Subway Art on Steroids: Spray Nation Sorts Through Mountains of Kodachromes
Page after page of golden NYC hits from the Martha Cooper archive; this new hardcover tome expands the galaxy for fans and academics of that amber-soaked period when it seemed like New York was leading a Spray Nation of graffiti for cities across the country. Known for her ability to capture graffiti writers’ work in its original urban context, Ms. Cooper once again proves that her reputation as the documentarian of an underground/overground aesthetics scene is no joke.
With an academics’ respect for the work, the practice, and the practitioners, Cooper recorded volumes of images methodically for history – and your appreciation. With the vibrant and sometimes vicious city framing their pieces, an uncounted legion of aerosol-wielding street players raced city-wide at top speed, ducking cops and cavorting with a confident abandon in the rusted and screeching steel cityscape. By capturing these scenes without unnecessary editorializing, Cooper gives you access to the organically chaotic graffiti subculture on the move at that moment – directly through her unflinching eyes.
Culled from thousands of her Kodachrome slides from the early 1980s, the celebrated photographer and ethnologist worked with American graffiti historian Roger Gastman over many months during the initial Covid period to select this rich collection of images of tags, walls, and pieces. Each turn of the page more profoundly deepens your understanding of the graffiti-writing culture Cooper captured with Henry Chalfant in their book Subway Art nearly forty years ago. That clarion call to a worldwide audience took years to reverberate and shake culture everywhere. With time that book became the standard root documentation for what many see as the largest global democratic people’s art movement in history.
A smartly laid-out and thick volume (as well as its “Outtakes” collection), the high-quality printing and spare design hew to the photographer’s reliably straightforward approach, preferring to let the photos tell the story. From this perspective, Spray Nation is likewise a sleeper; We’ll probably only wholly appreciate its pivotal value and cultural importance with time.
Martha Cooper: Spray Nation. Signed Limited Edtion Box Set is published by Beyond The Streets. With a foreword by Roger Gastman and essays by Steven P. Harrington, Miss Rosen, Jayson Edlin, and Brian Wallis. Click HERE to purchase the book.
With the foundation’s Dr. Hans-Michael Brey doing the intro, with YAP’s Sam Walter in the audience along with our show catalog contributor Christian Omodeo, and us in the front row – it was a great way to end our “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” exhibition at Urban Nation by looking forward at library plans while surrounded by the best team ever.
On our last Friday night in Berlin, we celebrated inside the exhibition with a live panel discussion featuring the evenings host Nika Kramer, and her guests Martha Cooper and the German graff writer and abstract painting powerhouse MadC. During a far-ranging discussion before a two-room audience in the museum and a live audience online, the three spoke about the graffiti/street art/mural scene from personal and professional perspectives – and how often the street has intersected with contemporary art in the gallery setting over the last decades.
The occasion was an inaugural MCL Talk that officially begins another component of programming related to the research library that we’ve been working on here, now open, called the Martha Cooper Library at Urban Nation. We will aim to make it the premier research library of graffiti, street art, and related urban art: the first place you think of when you need to begin your investigation into this remarkable global democratic people’s art movement.
There was a lively discussion of MadC’s evolution from being an artistically inclined child to one who would develop a signature style as she traveled worldwide to paint increasingly complex and massive walls. Creative challenges and cultural roadblocks were discussed and hard-earned philosophies were described; giving an opportunity for greater appreciation for the routes these people took to participate in, to put their mark on, the graffiti/street art environment. Ms. Kramer skillfully steered to parallels in the pioneering photography and documentary career of Martha Cooper. In the open and inclusive way that Cooper’s career has always been, many questions from the audience were welcomed, considered and addressed as well.
After the talk ended and people mingled and chatted with one another, we took one more quick walk through the museum to admire the wealth of materials and deep dives into history guests could learn about Ms. Cooper. We hovered above the table, looking from the 2nd floor walkway down to the lobby where the three women signed the exhibition catalog and MadC’s new hardcover for patient fans. Finally we left the museum and hung out on the sidewalk in the spring night air with new friends and old and many fans of the night’s special guests at UN.
