Amidst the aesthetic avalanche that is Spring Art Week in New York, you will also find many artists have shows in galleries in Manhattan that are timed to catch the wayward art buyer or tastemaker who is in NYC just for another minute. It is an excellent way to expose the artist to a potentially new audience, to re-invite collectors who already have their work but who are in town this week anyway, to give a fully expressed exhibition of their work that may be more closely aligned with their work than a 12’ x 12’ art fair booth.
The world-renowned pop culture hybrid artist temps those who stray from the path with “Now You See It” at Allouche Gallery NYC with a new solo exhibition featuring a twisted and tasty series of oil paintings that invite visitors into English’s immersive world that blends pop culture references, art history, politics, and a bit of biting social commentary.
English has been widely recognized as a street artist, toy designer, and pop culture provocateur, but his oeuvre extends beyond the labels; His work spans a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, illustration, and installation. His set building is on full display at Allouche with intricate 3D-printed and hand-sculpted elements that conjure an imaginative universe, populated as they are with a range of unique characters, including three-eyed rabbits, grinning skulls, and anthropomorphic mascots from American corporate culture.
As is his talent, you’ll find that English reappropriates classic masterpieces with his cast of characters or icons of late-century pop culture, extracting new meanings from beloved art while displacing and weaving in his own slick and sticky brand of cultural critique.
Unofficial TOP 10 (of about 30) Art Fairs on offer this week and weekend:
New York has seen its share of people jumping into and out of the Street Art scene over the last couple of decades, and only a few have had the staying power of the non-profit org L.I.S.A. Project. Run by two guys who live on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Wayne Rada and Rey Rosa, L.I.S.A. has brought several international street artists to private walls in Little Italy, Chinatown, and their environs.
Big fans and collectors of street art themselves, the guys have hustled to get walls, lifts, and paint for artists they are fans of and some of the newcomers on the scene. Call it a private/public initiative that has steadily given artists opportunities and the locals one more reason to chuckle at the selfie-taking tourists who make this town tick.
Tonight to make the 10th anniversary and their new print program, L.I.S.A. Project joins with urban art clearinghouse West Chelsea Contemporary to host a panel featuring artists Crash, Daze, curator and graffiti expert Sean Corcoran, moderated by culture critic and curator Carlo McCormick. The doors are open at 6, and the talk begins promptly at 6:30.
Participating artists within the first series include Ron English, Indie184, John “CRASH” Matos x Chris “DAZE” Ellis, and Shepard Fairey.
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.
The street art can double as advertisements, the advertisements can double as street art, and all of it has been supplanted by fevered talk about NFTs, as if the speaker whom you’ve been accosted by invented them. For a scene that likes to consider itself to be on the bleeding edge, this is all a bit disappointingly 2017 to hear, but there you have it.
Yet we are still pleased to see that the neighborhood is popping with more fresh new creativity than last year and you again feel like new things are to be discovered around almost every corner. Oh sure, there are many cultural looters here, but that’s always been the case. It’s good to see that some new transgressive pieces, eye-opening missives, and dripping wet tags are scattered here among the permission-based walls and ghosts from December past. No one knows what the socio-economic future holds, but for now, Wynwood’s holding steady.
Here are a few shots from Jaime Rojo as he made a few laps among the streets.
This time of year, it is hard to find people in Manhattan on the weekends – they’re “weekending” in the Hamptons, darling.
Not exactly the original setting you might associate with graffiti, street art, hip-hop, punk rock, zines, and underground art culture but where else can curators Evan Pricco and Kim Stephens sell these works on paper while sipping cool drinks poolside?
“Beyond the Streets” carries the mobile party to Southampton Arts Center this Saturday with a wide swath of styles – 500 works from over 100 artists in an art fair-sized venue. It may remind you of the Urban Air Fair tried in Manhattan in summer 2017, but this one has something that one didn’t: Roger Gastman.
If it’s here, it’s because it is quality work and has a connection to the roots of these subcultural scenes usually as well. Expanding now to the more nebulous category of Contemporary, you may be surprised to see more accessible interpretive variations on the themes. Let’s see that paper, people.
