Exposing Visual Rhymes: An Interview with Mario Ybarra Jr.
by Abraham Ritchie
Posted by Abraham Ritchie
| tags: q&a Throwback
This interview was originally published way back on ArtSlant Chicago, in May, 2008, on the occasion of Mario Ybarra Jr.'s exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The LA-based artist is known for his installations drawing from pop and street culture, including a recent solo show examining the mythos of Scarface at LA's Honor Fraser Gallery. Right now his work can be found on a billboard in Mobile, AL, part of Los Angeles Nomadic Division's Manifest Destiny Project.
Mario Ybarra, Jr. is a LA-based visual and performance artist who has created room-sized installations all over the world and most recently right here in Chicago for the Art Institute of Chicago. This year Ybarra was also selected to participate in the Whitney Biennial. Beneath Ybarra's friendly demeanor lies a keen observer who is quick to expose visual rhymes in seemingly unrelated sources and to expand and build upon those connections until a cohesion is reached, or as he might say, a story. Ybarra graciously met with ArtSlant's Abraham Ritchie while putting the finishing touches on his installation at the Art Institute. Ever the raconteur, Ybarra talked about his native LA, baseball and King Arthur. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.
Abraham Richie: I think a lot of Chicagoans, and everyone, might want to know what the connection is between Southern Los Angeles, Catalina Island and Wrigley Field? It’s kind of funny to think that Wrigley Field had a “secret brother” or something like that on the West Coast, because I am not sure that many people remember or know about this other Wrigley Field.
Mario Ybarra, Jr.: Well that’s where this whole project started for me. About a year ago Lisa Dorin, the Assistant Curator in the Contemporary Art Department, asked me if I wanted to come up with a proposal to do a Focus project here at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I said I would think about it a little bit. The way that I try to work is that I try to make some kind of relationship between a personal experience, or my personal understanding or knowledge and the place that I show. I don’t like the idea of coming in and claiming an expertise on a place that I know nothing about. I’ve found that doing something that starts in the realm of the personal and then taking it out to another place and trying to make relationships between those two places is the most successful tactic for me. . . I try to make bridges, so to speak.
As a kid we would take trips out to Catalina Island, which is part of the Channel Islands, about 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. I remember part of the tour was the local history. They’d always tell us that William Wrigley, Jr. owned Catalina Island and he had famous movie stars of the time going out there, like Clark Gable. His Chicago Cubs would go out and have their spring training there. The main town there is called Avalon and it gets its name from [Wrigley’s] niece, who told [Wrigley] to name it that after the Avalon of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and those stories. So it has this mythological side of it too. It has real histories, the local histories, of it being owned by Wrigley, and it has this mythological history through the King Arthur association. My studio back in LA is on Avalon Boulevard and they named [the street] that because that’s where the boats used to take people out to Avalon Harbor on the island. I started doing research about that, I’m like a de facto historian, and I found that Wrigley, along with owning the island, owned this other Wrigley Field that was in South Central Los Angeles on Avalon and 66th street. So we had the Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, my studio on Avalon, this field that Wrigley owned was also on Avalon, I just kept following the line. I thought I could take this story from Avalon, to Avalon Boulevard, to my studio, to Avalon were the stadium was, to all the way down Highway 66 to Chicago and the Art Institute.
I’m figuring out ways to make these relationships between historical figures like William Wrigley, who was important to historical cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, and bring these stories together somehow, make bridges between the stories. Between what I know and my experiences and the places that I go.
AR: Sports are the site of an obvious physical conflict and throughout the exhibit are interesting juxtapositions: the Mexican flag and the U.S. flag, the sword and the baseball bat, the fist of the Revolution and an image of a capitalist’s private island. The history of the island reflects conflict as well, in the seventies it was occupied by the Brown Berets. How are sports, especially baseball, viewed both literally and metaphorically for this project, and the issues it raises?
MY: Well I have always thought of the history of baseball as particularly related to the United States. It’s billed as “the American Game;” it’s not really played around the world at all other than some Latin American countries, like the Dominican Republic where all these new players are coming from and where young people are specifically groomed to be ball players. But in relation to the United States, and this comes from the different things that I have watched or read, the developments of social movements in the United States almost always came ten years later than in the ball game itself. Baseball has been very slow to change, and it hasn’t changed really over the few centuries its been played here. But it still has these kind of leading edges. Let’s take for example the story of integration and civil rights. Jackie Robinson starts playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950's and certain places, like schools, weren’t integrated until the early sixties or late sixties. Baseball reflects a little bit in advance the kind of social movements that will happen in the United States.
Another thing that I think is very interesting in terms of conflict and it being a spectator sport, even though there are rival teams and most big cities have their own team, [there is a sense of unity]. Before professional baseball, each little town would have a team, even though there was a sense of rivalry or competition, the people were brought together as spectators to cheer on their team. So even though there was a site of conflict, it wasn’t like it was Rome and gladiators were getting fed to lions [laughter]. There is a sense of sportsmanship [. . .]
Related to issues of capitalism and revolution, or acts of civil disobedience, there is a sense of teams. I play off that with the posters, we have here a baseball with two bats crossed, but instead of a regular team you have the Brown Beret guys who tried to occupy the island in 1972 so they’re like “the team.” The idea of “the team” is important too and the metaphor of a team. The idea that everyone has their positions but also act as a unit is very important and is a metaphor for myself.
AR: The idea of teams is also apparent in this wall of flags you have installed. What are the flags we have here?
MY: This is the state of Illinois’ flag. The flags are also stadium-esque, they always have them. The other thing, again about making relationships, is this is the state of Illinois’ flag, which has an eagle perched on a rock holding a shield and in his mouth is a banner. I thought that is very interesting, because over here is the Mexican flag, and again we have the eagle, this time perched on the cactus, and the snake in his mouth pretty much mimics the banner in the Illinois flag. Those kinds of aesthetic relationships and symbolic choices are very interesting.
AR: Even looking at the Illinois flag, that’s more of an Aztec style eagle than a typical American-style eagle.
MY: Yeah. Those are the kinds of things I noticed in my visits to Chicago to prepare for this show, last year and earlier this year. I started seeing these kinds of relationships, like the Illinois flag’s similarity to the flag of Mexico.
This row of flags will start off with the U.S. flag, the state of Illinois flag, Chicago flag, Los Angeles flag, state of California flag, and the Mexican flag. We have these different relationships between these two places starting with the cities and then going to the states. We have the state of Mexico flag, even though California is not part of Mexico, it used to be part of Mexico, but it’s related to the histories that we have here. Catalina Island was occupied by the Brown Berets because in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which separated the Southwest from Mexico after the Mexican-American War, the island wasn’t specifically mentioned. This is why the Brown Berets tried to occupy it.
There are interrelationships between the two places [Chicago and LA]. I thought that was another kind of metaphor for the show, in terms of Wrigley being this character and starting with him, saying no man is an island, or no city, or no country or land is an island. They’re all in relationship, in context, to their neighbors. Imagine if we thought that we could do everything, under our own power, we’d get ourselves in trouble. We can talk about it in relationship to land, in relationship to people. Or no island is a man, we could even switch it.
I wanted to draw these kinds of relationships together, one between Los Angeles and Chicago, two between Mexico and the States, three between baseball and mythology. Different symbolic orders, things like ships or bubble gum.
ArtSlant would like to thank Mario Ybarra, Jr., Jenny Gheith and Lisa Dorin for their assistance in making this interview possible. Additional thanks to the Anna Helwing Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago
- Abraham Ritchie
(Top image: Mario Ybarra Jr, Manifest Destiny Project billboard, 2014; Courtesy of LAND. All other images are installation views of Take Me Out. . . No Man Is an Island, 2008; Courtesy of the Artist)
Galeria Fortes Vilaça
Rua Fradique Coutinho, 1500, Vila Madalena, 05416-001 São Paulo, Brazil
June 29, 2014 - August 16, 2014
Give in to the Dream: OSGEMEOS Moon Opera
by Vivian Mocellin
Posted by Vivian Mocellin
| tags: Street Critique
The new project of OSGEMEOS in the Fortes Vilaça Gallery in São Paulo is an experience of vertigo that leads directly to the unconscious. Entering the first room of the exhibition one is faced with dozens of their iconic yellow people – their signature image – plus a variety of other characters, spread through countless paintings, sculptures and installations, assembled next to each other to form an immersive environment. In the center of the room a vortex made out of doors of all sizes seems to pull all these characters along with the viewers into the dream-like universe created by the duo. The vortex epitomizes precisely the moment in which we are about to fall asleep and fall into unconsciousness, with the doors representing a passage to other dimensions.
