Looking into Mark Whalen’s psychedelic gridded realities is like a mythic journey into hyperspace. He redefines the atmospheric picture plane, using pure geometric forms and grids to create imaginary landscapes. Perfect shapes carve out space in constructed environments, his precise line work creating crisp repetitions of receding space. More art object than mere painting, his is the sort of work that really must be seen in person. His hand-painted works on paper are mounted to wood and then covered in resin. The thick layer of varnish refracts light as it bounces off the surface of his images, dramatically pushing back his gridded spaces, and creating an exaggerated sense of depth and distance between his backgrounds and foregrounded characters, an effect that is difficult to capture in a photograph.
These abstract environments create the platform for his studies of the human condition. Influenced by his time spent in a Japanese jail cell (for graffiti of course), Mark Whalen paints stark, sterile environments where everything is stripped down to its visual essentials. Grids, geometric patterns and shapes help to create spatial relations while remaining archetypal and unspecific, creating an open-ended narrative, leaving room for viewer interpretation. Allegorical in nature, his pieces are based on stories and scenarios rather than sketches. Adding to the scenes as he goes along, he leaves room for humor and spontaneity in his process.
Influenced by geometry, astrology, human psychology and archetypal roles, his work can be read as psychological character studies of the human narrative- a broad range of experience illustrated through masked figures, androgynous and anonymous, engaged in acts of sex, war, ritual, work, play, competition, and servitude. Dualities are present throughout his work: black and white, pink and blue, male and female, positive and negative, creative and destructive. Reflective of our time and strangely prophetic, it is like a glimpse into a utilitarian future where nature is obsolete and humanity is reduced to its bare bones – the abstraction of human consciousness. Perhaps in our current digital age, Mark Whalen is creating a constructed reality that is easier to relate to than our own.
MELBOURNE ART FAIR EDWINA CORLETTE GALLERY JULY 31 – AUGUST 5, 2012
Some photos by Andrew Parker. All others courtesy of the artist.
At this year’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary, visitors were greeted at the fair’s entrance with Judy Chicago’s dazzling performance installation, Sublime Environment. As part of Pacific Standard Time’s Performance and Public Art Festival, the large scale installation was created with 25 tons of dry ice, with help from the Silverlake non-profit, Materials & Applications, and a group of 40 volunteers. It encompassed an approximately 30 x 80 ft. environment of 10 pyramidal ziggurat structures, each standing 8 ft. tall with 91 blocks of dry ice, each block weighing 50 lbs. The ziggurats were arranged just outside of the entrance to the fair, slowly dissolving into thick clouds of ethereal fog throughout the weekend’s festivities. At dusk on the fair’s opening night, Chicago and her team illuminated the ice with bright pink road flares, re-creating the artist’s 1968 performance piece, Disappearing Environments.
Disappearing Environments was originally staged in 1968 by Judy Chicago, Eric Orr, and Lloyd Hamrol in a large shopping center in Century City, CA. In the midst of what the artists felt was an increasingly consumer oriented landscape of large and imposing structures, the piece presented a critique of the rise of consumerism and its subsequent commercial development. At a time of a raised interest in Feminist art, the piece also contained undertones of a feminist critique, its dissolving square blocks suggesting the potential of a disappearing patriarchal society.
AM spoke with Materials & Applications Co-Director, Oliver Hess, to talk about the project and his experience working with feminist icon Judy Chicago. See the full interview after the jump…
Arrested Motion (AM): How was your experience working with Judy Chicago? What was your first meeting like?
Oliver Hess (OH): I was told she would not like me, so I wore a very low cut v-neck purple American Apparel t-shirt to our first meeting to make her feel comfortable and to show that I do not take myself as seriously as it may seem from my public persona. She wore a purple t-shirt, and a pair of cutoff purple denim shorts with purple rhinestones. She also had purple Converse on. She and her husband both wore purple nail polish and he had purple framed glasses, and probably more purple apparel as well. We got along really well. Jenna Didier, my partner and co-director of Materials & Applications joined the team later but gelled with Judy immediately and they got along very well.
