Breaking Down These Colorful Walls
The art world is not a simple thing that can be held in one’s hand or be described in a few simple words. The art world is vibrant with many genres and forms of media. The outcome allows an artist to push the boundaries, to create unique pieces not just for themselves, but also for others and to produce pieces that can motivate or inspire a generation. The styles in art all have their own importance and value and yet it seems that one art form is fighting for some type of appreciation and recognition. The art form is known as graffiti. Graffiti is known in many terms, such as street art, wall art, or underground art. In any case graffiti is an art form that is just as unique as the people who create it. The pieces created are similar in some ways to art created by Jackson Pollock, Pop Art, or Picasso and yet graffiti has to defend itself more than other art forms. Underground art does not receive the same recognition as other art genres, despite the growing interest and strides that critics, artists, and collectors in the art world are making to bring this genre to the mainstream.
There are many art forms and with each art form comes countless critics either supporting and defending the art or criticizing without giving beneficial feedback. Graffiti is no stranger to that. Graffiti seems to be a new art form, coming primarily out of New York in the late 1970’s. It started off on subway cars and back alley walls. But consider the hieroglyphics on the Egyptian walls. That was an ancient form of graffiti. Graffiti came about as a way for an artist to leave their signature, name, or “tag” for others to see. The tags were left on subway cars, bridges, walls, wherever the artist thought to leave it. To some people this is seen as pure vandalism. The stigma behind this art form of artists freely leaving their mark on subway trains, bridges, walls; people could not initially view this as a form of art. Merriam-Webster defines vandalism as the willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public of private property. Many graffiti artists do not go out creating art in a malicious manner or to be malicious, so this is why there is an argument against graffiti and vandalism and why the word is not a part of their vocabulary.
“Graffiti is a vernacular art. The remoteness of City Hall and the anonymity of socioeconomic power are confronted by in-your-face tagging, whose anarchic purpose is to register individual identity. It its crudest form it blurts, “I exist!” its more imaginative forms also shout, “And I’m fantastic!”(Knight.) Christopher Knight, an art critic of The LA Times, reviewed the latest showcase of graffiti at the MOCA in California. Art in any form is created first for self, and second for others to notice self. Not necessarily in a conceited fashion, but in a manner that the art or artists just wants to be noticed and appreciated. A critic can make or break a show and with commentary from individuals like Christopher Knight, it gives readers a sense of what to expect, what to look for, or if they should avoid the show altogether. Mr. Knight may not be a full supporter of the art show that took place at the MOCA, but he still gives graffiti art its due props. “Having lived in Hollywood for more than a dozen years in the 1980s and ’90s, I’m pretty well convinced that urban graffiti doesn’t drag down neighborhoods, but instead erupts in areas already largely abandoned by civic forces. Graffiti scrawls a name on hitherto faceless social realities, instantly becoming a convenient target for blame.”(Knight). Graffiti is the black sheep of the art world, trying to be good like Pop Art, trying to make an impression like the Renaissance movement, but yet artists and critics know the deal; that because of the nature of the style of graffiti, it is easy to point the finger and lay blame. “They should be lockin’ up rapists, gangs, drug dealers, real fuckin’ crime. Not no graffiti writin’ easy shit,” says SKUF, a graffiti artist. (Martinez). Realistically, some of the energy spent on finding these spatially unbiased artists as opposed to searching out killers, robbers, and drug dealers, at some times does seem a bit out of hand. Even in areas where the art is commissioned and approved, the artists still may get harassed and bullied by law enforcement.
