Hanging tough is what New York does, and the art in the street is 10X more potent than six months ago. It’s almost cliche to say that Street Art and graffiti are about a conversation on the street, but the words and sentiments being expressed right now on monuments, edifices, and in doorways are a direct reflection of the high-emotion, high-stakes conversations that we must have about the true state of race, freedom and social mobility in 2020 US.
Here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Art 2 Heart Art, Calicho Art, Chris RWK, Col Walnuts, Eortica, Irena Kenny, Jilly Ballistic, John Ahearn, Know Justice, Sac Six, Scratch, Shiro, Top Bun Artist, Zachary Ginsberg, and Zero Productivity.
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.
Its an exciting time for art in the public sphere right now in NYC as Roger Gastman and his huge team are seriously preparing 100,000 sf of space in Williamsburg to completely blow away graffiti and Street Art fans alike this week with Beyond The Streets. Meanwhile the city is pumping full of at least 50 sanctioned and unsanctioned World Pride murals, Garrison Buxton pulled off the 9th Welling Court grassroots mural festival in Queens, Joe Ficalora brought Rick Ross and a host of Street Artists to Bushwick for a block party, MadC was in town hanging with Crash, Joe Caslin and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh were putting up new pieces with L.I.S.A. Project yesterday, Queen Andrea finished her commercial Houston Wall gig, and a lot of ad hoc illegal and legal graffiti and Street Art is in full effect in all five boroughs. When it comes to art in the streets, New York says ‘Bring it!’
yeliner, Jason Naylor, John Ahearn, JPO, MadC, MeresOne, Misshab, Outer Source, Queen Andrea, Ramiro Davaro-Comas, SacSix, Sonni, Tonk Hawaii and The Drif.
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.
Restored to look like new, this is the third time that La Freeda, Jevette, Towana and Staice have taken their rope jumping game to this wall on Kelly Street and the spirit of their game and the culture are here as well. Based on the actual girls as models casted, the sculptors John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres recently restored them and placed them on the same wall that they first appeared on in 1982, a moment from New York’s history.
Their art practice in the public space has a fully engaged, activist quality – insisting as it does to herald the everyday heroes in a culture that tends to reserve public space to elevate figures from the military, the church, politics, literature and Pop Culture. Even the name of this piece refers to the community group that hosted the sculpture for many years, Banana Kelly.
With a somewhat radical art practice that claims public sphere for the public for forty years, the duo have made casts of people in the neighborhood for decades, in the process forming long relationships with the sitters and their families, and their extended families.
A curiosity for many on the street at first, a lot of folks first became familiar with the work as it was being performed – whether in workshops like the one Torres first saw Ahearn conducting in the storefront windows of the famous art space Fashion Moda or later at numerous block parties around the neighborhood.
Owing to his family connection to a sculpture factory, Torres had knowledge that Ahearn was missing and their yin/yang temperaments created a professional partnership balance that eventually has landed their work in places as far as Brazil, Taiwan, and Orlando, where Torres moved a number of years ago with his family.
In the intervening years the Ahearn/Torres partnership has garnered attention in significant gallery and museum shows as a sociological hybrid, a captured record of life and culture that favors the unfamous, occasionally the famous. Humble as they are about their accomplishments and refreshingly reticent to be boastful, their combined projects have been collected by heavy hitters in the Street Art, hip-hop and contemporary art world.
Their sculptural portraits of the street have also been featured in exhibitions in the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts , “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1, New York. In an interview with BSA Ahearn gives credit to his creative partner for some recent shows including “his two homages to his Uncle Raul’s Factory in the “Body” Show at the Met Breuer, and his magnificent funky “Ruth Fernandez” figure in Jeffrey Deitch’s “People” Show.
What’s remarkable about this piece is not only that it has survived the constant changing of the New York City skyline but also the fact that photographer Martha Cooper was on hand to capture the bookends of the Double Dutch installation – the first one in 1982 and this new one in 2018. An anthropologist and ethnographer by heart and training, Ms. Cooper also captured many of the surrounding people and activities in the neighborhood during both of the installations and she generously shares them here with BSA readers to give a further appreciation of the time passed and the cultural relevance of the duo’s work.
BSA asked Mr. Ahearn a few questions and he provided some great insights into the production and life behind these Double Dutch girls.
BSA:Do you see girls and women playing Double Dutch much in the neighborhood this summer? John Ahearn: Double Dutch has been a classic rope jumping style for a while, the double rope keeps things moving. It sometimes seems to be always be in fashion.
