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by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 18, 2004
The wall outside the Haight Street headquarters of record company/art collective Future Primitive Sound is like a signpost to an alternate reality. Composed of hive-like edifices with no apparent function, swirly clouds of silver, and a menacingly elongated superhero figure, the mural indicates the distinct styles of the three artists who created it.
In their final exhibit before moving to the New York MOMA, famed graffiti artists Doze Green, David Ellis (Skwerm) and Kenji Hirata, all part of the NYC graffiti art collective known as the Barnstormers, display their most recent pieces at the Future Primitive Sound Headquarters and the Edo Salon/Gallery. The exhibit is called "Studies" and attempts to articulate a thought process preceding the creation of art; the result is a primal, dreamlike menagerie of sketches, symbols, and forms.
Often spoken of in the same breath as Basquiat, Doze Green crossed over from tagging the hallways of South Bronx projects to designing for Kikwear and Ecko, displaying in dozens of NYC galleries and having his work splayed across various edifices from NYC to Marseilles. His sketches and paintings combine the skewered dream logic of surrealism, immemorial figures from world mythology, and the politically provocative lexicon of hip hop. You're just as likely to stumble upon a scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh as you are a bold drawing of Green's dramatic alter ego, Ghetto Defender. Green's work is strewn with renditions of George Bush as a Croatian orphan ("Sketch for Discordia"), panels of John the Baptist, humans with animal appendages, and catchphrases like "Feminine Glorious" and "the Void". Green sports a pagan sensibility that he fluidly incorporates into his futuristic forms and backdrops. What results is a strangely ordered mythology full of magical symbols, superheroes, gods, b-boys, and metropolises.
Like Green, David Ellis harmonizes nature with the chaos of contemporary culture in his displayed panels. Each panel consists of cured tobacco paper with its own unique pattern, dotted with figures ranging from animals to pop culture icons. The work is largely monochromatic and pairs enormous trees with vinyl, strange beasts, and Ellis's signature tornado-like squiggles. Ellis got his start painting local barns in rural North Carolina in the mid-80's. His seamless blend of the organic, artificial, and unknown attest to his mission: "searching for something evolved yet on par with the realness of those early barns."
Kenji Hirata fuses the five elements (water, fire, metal, wood, and soil) in his work to weave a complex narrative that links nature with machines. In the work that's on display, Escher-esque ink drawings are juxtaposed against stove-burned paper, creating arrangements that lend themselves to animation and the suggestion of motion. Hirata's intricate lines and doodles are abstract enough for us to envision them as either aerodynamic missiles or giant dragons, and skillfully evoke visions of speed and aggression.
The work of the Barnstormers expands accepted ideas of what graffiti art is. While it's distinctly urban in its homage to street culture, its political undertones, and its vivid display on the sides of buildings, the art borrows liberally from a variety of aesthetic traditions that ultimately defy labels. To paraphrase Doze Green, the Barnstormers negate and destroy certain things in each of their pieces to create different and new element- the result is work that retains the site-specificity of urban art while bouncing along the terrain of the universal.
Through February 11
At Future Primitive Sound Headquarters
597 Haight St. at Steiner
Hours: Monday - Thursday (12 noon - 6 pm), Sunday (11 am - 8 pm)
601 Haight St. at Steiner
Hours: Friday - Sunday (11 am - 7:30 pm)
by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 18, 2004