The doors and windows always present in their works are also a point of contact and a connection between seemingly disconnected pieces. Even though each artwork contains a story and is a world in itself, small doors and windows sometimes denote a passage and an entrance into the world represented in the next painting, each work containing the key to open the door and understand the next work. “Everything is connected”, they say, leaving clues all the way along, giving the public a sensation that there is an erratic underlying narrative being drawn in front of our eyes. The public can identify references to Brazil’s folk art and northeastern culture, but are still unable to identify the story, or stories, being told.
The overwhelming profusion of colors, shapes and pictorial styles makes the attempt to understand this narrative an exhausting task though. Soon enough, the observer is compelled to give up on any effort of rationalizing or interpreting and we surrender to their surreal landscapes and recurrent imagery. By then we start noticing the dreamy sensuality of the characters with fluid contours including some nude female figures, which stand out in the middle of the predominantly masculine yellow characters. Despite the nudity and sensuality they also preserve an air of innocence, that permeates the entire current production of the artists.
Passing through a small door in the corner of the first room, we enter another space where we find the big surprise of the show: a giant 3D kinetic sculpture in form of a zoetrope, which gives life and motion to the OG iconography. Surrounded by ocean and moonlight the installation features a soundtrack composed in partnership with Ben Mor and DJ Zegon. The result is striking and absorbing. Our minds take a little while to believe the reality our eyes are recording. Looking at the piece for the two minutes it is in motion, one feels like being on the other side of the vortex represented in first installation and inside of an oneiric dimension where the surreal becomes tangible.
Leaving this space still slightly unsettled the public is presented with another installation reproducing a child’s bedroom whose walls consist of a video. This interactive installation allows the viewers to deviate the patterns of its itinerary interfering in the way the artist’s images seem to be drifting in the screen.
Far away from the urban chaos that marked their first years of production, Moon Opera seems to further consolidate the unique aesthetic language for which the duo are recognized worldwide. The migration of OSGEMEOS’ work to traditional exhibition spaces has allowed them to experiment with new supports, material and techniques and create environments where people could penetrate their works – and minds.
Even though they continue to use spray paint, their work can hardly be defined as street art these days. The work of OSGEMEOS is now better understood in relation to other artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Jean Tinguely and even Frida Kahlo (as the official press release points out). Their magic realism, the excessiveness and obsessive recurrence of their iconography recreates a distinctive universe of that of the streets, a sensual, kaleidoscopic universe that appeals to all sorts of publics, especially to those who lost their capacity to be carried away by imagination. Like it or not, it is impossible to leave the Moon Opera without being taken by it all – if even for a brief minute or two.
Pictures and videos of the exhibition can be seen on their official Instagram and Facebook pages.
(All Images: OsGemeos, Exhibition view, 2014; © Photo: Eduardo Ortega / Courtesy Galpão Fortes Vilaça)
886 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
August 16, 2014 - September 6, 2014
From Classic Painting to Graffuturism: Poesia, Reflexive, at the Shooting Gallery
by Eva Recinos
Posted by Eva Recinos
| tags: news
Beyond his individual work, artist Poesia has made a huge impact on the world of graffiti. As the founder of the site Graffuturism.com, the artist launched a movement that resulted in group shows everywhere from Los Angeles to Paris. In San Francisco, he recently curated the show A Major Minority, which showcased the work of more than 100 artists from more than 18 countries. In both his curatorial work and his style, the artist continues to inspire budding talents in the graffiti and street art spheres.
Poesia, Death of Marat, Mixed media collage, 7.5x9.5in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
But at White Walls Gallery, the attention comes back to the unique work he creates himself. For “Reflexive,” the artist presents new work that include large-scale pieces, clearly showing the many styles that influence him. Not only does he find inspiration in street art and graffiit but also in classic painting, with many of his works feeling abstract and even Cubist in nature, while his Old Masters series makes direct references to Classical pieces. One piece cleverly bases its composition on “Death of Marat” by slicing the classical piece with geometric shapes. The harsh lines seem to place this classic painting into another time altogether. As with many of Poesia’s pieces, one must look for meaning in these strange shapes — or simply enjoy the composition that arises from them. The show is on until September 6th.
Poesia, Eve, Mixed media collage, 8.5x11in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
Poesia, The Age of Bronze, Mixed media on reclaimed postcard, 4x6in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
Poesia, Mary on the Rocks, Mixed media collage on photograph, 18x12in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
Poesia, Untitled Study, Mixed media on paper, 8x8in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
Poesia, Vulcan Presenting Venus with Arms, Mixed media on canvas, 96x54in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery
(Image on top: Poesia, Poesia Letter Study II, Mixed media on paper, 14x10in.; Courtesy of the artist & Shooting Gallery)
Psychedelic-Politic: An Interview with Abby Martin
by Howie Stier
Posted by Howie Stier
| tags: q&a
In a week when the world roiled—when rockets rained on Israel and Israeli troops let loose into the Palestinian territory of Gaza, and when, as if the world stage were in fact a formulaic three-act Hollywood action blockbuster, a civilian jetliner blasted into oblivion over Ukraine leaving an incredulous global audience gasping for the credits to roll—Abby Martin, a Russia Today (RT) TV host, immersed in this hell-broke-loose cluster-fuck of a news week, ended it by stepping away into the art world. Namely, into the haven of a Washington D.C gallery where her intimate, jewel-box like graphic paintings are getting the exposure they merit. The five works on paper—now part of the summer group show at Randall Scott Projects in Northeast D.C—describe an inner experience, a voyage recounted in precise lapidary lines and a Jungian field-day of symbols, each a horror vacui composition that echoes the intensity Martin delivers on her news show (Breaking the Set).
Having never spoken at length about her art work, Martin eagerly shared insights into her motivation and process with Artslant STREET, talking on the phone from Washington D.C .
“It started off as catharsis—a visual diary that I can’t display through language,” said Martin, explaining how she began painting a decade back. “People just see this firey person who is pissed off all the time, but I’m inspired by nature, abstract imagery, different cultures. My painting goes along with my way of looking at the world—that’s what I’m trying to encapsulate in these pieces.”
Abby Martin, Festival of Earth, 2014, 6.5x7”, Collage, paint pen, on panel; Courtesy of the artist
A dizzying variety of figurative images appear in Festival of Earth (2014), one of the smallest pieces in the show; from an ornamented elephant to a tiny-hatted creature that may have playfully popped out of the trippy Mr. Do! arcade game circa 1980, it keeps the eye roaming in a vortex around the composition. “I love Alex Gray, and Andy Goldsworthy I’m infatuated with, and I follow a lot of Juxtapoz, low-brow art,” confides Martin, speaking of her varied artistic influences, and the whole pronounced aesthetic presence evokes the psych art of another generation. One can see elements, for example, of a psych rock album I pull out of my record bin—1968’s St. John Green—with its swirling cosmic dragon cover art, as well as the shaman drawings of Graham Hancock, the ayahuasca-eating journalist with a penchant for tripping balls.
Martin uses paint pens, “pound[ing them] into paper until they burst,” and while crafting these paintings she generates a rhythm that for her is therapeutic. “I start looking for images, thumb through magazines, National Geographics, cut out images and put them in different themes and colored schemes. Then [while painting] OCD goes into full effect. I obsess over the perfection, every dot has to be perfect, dozens of hours, twenty layers…”
Abby Martin, Ganesha-Nagarani, 2014, 8x7”, Collage, paint pen on panel; Courtesy of the artist
Though her recent painting is highly ornamental, another strain of Martin’s graphic output is overtly political. In work distinct from the pieces showing at Randall Scott displayed on her online portfolio, Martin avers the convictions of the Occupy movement, from which she first emerged as a blogger. “Before I did Breaking the Set I did more political work, but now since the show is so time consuming, it’s a team effort, but I’m constantly writing, editing, researching, booking guests—my choice is not to have politics as the focus of my work.” But, Martin says, a return to this style is likely in the future.
