A welcome and necessary addition to any graffiti academic’s library comes Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore, carefully documented by Freddy Alva. A thorough recounting of the birth and growth of graffiti through the lense of punk and hardcore scenes after 1980, Alva presents a parallel evolution of a scene as it was interpreted by a largely white constituency of rockers, anarchists, and rebels who grew up in and around New York at that time.
Alva is careful to give due to the graffiti scene that is more often identified as the roots of this practice of urban mark making; the hip-hop culture of primarily black and latino youth during the 1960s and 1970s. As the neoliberal corporate capitalists took over Wall Street and the Reagan White House, a different sort of graffiti writer was often showing up on the street – and often on stage as part of a hardcore band.
Mr. Alva says that early hardcore bands like Frontline “became an important foundation to the eventual hardcore and graffiti synthesis that would come to envelop the scene.” It makes sense since the band featured graff writers including HYPER, RACE, ME62, and NOAH.
It’s an infrequently told history related in great detail following a timeline which identifies the “golden age” of this subcultural hybrid as 1985-1995. Packed full of extensive interviews with writers and essays by experts on the scene like Sacha Jenkins, it summons a gravel-voiced city cinema vérité flavor to a rugged unvarnished history and sometimes conflicting perspectives.
The series of interviews profile a wide number of individuals who are looking back on a common graff writing history; sometimes imparting a certain nostalgic haze to their stories. Their common path leads them to espouse philosophies and worldviews that are somehow universally rooted in struggle, but the insights and individual outcomes are anything but homogeneous. But almost all of them dislike or hate Street Art, that’s nearly universal.
You may not have been there, but you may feel like you were; its complete with amateur photography, a good selection of zines, black book works, ephemera, and some serious info-graphics on crews, members, and neighborhoods where they originated from (shoutout to designer Orlando Arce). The thick tome even offers a selection of relevant tattoo photos.
With a newly released second edition after only one year on the bookshelves, this one captures a big name that is as elusive as it is heralded by New York hardcore graffiti fans, REVS. Also a member of a hardcore band named Adam 12, the writer gives a great deal of insight into his path, ethos and career (see the first online publishing of a portion of this interview on BSA).
Tony Rettman, author of NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 gives praise to Alva for chronicling a scene that not many have paid sufficient due to and which contributed in a large way that clearly illustrates the interstitial relationships of New York’s various graffiti cultures.
“The correlation between graffiti culture and punk rock is something solely concentrated to New York and it’s surrounding boroughs,” Rettman writes. “Freddy Alva was there to absorb it all in real time and now he gives us the clear-cut history of the whole deal it all its grim and gritty glory.”
“I have had the good fortune of maintaining decades-long friendships with some of the people featured in these pages; the writers that played in bands, the writers that represented the scene, the graffiti crews that were composed of hardcore fans, the photographers of classic train pieces, the artists inspired by hardcore iconography, the tattooists that incorporated this imagery in their work… I have always wanted to give these voices an outlet to be heard and to be celebrated,” Alva writes.
With Urban Styles, he has.
*Banner poem excerpt by Chaka Malik, 2017
To purchase this book please click on the link below:
“Graffiti ain’t something you do, it’s something you live,” says the text above a wildly lettered REVS piece in a 1996 photo taken in El Paso. If there is a New York graffiti/Street Art icon that you would identify with a credo like this, he’s definitely one. Self-secreted away from the limelight and distrustful of many of the characters that are on the graffiti/Street Art “scene” today, REVS is nearly a New York folk hero, despite appearing to be completely firm in his anti-establishment, anti-commercial views – rooted in punk and hardcore music and those values that helped form his sometimes shape-shifting character since the the 1980s.
Today it is a rare moment for BSA to publish an exclusive interview with an anonymous and articulate thinking man and writer whose practice we consider to be an important lynchpin between graffiti and what would later be called “Street Art.” The scale of his massive roller tags with sometimes writing partner COST, the series of personal ‘diary’ entries that number into the 200s in underground tunnels, the replication and repetition of tags and messages through new print methods, the move to iron sculpture soldiered to the streetscape – each of these moves broke a mold and expanded the definition of art on the streets in some way.