Artists include: Action Bronson, Addam Yekutieli, agnès b, AIKO, André Saraiva, Andrew Schoultz, Andrew Thiele, Andy Rementer, Aryz, Bert Krak, Brandon Breaux, Broken Fingaz, Bryant Giles, Camille Walala, CES, Cey Adams, Charlie Ahearn, Chloe Early, Chris FREEDOM Pape, Clark Fox, Cody Hudson, Conor Harrington, Craig Costello, CRASH, DABSMYLA, Daniel Rich, David “Mr StarCity” White, DAZE, DEFER, Emily Manwaring, Eric Haze, Ermsy, Escif, FAILE, Faith XLVII, Fucci, Greg SPONE Lamarche, Gustavo Zermeno, Hilda Palafox, House 33, HuskMitNavn, Ian Reid, Icy & Sot, Jaime Muñoz, Jamilla Okuba, Jane Dickson, JEC*, Jeremy Shockley, Jillian Evelyn, JK5, John Konstantine, Julian Pace, KATSU, KC Ortiz, Kelsey Brookes, Khari Turner, Kime Buzzelli, LeRoy Neiman, Linas Garsys, Liz Flores, Lucy McLauchlan, Lujan Perez, Maripol, Mark Mothersbaugh, Martha Cooper, Marshall LaCount, Matt McCormick, Maya Hayuk, Michael Vasquez, MIKE 171, Mister CARTOON, Neena Ellora, Nehemiah Cisneros, Nettie Wakefield, NUNCA, Otto183, Paije Fuller, Paul Insect, POSE, Rebecca Morgan, Reko Rennie, Rello, Richard Colman, RISK, Ron English, Ryan McGinness, Sage Vaughn, Saladeen Johnson, Scott Campbell, Sean from Texas, Senon Williams, Shantell Martin, Shepard Fairey, SJK 171, Sofía Enriquez, SNOEMAN, Spacebrat, STASH, Steve ESPO Powers, SWOON, TAKI 183, The Perez Bros., Timothy Curtis, Todd James, Troy Lamarr Chew II, Umar Rashid, Victor Reyes, Wasted Rita, Wulffvnky, Yarrow Slaps, Yusuke Hanai, ZESER, ZOER and 45RPM.
BEYOND THE STREETS on PAPER July 17—August 28, 2021 Southampton Arts Center, Southampton, New York, 11968
You know the shy kid at the party who won’t hit the dance floor even if Jesus himself begged him – and then he hears his jam and suddenly starts doing flips, tricks, and power moves?
That’s what it felt like last week when all the funk-tech-floral-social-abstract-steez planets spun together into a powerful 2021 solar system at the Jersey City Mural Festival. How many times did you hear the word community, as if we’ve all been starved of it?
And the aesthetics were solid – you would not have guessed how sweet some of these combinations could be – with just enough curation to let the sparks crackle in the gritty oil-coated zones that are surrounding the MANA Contemporary compound. This most diverse generation is now freely tossing any rules and hierarchies out the window; these inheritors of the winds now gathering speed.
The first annual Jersey City Mural Festival brought together dozens of street artists, mural artists, graffiti writers, photographers, and art lovers to this new New Jersey. This festival in another year would have been a festive event just like any other festival – formulas have been discovered for how to mount public cultural events like these around the world – and we’ve been to many.
But this time, the energy was extra charged by the undeniable fact that we’re all emerging to a familiar yet changed world formed by fear, death, insecurity, and longing. Artists were elated to see their peers once again doing what they love doing most: painting outdoors. There is a recognition from the artists, and everybody around that life is precious and the scars left on us by the Pandemic made this event a jubilant one.
The collection of artworks presented here are only a fraction of all the works painted during the festival. Half a dozen of murals were still not completed when we departed. We hope to bring you the rest soon.
The festival unfolded over several days of painting and rain and an oppressive heatwave on two locations in Jersey City. Both locations are the remnants of Jersey City as an industrial powerhouse. The complex in Newark Ave, Mana Contemporary, is now an art center with several galleries, exhibition spaces, and artists’ studios. The complex on Coles Street still conserves its industrial grit. Still, a storage company has replaced the factories, and empty buildings in the decay process appear ready to be demolished.
The Jersey City Mural Festival was presented by Mana Public Arts and the Jersey City Mural Arts Program with the imprimatur of Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop, the city’s Municipal Council, and the Office of Municipal Affairs.
Jose Mertz talks about his mural.
We would like to thank the organizers and production team for all their assistance during the duration of the festival and to Mario at Tost Films for helping man the lift for our final photo session.