AM: Who worked on the project? What went into the experimentation and planning process?
OH: 40 volunteers from Materials and Applications who spent months planning and preparing through workshops that we organized and Judy Chicago and her husband, architect Donald Woodman led. Mostly testing different dry ice, different manipulation methods, lots of building structures with sugar cubes, refining concepts and theories, building consensus, meeting with structural engineer and fire marshal, building full scale prototypes, drinking champagne and stuff like that.
AM: Can you give us a brief description of the installation?
OH: 25 tons of dry ice – 91 blocks per ziggurat, 50 lbs each when they are first put in place – 45,000 lbs total and road flares. It’s an amazing experience to behold. The sublimation leaves you with these totally alien forms the next day. I see it as an accelerated erosion of what we understand as the controlled monolithic reality of today. It references architecture, consumerism and community, as well as art history.
AM: When Judy Chicago first staged this piece in Century City in 1968, it addressed the changing environment as a new consumer-based landscape was emerging in the area. In its new context at an art fair, do you feel it can be seen as a statement on the art world itself and its changing environments?
OH: I personally see the installation phenomenologically. It is about the material going from a solid to a gas, the mist filling your vision, the smoke and the chemical fire of the flares overwhelming your senses so you need to retreat to breath. The constant transformation of space and the invitation to re-explore it again and again and to absorb the experience because it is so rare and fleeting. It is a celebration of the wonder of nature, our ability to control it, and to appreciate it.
AH: With the advent of art fairs, and their subsequent celebrity sightings and vip parties, do you feel art is becoming more accessible or less accessible? Do you feel accessibility is relevant to the art conversation
OH: Art fairs are for the trades, if that is how the masses are exposed to art, it devalues the art. It really should only be for people who are buying and need the immediacy of having all those choices at once. The environment is not like a gallery or museum. It is however a good way to network and to be perhaps exposed to new artists and to then check out their work in a proper environment later. I think our working at the art fair was a good balance of opportunities for everyone, the airport was a great site, and having so many people who understand the context and value of the work was great. It was publicly accessible and practically in the street which was cool. The mist from the dry ice was able to blow all the way across the parking lots and with all the headlights it looked magical. Accessibility is important to art, but not to art fairs. I would prefer something like Lange Nacht to solve that issue.
Photos by Scott Mayoral, courtesy of Materials and Applications.
This Saturday, Augustine Kofie will be opening a solo exhibition, Circulatory System, at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco. The title is a play on words describing a new body of work that focuses on circular shapes in an interconnected system, much like an engine or a network of intersecting highways. Like many of his solo shows, Kofie has produced a soundtrack to accompany the exhibition of over 30 new brand new works including a large installation. More than a traditional DJ mix, this sound-assemblage employs a similar technique as does his visual art, layering sound bites, beats, and melodies to create an entirely original master mix to compliment this new body of work.
Upon meeting Augustine Kofie, you get the same sense of maturity and seriousness that you get from seeing his work. Immediately, you get a feeling that the man you are speaking with is not your average street artist. Like the experience of listening to a jazz composition, his work is cool and controlled yet improvisational, forming a delicate balance between the calm resolve of planned order, paired with the free flowing nature of abstract improvisation. It is in many ways an exercise in abstraction, like a symphony of fluid constructions of sharp geometric shapes arranged dynamically with curvilinear forms to create energy and movement.
The most basic element of his work may be his extraordinary sense of balance, between masculine hard angles and more curvilinear feminine shapes, a careful arrangement of forms that creates an almost utopian sense of harmony. His forms are almost strictly abstract, while his muted color palette captures a quality that is distinctly humanistic, evoking the sentiments of a distant memory or a faded vintage photograph.
Known for his vintage sensibilities, Kofie’s aesthetic may represents a return to the pure essentials of art and design: the study of line, form, color and composition. In his new body of work, he incorporates spray paint, tar, and screen print elements into his compositions, creating half-tones to increase dimension and breathability. The resulting effect is a signature style that is refreshingly original and well crafted, qualities that have been traditionally valued but not always upheld today.
