Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week from Berlin, and this time featuring AJ LaVilla, Bisco Smith, Blek le Rat, Damon, Tito Ferrara, Key Detail, Lee Quinones, Surface of Beauty, Jeremy Novy, 7DC and LMNOPI.
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.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. Tats Cru on the Houston Wall in NYC 2. Broken Fingaz Crew In Mexico: “Si Desaparezco Rompe El Cochinito” 3. Lee Quinones, Brooklyn Studio Visit. December 2018 4. Lili Brik // 12 + 1 Project // Contorno Urbano Foundation. Barcelona
BSA Special Feature: Tats Cru on the Houston Wall in NYC
New York graffiti heroes the Tats Crew have endured – and withstood – and prevailed – during the onslaught of Street Art during the 2000s and 2010s. Writers of an important narrative of city life as it continues to evolve, the Bronx trio of Bio, Nicer and BG 183 continue to keep it real – and have been going hard with style this week on the famed Houston/Bowery Wall this week. We are honored to catch them at work, especially when Martha is in the mix and it feels like family, like community – with friends and writers stopping by to catch a tag or tell a story. This little bit of homemade footage is just a taste of how its done…big game writing with New York at the center.
Broken Fingaz Crew In Mexico: “Si Desaparezco Rompe El Cochinito”
Israeli Street Artists / graffiti writers Broken Fingaz Crew are rocking their Dad Hats and 90s skater style in this new vid of a spraycation in Mexico. Slow pans of local faces with character give a real flavor for the location, and the BFC are maturely observant of their host culture, incorporating a street portrait among the motifs that reference Mexico – aside from the shout out to their hometown of Haifa. Later on AB&B with their lady friends they practice still lifes and figurative painting by the pool.
Lee Quinones, Brooklyn Studio Visit. December 2018
Of course we felt lucky as hell to spend time with Lee Quinones in studio to talk about where he’s at right now and his preparation for a solo show. This small collection of footage featuring his wit and wisdom proved to be a jewel in this new year so far. See the full interview here:
An NYC original whole-car graffiti writer and painter in the 1970s/80s, Mr. Quiñones is now prepping for his latest gallery show, a solo at Charlie James Gallery in LA’s Chinatown.
40 years after his first gallery show in Rome that many point to as groundbreaking for graffiti writers transitioning to contemporary art, Lee is easily time-travelling to those days while he is working on new canvasses that invariably include imagery from that era, even as his own style has continued to evolve and he has greatly expanded his visual repertoire.
Lee Quiñones. “9 Lives” (photo courtesy of the artist)
Here in his Bushwick studio his focus gathers around his penciled paint strokes as he builds up the exterior of a train racing across canvas that will be called “Born From Many Apples”.
“It all goes back to the old saying, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ and I always remember that,” he says about a socially connected, universalist philosophy that has often appeared thematically in his work. “Born from many apples. We are part of all these things and people”.
“It was a pretty special time and place,” he says of train writing in the late 70s, “Obviously all good things come to an end, so I’m okay with that.” Not romantic about the conditions of the city during those years, he’s clear about the raw nature of painting and looking for adventure on train tracks in the terra incognita of a declining New York.
Lee Quiñones. “Counterfeit Entitlment Makes For A Brittle Society” (photo courtesy of the artist)
Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and studying the train lines for the best exposure for his rolling canvasses, Lee hustled for the opportunity to go large scale, to be “All City”, often drawing his trains in detail on paper before grabbing paint and staking out a spot. From the start, he took his craft seriously.
The gritty megapolis of his childhood was in perpetual financial austerity. Many neighborhoods appeared lawless, even avoided by police. Social or sports programs for youth were threadbare if they existed at all. Yet somehow graffiti kids who broke into train yards to paint coalesced into an underground community. “The camaraderie was there.”
Competition and verbal lore were part the game of course, but writers also shared their techniques and improved skills with each other, he says. He speaks about the bonds forged among the graff writers in the early days; How they would exchange tips for tool making, techniques and hitting trains. It has the markings of a tight community.
