Gane and Texas in Philadelphia
Gane and Texas in Philadelphia

Sorry if some of these links are a bit dated, but hopefully they’re still interesting:

  • Don Leicht, the original Space Invader, has a exhibition of his work on now at Mary Colby Studio & Gallery on City Island in the Bronx. Leicht has been making space invader characters for the street and for galleries since 1982, often in collaboration with John Fekner. Both Leicht and Fekner have never really embraced the spotlight in the way that others from their generation have (particularly in recent years), and so Leicht’s place in early New York street art often goes unacknowledged. Whereas Space Invader’s characters are generally lighthearted and fun and more about interesting placement than interesting content, Leicht’s content is political. His invaders, painted in camo, serve as a reminder/warning that war is real and of the relationship between videos games and the military.
  • The app NO AD, which I was pretty excited about when it launched and even more excited about once I got to try it out myself, recently announced their next exhibition on the app. NO AD is working with the International Center of Photography to display images from their current exhibition, Sebastião Salgado: Genesis. I love that the ICP is into this idea. NO AD is a fantastic exhibition platform, but it’s also a bit of an odd one, so it’s very cool to see the ICP embracing both augmented reality technology and an anti-public-advertising platform. Click here for more info on the exhibition.
  • Speaking of public advertising, this crazy thing happened in Hong Kong.
  • And over on Hyperallergic, Julia Friedman addresses the major discrepancy in how  New York City enforces laws relating to public advertising. Essentially, the current enforcement strategy seems to punish artists and activists while leaving corporate interests to do whatever they please.
  • I really enjoyed this article on the painfulness of advertisers appropriating street art and graffiti for their own ends, to the point that Perrier actually replaced a mural of Nelson Mandela with an advertisement featuring the hashtag “#streetartbyperrier”.
  • Speaking of water companies, street art and hashtags…  The folks being the for-profit bottled water company WAT-AAH (aka Let Water be Water LLC, or as I like to call them “Evian for Kids”) sent The L.I.S.A. Project NYC a cease and desist letter for using a hashtag that they claimed to own the trademark for (they don’t). Animal has more on that ridiculous story.
  • Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada created a massive piece on the National Mall. Impressive piece. Impressive location. Good stuff.
  • Conor Harrington had a great show in NYC, at a pop up space with Lazarides Gallery from the UK. I went up for the opening, and despite the space being lit like a haunted house and seemingly pumped full of mist from a fog machine, the work looked even better than I had anticipated. Plenty of artists can paint traditionally beautiful paintings, and plenty of artists can use drips and tags and half finished elements and things like that to make their paintings look “street” or to make it look like they are saying “screw you traditional notions of beauty and fine art painting!” Few artists can do what Conor does, which is to utilize all of those styles and techniques, from beautifully staged scenes painted with perfection to all the different ways to make a painting look rough and cool, but utilize those things in the right balance and with respect. To Conor, it looks like a drip is no different than the a detailed brush stroke. The “disruptive” elements look like they belong. He isn’t trying to destroy painting. He’s trying to bring it to new heights, and he’s much better at it than most.
  • It was a surprise to see that Jonathan Jones at The Guardian actually liked a recent Banksy piece, but then again it was a good piece with an even better story in the end.
  • This article on the utter failure of a major “street art biennial” in Moscow is an absolute must-read.
  • This fall I’ve seen (online) two interesting pieces of endurance art, both of them by female artists in New York City who took to endurance art to address what they see as crises.
    • gilf and Natalie Renee Fasano walked 15 miles barefoot around the city. 60 million or more people worldwide live every day without shoes. Interestingly, Gilf’s project was not so much an awareness campaign as an opportunity for self-reflection that she documented and publicized. None of her Instagram posts on the performance provide information about what can be done about this problem, and the video documenting the work provides no context except the text “A day in the Shoes of the Shoeless with gilf!” On some level, I find that frustrating. But of course the work wasn’t about raising national awareness for this issue. gilf’s own description of the project makes that clear. It was more a project for herself. And that’s great and useful too, but on some level I can’t get over the missed opportunity here to make the project more than personal suffering/meditation and self-promotion. Why not simply say, “And if this project is bringing the issue of people without shoes to your attention and you want to help, here’s something you can do.”? Yes, it’s a personal project for self-reflection, but it’s also an artwork that was promoted all over the web. So, I’ll close by saying that if you do want to help provide shoes for people in need, Soles4Souls seems to be the place to go (thanks to Animal for that tip).
    • Emma Sulkowicz has to be one of the bravest, most impressive people I’ve read about in a long time, and I almost hesitate to call what she’s doing an art piece, lest it devalue her actions in an age when so much art is devoid of the kind soul this particular performance/way of living requires. For nearly two months, Sulkowicz has been carrying her dorm room mattress with her to every class, every lunch break, every party, and everywhere else she goes, constantly, and she says she will continue to carry her mattress with her “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.” More about this piece, and the reaction she’s received from her fellow students at Columbia University, at Hyperallergic.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

John Fekner and Don Leicht at Welling Court

Don Leicht and John Fekner. Photo by Jeewon Shin.