Kofie’s work goes beyond the traditional picture plane into a multi-planar “crafted world that builds on itself.” Detailed line work, complex structures, and multi-layered architecturally inspired forms suggest a constructivist approach, akin to collage and assemblage, but with a seamlessness and fluidity that is noticeably absent in most traditional collage forms. His free-flowing compositions produce sensations of weightlessness, flight, and gravity-defying rapid movement, like a gust of wind blowing from a bullet train running at top speed.
Kofie is well known in the graffiti world for breaking out of traditional street art modes, while continuing to refine his conversation with line, color, shape and form, a practice that is inherent to the street conversation of letter work. Letters, like buildings are the constructs from which much of the inspiration for his forms and shapes arises. He creates a heightened sense of depth by layering space in a series of overlapping picture planes, creating tiny windows of seemingly infinite recessions of space. With a modern, futuristic appearance, they can be imagined as abstract constructs of a giant mega-metropolis, or conversely, a microscopic examination of a tiny world receding infinitely into negative space.
Circulator System opens this Saturday, November 12th, at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco.
Saturday, November 12, 7:00 – 11:00 pm White Walls 835 Larkin Street San Francisco, CA
MEAR ONE (Kalen Ockerman, b. 1971, Santa Cruz, CA) is a contemporary American artist based in Los Angeles.
MEAR ONE began his career in 1986 as a graffiti artist living in Los Angeles.MEAR ONE has been labeled as “The Michelangelo of Graffiti” and “The Salvador Dali of Hip-Hop.” He is considered by many to be Los Angeles’ most prolific graffiti artist because of the way he revolutionized graffiti with his fine-art realism, breaking out of traditional 2D letter forms and using perspective to develop complex characters with dynamic backgrounds in epic scale.By the early 1990’s, he had established a large fan base through his notorious work on the streets, underground hip-hop album covers featuring his iconic imagery, and his involvement in pioneering early street wear clothing and graffiti culture.In 1993, MEAR was the first graffiti artist from Los Angeles to travel to Tokyo and paint graffiti in front of a live public audience.In the mid 90’s, hip hop imagery and cultural icons in his work were replaced with deeper, more introspective conversations based around a politically disillusioned reality that he felt hip-hop had ceased to address.At this point he began his transition from street graffiti to canvas, and began his first body of acrylic and airbrushed paintings.
In 1996 MEAR ONE began performing at live events, and coined the term “Live Art” to describe the spontaneous, performative, and interactive act of painting in front of a live audience, which he considered akin to freestyle poetry and music.In 1998, MEAR was given the back editorial page of Urb Magazine, “The Final Exam,” which served as his vehicle for social commentary for a span of 33 issues over 3 years.In 1999, MEAR ONE was acknowledged for his contribution to graffiti art by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, during their exhibition, Roots, Rhyme, + Rage: The Hip-Hop Story, commemorating 20years of hip-hop history.In 2000, MEAR ONE was selected among the world’s most accomplished graffiti artists for Guernseys Graffiti Art: The Auction, in conjunction with the Bronx Museum’s first major exhibition on graffiti art in the United States.In 2002, MEAR had his ground breaking solo exhibition at the politically oriented 33 1/3 Gallery in Los Angeles, the site where Bansky would make his Los Angeles debut later that year.In 2004, MEAR ONE, Robbie Conal, and Shepard Fairey organized a cross-country art tour, Be the Revolution, to raise awareness of the evils of the Bush-Cheney campaign.In 2010, MEAR joined with Kofie, Mac and Retna to form Vox Humana, a Live Art painting installation, which performed at The Los Angeles Art Show, and Volta 6 Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland.In 2010, MEAR painted Live Art at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in front of 90,000 people and was voted one of the “Most Interesting People to See at Coachella” by LA Weekly.In 2011, MEAR ONE was selected to be showcased in two critically acclaimed museum exhibitions of street art and graffiti, Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Street Cred at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
MEAR ONE’s work is inspired by ancient technology, science, philosophy, mythology and mysticism, along with political and cultural revolution, and notions of the apocalypse.MEAR creates his own mythology from pop culture icons and important historic persons that have shaped our structured reality. He uses art as a tool to express his feelings of frustration with what he feels is a broken system.MEAR uses visual language to provide a critical viewpoint that exposes the history of corruption in America and the world at large. The diversity in his work often depicts an experience of transcendence in sharp contrast with depictions of the horrors of humanity, war, and oppression. His current body of work can be described as a series of allegorical oil paintings that draw upon history, mythology, political theory, conspiracy theory, modern myths, and current events.Stylistically he has been described as “urban psychedelic surreal,” and is perhaps best known for his climactic battle scenes taking place under broad expansive cityscapes with billowing cumulous clouds.