Aside from a few breaks for afternoon June monsoons and scattered flash flooding on the greasy streets of this historically industrial region, the frantic and focused paintings by artists were setting Jersey City afire with color and character yesterday. By climbing on rooftops and flying on cherry pickers with a slew of aerosol pilots, our photographer Jaime Rojo got some of the best action in this inaugural mural festival.
The MANA Contemporary complex is comprised of an array of buildings – and many are visible from many passing highways and byways. As the melange of cultures here continues to come out to the streets due to lower Covid numbers and higher vaccine rates, the air is thick with expectation. Having a slew of new artworks from across a spectrum of styles and aesthetic sensibility – you will find much the new additions are directly adjacent to the illegal graffiti that started it all – which is as it should be.
Check out some of the new works here by Beau Stanton, Dasic Fernandez, Elle, Eric Karbeling, Erinkco Studios, Jahru, Max Sansing, MSG, Queen Andrea, Raul Santos, and Ron English.
To learn more about the Jersey City Mural Festival click HERE
James Prigoff signed all of his emails with one word in Spanish: “Paz.” (peace)
It was deliberate, intentional, and with that one word, he created a tag for himself that spoke to his commitment to peace on the street and across the world. Looking over his decades of dedication to exploring and documenting, one sees a sincere commitment to understanding and identifying with other cultures and embracing others as brothers and sisters.
Known foremost in the graffiti world for being the co-author of Spray Can Art with Henry Chalfant in 1987, he captured 100,000 photographs worldwide over five decades. His professional sense of curiosity and self-education drove him to persevere in his documentation of the graffiti scenes of the Western US but eventually spread worldwide.
Today we recognize the personal sacrifice and pride that went into that publication or his subsequent publications and honor the dedication. With his efforts and others like him, the graffiti/street art/mural art cultures received much greater recognition and validation. Serious discussion of the contributions of these practices can be directly attributed to the massive platform his work provided the scene.
Along with Subway Art by Chalfant and Martha Cooper, Spraycan Art is annually sighted as a powerful inspiration to thousands of artists worldwide who needed that encouragement to express themselves as artists. That alone is a reason to celebrate his life and be thankful for his work and deep dedication to the culture.
It was in the early 1970s “I became fascinated with the political nature of the art in the streets,” Jim wrote in perhaps his last personally written essay and publication here on BSA Writer’s Desk just last month. The inaugural opinion/editorial of the monthly series provided him the opportunity to talk about his life, formal and street education, his observations of artists and movements in culture and politics during the last 7 of his 9-plus decades. A civil libertarian and champion of the rights for the equality of people across the spectrum, he was happy to make “good trouble” even suing the federal government over an unconstitutional surveillance program in the mid-twenty-teens.
An avid observer and analyst, we prized Jim as a friend and confidante because he knew how to connect the dots between larger socio-political movements and to put the art and artists within context. Astutely diplomatic and wise, he advised us on navigation and perspective in this vast creative world of graffiti, street art, and mural – lessons we will not forget. He also shared his theory about photographers being led by “the Graffiti Gods” with a smile and a glint in his eye.
His empathy was never far from any topic, despite his strident views and opinions. Even during this last year of Covid he wrote to check on us;
“Not an easy time to be shut down in NYC. Hope you are doing OK.”
Only two weeks ago Jim wrote to us with his concern that Gen Z was not getting vaccinated at the rate of the rest of the population and he wondered aloud if street artists were helping to reach out to them on the street.
Less able to travel as freely in recent years, he attended big exhibition openings near his home of Sacramento and Miami and New York – usually with one of his gentle and patient children pushing his wheelchair. Each time he was enthusiastic and opinionated and, well, joyful. Last summer, during Black Lives Matter protests across the country, he was thoroughly following events and their effects on art on the street. He was also eager to share what he found with the world.
He shot photos from the open window of a car driving through Oakland, eager to share what he found – which we published. Jim often commented on our daily postings to us in emails – and we are proud that he shared his writing and photos on several occasions with BSA readers. Always more interested in people than profit, Jim understood our platform and mission better than many.
Our hearts are sorrowful to bid goodbye to Jim Prigoff now, but we are comforted to believe that he is joining his dear Arline, with whom he spent 72 years as husband and wife. An absolute pillar in graffiti, street art, and mural history, documentation, and archiving – Jim was a scholar, an ardent peace activist, an author, lecturer, community activist, a fervent supporter of so many, and a kind person. Our deep condolences to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, his graffiti/street art family, and his colleagues. We are grateful to have called him a friend.