New York author and respected Hardcore music and graffiti documentarian Freddy Alva is publishing the second edition of his book “Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore”this month, where he gives you the full account of personally meeting with and interviewing the elusive writer/artist/musician – a generous portion of which we bring to you here today. Mr. Alva tells us what it was like to meet with REVS and speaks of the illuminating and wide-ranging REVs interview that gives details and perspective behind the lore in his evolution with aesthetic street expression in a way that is rarely heard. Our thanks to both of these folks for sharing their stories with BSA readers.
Intro from Freddy Alva
When I first started to write my ‘Urban Styles Graffiti In NYHC’ book in 2016; the first person on my list that I wanted to interview was REVS. I’d been a big fan of his output since the late 80’s and I knew he came from a Punk/Hardcore background, which made him an ideal subject to highlight the synthesis and crossover of these vital NYC subcultures that went on to have such a worldwide cultural impact. I managed to get a sit-down with him through mutual acquaintances & traveled deep into South Brooklyn to pitch my book. He was a bit distant at first but warmed up as he found out I used to book shows at a place one of his bands played at in the early 90’s.
As I laid out my vision for the book and the writers that I was planning on interviewing plus images that I wanted to highlight; he patiently listened and towards the end politely declined to be included as he preferred to keep his story underground and maybe I didn’t quite correctly explain what the final product would look like but he did agree for a couple of songs from his early 80’s band Adam 12 to be included on a compilation I was planning on releasing simultaneously with the book. I left Brooklyn a bit dejected but respected his decision & figured that was it.
Flash forward to when the book came out in early 2018 and I
got in touch with him again to return those Adam 12 songs that I used &
also to give a him a copy of the book to see what he thought of it. He called
me up the very next day saying how much he loved it & if there was any
chance he could still be included. Fortunately, the book quickly sold out and I
was planning on expanding the 2nd edition, as there was a chapter
that was left off the first time around, plus correcting typos and fixing some
of the photos so to add a REVS interview would make this the definitive
Like I stated in my intro to his section; people that follow
him might not be as aware of how much his experience in being a Punk Rocker has
really impacted all of his art in such a profound fashion. It’s unheard of
these days, in what’s called the street art world, to have an artist of such
magnitude and influence like REVS eschew all and any attempts to commercialize
He will never sell you one of his works, there won’t ever be
a gallery exhibition, he will not do any commissions and forget about any
merchandise/marketing related to him. One need not look any further than the
defiant, middle finger, fuck you to the system attitude espoused by American
Hardcore bands like the Dead Kennedy’s or the Do It Yourself ethics of
subversive English Punks Crass; all resonating in his work throughout the
years. I seriously consider him one of the last great NYC artists from the 20th
century that got his start and influence from two rebellious subcultures that
are near & dear to my heart. I feel fortunate to fill in some missing
pieces, giving a more nuanced picture of who he is and why his art comes out
the way it does.
~ Freddy Alva
What was your next tagging name? The very first name I had was SATIRE and I probably got that from the Monty Python show on TV. I didn’t know what it meant, had no fucking clue, but I wrote it on an abandoned house with this kid that wrote RED and lived on my block
At what point did you start writing REVLON? That started in 1983. After writing SIRO I might have been ME2 for a few weeks, then it was KIRK, took some bullshit tags in the village with that, nothing particularly good. I was hanging out with this guy D-ROCK, he was in a band called Cooker, known before as Weed or also Sacro 13; all the same band. He used to write and we would go on missions and also go to HC shows together all the time. He had a dope dancing style, kind of like John Watson. We were hanging out in my hallway one day and I went to the bathroom, saw this Revlon shampoo bottle while taking a piss and picked it up.
What can I tell you? I was young and stupid, I had so much hatred in me. I hated every fucking thing. I stuck with that for a while because I developed a good one line tag. It’s a horrible tag I know but I love animals and hate animal testing so this I again one of those contrary things that I’m against what the name stands for, like Adam 12. Another tag of mine is SHIESTA and once again I’m the complete opposite of that because I don’t shyster with people. I don’t like shysters, there is always this duality that goes with me.
Did you do any burners on trains with the REVLON name or get down with any crews? Yeah, we used to go to the 4th Avenue layups, the M yard, RR layups in the city. We also went to the ‘Dead Yard’ in Brooklyn on 39th street. Me and my partner NB were hitting tunnels pretty extensively in 1983. I never joined any crews.