Selected recent exhibitions include: Art in the Streets, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011), Street Cred, Pasadena Museum of California Art (2011), Scope Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland (2010), Volta 6 Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland (2010), Los Angeles Art Show (2010), Vox Humana: El Mac, Kofie, Mear One, and Retna, Rivera & Rivera Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2010)
Additional selected exhibitions include: Mearasma, 01 Gallery, Los Angeles, California(2008), Pacific Northfresh, Upper Playground, Seattle, Washington (2008), Languedocalifornia, Salle Dominique Bagouet, Montpellier, France (2007), Manifest Energy and Radiate, Upper Playground, Portland, Oregon (2007), Celebrate Mickey: 75 Inspirations, Sotheby’s, New York, New York (2005), Los Angeles Biennial, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California (2004), 100 Artists See Satan, CSUF Grand Central Arts Center, Los Angeles, California (2004), Juxtapoz 8th Anniversary Art Show, Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica, CA (2002), Destroying Normality, 33 1/3 Gallery, Los Angeles, California(2002), Made In California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (2000), Last Thursday, Orlando Museum of Fine Art, Orlando, FL (2000), Poster Renaissance, New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA (1999), Calivera Kustom, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (1998), Mear One, 01 Gallery, Los Angeles, California(1997), New Directions: Chaz Bojorquez and Mear One, 01 Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (1996)
Last Sunday, AM attended the screening and Q+A for Kenny Scharf: More, Newer, Better, Nower, Funner, as part of a series of short films at the Levis Film Workshop, each based on an artist in the Art in the Streets exhibition. The footage includes Scharf on day and night time spray painting excursions, as well the creation of his installation for the historic MOCA show. The short film is directed by Nathan Meier and Kenny’s daughter, Malia Scharf, who are collaborating on a feature length documentary and have just reached their Kickstarter goal to fund the project.
We got together with Kenny Scharf after the screening to talk about Art in the Streets and his history with street art in New York and Los Angeles. Questions and answers as well as photos from Brandon Shigeta after the jump…
Arrested Motion (AM): When did you start working with spray paint? What is it about the spray paint medium that you find so compelling?
Kenny Scharf (KS): I began working with spray paint probably back in 1980, and it’s obviously suited to the street, making stuff quickly and on the run, as you know, when you’re doing graffiti. It’s fun to be able to just do something really fast.
AM: Do you consider yourself to be a graffiti artist?
KS: No, I don’t consider myself to be a graffiti artist. I don’t really have a “tag” so I don’t really tag my name like a regular graffiti artist. I consider myself to be an artist who works in the street, and who works with spray paint, using the vocabulary of graffiti, but I don’t consider myself a graffiti artist.
AM: Do you feel there are two distinct generations of graffiti artists that are being represented today? How do you feel that you fit in with the other artists in the show? How do you feel that this scene is changing?
KS: Well, I’m one of the older people in the show, and I always thought I didn’t really fit in with I guess “graffiti” per se, but after the show went up and seeing all the other work, there are so many elements of graffiti that I was attracted to when I was very young. One of them has to do with cartoon imagery, which graffiti artists have been using before I came around. So that attracted me, but I never really felt like I completely fit in. But after seeing the whole show and my participation in it, it was nice for me because I could see the connection between me and other artists that I didn’t really see before.