“Dudes really respected each other and writers were happy to meet each other,” he says. “We all brought our black books and we asked each other to tag it, like ‘can you put my name down to see if I can do it better with your style?’ It was a lot of sharing going on.”
Lee Quiñones drawing from 1980. (photo courtesy of the artist)
His prolific activity, creative experimentation, and constant study of his craft scored him a shot at the gallery scene before he entered his 20s, even though it was on another continent entirely. “The first major European show of graffiti-based art opened at the galleria La Medusa in Rome, Italy, in 1979,” he says. “Fab 5 Freddy and I showcased our very first works on canvas in an attempt to bring it above.”
Forty years later he opens “If These Walls Could Talk”, a bold show of new works – a series of framed “tablets”, says Charlie James. Here you’ll see “writings on slabs of drywall and wood paneling that once were the walls of Quiñones’s studio(s), which were painstakingly removed during recent years. Unlike the urban landscape largely hostile to his earliest artistic production, these walls have offered an inviting interiority for the artist to perform his spray bomb color tests that ultimately become the foundation of his paintings.”
True to his origins, Lee says he has developed his practice by study and sharing perspectives. “You have to be able to talk to people about work, about other artists, do comparisons, do evaluations, critique it – it makes for great conversation.”
We talked with Mr. Quiñones about the new show and his perspectives on his evolving practice as an artist:
BSA:Four decades into your work as a self-made artist, one of your paintings for this exhibition is titled “Karma”. What was the genesis of this and what role does Karma play in your life as an artist?
Lee Quiñones: There are several pieces in the show that have ignited the idea of karma.
I spend a lot of time in my studio having sit-ins with my work whether there are already formed or in theory, so I have many passages of time that come to mind and usually one thing reflects on another or as I say, rhymes with each other. Life is fulfilling and revealing like that if you look hard enough.
On that same note, I review life and humanity in a sarcastic manner in my head over time, and that in turn spills out onto my work or onto works that are specifically worthy of sarcasm.
BSA: Given the nature of graffiti vandalism in train yards and on the street, and your own illegal car racing on the streets, you may have used up your metaphorical 9 lives that is assigned to curious cats. Can you talk about the painting you have created for this exhibition entitled, “9 Lives.”
Lee Quiñones: I have over time studied people in challenging situations that hide certain emotions in the details and reveal eye candy for the rest of us that just simply look and not see. The study painting “9 lives” centralizes around the segregation that unfolded its ugly head during the late fifties when students of color were finally allowed to attend certain schools throughout the nation.
I was especially driven to the 1957 incidence at the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas where nine freshman students of color were to be escorted by police and or national guardsmen to their respective classes of study. One of the nine students, Elizabeth Eckford came early that day to school and subsequently endured a gauntlet of hate chants from her future fellow students led by a very angry and vocal Hazel Bryan. The photograph that captured that moment etched that dark time in the history books.
What I found in making this piece of which it is a study to a larger one in progress is that their emotions of hate and courage were so prominent in their hands. The juxtaposition of a hand clutching a rolled up newspaper in a authoritarian way fueled by hate and fear against a hand clutching books of study showing steadfast and courage was irrefutable.
BSA:In studio we touched on the topic of how graffiti and street artists like to talk about “community” but often we have observed that there’s little support among the artists for each other in practice. You mentioned how in the old days of train painting you guys really supported each other shared techniques and exchanged your new style discoveries. What changed?
Lee Quiñones: Manufactured entitlement.
The air is thin in some places of success and artist have only artists to rely on as sound boards and for sound advise. That there is the oxygen needed to be authentic and poised for your moment when it comes rightfully so. What you do with that moment is embrace your hard work and to not be compelled to feel threatened by an associate.
I keep my closes allies from back in the day on the front pages of my day planner and I’m always interviewing new souls.
BSA:You are having your first solo exhibition in LA. What took you so long?
