.
It is gratifying to see him out scaling the telephone poles and climbing
ladders with drill in hand to post these signs. They are a semi-permanent claim
to public space and people’s history at the same time; a recognition of an art
form of writing that rarely gets such laudatory treatment.
See the video at the end documenting the process – which Shelowitz credits as being the force that encouraged him the most. “My friend Bucky (Turco) ran a magazine and website called Animal New York, and when I told him about the project, he wanted to be involved. He introduced me to his newly hired photographer and videographer, Aymann Ismail at a party on a Friday night in early March 2013. We hit the streets early the next morning to get the 30 signs up, with Aymann document the process. About a week later, they posted the video and photos with a short write-up, and the rest is history.”
Check out some photos of the book in
the mean time.
Anyone born after 1960, and that includes most sticker artists on the street today, has a positive association with the humble sticker. From “smiley” and “gold star” rewards stuck to the top of your grade-school class papers to scratch-n-sniff or puffy stickers to MAD magazine product parodies for Quacker Oats and Minute Lice, a lot of kids grew up with good feelings about slaps.
Over the past two decades a serious community of sticker designers, traders,
artists, exhibitors and collectors has emerged – virtually assuring that public
bathrooms in heavy metal/ punk / hip hop/ alternative music clubs will be covered
top to bottom or ‘smashed’ with stickers. Adhesive equivalents of a business
card or portfolio sample for many artists, musicians, philosophers, anarchists,
and wise guys/gals, stickers are a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get
your message out to the world.
The sticker artist and curator named “I Will Not” has rallied together
thousands, even hundreds of thousands of stickers by artists from all over the
world during the last few years to mount sticker shows inside of the gallery
space – taking the concept of a group show into near infinity. A solo practice
intended for public campaigns, the global interconnectedness of this scene is
irrefutable, enabling entire galleries to showcase a massive amount of work at
once, including these from the DC Street Sticker Expo.
Like most subcultures, this one has a semi-tight set of rules and conventions and customs. For example, it is common to share your stickers in packs with other artists, but you are expected to put theirs up in your city. As in graffiti and Street Art, it is also verboten to obscure another artists sticker with yours on the street and any violation of this rule may result in “beef”, or a street grudge and public rivalry.
A book like “Smashed” can only come about with the complete passion of an author like IWillNot, who shares his infectious enthusiasm for the sticker game in this softcover volume. Here are some images from the book, as well as a link to learn more about it.
A welcome and necessary addition to any graffiti academic’s library comes Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore, carefully documented by Freddy Alva. A thorough recounting of the birth and growth of graffiti through the lense of punk and hardcore scenes after 1980, Alva presents a parallel evolution of a scene as it was interpreted by a largely white constituency of rockers, anarchists, and rebels who grew up in and around New York at that time.
Alva is careful to give due to the graffiti scene that is more often identified as the roots of this practice of urban mark making; the hip-hop culture of primarily black and latino youth during the 1960s and 1970s. As the neoliberal corporate capitalists took over Wall Street and the Reagan White House, a different sort of graffiti writer was often showing up on the street – and often on stage as part of a hardcore band.
Mr. Alva says that early hardcore bands like Frontline “became an important foundation to the eventual hardcore and graffiti synthesis that would come to envelop the scene.” It makes sense since the band featured graff writers including HYPER, RACE, ME62, and NOAH.
It’s an infrequently told history related in great detail following a timeline which identifies the “golden age” of this subcultural hybrid as 1985-1995. Packed full of extensive interviews with writers and essays by experts on the scene like Sacha Jenkins, it summons a gravel-voiced city cinema vérité flavor to a rugged unvarnished history and sometimes conflicting perspectives.
The series of interviews profile a wide number of individuals who are looking back on a common graff writing history; sometimes imparting a certain nostalgic haze to their stories. Their common path leads them to espouse philosophies and worldviews that are somehow universally rooted in struggle, but the insights and individual outcomes are anything but homogeneous. But almost all of them dislike or hate Street Art, that’s nearly universal.
You may not have been there, but you may feel like you were; its complete with amateur photography, a good selection of zines, black book works, ephemera, and some serious info-graphics on crews, members, and neighborhoods where they originated from (shoutout to designer Orlando Arce). The thick tome even offers a selection of relevant tattoo photos.
With a newly released second edition after only one year on the bookshelves, this one captures a big name that is as elusive as it is heralded by New York hardcore graffiti fans, REVS. Also a member of a hardcore band named Adam 12, the writer gives a great deal of insight into his path, ethos and career (see the first online publishing of a portion of this interview on BSA).
Tony Rettman, author of NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 gives praise to Alva for chronicling a scene that not many have paid sufficient due to and which contributed in a large way that clearly illustrates the interstitial relationships of New York’s various graffiti cultures.
“The correlation between graffiti culture and punk rock is something solely concentrated to New York and it’s surrounding boroughs,” Rettman writes. “Freddy Alva was there to absorb it all in real time and now he gives us the clear-cut history of the whole deal it all its grim and gritty glory.”
“I have had the good fortune of maintaining decades-long friendships with some of the people featured in these pages; the writers that played in bands, the writers that represented the scene, the graffiti crews that were composed of hardcore fans, the photographers of classic train pieces, the artists inspired by hardcore iconography, the tattooists that incorporated this imagery in their work… I have always wanted to give these voices an outlet to be heard and to be celebrated,” Alva writes.
With Urban Styles, he has.
*Banner poem excerpt by Chaka Malik, 2017
To purchase this book please click on the link below:
One benefit of being ahead of your time is that you can paint your own rules, discover your own voice, set a standard. A drawback is that you may have to push forward on your own before you gain support for what you are pursuing. The key is to keep moving.
As Futura pulls fully into the frame of contemporary artist, its important for upcoming artists to remember that he had a long route – including being a bike messenger on Manhattan’s untamed streets to provide for his family – while he was waiting until the rest of the street and art world caught up with him. Now that Street Art has confirmed that his abstract explorations on subway trains were an early sign of what was coming, brands and gallerists and collectors often call. “Full Frame” helps appreciate the body of work he developed during that time.
Self named Futura 2000 when that sounded futuristic, Lenny Gurr
has done more painting on canvas than he realized since the early 80s and his
style has continued to evolve and clarify.
“Just for people to finally get a look at my work – I feel like a lot of what is being revealed hasn’t really been seen,” he tells us as he describes the nearly 300 page yellow tome “Full Frame,” published by Drago and organized by Magda Danysz. Among the richly illustrated pages, Danysz presents important benchmarks in Futura’s steadily growing career and personal life that bring the evolution closer to the reader.
In terms of the visual language in these sketches, diagrams and canvasses, there are a wealth of orbs and symbols and sprays and washes and stellar interstellar journeys that you have never seen before. Evolution appears to be natural for Futura, his pores and nerve endings collecting signals, firing synapses, pushing deep into imaginary worlds.
Influences run from expressionists, abstractionists, modernists, punks, the race to the moon and the moonage daydreams of city hippies everywhere. His recurring circle motifs are as much about his internal mind and world as they are about the cosmos.
A sense of balance in the chaos is always present, the palette choices impeccably on point, sharply sweet and frequently daring. Is this fantasy or diary? If Futura hasn’t flown to most of these places, it’s not because he hasn’t tried. But we’re treating these pages and frames of eye-popping other-worlds as evidence that he has.
“I think for the most part people appreciate survivors,” he is quoted in the book. Few survivors could be so freely percolating with ideas and graceful in their delivery.