Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. Faith XLVII X KOLEKA PUTUMA 2. Moments Like This Never Last. Cheryl Dunn/Dash Snow. Trailer 3. 9 Ways To Draw a Person
BSA Special Feature: Faith XLVII X KOLEKA PUTUMA
South African Street Artist Liberty Du, known as Faith XLVII shares her new collaboration with Koleka Putuma, the South African queer poet and theatre-maker, this week on BSA Film Friday.
“South African women are brave. Strong. And not just a little strong. They are strong down to their bone marrow. They have known great suffering. And still, they sing. What an honor it’s been to know such women! I’ve been humbled in my life again and again by the sheer resilience of friends. The pain is inexplicable. In the first 3 weeks of lockdown, more than 120 000 cases of Gender-Based Violence were reported across the country. We are exhausted from the news each week. Our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, our children were violated, abused, and murdered. Working on this project alongside Koleka Putuma is not something I take lightly, Koleka is a force. Her words break up open in order to really have real conversations about what’s happening.”
Faith XLVII X KOLEKA PUTUMA
Moments Like This Never Last. Cheryl Dunn/Dash Snow. Trailer
The mythmaking stories continue to propagate about this anti-authoritarian creative skateboarding graffiti-writing white guy from a wealthy family who died too young in a drug-fueled life of experimentation and excess. Cheryl Dunn pulls all the stories together to help establish his talents and hijinx as veritable proof that the early millenial was onto something new in the graffiti/street/art milieu of IRAK crew of 2000s New York – partying hard and hitting the heights.
9 Ways To Draw a Person
The possibilities are absolutely endless, if you are to follow the guidance of film director, artist, animator Sasha Svirsky. By mixing abstraction, collage, and animation, he pulls you in and reawakens your earliest knowledge about creativity, reaffirming that you too, can draw a person.
They used to run from the Vandal Squad in this
neighborhood. Now people pay to see their art here.
Through the expansive glass wall on the 6th floor you can look down Kent Avenue to see the spot where a monster pickup truck with a heavy chain tied around a FAILE prayer wheel almost jackknifed on the sidewalk, gave up and sped away. Not that many Brooklynites saw that event in the 2000s – nobody walked here and few people drove through Williamsburg then except truckers looking for street walking ladies wearing high heels and spandex. Oh, and a serial killer.
Now visitors buy tickets to see a circular colonnade of FAILE prayer wheels here at 25 Kent – including the real estate developers and Wall Street professionals who displaced the community of artists whose work made the neighborhood attractive and “edgy”.
Along with Street Artists in this exhibition like Shepard Fairey, Bast, Swoon, Invader, Aiko, Dan Witz, Katsu, 1UP, and Lister, the FAILE duo put completely illegal artworks on walls under cover of night and threat of arrest in this same neighborhood then – transforming it with many others who are not in this show into an open gallery of the streets, placing Williamsburg on the map as New Yorks’ epicenter of the newly emerging Street Art scene.
The Nature of Graffiti and Street Art
As graffiti and Street Art are migratory and necessarily elusive by nature, this story is only one chapter in a volume of history that serious academics are now reconstructing and analyzing. With each passing year and published white paper, the practices of 20th century public mark-making are being examined in greater detail for archiving and for posterity. Not surprisingly, institutions, patrons, collectors, and brands are increasingly interested in this story as well.
When it comes to the anarchic subculture of illegal
street art practice and its influence on society, there are non-stop ironies
sprayed en route from verboten to Vuitton, and street culture has supercharged
the imagination of the mainstream and high culture throughout history – that’s
where the best ideas come from sometimes. Many seminal artworks from “the
scene”, as it were, represent much more than what you are seeing at first
glance. As art and cultural critic Carlo McCormick has described the iconic
Shepard Fairey ‘Hope’ image in Art in
America, many graffiti and Street Art works saved are “not a
fleeting pop-culture sensation but simply the latest crossover hit in a long
line of underground classics.”
The wide-ranging survey that is Beyond the Streets makes sure that you know where the roots are, and who many of the pioneers were. It is impossible to tell a complete story that includes scenes as diverse as west coast Chicano muralism, hobo graffiti, hip-hop commercial design, NY downtown artivism, Japanese low/hi contemporary, skateboard, tattoo, early train writing and a current romance with muralism, but BTS at least gives a serious consideration to each and offers you the opportunity to look further into them.
With the help of photography documentation from people like Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, Jim Prigoff, Lisa Kahane, Joe Conzo, John Fekner, Bill Daniel, Maripol, and Dash Snow, the crucial importance of this work provides needed interstitial and contextual information that enables myriad stories to be elucidated.
