Graffiti Fine Art
You might well question the use of a graffiti style in my work. Elite New York galleries will not show work done in a graffiti style. It is considered the style of the lower class, the poor, the marginalized, the uneducated. It is sometimes mistaken for vandalism. Yet, it is often joyful, clear, meaningful and direct. I consider it native to the Bronx, as native as Bee-Bop or jazz, and, therefore, very American.
Abstract-expressionism was also in tune with American society. It flourished in New York after the World War II years and developed under Hans Hofmann. Hofmann was right. To be creative one must draw upon many sources. Repetition might satisfy the market's demand for a signature style but repetition dulled the senses and the art would lack vitality. For many years I drew in a gestural style using dancers as my models. My work depended on live performances. My pastels would comment on the choreographers meaning, the composer's view, the dancer's interpretation and my own immediate experience. These pastels were historical and unique. When I no longer had the strength to carry the materials and large sketchbooks to concert halls and was told by art dealers that my subject matter would not sell, I sought another avenue.
I liked graffiti, a style favored by my cartooning students. It is gestural painting. My students taught me graffiti. The joy they found in their work was something I understood. Uncomfortable with the stigmatization of graffiti as vandalism, I thought I would elevate it to the level of fine art. In 2006 my exhibition at Bronx Community College showed some early graphic work. By the end of 2014 I had a great many large acrylic paintings that reflected my interest in graffiti.
All were painted on Tyvek®, an amazing material of extraordinary strength and durability. Hundreds of years ago canvas had replaced wood panels partly because of its superior portability. Today Tyvek® has superior portability. It cuts transportation and insurance costs besides being more durable.
Tyvek® is usually sold in large rolls. I buy it in 20-yard pieces from a company that also sells it to kite makers. It has tiny perforations that help bind acrylic paint to the Tyvek® and gives it a flexibility that primed canvas does not have, hence it is safely portable. However, it does retain creases. Some people think creases interfere with the painted image. Perhaps so, but graffiti is also painted on other broken surfaces, like brick or concrete walls. The Arte Povera movement validated the use of inexpensive materials. The creases in the Tyvek® should remind the viewer that a work of art need not be made of precious materials and enveloped in a gold frame. Certainly, the modern graffiti style was massively used by the poor at first and only afterwards was adopted by those who were financially better off. By keeping the creases in my paintings I hope to remind viewers of the values inherent in even the humblest of materials. While I like double-primed Belgium linen, the elite support for expensive oil paintings, I don't think the value of a painting depends on how expensive its materials are. Its value lies in what it says and how well it says it and in the pleasure it provides.
I do not spray paint on walls, trains or hallways as so many young artists do. I paint with brushes in acrylic and prefer the durability of my work to the fugitive nature of theirs. But, we share the same bold style.
Unfortunately, many dealers, critics and observers think all graffiti is vandalism and dismiss it as unlawful. With more public exhibitions of graffiti style art in museums I believe graffiti paintings will become as acceptable as jazz.
Vandalism, as a style of painting, may also have a legal place in our society. After all, when Hofmann tore up his students work to point out compositional improvements, he destroyed their original work. Destructive techniques have been used by artists. On the other hand, graffiti, by its nature, does not require an act of destruction.