At what point did the REVLON name transition into REVS? That happened in 1987. We were painting at King Kong’s cave in Brooklyn where the N train goes to Coney Island. I was doing a wall with LAW and EROS from Staten Island, plus my partner at the time, KAB, and NIKE from DESTINY crew. I did a REVS because REVLON is a such a horrible stupid fucking name. I abbreviated it and put a Z at the end because I was sick of REVLON. By 1990 I was a nowhere guy, like that Reagan Youth song, “Go Nowhere”, that was me. I just threw the rule book out the door and didn’t give a flying fuck about making straight lines in graffiti. I just wanted to destroy like Johnny Lydon and I never looked back because I feel that I’m in my groove.
It’s interesting this transition happened when graffiti in NYC changed after the train era and new techniques, like wheat paste posters, in street bombing became more prevalent. You are associated with that, tell me about it. I was walking down Houston near Mercer one day and saw some stupid poster for a Tom Cruise movie and I was like; ‘Fuck this, I’m gonna do my own thing’. I figured it out, got wheat paste and started going out solo, putting my posters up in the Village. This is in 1990 or maybe 1989 because I had my first girlfriend in 1988. She was Porto Rock and wasn’t hearing about any of this graffiti shit. I couldn’t be a bum, had to dress nice and take her to dance clubs like 10-18. That was fun, going to places like The Palladium, got to do what you got to do sometimes! She actually ended up running away with a sailor and moved to Hawaii. I was like; ‘Fuck this, fuck everything’ once again. I started doing these crazy sloppy rollers with the wheat paste because everything at that point in graffiti was so meticulous in 1990. Perfect straight lines, right angles… I was like; ‘nah, I hate everything’.
People must have have thought you were putting up movie posters when you went out. How did you hook up with COST? I would do low spots like doorways and one day I saw COST hitting all the backs of the ‘Don’t Walk’ signs on the street and I knew him since like 1985. He was putting these 8 ½ x 11 inch ‘Hello My Name Is COST’ posters and I was doing 11 x 17 inch ‘Who Is REVS’ posters. I ran into the dude from Videograf and told him to give COST my number.
Where did the idea to do rollers come from? I think LAW and EROS used bucket paint for their piece at King Kong’s cave but they did it as fill-in material. The concept of “John Loves Mary’ written on the side of a bridge with house paint also influenced me but I took it on steroids. I’m a white dude that likes tools, got to use tools, it’s part of my nature. I can physically do some stuff but I’ll always settle for doing something smarter not harder. I got an extension pole, like 24 feet long, for the roller me and COST did. We did our first roller on a parking lot by Duane St, right on the roof. It was a brown roller on a tan wall.
COST is a straight up graffiti dude, he’s a bomber, that’s what he knows how to do. Don’t ask him to draw anything. He can probably do a piece but he’s great at throw-ups and tags. He’s not into abstract work, but when we did that roller a lightbulb went off. We blew up the whole spot, no one could go over us. It was a sloppy roller but to his credit, he’s a very neat guy and meticulous. He cares about perception, wants to get feedback. I don’t care, just don’t go over me, say whatever you want. He was like; ‘Yo Rev, we got to make these things neat, make them clean and everything’. I was like ok; I can go with the flow so when we started doing that’s when it really took off. We started hitting everywhere and these things look pretty good, almost semi-pro lettering, kind of like a stencil.
I know spray cans are easy to rack, but how did you get all these gallons of paint and wheat paste? Wheat paste was cheap. I always worked, been working since I was 11 years old so I had money for buying wheat paste. We found on Reade St. an old paint store that had like a gazillion DOT (Department Of Transportation) yellow standard buckets and I bought every single one for like a dollar a piece. This is the DOT yellow that I used before meeting COST. I ran Houston and Broadway with a DOT yellow piece. We also used whatever we found in the garbage, didn’t care it was oil based, we are not painting someone’s house but just blasting as much as possible. We found Photo Backdrop paper in Soho and started doing what we called street paintings on them, then gluing those up. They were 4 x 6 feet tall. We started doing street paintings where you paint the doorway and then take some shoe dye, put purple in the dye, then do my character. COST was doing his stick figures thing and we ventured out to the outer boroughs as well.