Cultural manifestations of the Occupy movement continue to be seen as street art across the globe, with work directly addressing issues of wealth inequality, United States militarism and corporate hegemony; those concerns too inform Martin’s paintings such as Killing Hope. Not in a dull, ironic, agit-prop style so played out (as in the recent Shep Fairey/Ernesto Yerena immigration piece, for example) but in a quaintly wistful return to the art of another generation. Her painting I Pledge to Empire, an American flag emblazoned with skulls and swastikas, evokes protest banners I saw at the Rock Against Racism/Reagan Central Park hardcore show in 1984. But that’s the year Martin was born.
Abby Martin, BP'S HOLOCAUST OF SEA CREATURES; Courtesy of the artist
An acrylic painting, Killing Hope, denounces President Barack Obama for branding his election campaign and buying propaganda—ie. collaborating with Shepard Fairey, perpetrator of the “Hope” image, which was to play a role in garnering the youth vote. “I’ve spoken about this [on TV] and I think it’s completely bizarre: he created this propaganda symbol, but he’s said he’s disappointed and I give him props for that.”
Abby Martin, SKULL-EXPLODING; Courtesy of the artist
An intense, desperate work, Breathe and Try Not Die, can easily be read as what Occupy activist and author Chris Hedges theorizes is the corporate agenda to manifest a sense of hopelessness, and acquiesecence. It is anything but, explains Martin. “It points to times when there’s an overwhelming sense that life doesn’t make sense,” spurred, she says, by a dark period in her life. “It’s an encouragement to work through it. You have to breathe, and take it slow.”
Martin not only maintains a street art sensibility in the economy of materials she uses but in the attitude she holds towards fine art. Her talk turns to galleries and art academies, then she takes the art world down in a breathless ground and pound: “Art, for me, real art, is such a labor of love and your soul is poured in, so when I see work that is completely bland, that says nothing, and hear those who pontificate about how profound their art is? I think that whole gallery scene is bullshit and a lot of the art is a lot of shit. It seems very elitist to me and very exclusionary and that’s why I believe a lot of people react negatively; they get convinced they shouldn’t pick up a pencil or a paintbrush. But if art can bring people joy and inspiration and also have them think, if it speaks to them—like my Nazi flag [I Pledge to Empire] I’m making it that obvious, very extreme very over the top—if it can create a dialogue than I’ve succeeded.”
Abby Martin, CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION; Courtesy of the artist
While living in a communal art house in San Diego, Martin collaborated on a wall painting adorning a raw food restaurant. “I have the greatest respect for people that do mural work,” she said, recounting how she worked aside Canadian graffiti writer BIRD on one giant mural installation, “and it was the most amazing thing I’ve done, and I would love to do that more.” And as there’s nothing worse than half-finished novels and artists with unresolved visions hampered by time and expense, let me put out the call: we can bypass the mundane Kickstarter thing; someone rack the paint and get this artist a wall. Her sketchbook sized paintings grown into a larger-than-life scale—that’s a world I would want to walk into.
(Image on top: Abby Martin, RIOT-COPS; Courtesy of the artist)
Weird guys with severed heads: an interview with PANG
by Charlotte Jansen
Posted by Charlotte Jansen
| tags: q&a
Your background is in Fine Art – how have you developed your style back in London and how has it changed?
I studied classical oil painting in Italy for four years and I came back to London around seven years ago. I have always moved around in my work and gone through phases, and Italy in a way felt like another artistic experiment, but the technique we learnt in the studio was from the 19th century, and the sheer discipline of it was a big shock when I first arrived. I had never spent more than one day on a piece let alone three weeks. But I soon got into it. It provided me with a thorough training, and we started by drawing casts of Greek and Roman statues, then moving to real people, then from charcoals to oil paint.
When I came back to London I found it harder than I had before to make hard, sharp lines, to create graphic images but also include midtones and shading, and the balance is something I still struggle with at times. I look at Picasso's etchings and he really had that balance. Nearly all of my work is figurative but I often use landscapes or interiors to exaggerate perspective, and faces are a huge part of my work, and that definitely stems from my training in Italy. But stylistically the classical painting and my illustration could not be more different so in terms of development, it seems to jump around rather than evolve coherently.
How and when did you decide to start doing your work out on the street?
I've always loved the look of old rough walls and especially entire derelict buildings, but somehow it never occurred to me to paint outside until it was suggested to me by another artist, Float. I knew I liked street art and paintings on the side of buildings but I knew nothing about it. She encouraged me to start doing stuff outside and it suddenly seemed absurd I hadn't done that before. So I started to. That was about just over a year ago. I started mainly around Hackney Road which has a few good back streets. Brick Lane too, where I discovered most of the art I now feel so familiar with.
At first it was just a few squiggles and drawings but it became addictive because I was discovering all the other street art at the same time and there was so much to take in and so many different forms. I loved it! Paste-ups, stencils, spray-paintings, brush paintings, sculpture...Ridiculous not to have noticed it all before.
You’re very prolific in Hackney Wick (where I happen to live, though I’ve never caught you painting!). When do you usually do your pieces?
I guess I usually paint in the week days during the daytime but it really depends, weekends are also a good time (although there are more people about which is a bit difficult). I used to only work at night but that was when I did stuff around Hackney Road and Brick Lane and they were smaller drawings, or paste ups, and since I knew very little about it and the practice of it I assumed the only way I could do it was at 3am...
Can you talk a little about the recent exhibition in London?
I collaborated with Sophie Mason and Benjamin Murphy, and we came up with "Morella"; the exhibition was named after a creepy E.A.Poe story. It was one giant floor to ceiling mural in black and white. The months leading up to it were surreal because the three of us we were in one room together, hour after hour, day after day, painting onto every inch of the walls with our tiny brushes. The room is hidden away behind a shoe shop that has just opened in Shoreditch. We wanted to create an atmosphere based on the idea of an obsessive person or artist in their own environment, so the first thing we painted onto the walls was more space, we painted more rooms into it and lined out as many walls as possible within the actual walls.
This way we were able to hang the works "into" the mural and create more perspective.
Everything in that room was black and white. We painted the floor and ceiling black and kept the walls white with all the drawings over it in black, and all the pieces we created to hang in the space were black and white. I liked the idea of the room being like one gigantic and slightly crooked drawing. We got weirder and weirder throughout, not just in our drawings. By the end we had such weird things painted on the walls and in some of our pieces we worried slightly about any children coming to our opening night… Luckily though a lot of things went unnoticed!
Almost everything was created in that room, very little was done in our own studios, we wanted to collaborate on every single piece as well as the mural itself. Most things were started only to be finished by someone else, and we had complete freedom to paint over each other's work if something didn't sit right or if someone else's idea barged in. In the end it was an amazing experience; I've never collaborated to that extent with any other artist.
You’re one of only a few women working currently in London in this vein, but your style is quite masculine, at least thematically… Do you feel at all you have something to prove (being both a woman, and not starting out as a graffiti writer) or does the anonymity of the whole process give you some freedom? Is it even an advantage being a woman in a male-dominated field?
To be honest, I couldn't possibly make my art more "feminine" or ethereal if I tried. In terms of proving myself, since I started out not knowing much at all about street art or the artists, I didn't really have much perception of them; I couldn't imagine what they looked like let alone whether it was an advantage or disadvantage to be a woman in this world. My art has always been the way it is, at least in its androgyny. I don't think it makes much difference to be female, does it? Having said that, I love the fact that people think I'm a man when they see my work! It's funny.
Not coming from a graffiti background, do you feel there’s a divide between writers/street artists?
Maybe. I don't think it's a malicious divide but maybe there is a slight gap between the two cultures.
Who are the characters you paint?
I have no idea. Just weird guys with severed heads. I prefer painting figuratively, it comes more naturally to me. Actually the content does change from time to time. It used to be cowboys but they come up less nowadays. I don't know why I never paint women, but I suspect it's because I don't know how to draw long hair. I guess that explains the lack of clothing on my characters too!
You’ve collaborated with Millo – how did that come about? Any other collabs you’ve particularly enjoyed?
Benjamin Murphy introduced me to Millo when he was at Ben's studio once. We then all went to Ibiza together for a week to take part in a charity event. We managed to paint around the town a few times and found an abandoned amphitheatre and hotel to paint in. The piece in Shoreditch came about because Millo didn't have time to finish it, so Ben asked me if I wanted to. I've collabed many times with fellow PMT crew members Seeds One, Himbad and Saki and Bitches. There have been a few massive paint sessions with up to 20 artists which have been great too! Float is another artist I've collaborated with quite a few times.
I’ve noticed some pieces on wood placed around – what’s your thinking behind these?