AM: Can you tell me a little bit about the world you’ve created through your characters, and where does that all come from?
KS: Just my imagination, growing up in L.A. with all the fantasy, the architecture, and being a kid that was watching a lot of cartoons. I’m very attracted to fantasy and the fantastical, so I’d say that had a lot to do with my aesthetic.
AM: After being known as a New York artist for so many years, what brought you back to L.A. and why do you think it’s important for an artist to be in Los Angeles?
KS: Well I’m from L.A., I grew up here. I moved to New York in the late 70’s and I kind of made my name in New York so I became known as a New York artist. But at the same time, my aesthetic is very much rooted in L.A., and the color and the kind of entertainment value that L.A. is about. You could see why I didn’t really fit in completely with the New York art scene, so I kind of brought my L.A. aesthetic to the New York art world.
I moved back to L.A. in ’99, and though I’m bouncing back and forth, I sold my Brooklyn studio. I moved here to do an animation, but it actually got on the air just one time. It was for Cartoon Network, and they never spoke to me again. So that was my lesson in the hard knocks of Hollywood. But I think L.A. is a very exciting and viable place for artists to be in right now. I think that Jeffrey [Deitch] and MOCA for me make it all the more exciting and welcoming. There are a lot of things that L.A. has to offer that New York doesn’t have, and I guess one of them would be space, the amount of space. And now there’s a lot of dialogue with all the different artists, and I really do think that Jeffrey [Deitch] has revitalized it and made it more exciting.
AM: Why do you feel the graffiti to gallery movement that happened during the time of the Fun Gallery wasn’t sustainable? How is it different now?
KS: Why did the Fun Gallery die? Well, I think sometimes the art world moves in waves like almost fashion. I don’t think art should be fashion but it can be and I think when graffiti meshed with the art scene back in the early 80’s, it was quickly eaten up and quickly thrown away. I think some of it has to do with the fact that the audience has a tendency to want to turn art into fashion, where it’s cool and then it’s not cool. And then the other might be that some of the artists didn’t really have what it took to maintain in the art world, and I think that has to do with knowing your art history. It’s kind of important to know. If you’re going to get into the art world and you want to be in art history, then you have to know the art history. And I think a lot of them just jumped into it very naively and didn’t understand why it didn’t sustain. So I think it’s a combination of the art and the audience and the influence of graffiti and street art, even though it sort of went out of fashion and it’s obviously back in fashion, I think that the influence is definitely here to stay. The influence is definitely entrenched in the culture at large.
AM: Regarding the Houston mural, what are your thoughts on your work getting defaced? Why did you feel the need to repair it rather than allowing the urban environment to take on its natural course? And how has it impacted the way you think about your work?
KS: I’m glad that I fixed it. It’s like if you do a big painting, and someone screws it up, most likely you’re going to want to fix it. So that’s why I did that. As far as how I felt about it, I didn’t like it at all. It seemed to be done out of anger, which doesn’t feel good. I didn’t take it personally because I don’t know these guys who did it, personally. I don’t think they did it personally against me. I think they did it because it’s such a highly visible wall, and it was getting so much attention and they thought well, I’m just going to screw it up.
My feeling is this: There’s a lot of walls out there with nothing on it, and there’s a lot of ugly surfaces. Go ahead and do it on that. Why would you need to go over somebody else’s art? Other than just to be mean, I guess the word is. It really is mean. So it was uncomfortable. I’d never experienced that, and it was definitely stressful, but by the third time, it was always the same people that were hitting it. So by the third time, it didn’t really hurt me so bad. It was like ok, whatever. What I didn’t know the first time, was that all the other murals had a protective coating on it, and mine didn’t. So I fixed it and it got hit again, and I fixed it again, and the second time I fixed it, they put the coating on it, so when it got hit again the last time, they just cleaned it off. So if they had the protective coating the first time, it would have just gotten cleaned off, and probably no one would have talked about it. But the fact that I had to go back and fix it myself, it was very difficult actually. It was not pleasant. I didn’t enjoy it at all. But that’s okay, I fixed it. It looks good. I got it back.
