Monday, April 4, 2011

Modern Urban Art: Part 1

Beverly rd, Bklyn, Canon EOS, 56mm lens, Kodak 400 film

Nostrand Ave, Bklyn-Topcon auto 100, 50mm len fuji film 200

Nostrand Ave, Bklyn, Topcon auto 100, 50mm lens fuji film 200
2nd Ave & 1st St, Manhattan
debated Art forms of the 20th&21st century.

Urban Art, "from the Latin Urbanus, itself from Urbs(City)is a style of art that relates to cities and city life"-(1). It is often used to summarize all visual art forms arising in urban areas, being inspired by urban architecture or urban lifestyle. Is it "Vandalism" and destruction of private property? Yes, yes it is, like the "Boston tea party". Although I will admit that petty graffiti, lacking any real style, taste, and, Mon dieu, no talent, is just plain wrong. Of course most of us have seen a few "acts of vandalism" that defy reason. It makes you feel something you might not want to. Color, line work, texture, themes, and many things that often bespeaks the genius of a lovable modern, artistic, civil criminal. "Graffiti didn't start out as art, but it got artistic"(2). Since ancient times basic graffiti could be found in many places, in most cities. In   Egypt during her Royal Highness Hatshepsut's rule it was used to slander the queen, showing her being "mounted" by her royal architect. It was said they they were lovers,  him being a commoner who rose to distinction and held her trust more then many who were born to wealth and position. Many of these early "graffiti", pictographic in nature, would resemble "artwork" created by Basquiat, Haring, and "Stay high 149", far into the future. Keep in mind most of the "graffiti"of the classical and ancient world had different connotations than  it carries in the modern world. The tools were different, as were the people and place(s). But the central themes would remain the same, expression of anger, political sentiment, or simple jest. People who did not have the public ability or right to voice their complaints. "Vandals; vandalism: behavior attributed originally to the ancient Vandals,
by the Romans(funny)in respect of culture: Ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable"(3). Vandalism of public or private property for petty reasons, political, personal,
art or all of the above was aided by two major inventions. In 1949 at his wife Bonnie's suggestion, Edward Seymour added paint to existing aerosol technology. Sidney Rosenthal, in 1952 invents the permanent marker. Its simple human nature that grasps hold of modern practicality for means of "anti-social" activites and self expression. Between 1950 and the late 70's America, as the rest of the world,  would go through massive social, economic, and political changes. Through all the madness, turmoil, and seeming chaos of those times came some change, at great cost. With it came economic down-turn in some of Americas great cities. Supply and demand, need and production guided by practicality, fusing with modern urban frustration, due to various social problems, gives rise to a systemic anomaly within the governing order. The urban artist and the vandal would become mirror opposites of one another, and at times becomes one, trading places and walking side by side.
"The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture"(4). The late 60's early 70's saw N.Y.C broke, decaying and getting worse. A dark stage for the "Bohemians" of a new era. Much of the money and middle class were fleeing to the suburbs. At the same time you had a huge number of young people from "middle America" moving to N.Y.C and other cities. Out of this would grow a new crop of young people, in Europe and great Britain as well, who were hungry for something other then, "the California consciousness of the hippie"(5). Graffiti can be looked at as a common thread between the various emerging social groups in N.Y.C and elsewhere, Either in the act or admiration for its own sake, rising popular sentiment, or the underlying implications. A name here,  there, angry solgans, political thought, a feeling expressed, out in the open but yet hidden. Crossing a line, taking a stand good or bad, at least your up and about, reinventing classic human behavior. Around the late 60's graffiti was used by political activist, in N.Y.C,  France(May 1968, one of the greatest instances of swift civil unrest, mostly, towards a viable end.)and Britain, as well as gangs. You could find solgans advocating music("Clapton is god", 1967 london subway) in many areas in these cities. "Tags" of Philadelphia's graffiti writers "Top cat", "Cool earl", and "Cornbread" started to appear. In N.Y.C "Taki 183", working as a foot messenger, would write his "tag" around the streets he frequented. "Julio 204"(the #'s were the streets they lived on), some say started "tagging" first, but never did it outside his own neighborhood(how civil, little criminal:). Permanent markers were already on the scene(Sidney Rosenthal, 1952). Change the tools and the way people absorb information,  and you change the game, "flip the script". As the system changes social anomalies arise. Across the five boroughs competitive vandalism was spurred by "Taki 183", "Julio 204" and others no doubt. 