Do you mean the ones around Hackney Wick? They are pieces of wood I find around. Then I draw on them and leave them around outside. I guess it's with the idea of Free Art Friday in mind but I don't know if I've ever actually managed to do it on a Friday!
Have you started to paint on the streets elsewhere?
If I go abroad I definitely try and paint if I can. In Paris I've done some stuff, in Rome also a few small pieces and in Palermo a month ago I painted as much as I possibly could. Which was easy because the people there tend to govern themselves so permission was never an issue. I would just ask the nearest person to the wall I wanted to paint and no one ever said no. Plus, tons of beautiful and derelict walls and buildings. My dream city...
How do you earn a living from what you do?
I get commissions. It's usually oil paintings, collage, illustration or drawings I am asked to do. Occasionally I get album cover / flyer / wedding invitation type commissions too. The oil paintings take the longest. My most challenging commission this year was of three kids standing in front of their own favourite street art in Vienna. I had one vision of it but something completely different came out, so I battled with it big time. Normally I have a vague vision, which will spur me on, which might only arrive seconds before my pen touches paper, but it usually works out roughly the way I saw it in my head. With this painting, I had imagined it painted in a classical style but depicting an urban scene. It did not emerge like that at all, and I had to accept it eventually. But it did annoy me.
What’s next for you?
I'm preparing for a solo exhibition towards the end of the year. I'm drawing onto wood panels with colouring pencils and fine liner pens. I'm pushing myself to be as detailed as I possibly can. I'm looking at a lot of ancient art, mainly Japanese but also Egyptian, Aztec and Indian. I'm also painting any wall I can get my mitts on. At least once or twice a week I end up painting outside somewhere.
(All images: Courtesy of the artist.)
Jonathan LeVine Gallery - 529 W. 20th
529 W. 20th Street, 9E, New York, NY 10011
September 6, 2014 - October 4, 2014
Donkeys are stubborn, eagles are noble, and pigs are greedy. An Interview with Alessandro Gallo
by Stephanie Berzon
Posted by Stephanie Berzon
| tags: q&a
The (m)animal clay sculptures of Alessandro Gallo present humans moving in form, doctrines and in space; whether it is depicted as a bipedal donkey in surrender (Surrender) or several human-animal hybrids in a more obvious state of transit in Metro. Animal heads rest on anthropomorphic bodies and suggest carrying more of the human role through their rendered posture, clothing and setting; the half-rooster, half-man is holding baguettes with a gaze off to the distance, the hybrid hare is sitting on a cardboard box and the topless lizard man is covered in tattoos.
Gallo humorously captures fleeting moments lost to daily absorption. The figures are unaware of themselves in a way that breaks away from metamorphosis or mythology being the cause for their bizarre corporeal makeup. The biodiversity simply exists in an urban reflective state.
Gallo has displayed these pieces, along with other media including screen-prints, at the Italian Pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale and in solo exhibitions at the Jill George Gallery in London and the Marco Canepa Gallery in his hometown of Genoa, Italy. His first solo show in New York City will take place on September 6th at the Jonathan Levine Gallery.
Alessandro Gallo, Beginning of a great adventure; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery
Stephanie Berzon: The presence of animals in art is rich in symbolism and metaphors. What is the relationship you see between human nature and the subjects in your work?
Alessandro Gallo: Animals display biological features and behavioral patterns that can be extended to humans, lending themselves to embody the basic disposition of a person. Animal heads represent our inclinations and background, like a genetic legacy from imaginary ancestors—but also some cultural belief or even simply a mood or a temporary state of mind.
All animals tell a different story: every species has different features. Some of which can be applied metaphorically to humans. The chameleon, for example, can change skin color and has independent eyes that can see in all directions, qualities that would benefit an opportunist. Some animals are carnivores, other vegetarian. Some chase, others run away. Some eat carcasses. Some are cold blooded. Some thrive in swamps, some crawl in the desert, some are nocturnal and so on. Other animals have a strong cultural and folklore history. Donkeys are stubborn, eagles are noble, and pigs are greedy. Every language and culture has numberless associations between animals and emotions, i.e. 'angry like a bull', 'horny like a rabbit', ‘monkey business’, ‘culture vulture’, ‘rat race’ and so on.
Whether from nature or culture, animals evoke direct associations that need little mediation, and in so they are ideal in illustrating and embodying our basic disposition or nature. Which is why they've been used: they embody abstract values and vices across all ages and cultures in numberless stories and myths.
Alessandro Gallo, I feel good; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery
SB: Are you superstitious?
AG: I guess I am, moderately so. I don’t really really believe in it but some superstitions traditional in Italy or specifically in my family (especially from my grandmother) still survive in my everyday life as funny rituals. I don’t really think that wearing that particular shirt is going to affect the outcome of some event but wearing it for that occasion reminds me with humor of how important that outcome is for me.
SB: Tell me a story of a 'funny ritual' that still exists in your life. I was raised in South Florida and superstition sort of suspends the land’s spirit.
AG: I guess the silliest small superstition ritual happens at dinner tables. I never pick the saltshaker from someone else's hand directly. It's considered to bring bad luck. He or she will have to put it on the table and then I'll pick it up. It comes from my Grandma Marta, she did it all of the time. I guess it's a tongue in cheek family thing. I did some research. Salt was extremely precious in ancient Rome so as to be used as currency. The word 'salary' in English comes from the Latin term 'salarium' meaning ' (soldier's) allowance to buy salt, from 'sal' meaning 'salt'. Because of its value it was important to determine the moment when the property, and the responsibility, passed from the seller to the buyer. To avoid any dispute on spillage, the bag of salt was placed on the floor between the two and then the exchange of hands. That doesn't make it rational but at least it's interesting.
SB: How else do you think your Italian identity has impacted your work?
AG: Some people told me that the way I try to render fabric in my pieces reminds them of art they've seen while traveling in Italy. Perhaps. Although I don't think that coming from Italy affects directly what I do and how I do it. When it does it is very difficult to articulate and measure. Surely Italy impacted me as a man. I've lived 12 years in England, I love traveling and I often do. At the moment I'm in the process of moving permanently to the US. But Italy, and Genoa in particular, will always be my home, that's for sure, and, as they say, there's no place like it.
Alessandro Gallo, Come fly with me; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery
SB: Please discuss the light switch moment that turned you to study art instead of pursuing law after your studies in Genoa.
AG: There’s always a before and an after when we make big decisions and choices but what led me to it was actually a very gradual process. There were a lot of good reasons for pursuing both options. I was doing very well in my law studies and I have that type of personality that enjoys researching, whatever the subject. I also loved painting and drawing but somehow I initially feared the risks connected with making it a profession. At some point logic alone was not enough to come to a conclusion and I just had to dive, following my inclination. It took me a while to understand how lucky I was to have one.
SB: Research is usually a solitary venture. How would you describe your personal relationship to the research process?
AG: Some research is solitary especially the main concepts running through your work. As solitary is growing and learning, professionally and personally, although some people beside you can make it, sometimes, at least a little easier. Some things can be learned but can't be taught. Some others can and I think it's important to surround yourself with people that know more than you about it. When I started working with clay I realized how many technical aspects were essential to get good results and I was very lucky to meet a few very capable people that were willing and able to share their knowledge. I learned a lot from workshops, residencies, apprenticeships, studio sharing and mentorships. That information is then processed, filtered and made your own in a solitary way, yes. And I obviously kind of enjoy it.
Alessandro Gallo, She belongs to me; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery
SB: Did you make art as a child?
AG: Yes. Since I can remember. I’ve always loved drawing.
SB: I am curious about the choice of subjects in your the collaborative piece with Beth Cavener, Tangled Up In You. The rabbit and the snake: I couldn’t think of two animals more opposite symbolically.
AG: My collaboration with Beth on that particular piece was limited to the narrative choices, drawing and painting of the imagery running through the snake body as a Japanese style tattoo echoing snake skin's natural patterns. Concept, design and sculpting are all Beth’s. I guess she’d be the right person to answer your question. All I can give is a subjective interpretation that’s as good as anybody’s. Besides I think that one (of many) fascinating aspects of her work is that it is always open to many different emotional and intellectual considerations and responses.
That work represents a conflict between two forces, the snake and the rabbit. It can be read as a fight between two different agents but also as an internal psychological struggle between opposing drives or beliefs. I’ve always seen it as a self-portrait.