Lee Quiñones: Funny, after discussing the show with Charlie James, whom I find to be one of the most open and enthusiastic people in the arts, I realized that this wasn’t just another show with everyone under the umbrella. It is my first solo show in Los Angeles on the heels of quite a few group surveys and splashes. Those exhibitions have their place and time and what I have been preaching in silence for some time now is; “that in order to see a movement for what it is worth and how it weathers throughout the passage of time is to look closer at its inner working parts individually”
I’d like to think that this is a prelude, my first shot across the bow of the left coast in what will be a gathering of works itching to spill out.
BSA:Most people are familiar with the path that NYC graffiti culture took in the 80s and 90s to Western and Eastern Europe – and you’ve had the opportunity to hang out with writers from around the world thanks to your pioneering work on trains. Would you say that there is a difference between the graffiti experience in NYC and in Europe?
Lee Quiñones: Sure thing. I mean, while things are extremely close to you while they are developing, you can’t possibly see it clearly, so in essence, you need to remove yourself for an incubator period in order to focus more vividly and perhaps compare notes with your line of experiences. Europe has an extremely vast history in the arts throughout the ages. Empires have come and gone and in the end, we begin to understand them through the art that survives.
America is not of age just yet. It has acne, still wrestles with its growing pains and is hesitant to show its proper ID at the velvet ropes, so this particular movement which had no reference to art history in the first place is just cresting it’s wave.
BSA:Not many artists can sustain a long career, especially true when it comes to graffiti writers. Challenging oneself to explore and take risks as an artist appears to be crucial to continuing to evolve creatively – particularly if you want to become professional. What’s your biggest challenge as an artist these days?
Lee Quiñones: Ushering people out of the context of nostalgia and looking at the current state of affairs in the works of today.
I mean, the subject of the trains and all its glory is for me to bring out on occasion with a twist, not for people to theoretically box me into it. I turn pages because I don’t want to be defined on one page.
Personally, my own challenges consists of navigating around my own self tripping wires. Some are booby-trapped and some are triggers for the lights at the end of the tunnel.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. Banksy in Paris 2. Art Meet Milk III – Zeso – Carl Kenz
3. UDANE: 12 + 1 Project.
4. Beyond The Streets Presents: Felipe Pantone
5. Beyond The Streets Presents: Lee Quinones
BSA Special Feature: Banksy in Paris
A quick overview to catch you up on the 7 most recent pieces attributed to Banksy in Paris. He’s said to be creating work more attuned to the plight of migration, but others have observed it is a return to the classic Banksy sarcastic sweetness that has characterized the clever sudden missives he has delivered since he began. See Butterfly Art News’ coverage here: Paris: Banksy for World Refugee Day
Art Meet Milk III – Zeso – Carl Kenz
Zeso and Carl KENZ are splashing about in that white liquid you are all familiar with. The title leads you to believe there have been two more graffiti/Street Art murals meditating on this as well, and in fact it is a campaign. Not sure what its about.
The temptation for the typical young buck who is hitting up a wall with cans is to completely cover it in as much paint as possible and leaving the view reeling with combustible imagery. UDANE decides that strength is in restraint, leaving part of the wall uncluttered, giving room for you to think and consider and wonder what this guy with the backpack is thinking about.
A sneaker brand has sponsored some of the Beyond the Streets exhibition currently running in Los Angeles and following are a couple of brief artist spotlights. The first is the Spanish Argentinian master of visual glitch and kinectic/op-art Felipe Pantone.
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.
Never Seen Notebook Drawings and Recent Paintings Span 1975-2015
“It was an identity crisis for youth in NYC in the 1970s,” explains Lee Quinones, the whole subway car “bomber” who claims the mantel of aerosol story teller for NYC’s rolling gallery of public art during that nearly dystopian decade. He is sitting on a folding chair before a small crowd of gallery visitors with Glenn O’Brien talking about his youthful creative process during a time when New York was seething with raw emotion, roiling in an identity crisis of its own with social, political, and economic issues all contributing to a perception of pending anarchy.