Thank you again Berlin.
MC Library Presents Martha Cooper, MadC & Nika Kramer. From Street to Canvas. Urban Nation Museum Berlin. (photo still from the video)
In a triumphant finishing act, we slapped a few stickers on the board this week to say goodbye to our exhibition, Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures at Urban Nation museum in Berlin. The original sticker board in the gallery area had become overloaded and layered with stickers from visitors to the show and also from sticker artists who mailed them to the museum, so we had to replace it with a new one that is filling up as well. Of course we had to slap one in the wash room too to join the visual chorus of tags and stickers always propagate there as a nod to the restrooms in clubs and concert venues all over this city.
Our sincere thanks to Martha for entrusting us with her history and her hundreds of photographs, ephemera, and personal effects so that we could tell the story 7+ decades and 100+ cities traveled to snap pictures. Thank you to the artists who allowed us to exhibit 80 original artworks that reinterpret her photographs and to pay tribute to her.
Thank you especially to film director Selina Miles for her 16 screen visual poem made specifically for this exhibition, to street artist Seth for his original mural painted directly on a two-story wall in the exhibit, to street artist AIKO for her mural on the facade of the museum, and to artist Shepard Fairey for creating a new Martha Remix collaboration artwork and for producing a 550-print release of it with us and Martha and Urban Nation. Thank you to the entire team at YAP for skillfully bringing the exhibit to fruition and to Urban Nation for entrusting us with the entire museum for this unprecedented show of the photographer’s career.
People like Martha Cooper only come around once in a while and her uncanny ability to capture many of the benchmarks in a changing culture give us collectively greater understanding and appreciation for it. Speaking of the many youth she photographs for her “street play” projects, she may as well be speaking of all the graffiti writers and street artists she captured as well. “”As I photographed these kids, I came to admire their creativity, energy, humor, and willingness to share.’” We are forever grateful for Martha’s willingness to share what she captured with all of us as well.
Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures is currently on view at the Urban Nation Museum Berlin. The exhibition will close this May 15th. For more details click HERE.
More than a hundred thousand or so visitors have come to our exhibition at Urban Nation in Berlin which takes over the entire museum. 350 photos, a few thousand more digitally, black books, drawings, ephemera, cameras, film slides, toys, miniatures, a mural, a complete timeline from 1943 to today, 70 original artworks, a 16 screen film collage by director Selina Miles… this is an endless collection of Martha’s personal and professional work and collections for all visitors to see.
The traffic is beginning to increase now that the end of this unprecedented life-spanning exhibition is nearing its end in May of this year, and we want to show you a few of the hidden gems just in case you have a free afternoon to visit the museum. It has been our honor and privilege to share this exhibition, to work so closely with the photographer herself, and to mount the first exhibition at Urban Nation that features the career of one artist – and thousands of artists.
Cey Adams, AFRO, Andres Art, Blanco, Mark Bodé, Bordalo II, Buster, C215, Carja, Victor Castillo, Cosbe, Daze, Jane Dickson, Owen Dippie, Ben Eine, Shepard Fairey, Freedom, Fumakaka, Futura, Grotesk, Logan Hicks, HuskMitNavn, Japao, James Jessop & Dscreet, Nicolas Lacombe, Justen Ladda, Lady Aiko, Lady Pink, The London Police, Mantra, John „Crash“ Matos, Nazza, Nunca, Okuda, Os Gêmeos, Alice Pasquini, Phlegm, Pixel Pancho, Dr. Revolt, Seth Globepainter, Skeme, Skewville, Skolas, Chris Stain, Tats Cru (Bio, BG183 and Nicer), Vhils, Ernest Zacharevic.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. BSA & Martha Cooper Discuss the Opening of MCL at UN
BSA Special Feature: BSA & Martha Cooper Discuss the Opening of MCL at UN
IN CONVERSATION WITH MARTHA COOPER, STEVEN P. HARRINGTON, AND JAIME ROJO (BSA) AT THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE MARTHA COOPER LIBRARY AT URBAN NATION BERLIN.
