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
Subway Art on Steroids: Spray Nation Sorts Through Mountains of Kodachromes
Page after page of golden NYC hits from the Martha Cooper archive; this new hardcover tome expands the galaxy for fans and academics of that amber-soaked period when it seemed like New York was leading a Spray Nation of graffiti for cities across the country. Known for her ability to capture graffiti writers’ work in its original urban context, Ms. Cooper once again proves that her reputation as the documentarian of an underground/overground aesthetics scene is no joke.
With an academics’ respect for the work, the practice, and the practitioners, Cooper recorded volumes of images methodically for history – and your appreciation. With the vibrant and sometimes vicious city framing their pieces, an uncounted legion of aerosol-wielding street players raced city-wide at top speed, ducking cops and cavorting with a confident abandon in the rusted and screeching steel cityscape. By capturing these scenes without unnecessary editorializing, Cooper gives you access to the organically chaotic graffiti subculture on the move at that moment – directly through her unflinching eyes.
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.
A smartly laid-out and thick volume (as well as its “Outtakes” collection), the high-quality printing and spare design hew to the photographer’s reliably straightforward approach, preferring to let the photos tell the story. From this perspective, Spray Nation is likewise a sleeper; We’ll probably only wholly appreciate its pivotal value and cultural importance with time.
Martha Cooper: Spray Nation. Signed Limited Edtion Box Set is published by Beyond The Streets. With a foreword by Roger Gastman and essays by Steven P. Harrington, Miss Rosen, Jayson Edlin, and Brian Wallis. Click HERE to purchase the book.
Almost a year ago, the Jersey City Mural Festival 2021 was launched. We covered it extensively for you here, here, here, and here on BSA.
Poet, urban author, photographer, and longtime NYC messenger Kurt Boone was there too, camera in hand and ready to record the action of the artists getting up on walls and meeting the public. Kurt throws himself into the scene and knows how to navigate while people are enjoying the atmosphere of creativity all around. With his knowledge of the street capturing graffiti, urban cycling, street photography, skateboarding, and busking, you know that his shots are on point.
Instead of uploading everything to a social media platform, Boone asked his friend Anthony Firetto to help lay out his photos to create a book. This is a genuine work of the heart – a self-published hefty book that captures a moment in time, the various players and styles, and a flashpoint in the development of Jersey City as it continues to change.
Congrats to Mr. Boone for putting this together and thanks to him for sharing it with us and BSA readers. See more about Kurt Boone and his impressive work HERE.
French Street Artist Julien de Casabianca is debuting a new series of photographs that may appear as a surprising departure from his previous multi-year multi-city OUTINGS project, but a closer examination contains many similarities between that one and “Grand Mozeur Feukeur”.
The street artist’s pastings for his OUTINGS Project featured scenes from figurative artworks, classical and modern, from museum collections. Julien de Casabianca wanted the images displayed on facades of buildings in public view rather than hidden away for a limited audience. By bringing outside these selected artworks from cultural institutions worldwide, the artist created a genuinely new category of street art, which doesn’t occur with the frequency you might expect.
From Poland to Mexico to Palestine and Vietnam, OUTINGS expanded to be many things at once, including a form of public service that exposed passersby to cloistered artists whose works were prized but generally unseen by the everyday citizen, therefore unconsidered. Everyone was required to re-think the artworks as well as their pre-conceptions of propriety.
Sometimes partnering directly with local art institutions, Casabianca traveled the world, bringing images into the light of day. Considered anew in this city street context, these excised images took on newly discovered relevance, weights, and character. While some appeared as ghosts of the past, others were remarkably contemporary in these modern surroundings. With the implied or explicit imprimatur of academics and art institutions, his novel approach to art on the streets was timely and of our time, short-circuiting convention and garnering countless press articles in cities and cultures widespread.
For one campaign, he selected only “sex scenes,” as he calls them. Motivated by his disappointment at the lack of sexual themes in the street art scene, Julien de Casabianca isolated duos and polyamorous parties engaged in the erotic arts. “It was my first step of questioning sex, gender, and body in street art,” he tells us in an exclusive interview. A redefining of the street art scene, which can be ironically conventional considering its unconventional origins, was necessary.