There are countless graffiti artists who support mainstream recognition and want to share the genre. The OG graffiti artists that started out were simply tagging and sharing their name with anyone who wanted to look. Over time, graffiti artists were sharing bombs and tags as a form of expression. Today artists share graffiti to evoke conversation, to speak out about topics that affect the world, and they are sharing their work worldwide. An artist known as Cornbread, “Cornbread is considered the first graffiti writer because he was the first “bomber,” the earliest example of a person going out on the streets with no other purpose than to write his name on everything.”(Gastman.) “Twombly was one of the first American artists to interest himself in graffiti. Forty years ago, the term didn’t suggest city kids’ spraying their aggressive colored tags all over subway cars and buildings. It wasn’t bound up with the seizure and degradation of public space. It was, so to speak, more muted and pastoral: harmless scratches, small obscenities, chalk on Roman distemper. To adopt graffiti to the painted canvas was to pay homage to European art informal — Fautrier, Wols and especially Jean Dubuffet.”(Huges). ‘Whether you love his work or not - and I’m well aware of the criticism of his work as lightweight socio-political bumpf - it’s hard to deny that Banksy is an artist of sorts. He may well be a prankster with a spray can merely exploring the concept of art as a commodity, but he’s still an artist, not a vandal.”(Northover). Banksy is one of those artists that still have a mystery about him. But his art is found everywhere. There is no getting away from his art and even if he was not trying to do it, he is making such a name for himself that art enthusiasts are experiencing and seeing his art and at the same time they are experiencing graffiti. An image of a child holding a heart balloon showed up on a Facebook feed and without knowing who the artwork was by, it became a favorite piece of mine. A piece called the Red Balloon Girl was considered beautiful to me because of the vibrant, red balloon and the movement in the piece is incredible. I can feel the breeze that blows her hair and takes the balloon right out of her hands. It is simple pieces like this that makes people know Banksy without knowing him. Another piece that looks whimsical but with a twist is of a boy and girl. The boy is happily bringing flowers to his dream girl and she comes with a bat. The black images set on top off brick walls or canvases, create a mood. The mood and sense from this piece has emotions running deep within the boy and the girl.
Graffiti is an art form that since its start has been perceived as vandalism as opposed to art. “You call it vandalism, but I - like many others - found his street works to be sharp, colorful diversions in the otherwise drab streetscapes of London, where I lived for several years.”(Northover). Art is meant to attract the eye. It depends on individual tastes as far as what is actually attractive, pleasing, or in poor taste. Graffiti is an art form that is so wild across the board. The graffiti artists who started out in the 1970’s created artistically done names and tags and now the graffiti artists are creating large pieces of scenery covering large walls and creating messages, not just for their visual consumption, but to feed the masses. The supporters of graffiti may not be the ones who buy it, but the ones who share information about graffiti. It takes magazines and groups showing support, such as the Smashing Magazine, an independent magazine aimed at Web designers and developers. In 2008, they shared an article written by editor-in-chief, Vitaly Friedman. It was an opportunity to expose their community with over 50 pieces of art by incredible artists in the genre. Simple support like that and exposure sparks interest in someone who may have not been exposed or immediately sought it out. “Street culture and graffiti are well-known for being provocative, appealing, bold and uncompromising. Originally used by gangs to mark their territory in some urban area, graffiti’s have now become a rich medium for unrestricted expression of ideas and statements. In fact, creative designers and artists across the globe use this form of art to deliver their message and showcase their work.”(Friedman). The article shares many artists such as Mr. Mucho, zevs, Deuce 7, 6emia, Jakedobkin, and of course Banksy.
Some support of this genre comes from the community allowing the art and using it to beautify the community. “If we see a building that’s for sale with a mural on it, we try to be pro-active about it and contact the new owner,” says Seth Turner, director of Mural Operations and Restoration for the Mural Arts Program. (Paletta). Groups like these are finding a way to utilize the creativity of the artists and give them a positive outlet for creating. Photographer, Eric Firestone captured images of retired World War II aircrafts that got a second lease on life. The massive canvases were colored in spray-paint, acrylics, and ink. “The tradition of using the massive surface of a plane as a canvas has been a tradition in the united states air force for generations. ’Nose art’ became a popular form of graffiti painting in the WWII era as soldiers decorated the fronts of the planes which would carry them into battle. The bone yard project: return trip’ is the second installation of the series in which the artists created a semi-sculptural, painted expression of his/her associations with the history of air travel and warfare.” (DesignBoom). The airplanes are insanely beautiful and breathtaking to experience. The time and dedication put into decorating them also says something about the artists. That cannot be done solely as a job, for the money. One would really love what they do because one jet alone will not be done in a day or two.