We’ve got more today from Ad Hoc Art’s Welling Court Mural Project. John Fekner and Don Leicht (studio visit) are two of my favorite stencil artists, and two of street art history’s most underrated pioneers. John sent over these photos of their contributions to this year’s Welling Court Mural Project, which included new works and additions to their piece from two years ago. About the additions, Fekner says, “We were prepped to do a new wall ¢hange$, but decided to update the wall as a tribute to graffiti artist Comp, Michael Wolovich (1989-2012) who painted the original wall with us in 2010.”

John Fekner. Photo by Jeewon Shin.

Here’s what Fekner has to say about this piece:

The stencil project, He Was Simply A Guy Who Painted Messages In The Street is intended to function on two levels.

Most every artist will do a self-portrait at some point in his or her career. Mine is not a traditional portrait; it is a self-portrait with words.

Every individual is unique in the world and has something to contribute no matter how small the thought or message might be. Perhaps a work on the street may provide a laugh or help someone get through a difficult moment, an anxious night, a period of strife or uncertainty in their life. Yes, some people may not like it; but art on the street is for everyone. It may be funny, soothing, insightful, joyous or reflective. It is an instant of communication intent on causing an immediate reaction on the viewer.

The project is also a tribute to every unknown individual whoever grafftied, scrawled, scratched, wheat-pasted, stenciled or spray painted without the public ever knowing the name of the anonymous person.

An artist’s knowledge is their trade. Artists are here to visually express and share universal concepts of peace, love, hope, compassion, equality and understanding with the general public. Art in unexpected places: anywhere, anytime, anyplace and everyone.

Don Leicht and John Fekner. Photo by Jeewon Shin.

Photos by Jeewon Shin

Michael de Feo curating a show in Connecticut

Dan Witz

On Every Street is a show opening this Thursday at Samuel Owen Gallery in Greenwich, CT. Curated by Michael de Feo, it features the work of dozens of street artists. On Every Street includes a diverse of street artists both in style and (from Hargo to Tony Curanaj) and when they were active outdoors (from Richard Hambleton to Gaia).

Here’s the full line up: Above, Aiko, Michael Anderson, Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, C215, Tony Curanaj, Michael De Feo, D*Face, Ellis Gallagher, Keith Haring, Ron English, Blek le rat, Faile, Shepard Fairey, John Fekner, JMR, Gaia, Richard Hambleton, Hargo, Maya Hayuk, Don Leicht, Tom Otterness, Lady Pink, Lister, Ripo, Mike Sajnoski, Jeff Soto, Chris Stain, Swoon, Thundercut, Dan Witz.

Images courtesy of Michael de Feo

Vandalog and M.A.N.Y. present Up Close and Personal

In two weeks, Vandalog and Murals Around New York (MANY) will be putting on a pop-up show in a New York City apartment. Up Close and Personal mostly came out of two ideas: 1. Street artists tend to work large outdoors and we wanted to challenge people to make art on a small scale and 2. We’ve all seen artwork in galleries that either would only look good in a gallery but not in a home, or is just too big to fit into a typical apartment and we wanted to see something different from that. With Up Close and Personal, the show itself is taking place in an apartment on the Upper West Side, and we have capped the size of the artwork at 30 x 30 inches, with an emphasis on going as small as possible.

I’ve worked with Keith Schweitzer and Mike Glatzer of M.A.N.Y. to curate this show, and we’re really excited with the line up that we’ve managed to put together: Aiko, Chris Stain, Clown Soldier, Don Leicht, Edible Genius, Elbowtoe, Gaia, How & Nosm, Jessica Angel, John Fekner, Know Hope, Logan Hicks, Mike Ballard, OverUnder, R. Robot, Radical, Retna, Skewville, Tristan Eaton, Troy Lovegates aka Other and White Cocoa.

Up Close and Personal opens May 12th from 7-9pm. We’ll also be open from 7-9pm on the 13th. Then noon-9pm and noon-7pm on the 14th and 15th respectively. Particularly on the 12th, it is possible that we’ll be shifting people in every half hour or so, since the space is a small apartment. The show is taking place at 217 West 106th Street, Apartment 1A, New York, NY 10025 – Between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues.

Hope to see you in a couple weeks!