Exhaustive, no. Exhausting, possibly. Pace yourself.
spent my life surrounded by graffiti and Street Art,” says the shows’ director
Roger Gastman “and you could say that I have been obsessed with understanding
the culture, its origins, and its evolution. It’s incredible to me how far it
With 150 artists whose practices span five decades
and various (mainly) American subcultures displayed in a maze of new walls in
this 100,000 sf, two-floor exhibition, the Beyond the Streets senior curatorial
team includes Gastman, filmmaker/ graffiti historian Sacha Jenkins SHR, Juxtapoz
Editor in Chief Evan Pricco, and author/ graffiti historian / graffiti writer David
CHINO Villorente. Each curator brings core competencies and knowledge of the
graffiti scene (Gastman, Jenkins, Villorente) as it has evolved to include the
Street Art practice and an eventual move toward contemporary art (Pricco).
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” says Villorente, who says his history as
a graffiti writer compounds the impact for him. “I was glad that the show was
coming to New York because I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I couldn’t have
imagined it – especially when I think back on when I was writing on the trains
and doing illegal graffiti. To have of show of this magnitude is really
“We started writing in ’68 and here we are, fifty-one years later,” says Mike 171 as he gestures toward himself and crew writer SJK 171 when talking about how they began and continued writing their tags on the street in New York City. “This is the history right here,” he says, and you know you are about to be schooled about the plain realities of early graffiti writing. At the opening, you witness each guy tagging in a large dusty window here and realize the love for writing never actually stops.
“We were expressing something that was inside of us,” says SJK 171. “The streets were like ours,” he tells you against a backdrop of their work, Cornbread’s work, and of images full of one color, single line monikers that set the stage for the more colorful, character-driven pieces and burners a decade later, transforming trains into a rolling aesthetic symphony by the mid 1970s.
One of the actual “whole car” writers of that period, Lee “LEE” Quinones, here recreates a “Soul Train” car side on a canvas that looks like it could easily wrap an actual MTA #2-line car that he used to slaughter with cans in the middle of the night at the train yard. When describing the new work he said he was intentionally keeping it simple – perhaps owing the style to his earlier practice.
“I think this is one of Lee’s most amazing pieces,” says Charlie Ahearn, the director of the seminal 1982 “Wild Style” film that Quinones stars in. Ahearn self-produced that film which became an important distillation of the merging of graffiti with hip-hop culture during a pivotal moment in the history of both. Now also a professor of Hip-Hop, art, design, and documentary film making at Pace University, Ahearn is familiar with many of the artists work here, many relationships reaching back decades. “I told Lee that I liked that it was a one-off, that he painted all the color straight off without the embellishment, texturing, and all that stuff.”
Charlie’s twin brother John Ahearn is represented here popping out from walls as well, his sculptures serving as authentic portraits of people you may easily have seen on New York streets over the last four decades. Casted directly on top of the people themselves in a technique he has perfected, the placement of the sculptures gives life to the space.
Star Writers, Immersive Environments, Foundations
The individual clusters of work and canvasses by 1970s-80s train painters like Futura, Crash, Lady Pink, Freedom, Carlos Mare, Blade, Haze, and Daze and next gen graphic painters like Doze Green and Rime are complemented by a number of so-called “immersive” spaces here like the Mission Schools’ Barry McGee storefront with smashed window, and the Australian Pop duo Dabs & Myla’s eye candy floral walls with thousands of artificial fauna created in collaboration with Amelia Posada.
The high-profile graphic activist Shepard Fairey’s 30 year career overview takes a large area and encompasses all elements of his street and studio practice, and Bill Barminski’s cardboard home is open for you to explore with a wry smile, remembering the security room installation he did at Banksy’s Dismaland a couple years earlier.
also treated to a full rolling wall of Craig Stecyk posters that brings you the
sun and surf of California skate culture, sculptures by Mr. Cartoon and Risk, a
kid-friendly illustrated room with crafting supplies for young fans on tables
from HuskMitNavn, and an astute freight train culture educational display by
writer/painter/sculptor Tim Conlon (complete with a mid-sized Southern Pacific freight
on train tracks he and friends built), prints/photos by historian Bill Daniel, and
original drawings by the man some call the King of Hobo Art, buZ blurr.
are a self portrait as predicated on a first Bozo Texino person and I kind of
changed the image around,” says Mr. blurr, a legendary figure in denim
overalls, as he patiently describes his classic tag image of a railway cowboy.
is a writer motif – the pipe smoke is going up and then it is trailing back to
signify movement as the train goes down the track,” he says. “I worked in the
train yards and my job was as a brakeman. I had a little free time so I started
making drawings. I made my first one on November 11, 1971,” he says as he
recalls the state of mind that he was in at the time as he began to tag
freights with the image and text that came to him clearly – and may have
perplexed other travellers.
came from a confused state. I was questioning everything. I was putting kind of
cryptic messages under my drawings. It was anybody’s guess as to its literal
interpretation. I addressed some of them up to specific people but whether they
saw them or responded to them, I wouldn’t have any idea.”
it’s shipped in the crate its 550 pounds,” says Conlon as he stands by the 3-foot
high freight car re-creation on tracks and ties that is
hit with a couple of wild and colorful graffiti burners. “Here I’m going to
show you something,” he says as he pulls back the roof to reveal the narrow
coffin interior in rusted red. “So I’m going to hide some beer in here during
the opening party. This is like the fifth one of these I’ve made,” and he proudly
confides that one lives in the house of Robert Downey Jr.