I imagine you guys started garnering attention as far as this is something, it’s not like traditional graffiti from the 70s/80s. What did other writers think of it? Writers didn’t like it. COST came up with the idea of getting a toll free phone number and then got his grandmother to record some foul language messages, insulting people. People were like; ‘What is this shit? That ain’t Graffiti!’ When dudes saw one of our rollers outside of, like Tower Records, or in Soho, they’d be off balance not knowing what to think. All their shit in the bottom didn’t mean anything anymore.
It’s ironic because traditional art theory people would look at this as some kind of performance art and graffiti writers would say what is this? They would say what is this toy shit? How come you’re not using spray paint? Regular people would call up and ask what is this about. It was mysterious but we were just two graffiti guys.
I was tracing the origins of the whole ‘Street Art” moniker and arguably; a lot of it can be traced back to what you guys were doing then Oh yeah it can. Street art has been around for a while but they didn’t really call it that, like the dude that put the shadows up everywhere. Then it was the ‘Kill Your TV’ guy. We started calling it street art and now it’s a bad word, at least amongst graffiti writers. It’s not a bad word for the people making money off it. I don’t call it graffiti anymore but “Greed-Fitti.” Once you throw money into something it has a way of making things go weird. All these dudes are selling things because there’s no real graffiti anymore. They took away the trains, buses, handball courts, the parks. Guys play with the tunnels now, RD and SEN 4 have the fire hydrants but we’ve got virtually nothing. Maybe some overpass by the freight trains. All of us still have the itch and being grown men now, we could do a good job. Everyone has a family with mouths to feed so they’re selling everything and calling it graffiti but it’s only graffiti when it’s up.
When did the rollers and wheat pasting era come to an end for you? Me and COST would argue a lot. We’d have these crazy discussions because we were together so much and have way different philosophies on life. I had to put my foot down otherwise he would have printed t-shirts to sell in Macy’s or something like that. One day we were wheat pasting and it ended up with us saying ‘Fuck You’ to one another. We went our separate ways but cops were trailing him because he was putting up a lot of stickers. Whenever we’d do a roller, he’d bring cans and do throw-ups. I didn’t want to do that because I don’t like spray paint anyway, but love tagging.
Is that when you started your series in the tunnels? Yeah, any motherfucker can write on a piece of paper but graffiti needs balls. The best graffiti guys have balls and talent, that’s dudes like ZEPHYR, SEEN, BAN 2. Some guys can get up but don’t have the talent. The tunnel thing was a case of I don’t give a flying fuck, I’m going to do whatever I want to do, don’t care who sees it. It’s not in book form, just made that shit up as I went along. I can’t spell. I was going with bucket paint and a ladder all painted black, clothes were black, pole was black. I used the best quality paint I could get my hands on and did 235 of these series. I didn’t get my groove on.
At what point did your steel sculptures come about? I don’t call them sculptures, more like metal pieces. DIVA used to call them weld-ups. I come from the working class so I build stuff. The first weld-up I did was in 1990 and it was a cage that I installed in Soho with railroad spikes and some epoxy on the bottom. It ran for a couple of months and then I did another one by the cube on St. Marks. It was an oil can that was for the Gulf war in 1991. Me and CZ, who I used to write with, humped that thing from my third floor apartment on the Lower East Side.
I started to get more into welding
and even when I was hanging with COST I would tell him to get a book to get the
concept of welding. He was like, ‘Nah REV, it’s not the right time.’ He doesn’t
come from the working class, has a different background. I got down with my
union and started getting better at welding, practice in anything will make you
better. I got balls and you combine that with being good at something; this is
the shit I’m into. I love getting into steel with a grinder and a torch. It’s
so easy to get a rechargeable grinder now but they didn’t have them back then
and now everyone is forty years old. Fifteen year olds ain’t fucking with that
but grown men know a little bit about tools. You can lose your shit once you
weld something. They’ll cut the fence down and go for the easiest part of your
piece, just take it down. That’s where I’m at, trying to device ways to make it
hard to take down and they’re looking for ways to stop me.