BSA:Your personal relationships with people in the neighborhood have figured prominently in your subjects. How does time change your perception of the original works? John Ahearn: All the sculptures are some kind of collaboration with the specific people and the neighborhood. Time tests the validity of the intention and the expression. Art can lose meaning and look silly, or it can increase in its purpose and gain poignancy.
BSA:Your work captures so much action! Is that a particular goal for you? John Ahearn: When I first saw Marty’s profound image of the real four girls in front of their sculpture, taken when it was first installed in 1982, I was shocked! I had emphasized the unique quality of each separate girl but Marty captured them as one piece, engaged in a solemn ritual of play, with all heads bowed to the center. I was moved to see her vision and it took me a few decades to look at the actual sculpture with full confidence.
BSA:Why is it important to you to make art accessible to the people on the street? John Ahearn: I need to feel that my perception includes the point of view of others.
BSA:What inspired you to refurbish this installation and how did you find La Freeda, Jevette, Towana, and Staice? John Ahearn: I believe the girls are La Freeda Mincey (whose mother still lives in the building and came out to watch us reinstall the girls) Javette Potts, whose mother created the original girl’s dance group) Tawana Brown, and Staice Seabrine (with whom we are more regularly in touch)
In 1981, we were considering our first neighborhood commission at Fox St. and Intervale Ave. We took a composite 180 degree photo of the area. On all sides were burned out buildings, but one wall popped out in perfect condition with a surrounding block that was completely together. That was “Banana Kelly”, a community group committed to survival and improving the area, with the Potts family at the center of things.
Later there was a block party at Kelly St. that featured an “African Dance” group of girls, including Javette Potts, the granddaughter of Mr. Potts. It was at that time that we had a notion to have the four girls play Double Dutch for the image.
This is actually the second time we have repaired the sculptures. By 1986, the ravages tearing up the Bronx had reached the little park that Banana Kelly had built on the corner. All the bricks were torn up, and some kids were heaving them at the Double Dutch sculptures. Parts of the figures were breaking.
At the same time, Rigoberto’s Uncle Raul’s Statuary Factory had burned down and all our molds related to the three murals had been stored there and were lost. So we removed the Double Dutch sculptures from the wall, and took them to our studio to restore them. We reinstalled them higher than before with a slightly different design.
Meanwhile, the devastated block which Banana Kelly faces (south) was transformed into a huge park. All the buildings had been torn down heading north to Longwood Avenue. The design of the 2nd version of the sculptures (see Marty’s photo) looks very nice to me now, but it had always annoyed me.
The tiny “park” site at Kelly St. eventually was fenced off and abandoned, awaiting future use. Sometimes old sculptures in their neighborhood locations can be very satisfying and true. But it always seemed that the Double Dutch should be returned to their original design.
Recently the lot was sold to the new Catholic Nursing facility next door, to be rebuilt as their parking area. We wanted very much to keep the sculptures on the same wall and this seemed like the right moment.
” ‘Double Dutch’ is a tribute to all the girls in the world, especially the girls on my block. I’ve been watching them for 25 years. They use their mothers’ clotheslines to play the game – it’s an art. It’s a tribute to them – they’re really good at it.” – Frankie Smith to Dick Clark on American Bandstand.
Malcom McLaren “Double Dutch” 1983
All over the world high school girls Take to the ropes and turn them slow
Starts a beat and a loop They skip and jump through the hoop
They might break and they might fall About the gals from New York City
4th of July weekend here in New York so we are headed to a barbecue and a frisbee game. Maybe to the Jersey shore for some sun. Happy 4th ya’ll! Looks like the country needs to take itself back from the corporate overlords – if we want to declare the US to be independent ever again. Right now we’re in trouble, gurl – and everyone knows it!
So here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Banksy, Clint Mario, Crash, El Sol 25, Felipe Pantone, FinDAC, Hopare, Hot Tea, Invader, John Ahearn, Logan Hicks, Mark Jenkins, Resistance is Female, SaxSix, and Sonny Sundancer.
With ten fresh new murals, Coney Art Walls 2017 has made its official debut for summer. Starting this past weekend with the Mermaid Parade in full swing with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein as Queen and King and aquatic beauties in shimmering costumes wending their way through the pavement paradise by the sea.