In November 2021, Martha Cooper was in Berlin together with Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art for a viewing of her exhibition “Taking Pictures”. Simultaneously the three announced the official opening of the Martha Cooper Library. They were each presented with the first MCL library cards in the MCL Reading Room at the Museum. With this, the library was formally inaugurated and has been open to the public since the second of November.
With Chief Librarian Eveline Wilson at the desk and Library Director Dr. Hans-Michael Brey leading the way, we are pleased that BSA’s vision and Martha’s vision of establishing an unrivaled library resource for scholars and students of graffiti and street art and related art movements across the globe will now have a dedicated collection for all.
Already, we are growing. Through the contact of Sascha Blasche, Hitzerot, we received a generous donation from the Dutch Graffiti Library in January of this year. The Dutch Graffiti Library was founded in 2018 by the twins Marcell and Richard van Tiggelen. Together with Sanne van Doorn, they built an extensive private collection on graffiti with a focus on the Netherlands and published several publications on the subject. Books from the Dutch Graffiti Library can be found in the OPAC. We also received an interesting donation from Kathryn Nussdorf. During a VHS (Berlin’s community education university) seminar, she created a fan book about the Berlin graffiti group CBS with many photos. In an exchange with the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy we have also received more catalogs. And in April there will be the first event: “MCL presents…”
Together with Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art, UN interviewed Martha Cooper about the opening on its very first day – about their common ideas, wishes and visions for the library.
Clandestine abandoned former factories are ideal locations for graffiti writers to practice their skills. Regardless of your intuition or expectations, you never know what you’ll find. Graffiti pieces that go up, are dissed, or simply crumble – all of it is possible. For fans with cameras, it is a revolving exhibition and no two visits will ever be the same, lending the location and air of discovery – if you know where to go.
In Ljubljana, Slovenia, for the Ljubljana Art Festival last summer, veteran graffiti photographer Martha Cooper got into a hidden spot, a so-called graffiti garage near the capital. Here she found some fresh paint and some fresh ideas on her tour, and she shares them here with BSA readers exclusively.
Read more about the Ljubjana Art Festival HERE, HERE, AND HERE.
It may be a challenge to identify the through-line when it comes to curation of artworks at an auction house exhibition. Selections are predicated on the availability of artworks at the moment and the exigencies of the market. And 30 additional variables.
You will however see a warm confirmation of greater themes in the new exhibition at Phillips auction house that opened last week entitled 1970s / Graffiti / Today, and you’ll leave enriched by the experience. With the works of 30 or so artists on display for approximately a month, it is not intended to be a comprehensive survey, yet it manages to spread a wide net over a number of scenes, practices, and personalities working on US streets during the previous five decades.
There is a vastness to this scene, its people, its practices, its histories, its quality variations. As evidenced by a show like this, there is now a general acceptance of the street-born form of visual expression called graffiti, its various hybrids expressed broadly as street art, and the onward march of certain forms of both toward acceptance as contemporary art. As suggested by the title, you’ll probably see a good representation of each here, and one or two will strike you as quite impressive.
Curator Arnold Lehman is a recognized champion of that march forward, most notably for when he shepherded the “Graffiti” exhibition as Director of the Brooklyn Museum in 2006. That show, one of the first museum shows dedicated to the movement, featured 20 large-scale canvasses by graffiti artists that were donated by the estate of famous mid-century New York gallerist Sidney Janis, who had shown a number of them in the early 1980s.
A native New Yorker, Lehman grew up with graffiti on the trains and easily recognized the contributions it was making to his city and the culture. When he had an opportunity to introduce the works as an exhibition, he says he faced much opposition, despite the fact that it came from the collection of a gallery owner who was celebrated for introducing most of the emerging leaders of abstract expressionism, the Fauves, the Futurists – and later the proponents of Pop.