I remember at the time
you and COST were doing stickers and the 12” cover cover seemed an extension of
that as the cover looks like one giant REVS sticker
I can see why you say that but the
cover wasn’t a sticker, it just looks like one. That’s the difference between
me and COST. The 12” was a personal thing to me not some kind of mass media
campaign. I didn’t give a shit about becoming anybody. That’s the great thing
about the Adam 12 guys, none of us wanted to become anybody, that’s why I like
those guys. Other dudes like the Greed-fitti guys always want to become
somebody, they want to be the next Andy Warhol, Keith Haring or Basquiat.
That’s the problem because the
Greed-Fitti guys don’t come from punk. They don’t come from ‘Fuck you, stay the
fuck away from me’. I’m not left wing, I’m not right wing, just stay the fuck
away. That’s the punk I know and grew up on and when things started changing in
1984, it was disheartening. The machismo, why have violence against your own
people? As Jello (Biafra) says; ‘Thrash a bank if you have the balls’. Why fuck
with your own kind, back then everyone got along except for maybe there was a
hippie or two that got beat up at CBGB’s.
Sliding into the chaos this week with great new stuff that hits on pop, poetry, technology. The madness of New York sometimes fuels the message on the street; other times it feels like NYC is merely channeling the forces that run through it. Embrace the chaos!
If you have a chance please check out the “Punk Lust” show at Museum of Sex, curated by Carlo McCormick and a small team. The array of zines, record covers, posters, photography, costume and McCormicks’ brilliant didactics is revelatory for its take on a distinctly New York punk scene that was simultaneously awash with discontents from LA and London and an utter revulsion at the likes of the Reagan/Thatcher Revolution.
We used to say that half of the New York art world was in Miami when Art Basel rolls around every year – and again many artists are making the trek to the art fairs and to Wynwood to see whose hitting walls this week. But we’re sensing a twisted sort of backlash in people’s opinions these days – kind of like Williamsburg in 2008 and Bushwick in 2014. But Dude, it’ll still be a party, yo!
So here is our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Adam Fujita, Calangoss, Edward Senf, Graphic Fury, Himbad, JerkFace, Little Pink Pill, Luis, Lunge Box, Mr. Frostee, REVS, Sac Six, Trasher, and WISE .
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.
We haven’t had such a frightening Halloween in years! – and we know we speak for many readers as well while we all look at the monstrous tabloid TV parade that is scaring the electorate. Boo!
Luckily we found some treats on the street! And a few tricks, but those are for our paid site, wink wink.
So here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Bifido, Buff Monster, City Kitty, Dee Dee, Disto, Droid, Flood, Myth, Nychos, R2, REVS, RODA, Rusk, See True Fame, Sipros, Smells, Smith, Sweet Toof, and Texas.
It’s been a spectacular amber and golden and green autumn week when you’re able to ride your bike around and see a lot of great new and old Street Art and not break a sweat because the air is fresh and cool and the sun is spectacular.
And the streets are alive!
We found a new REVS, a new JJ Veronis and a big full-poster Clint Mario. Given the fact that two of the pieces are beautifully crafted metal sculptures and one is an ad take over in the subway, that gives you an indication that artists are active right now – and public space is being engaged. Get on your boots and take a hike, take your imagination and a sweatshirt in case you’re in the shade, and Street Art is out there waiting for you.
So here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Bies, City Kitty, Clint Mario, Downtown DaVinci, Elle, Gaia, Hooker, InDecline, JJ Veronis, REVS, RWK, Sable Elise Smith, and Sean 9 Lugo.
How are things with you? Did you survive the snow/slush/sludge? Did you check out the launch of SOLD magazine this week? It’s made by artists for artists, and straight out of Brooklyn – check out their Instagram here. Proceeds from the show will help keep it going. We start this weeks images with a few from Nick Walker’s show at the Quin hotel. See Nick in February in person with Daze and KET at the Museum of the City of New York.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Col Wallnuts, Jilly Ballistic, Kai, Nick Walker, RAE, REVS, and Tuco Wallach.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring 2:12, Boxhead, Buff Monster, bunny M, City Kitty, drscO, Fanakapan, Haculla, Icy & Sot, Jilly Ballistic, Jorit Agoch, Lungebox, Miishab, Myth, REVS, Stikman, Voxx, WA, and What Will You Leave Behind.