“My pasting work used characters taken directly from classical paintings – and I put them in the streets,” he says. “There were dozen of sex scenes – heterosexuals and homosexuals – extracted from classical paintings.”
The impulse to expose audiences to these images was liberating, leading him to publish a manifesto on the streets of his home city, Paris. The long screed excoriated his fellow street artists worldwide for what he perceived as their lack of bravery and possibly hypocrisy by avoiding explicitly sexual scenes.
One excerpt says, “What’s wrong with you guys? Street artists are the purest of them all, then? The least ballsy, apparently. The least boobsy too.”
Today, following his own counsel, Casabianca presents a personal campaign in photographs that again introduces themes infrequently seen on the street, this time using himself as muse and canvas. As LGBTQ issues have mingled with a volley of newly coined terms and freshly minted (often self-appointed) experts in the academy, the media, and the street, many everyday persons have continued to navigate through life with seemingly new definitions of gender identity. This new campaign may clarify, or not.
As an artist familiar with both public display and figurative artwork, Casabianca models here his unique flair for fashion. He also displays a previously little-known relationship with gender, sexuality, and our coding guidelines for classification of each. In this new project, he models dresses that he has collected, each endowed with several associations and assumptions.
As in the OUTINGS project, these photographs are excised from their original intended context, if you will, and given a new venue for consideration. Along with the quality of materials and construction, the viewer will evaluate categories such as “day” or “evening,” occasion, income level, social status, age, gender, sexuality, sexual availability, and degrees of masculinity or femininity.
“This new series of pictures presents my body as a form of street art. I do not see the body used in street art either, but I believe it can be a kind of contemporary art performance,” he says in his description of the new project he’s calling “Grand Mozeur Feukeur.”
Paired with footwear that is not typical for the styles of dress, he poses with some deadpan expressions, occasionally appearing as solicitous, coy, non-plussed, or decisive. You may even say they are a parody of the poses in classical antiquity or fashion magazines. This is a very personal act of self-exposure, and the project reveals his questioning of identity and the paradox of self-expression – and society’s propensity for categorizing.
In total, “Grand Mozeur Feukeur” is a very intimate, provocative presentation that may surprise and draw closer examination by viewers. Grand, severe, and even humorous, the performer/muse/artist places himself against a “typical” scene of urban aerosol graffiti tags on walls. – It’s not exactly street art, yet you can imagine some of these images may end up on the street in a city near you.
“This work questions gender,” he says. “There is a malaise in the masculine aspect in our society at this moment, and I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexually attracted to people who identify as this as well. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. I may be something like a cross-dyke, because “dyke” at one time was a slang term for a well-dressed man. A well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.”
BSA interviewed Julien de Casabianca about his new project:
Brooklyn Street Art (BSA): Can you talk about what led you from your previous street art project to this new one? A number of those pasted works focused on sexual and erotic themes. Is the new project related to each other in any way?
Julien de Casabianca (JC): My OUTINGS work uses characters removed from classical paintings to paste them in the streets. I pasted a dozen sex scenes extracted from classical paintings in Paris streets, and I published the series in Nuart Journal. Some were heterosexuals in nature, and some were homosexual. So this was my first step in questioning sex and gender in street art. And I discovered how sex and gender are rare in street art.
Sexuality is seldom discussed, except in a way meant to be comical. Homosexuality is rarely addressed, except in a political way, in defense of visibility, for example. Rarely are these themes presented for just what they are: sex and love. So once I realized this, it opened my eyes, and I decided to continue to work on these queer questions.
BSA: The dresses present a traditional look at female gender roles. Here they are contrasted with perhaps more modern classic male presentation. How is a costume/dress selected?
JC: These are only “old lady” dresses, grand-mother style. I’m fascinated by kitsch and how there can be a beautiful state in the sublimation of ugly. I think these dresses fit me really well. Since I was 15 years old, I always wore these dresses when I went to a queer party. I did not intend it as a travesty or an absurdity, not just to “dress up.” It is just because I’m beautiful in it! I don’t act like a girl. I’m a man, with my virility intact, and I’m absolutely not androgynous. And some are funny, yes. I have a huge collection, around 150.