AM: People often make associations between you and Keith Haring and Basquiat. How do you feel about these associations? What was your relationship like with them?
KS: Well, I love the associations. We were very close back then. We were kind of three young artists in the same place at the same time and even though our work is very different, I think we had a healthy competition, and we influenced each other in a lot of ways. I cherish that I got to have them as my cohorts, and it was really difficult when they were gone not only because they were friends of mine, but because I felt so alone, like, “Oh my god, how am I going to maneuver now? I don’t have anyone to compare myself with.”
AM: So besides Art in the Streets, what else do you have coming up next?
KS: I’ve got a mural I’m doing in Philadelphia, there’s the film that Malia’s working on, and a show here at Honor Fraser in the spring.
It’s no secret that underground art is currently invading the high art world at an alarming rate. With Retna and Barry McGee being named two of Esquire Magazine’s top 5 artists to see at Basel Miami this year, it’s evident that galleries, museums, and collectors are scrambling to be the first to snatch up the underground scene’s next big thing. Low art is becoming high art, and what used to interest big collectors is now becoming a bit of the same old boring game.
One of the best examples of this changing of the guard was seen at the long anticipated Date Farmers opening this Saturday at Ace Gallery. Many were pleasantly surprised to hear that one of the biggest galleries in L.A. had picked up the street culture-inspired underground art duo. Ace Gallery is one of the longest running and most reputable galleries in Los Angeles, and compared to their star-studded roster of museum veterans, underground artists like the Date Farmers seem like quite the radical leap.
But upon taking a close look at the Date Farmers work, it’s not hard to see what it is about their art that appeals to a mega-gallery like this one. One of the duo’s signature elements is their use of discarded corrugated metal signs, found and brought over by the artists from across the border in Mexico. They seamlessly pair these hand-painted signs with found objects and their own text and imagery, creating humorous juxtapositions and altering its meaning, often with satire and subtle social commentary. Their use of found objects like bottle caps, children’s toys, hand-written notes, and newspaper cut-outs are not all that different from the Rauchenbergs you might see hanging in a museum. And their use of pop-culture imagery and corporate logos is reminiscent of the pop art of Andy Warhol, which you could see selling for millions of dollars at an auction house. In many ways, the Date Farmers have a lot more in common with these guys than some of their contemporaries.
But that alone isn’t enough to grab the attention of a powerful man like Ace Gallery’s founder, Douglas Christmas. The Date Farmers offer something new and enticing for a high art world that is catching on like wildfire to a burgeoning underground art explosion. They combine these historically influential techniques with elements of an underground culture that is far removed from the museums, auction houses, and higher echelons of art: street art, tattoo culture, comic book imagery, and of course, cholos!
But to people who are already familiar with underground art and culture, this is nothing new. There is a lot more to the Date Farmers that sets them apart from others in the scene. One element that is distinctly Date Farmers is their power to take you away to a foreign, yet familiar place. The found signs, their warm color palette, and their elaborately cross-hatched illustrations of desert imagery (snakes, tarantulas, coyotes, and skulls) invokes their hometown of Indio, as well as the desert landscape in Mexicali and Oaxaca, where they retrieve some of their found materials. They give you a feeling of being in a hot desert town that could be somewhere across the border or just down the street. El Mac, an Arizona native, flew out for the show and confirmed “they really capture the warmth and feeling of the Southwest.”
While the Date Farmers work can whisk you away, it also takes you to a personal place. Their common objects, hand-written notes, ticket stubs, and tiny religious images taken from churches glued to the canvas have a way of bringing you to a familiar, personal space. Something in their art may trigger a faint memory of something you once held in your hand but have long since discarded, making you feel like there is a piece of yourself on the canvas somewhere. There is an unmistakable genuineness to their work.