The occasion is the end of his current show that includes work from two distinct periods: now and 40 years ago. Witnessing one clearly informs your understanding of the other.
“I’m a recovering graffiti artist,” the dynamo LEE likes to say with a wink, and signs of his addiction are framed around the unpolished Chinatown pop-up space to help you see how deep the scars are. Pulled directly from home sketchbooks done in 1975 at the age of 15, these original drawings, some nearly four feet across, belie the level of manic dedication and wizardry his illegal storytelling required in those rusted screeching halcyon days when graffiti tags began to metamorphose into the representational and a certain wilder style.
With personal graffiti influencers on the street like the expressionistic Cliff 159 and the pop-painting Blade lighting his way, LEE says he was searching for a way to break out of the “alphabet soup” of the prevailing lettering and tagging that was enveloping trains and subway stations and burning city walls.
“The small umbrella we were under was too small,” he says as he describes the way he tapped into a superheroes’ courage to fly from the housing projects of Lower Manhattan into social and political themes that took him up and down the number 5 subway line; his own publishing platform that reached thousands, probably millions.
“I wanted to create storytelling on the subway. Why not address the civil rights movement?,” he asks and you think immediately of the photos and film you’ve seen of the hand sprayed images and text addressing the Vietnam War, economic inequality, environmental degradation, nuclear annihilation, love, death, longing, community, brotherhood, and Donald Duck. A ninja in the train yards, LEE also was a conscience on the rails.
“I wanted to sarcastically address the doctrine that was being thrown at me,” and he did, often collaboratively with four other writers, forming The Fabulous Five. Over that time he estimates he painted many more than a hundred complete subway cars with characters, scenes and public speeches questioning accepted truths and advocating at least a reexamination of them.
The show is a rare opportunity to see these works in person, an illuminating collection of detailed sketches, marker drawings, possible titles, poetry, crossed out ideas, musings, and paint lists. Even in his youth LEE was showing his undying commitment to his art and it’s expression, wherever it lead.
“I feel comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says of the winding route over four decades that now includes a very strong studio practice and shows in major institutions and work in significant collections. He says it has brought a desire to simplify. “On canvasses now I want to say more with less.”
Coupled with a smaller collection of recent works, one large monochrome stylized wall tag, and his newest painting, Golpe de Suerte that includes his mother’s hand-written recipe cards and lists collaged and spelling out “amor”, this is a personal show not likely to be seen again.
Including his mother and her lettering style completes a cycle; that’s the same ‘mom’ to whom he dedicated in aerosol many of his trains in the late 1970s and early 80s. Considered as a whole, this show captures a passionate imagination that is still on fire, tempered by experience. Looking at it all, free from the hype, this is the kid who you hoped you would find.
“At first it seemed like a closed community, but one artist would lead me to the next and before I knew it, I had entered into an amazing new world – a very tight knit community of artists, many of which live like creative nomads.,” says photographer Soren Solkaer in the foreward to his new collection called Surface. A three year project that has led the Dane to 13 cities capturing 140 artists whose practice lies along the graffiti-Street Art continuum is a revelation on many levels – who knew that you could convince so many of these undomesticated ferocious coyotes to pose? Who would have guessed that they would agree to be in staged photographs as well?
Influenced by the Czech tradition of photography of including staging and symbolism that he studied in the mid 1990s, Solkaer brings in distinctive elements of each artists style or process to inform the orchestrated environments in these images, instantly telling you more about the subject and their work.
It is a very successful method that turns the photographer into biographer and makes the viewer into student and possibly a fan. Naturally, this world-traveled photographic artist has also developed his own formal techniques and distinctive style so the resulting images are crisp and on-point, the ingenious surroundings and ambiance often lifting the subject into another realm.
With a personal history that includes break-dancing as a teen in a small village in Denmark, Soren tells us that his rediscovery of the modern Street Art scene was reawakened only recently after he had long ago shifted interest away from street culture. After a successful career shooting most of the largest names in rock and popular music, he had the freedom to discover a new project where he could innovate in the space of a still evolving scene. After an introduction to Shepard Fairey and some other street artists and with a few rewarding photo shoots of personalities from this genre of autonomous art making in the public sphere, Solkear says he was hooked.