BSA: The footwear and socks are frequently well-matched to the color scheme of the dress, yet they are not directly related to the style. Is this intentional?
JC: Yes, I’m a sneaker addict, and I always wear sneakers, even in a dress. And I’m in urban style all the time, and it’s my job, so I wanted absolutely to create this mix between old-school and contemporary.
BSA: Does posing before heavily graffitied walls make these modeling sessions more “street” or “urban”?
JC: Yes, I’m a street artist, and this wall is in my home. There are two ways to connect this series of photography in the continuity of my street art work: the urban style association of the sneakers and the walls covered in graff.
BSA:Are you challenging gender roles and definitions, or are you expressing identity and sexuality?
JC: This work questions gender. There is a malaise in the masculine in our society. I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the typical heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexual attracted to people who identify as this. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. Maybe I am something like a cross-dyke, because people used to use “dyke” as slang for a well-dressed man. And a well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.
BSA: Is there comedy here?
JC: There is comedy too, sometimes, because I’m funny in my life and the photographs are my work. But these styles are from my nightlife. At my house, my decor is full of old-lady stuff. I’m in love with those things. They are deeply moving.
BSA: In terms of society and your personal evolution, could this project have occurred in 1991? 2001? Or is there something about 2021 that makes it feel “right”?
JC: It has been an incredible evolution in the last few years in the overall recognition by people of the variety of genders that exist. Ten years ago, people would have regarded my looks as travesty or comedy, period. I’m not either one, not traditionally hetero. I’m queer. During the day, I wear what could be considered a “heterosexual urban” style – maybe androgynous. At night I’m wearing old lady dresses while keeping my virility and masculine behavior.
The street sticker, be it ever so humble and diminutive, is profligate and sometimes even inspiring. An amalgamated scene that is anonymous, yet curiously stuck together, the organizers and sponsors of so-called sticker jams have been overwhelmed in recent years by thousands of participants.
Hand-made one-offs to slick mass-produced and custom die-cut by the hundred, these adhesive back expressions of personal branding may depict characters, slogans, witticisms, or satirical skewing of pop culture memes. Collectively these are the DNA of a global game played out in the street and in public spaces, a silent dialogue that yells quite loudly.
Artist and organizer IWILLNOT has compiled, organized, archived, and preserved this collection as a ‘field guide,’ he says, and another artist named Cheer Up has laid out page after page. It is a global cross-sample from 60 countries and a thousand artists – a treasure trove of the witty, insightful, snotty, and sometimes antisocial street bards of the moment, seizing their moment to speak and mark territory.
UNSMASHED: A Street Art Sticker Field Guide. Compiled by IWILLNOT, Designed by Cheer Up. A Collection of 1,229 full color sticker designs by 1,000 artists from more than 60 countries. Published by IWLLNOT and Cheer Up. December 2020.
The world is slowly making movements toward the door as if to go outside and begin living again in a manner to which we had been accustomed before COVID made many of us become shut-ins. Parisian street artist FKDL was no exception, afraid for his health. However, he does have a very attractively feathered nest, so he made the best of his time creating.
On the first anniversary of his 56-day confinement, we look at what art project he made for himself, using items he had collected. A serious gatherer of magazines, photographs, record albums, and objects that capture his attention, his studio is a small personal museum and archive – full of boxes and shelves and music from the era of his mid-century birth. It’s a golden age that he happily gains entrée to, especially when commanded by a global virus.
“March 17, 2020, the unprecedented experience of confinement begins in France,” writes Camille Berthelot in the introduction to Closed (in) for Inventory, “Time that usually goes so fast turns into a space of freedom, and everyone has the leisure or the obligation to devote himself to the unexpected.”
FKDL quickly began a project daily, sorting and assembling 10 items and photographing them. He posted them to his Instagram by mid-day. Eventually, he saved the photographed compositions together and created this book.
“My duty of tidying up and sorting out turned into a daily challenge. I dove like a child into the big toybox my apartment is to select and share my strange objects, my banalities, my memories, my creations, and those of others,” he writes. “I gather these treasures, valuables or not, in search of harmony of subject, forms, materials, and nuances.”
