Before I went to see this show I was having a conversation with one of my more troublesome alter egos about the nature of street art, and you know, it kind of bums -- not street art itself, per se, but the whole 'street art' in a gallery, is it 'fine art' question/debate, along with its juvenile and spiky cousin that comes from the other side of the fence and claims that the transition from wall to white wall is, (here you can affect a slightly whiny voice if you so choose) 'selling out'. It struck me, as the voice in my head was switching from rebellious teenager to something more academic, gearing up for a critical subversion, that yes, basically, it bums. It's what we might call the Banksy conundrum. Shutting up the voices in my head I chose to ignore the question.
Which proved to be a good idea as what we got was a nice slice of all the problems, three different artists brought together into a group show that displayed all of the inadequacies of the label 'street art'. The Broken Fingaz collective are four artists from Haifa who come from an illustrative print-making background and show acid-dipped graphic work that does that skatey, punky, sexy, funny, weird thing, with a certain iconic pop art sensibility. Pure Evil comes from a more strict graffiti aesthetic, displaying work of his super simple cat form, but also goes in for a bit of computer manipulated satire, i.e. a print of the planet earth as unfinished death star. Finally, we have Pascal Le Gras, whose background in producing album covers for the likes of The Fall, and time spent hanging out with Keith Haring and Basquiat, palpably influences his bold twisted figures, bright colours, and the musical immediacy of his work.
Pure Evil, Pure Evil, 2011, aérosol sur toile, 106 x 76cm; Courtesy of the artist and Lebenson Gallery.
None of these artists could be comfortably covered by one blanket generic label. And that's the thing, the point where they meet is the impact of the work, a direct grab and engagement, which operates in its own way, and putting the internal dialogue aside, it's like what you feel is an intrusion, something coming from outside into the gallery, and that's maybe the joy of this show and those like it. There's also something familiar; we've all admired album covers and graphics and the writing on the wall, and it's as if the pressure of all these aesthetic forms have grown up outside of Art, big A art, and are forcing their way into this world, like we in our collective appreciation, are asking for these images to be hung on the walls of galleries; and who am I to argue with that?
The main criticism I have of this show is that it didn't offer enough work for you to really see the style of any one of the artists; in musical terms, it was more of a teaser than a full blown album, and it left me with the feeling that I needed to delve into each artist individually in more depth, away from the gallery, to fully appreciate their work. Although I can fully sympathise with the Lebenson Gallery, who are pretty much forging their own path on showing this kind of work in Paris, it did leave one of the voices, another troublesome one, wanting more.
(Image top right: Pascal Le Gras, Now would you kiss me on the lips, 2011, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 200cm; courtesy of the artist and Lebenson Gallery.)