The New York launch of Surface is tonight at Allouche Gallery in Soho and a number of artists and special guests will be in attendance. When you see Soren, ask him the name of his high school breaking crew.
“If I had my way, I wouldn’t put in dogs, but wolves,” New York mayor Ed Koch suggested famously as a facetious proposal for loosing ferocious animals on graffiti writers in the train yards in the early 1980s. For Koch and his two predecessors the graffiti on trains was a searingly hot focal point, a visual affront to citizens, an aesthetic plague upon the populous. It created a discomforting atmosphere described by the New York Times editorial board as evidence of “criminality and contempt for the public”.[note]Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City, Jonathan M. Soffer.[/note] The fight against this particular blight began in earnest and by decade’s end all 5,000 or so subway cars had become clean and the famed era of graffiti on trains was terminated.
Twenty-five years later, whole-car graffiti trains are back in New York. Visually bombed with color and stylized typography top to bottom, inside and outside, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is pocketing some handsome fees for it. It is not aerosol anymore, rather the eye popping subway skin is made from enormous adhesive printed sheets that are laser cut to perfectly fit every single surface of a train car. Naturally, you won’t have to pay the newly hiked subway fare to see these whole-car creations – you can see them on elevated tracks all over the city.
The irony doesn’t stop there; Right now the MTA is running a full-car advertisement for a “Street Art” series that appears on cable, featuring images of fleet-footed youth with art supplies in hand running down a Brooklyn sidewalk as if escaping from the police. “Run. Paint.”
“Of course I chuckle every time I see those ad-covered cars,” says Martha Cooper, the ethnographer and photographer perhaps best known for shooting images of artists like Lee Quinones and Dondi as they painted huge pieces in the train yards in the 1970s and 80s. Together with Henry Chalfant, Cooper published what became a photographic holy book for generations of graff writers and Street Artists worldwide, a compendium of full-car aerosol painted pieces from New York’s graffiti train era entitled Subway Art. When it comes to using trains for advertising, Cooper doesn’t appear offended, but rather gives credit for the idea to the youth who pioneered the technique of using trains as a self-promotional method, and she’s only puzzled about why this didn’t happen earlier.
“Graffiti writers instinctively understood how advertising could reach the most people in NYC,” she says, “It’s taken 45 years for the MTA and ad agencies to realize what a good idea top-to-bottom rolling ads are, on trucks as well as on the subway. They are finally catching on and catching up but they would probably be the last to admit it. The rest of us can just stand back and shake our heads in amusement.”
But some others are less ready to accept the irony of a Street Art program being promoted on train cars, including guys who were those same vilified/celebrated teens painting trains at a time when penalties were harsh and the dogs were real.
“What a complete bite and contradiction on the MTA’s part,” says artist Lee Quiñones, perhaps best known for having painted as many as 125 entire cars by hand in the 1970s, as well as a more formal art career that followed. His fully painted cars as canvases included characters, scenes, and narratives addressing topical subjects like the crime rate, the cold war, poverty, and environmentalism – as well as more existential teen poetry about love and family. For Quiñones, who once called the #5 subway line the “Rolling MoMA” and who today is a fine artist with a successful studio practice, the paradox is obvious. “It exposes how certain things under the guidance of capital can be blatantly suggested and ingested within the same context.”
Jayson Edlin, author of Graffiti 365, is considered by many as a go-to source of New York graffiti and its history, and was himself a train writer under the names J.Son and Terror 161. “The advertising versus art argument regarding graffiti and street art speaks to money, power and control. Societal hypocrisy is nothing new. As a former subway painter, I am not surprised by seeing an ad for a Street Art TV show plastered across a NYC subway car,” he says. Then he pitches us a vision that would undoubtedly make many people’s brain hurt. “I’m certain that the MTA would sanction an ad for Subway Art with the Marty Cooper photo of Dondi painting a train for the right sum.” Imagine what that might look like.