D.C. has tried to help with the graffiti movement and embrace it. “MuralsDC was created in 2007 as a publicly funded program designed to channel youthful destructive energies into positive forces throughout the District.” (Siegal) instead of leaving the kids to no outlets and resources, someone took the time to find a way to foster the creative juice flowing through the youth. There are many other groups trying to support the same ideas. Something called Open Walls is a great example. Through Albus Cavus, a collection of artists working with the community and schools, the campaign of Open Walls is supported. “Open Walls is an initiative that creates and maintains outdoor creative spaces and brings artists and educators to collaborate with the local community. Promoting and supporting creativity in public spaces have positive impact on our communities through physical beautification and social cooperation. Especially young people need free areas for their creative outlet and to develop positive relationship with the environment where they live, work and play.”(Albus Cavus). They give an artist many ways to come and join in and create, legally. An artist, amateur or pro could set up a wall painting party if they wanted and bring the parents who might not support their craft, unite a mix of artists, or share with fellow artist a safe, legal, creative way to share the art. Albus Cavus provides information on workshops, lectures, and more.
The graffiti genre is here to stay. It is hard to deny it its spot in the art movement. Anything new has to go through a period of question, but graffiti artists have come a long way. The evolution of graffiti is still changing and maturing. The artists of the pasts are the teachers and the students are learning new tricks and adding freshness to the genre. Graffiti cannot simply be put off as vandalism and to say that it does not rank up there with the other genres just does not fly in the art world of today. Graffiti art will continue to thrive and grow due to the support of the artists, critics, and enthusiasts.
Breaking Down the Colorful Walls
Blackshaw, Ric and Liz Farrelly, eds. The Street Art Book: 60 Artists in Their Own Words. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Print.
English, Ron. “Popaganda.” Popaganda. Ron English, 2010. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.popaganda.com/blog1.php>.
Friedman, Vitaly. “Tribute To Graffiti: 50 Beautiful Graffiti Artworks | Smashing Magazine.” Tribute To Graffiti: 50 Beautiful Graffiti Artworks | Smashing Magazine. Smashing Media GmbH, September 14, 2008. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/09/14/tribute-to-graffiti-50-beautiful-graffiti-artworks/>.
Gastman, Roger, Darin Rowland, and Ian Sattler, eds. Freight Train Graffiti. New York: Abrams, 2006. Print.
“Graffiti Painted World War II Military Planes.” DesignBoom. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/10/view/18786/graffiti-painted-world-war-ii-military-planes.html>.Huges, Robert. “The Graffiti of Loss.” Time. 17 Oct. 1994. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/archive/collections/0,21428,c_graffiti,00.shtml>.
Knight, Christopher. “MOCA’s ‘Art in the Streets’ Gets the Big Picture Wrong.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 29 May 2011. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/29/entertainment/la-ca-knight-graffiti-notebook-20110529>.
Martinez, Hugo. Graffiti NYC. New York: Prestel, 2006. Print.
Murray, James T. and Karla L. Murray, eds. Burning New York. California: Ginko, 2006. Print.
Northover, Kylie. “Graffiti Is Enough to Give a Critic an Art Attack.” The Age. The Age, 8 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/graffiti-is-enough-to-give-a-critic-an-art-attack-20100507-ujxh.html>.
Paletta, Anthony. “In Murals’ Corner.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 16 May 2012. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://topics.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203718504577183244282878170.html>.Time Archives: Graffiti.” Time. Time Archives. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/archive/collections/0,21428,c_graffiti,00.shtml>.
Siegal, Ann C. “Legal Graffiti Artists Create Murals around Washington, D.C. as past of MuralsDC.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011401650.html>.
“Vandalism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 17 May 2012.