Today we bring you the class of 2017; all ten new walls at Coney plus a re-freshed one by sculptor and Street Art pioneer John Ahearn.Mr. Ahearn re-casted fresh sculptures of his Boy in the Beach With Divers piece which he debuted at last year’s edition of Coney Art Walls. With fresh paint and fresh bodies the piece looks even more stunning this year.
Another updated blast from the past, Lee Quinones brings back a mural he first completed on a handball court back when he was hitting trains on the MTA 38 years ago. The center word “Graffiti” reminds us where this scene sprang from.
For nearly forty years on the streets of New York this artist has been casting New Yorkers and attaching them to walls for all to see, to watch, to talk to, to argue with. In all our self-possessed and artful individual non-homogeneity, with our multitude of languages, accents, trades, styles, opinions, attitudes, and dreams John captures us, and then shares us with the neighbors.
Long before “Humans of New York” presented the idiosyncrasies in this crazy enigmatic rat trap of a city, sculptures by John Ahearn were capturing a certain bluntly tender honesty of the character of his sitters and their family members and, in doing so, giving them a certain immortality that few could claim.
That kind of honesty may get you in hot water occasionally of course, as a public art installation during the early 1990s once revealed, when Ahearn sculpted everyday street people from his Bronx neighborhood and dared elevate them as worthy of public display. The incident caused vitriol and pearl clutching and chest pounding and a lot of spilled ink in the The New Yorker, so splendid and nerve-strumming were his honest portrayals of New Yorkers.
It also revealed latent here-to-fore unspoken prejudice, pride, racism, and classism and put it all muddily and bloodily on parade; in other words, an American story. The writer Jane Kramer rightly asked in that article’s title “Whose Art Is It?” – a lengthy piece which was later published as a book. As many artists who take their inspiration from the street and who give their work to the street will tell you, Ahearn had already answered that question of whose are it is. It’s yours.
A brand new installation this month on Manhattan’s Lower East Side by Ahearn again elevates your neighbors to a recognized position of prominence, recalling local cultural history and those of our families. As his custom of working within context demands, this line up of people is as significant as their location. A post punk musician from the downtown scene that flourished here when artists flooded this neighborhood and the city was broke, a colorful performance artist, a gallerist, a hometown all city 1970s train writer, John’s own lady pregnant with their child. These are personal stories of life in this city, here on the wall while the cars and taxis and delivery box trucks and tractor trailers roar and halt and honk and rumble by 24 hours a day.
“The life on Delancey Street is the aim of the work. Friends from Colab took over a building there in January 1980 and proclaimed it “The Real Estate Show,” says Ahearn of the touchstone illegal show that happened four blocks from this new installation on James Fuentes Gallery. It is almost like he’s reflecting wistfully on that earlier time with this new choice of subjects recalling the art scene in this part of town – as if the geography of the city might invoke the hallmark Bohemian spirit that has been steadily and mercilessly stamped out by shiny bulldozers of impossible rents and dull luxury hotels serving rooftop cocktails.
The seminal “Real Estate Show” opened on the last day of 1979 and closed the first day of 1980 by force of city officials, who are said to have padlocked the art inside the building and out of reach of everyone, including Ahearn. The show and the events surrounding it highlighted the same issues that struggling artists in many cities are facing across the country today; trying to develop alternative spaces in a hostile rental market, city agency bureaucracy, largely absent institutional support, murky grey areas of legality/illegality, crime, real estate speculators, intimidation and of course, gentrification.
The police shutdown of that show galvanized the artist community and became part of the Downtown art scene lore and along with three other LES galleries James Fuentes himself made an homage to The Real Estate Show in 2014. Fuentes also posed for one of these new sculptures for “Delancey Street” while at one of those galleries, Cuchifritos, located down the block. Ironically, Fuentes is further connected to the work of Ahearn by dint of growing up in the early 1980s directly across the street from an Ahearn public sculpture mural called “Bronx Double Dutch” (1981-82), a casted mural of girls jumping rope that still hangs there today. (see below)
Ahearn had begun his public sculptures only a year or two earlier in 1979. “I was casting faces of neighbors at Fashion Moda in the Bronx in 1979 and people passing on the street would stop and watch,” he says. After meeting the nephew of a guy who owned a nearby statuary factory, John and Rigoberto Torres began to work together as a team.