Even their identity as the “Date Farmers” is about as genuine as it gets. Their name is not a metaphor, or a joke, or a play on words. One of the artists, Armando Lerma’s family owned a date farm where Carlos Ramirez, the other half of the duo, worked picking dates. Marsea Goldberg of New Image Art, when asked about why she chose to give them their first show, she said “I chose to work with the Date Farmers because their talent. Their artwork had something very fresh and familiar at the same time. I loved their humor and passion straight off the bat and their anger which never stopped to push and question.”
“I think it’s our job as artists to do this kind of work,” says Armando Lerma. “It’s not art for art’s sake, it’s not meant to be pretty. We do have things that we want to say and… we feel this injustice and all that sort of anti-establishment stuff. That’s where we come from. Representing poor people, it’s just always been our culture. We didn’t ever want to be artists just to make art. It was the message that we wanted to against. And I’m not too sure what the message is but I think there are a lot of messages you can see in the artwork depending on your understanding of what’s going on in the world. But there are so many bad things going on in the world, and I think that we touch upon a lot of those things.”
While everyone is wondering whether or not this recent trend towards underground art will have a lasting impact on the greater art market, Marsea Goldberg responds with a confident, “Yes, of course. It is the current wave and will last and find its place in art history. It is art for the people!” For the Date Farmers and all of us in the underground scene, let’s hope so.
With the overwhelming success of Art in the Streets, it seems like LA can’t seem to get enough of street art lately. And for hardcore graffiti fans, one couldn’t ask for more than a group show curated by Roger Gastman, featuring New York legends CRASH and FREEDOM, alongside historic LA pioneer and figurehead RISK. Last Saturday, AM attended the opening of Blurring the Lines at Corey Helford Gallery, which features new work by these East and West Coast graffiti masters.
This exhibition marks a moment in history, where CRASH and FREEDOM have come to present their first exhibition together since 1987. Their new work is influenced by the iconic imagery of CRASH’s train paintings and FREEDOM’s legendary “Freedom Tunnel” project, where the artist temporarily occupied a two mile stretch of abandoned tunnel and devoted his art to depictions of the homeless. For the LA counterpart, RISK, who created the massive “graffiti alphabet” wall installation at the MOCA show, displays some of his dazzling letter styles, showing off some of what LA does best.
In the middle of the gallery sits a glass table filled with old school fat caps used in the 80’s, tiny little spray tips reminiscent of the ones originally taken from oven cleaners to produce thicker lines. Freedom and Risk were there to sign piece books and answer questions about their history in the graffiti movement, making this a treat for graff fans and museum goers alike. See all the opening pics taken by Brandon Shigetaafter the jump.
Last Friday, Matt Small (interviewed) opened his first U.S. exhibition at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, as part of the BritWeek Art Program in partnership with the British Council and the L.A. Art Machine. Recognition is a collection of paintings, drawings, and mixed media, depicting vibrant portraiture of what the artist views as “the marginalized and voiceless in society, those who are socially excluded.” Small portrays those on the fringes of society, drawing attention to those who may be overlooked, challenging prejudices and bringing forward a shared sense of humanity. Merry Karnowsky relates, “not only is he bringing dignity and recognition to individuals who might otherwise go unnoticed in society, but he also makes a societal commentary as an individual by choosing to paint on recycled materials that are often discarded and disregarded in the same manner.”
His work reflects a remarkable control of fluidity, employing impressionistic techniques with brilliant rainbows of color applied in thick impasto, while maintaining a profound naturalistic clarity. His portraits are on found pieces of wood, metal, and concrete, often combining these materials to construct his own surfaces on which to paint. His current work is largely influenced by his 2010 visit to the Robert Shitima School in Kabwe Village, Zambia, where he worked with SWOON to create art workshops for orphaned children and raise money for the school.
More photos courtesy of Carlos Gonzalez after the jump…
Facemaker opened at Royal/T last Wednesday, curated by Kathy Grayson, director of The Hole NYC and former director of the Deitch Projects. Just in time for Art in the Streets, the eclectic Culver City art space has teamed up with the New York gallery to put on a street-pop frenzy, displaying a playful amalgam of colorful imagery centered on different interpretations of the face.