“He began showing graffiti in his gallery in 1981 or 1982,” Lehman says of Janis when speaking of the canvasses he organized in the Graffiti show at the Brooklyn Museum. “A number of my colleagues were quick to write and say, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ “
Five of those same canvasses provide an anchor in the timeline here, supported with early photos and light ephemeral documentation of the burgeoning graffiti scene on subway trains and elsewhere in New York. This city and its streets and culture figure prominently into this collection of about 150 pieces, with Mr. Lehman estimating for us during a recent tour that the mostly US-focused show is divided into two-thirds New York and one-third Los Angeles.
“The artists we are showing really deserve a presentation like this,” he says as we walk through an exhibition of individual expressions that are as varied as the kind of people who’ll typically ride a subway car; drawings from sketchbooks (Al Diaz), stenciled canvas (Chaz Bjorquez), photographs (Martha Cooper, Gusmano Cesariti, Steve Grody, Cheryl Dunn), elaborate “wood paintings” on welded steel sculpture (Faile), canvasses by early generation graffiti pioneers (Fab 5 Freddy, NOC, Daze, Lady Pink, Toxic, Haze), repurposed metal subway signs (Julius “T. Kid” Cavero), a slickly painted motorcycle (Crash), mixed media collage (Augustine Kofie) a refurbished ice cream truck (Mr. Cartoon), a repurposed bus stop poster (KAWS), an acrylic painting on scrap metal (Margaret Kilgallen), a mounted neon sculpture (Risk), paper cutouts pasted on found wooden doors (Swoon) and a heavily tagged Fun Gallery refrigerator hit up in the early 1980s by people like Basquiat, Haring, and Futura.
The newly completed Phillips gallery is ironically and literally underground. Its thousands of square feet lie just below the Park Avenue street level, lending a hidden secretive quality to it. Nevertheless, the massive venue sports triple-height ceilings and a vast marble spaciousness that allows for mounting and lighting a variety of gallery sizes, shapes, and volumes. It’s also free.
One piece caught our eye and the eye of our companion, the photographer Martha Cooper, whose photos of 1970s-80s graffiti on subway trains places her squarely at the center of the scene. It’s the large fabric canvas/backdrop that commands one of the walls in the gallery – not only for its dynamism of placed elements and handstyle-vibrance but because of the history of the piece and the cross-section of writers and performers who intersect on it. Attributed to Futura 2000, it also contains work by Dondi and a tag by Phase2, at least. It also pays tribute to the musician and performer Afrika Bambaataa, the Rock Steady Crew, a number of possibly British graffiti writers and crews.
When posted on social media by people like Futura and Ms. Cooper this week, discussion of this piece lit up like a fire – with people surmising different venues where it may have been displayed, arguing about the propriety of selling such an item, conjecturing about who owns it, and spotting it in the background of photographs by Janette Beckman and David Corio.
Mr. Corio allows us to show his images here of that event, which he identified as being part of the London stop of the NY City Rap tour, November 23rd, 1982. Assessing photos and the relic itself, one surmises that it was not signed by all the persons named necessarily since its function was a marquee naming of participants of the tour as well as a vehicle of visuals.
Corio later posted images from the event on his Instagram with his current recounting, but we like this older one from his website, as it is lyrical.
“Welcome to the future. This was one of the first hip-hop shows in London and it was at my favourite place to shoot gigs. Bam had brought with him vibrant visions of the New York street in the form of graffiti legends Fab Five Freddy and Futura 2000. While he played, they spray-painted the backdrop. Londoners had never experienced any gig like this before – with break-dancers from Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation and a team of skippers doing the double-dutch. ‘Planet Rock’ and ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’, two singles of 1982, along with Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’, gave notice of a new musical force breaking out of New York – hip-hop and electro – and it was all rising straight off the record decks. It was amazing to witness this revolution in person.”
As you stand before the piece, you may better appreciate the human scale of some events that have stepped into a golden storied past. Without these antecedents, many would not have known the art, music, and dance world as it evolved – nor appreciate the components that Hip Hop grew and evolved from. Looking at this unnamed banner, you remember again that once in a while a piece of art transcends itself, and becomes a historical document.