(EN)FERME POUR INVENTAIRE by Les Editions Franck Duval. Paris, France.
With precision and guile Sandra Chevrier has painted a female world that is sophisticated, unreachable and appealing, whether painted on canvas, street mural, or stuck to a wall in the margins of a city. The characters who are punching and pouncing and swooning across her faces are reflective of her own hearts’ adventures, seamlessly rolling and intermingling with those epic storylines and dust-ups with superheroes and villains of yesterday.
Perhaps it is because of this sense of inexactly placed nostalgia, in “Cages” we are aware of the ties that bind us, the roles that we hold – whether chosen or imposed – and we’re rooting for these Chevrierotic women to win – as they scream and cry and swing for the rafters, looking for the way out.
“A dance between triumph and defeat, freedom and captivity, the poison and the cure,” stands the ambivalent quote on the page facing her black and white photo by Jeremy Dionn.
A closeup of her face, her hand horizontally obscures the lower half, her index finger raised to allow Sandra to see, to study and assess. Without question this artists’ work is more than autobiographical – these expressions offer a stunned sense of mystery, an understanding at the precipice, an adventure ready to occur.
Arranged chronologically over the last decade you can witness in her works ample evidence of her refinement of technique and reverence as an artist and as an individual; struggling between revealing and hiding, adding human dimension or remaining an object. Selected swatches of superheroes form collage masks across a steady parade of beautiful female faces and forms, their drama stirred and everpresent, lying in wait until confidence takes root.
Gorgeously designed and laid out; alternating between large matt-finished plate portraits and small sketch paper inserts, the book conveys warmth and clarity even as her superheroes remain mysterious. These cages, however they present themselves, are glossy and refined. Are they empowered, or are they objectified? The lines are blurred. Her femmes are imbued as more than just the fatale who lures one into a dangerous or compromising situation, but these figures may also revel in mystery itself, just beyond your arms reach.
Inquisitive, strong, and full of imagination, Chevrier may surprise everyone when these figures eventually take off their masks. Until then, the enchanting mysteries continue.
In the Street Art continuum that presents itself to the passerby on city streets, the early practice of hand-drawn tags on stolen postal stickers eventually morphed into mass-produced slick runs of personal branding and large scale one-off hand rendered/cut paper pieces wheat-pasted with a brush. This story, ever-evolving, is more inclusive than some may think of when you talk generically about “slaps” on a door or on the base of a streetlamp in the city’s visual dialogue. For the book Stickers Vol 2, author DB Burkeman takes a wider survey of the practice, however, and in his second compendium, he goes where BSA has always followed the creative spirit; wherever it leads.
In practice, there are few strictly “sticker artists”. More often there are artists and taggers who also use stickers as part of their public practice which may include painting, aerosol tagging, freehand marker tagging, printing, wheat pasting, sculpture. By adapting the techniques and language of advertising, propaganda, and branding, artists have seized the opportunity to have a voice in the public sphere that is more often only reserved for commercial interests.
Street Artists’ practices of self-promotion are
indistinguishable from those of commercial or political interests – and why
not? The public space has always been used as a battleground for ideas, a
marketplace for attention, a proving ground of identity and power, a theater
for capturing imagination, a Socraterial classroom for presenting and probing
ideas and the examination of our assumptions about them.
In a fiercely democratic way, with a very low admission
price, all motivations are presented here, and all of them are flawed, and all
of them are perfect.
Burkeman’s sophisticated examinations of sticking practices are equally wide in his survey – his own full immersion into art, music, performance, consumer psychology, pop culture, and advertising giving him a comprehension and appreciation of its seeming seamlessness.
Burkeman’s introductory essay addresses topics ranging from billboard busting, culture jamming, market forces and Warhols’ bananas – admitting that his baseline appreciation has not waned even as his own study lead him ever deeper and deeper into an ocean he still hasn’t fully fathomed since launching his first sticker volume, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art.
“Even after ten years of having this adhesive monkey on my back, I’m surprised that I can still get a kick out of the conversation that happens on the street when someone puts up a sticker,” he says. “It’s like a radiating signal to have others put their own stickers up next to it, as if to say, ‘hey, what’s up?’ The result is a cluster of paper and vinyl personalities.”