Jim’s last published essay was on Brooklyn Street Art as the inaugural essay for BSA Writer’s Bench in March, 2021:
Selected quotes from hundreds of social media commenters across Facebook and Instagram
“Jim’s good work is done, may he rest in peace.” Henry Chalfant
“Jim was so good to us. He allowed us access to hundreds of rare East Bay photos and couldn’t have been any more generous. Jim loved the East Bay and knew most of the writers by name. His only hope was that his photos would be seen and we intend to make that happen. Rest in peace to a great human being and true graffiti devotee. You will be missed. Much love, Will & Jake” from East Bay Archive
“The coverage Henry and Jim gave to Goldie in Spraycan Art provided a massive worldwide boost to his career and encouraged him to think globally.” Martin Jones
“Pictures that meant so much to so many. Those pictures was part of so many people’s phase of growing up and becoming those who they are today. People such like myself. Thank you Jim.” Tatu Moisio
“Spraycan Art was, is and will remain alongside Subway Art as the Bibles for anyone interested in graffiti. I’m from North-East Scotland, and it certainly had a huge influence in my life.
Not to mention being one of the most stolen books OF ALL TIME!
RIP Jim, and thank you.” Eddie Grady
“A worldwide generation were introduced to a new breed of heroes who became a catalyst to our lives, and for those whose work was featured by Henry, Jim and Martha, their lives were forever changed. Take a moment to imagine a world where your work never existed… … that truly provides an awe-inspiring perspective. A life lived with huge contribution. Rest In Peace Jim!” Gordon Barrett
“We went on a 6 hour tour around Chicago together. Fascinating conversation about art and life, thru the years. Very enriching conversation for a youth of 17. A Gentleman and a Scholar truly. Risen In Perfection.” Tyr Dem
“It’s so Strange. I was just going through Spraycan Art this morning.” Lars Skouboe
“I am saddened by the news of the passing of a champion of graffiti culture.” Gonzo 247
“Spraycan Art introduced us to other graffiti legends in across the country and internationally.” Carlos Tiangco
“This guy gave us kids access to a culture that shaped us, our futures and our world. Thanks James / Jim Prigoff. 1927-2021.” Sunk One
The graffiti community lost an advocate and documentarian yesterday. Thanks for all your years of dedication to documenting us all Jim. He was one of a kind. I’m glad to have known him. Rest well.” Alan Ket
“Rest in Peace James Prigoff — Spraycan Art was the first book I ever looked thru as a teen to learn about graffiti. It is where I saw Lady Pink for the very first time!” Toofly
“This was our culture. What we offered the world. The birth of a culture. A culture that became a world wide phenomenon. Last night one of our documentarian passed. RIP James Prigoff. A great guy who shared with the world through his photos this culture we created. Yo James..
“AND WE DONT STOP!” TKid
“My Heart is still breaking from the passing of our friend and historian, author and photographer Jim Prigoff whom I was in constant communication with until 3 days ago.” Portia Gail McHenry-Ogburn
“This book changed the course of my life forever… as well as tens of thousands of youths across the world throughout the 80’s – 90’s. Thank you #JimPrigoff for your passion and dedication. #JimPrigoffForever.” Revok
“Saddened to hear of Jim’s passing, my condolences to his family and friends.” John “Crash” Matos
“Wow. This is sad… he would stay at my dads house and do you Friday night slideshow sessions with popcorn when he would come to town.
Jim will would always remind me how lucky we are and to never throw food away. This has stuck with me to this day.” Carlos Rolon
“So sad to hear about the passing of one of the greatest – graffiti and street art photographer, author and peace activist Jim Prigoff.
I met him in Los Angeles where he took me on a tour to photograph graffiti. We shared a panel in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). He supported me so much with my books, contributed an amazing photo of female graffiti artist Reminisce to my Graffiti Woman book and even wrote a foreword for my last book Street Messages.
Through him I ate the American version of coleslaw for the very first time.
He was an amazing and inspirational person. He influenced the whole world with his book Spraycan Art (together with Henry Chalfant), that sparked a main flame for the widespread graffiti fire.
Thanks so much for all the time you shared with me, my thoughts are with your family and friends. May you rest peacefully.