“I gave Rigoberto some materials and he cast some friends on the sidewalk on his block at Walton Avenue,” he says of the partnership that lasted a number of years. “I moved to Rigoberto’s block soon after.” Both built their craft and confidence and community ties by setting up a long-time public presence working on the street and eventually set up a studio together on Dawson Street to begin making a series of permanent fiberglass culture murals.
Today on a warm summer day you can find John on the street in the summer in the Bronx, or out at Welling Court in Queens, or a Street Art festival in Baltimore, casting the people who are calm enough to stick straws up their noses and be draped with wet plaster and to remain still until it dries.
Even in 1980 it was a challenge for children to complete a sitting for him. “It became a point of pride for young kids to demonstrate their confidence,” he says, blue eyes smiling. “The little kids would come up to us and say “Let me do it! I’m ready!’ and I would say “No, you’re not ready, you have to wait!” When Ahearn talks with his infectious enthusiasm, you know he’s giving as much energy to his work as he is getting from it and he can tell you countless stories about the people he has profiled, what kind of work they do, who they are married to, where they went to school.
Just this past Saturday on the blue bricked wall over a tire shop near his studio in the Bronx Ahearn installed his most recent portrait of a neighbor whom he has known for years. Monxo Lopez went to school with John’s wife Juanita in Puerto Rico and he is a social organizer and professor who lives nearby the tire shop, John tells you. Posing in the Bronx ‘resistance’ gesture that also recalls the borough’s letter “x”, Lopez had been trying to get John to make this of him for a couple of years, but the scheduling didn’t fall into place.
The newest work is just as authentic as ever, distilling personality, stories, relationships and inferred community in the same way that all of John Ahearn’s sculptures do.
The photo above shows the “Bronx Double Dutch” mural mentioned in the caption below James Fuentes photo. The mural which was erected around 1981 – 1982 at Intervale Ave and Kelly St depicts four local girls, Frieda, Javette, Towana and Stancey at play as part of Mr. Ahearn and Mr. Torres series Homage to The People of The Bronx.
Of the thousands of images he took this year in places like New York, Berlin, Dresden, Moscow, Marrakesh, Detroit and Miami, photographer Jaime Rojo found that the figurative image still stands prominently in the Street Art scene – along with text-based, abstract and animal world themes.
Surprisingly the scene does not appear to be addressing the troubled and contentious matters of the political and social realms in a large way, but the D.I.Y. scene keeps alive and defies the forces of homogeneity with one-of-a-kind small wheat-pastes, stencils, sculptures, and aerosol sprayed pieces alongside the enormous and detailed paintings that take days to complete.
Every Sunday on BrooklynStreetArt.com, we present “Images Of The Week”, our regular interview with the street. Primarily New York based, BSA interviewed, shot, and displayed images from Street Artists from more than 100 cities over the last year, making the site a truly global resource for artists, fans, collectors, gallerists, museums, curators, academics, and others in the creative ecosystem. We are proud of the help we have given and thankful to the community for what you give back to us and we hope you enjoy this collection – some of the best from 2016.
Brooklyn Street Art 2016 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo includes the following artists;
1Up, Above, Adele Renault, Alaniz, Amy Smalls, George Vidas, GEN2, Apexer, BordaloII, Buff Monster, C215, Collin Van Der Sluijs, Super A, David Choe, D*Face, Duke Riley, El Sol 25, Sean 9 Lugo, EQC, Faile, Faith47, Faust, Shantell Martin, Felipe Pantone, Hueman, Droid907, Icy & Sot, InDecline, Invader, JJ Veronis, Jilly Ballistic, John Ahearn, JR, London Kaye, Louis Masai, MadC, Marshal Arts, Mongolz, MSK, Rime, Myth, Nina Chanel, Optic Ninja, Otto Osch Schade, Panmela Castro, Plastic Jesus, QRST, Reed b More, Remi Rough, REVS, Self Made, Sharon Dela Cruz, Maripussy, Specter, Stikman, Strok, Swoon, Ted Pim, Thievin’ Stephen, Farin Purth, Thomas Allen, Tobo, Uriginal, Vermibus, Vhils, Wing, Yes Two, Zola.
The artist featured on the main graphic is D*Face as shot by Jaime Rojo in New York.
Just in time for this weekend’s Mermaid Parade, London’s D*Face is finishing up “Live Fast Die Young,” his beauty-and-the-zombie comic couple sipping an ice cream float at the soda counter. Austrian surrealist slicer Nychos has completed his dissection of a Ronald McDonald-ish character without a sketch; running, jumping, nearly flying through the air with aerosol in hand, flinging the spent cans over his shoulder blindly to skitter across the pavement. Baltimore-based freeform anthropologist Gaia is cavorting with passersby who want to take cellphone selfies in front of his painted wall that depicts exactly that; selfies taken in Coney Island.