With street artists Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, Kenny Scharf, KAWS, and SWOON on the roster, alongside Clare Rojas, FriendsWithYou, Ben Jones, and others, the show provides an excellent pop-art compliment to Deitch’s more street-focused MOCA show. 8-bit video animations, screen prints and cutouts, minimal blocks of color, and multi-media are the themes of this show, highlighting new directions in contemporary art. Royal/T fans have long been anticipating a show like this, as owner Susan Hancock has been an avid collector of many of the artists in the show. The shop has even gotten a “face”lift for the season, updating their usual mix of art books and vinyl toys with tons of street art books and a pop-art vending machine.
Mear One has just completed a new silk screen with Modern Multiples, to be released this Friday. It will be a hand separated, nine-color serigraph in an edition of 100, available at 1 pm PST through the Baurmann Gallery, who published the print. The subject is striking yet universal: a triumphant scene of victory as a city square is completely overrun by protesters, drawing upon recent protests in the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. The scene is triumphant and hopeful, as a helicopter beams down on protesters, silhouetted by the blue sky, framed by billowing white cumulous clouds, an atmospheric horizon, and deteriorated buildings.
Mear has had a long standing history with politics, and has created some very controversial work throughout the years. AM sat down with him to talk about his latest print and his upcoming show at the Ace Gallery. Take a look at all at all the questions and answers as well as print images after the jump…
Arrested Motion (AM): Tell me about your new print.
Mear One (MO): My new piece is about global uprising and radical revolution. I’ve been watching the media, reading papers, checking on the internet daily to see what’s going on around the world, and humanity is fed up. I have a city center, with what appears to be a government building collapsing and burning in the background, with a massive protest taking place. From the background to the foreground, I try to describe different pieces of this world that I see that are flawed, decayed, or in need of change. The concept of uprising is a positive one: it’s moving upwards and it suggests growth, like a plant. With the light of oppression shining on the crowd, it’s growing in strength and numbers, and is destined for a positive change.
AM: What was the inspiration behind this new print?
MO: The global situation politically has inspired me to create this piece. What appears to be the falling apart of the western world’s manipulation of the poor, and the eastern world’s dictatorships. I’ve always been inspired by these prophetic times that we’re living in and the complications our world has created. I’m happy and inspired to create work that is in time with our world now. This is the type of work that fulfills me and these are the times that inspire me. I’ve been a political artist most of my life and for some time I felt frustrated through the Bush era with the lack of criticism of the system. This is a highly exciting time to see real things taking place that move society in radical ways. So to see great groups of people rise up and take back from the greedy, selfish systems is really exciting beyond being an artist, as a human. It’s part of the reason why I became a graffiti writer in the first place.
AM: Tell me about your process in making this print.
MO: My process is a combination of more traditional hand-separated layers, and painting techniques I have been developing through my live art. Each layer is hand-painted with acrylic paint on vellum. I use a palette knife with a soft edge and I push paint around and I remove it as I go. I usually have to imagine what the image is going to look like when it’s completed because I’m not working with a computer, and there is no complete image until the silk screen is actually done. Although it’s easier to separate on a computer, I chose to do it by hand because I want a painterly look. I want a human touch. It’s more interesting for me to be challenged with a hand-separated project because the process of exploring without knowing is the same process as to pick up paint and paint a white canvas.
AM: How long have you been working with Modern Multiples?
MO: I did my first print with Modern Multiples in 2001, and it was called, “Getting Away with It.” Richard Duardo published it and it showed a young tagger in Los Angeles hopping over a fence and getting away with it. This process also was all hand-separated, and some of my layers were done in spray paint with additional hand spray-painted embellishments. It’s great to be back in the studio working with Modern Multiples, and we’ll be working on another print release with them again very soon.
AM: What do you have coming up next?
MO: I have an up and coming group show at the Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills on May 6th, 2011. I am working on some large-scale works, which I can’t talk about quite yet because I want them to be a surprise, but they will be engaging the viewer on a transformative level, confronting their human side in a political and philosophical narrative. The show is curated by Bryson Strauss in conjunction with Brit Week LA and Ace Gallery.