Keeping it contemporary, he also calls in experts from this idiosyncratic world of expressions to further your appreciation for the sticking practice as a reflection of society and a catalyst for it – from the Street Artist Invader to the blue-chip curator/innovator Jeffrey Deitch to fans/visionaries like Stretch Armstrong, C.R. Stecyk III, Dante Ross, and The Super Sucklord.
Using his first book as calling card, many doors have opened to Burkeman, enabling access to collections and rarities, deep dives into the crates, selections of unknowns that you would otherwise not have access to – let alone the opportunity to appreciate. You also get a selection of stickers for your own collection by serious names, including Bast, Lister, Shepard Fairey, Skullphone, Futura, Ron English, and Neckface.
“Cheap, immediate, and unapologetically in your face, the sticker remains the go-to, lo-fi expression for many a band, brand, and fan,” says Don Letts, a founding member of Big Audio Dynamite, among other things. Clearly, the images and messages sent and received using this method have been a boon to those looking to have a voice, and the sticker practice will continue apace. Undoubtedly, DB Burkeman has it covered.
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.
It is an age of self-discovery, and the twins continue to be surprised by what they find as they attack huge walls with zeal and precision in New York, LA, Miami, Stavanger, Prague, Las Vegas, Rochester, Philadelphia, Rio – all in the last 12 months. Now while they prepare for their new pop-up show, “Late Confessions”, to open in Manhattan in a couple of weeks, the combined subconscious of How & Nosm is at work, and on display are the personal storylines they will reveal if you are paying close attention.
It’s a crisp sunny Saturday in Queens and we’re in the studio of a secured elevator building with cameras and clean floors and air thick with aerosol. Davide (or is it Raoul?) is on his knees with a tub of pink plastering goo, applying and smoothing and sanding this large oddly-shaped structure. When it is painted it will debut in the newly renovated Chelsea space whose walls were destroyed during the flooding of falls’ super storm “Sandy”. The gallery space of Jonathan Levine wasn’t large enough for the scale the brothers have grown accustomed to working with, so this more cavernous temporary location will take on a feeling of being part exhibition, part theme park.
The impermanent sculpture of pressed cardboard is rocking between his knees as he straddles the beast and chides his dog Niko for jumping up on it. Rather than a sculpture, you may think it’s a prop for a high school play at this phase, but soon it will become a shiny black beacon of psychological/historical symbolism culled from the collection of objects they gather in travel. Born from the imagination of the brothers and affixed with bird decoys, clock faces, large plastic blossoms, and a rotary dial telephone, these rolling clean lines and saw-toothed edges of these sculptures will glisten under a heavy coating of midnight lacquer soon.
As you walk through the high-ceilinged studio, the excited twins talk continuously in their deep baritones at the same time at you around you and in German to each other. The barrage of stories are spilling out and trampling and crashing like cars off rails; An energetic parlay of authoritative statements and direct questions about work, walls, gallerists, graffers, cops, trains, toys, techniques. All topics are welcomed and examined, sometimes intensely. Sincere spikes of laughter and sharp swoops of fury act in concert: clarifying, praising, and dissing as they swirl in a rolling volley of goodness, pleasantly spliced with a caustic grit.
Looking at the precise lines and vibrant patterns at play in their work today, there is a certain cheerfulness and high regard for design in the compositions and sense of balance. Both of them site influences as wide as early graffiti, later wild style, cubism, and the abstractionists in their work. Fans are attracted to the confident and attractive illustrative depictions of scenes and characters, appreciating the ever strengthening free-hand command of the aerosol can and stencil techniques that HowNosm have demonstrated in their machine-like march through the streets of world over the last decade plus.
Though they estimate they have visited over 70 countries, they still love New York and both call Brooklyn their home right now. And while the work they do hits a pleasure center for many viewers, time with both reveals that the stories within can be anything but cheerful. Raoul characterizes their work as dark and negative, born from their shared past, the adversity of their childhood.