Not so fast, the MTA would not wish you to think they are endorsing illegal graffiti or street art, according to an MTA spokesperson recently interviewed by Bucky Turco for the website Animal. The MTA walked a thin line when determining whether they should accept advertising for a show celebrating Street Art, however contrived, and decided that it was okay to take the money this time. “On the one hand,” says the spokesman, “our ad standards prohibit anything that could be construed as actual graffiti, and we also prohibit promoting illegal activity. On the other hand, the typeface of the ad itself was not graffiti-style, and our research concluded that everything the show depicts is done legally with permission.” So we’ll take the MTA at it’s word, the show doesn’t explicitly violate standards for advertising, so the campaign was approved.
It’s true, not all Street Art is illegal per se, but by definition most people would say that real graffiti must be. However it may take a lawyer to explain how this rationalization of advertising a show like this works, or at least to help sort the legalities from the ethics and perceptions. So, to recap, decades ago it was a crime to write graffiti on the subways. Today if you have enough money and the right hand-style with your lettering you can use your creativity to mark up as many cars as you like. If not, your art-making efforts will be swiftly eradicated. This past year photographer Jaime Rojo just happened to catch some non-commercial art on trains that pulled into stations and he said it was just as surprising to see the real stuff as it is the commercial facsimile of it. Of course the D.I.Y. never made it out of the train yards again.
Alison Young, Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne in Australia and author of Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination has studied the interaction of art, advertising, and the law specifically as it pertains to Street Art around the world. She points to a radical difference in how these two forms of visual communication are regarded and approached. “The full-car advertisement for the television program is certainly the most obvious demonstration of how companies (such as the MTA) respond differently to advertising than to street art/graffiti.
“In some ways,” Young continues, “the MTA may not even have noticed the irony of covering a train car with an advert for an activity related to graffiti, given the time and money spent on eradicating images from train cars. Or, if I was being really cynical, it’s also possible to speculate that the MTA sees that irony all too clearly and is using this as an opportunity to tell graffiti writers that unsanctioned art is never acceptable, but sanctioned art (in the form of an advert or in the form of the art featured on the show) is all that we are permitted to see. Is that too unlikely? I don’t know.”
A number of folks whom we talked to mentioned that this is not the first time a graffiti artist has completely covered subway cars with advertisements, as the artist KAWS was treated to a full campaign when he partnered with Macy’s a couple of years ago. While he has had a successful commercial career with fine art, toys and a variety of products, his roots are as a graffiti writer, has done some freight painting of his own, and his style still reflects it. Not every impressionable disaffected youth would necessarily make that association nor interpret it as an encouragement to hit up a train with your own aerosol bubble tag. Still, those KAWS cars looked a lot like graffiti trains, with logos as tags, as in seen in this video from Fresh Paint NYC.
We leave the last observations to the witty and insightful Dr. Rafael Schacter, anthropologist, curator, and author of The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, who says the obvious story is, well, obvious, but don’t miss the elephant in the subway car.
“The irony and incongruity of it though? Of course. It is ridiculous. It is absurd. A graffiti-banning MTA promoting a graffiti TV show and allowing a second-rate aping of the original whole-trains of the ‘70s,” he says derisively. But then he turns frank and even wistful in his final summary.
“But, in actual fact, I LOVE these moments. I love them as they so perfectly illustrate the public secret of our public sphere: That consumption wins. That the highest bidder is the true King. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing surprising but it is the revelation of the public secret that can actually come to raise awareness of that secret itself – That the public sphere has come to be a space not for conversation but for commerce. That the public sphere has become a place not for interpersonal communication but for capital and consumption,” says Schacter.
“These moments can, I hope, make us sit up and realize this revelation because it is thrown so directly in our faces. Then, hopefully, this can make us make a change. Perhaps a tiny bit of a rose-tinted position to take, but I really do hope so.”