Digging Deep to Take Risks
to rest on laurels and previous formulas of success, the show keeps a freshness
by presenting known entities pushing themselves further and taking creative risks;
a reflection of that spirit of experimentation we have always prized on the
writer Earsnot from Irak crew, now known professionally as Kunle Martin, said
he had been making work for the gallery containing elements of graffiti, but
felt they were too “safe”.
“Then my friend Dan said ‘you should go back to doing drawings,’” he says as he stands before figurative canvasses in black and white on cardboard. “I said ‘I can’t! It’s too hard! But eventually I began working in my studio five days a week, and I made enough for a show.”
Reflective of the attitude of Gastman toward artists in the community, he told Martin that if he made enough of them, he could place them in this show. “I think he was happy to hear that I was in my studio working. He’s been very supportive of it.”
color-drenched graphic/photographic collage style is featured with plenty of
space in large frames from Chicago’s Pose, who says he is letting photography
and geometry lead him away from his previous pop collage style that may have reminded
many of Lichtenstein. His inspiration here comes from his research into early
photos of graffiti writers running from police “I was
obsessed with John Naars photos and I have usually Norman Mailer as in
inspiration. Some of these photo references are from the Philadelphia Inquirer,” he says.
New York’s Eric Haze also dares himself to take a new direction with three canvasses featuring a refracted piecing-together of imagery and memories of this city in monochrome. Based on black and white scenes of the city by photographer and NYC taxi driver Matt Weber, the scenes capture aspects that are culled from imagination and impression. The centerpiece canvas captures an iconic piece of the Williamsburg waterfront that has been removed in the last few years by developers; the signage of the old Domino Sugar factory by the Williamsburg Bridge.
Mr. Haze said he meant it as a gift and tribute to
his wife, actress and longtime resident of the neighborhood, Rosie Perez who
used to see it along Kent Avenue as a kid. “He’s not afraid to take risks. He’s not afraid to go in the
studio and express what’s inside of him. When he brought me to the studio, he
says, ‘I have a surprise for you’,” she remembers. “I saw the beginnings of the
Domino painting and I was stunned into silence and I got teary-eyed.”
An expanded version of the show that first mounted
in Los Angeles last year, the collection is focused a great deal on the
American history of graffiti with a balance of East/West coast graffiti history
– in a way that may remind you of 2011’s “Art in the Streets” at LA MoCA. That
makes sense, considering Gastman co-curated that show as well.
“It’s both a historical and current look at where
the culture went and where it started and how widespread it is,” says
co-curator Evan Pricco, who perhaps provides a lynchpin view toward the big
name Street Artists who continued to push expectations in the 2000’s on streets
and in commercial galleries around the world. “With the space spread over two
floors it has a way better curatorial sense. I also think it does compete with
museums because it shows that this kind of work is on the same level. You kind
of have to present it in a way that feels very institutional and archival.”
So is Beyond the Streets
a graffiti show or a Street Art show or a contemporary art show? For artist
Kenny Scharf, who first gained attention during the heyday of Downtown
Manhattan’s art scene that benefitted from an interlude where rents were dirt
cheap and Wall Street was on a cocaine high, there is no need to categorize
what kind of art this is.
“You know I never liked labels or titles anyway so
even back in the early 80s I was pegged like ‘oh you’re a graffiti artist,’” he
says. “People feel the need to title and label so I’ll
let them to continue to do that but I don’t fit into any of them and I don’t
want to. I want to fit into all of them and none of them.”
Streets opened June 21 and continues through the summer.
Martha Cooper’s work as exhibited at Beyond The Streets New York
Beyond The Streets NYC is now open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the general public and will run until August 2019. Click HERE for schedules, tickets and details.
Gastman’s Massive Graffiti and Street Art Show Arrives at Epicenter.
“I’m really excited to bring this show to New York,” says curator, graffiti historian and urban anthropologist Roger Gastman, “because the city plays such a pivotal role in the origin and evolution of the culture. The iconic images of covered subway cars made graffiti famous worldwide.”
He’s talking of course about “Beyond The Streets” the hybrid exhibition that he mounted in LA last year featuring the work of 150 who have proved to be pivotal to the evolution of a fifty year global people’s art movement that includes graffiti, street art, and urban contemporary art. Filling over 100,000 square feet of new space in Brooklyn, this two-floor cross-section survey will feature artworks by many of the same vandals, graffiti writers, Street Artists, and art activists who hit NYC streets, created dialogue with passersby, and were sometimes chased by the authorities. To see them showcased here is to recognize that there is not just one route to take – in fact there are many.