As lines continue to blur in fields of art and technology (and everything else) it is easier to see Street Art as an online/on-street diary, a forum for speech making, a laboratory for testing ideas, a publishing platform for the dispersing of truths and lies and theories and maxims and slogans and aphorisms. A timely new exhibition of personal notebooks by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat further affirms the direct relationship between the personal and the public voice of one New York expressionist, revealing lesser-known aspects of him as artist and individual.
A teenage poet on New York streets, Basquiat used his own brand of graffiti to pursue his own brand of fame. His text was intended in part as a visual element but unlike graffiti writers who produced ever more expressive tags during that heated moment in New York graffiti history, Basquiat also sought an audience who may be hip to his cerebral wordplay of poetry that puzzled and enticed – a foxy style of William Burroughs-inspired automatic writing he adapted for his own uses.
In Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, now running at The Brooklyn Museum until August 23rd, the genius of his fragmenting logic is revealed as a direct relationship between his private journals and his prolific and personally published aerosol missives on the streets of Manhattan’s Soho and Lower East Side neighborhoods in the late 1970s and 1980s.
These notebooks were for capturing ideas and concepts, preparing them, transmuting them, revising them, pounding them into refrains. In the same way his text (and glyphic) pieces on the street were not necessarily finished products each time; imparted on the run and often in haste, these unpolished missives didn’t require such preciousness.
The art collector Larry Warsh lends these eight notebooks that span 1981-1987, 160 pages in all, for you to scan and contemplate. New to most audiences, they also feel familiar. While they do not provide a play-by-play account of his daily affairs, they do provide insight into his state of mind, interests, and creative process. Knowing his reputation for being very aware of his public perception, you may wonder how private these were in his mind – if he was at least partially writing for a greater audience here sometimes as well.
But these are definitely his voice. Even in lengthier poetry pieces, Basquiats’ reductive approach to writing produces the same clipped cadences that appeared on walls and gallery paintings, a process of addition and subtraction that he could eventually pare down to one word that would command a canvas.
A two sided, free standing piece from 1982 midway through the gallery space gives a bittersweet focus to one of his aspirations, as well as to his application of photocopies of his own work in multiples on the canvas – a replication/repetition technique from commercial wildposting that was popularized on walls and lamp posts by graffiti writer/street artists like Revs and Cost in New York in the 90s.
“I think this show points out that the conceptual and poetic side of JMB’s work is central to and integrated with his more overtly visual and expressionistic paintings,” says Tricia Laughlin Bloom, who worked in collaboration with Dieter Bucchart, Guest Curator in organizing this exhibition. “He enjoyed exploring the play between text as visual sign or symbol and the layers of historical, sociological, personal meaning that words activate. Some of the very restrained word drawings and notebook entries are intensely expressionistic, for instance, without the use of gesture or color.”
Most riveting for the new generation of writers may be the film clips shot in 1980-81 during the filming of New York Beat (released in 2000 as Downtown 81). Not true documentary footage, it nevertheless captures the artist outside mark-making in a determined, self-aware, sometimes hesitating manner across walls with letters and lines of simple black aerosol.
Moving into “the City” from his middle class Brooklyn home as a teenager in the late 70s, you have to wonder how or if his street practice with friend Al Diaz had been influenced by the students and workers who wrote slogans, epigrams, maxims, in black aerosol letters during the Paris uprisings of 1968. Quick passages on the street then like “Sous les paves, la plage” (under the paving stones, the beach) also played with text and sometimes cryptic meaning in ways similar to his on city walls and in these notebooks. Neatly penned, his was a deliberate meditation and experiment with words – a process that allowed you to see the deletions and additions, fully part of the finished product.
“We were presented with the rare opportunity to exhibit Basquiat’s notebooks, which offer fascinating access to his thoughts and process,” says Sharon Matt Atkins, Vice Director for Exhibitions and Collections Management, when talking about the decision to mount Notebooks.
Of course its not the first time Street Artists have been featured meaningfully here. Under the guidance of Director Arnold L. Lehman the Brooklyn Museum has shown a serious and committed interest in highlighting the contributions of artists whose practice comes directly from the streets of New York and its graffiti/Street Art traditions; including the huge Basquiat show a decade ago, the Graffiti show in 2006, the more recent Keith Haring show, Swoon’s Submerged Motherlands last year, Olek’s display at the annual Artist’s Ball, and the upcoming Faile exhibit this July, which will also feature their collaboration with Bäst. For Matt Atkins, this show is in perfect alignment.