1970s / Graffiti / Today is an opportunity for fans and historians to see some of these works before they disappear into private collections. That alone is worth the trip.
Our sincere thanks to photographer Martha Cooper for contributing her photos to this article. Her Instagram is @marthacoopergram
Thank you as well to the photographer David Corio for allowing us to use his historical photos here. To learn more about him and his work please go to www.davidcorio.com and his Instagram is @david.corio
It’s that time of the year again! BSA has been publishing our “Hot Lists” and best-of collections for more than 11 years every December.
Our interests and understanding and network of connections continued to spread far afield this year, and you probably can tell it just by the books we featured: stickers, illustration, murals, copyright law, a cross-country spraycation, anamorphic street installation, Hip-Hop photography, graffiti writers community, and a lockdown project that kept an artists sanity.
So here is a short list from 2021 that you may enjoy as well – just in case you would like to give them as gifts to family, friends, or even to yourself.
Leon Keer: “Break Glass In Case Of Lost Childhood”
One of the challenges in creating a book about anamorphic art is presenting images that tell the viewer that they are being tricked by perspective yet hold onto the magic that this unique art conjures in people who walk by it on the street.
In a way, that brass skeleton key that allows entry into another world is precisely what Dutch pop-surrealist artist Leon Keer has been seeking for decades to evoke in viewers’ heads and hearts. Some would argue he is preeminently such; certainly, he is the wizard whose work on walls and streets has triggered memories for thousands of children and ex-children of the fantastic worlds they have visited.
“You develop your senses all your life. Through what you experience, you involve affinities and aversions,” he says in his first comprehensive bound collection of gorgeous plates entitled In Case of Lost Childhood Break Glass. “Your memories shape the way you look at the world. When it comes to reflecting my thoughts, my memories are key. I needed to feel some kind of affection or remorse towards the object or situation I want to paint.”
Street Art Today 2 by Bjorn Van Poucke: An Update on 50 “Most Relevant” Artists
A worthy companion to the original tome, Bjørn Van Poucke and Lanoo publishers extend the hitlist of favored muralists that he & Elise Luong began in Street art/ Today 1 – and the collection is updated perhaps with the perceived cultural capital many of these artists have garnered since then.
Replete with full-color plates from the artists’ own collections and garnished with brief overviews of their histories, creative background, and philosophies, the well-designed and modern layout functions as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the wide variety of artworks that are currently spread across city walls as large scale opus artworks in public space. As organizer and curator of The Crystal Ship mural festival in Oostende, Belgium, Mr. Van Poucke has had his pick of the litter and has showcased them during the late twenty-teens.
A new illustrated tome capturing the black and white work of one-half of Ukraine’s mural painting duo Interesni Kazki welcomes you into the past wonders and future imaginings of a world framed in “Phantasmagoria.”
Full of monochromatic fantasies at least partially inspired by the worlds unleashed by Belgian inventor and physicist Étienne-Gaspard “Robertson” Robert, Waone’s own interior expanding fantascope of miss-appended demons, dragon slayers, riddle-speaking botanicals, and mythological heroes may borrow as deeply from his father’s Soviet natural science magazines that brimmed with hand-painted illustrations – which served as his education and entertainment as a child.
This book, the first of two volumes of graphic works, explores Waone’s move from the street into the studio, from full color into black and white, from aerosol and brush to etching, lithography, augmented reality, and sculpting.
“Closed (In) for Inventory”: FKDL Makes the Most of His Confinement, 10 Items at a Time
The world is slowly making movements toward the door as if to go outside and begin living again in a manner to which we had been accustomed before COVID made many of us become shut-ins. Parisian street artist FKDL was no exception, afraid for his health. However, he does have a very attractively feathered nest, so he made the best of his time creating.