“We have an incredible roster of artists for New York,” Gastman tells us, “and a brand new space in Williamsburg that has a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline as our backdrop.” Notably the lineup includes artists whose work BSA has documented on the streets in this very same neighborhood over the past two decades, including Shepard Fairey, Faile, Swoon, Bast, Invader, Aiko, and others. Ironically the appearance of free-range Street Art in the neighborhood has been seriously diminished since that time.
The exhibition is one more verification that a significant portion of the scene is being widely recognized for its cultural contribution and value in the contemporary art canon – a significantly fluid scene fueled by discontent and a desire to short-circuit the established routes to audience appreciation. Like large survey shows elsewhere, the takeaway is the significant impact street culture and its tangential subcultures continues to have on the culture at large.
Gastman says the New York version of “Beyond The Streets” will take an
additional interest at the role of music and art activism on the street, along
with immersive installations, a tattoo parlor, a special Beastie Boys
installation with artifacts and ephemera, a new 30th Anniversary
Shepard Fairey project “Facing The Giant: 3 Decades of Dissent,” and large
scale works by Gorilla Girls, Futura, Cleon Peterson, and Takashi
More news coming on programming and events, but the important opening date to know right now is June 21st.
“All in all, it will make for a really special show this Summer,” says Gastman.
BEYOND THE STREETS TEAM
Curator: Roger Gastman
Co-Curators: Sacha Jenkins SHR, Evan Pricco, David CHINO Villorente
A-ONE, AIKO, Al Diaz, Alexis Ross, Alicia McCarthy, André Saraiva, Barry McGee, BAST, Beastie Boys, Bert Krak, Bill Barminski, Bill Daniel, BLADE, Broken Fingaz, Buddy Esquire, buZ blurr, Carlos Mare, Carl Weston, Cey Adams, C.R. Stecyk III, Charlie Ahearn, Chaz Bojórquez, Claudia Gold, Cleon Peterson, COCO 144, Conor Harrington, Corita Kent, Craig Costello, CRASH, DABSMYLA, Dan Witz, Dash Snow, DAZE, DEFER, Dennis Hopper, Dondi White, Doze Green, EARSNOT, Estevan Oriol, Fab 5 Freddy, FAILE, Faith XLVII, Felipe Pantone, FREEDOM, FUTURA 2000, Gajin Fujita, Glen E. Friedman, Gordon Matta-Clark, Guerrilla Girls, HAZE, Henry Chalfant, Herb Migdoll, Husk Mit Navn, INVADER, Jane Dickson, Jason REVOK, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, Jim Prigoff, John Ahearn, John Fekner, John Tsombikos, Joe Conzo, José Parlá, KATS, KC Ortiz, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Kilroy Was Here, LADY PINK, LAZAR, LEE Quiñones, Lisa Kahane, MADSAKI, Maripol, Mark Gonzales, Mark Mothersbaugh, Martha Cooper, Matt Weber, Maya Hayuk, Michael Lawrence, MIKE 171, MISS 17, Mister CARTOON, Nina Chanel Abney, NOC 167, Pat Riot, Patrick Martinez, Paul Insect, POSE, PRAY, Rammellzee, Randall Harrington, RETNA, Richard Colman, Richard Hambleton, RIME, RISK, Ron English, Ruby Neri, SABER, Sam Friedman, SANESMITH, Sayre Gomez, Shepard Fairey, SJK 171, SLICK, SNAKE 1, SNIPE1, STAY HIGH 149, Stephen Powers, SWOON, Takashi Murakami, TAKI 183, TATS CRU, TENGAone, Tim Conlon, Timothy Curtis, Todd James, Trash Records, UGA, VHILS, and ZESER
The show is developed in partnership with Adidas and Perrier. Additional support provided by Modernica, Montana Colors, NPR, NTWRK, Twenty Five Kent and WNYC.
Yes, Banksy is here. The giant “Art in the Streets” show opening this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles gives a patch of real estate to the international man of mystery who has contributed greatly to the worldwide profile of this soon to be, maybe already, mainstream phenomenon known as street art. A smattering of his pranksterism is an absolute must for any show staking claim to the mantle of comprehensive survey and an excellent way to garner attention. But “Streets” gets it’s momentum by presenting a multi-torch colorful and explosive people’s history that began way before Banksy was born and likely will continue for a while after.
A quick home made video of Ad Deville suspiciously skirting the upper wall along an entire block in Bushwick during he and Ali Ha’s block party. Now the news is that they are talking about taking the whole block for a sculpture garden. Hell yeah! More public space for art? Whaddaya think?
Tara McPherson New Cheap Print “Searching for Penguins”
That’s all you really have to say to get people excited these days. And today in London a new piece by the anonymous Darth Vader in a hoodie debuts at a group show called “Marks & Stencils”. It also features Greg Haberny, a very strong and prolific artist showing in Brooklyn for a few years now.