“The Brooklyn Museum has had a commitment to showing artists whose work embraces contemporary culture. Basquiat seamlessly synthesized the world around him in his art, including elements culled from the streets, music, literature, history, and more,” she says.
It has been 27 years since Basquiat died at the age of 27. Somehow you can imagine that mathematical equation appearing here on one of the larger canvases; dense with symbols, sentence fragments, lists and formulas. Sifting through the tenuously connected word constellation it occurs to you that people like Basquiat and Burroughs and the Beats were forebears of the post-Gutenberg dislocation of text from its moorings – one that we all swim in – with passages and words and texts floating to us and past us from multiple screens of varying sizes throughout each day.
As this stream of messages blurs from the intensely personal to the public spheres, this show confirms how the art-making process for the street has always been rich with storytelling, even if not evident at first. A show of this moment, seeing these notebooks first hand will complete a cycle for many.
We had an opportunity to speak further with one of the curators, Tricia Laughlin Bloom, about Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks.
Brooklyn Street Art:Often we think of the work we see on the street as part of a continuum, a conversation back and forth between the artist and the passerby. How does this exhibition illustrate the continuum that extends from private neatly penned journals to public aerosol missives? Tricia Laughlin Bloom: Going through the exhibition you find a lot of similarity between the voice he used in his street writing and in his notebooks, that also extends to his word paintings. Fragments of SAMO text recur in larger scale works that we have included, and many of his notebook passages read like they could have been SAMO texts.
Brooklyn Street Art:Can you describe the dynamic between yourself and the guest curator Dieter Buchhart and how it informed some of your joint decisions for presenting the work? Tricia Laughlin Bloom: Dieter brought the initial checklist together as Guest Curator, and we shaped it together from there. We both felt it was important that the show be about the notebooks—that the paintings and drawings should be carefully selected to compliment the notebooks and not overwhelm, and to highlight Basquiat the poet and thinker AND visual artist. Getting the right number of works and the precise balance was a long process, and many conversations.
Brooklyn Street Art:How has preparing this exhibition changed or affected your perception of his work in the intervening ten years since the “Basquiat” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, if at all? Tricia Laughlin Bloom: I was always a fan, and I loved the 2005 show, but I feel I understand him better and my admiration has deepened after the opportunity to work with the notebooks. It’s more intimate in scale and the whole experience feels more personal.
Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks is organized by Dieter Buchhart, Guest Curator, with Tricia Laughlin Bloom, former Associate Curator of Exhibitions, Brooklyn Museum and current Curator of American art at the Newark Museum.
With special thanks to Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Sharon Matt Atkins, and Sally Williams.
Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum opens on April 3, 2015 to the general public. Click HERE for further details.
New York’s Street Art/graffiti/public/urban art scene is poppin’ baby – new shows, new spaces opening up or rumored to be, a new fleet of artists going out to the street doing sanctioned and unsanctioned work, and new debates about what it all means to the scene and who should rush to take credit for each phase or element of it. Answer: all of us, none of us.
Also a renewed and flawed discussion has erupted again, as it periodically does, around the need to have a “critique” around street art. We know that critical observation can be useful for those who are unsure about forming their own opinions, it’s just that we advocate widening that circle of who gets to offer the critique to include, um, everybody.
We also usually trust people on the street to make their own judgements about an art piece and its value or importance in that context. The inner world and material world of art is vastly larger than we can usually imagine and our rush to measure it often hilariously misses the point or the intention of the artist, so let’s take this impulse to judge it with some humility.
In the case of graffiti and Street Art, we all have seen examples over the last half-century where educational or cultural institutions implicitly or explicitly dismiss work on the street until it has been validated by market forces. The caustic undertone of this habitual and snide dismissal can be tied directly to classism, racism, or fear of the unknown. This is a generalization of course, so take it as such, but the neo-liberal cycle of “critical thought” has been too often reserved for the dominant culture or class, and that paradigm is really of no service to any of us anymore.