“March 17, 2020, the unprecedented experience of confinement begins in France,” writes Camille Berthelot in the introduction to Closed (in) for Inventory, “Time that usually goes so fast turns into a space of freedom, and everyone has the leisure or the obligation to devote himself to the unexpected.”
FKDL quickly began a project daily, sorting and assembling 10 items and photographing them. He posted them to his Instagram by mid-day. Eventually, he saved the photographed compositions together and created this book.
“My duty of tidying up and sorting out turned into a daily challenge. I dove like a child into the big toybox my apartment is to select and share my strange objects, my banalities, my memories, my creations, and those of others,” he writes. “I gather these treasures, valuables or not, in search of harmony of subject, forms, materials, and nuances.”
The street sticker, be it ever so humble and diminutive, is profligate and sometimes even inspiring. An amalgamated scene that is anonymous, yet curiously stuck together, the organizers and sponsors of so-called sticker jams have been overwhelmed in recent years by thousands of participants.
Artist and organizer IWILLNOT has compiled, organized, archived, and preserved this collection as a ‘field guide,’ he says, and another artist named Cheer Up has laid out page after page. It is a global cross-sample from 60 countries and a thousand artists – a treasure trove of the witty, insightful, snotty, and sometimes antisocial street bards of the moment, seizing their moment to speak and mark territory.
A year after its close, we open the book on American street artist MOMO’s new book chronicling the exhibition “Parting Line.” Writing about and covering his work for 15 years or so, we’re always pleased to see where his path has led – never surprised but always pleased with his evolution of decoding the lines, textures, practices, serendipity of discoveries unearthed by this wandering interrogator.
Here, along the river Seine banks, we see his exhibition for the still young Hangar 107, the recently inaugurated Center For Contemporary Art in Rouen, France. While we think of his work in New York in the 2000s, we see the steady progression here – his cloud washes, raking patterns, his experimental, experiential zeal. This is the spirit of DIY that we first fell in love with, the lust for uncovering and the desire for making marks unlike others across the cityscape, quizzically folding and unfolding, pulling the string, drawing the line.
“Born In The Bronx” Expanded: Joe Conzo’s Intuitive Eye on Early Hip Hop
Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop
Yes, Yes, Y’all, it’s been a decade since this volume, “Born in the Bronx,” was released. The images here by photographer Joe Conzo seem even more deeply soaked in the amber light of early Hip Hop culture from the late 1970s and early 80s, now taking on a deepened sense of the historical.
As the city and the original players of this story have evolved through the decades that followed the nascent Hip Hop era, it’s clearer than ever that this was nothing less than a full-force eruption, a revelation that cracked and shook and rocket-fueled an entire culture. Thanks to Conzo it was captured and preserved, not likely to be repeated.
Born in the Bronx is full of gems, insider observations, interviews, and personal hand-drawn artworks. One critical cornerstone is a timeline from Jeff Chang that begins in 1963 as the boastful but failed Urban Planner Robert Moses constructed the Cross Bronx Expressway – painfully destroying and displacing people and families, severing culturally significant, vibrant areas of the borough and producing a dangerous malaise.
Enrico is a Member of the Editorial Board of the NUART Journal, which publishes provocative and critical writings on a range of topics relating to street art practice and urban art cultures.
His academic research has been covered by CNN, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BBC, Washington Post, The New York Times, Financial Times. Reuters, The Guardian, The Times, Independent, and The Conversation, amongst other media outlets.
A “Gentle People” Aussie Tour: Paint, Fun, and Run with 1UP & Olf
It’s almost sublimely subversive to publish your illegal graffiti escapades in a handsomely bound photo book with creamy paper stock and gauzy, professional photos. Positioned as a travelogue across the great Australian continent (complete with a hand-drawn map), the international troupe of sprayers named 1UP from Germany provides a genteel accounting of their expansive itinerary in a diary here for you, dear reader.
