All posts tagged: Art Exhibitions

Damon Johnson and Jewels in the Gallery After Years In the Wild

Damon Johnson and Jewels in the Gallery After Years In the Wild

Street Artist Damon Johnson says he loves Dick Tracy and has collected stacks of comic books starring the smart and square-jawed, hard-hitting, fast-shooting, detective who pieces together the clues.

When you find one of Damon’s painted cartoon scenes on a wire fence in an abandoned toxic lot your thoughts may turn to femme fatales, villains, and the gritty and dangerous world of the underground. They are real, and then some. Now all we need is a hero.

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Celebrating the opening of his solo show in Chinatown last night, the New Yorker tells us that the themes of anguish and despair recur in his street pieces because he has fought inner demons himself, and naturally there is a little autobiography in every artists work.

Even though his chosen color palette is often bright, he sees the line work and subject matter as more serious and maybe not in parallel to the more cheerful side of Street Art he sees around him today. “I guess they all are happy, and I’m the only one that it isn’t, but I don’t see much happiness in the world today,” he says as he peruses the new pieces at Gallery Sensei. Seen through the visual style and vocabulary of comics, cartoons, and 80’s era graffiti, the complexities of daily urban existence does actually appear somehow simpler and more manageable.

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Damon. The Rose in the wild. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

One recurring image is the undulating rose that is illustrated with movement, alive and bright as it is wretched. It was one of the first of his flowers “in the wild” of Gowanus, Brooklyn that we discovered a few years ago in an empty lot, oddly out of place. Raw, possibly poisonous– need we mention thorny – Damon’s rose pushes upward out of the putridity with frank glamour, surrounded by flies and mosquitoes.

“The flowers represent the beauty and fragility of life, I wanted to make something seen as beautiful and turn it into something dangerous, the flowers almost look like weapons with sharp leaves and radiant energy,” he says in the press release for this show.  Given the skater culture and tattoo art influence of most of his work, it is no surprise that this rose is also inked onto a friend’s skin. “Paint the rose as if it is germinating up from the gritty sidewalks of The Bronx,” were the directions he followed.

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Damon will freely tell you that his art is a personal therapy and his work on the street has possibly saved his life in one way or another. Reading into the various domestic and romantic scenes depicted with comic book drama, or even poking around the rose leaves, you may see the artist has found hope amid the wreckage. Possibly “Radiant Jewels” is a physical manifestation of that hope.

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. Monster in the wild. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. A version of the above piece in the wild on the streets of NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Damon. “Radiant Jewels” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

 

“Radiant Jewels’ Is open for the general public at Gallery Sensei. Click HERE for further information and details.

 

 

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Faile “Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom”, or Hot Rods, Unicorns & Coloring Books

Faile “Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom”, or Hot Rods, Unicorns & Coloring Books

Hormonal murmurings, childhood dreaming, race cars, hot rods, porky pig. All are on display at Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom, the new show by Faile running roughshod all summer at Galerie Hilger NEXT in Vienna. The collection of works on wood, paper, and fabric is a petrol injected force of beasts and beauty as the Brooklyn-based Street Artists / fine artists continue to challenge themselves to rummaging through childhood and teen lust and recombining images in an almost subliminal space juiced with fantasies from various perspectives, almost colored with punk-rock bleary hues. Or maybe it is more appropriate to say “parent-hood bleary” these days.

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

While early 2000s Faile also experimented with stopping the presses before the final screen, allowing the guts of their prints to be unfinished and imperfect in all their glory, recent projects like the one with the New York City Ballet have required a tighter control over the finished product. “I mean for a lot of these – like if you look back at 2002 with the “Space Shuttle” a lot of this is like going back to those things,” says Patrick McNeil as he shows us around the large collection of pieces in their Brooklyn studio before they made the trip to Austria last month – while Miller is at the computer finishing the cover design for a new 360 page Faile tome to be released this fall.

For the two Patricks Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom is an opportunity to re-engage with their art and to take a look back to the lesser finished, more ruff-cut approach of their early days. “A lot of the shows that we’ve done recently, like the one with the (New York City) ballet – things that require the woodblock prints, they are heavily dependent on assistants to like pump everything out to make the material and get ready for the show. So we are trying to get back – to get the “hand” back into it and step away from that process for a bit and go back to really being fully engaged with the work.”

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“….These are diptychs, double page spreads of 1960s hotrod magazines . We took out all the content, redid the spread, redid all the cars, we did all of the text, dressed up a little bit of the content,” says Patrick McNeil. Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Much of this is like de-constructed Faile.
Patrick McNeil: Yeah I mean a lot of them have like the skeletal work of Faile. It’s basically how a Faile image gets built up, but we just kind of stopped earlier on it.