Holy Hip Hop
Art and music seem to be a complementary mix. Music plays as the soundtrack to movies and plays and many artists look to music as an outlet during their creative process. There are two artists who have used hip hop, not just as a soundtrack to help their creative process, but as the star in their art. Kehinde Wiley and Alex Melamide are two artists who took the time to display hip hop in a light that not many had seen before. The paintings created by these men show hip hop as a powerful, respectable, regal entity that could be taken seriously as a Monet or Picasso. Their paintings offer a classic and awe inspiring take at the hip hop world.
Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from Yale University in 2001 and became an Artist-in-Residence at the studio Museum in Harlem. He has had numerous exhibitions around the world at various museums which include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. (Wiley website) The paintings done by Wiley have a old European feel but he remixes the paintings in a way that blends the old with the new. He creates large portraits of black men and by replacing the white figures of the originals with the black men, he shows that the black man can be seen as the hero, the general, the commander, but still in his own attire. Wiley allows the men being painted to look through art books he has chosen and to find paintings that spark their interest. Wiley says that he would look at galleries around the world and he was not seeing himself in the art world. He wanted to change that. He started mainly of his paintings in Harlem, and painted from photos he would take.
In 2005, VH1 commission him to create pieces to honor their hip-hop honorees. He used the same approach as before, asking the artists to look through his art books and to find the paintings that they felt represented something within themselves. The artists up for that years honor were Salt ‘N Pepa, L.L. Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Ice T, and Big Daddy Kane. The first picture is that of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The painting is oil on canvas and it is 72 by 96 inches. The background is orange with a colorful border. The men are dressed in their everyday attire but the background is laid out with the regal feel that is Wiley’s trademark. They are carrying staffs but dressed in their own clothing. This is a smart way to blend his love of old and remaining true to the people he is painting in this piece. I look at this piece and feel like they are like kings, standing proudly before the land. The gentleman with no shirt and the hand on his waist, alone without the staff or the other men, might convey a very different message, but like this, he seems like an authority figure. In the 96 by 72 inch, oil on canvas painting of L.L.Cool J, we see that he sits upon his chair in such away one might call the simple seat, a throne. The background is green and red and he is seating in a brown office style chair. He has in a white suit with a baseball cap. He has a calm, direct look on his face, with a pose and posture that screams confidence. I like this painting because it really has that feeling of a painting one might find in the country club or the foyer of a million dollar home. But it doesn’t look out of place the way one might think it would if he in fact was hanging up in the country club. It’s believable, clean lines, and sharp colors make this a powerful piece that I really enjoy. The flow of the painting has power and it demands to be noticed. The last painting is of Ice T. He is wearing a black and red-trimmed shirt and pants with a baseball cap to match, He sits upon his throne, which is gold and has drapery flowing from it in a shade of vibrant red. .Grasping his cane or staff, he is showcased as a man who means business. He looks almost scary in the painting. The expression on his face seems lethal, like at any moment he could throw the cane through your heart.
VH1 picked the right man for the job. The pieces are truly beautiful. In a few couple hundred years, I belive artists can look to these pieces by Wileyas a source of inspiration in the same was he looked back at art.