And check out this entertaining look at French Street Artist DRAN, who is also in the show. The video features graff and Street Art living in harmony. Who says it can’t be done?
SACE Tribute on Houston Wall
“The ever-changing graffiti wall on East Houston Street took another turn Tuesday, with taggers covering the massive canvas with a tribute to a late Lower East Side artist.
Witnesses said a graffiti crew arrived at the wall, located at the corner of the Bowery, Tuesday morning and proceeded to cover the previous piece by street artist Barry McGee in large black letters spelling SACE — the tag name of artist Dash Snow, who died of an apparent drug overdose in 2009.”
Brian Douglas "Bears" Photo Courtesy of the Artist
PERRY RUBENSTEIN GALLERY
527 WEST 23 STREET
Curated by Carlo McCormick
July 1st – August 27th, 2010
Opening reception: Thursday July 1st, 2010 6-8pm
Perry Rubenstein Gallery is pleased to announce SHRED, curated by Carlo McCormick, senior editor of Paper magazine, opening on Thursday, July 1st from 6:00-8:00pm and on view through Friday, August 27th, 2010. A small catalogue brochure with an essay by McCormick will accompany the exhibition.
SHRED will feature collage-based works from a diverse group of artists, some who have pioneered collage as fine art and others who are expanding upon the subversive flavor inherent to the medium. Featured are works in myriad media—from simple collages of newsprint on paper to lively video animations made from cutout paper silhouettes.
The exhibition will include historic works by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008);Bruce Conner (1933-2008); a prominent member of the Beat community recognized for his innovative assemblages; California-native, Jess (1923 – 2004) whose oeuvre includes collages based on alchemy, religion and comic strips; Dash Snow (1981-2009) whose work on paper appears deceptively simple; Gee Vaucher whose surrealist tendencies are tied to punk; and Jack Walls whose self-portraits incorporate photographic imagery taken by his long-time partner Robert Mapplethorpe.
Provocative new works were specifically produced for the exhibition. The collective Faile will show a ripped painting featuring brand new iconography. Shepard Fairey, Leo Fitzpatrick, Mark Flood, Erik Foss, Swoon, Judith Supine will all debut their latest works. Finely cut paper collage by Brian Douglas (Elbow-Toe) resembles intricate painting and Shelter Serra will present three-dimensional work: cast roses in white silicone. Video works by Martha Colburn, Tessa Hughes-Freeland and Bec Stupac will be featured, with Stupac premiering a new piece.
PRG is thrilled to welcome Carlo McCormick as guest curator for this extraordinary summer exhibition. McCormick is a prominent New York City-based author, curator, critic and champion of the downtown art scene. He has authored numerous books, monographs and catalogues on contemporary art and culture, including The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984 published by Princeton University Press which he coauthored. He has lectured and taught extensively at universities and colleges around the United States. His writing has appeared in Aperture, Art in America, Art News, Artforum, Camera Austria, High Times, Spin, Tokion, Vice and countless other magazines. He has curated exhibitions for the Bronx Museum of Art, New York University, the Queens Museum of Art and the Woodstock Center for Photography.
A talented Street Artist Schools BSA about his work.
“Good readers make good writers”.
Truey trueness truthfully told by my true-friend Jodi. Which is why one summer I read a stack of Jimmy Peabody’s Mad magazines that he kept hidden under his bed, along with a few dog-eared copies of Penthouse and Playboy. See what all that reading did for me? I write on a blog for 17 readers and my mom. Once somebody taps into the creative spirit, there are no limits to where it will take them.
Three of his biggest influences hover over NohJColey while he works; Dali, Basquiat, and Time (photo Steven P. Harrington)
You can take that advice any way you want, but thinking about the path that NohJColey has taken, it’s ringing true.
NohJColey wants to be a great something. He just winces at every label you offer up, but don’t be put off by it. We’ll be very bold and say “Artist”. He’s been a graffiti artist, a street artist, and a fine artist. To become a great artist, he practices self-education and discipline. With an agile mind and inquisitive nature, he does a great deal of due-diligence; history, background, planning, experimentation and practicing of technique. Then he starts the piece, frequently a personal story or a social commentary of some kind.
A recent Ebay shopping trip netted a selection of vintage artist technique books. (photo Steven P. Harrington)
In fact, so much goes on inside NohJ’s head in the preparation of his work that a viewer may never completely appreciate the final product. That’s okay, he may not intend it to be understood either. He doesn’t lose too much sleep over it, either way. He stays up all night working at a kitchen table with a picture of Salvador Dali and one of Jean-Michel Basquiat on the wall staring down on him, but be assured that he’s not worrying. He’s just working.
“Kutztown’s Favorite” by Nohj Coley (photo Nohj Coley)
“Kutztown’s Favorite” was the first image BSA posted on the “Images of the Week” feature. Not that big a deal for you, I’m sure. If it was a big deal for you, I would worry. But when I consider that image I think about why BSA loves street art; at it’s best it is a celebration of the creative spirit, wherever you can access it. It seems unlimited.