Alessandro Gallo, The man who sold the world; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery
SB: From what I can recount, chess has occurred twice in your body of work in the form of a screen print and chess piece sculptures resting on a checkerboard. Do you play?
AG: I love chess, its ruthlessness and its intellectual and logical discipline. It’s incredibly fascinating, suggestive and challenging to me. I play online, when I can, and always less than what I’d want. I’m an ‘amateur’, from Latin ‘amare’ that means ‘to love’. I’ve studied quite a bit but not enough to compete with the very good ones.
SB: Would you describe your relationship to art as ruthless and disciplined? Duchamp once said that 'while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists'...
AG: I think you always need a lot of self-discipline or at least you do given my personality traits, driven to perfection and prone to distraction. Not only in art. I've known about Duchamp's passion for Chess for a long time. I came across a few of his best games too. Chess is art and war, logic and imagination. I don't think that all chess players are artists—only the very good ones.
SB: Is there an animal you most identify with?
AG: The donkey because he’s proverbially stubborn stupid, and works hard. I use it as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.
—Stephanie Rae Berzon
(Image at top: Alessandro Gallo, artist photo; Courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Levine Gallery)
Graffiti in Galleries: Why Do They Still Not Get It?
by Charlotte Jansen
Posted by Charlotte Jansen
| tags: Street Critique
Last week the ASS editorial team was in Paris for our AGM, where we got a special tour of the LASCO project at the Palais De Tokyo. A very amiable and informative guide took us down the basement/security exit—normally closed to the public—that for the last two years has housed a new initiative to bring graffiti into the public gallery: two French artists, Lek and Sowat, have been inviting other artists from their scene to paint the walls of this cavernous underground maze.
The problem is, like an embarassingly sexy Mum who smokes pot and listens to Nicki Minaj, public galleries just don’t get graffiti culture.
With the title, the Palais de Tokyo aligns the practice of graffiti to the Lascaux cave paintings. There is a parallel to an extent—both are visual expressions enacting existence. But in the implication that cave painting foreshadows the latter artistic practice, they ignore an entire, unique culture that comes with graffiti.
The problem is that here again comes a big gallery with an idea of the importance of #graffiti and its impact on culture today, but who doesn’t know how to handle it. They don’t want it in the gallery, because they can’t accept that it is part of ‘contemporary art’, nor the fact that successful graffiti writers that have evolved into artists are just as ambitious, with equally as many conceptual concerns, as say, Ed Atkins (who is exhibiting upstairs). But they don’t want to keep them out entirely – as then it would be out of their control.
So they put it in this literal in-between: they relegate graffiti to an art purgatory, where access is denied to the public except for 1.5 hours a week when visitors can be carefully led through with a guide. The massive irony of this is that those visitors can see any of these artists, at any time, for free, just by walking on the streets of any major city: Paris being one of the best spots in the world for it. (That is, until the capital opened a special unit for buffing and hunting down writers.)
And the biggest paradox of all: the only artist left outside the underground coven is Cokney, a hardcore train bomber. His work is presented with police reports, and a photograph, evidence used in a prosecution trial (the artist wound up with a fine of more than 200,000 euros). The police description incisively evaluates Cokney’s work for the purpose of identification, raising a potentially fascinating question about the phenomenon of the legal authority as art critic—something that happens in jurisdictions the world over. But in its context here, the corollary seems to be that graffiti can only be legitimized as art by the authority—legal or cultural.
Cokney triptych: photograph taken by police of a Cokney burner; police report including description of the graffiti writer's style; visual interpretation of the police report description by Cokney, painted in the gallery.
The tension between the artists and the Palais De Tokyo is suggested in giant mock 500-euro notes that peel down from one ceiling, pasted up by the artist—an allusion to the inferior sum the artists received to take part in the project.
Lek, Sowat, showing the photocopies of the 500 euro note, pasted on the ceiling.
It’s an insight into the way the major institutes are still holding back when it comes to graf. By curating them into narrow projects that undermine their culture and evade any important questions, public spaces are not allowing these artists to develop their careers. In France particularly, where culture is shaped by venues like the Palais de Tokyo, they can massively influence which artists succeed.
While some curators and smaller spaces have begun to recognize this and break up the paradigm, public galleries are still way off. The participation of so many great artists is testament to the fact these artists do want to show in these spaces, and demonstrates how few opportunities there are to present: but the galleries are just not brave enough. My suspicion is that by using graf artists Lek and Sowat as mediators to invite other artists, they avoided interacting directly with the artists themselves.
(Top image: entrance to the exhibition. All images: At the Palais de Tokyo; photos courtesy Natalie Hegert)
Nytorget 17, Stavanger 4013
September 4, 2014 - October 12, 2014
NUART FESTIVAL 2014. "Beneath the pavement, The Beach"
by Natalie Hegert
Posted by Natalie Hegert
| tags: news
I’ve been doing a bit of studying up lately. So far I’ve learned that the rules concerning the sale of alcohol in Norway rival those I’ve encountered in Utah: not available on Sundays, or after 6pm most days; for some reason there’s a couple of days in May that are totally off-limits; oh and supermarkets only sell beer that’s 2.5% alcohol (worse than Utah’s 3.2!), for the stronger stuff you’ve got to go to someplace called Vinmonopolet (I’d venture a guess that literally means “wine monopoly”), which is a state-run non-profit organization. And of course if you buy a beer at a bar, it will likely set you back around $13. Can’t be easy to be an alcoholic in Norway! Seems like I’ll be nursing that beer all night.
I’ve undertaken this research because I’m headed to Norway, to Stavanger, for this year’s Nuart Festival, featuring artists like Tilt, Martin Whatson, Icy & Sot, Borondo, dotdotdot, Mathieu Tremblin, Maismenos, M-City, Levalet, Spy, Etam Cru, Andreco, fra.biancoshock, and others who will be painting the town red… and blue, and black, and yellow… I’m happy to announce that I will be representing ArtSlant for Nuart Plus (September 4-6), where I will be joining the likes of RJ Rushmore of Vandalog, Carlo McCormick, Evan Pricco of Juxtapoz, Brooklyn Street Art’s Steve Harrington and Jaime Rojo, to discuss the state of the art, the rise of muralism and street art’s activist roots. You can find the schedule of talks here.
And take a look at the epic teaser video Nuart just released a few days ago:
NUART FESTIVAL 2014. PROMO from NUART on Vimeo.
You can also read our report from last year, by Jonathan Roze.
Now, back to my research, where I am—likely unnecessarily—trying to master a few Norwegian phrases...
See you in Stavanger!
 But not likely during this, which I’m heartily looking forward to: Fight Club.
(All images: Courtesy of NuArt Festival)
Views of Nuart 2014 in Stavanger, Norway
by Natalie Hegert
Posted by Natalie Hegert
Reflecting on my experience at the Nuart Festival this weekend in Stavanger will take some time. It was a week filled with art, music, parties and panels, with much to digest and consider. But here's some photos from the week to tide you over while my full report is forthcoming. More photos can be found on our Instagram account (ass_mag, get it?), also here, here, here, here, and by searching #nuartfestival
The landscape in Stavanger is stunning.
Port of Stavanger.
Swoon and David Choe.
The Vålandstårnet above the city, hit by graffiti writers Rebel and Mask and more...
View from the bridge of the crew working on the Tilt mural (not in the shot).
A DJ at the Numusic Festival.
The bookstore at the exhibition.
Mathieu Tremblin documenting local graffiti writer ASMA interacting with his piece.
(image at top: Strøk at Tou Scene)
Miami’s Ahol Sniffs Glue Sues American Eagle Outfitters for Copyright Infringement
by Monica Torres
Posted by Monica Torres
| tags: news
Graffiti art that graces city walls stands resolutely apart from other forms of art: it can’t be purchased, owned and moved into a gallery or private home like a canvased painting (usually). As part of a city’s public landscape, graffiti art belongs to everybody and nobody – just like the streets they adorn. But, many images sketched along the walls of neighborhoods, such as Miami’s Wynwood area, are original creations, conceived by some of the world’s most prominent artists like Shepard Fairey, Retna, Anthony Lister – and locals like Ahol Sniffs Glue. Although the paintings are for public pleasure, it is clear they do belong to someone, for they are signed with claim of their originator. Having an elementary understanding of American copyright laws, unspoken street laws and, well, basic decency, it is common sense that reproducing one of these works to promote a private enterprise without asking the artist (its true owner) for permission is just wrong.