Another painter that found a way of showing the beauty in hip hop is Alexander Melamid. He was born in Russia in 1945. his early works of art were done with fellow artist, Vitaly Komar. The two created pieces of work that the Russian governmetn did not approve of. “Komar and Melamid often faced government opposition and harassment. In 1974, they exhibited Paradise, featuring a Moscow apartment covered with light fixtures and small sculptural figures in various historical styles and movements. Audience members were locked inside and forced to listen to official Soviet radio. The installation was demolished on state order shortly after it opened. Just one year later, they participated in the Bulldozer Show, an outdoor exhibition that also was bulldozed by the government. These and other occurrences resulted in their expulsion from associations such as the youth section of the Moscow Artists Union and the Graphic Artists’ Association.”(MOCAD) They went to America and shared their art, and in 1988 was able to finally receive citizenship after the Soviet union denied them twice when they requested exit visas. The two opened the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. The two had over 60 exhibitions all over the world and although they had great success, in 2003, they parted ways. It was around this time that Melamid’s interest in hip hop was sparked. His oldest son is a music video director who introduced him to a few well known people of hip hop. For two years he studied the men and with photographs, was able to come out with paintings for an exhibition known as “Holy Hip-Hop”. Based in Detroit, this exhibition was a great way to get the younger community into the museum and art world and to see that art did not have to follow rules. The fact that a white man from Russia created these beautiful pieces makes me respect him a little more than others. He took the time to get to know them and to show them in an elegant, strong, way. The first piece is of Rev. Run. Mr. Simmons’ is dressing in a suit and collar, black cap, and is talking on a corded telephone. He is seated on a couch. Who he is talking to is up to the viewer’s imagination. He could be talking to his family, working out a new business venture, or talking to the president. Based off of what I know of Rev. Run, I get the impression that he is serious about the topic. He may be laughing at the end of the conversation with whoever is on the phone, but right now, he seems to be very engaged in the matter at hand. I like this piece because it seems like the way we would see Rev. Run on television. Melamid paints in a style know as Old Masters, meaning he would use a small palette of colors in his paintings. He also used highlights to help emphasize areas in his paintings.
Another great piece is that of Kanye West. This looks like how he was in the beginning of his carrier; the blue baggy jeans, brown hoodie, big watch with a chain to match and his backpack on stage; like he was ready to hop on a plane right after his shows. The painting is 88 by 56 inches. It is an oil painting done on canvas. The light behind him makes such a glow, it radiates off the painting. I can hear Kanye singing, “All Falls Down” when I look at this piece. He is looking right at the viewer, like he is on stage. He looks confident and ready, walking around with that “swag” walk. I appreciate this piece for being a “look how he started” piece. If Kanye looks back at this piece, even now, he can see the change, progression, and growth he has made in his musical career. And now art show would be complete without this man, Snoop Doggy Dog. Simply dressed, white sneakers, brown pants, white shirt, and a skull cap; he is seated at a desk. When I initially looked at this painting, I thought he was in the courtroom. I really had to examine it to notice the computer mouse in his hand. The expression on his face made sense; he is so focused on the computer, maybe mixing a song, answering emails, doing some type of show prep. I like to see him like this. The focus is painted so well in this piece. It’s a piece that I really liked the more I looked at it. Hard work, determination and confidence in
w ho are, what you love and there are no excuses as to why you cannot make it big at whatever you want. I can see and feel that from looking at this piece.
Alex Melamid and Kehinde Wiley might seem like two different people, but when it comes to art, they both share a passion for creating pieces that get people talking. They used color in two different ways when painting, but both still were able to produce timeless, classical pieces that were appreciated by many people. They both painted large scale pieces, in a way that the hip-hop artists are sometimes viewed as larger than life by their fans. The hip-hop world seems like one thing or something that could be described in one way. But these men showed that hip-hop can be beautiful and bold, that hip-hop is a force that demands to be noticed. And they appreciated these men and what they were doing for hip-hop or how they affected hip-hop. They gave these artists the spot light, center stage, and brought them a new audience.
http://mocadetroit.org/exhibitions/melamid.html. Holy Hip-Hop!. New Paintings by Alex Melamid. 2008. Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Retrieved from the internet March 25, 2012.
Prelates and Rappers Strike a Pose. Kino, Carol. The New York Times. March 9, 2008
Retrieved from the internet March 20, 2012.
Liner Notes is a showed based around the inserts that come with your CD’s or the notes that musicians leave as they are writing and creating music. This was a production which comes from Paige in Full creator, Paige Hernandez. The group includes a few artists and musicians who share the story of a music group, or era. It was held on March 1 at the ATLAS Performing Arts Center in DC as part of The Intersections – A New America Arts Play Festival. It was like a mini karaoke session, but with wonderful singers who also shared some information about the artists. The hour long show included a question session at the end. There were very interesting questions, like how did the artists feel about sampling. Overall the artists supported sampling because it was a way to bring the old to the new. It introduced generations to forgotten music and gave it a new life and feel.