A pronghorn; the only antelope in North America and the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. The Oppussum is the only true member of the marsupial order that is endemic to the Americas. Basileus, a ring-tailed cat, and mammal of the raccoon family that is native to arid regions of North America.
These are all animals in our environs, yet you may not have ever seen one. They are important to our ancestral history of migration, development, and evolution across these expanses of land, air and water. We have co-existed for hundreds of years with these animals in his new exhibition in a tiny gallery on Manhattan’s lower East Side: a land mass that once was once a fertile landscape of marshes and woods. These furry and feather figures in ROA’s paintings may be far more aware of us than we are of them.
ROA, the street artist, the graffiti writer, the fine artist, the urban naturalist, the contemporary artist – whose work has appeared on city walls and on ruins in the rural countryside across many continents, may be unknown to you. But he has been here on the scene for 20 years, and BSA has been publishing about him for about 15 of them.
As we look at these new works, he speaks of these exceptional examples of species of North America, including more familiar ones like the chipmunk and the bluejay-which is painted here in his signature monochrome palette.
Whether a small drawing or a mid-sized canvas, or a massive multi-story outside wall, ROA stays true to detail and accuracy. The leeway he grants himself sometimes is the compositions, especially in his fictional groupings that also consider overall composition. An example in this show is the graphite on a paper scroll that features a small chorus of animals, an animated scroll of species crawling over each other that he says is “a crazy composition of something that never happened yet.” ROA says it isn’t necessarily a study for a future wall, but he could understand why you may think so.
“It’s unfinished. It’s a dynamic sketch,” he says. “It’s a show of how something could be.”
It is also a similar drawing to an aerosol wall painting that you may have seen elsewhere online. “I did a similar wall in Belgium not too long ago. This sketch is kind of inspired by that wall. It was a rounded wall. It was like 6 meters high, and I forgot the diameter. It is a silo. I painted around and around it, and it took me so long. That wall took me about two months. Not every day – sometimes I took a weekend off.”
After a pandemic period, this is ROA’s first trip back to New York. It’s a small, potent, intentional show that echoes others he has had here but now feels like an old friend returning. One that has survived. A native of Ghent, a city and a municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium, he’s traveled the world actively until it all screeched to a stop in 2020. We’ve changed. Our city has changed. Nevertheless, he says, “I love New York. I couldn’t wait to get back here.”
ROA. In Limbo, on view at Benjamin Krause Gallery October 20th through November 6th.
149 Orchard St. Manhattan, NYC.