The stories are not without surprise and carefully touch on all the necessary road trip tropes you may wish for but cannot be assured of in a cross-country graffiti tale of skylarking and aesthetic destruction: angry rural police, security cameras, sleeping in rolled-up carpets, fancy receptions with Aperol Spritz, climbing over fences, sudden fire extinguisher tags, exploding paint cans, smoky wildfires, beaches, wallabies, long never-ending-stretches of road, the Sydney Harbor, an emergency-brake whole-car in Melbourne, and yes, a large kangaroo smashing into your car on a darkened country path.
“Nation Of Graffiti Artists” Opens Another Chapter of NYC Writer History
SCORPIO, BLOOD TEA, ALI, STAN 153, SAL 161, CLIFF 159. It was the mid to late 70s in New York and train writing was in its foundational stages, later to be referred to as legendary. For a modest crew of teenagers, it was the hypest stage you could be on, and going all city constructed many dreams of fame and recognition on the street.
Jack Pelsinger wanted to help shepherd these talents and energies into something they could develop into a future, maybe a profession. With a lease on a storefront from the city for a dollar in 1974, he made way for the Nation of Graffiti Artists (NOGA). An artists workshop and haven for a creative community that was regularly sidelined or overlooked, the author of this new volume, Chris Pape (acclaimed OG Freedom), says “Like moths drawn to a light, the kids showed up, hundreds of them.”
With extraordinary photos shot by Michael Lawrence, the book serves as a true document for the New York of that moment and opens doors to a chapter of graffiti history you may not even have known of until now.
Last week during our interview with Patrick and Patrick from Faile in Miami we discussed with them the many layers of meta that have always characterized their art-making since first putting their handmade screen prints on New York streets in the late 1990s. Not only would Faile photograph their own prints after putting them up on walls and fences and garbage dumpsters, they would convert those same photos into another screen print, and go out again to install those on the street.
This back-and-forth between studio and street is not exactly common, but it does solidify the importance of experimentation and play in their work, and the use of the street as laboratory for many street artists over the years.
During this summer a related project took place in Ibiza that rings with that same echo. Photos of children making their own games and toys that were first shot on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1970s were printed and displayed directly on the streets here. Part of an 11-year-old street art festival called BLOOP Festival IBIZA, the photos were attached to historic cobblestone walls and flown banner-like from posts along the main thoroughfare.
Never previously done at this free festival called BLOOP, these photos of Street Play, so-called for the book she published with them in 2005, were part of an open-air exhibition for photo-journalist Martha Cooper. Known perhaps by many for her photos of New York’s graffitied subway trains from the same era, these pictures focus instead on a different segment of children making their own toys and environments in an atmosphere of urban blight.
Somehow these areas of The Port and the Dalt Vila are imbued with a new spirit briefly as they become settings for these black and white photos of Alphabet City in New York. The images bridge the locations, and the locations likewise become a bridge for the photographs.
Welcome to BSA Images of the Week – this week from Wynwood Walls in Miami, which each year Goldman Global Arts invites a slate of artists to artistically collaborate by providing them with the opportunity to paint on the walls of the compound. The artists created new pieces in the weeks leading up to Miami Art Basel and debuted them this week. Many of the artists were in attendance during the events and attended the celebration dinner given by the Goldman family as well. Martha Cooper and Nika Kramer were invited to provide the documentation of the process and the completed works.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Add Fuel, Aiko, Bordalo II, David Flores, Ernesto Maranje, Farid Rueda, Greg Mike, Hiero Veiga, Joe Iurato, Kai, Kayla Mahaffey, Mantra, Quake, and Scott Froschauer.
Get in, get out, no one gets hurt. Our few days in Miami were full of adventure on the street and at parties and receptions for artists. The party rages on tonight and this weekend at the fairs and in the galleries and bars and streets of course, but our last events were interviewing Faile onstage at Wynwood Walls last night, going to the Museum of Graffiti 2nd Anniversary party/opening for FUZI, and, well there was this thing with Shepard Fairey and Major Lazer and a guy proposing marriage to his girl before the crowd…
But really, where else but Wynwood do you see Blade and his lovely wife Portia on the street, or sit with Ron English and his son Mars on folding chairs directly on the street in front of his new pop-up, or have a hug with ever-sunny Elle in front of her lift, or hide in the shade with seven 1UP dudes across the street from their massive new space piece, or talk with Ket in the back yard with “Style Wars” playing on a large screen behind him and the DJ while a florescent colored Okuda marches by, or chase Lamour Supreme while he tries a one-wheel skateboard around a parking lot, nearly crashing into Crash who is in his cherry picker with Abstrk painting a wall? The dinner at Goldman Properties Monday night? Dude.