“Negative sounds… I don’t know if that’s the right word for it,” says Davide, “but it’s not the bright side of life.”
And so goes the duality you’ll find everywhere – a study of opposites intertwined. One paints a skull in the half circle, the other paints it’s reflection alive with flesh. You’ll see this split throughout, unified.
“We came from one sperm. We split in half,” says Raoul. “Life, death, good, bad. We’re one, you know. We used to do pieces by ourselves with graff – you know I would do “How” and he would do “Nosm” – then with the background we would connect. Now we would just do pieces with our name “HowNosm” together as one word. I never do a How anymore, really.”
Their early roots in graffiti are always there, even as they became labeled as Street Artists, and more recently, contemporary artists. But it’s a continuum and the line may undulate but it never leaves the surface. Davide describes their auto-reflexive manner of moving from one icon or scenario to another seamlessly across a wall and he likens it to a graffiti technique of painting one continuous stream of aerosol to form a letter or word.
“It’s like a ‘one-liner’,” he says, referring to the graffiti writer parlance for completing a piece with one long line of spray. “That’s kind of far from what we are doing right now but it is all kind of one piece. The line stops but it kind of continues somewhere. We are refining and refining, and it takes time to develop.”
Blurring your eyes and following the visual stories, it may appear that a spiral motion reoccurs throughout the red, black, and white paintings of HowNosm. Frequently the pattern draws the viewers eye into the center and then swirls it back out to connect to another small tightening of action. While we talk about it Raoul traces in the air with his index finger a series of interconnected spiral systems, little tornadoes of interrelated activity.
This technique of creating inter-connected storylines is a way of intentional communication and storytelling, and how they describe events and relationships. It is an approach that feels sort of automatic to the brothers. “Our pieces make you think. You look and look and you find more images and you try to understand the whole concept,” says Davide. “I think you can spend quite some time just looking at one piece. You start somewhere and you can develop a story around it but you go somewhere else in the piece and you may do the opposite.”
Would you care to make a comparison to those other well known Street Art twins, Os Gemeos? They are used to it, but aside from being brothers of roughly the same age who began in graffiti and work on the streets with cans, they don’t find many similarities.
“Our stuff is more depressing,” says Raoul, “and way more critical. We talk about the negative aspects and experiences in life.” How much is autobiographical? As it turns out, it is so autobiographical that both brothers refer to their painting historically as a therapy, a cathartic savior that kept them out of jail and even away from drugs growing up.
“We kind of had a very disturbed childhood,” explains Raoul, “Welfare too, so…. I smile a lot and shit but in my paintings I think it is more important to express myself with what most people want to suppress and not show, you know? There’s a lot of love stuff, too. Like heartbroken stuff, financial situations – about myself or other people.”
Davide agrees and expands the critical thinking they display in these open diaries to include larger themes they address; deceptively rotten people, corporate capitalism, familial dissension, hypocrisy in society, corruption in government. It’s all related, and it is all right here in black and white. And red.
“Ours are continuing lines,” Davide says as he traces the canvas with his fingers, “Like this knife here is going to turn into a diamond.”
We’re keeping it local today with an empty patch of real estate on Manhattan’s Lower East Side called “The Grassy Lot” that’s been semi-curated for about a year with an eclectic mix of American and Australian ex-pats. It’s a nice little patch of grass that is sometimes rented out for events and receptions – also it is used occasionally for rumored topless sunbathing, water balloon fights, or the periodic impromptu late night assignation after stumbling out of a nearby watering hole.
Like all fun things, Summer is drawing to a close, at least officially. For those of you who walk the streets of this city either with your eyes closed or fixed on your belly button we inform you that it was the Summer of Love ’12 for The Yok and Sheryro, who stayed at the top of the aerosol charts due to their sheer industry. This little lot has some examples of their stuff, but really they seemed to get up all over. Here also is Queen Andrea, who has also been making a strong showing of late, along with stuff from Cake, Cern, Daek1, Gaia, Nanook, Never, and Sean Morris.
Brooklyn impresario Joe Franquinha of Crest Art Show fame was the procurer of art at “The Grassy Lot” again this year and we extend our gratitude to him for letting us give a peak to BSA readers.