In this case it was a tribute to Keith Haring, an artist who was doing what could later be classified “Street Art” in NYC in the ’80s. The creative spirit that Haring had tapped into 25 years earlier was like a radio frequency or satellite transmission from the creative gods – Haring tapped into it and ran with it, not consulting with experts, anointed, self-proclaimed or otherwise. To see that somebody was doing a street tribute in a distinctly different style all these years later was very notable.
You don’t have to totally understand NohJ’s work to appreciate it, and that’s a good thing because it may take some studying at Noh J High School to get it. Some times you have to go slow for certain students, so BSA recently took some summer remedial classes with Professor Coley in the studio. August was dragging on outside the window and other kids were playing on the jungle gym, but in school, between the endless chain of cigarettes and the loud air conditioner and the louder Thelonius Munk and Charlie Parker, we think it was completely Edutaining.
NohJColey in his home studio. (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Buddies called him “Stiffy” when he was out doing teen rollerblader tricks because NohJ didn’t do diamondz. For that matter he wasn’t even smooth. But he defends his skills as an aggressive rollerblader, “I was a pretty good skater, though. Learning how to fall, that’s the key to skating. But I didn’t have the moves. It’s hard to worry about style when you don’t want to die! I would get hurt sometimes badly. Those days are over”. Lesson learned.
He used to be a graff writer too, hanging out with the 333 Crew, and his tag was Motive for a while. In the mid-1990s he raced from high school in the afternoon to hang out at the Phun Factory, an aerosol Mecca in Queens for graffiti writers run by a guy named Pat DiLillo, who had worked out a deal with the landlord to let graffiti artists go wild on the walls and practice and teach without fear of breaking the law. Pat had been a professional graffiti buffer until he fell in love with talented work and became a huge proponent, clearing the way for what eventually became 5 Pointz, directed by Meres.
Pat even got NohJ into a show at P.S.1 in 1999 with people whose skills he admired – “It was Iz the Wiz, I’m pretty sure it was Elite, Slam4, Spec, and me. The real piecers were of course IZ, Bisc, and Elite. I was Motive 333 – I didn’t actually go to the show. We were sitting across the street ”
“Egalitarian Quench”, Oil pastel, stencil, painters tape and acrylic paint on paper pasted on discarded lumber, by NohJColey (photo Steven P. Harrington)
He’s not thinking that he has the graff thing licked, but he’s moving on to other things these days. Some people are calling it street art. His linotype prints are usually portraits of people he has known or studied about and his text stickers have puzzling word combinations and phrases.
Brooklyn Street Art: So what’s important to you? NohJColey: Accomplishing stuff. Not being swayed by others’ opinions. Being original. Being true to myself. Family is important, learning is important. Everything is kind of important. Fashion isn’t important
Brooklyn Street Art: Politics? NohJColey: Of course, that has to be important.
Brooklyn Street Art: Music? NohJColey: Yeah of course, that is really important.
Brooklyn Street Art: Basquiat? NohJColey: Yeah he was important to me at some time but not really anymore.
Brooklyn Street Art: Why was he important before? NohJColey: Probably just because of his lifestyle. He kind of lived precariously. The way he spoke to people.
Basquiat at 19 years (a still from the movie “Downtown 81”)
The choices of words for NohJ’s stickers are directly influenced by another artist of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s who transferred his graff writing directly into his fine arts canvasses, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Writing on the street as SAMO, Basquiat created stuff that looked like pointed non-sequitors, or abbreviated observations that confused and attracted fans.
“I think he always will be important to me just because of the things he wrote like ‘Plush Safe He Think’, or ‘Jimmy Best on his back to the suckerpunch of the world’ (some sources report it was actually Jimmy Best/ On his back/ To the suckerpunch/ Of his childhood files) – stuff like that is the reason I do stickers because it’s a way of basically saying your piece and not having to listen to what anyone else’s input is on the subject. You can basically tell everyone without actually having to tell people individually. Like stopping people and saying ‘You’re a closet racist’.”
NohJ’s sticker text is strongly influenced by the writing style of Brooklyn-born Basquiat. This is a recently released image of Jean-Michel Basquiat by photographer Lee Jaffe.
What? Okay, now I think I get it. These cryptic stickers are a sublimation of true feelings and opinions that NohJ understands, but the reader may not.
Brooklyn Street Art: So it’s a direct-indirect way of addressing issues? NohJColey: Yep. Even though it’s bad because it isn’t as personal as I would like it to be, but…
The image came from a sketch of his nephew (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: So, about that text that you put on stickers, can you describe a little bit about how you arrive at the choices? NohJColey: Like I did a sticker that said, “Adolescent Racists Present Parental Perspectives” – Basically it refers to young kids that I see around who are racist because of their parents. It’s not something natural. It has nothing to do with the kid’s choice but if you go into their household he’s going to hear certain terms and attitudes. People just get labels. Like somebody talking about Mexicans, and a Mexican woman who has seven children, and then they talk about whether the health care system should support them; and it’s like, you don’t even know this person, you know? This person actually owns a restaurant and they came here with nothing in their pockets. And her husband actually went to a prestigious college and had a high GPA. And people are judging a book by its cover.