We’re not really name-droppers, you know that, but honestly it was like a family reunion dinner with perfectly punctilious attention to detail over at Wynwood Walls this week – after two years of Covid fears killing everyone’s buzz. We saw Daze, Shoe, PichiAvo, Bordalo II, Jonone, Shepard Fairey, 1Up, Add Fuel, Case MacClaim, Nychos, Faile, Martha Cooper, Nika Kramer, Mantra, Ken Hiratsuka just to name a few – cavorting with collectors, cultural workers, fanboys, journalists, bloggers, academics, critics, bankers, gallerists, curators, museum people, real estate folks, photographers, dancers, silk climbing aerialists and hustlers of many flavors – and all the class of ’21 artists whom Jessica Goldman invited to paint this year. A Miami mélange, we’ll call it.
We were even having dinner with Martha when a local stencilist named Gregg Rivero sat in an empty chair at the table with us to offer an array of small stencil works featuring graphically pornographic scenes – to choose from as a memento of Miami indubitably. Naturally, we carefully perused his entire collection of 20 or so spread-eagles, doggie-styles, Shanghai-swans, Mississippi-missionaries, Dutch-doors, bobbing-for-sausages, and lord-knows-what-else. After careful consideration and we each selected a favorite stencil and he autographed it. Just not sure what room to hang it in…
Our treasured part of the Miami art vortex ’21 was meeting some BSA fans and Faile fans mixed together at the artist talk hosted by Peter Tunney at GGA Gallery last night. An action-packed hour of pictures covering their 35 year friendship was on offer for the assembled – focused mainly of course on their 22 year professional career. What an amazing career of image-making it is too – and even though we were prepared, there are always surprises with such dynamic dudes who have parlayed an illegal street art career into a well-respected and pretty high profile career with intense collectors and fans of their simplest silk screens and works on paper to their wood puzzle boxes, wood paintings, toys, ripped paintings, and their very new, completely radical approach that breaks their own mold for this “Endless” exhibition. And need we say it, Faile have already released a number of NFTs of course – which some in the audience didn’t know that Faile had – but could have guessed since Faile pioneered interactive digital games that accompanied their analog works as early as 2010 when most people still didn’t even have a smart phone.
But we digress. Back in New York now and it’s grey and cold and unwelcoming, and of course we love it. Thanks Miami! See you soon.
The image below was taken in Wynwood, Miami. At the panel, with Faile, they talked about the process of making their art and one of the subjects was about ripping up posters from the street…. – and how their original name was Alife. Two blocks away we found these ripped posters advertising Alife.
FAILE: ENDLESS is currently on view at Goldman Global Arts Gallery at Wynwood Walls. Wynwood, Miami.
We’re pleased today to show you the new article about our exhibition and book “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” at Urban Nation – this one from the German Monopol magazine.
“Her voice on the phone is friendly and warm. But Martha Cooper, this is clear, does not want to be bored. Naturally not,” begins journalist Silke Hohmann in her article for Monopol.
“Otherwise she would not have climbed on a motorcycle in 1965 to ride from Thailand to England at the age of 22. Otherwise, she would not have moved to Tokyo as a young woman to explore and photograph a legendary and discrete tattoo scene and one of its masters at work. Otherwise, she would not become the first female photographer at the New York Post in the 1970s where she photographed life in the urban wasteland. Cooper’s photographs of Breakdancers from the 1980s are the first published pictures of a then still unknown dance form, essential for the emergence of Hip Hop culture.”