1971, The New York times run's and article about 183 on the front page of its inside section("Taki 183" spawns pen-pals.) In that same year a young man from Paris, "Blek le rat", would vist N.Y.C and be inspired and influenced by our "urban art". He is now and has been one of Europe's best political/social "street artist". He would in-turn inspire Bansky in Bristol England. 1974, Norman Mailer glorified the art of vandalism in "Faith of graffiti", which likened "tagging" in N.Y.C to the work of Giotto and Rauscheuberg. The "Punk" movement was under way and would use graffiti in various ways. "Black flag", "Crass", "Missing foundation" and others would  do their part to popularize the "Art form". In the late 80's an upside down martini glass, the symbol for "Missing foundation", was the most ubiquitous graffito in lower Manhattan, and copied by hard core "punk" fans throughout the U.S. and west Germany. During the mid-70's in N.Y.C the beginnings of a new art scene was happening downtown. A young runaway started "tagging" "SAMO"(same old shit) with a sort of poetry/commentary. Unlike the uptown "graffiti writers" Basquiat's aphoristic graffiti was less colorful and splashy, but would get similar results. 1978, The Village Voice prints an article, "SAMO graffiti: Boosh-wah or CIA"? Word of mouth, mass media, and the movement/travel of people, taking with them what they had seen, had begun to spread the many sides of "graffiti" in various major cities. Powerful visuals and ideas not easily understood at times, but usually always visually arresting. In 1979 graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. For many outside N.Y.C it was their first encounter with "Hip-Hop" and graffiti related to it. Fab 5 Freddy's friendship with Debbie Harry would influence "Blondie's" single "Rapture", the video of which featured Basquiat and others of the downtown art scene. In the same year Sandra Fabara("Lady pink") started writing graffiti while still a student at the H.S. of Art&Design. At the time she became one of the few young women who could compete with the males of the movement. She would go on to work with Jenny Holzer and come to know Keith Haring and others of his circle, who were not 'graffiti writers', but would use its techniques to make their work more visible. Many "street artist", themselves graffiti vandals in there own right, would also use and be influenced by "graffiti writers". In the late 70's "Hip-Hop" was coming up via "cats" like DJ Clive "Kool Herc" Campbell,  "Grand Wizard Theodore", "Grandmaster Flash" and "Jazzy Jay". With many graffiti writers and artists fans of the emerging sub-culture, the two began to overlap.   In 1981 "Blek le rat" started using stencils in his "street art" graffiti, for speed and practicality. By 1985 most if not all "street artist" were using this technique. As artist who were influenced by "graffiti", "graffiti writers", etc. began to get shows via the downtown art scene in N.Y.C, Leo Casteli, Diego Cortez, so did their uptown counterparts. Fashion Moda in the Bronx and Now gallery in the east village were two of the first to start showing "graffiti art" in the early 80's. Despite clear attempts to curtail "graffiti", "street art", etc, society was clearly becoming use to it on some levels, giving it some sense of normalcy. In  a way this gradual acceptance would eventually begin to down-grade it and bring it to a halt, in some ways, by making it legal and allowing it to thrive via popular culture. It could be looked at like the Romans and Christianity, it would be legitimized and absorbed in society by those of influence, money, power, and politics. This of course would benefit society as much as cause various problems. In the next few month we will be viewing other aspects of "Graffiti art",
government ruling against it, corporations that embrace it, and public space given over to "graffiti art" for its beauty. Article and photos by K.K.W # (1)&(3):Wikipedia, (2)&(5):Glenn O'Brien, (4):Klossowski     

Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan, Canon IXY digital
Canal and Wooster st, Canon IXY digital

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