On the wall, one of NohJ’s earlier fine art pieces, “Children of the Wrong” (photo Steven P. Harrington)
NohJ talks about another sticker, “ ‘Observe Hands’ is different – it’s about reading someone’s mind. Like looking at someone’s hands in conversation. And noticing their reactions like picking their nail could be an indication that someone is nervous. Or like someone rubbing their leg, could mean they are bored, or not interested in what they are doing right now.”
The individual pieces that NohJColey creates on large linoleum blocks are surrealist applications of recognizable components into realist line-drawn portraiture. The components can be literal or metaphorical, and always autobiographical. The piece is usually has a murky title that perplexes in the same way as the sticker text. When the linoleum piece isn’t enough, NohJ combines painstaking lace-like geometric cutouts arranged on top of or beside them.
The original plate of Sace (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Brooklyn Street Art: So can you talk about the series that you’ve begun, that started with an image of Dash Snow? NohJColey: Yeah it’s the “Sprayed in Stone” series. I’m basically just trying to solidify these graffiti writers names a bit more. After someone passes everyone mourns because this person’s gone, and everyone forgets about it. Like maybe a few times a year someone might look at their photograph but it’s not the same as actually seeing this person like proportionally. Like you can walk up to this piece, the Dash Snow piece, and it’s pretty much the same size (as he was). I never met him but I’m guess that he was that size. It’s kind of a little larger because I wanted him to be more prominent. That’s kind of what it’s about. You never really know what a graffiti artist looks like so that is another reason why I wanted to do a portrait of him. A person passes away and you are not given another chance to see them at the same size that they were.
A detail of NohJ Coley shows limbs made of a paint roller, markers, ladders, cans, etc. (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: And yet you render the figure with non-human limbs and other elements, so you are not really bringing back a true replica of the person. Where did those come from? NohJColey: The spray can of course was a tool he would use, and the markers as well. The fire-extinguisher shirt – you know like a like a lot of graffiti writers use fire extinguishers to do enormous tags on sides of buildings. I guess they are just things he would use as a graffiti artist. Like the spray can coming from his neck.
Brooklyn Street Art: Yeah it’s surrealistic. And this is the first of the series of three? NohJColey: It’ll be three. The problem with this series is that I’m not able to take photographs of the artist, which to me really hinders the work – because it would be a way better piece. I don’t even like to work from someone else’s eye but they passed on so I’ve gotta use what there is.
Brooklyn Street Art: Right, you didn’t actually have a picture of Dash Snow? NohJColey: No I didn’t. I used someone’s picture.
NohJ created an amalgam of images first before drawing the Tie One image on the linoleum block. (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Brooklyn Street Art: And who’s next in line in the series? NohJColey: It’s Jonathan See Lim AKA Tie One
NohJ Coley Detail
Brooklyn Street Art: So tell me about Tie One. NohJColey: Yeah he was from San Francisco. He was shot in the Tenderloin by William Porter. And he was basically climbing up on the roof. He went there to do a graffiti spot on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s kind of also like – I don’t really want to shed too much light on a graffiti artist faults in life. Whether he was vandalizing, even though that’s what graffiti is…I know that. It’s more about the strides in this persons’ life that he took. Like Tie was 18 when he passed away. And Iz The Wiz, who is the third person in the series, he was like the king of the trains, you know.
The ink is still wet on this just finished 3rd installment in the “Sprayed In Stone” series, Iz the Wiz, by NohJColey
Brooklyn Street Art: Did you ever hang out with Iz the Wiz? NohJColey: No I never got a chance to meet him but I remember Pat DeLilo telling me a bunch of stories about him. Iz was always sick even in those days when I was hanging out there. Wow, ten years. That’s why I’m glad I did that show with him when I was young.
The original study for “Nothing=Obtained” by NohJColey
Brooklyn Street Art: What about the final work of “Nothing=Obtained” – how did you get that? Can you talk about your process? How did you get that multi-armed creature? NohJColey: Basically I just had my ex-girlfriend pose. This one I just saw before I did it. I already knew what I was going to do. It was just basically figuring a way in which to place each arm so it sort of made sense.
NohJColey (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: Does the placement of the arms indicate something about her personality? NohJColey: Well when she walks in a room you pretty much feel her presence. She’s kind of like pulling her head back like she’s stressed out. The mouth is like she’s in awe, her eyes are open because she’s just noticing a bunch of opportunities and then like her grabbing herself because of stress. And this one is her bracing herself.