So how is it that a corporate giant, who one assumes has intelligent people running its advertising campaigns, didn’t exhibit such common sense? Last March, American Eagle Outfitters came to Wynwood to shoot a campaign for their summer clothing line. The teen atelier took photographs of models along the world-famous art-filled concrete landscape.
But the company went too far. They took one particular mural – “Ocean Glass” by local Cuban-American street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue – and used it to promote their brand, without consulting him first. Ahol’s characteristic sleepy eyeball design was used in advertisements on the company’s website, social media pages, billboards, and store displays. Moreover, the clothing conglomerate hired “artists” to “recreate” Ahol’s mural on an eight-foot store display in Medellin, Colombia. The imitators marked a sloppy reproduction of “Ocean Glass” with the corporation’s signature black eagle, claiming ownership over Ahol’s optic, azure design.
So, Ahol Sniffs Glue, a.k.a David Anasagasti, is now suing American Eagle Outfitters for copyright infringement, and rightly so. By splashing their label across the artist’s signature work, AEO has “essentially incorporated Mr. Anasagasti’s artwork into [their] own brand identity,” the lawsuit alleges. The suit seeks not only monetary compensation for the works that have been used, but also a permanent injunction that would prohibit the company from using photos or likenesses of the work in the future. To corporations like American Eagle Outfitters, perhaps it will set a precedent and ensure that artists like Ahol Sniffs Glue are protected from this kind of inexcusable theft.
(All images: Courtesy of the author)
Jonathan LeVine Gallery - 557C West 23rd
557C West 23rd Street , New York, NY 10011
August 6, 2014 - August 23, 2014
It's a Cruel Cruel Summer at Jonathan LeVine Gallery
by Matthew Keeshin
Posted by Matthew Keeshin
| tags: Street Critique
People say galleries get slow in the summer in New York, but there is nothing lacklustre or mundane about the group exhibition Cruel Summer at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Curated by collector and graffiti historian Roger Gastman, the exhibition’s title is derived from the popular song featured in the original Karate Kid film by Bananarama. The music video portrays the three female band members causing trouble and dancing throughout New York City – including a Dukes of Hazard-esque car chase that involves throwing bananas at the police. Overall the show is inspired by that summer of 1984 – Gastman also mentions the first Macintosh personal computer and the Olympics as influences. With this exhibition, he successfully captures that same energy he felt in 1984. Featuring the work of over 20 international artists, the exhibition brings together all the excitement and colors of that summer, without looking dated.
Dabs Myla, Orange Blossom, acrylic on cradled wood panel; Courtesy of the Artist and Jonathan LeVine Gallery
The exhibition fills up both of Jonathan LeVine’s gallery locations. In particular, the 23rd Street gallery features large-scale installations by Dabs Myla, a married artist duo. Originally from Melbourne, the couple’s work narrates their life together. The installation is an assortment of walls painted by the artists and the various works together tell a story: paintings feature their signature style and reveal their inspirations and love for traveling, graffiti, and food: translating on the various chosen canvases as dancing hotdogs, cartoon cigarettes and other personified animals. It’s like reading a comic book but instead of frames, the characters jump from painting to vases and onto the walls of the gallery. The couple’s collaborative style contrasts nicely with mixed-media collages by Shepard Fairey and drawings by Parisian artist Horfe, who also derives inspiration from animations, with quite different but equally dynamic results.
Installation view, Courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Gallery
Many of the artists in the exhibition grew up in the 1980's or 1990's, while others were already writing graffiti – such as the legendary Blade and Eric Haze. Niagara’s femme fatales speak to the chaos caused in the video of Bananarama, running amok in New York. The exhibition connects thus two generations of graffiti writers and street artists. Encompassing sculpture, textiles, illustration, and collage, it also reveals the many different practices that continue to expand the definition of street art. In the 20th Street gallery, the Ben Venom hand-made quilt, entitled All The Aces, welcomes visitors when they first step into the space. Using recycled fabric, the typically delicate art of quilt making is juxtaposed with a roaring tiger head centered in a spider web. Decorated with knives, dice, severed hands, and even a grenade, the quilt is one great example of what Jonathan LeVine Gallery does best: it’s all in the surprise elements.
Cruel Summer is a moment to explore how an era informed, influenced and produced these artists and how it continues to inspire their practices today.
Installation view, Courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Gallery
(Image on top: Pose, Honey, acrylic, spray paint and paper on Clayboard panel, 48 x 36 inches (121.92 x 91.44 cm))
5Pointz Demolition to Begin: Another Nail in the Coffin of NYC
by Howie Stier
Posted by Howie Stier
| tags: news
Demolition may commence any day on New York City’s 5 Pointz, the sprawling concrete structures occupying an entire city block famously polychromed by an array of styles that over the past ten years made it one of the most recognized graffiti landmarks in the world.
Owner of the Long Island City, Queens site David Wolkoff had the art painted over last November in preparation for tearing down the former warehouse that had housed art studios at below market rates. Wolkoff was granted a special permit to develop two luxury hi-rise apartment towers, allowing him to bypass existing zoning regulations in the once working class industrial neighborhood. Both towers will exceed 40 stories in height and will contain a combined one thousand luxury apartments as well as 50,000 square feet of retail space.
A lawsuit seeking damages for destroyed artwork has been filed by a collective of graffiti writers, and response by the developer’s proposed artist work and display spaces in the new development remains uncertain. What does remain clear? Yet another unique culture-making resource has been lost forever, distancing New York ever further from its post-war art capital status and propelling a future when that city will be nothing but an unlivable playground for the world’s wealthiest.
(All images: 5Pointz in September, 2011. Photos by Natalie Hegert)
Buy a Print, Buy a Pint: Common Bar, Manchester
by Laura Havlin
Posted by Laura Havlin
| tags: Street Critique
Buy a print from a rising artist and still have change for a pint: at Common Bar, the venue and bar central to Manchester’s creative scene.
Situated at the beating heart of Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter—an area where a Banksy has been lovingly preserved with a Perspex box (only for that to be covered in stickers and fresh street art), Space Invader aliens loom over you from the red brick of buildings, and Manchester heroes (including the city’s own appointed Creative Director, the famed graphic designer Peter Saville) are immortalised in mosaic on the side of the iconic Afflecks Palace—Common Bar aims to counter the tendency to reminisce about glories gone by, by dedicating the walls of its bright and vibrant bar to the artwork of an impressive roll-call of local, national and international artists.
Iwan Roberts and Duncan Sime, the creative forces behind the art and events at Common Bar tell ArtSlant STREET about their unique proposition: “When Common opened its doors back in December 2004, starting out with quite plain walls, someone questioned if their bar was actually finished,” says Sime, adding, “But I think that was its intention, to showcase some of the best art around using its blank walls as a huge canvas.”
The very first exhibition was a collaboration between Guy Mckinley, Matt Sewell and Lynsey Casson. Common now has three exhibition spaces and has gone on to showcase work from Dot The Eyes, Superdead, Jim Medway, Rob Bailey, Ruse, Matt Sewell, Paul Hemmingfield, Guy Mckinley, Chris Gray, Zoe Byrne, Roy McCarthy, Dr Me, Savwo, John Butcher, Nick Robertson, Rabbit Portal, Jon Burgerman, Ghost Patrol, Pin, David Bailey, Lows Bors, Mr Gauky, DXTR, Mr Penfold, Adam Mead, Kristian Jones, Steve Hockett, Teacake, Text Book, Caroline Dowsett, Alex T Frazer and many more.
“In the past most of it has been about artists from in and around Manchester; it then slowly extended its way around the North West,” explains Sime. “We have now hosted artist work from Berlin, New York and London, to name but a few. We are always looking at extending our artistic circle, that's what it's about isn't it?”
“My personal favourite pieces of work are [by] 'Billy/Alex' a great artist from Berlin—she is such a pleasure to work with; her work is super bright and cheerful—and of course Rob Bailey's current exhibition, although I am quite glad we have completed his trilogy of work, if we have to work together again we may kill each other—worth it though, looking at the work,” he adds.