This is a modern version of the multi-mirror funhouse in mural form, and Coney Art Walls is bringing it again.
22 new murals on standing slabs of concrete join a dozen or so that were retained from last summer to present an eclectic and savory selection from the old-school and the new. When it comes to art in the streets, a salty luncheonette of city-style treats is on a large public platter these days, with names like graffiti, street art, urban art, installation art, public art, fine art, even contemporary art. For some of those hapless gatekeepers of any of these respective categories, this show in this location presents degrees of discomfort and anger as many subcultural roots are now brought into the light in tandem with one another in a public display – funded by a real estate firm. For the artists and majority of fans, however, the trend is more toward delight and gratitude.
While you are unpacking that, consider that lead curator Jeffrey Deitch has often proved very adept at plumbing the aesthetic margins of our culture while rearranging and intermingling the parties, helping the viewer to appreciate their differences. This outdoor exhibit co-curated with Joseph Sitt provides a venue for a wide audience to contemplate the range of expression that New York streets have had over the last few decades, including a few artists who are trying this manner of expression for the first time.
As the Thunderbolt, Steeplechase, Cyclone and Wonder Wheel spin and swerve nearby and overhead, sending screams and personal projectiles into the ocean breeze, you have this paved lot full of paintings to peruse, lemonade in one hand and the cotton-candy-sticky hand of a sunscreen-slathered child in the other. Here you’ll see a large two-walled corner smashed with Coney Island themes by Bronx graffiti masters Tats Cru (Bio, BG183, and Nicer), a selection of hand-drawn wheat pasted portraits of Coney Island youth by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and 4 full-form sculptures by John Ahearn creating a modernist view of divers on the beach .
Tooling elsewhere through the loose labyrinth you come upon a monochromatic cryptically patterned tribute to Brooklyn-born Beastie Boys vocalist Adam “MCA” Yauch by Brooklyn tagger/train writer/artist Haze and a seemingly lighthearted abstractly collaged wall of mermaids by fine artist Nina Chanel Abney, whose work is currently on the cover of Juxtapoz. There is also a spectacular underwater-themed symmetrical fantasy topped by pylons bearing the likenesses of characters from “The Warriors” film by artist duo The London Police, and a stenciled “Last Supper” featuring heads of world currency playing the disciples and George Washington as Jesus sprayed across the face of a huge dollar bill by Iranian brothers Icy & Sot.
We often travel streets and neglected spaces in cities looking for signs of freewill artistic expression and often the creative spirit surprises us as it can be expressed in so many ways with emotion, agenda, and idiosyncratic point of view. It may be the plurality of voices one experiences surfing the Internet or the multi-cultural nature of living in New York with a continuous river of fresh arrivals mixing in with established and old-timers every day, but one comes to expect this variety of viewpoints and rather naturally creates accommodation for inclusion that celebrates without negating – and in many ways Coney Art Walls does that as well.
Oppositional viewpoints are present if you look: There are coded messages and obvious ones, critiques of corporate hegemony, issues of race, commentary on police relations, sexuality, religion, capitalism, community, the languages of advertising, movies, music, entertainment, local history, and examination of roles and power structures.
When tooling around this collection, you may wonder what, then, are the commonalities of this survey. Certainly there are the recurring references to Coney Island lore and aspects of performance and flimflam, oddity, fantasy, even the erotic. Naturally, there are elements of natural wonder as well, perhaps expected with the proximity to the beach and the ocean and the history of this place as a vacation getaway.
Aside from this, the connective tissue is what we frequently identify as what is distinctly New York – the plurality of voices. Arguing, making fun, praising, preening, bragging, lambasting, mocking, singing. Despite the continuous attempts by others to divide us, we’re strangely (very strangely), beautifully united.
Originally from Japan, Brooklyn’s AIKO has a double sided stencil sonnet to the romance of the sea. With “Tale of the Dragon King and Mermaids in Water Castle” Aiko tells a new version of Urashima Tarō, an old Japanese legend about a fisherman who rescues a turtle and is rewarded for this with a visit to Ryūgū-jō, the palace of Ryūjin. Says Aiko, “This piece speaks to my and all women’s fantasies; chilling hard super sexy in the beautiful ocean with friendly dragon who is super powerful and a smart guy – they are about going to water castle having good time.”