Chris Stain

Pantheon now open in NYC

Pantheon: A history of art in the streets of NYC, opened recently across the street from MoCA in NYC and runs through the end of this week. It looks like a fantastic underground alternative to MOCA’s Art in the Streets show opening this week in LA. I’ve got a lot of respect for show who puts a group like John Fekner, Richard Hambleton, Don Leicht, Freedom, Stikman, UFO and John Ahearn all together. Check it out at 20 West 53rd Street, b/w 5th & 6th Avenue in NYC this week.

Photos by Luna Park

Interview with John Fekner

In the 70’s, only a few artists were using the streets as way to reach out to people, communicate and ultimately make art. Accompanied by Don Leicht, his long time collaborator, John Fekner brought art and help to areas in New York that were in need at the time. “Decay/Abandoned” , “Wheels Over Indian Trails”,”Post no bills, Post no dreams”, etc were only some of the hundreds of messages John spray painted all over New York. What some might have called vandalism, some others saw as a welcoming statement, and some others saw as a sign that things needed to get fixed in the city.

I have to say, having the chance to interview John Fekner was truly an honor. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. This interview an excerpt from the exhibition catalog of the upcoming exhibition, PANTHEON: A history of art from the streets from New York City. Please support their Kickstarter, they only have a few days left to reach their goal.

To find out more about John Fekner, please visit his website (lots of cool stuff in there).

Fekner 1979-1990

I know you have lived in New York your whole life, and started to do public art back in 1968. What drove you to make art in public areas?

I was a city kid, as soon as I stepped outside it was hard: concrete, asphalt, jackhammers, traffic lights. Long Island City factories were a few blocks away. Summer was handball, winter was roller hockey, and so on. Always in the street-Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights. The first outdoor text was in the Heights, where I hung out as a teenager in 60s. At seventeen, with few friends I hung over the roof of the park house and on the front we painted the phrase Itchycoo Park in two-foot letters.

What about living in New York influenced your work?

The soot belching out of apartment rooftops, chimneys, diesel engines and the smell of jet fuel near La Guardia—a love/hate with industry and technology.

You and Don Leicht have been collaborating for years. How and When did you and Don meet?

We met in graduate school in the Bronx in 1973. The first crit class we had we both showed up with invisible work-mine were portraits and his were abstract narratives. Everyone in the class was stunned- they couldn’t see anything…so we really hit it off…fellow Libras-born in October.

When did you both decide to start collaborating in art?

When we shared a studio at P.S. 1. In 76. We were both placing hidden artwork and drawing on the walls in and around the building.

What is it about collaborative work that you enjoy the most?

Collaboration is the closest I get to working in a band setting. With Don, ideas are exchanged, the visual journey take twists and turns and ultimately you make a combined image that works. Sometimes he plays lead, sometimes I take over at some point. The finish painting is a blend of both of us…it isn’t about he painted this and I said that. Sometimes it completely opposite from what it appears to be. It’s like a lyricist and a piano player. Sometimes the words comes first, sometimes the music or vice-versa. You play off each other’s input.

South Bronx- Fekner 1980

The Warning Signs project brought attention to areas and communities in need of help at the time. Could you tell me a little about this project and how it helped you develop into the artist that you are now?

I was paying a lot of attention to my immediate environment and questioning why something was broken and not being repaired. I tried to emphasis the problem that other people blocked out of their vision-I made it more visible. Issues pertaining to the human condition and the environmental are still as important to address and are in newer works, whether it’s a video or a series of paintings.

South Bronx-Fekner 1980

When researching about your work I found out that you studied poetry as a teenager. How does poetry influence your work?

Poetry is like life- you are in moment and then it’s gone. A brief reflection on life-one instantaneous boom-and you move on..a few seconds of a lifetime captured in a few words.

What inspires John Fekner?

Discovering or unearthing something that strikes an immediate chord and compels me enough to immediately react and create something new in the appropriate media.

Your favorite place in NYC?

Listening for that eternal echo under the Sunnyside viaduct: And any street in NY that still has cobblestones; reminds me of family and friends who are no longer here. And walk those streets on a holiday morning very early when no one is around…it feels like Edward Hopper will walk right by you..

You usually work with stencils and metal, why stencils? And why metal?

Stencils have that official proclamation thing going on… Don’t Touch – Don’t Enter built into it. Metal has an industrial aura and is a reflection of our environmental destruction filled with the other culprits: plastic and rubber. It’s so unnatural but is natural to us city dwellers.

“ Our children are fighting a terrible war. Whole families are being sent to the battlescreen” -Fekner/Leicht 1982

And then there is music and multimedia.How did you ended up working with computer generated work and video?