Rather than just static decoration, the work featured at Common Bar is changed regularly, and since it is more often than not painted directly onto the walls as murals as opposed to confined to a series of frames, has the effect of completely altering the overall feel and ambiance of the venue each time. “It can go from 1000s of A4 pieces of pasted riso up on our wall to a big tree right in the middle of the bar,” says Roberts. "It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Because anyone can hang pictures on a wall, most venues don't really think much about the process of putting art on the walls; we like to push boundaries and each other,” says Sime. “Common is an integral part of the Northern Quarter and as part of that we represent the creative and artistic side of this through our exhibitions. We hope that the work we put in attracts the right people and this is what a lot of the business is based upon: nice people in a nice bar.”
“I think we see a lot of needless work up on walls in various venues in Manchester,” offers Roberts. “And a lot of these are put up without any thought on space and how the space can benefit the work. We are fortunate to have a great pool of artists, designers, musicians, etc. in Manchester and beyond. We never struggle to find talent, although we struggle to find the energy and time to shine a light on all of them."
Where the exhibition does comprise prints and framed one-offs, customers are able to support the artists by buying some of the work at an affordable price point. “I’d like to think that people can buy a piece and still have change left over for a pint,” says Roberts. “The medium most of the artists use (risograph, screen printing) lends itself to making the work affordable. We’ve displayed paintings prior and they’ve done well, especially Chris Drury’s show—he did really well. You often see many painted canvases in a few establishments with mind blowing price tags and most of the work is often pants and out of place. It's cool that people can come to Common see a £20 limited-edition screen print and buy it. I have about eight John Powell Jones originals, six Steve Hocketts, countless Dave Baileys all up in the house because everything is so accessible. It’s cool that we can make all these amazing artists' work so easy to take home with you.”
Common, 9 Edge St, Manchester, Greater Manchester M4 1HW
Car Culture: the 14th Annual Uptown Whittier Car Show
by Natalie Hegert
Posted by Natalie Hegert
| tags: Flicks news
Los Angeles, California is synonymous with car culture. From lowriders to hot rods, Woodies and Super Deluxes, customized historic cars are a commonplace sighting on the streets of LA. At the height of the movement in the 1970s, the historic locus of the lowrider cruise was Whittier Boulevard, and throughout the city of Whittier one can see signs of this cultural heritage.
Newly local to the area, I checked out the 14th Annual Uptown Whittier Car Show on August 16. Greenleaf Ave bustled with locals, car aficionados and their families, regarding the rows of automobiles-turned-art-objects lining the street, while a panel of judges appraised the contestants of the Calendar Girl Competition, a row of barbers gave haircuts en plein air to customers seated in vintage barber’s chairs, and a constant stream of people circled through the Lowdown in Uptown boutique to check out their lowrider-inspired art show.
The car show is open to any classic car (all makes and models 1979 and earlier), and the variety was astounding. Shiny or matte, polished or rusted, built up or stripped down, ornamented or strikingly unadorned, each car clearly reflected the personality of its owner. Details and accessories abounded, historically accurate or whimsically eccentric, all meant to enhance the aesthetic vision of the car; in some cases the absence of details served the same purpose, for instance in the removal of door handles so as not to interrupt the smooth line of the car’s body (known as a “shaved” look). There were cars so low to the ground they resembled panthers in repose, resting on their haunches, ever ready to pounce. Cars like mid-century visions of the future, all bubbly curves and cartoonish grills. Quirky VW Beetles, replete with vintage surfboards on the roof rack. Cars with teeth. Pinstripe masterpieces. Fins for days. It’s quite clear that the pursuit of the perfect car is an art form unto itself.
(All images: Courtesy of the author)
Meşrutiyet Caddesi No.65 , 34443 İstanbul, Turkey
August 13, 2014 - October 5, 2014
Language of the Wall: Istanbul’s first exhibition on graffiti and street art
by Lori Zimmer
Posted by Lori Zimmer
| tags: Street Critique
Graffiti and Street Art in a museum setting have a new audience, at the Pera Museum in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. Curated by the museum’s Roxane Ayral, “Language of the Wall” is the first exhibition of its kind in Turkey to bring graffiti indoors in an academic setting, taking over three floors of the private museum. For its introduction, Ayral has chosen an impressive roster of international artists as well as familiar locals to educate the Istanbul art connoisseur, including Futura, Carlos Mare, Cope2, Turbo, Wyne, JonOne, Tilt, Mist, Psyckoze, Craig Costello (aka KR), Herakut, Logan Hicks, C215, Suiko, Evol, Gaia, Tabone, Funk and No More Lies, plus photographs from the archives of Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant and Hugh Holland. Along with the museum exhibition, Ayral has extended her street art lesson into the city proper, bringing murals by most of the artists to legal walls in neighborhoods scattered across Istanbul.
Being a relatively new movement in terms of art history and recognized by the art market in terms of monetary value only recently, street art has progressed in a sense; yet this attention and acceptance has come at the dismay of some graffiti purists, who find work done in the studio or on canvas to lack the authenticity or spirit that street pieces have. With this in mind, Ayral chose to set “Language of the Wall” apart from other museum shows. Instead of presenting each artist’s studio work, she has turned over the museum itself, having each artist create a site-specific work directly on the walls. The effect is less stoic than a traditional show of rows of canvases inside a white cube; it brings the viewer face to face with each artist, each mural dwarfing the visitor into an immersive experience with each piece. Being that Istanbul and the Pera Museum are late to the game, perhaps Ayral learned from the mistakes of exhibitions already past. But either way, her choice to use the pristine private museum walls itself as a giant canvas sets “Language of the Wall” apart from being “just another street art exhibition.”
Mist; Courtesy of the artist and Pera Museum
At this scale, and without the confines of the distance between the viewer and the canvas, visitors can examine the detail and work that goes beyond just tagging. For example, stencil artist Logan Hicks’ pieces for the show enable a better understanding of his intricate and painstaking process by allowing visitors to go nose to nose with his multi-stencil layer murals – which are unusually crisp on the museum’s carefully gessoed wall, rather than a textured wall of the streets. The same goes for C215, whose multi-layered portaits of his daughter Nina are accompanied by a film about the artist’s journey from painting illegally to using his art for social justice. French artist Tilt brought his own bus to the Pera, installing the bisected vehicle directly on the wall before creating his masterpiece. It is hard to believe that Mist’s enormous abstract wall, which shows a trompe l’oeil of highly magnified spray lines, was painted with spray cans. In this multi-colored mural, the artist has shown his expert can control, with precise, purposeful lines and edges.
British duo Herakut’s piece is an immersive environment, adding cardboard, photography, neon and drawing to their iconic figurative renders to create a powerful installation that pays tribute to the origins of street art (including a distorted photograph of the artists with New York icon Futura, which appears as an upsidedown metal pot on the head of the main figure). This piece is a stand out in an already impressive show, showing Herakut’s abilities to add more layers to their powerful work in a gallery setting. Futura’s piece itself seeps into Herakut’s installation, before it blooms into the artist’s signature abstraction in bold red, black and white.
Another artist evolving beyond painting is Carlos Mare, aka Mare139. Mare has taken inspiration from his early days of painting New York City subway cars in the 1980s to the third dimension, translating the loose stylistic loops of tagging into abstract swirls of curved metal. The hanging sculptures have the curvaceous characteristics of a graffiti tag, giving them the appearance of being lightweight, even though they are made from layers of different textured metals. The resulting sculptures can be read as both abstract and having graffiti origins, changeable by the context in which they are presented.
Logan Hicks, Courtesy of the artist and Pera Museum
To accompany these freshly painted site-specific pieces (and to give breadth to the education process) are documentary photographs by Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant and Hugh Holland, who captured the iconic beginnings of graffiti culture in the 1980s.
“Language of the Walls” may gain attention as being Istanbul’s first exhibition on graffiti and street art, but it holds its own, too, as an extensive and experiential exhibition of the medium.
(Image on top: Tilt; Courtesy of the artist and Pera Museum)
The Fringe Club
2 Lower Albert Road, Hong Kong, China
September 8, 2014 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Epic Battle: Secret Walls Pits Local Artists Against Each Other in Live Art Performance
by Peter Augustus
Posted by Peter Augustus
| tags: Street Critique
Billing itself as “the World’s premier live art battle”, Secret Walls recently kicked off its second series in Hong Kong at the city’s iconic Fringe Club.
Created in 2006 by Terry Guy at a bar in London, each event features two white walls side by side, 90 minutes on the clock, booze, a live DJ and two artists with the mighty black marker for battle. The winner is chosen based on a 3 point system, with input coming from judges and the all-important crowd vote, scientifically measured by a decibel reader. In epic fashion, the yearly event spans 5 months with four qualifying rounds, two semifinals and finishing with the grand finale in December, where the series winner is announced.