The folks who put missives on the street do so with a wide variety of motivations, needs, desires, and expectations. They are perfectly happy to have their work judged by the average passerby, and in New Yawk there is never a shortage of opinions, regardless of what school you went to. In the case of art in the streets, those are the opinions that still matter the most.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Ainac, AwerOne, Bluedog 10003, Joan Tarrago, Judith Supine, Kalen Hollomon, Maki Carvalho, Pastel, REVS, Wolftits, and ZAH
How often do you find a new tag from an 80s graffiti writer? How often is it made of iron?
REVS is back.
Or maybe he never left. It is impossible to tell when the tag is a welded sculpture on a large rusted I-beam, or soldered on an oxidized chain link fence that rattles back and forth in the wind as city traffic rumbles by. Since this elusive graffiti artist doesn’t do too much talking to the public about his work the small cold piece before you could potentially be years or even decades old by the time you discover it.
“Fiercely reclusive Street Artist REVS surprises everyone following his arrest in 2000 by abandoning his practice of creating monumental roller tags on walls and instead makes dozens of metal sculptures. He installs them, mostly legally, around New York, including many in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, known for being an epicenter of Street Art growth in the early 2000s. REVS and his buddy COST are pointed to as inspiration by many of a new generation of Street Artists.”
In 2014 we keep finding more of these sculptures, most of which look like they must have required permission, and we thought you’d like to see a few of them. Some say REVS, often written cleverly, other times cryptically, and variously under one of his other nom de plumes like Shiesta, Toots REVS or the more declarative Fuckin REVS.
Finding these metal REVS can be a little like discovering the Holy Grail for graffiti and Street Art photographers not just because they are hard to locate, but because of the stories people tell about the sheer number of times you saw his name rolled out in New York in the 1990s. Then there are the multiples and replications of photocopies he pasted around town with his running mate Cost that included a real phone number you could call – an unheard of use of interactive elements long before the word “interactive” became associated with clicking a button or swiping a screen.
And what about the hundreds of real-life diary pages he painted in train tunnels then, each one a recounting of his life experiences, some posing existential questions. You can still see some of these mini-diatribes when the train stops mid-tunnel, scrawled in black aerosol across a primed white rectangle on a concrete wall two inches from your face as you glance out the window.
“REVS holds a special place in NYC graffiti lore for two reasons. For one there’s his creative output, which is hard to beat: from writing on trains to painting highly visible rollers to wheatpasting the city in a first-of-its-kind campaign to almost completing an ambitious project to paint diary entries between every single stop in the NYC subway system to taking it to the next level and sculpting his name out of steel,” says one of the most intrepid of today’s graffiti photographers, Luna Park, who has published around 200 REVS photos on her Flickr page in the last decade.
She continues, “Combine that output with a devil-may-care reticence and a complete disdain for the mechanisms of the art market and you’ve got the makings of a legend.”
That last part is notable in this time where a growing number of artists appear to be using the street to advance their fine art or commercial careers. REVS has done very little to capitalize on his work on the street publicly and is quoted in interviews as having a deep aversion to commercializing his work. Nonetheless, as the marketing mavens like to say, Brand REVS continues to strengthen and photographers are not the only people hunting for stuff by the man of steel.
“Given the propensity for REVS sculptural work to be stolen – and unfortunately there has been a lot of that recently – for his most loyal fans, locations of REVS pieces are closely guarded secrets,” says Ms. Park.
Ironic then, that for some urban art fans this work is far more important than that of, say, the British Street Artist Banksy, who alerts the world using the Internet and social media as soon as a new piece is up, sometimes with hints about location.
“He’s the greatest living graffiti artist,” Jake Dobkin of The Gothamist was recently quoted saying, “You know how some people feel about Springsteen or Bob Dylan? That’s who Revs is for New York graffiti enthusiasts.”
Our beat is Street Art, so we’ll trust Jake about this, but as a stylistic and creative lynchpin between graffiti and what would eventually be widely called Street Art, no one is questioning REVS steely staying power.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring bACK eAST, Bask, Dabs & Myla, HDL (Hygenic Dress League), Judith Supine, Mr. Toll, Pose, Revs, RVMP, Sean Mahan, Tom Fruin, and Windsor.
“For this design we developed a sense of patriotic visual language with the stripes and Fleur de Le – a symbol often associated with our corporation as is the pigeon. The gas mask is allegory and represents the protection or immunity from our own (hygienic dress league) corporate actions” HDL