Brooklyn Street Art: And the words “Nothing = Obtained”? NohJColey: She never accomplishes the goal, you know? She never gets to the end result. Everything is always left open. There is no conclusion. Like nothing is ever obtained. Like she says she’s trying to change that but it’s not really evident to me. But whatever.
(photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: You did another piece last year that was about a cousin of yours? NohJColey: “Uncondition(al) Solace”? Brooklyn Street Art: Huh? NohJColey: Like I try to separate letters sometimes, so you can use the letters different ways.
Brooklyn Street Art: Okay so tell me the story behind that one. You told me about her going into a hospital room to see your aunt. NohJColey: That piece is about a cousin of mine – I went to see her mother, my aunt, because she had a stroke. And like the right side of her body is paralyzed. To see a person go from walking through a doorway to rolling through a doorway on a stretcher is bad. She doesn’t really react to anything except to her daughter, my cousin. And the piece is her holding up a banner that says “Solace” because I feel like once she walked into the room, my aunt lit up. My cousin is the only one that puts a smile on her face. So that is why I made the piece so that my aunt can look at her daughter whenever she’s awake.
Brooklyn Street Art: You are making your stuff on paper and wheat paste, which means it disappears in about five rainstorms. Then it’s gone, but you put a lot of work into it. NohJColey: Yeah it’s ephemeral. That’s a good thing about it. It has a life of it’s own and you can’t control it. That’s another reason I like it. You can’t control it. You put it out there and it’s free, you don’t have a leash on it, like a pet.
The consensus is that the summer in the City goes by way too fast. This year is not an exception. But the harvest has been good.
The green markets that dot NYC’s 5 boroughs boast some great fresh produce that isn’t sprayed with pesticides or that will give your children 3 eyes. From Bay Ridge to Borough Park to Bowling Green to Bronx Borough Hall to Sunnyside and St. Georges, the tomatoes were the superstars this September – big and meaty and fragrant.
And the bold brassy sunflowers have been clamoring into our little apartments and putting a smile on our worried faces.
The summer crop of Street Art of course has been bounteous! The creative output from the indomitable, wild, and restless street artists – home-grown and imported – seems record-breaking. From commissioned public murals with photo-ops for politicians to the secret stick-up kids on newspaper boxes, the voices of people on the streets grew.
The mural by Os Gemeos (photo by Jaime Rojo)
One truck-load of fresh produce that won a NYC Street Art blue-ribbon this summer was the giant colorful pop-surrealist mural by the hard-working and gentle twins from São Paulo, Os Gemeos.
Gustavo of Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)
During a brief 2-week growing period, Gustavo and Octavio labored in the fields of dreams and eye-popping colors while the curious and the hungry stood by on the sidewalk in clusters of cameras and black books, day after day watching the fantasy open up and reveling in the sunshine.
The ladder meets the scissor lift (Os Gemeos) (photo Jaime Rojo)
With cans of aerosol and buckets of latex, they worked the fertile soil of Deitch Projects orchards on the corner of Houston and Bowery under an intense heat and punishing sun.
Detail from Os Gemeos mural (photo Jaime Rojo)
In a location that had been painted in previous summers by other migrant street artists including Haring and Scharf, the Brazilians delighted the weary New Yorkers and curious tourists with their vivid imaginations.
Octavio and Gustavo; Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)
To say goodbye to the summer of 2009 we pay homage to their industry and talent once more. Long after the summer sun fades and the grey cold winter takes us over, this bright gift from Os Gemeos will remain on Houston Street.
With a history that started in writing graffiti in the late 1980’s, the brothers also found time to paint on a truck (photo Jaime Rojo)
Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)
Detail from Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)
Detail from Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)
A tribute to Dash Snow was added when he died during the creation of the mural, adding a historical touchstone to the event. (Os Gemeos) (photo Jaime Rojo)
NEW YORK MINUTE is opening in Rome September 19. MACRO FUTURE, the former slaughterhouse that is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art, will present sixty artists who live, work or gravitate around the city of New York. It’s a look at the drama, danger, speed and dynamism of our city’s diverse creative activities.
It is curated by Kathy Grayson with the support of DepART Foundation.
Artists include urban art names like Steve Powers, Barry McGee, Dash Snow, and AVAF (Assume Vivid Astro Focus)
Here’s a video by AVAF from a few years ago featuring the Yoko Ono song, “Walking on Thin Ice”
Walking On Thin Ice by Assume Vivid Astro Focus and Honeygun Labs, with Carla Machado.
D*Face Opens Tonight at Jonathan Levine Gallery
Ludovico Aversion Therapy: All Your Dreams Belong to Us (D*Face) (courtesy Drago and Jonathan Levine)
London street artist D*Face doesn’t get the big head that some artists do, and can’t be bothered by repetition – any medium is good and everything gets attacked in a fun cartoony way and images of superheroes, pop heros, dead presidents… all get the D*Face skullification. For such dark symbols, the light-hearted feeling permeates the various permutations.