Coney Art Walls
2016 New Artists: Nina Chanel Abney, John Ahearn, Timothy Curtis, D*Face, Jessica Diamond, Tristan Eaton, Gaia, Eric Haze, Icy & Sot, London Police, Nychos, Pose, Stephen Powers, Tats Cru, and Sam Vernon. Returning artists who created new works: Lady Aiko, Mister Cartoon, Crash, Daze, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and Marie Roberts. 2015 Murals on display: by Buff Monster, Eine, Ron English, How & Nosm, IRAK, Kashink, Lady Pink, Miss Van, RETNA, eL Seed and Sheryo & Yok. There are also three community walls.
Woo hoo! Dip your toe in the ocean and the official beginning of summer in NYC. It’s Memorial Day Weekend and it is hot outside and Coney Island is already crowded and has new works this week from John Ahearn, Nina Chanel Abney, Tristan Eaton and more to come. Also you can hear that ice cream truck jingle in some neighborhoods, a welcome sound that will cause batty-ness in the brain after hearing it the 300th time.
Prospect Park and Central Park and hundreds of smaller parks around the city have barbecues and frisbees and refreshments and naps under trees. There is even the smell of marijuana wafting through the streets again. Also there’s a new Strokes album projected on the wall above Futura’s on Houston (soon to be refreshed), there’s a Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum, and international artists are showing up to paint at the Bushwick Collective street party next weekend. Until then, let’s go up on the roof – you may see Duke Riley’s LED lit birds over Wallabout Channel at dusk. It all kind of feels like the 1980’s, minus the hair spray.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Aiko, Jins, John Ahearn, Lapiz, Nether, Nick Walker, Nina Chanel Abney, Pose, TurtleCaps, Saone, Sipros, Stavro, Stikman, Stu, Such and Turtle Caps.
“Sigmar Gabriel (the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy) is riding a Leopard 2 tank. The tank is for sale (a little price tag is showing a €) and is painted in the colors of the German Flag (black, red, yellow). Gabriel is holding up a sign that reads ‘Nie wieder Krieg *’ (‘No more war *’). Running away from the tank is a family of refugees.” – Lapiz
“A woman stands in water, half submerged, holding a withering lotus flower as the sky, lit by a rising sun and a setting moon, pans from darkness to light. The lotus in this setting symbolizes strength and courage when getting through life’s hardest obstacles such as addiction. The character is trying to save the lotus, which reflects her beauty and strength, as it is losing its pedals into the darkness. Her half-hidden face is slightly turned towards the light showing that she is turning towards help to revive her inner beauty and spirit. The obscured face speaks to the recovering addict’s battle with shame, anonymity, and pride for overcoming addiction due to public stigma. The 303 stars painted into the sky pay homage to the 303 people that died from overdoses in the last recorded year in Baltimore including a friend of mine.” – Nether
When the revered graffiti holy place named 5Pointz in Queens, New York was buffed and slated officially for demolition last fall the collective response of the graffiti / Street Art fan base and community was horror and lament. Nonetheless, community persists, and art in the streets is stronger than ever in many cities, including right here in Queens which has played host to an ever growing grassroots exhibition on the walls for five years called Welling Court.
Imagined and produced by two advocates of creativity in the public sphere and run on a shoe-string budget, Welling Court is a series of 100+ walls throughout this largely working class neighborhood that feels like it perhaps has been overlooked by the rest of the city. With a mix of some of New York’s newest immigrants and families, the modest residential/light manufacturing neighborhood has had a eye-jolting injection of spirit and free art every summer since 2009.
We look forward to this annual event for a number of reasons, among them: the unpretentious spirit of community creativity at work as tens of artist straddle ladders and stepstools side by side painting walls, the friendly inquisitive neighbors who hang out and discuss the art and prepare a variety of foods to share on folding tables in the middle of the street, and the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids who race through the neighborhood on foot, bicycle, scooter, even grocery cart.
Unsponsored by brands and run by community elbow grease, Welling Court brings lots of Street Art / graffiti / public art enthusiasts and almost no police presence or crime for that matter. Breaking their own record this June at 127 painted walls, organizers Garrison and Alison Buxton help hook up the opportunity and artists are happy to take advantage of it. Here is just a relatively small selection of images taken by photographer Jaime Rojo at Welling Court 2014.