Brooklyn Street Art: So the color is blocked in on one layer and then you stopped. No detail.
Patrick McNeil: Yep, just kept them really loose and gestural

In addition to the “holding back” of the final over-printing, you’ll notice two other themes here. You may have seen sketches from the early 2000s of Faile’s ’57 Chevy screen printed in black on white that is rather scribbled upon by crayons? That image alone could provide sufficient foreshadowing for the other two directions for “Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom”. The artists actually experimented with their kids to have quality coloring-book time for this show, and McNeil consulted his own memories of his father as a race car driver while leaning on his Uncle Jim for his expertise of hot rods from the 60s and 70s.

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“So we did six of these different cars  – we kind of went in and we tricked everything out.” Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“And it’s kind of a personal thing with working on it with the kids,” says McNeil, “The other half of the show is about cars… and a lot of these things are what our kids like; Fantasy, fast cars, music, princesses, unicorns, animals, and all those kinds of things. The cars also go back to my childhood and with my dad.”

We turn to a collection of coloring book pages on the work table in the spacious worksop and talk about how kids fill shapes and areas with crayons or markers, and what color choices are involved. McNeil talk about how he spent time observing both his kids and Millers and taking the time to get inside their process. Eventually many of the new pieces reflect what he refers to as “collaboration”.

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“We were going through coloring books – We have all these amazing things from the 60s that were colored in. And the way kids would color them was they would block shit out and lock out shapes and I was like, ‘these look rad, we should do like a series of paintings.’ We’ve always talked about the trapping, the painting that goes in before the final print goes on,” he says.

“So we started to take these home and have the kids work on them or we would work on them together – so I painted this one and my son painted this one at home but when I was painting with the kids I got really in tune with just watching them –  and the color and thinking about the shapes,” he says as he describes the very similarly rendered pieces he and his kindergarden-aged son would sometimes come up with. “My son sends me this one and he did the legs and the body kind of like how I did and I took what he did and I reinterpreted it like that and you kind of get this kind of thing happening.”

 

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So you feel like you were tuning into a more childlike approach?
Patrick McNeil: Not only that I’m like collaborating with my son and he’s five and I would do them and then show him and he was like, “Daddy, why are you copying my work?” And I would say, “Well this isn’t copying, we’re collaborating and you’re helping me and I’m re-interpreting what you are doing.”

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

When it came to the hot-rods – the two page magazine spreads and the hero worship massive solo prints – more senior members of the family were brought into the process.

Patrick McNeil: So getting back to the cars – my dad used to race cars
Brooklyn Street Art: Did he have that roll bar inside the car?

Patrick McNeil: Yeah he raced cars and my Uncle Jim used to race cars in the 60s. – so here’s one he used to race. So we did a series of race cars, wait I’ll show you…

Brooklyn Street Art: Wow, yeah,
Patrick McNeil: So we did six of these different cars  – we kind of went in and we tricked everything out.  I worked with my Uncle Jim to get all the accurate information for these particular cars, the speeds that they ran, the engines that were running in them, the horsepower, transmission, the tracks that they raced at. And then we took the real content and made fictional cars with fictional names.

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So they are grounded in fact…
Patrick McNeil: It’s grounded in fact but made entirely of fiction.  So of the cars we did six different cars.

Brooklyn Street Art: My god, these are superstars.
Patrick McNeil: And of the six cars we did three of each again.  You can kind of see the variations.

It’s not that Faile has been impersonal in the past, he says, it’s just that they are looking a little more inward a little at the moment. One influential artist that he points to is Mike Kelly, whose recent retrospective at PS1 drew on so many parts of his daily life and existence for inspiration in his work. “After seeing the Mike Kelley show and hearing how his life informed his work – we’re kind of embracing that. I mean the work always has some personal twist  – like “Urban Assault” is about moving out to the suburbs while “Bunny Girl” was more about creating an image. There are things of course that connect more to personal experience,” he says.

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom clearly contains a lot of each, and for Faile it the freedom they have experienced in the making of these new pieces is as evident on their faces as it is in the vibrancy and risk-taking of the new work. From their earliest mono-prints and stencils to now, the duo has returned to the raw punk-rock well for inspiration and each time have found themselves re-aligned.

Brooklyn Street Art: This show really spreads wide. How many pieces are there?

Patrick McNeil: So there’s the magazine spreads, there’s five diptychs, six cars… Ten of the smaller, six of the larger verticals, three horizontal and three wood pieces. Then the t-shirts, the wood carvings…

Brooklyn Street Art: And you have used a lot of free hand rendering and a free range of materials.
Patrick McNeil: Yeah it’s a mixture of spray paint, acrylic house paint, and oil pastels, a little bit of pencil or pencil crayon. But this show has been a lot of fun to work on – It’s been good to be in touch with the work.

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

 

Faile “Fuel, Fantasy, Freedom” exhibition is currently on view at the Galerie Ernst Hilger NEXT in Vienna. Click HERE for more details.

 

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