“I have so many photos and emails from Jim from over the years. This man was a force and driver in the culture. If he was a kid when writing started he would have been a writer for sure. It’s nice to read all the stories about the him. This photo of me holding his book is from the beginning of 2020 when he had a showing in San Francisco. I told him i couldn’t believe after all these years i didn’t have a signed copy from him. He hooked it up in classic Jim style. I salute you to a full impactful life and thank you for helping a lot of writers careers one way or another. Rest in power” Apexer
“Yea man heavy hearts right now. That book man was the west coast bible!” Aaron De La Cruz
“Our dearest Jim.
When we last saw you two weeks ago you said the single most amazing technological advancement (in your opinion) was the ability for photographs to be shared via email. You said that you imagined that it was even more impressive to you than the automobile had been to your parents. Despite your awe of the invention of digital photography and email, you took on this miracle as you did all things you were passionate about, with gusto.
How lucky are we that you lived you in the era of the modern day camera. You took an art form that was inherently temporary (graffiti) and made it permanent. You took an art form that was the voice of an entire generation, who could not find a platform to be heard, and shared their voice with the world. You knew that “Art is power” and you never failed to use your privilege in this world to ensure that that power could be amplified for change.
You are a legend, who left the world a better place not only through your photographs but also simply through your presence on this planet.
To us however, you will always be our Grandpa Jim and our very small world will forever be just a bit sadder everyday now that you are no longer an email away.
“Like everyone in the world, my family has been affected by this pandemic,” says celebrated Street Artist, painter, pop culture jammer, and marketer Ron English.
He’s reflecting on Covid-19 from the perspective of someone who’s been knocked down by it and who was able to get back up. While he is feeling good now, he says the impact on his health was substantial and says it will affect his art-making going forward due to damaged lung capacity.
“That means no more spraypaint for now,” he says, “and it’s
possible that I may never paint another public mural.” Let’s hope that changes
For now his wife Tarza has poured herself into making
amazing masks to give to nursing homes, postal workers, grocery clerks – first with
leftover fabric scraps, eventually with Ron’s PopLife Popaganda cotton shirts.
Now that the English’s joining with Threadless and “a purchase price that goes directly to MedShare”, his custom design face masks are going to the next level.
Ron says he is proud to do this work and BSA is proud to support families – his and ours – and yours!
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. 5 Minutes with: Plotbot Ken via I Love Graffiti.de 2. Nadia Vadori-Gauthier: One Minute of Dance 3. Ron English: The Road To Heaven (Tribute to Daniel Johnston)
BSA Special Feature: 5 Minutes with: Plotbot Ken via I Love Graffiti.de
Plotbot Ken first caught our eye in the remnants of a factory full of environmental and personal hazards. His is an apocalyptic view of humanity and our shortsighted predilection for creating destruction and for poisoning the earth. But somehow he has made something positive from our dire idiocy. You don’t have to speak German to enjoy this video, or to understand the symbolism of his recurring gas mask motif, or his genius for placement.
Nadia Vadori-Gauthier: Une Minute De Danse Par Jour (One Minute of Dance Per Day)
In reaction to terrorist acts, dancer Nadia
Vadori-Gauthier began a program to dance for one minute a day.
I dance as one manifests, like a small but daily
one, to work for a living poetry, to act by the sensitive against the violence
of certain aspects of the world. It felt like a series of small acts that might
possibly prove to reconnect the disconnections in her own society. She sites
the wisdom of a Chinese proverb to talk about her repeating acts of expression
in the public sphere over many years: “Dripping water ends up going through
This compilation of her works can help us see that
the aggregate of many small acts can indeed be phenomenal.
Ron English: The Road To Heaven (Tribute to Daniel Johnston)
Maybe its because animals are safe subjects to paint and make it
past the neighborhood censors, maybe its because they are handily metaphoric
when it comes to communicating a complicated or difficult idea. Maybe it is
just because they are cute and everybody on Instagram is going to offer a
clever rejoinder on your new painting in Miami, you cool dude/dudette.
From unicorns to hippos to lions and alligators, the street is
full of them right now around every corner in the Wynwood District and you can
still enjoy them until the neighborhood becomes so developed that they kill
them all. Well not all of them. One or two will still be creeping up on you in
the occasional abandoned lot that has a high tax bill or a hefty remediation of
toxic soil that still makes it too pricey for potential investors.
All of that wild conjuring aside, here is a selection of currently
running creatures of the gritty urban jungle in this humid and hot southern
city for you to marvel at.
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.