From its humble underground beginnings, Secret Walls has grown internationally via social media and word of mouth marketing with similar events taking place throughout Europe and NYC. Showcasing an impressive mix of emerging and established artists from all walks of street art life, the battles have a decidedly unique and raw feel. In Hong Kong, it’s nice to see the passion back in original local art, especially as it is lacking a price tag.
Hong Kong’s sold out event paired local artists Alex Wong and Jay Cawdell against each other in what proved to be a spirited competition of live performance art.
Cawdell, who participated in Hong Kong’s inaugural Secret Walls last year, drew inspiration from the present battle, creating a scene starring himself and his opponent in a final throw down. With his trademark style of heavy dark lines and solid, clean shapes, Cawdell proves a formidable opponent to the most established of street artists.
Meanwhile, Wong seemed to defy time, creating a highly detailed mural in the allotted hour and a half time frame. His work took a more imaginative theme with ice cream cones and a supporting cast of characters in an old school style, while impressively filling the entire white space with even the smallest content.
Sponsor Absolut Vodka and MC R VEE kept the crowd pumped throughout the night, with the latter officially announcing Wong as the winner of Series 2, Round 1. He will now move on to the first semifinal in November, battling a yet to be determined artist of equal skill.
Post battle, the walls are (sadly) painted over so you’ll have to attend the event in person to experience the thrill of art being created right before your eyes. Pick up tickets to Round 2, set for 8 September, here.
(All images: Courtesy of Dee Wai and Josh Law for Secret Walls)
MU | Witte Dame
Emmasingel 20 , 5611 AZ Eindhoven, Netherlands
November 13, 2013 - January 26, 2014
F.A.T. Lab, F.A.T. GOLD Europe: Five Years of Free Art & Technology
by Andrea Alessi
Posted by Andrea Alessi
| tags: Street Critique
I crouched down, picked up a marker, and tried to remember the illegible scribble that used to be my “tag”: a gesture of sharp points and steady curves punctuated by a strategic line slashed through the whole inscription. In high school I would trace it onto book covers and notepads and think I was cool. It came to me eventually, the first delivery unsteady as I carefully considered which shapes fit where; in a second, more successful attempt, I let my arm do the work, confidently forging my mark in muscle memory.
Yours truly, tagging the graffiti wall, F.A.T. GOLD Europe; Photo: Ben Harvey.
I was in Eindhoven attending the Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab’s exhibition F.A.T. GOLD Europe at MU, which ended in January. The show, which also took place in April last year at Eyebeam in New York, was a sort of five-year anniversary round up of the Internet collective’s practice. (F.A.T. Lab has now entered its seventh year, but the originally scheduled retrospective was put on hiatus in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.) But back to the incident at hand. Why, at an exhibition dedicated to a network ostensibly operating online, was I contributing my meager tag to a sanctioned graffiti wall?
F.A.T. GOLD Europe, installation view, MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi.
The connection isn’t so far fetched. Some of F.A.T. Lab’s twenty-five members—an international network of artists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and musicians—are themselves graffiti artists. Their core values, which include “spreading open source and free ideals into popular culture” through DIY entrepreneurship, open source, and activism, have more than a few intersections with street art. On the one hand, art on the Internet can be viewed through a street lens: it can bypass normal distribution channels, appealing directly to viewers. Turning the comparison on its head, street art can be seen as a form of “hack”—an unendorsed appropriation of space, medium, or idea.
Evan Roth, Ideas Worth Spreading (TED Talks), at MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
In his recent book, Viral Art, Vandalog blogger RJ Rushmore looks at how the future of street art, with its focus on “unmediated distribution,” might find a natural home in the digital domain. He uses the term “Viral Art” to describe both shareable and invasive online practices that have an affinity, if not a direct evolutionary line, to street art (n.b. “Viral” here implies a level of approachability that excludes some older forms of Internet Art. The pioneering duo JODI, for example, have a great exhibition at Showroom MAMA in Rotterdam right now that isn’t particularly accessible or viral). F.A.T. Lab’s projects don’t always fall within the categories Rushmore outlines either—viewers may seek out content rather than encounter it serendipitously—yet they do open onto notions of self-dissemination, egalitarianism, activism, and anonymity. In fact, there are examples at MU of some of the very works discussed in Rushmore’s text—namely, Ideas Worth Spreading, a mock-up TED Talk stage where visitors can record images of their own “talk” to share online, and 40,000 GML Tags, a massive screen showcasing graffiti gestures in GML, or Graffiti Markup Language, “a file format designed to be a universal structure for storing digitized graffiti motion data.”
Geraldine Juarez, Kopyfamo', watermark on mirror, at MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
Some F.A.T. Lab projects exist in the real world, others are strictly manifest online, and many straddle the two—that is, projects shaped in the real world and shared online. The MU exhibition, curated by Lindsay Howard, highlighted them all, offering documentation, online viewing stations, and even physical objects and artworks. Where F.A.T. GOLD differed from the typical exhibition was that most works were not autonomous objects, but rather reproducible examples of a wider practice. Motivated viewers could (and can) recreate many of these works on the web or at home*, and the materials for some projects, like an Obama PRISM mask, were even available at the exhibition.
F.A.T. GOLD Europe, installation view with Free Universal Construction Kit, MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
Good fun is always on the menu: in F.A.T. GOLD there was a sub-genre of works touting the douchiness of Google Glass and its adopters, and a presentation of Greg Leuch’s viral Add-on Shaved Bieber, which censors all mentions of Justin Bieber online (earning Leuch more than a little hate mail from teenage fans). But some of the best and most shareable projects are greater than their capacity for the lulz. The Free Universal Construction Kit is a set of adapters that makes ten brands of children’s construction sets, like Lego and K’Nex, interoperable. It’s eminently cool/novel/clever, but it also visualizes the ways in which childhood playthings ostensibly meant to spark creativity are limited by proprietary measures. The F.U.C.K. undermines these protective implements, removing barriers to cross-trademark creativity. The exhibition featured a complete set of adapters, a construction/play station, and a 3D printer that staff members kindly set to printing new pieces whenever visitors turned up. (3D models of the adapters in .STL format are available online for free download.)
Tobias Leingruber, Facebook Identity Card, video presentation of ARTE Creative, Social ID Bureau, 2012, portrait of Mark Zuckerberg, at MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
F.A.T. Lab’s perspective seems carefully poised between an irreverent techno-optimism (“look at these cool things we can do!”) and deep skepticism at the ways in which technologies can be regulated, marketed, and used for power and control. Given these positions, in which use of certain technologies seems self-evident, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has access to the distributional paradigm shift that is the digital domain. Rushmore’s account also overstates viral art’s present accessibility: an encounter with this type of work is more likely to be spread within specific enclaves of Internet activity, with limiting factors being not geography, but usage. The case for “unmediated” distribution is further undermined by the cryptic algorithms used by Facebook and Google for post placement and search results—the very systems F.A.T. Lab exploits when images of their fake TED Talks turn up in search results. In a destabilizing twist, F.A.T. Lab often coopts the very technologies and systems it protests (or defends).
Tobias Leingruber, Skatekeyboard, keyboard attached to skateboard deck, at MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
In a way, that’s why it was such a treat to see some of F.A.T. Lab’s works in physical form, Away From Keyboard as it were. F.A.T. GOLD did a great job of making works and ideas accessible to people who might not be tech-savvy or know what terms like “net neutrality” and “Open Web” mean. Or those who aren’t necessarily ready to accept or understand this sort of practice as “art.” The exhibition was forward looking, but also rooted in the past and present—a thought-provoking bridge between time, technologies, and disciplines. Be it in a subway tunnel or on a homepage, a mark on the wall is a sign of presence; it can be a declaration of ego, of resistance. Or like my clumsy signature, it can be an affirmation, a “Like” or an “upvote”: I was here, with so many others, and I want to be counted.
Becky Stern, Knitted Compubody Interface (knit one yourself!), at MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; © Photo: Andrea Alessi
*The MU exhibition ended on January 26th, but interested readers can see the projects online or in the new F.A.T. Manual (available for purchase or free download), released on the occasion of the exhibition and the collective’s five-year anniversary.
F.A.T. GOLD Europe, installation view, MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi
Image on top: F.A.T. GOLD Europe, installation view, MU | De Witte Dame, Eindhoven; Photo: Andrea Alessi.]