Rose-tinted views will probably overruled by the green-tinted ones in this case, but we understand the sentiment. But many New York subway riders will not likely soon get over the irony.
One of the best parts about a celebration of Street Art culture like Nuart in Norway is that there sometimes is an opportunity to speak with and listen to people who make it their mission to put it into context. New York art critic, curator, editor, and writer Carlo McCormick has an exhaustive knowledge and enthusiasm for the scene that evolved on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s and 80s concurrently with the evolution of graffiti into a celebrated art form. As Street Art continues apace, having perspective on some of its precursors is imperative and McCormick knows how to bring it alive.
To hang out with Carlo on the street is a joy because he can ground your current observations with his knowledge of their antecedents and yet become as equally appreciative of the new artists on todays’ scene whom he hasn’t heard of. During this talk he gave this year at Nuart in a very conversational somewhat meandering unscripted way, Carlo reveals the mindset that is necessary to keep your eyes open and appreciative of the new stuff without feeling territorial or enslaved to the past. We appreciate him because he recognizes that the march of graffiti, street art, public art, and it’s ever splintering subsets is part of a greater evolutionary tale that began before us and will continue after us.
“As I do my best as a really bad scholar to investigate this history of graffiti and mark-making – kind of prior to the official history – the greatest evidence that I find of stuff is in the real canon of fine art photography. Just about every famous photographer turned – I mean it’s not incidental – turned their attention to this illicit anonymous practice., ” Carlo McCormick at Nuart.
THE BONE YARD PROJECT | PIMA AIR & SPACE MUSEUM | JANUARY 28 – MAY 31
The Pima Air & Space Museum is pleased to announce the opening of Round Trip: Art From The Bone Yard Project on January 28 in Tucson. Conceived in Spring 2010 by Eric Firestone, and organized with curators Medvin Sobio & Carlo McCormick, The Bone Yard Project resurrects disused airplanes from America‟s military history through the creative intervention of contemporary artists, taking entire airplanes and their elements out of aeronautic resting spots in the desert, known as “bone yards,” and putting them into the hands of artists. Re-imagined by Brazilian graffiti artist Nunca, an abandoned DC3 comes to life with a striking picture of an eagle leading men through the skies, and the idealized dreams of flight are able to soar once again in our collective imagination. With a nod to the airplane graffiti and „nose art‟ that became popular during WWII, the project offers a vision of the wonder by which humanity takes to the air through some of the most prominent and acclaimed artists working today.
Round Trip: Selections from The Bone Yard Project, will include selections from the previous exhibition along with more than a dozen cones interpreted by artists new to this project. It will feature five monumental works created on military planes by a dynamic selection of popular graffiti and street artists from around the world. The curatorial team includes Medvin Sobio, an independent curator and consultant, and Lesley Oliver of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a longstanding figure on the Arizona art scene.
More than 30 artists have participated in Round Trip including DC Super 3 planes painted by graffiti artists How & Nosm, Nunca, and Retna, and a C97 cockpit by Saner, and C45 planes by Faile and Andrew Schoultz. Additionally, Nose Job artists Aiko, Peter Dayton, Shepard Fairey, Futura, How and Nosm, Mare, Tara McPherson, Richard Prince, Lee Quinones, Saner, Kenny Scharf, and JJ Veronis will be on display, along with new nose cones by artists Colin Chillag, Crash, Daze, Daniel Marin Diaz, Tristan Eaton, Jameson Ellis, Ron English, Faile, Eric Foss, Mark Kostabi, Lisa Lebofsky, El Mac, Alex Markwith, Walter Robinson, Hector Ruiz, Randy Slack, Ryan Wallace, and Eric White, among others.
The Pima Air & Space Museum is the largest non-government funded aviation museum in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. It maintains a collection of more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft from around the globe and more than 125,000 artifacts. The museum is located at 6000 E. Valencia Rd. , Tucson, and is open 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM daily. Round Trip is open to the public from January 28 through the end of May 2012. Further details may be found at www.pimaair.org.