The idea of using new tools such as audio and video began in the mid-70s with the advent of the Sony portapac camera which was not that portable! DIY was a big thing so having audio/film camera equipment to document the stencils was natural. In 1981, NYU invited Crash, Keith Haring, Warhol and myself to experiment with a new computer and that’s where I created Toxic Wastes From A to Z (coming after you and me).

Hip Hop seemed to be a big influence in your life and art. Would you tell me the role music plays in your life? any last recordings, and your feelings about music back then and now?

Artists like Laurie Anderson, Alan Suicide were all doing art/music at the same time in the 70s. I began recording in my friend’s basement in the late 70s and had audio components as part of my indoor installations. By the winter of 1979 I was spending a lot of time up at Fashion Moda and just picked up on the beats/raps and then made a few records with Bear 167 from the South Bronx. Still like to add musical components on the video pieces. Recently I’ve been listening to some different things like Lower Dens, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Woodsman, anything that sounds incomplete, like a backing track-I dig that!

How do you feel about the street art scene in New York nowadays?

Street art is the fastest visual conductor out there beating out advertising, guerilla marketing and social media. There is always something different to see somewhere around the world. It’s always the young that bring sometime new to the street, but unfortunately, they don’t stay young for very long. Careerism, branding, promotion-driven projects get in the way of who you really are. Then the next trap, like striving to become part of a gallery’s stable of artists; what am I…a horse? But that’s how the gallery system treats and controls you.

Welling Court mural project – Fekner/Leicht 2010

Favorite street artists?

There’s a young kid around the block who works with colored chalk. She absolutely never does the same thing twice. I don’t dare talk to her. I can’t wait for warmer weather to see what she’s up to next. That is the essence of a great street artist. There’s consistency, she will be at the same spot. I’m not a wall-trippin’ round the world guy. Offhand, Stephen Powers Love Letters was very cool. Great connection to the community.

Any new projects coming up?

New paintings with Don Leicht in the studio and there’s my STREAMDROPSTRASSE text work in photo streams and the ongoing Stanley Cup project plus some hidden projects around as well.

All photos courtesy of John Fekner Research Archive @1979, 1980, 2011
Presidential Candidate Ronald Reagan in South Bronx @AP/Wide World Photos 1980
Your Space Has Been Invaded ©Peter Bellamy 1982
Mother Earth Will Survive Welling Court Mural Photo: Lukwam 2010

Best of: John Fekner

One of my favorite artists, and maybe the most under-appreciated artist from the first wave of street art, is John Fekner. These 10 artworks are some of favorites from Fekner and his collaborator Don Leicht. They were made between 1980 and 1993.

Fekner is probably best-known for the the text he stencils outdoors in New York City:

Leicht and Fekner always seem to be making art far ahead of their time. Here are a few examples:

Fekner was reusing found paintings in the 1980's

Reminds me of a certain Banksy from earlier this year in Detroit, except much better
John Fekner and Don Leicht in 1982. Photo © Peter Bellamy 1982
Fekner and Leicht made this in 1993

And finally, Fekner has also made video art and music. Here a video from 1981 called Toxic Wastes From A To Z:

Photos courtesy of John Fekner

Studio visit with John Fekner and Don Leicht

Back in July (and actually again in August), I had the pleasure of visiting the studio that John Fekner and Don Leicht share. John and Don are two artists from one of the earliest generations of street art. John made his first piece of street art in the late 1960’s, and really got involved in the late 1970’s as one of the pioneers of text art and stencil art. Don is probably best-known as the original space invader. In the early 1980’s, Don was spray painting stenciled space invader characters around New York City and making space invader sculptures.

Detailed view

For me, the best part of visiting the studio is that Don and John still own what is perhaps their most important and powerful indoor work. Your Space Has Been Invaded. Our Children are Fighting a Terrible War. Whole Families are being led to the Battlescreen was made in 1982, and it takes pride of place in the studio. With this artwork, the duo actually predicted something that has since become very true: Soldiers are being trained by video games (although the effectiveness of that training may be in doubt).

I feel like an idiot for not getting a detailed shot of the wooden and metal space invaders on this wall. Don’s invader sculptures have some beautiful details.

Canvases by Don

Many of their paintings are on a pretty large scale; there are probably a few stacks of these canvases (mostly by Don, a few collaborations) 10 deep around the studio.

John told a funny story about the above piece. At one point, he was putting up stencils that said things like NY+DK or DK, so when DKNY was launched, friends called to ask if John had started a fashion line!

These little Pac Man ghosts were some of my favorite pieces in the studio. At first they look like cute little characters, but then you realize that the word “WAR” is written on them all, and the reality of the art sinks in.

The painting on the left says "The Loss of Life is Meaning Less"
Techno Plaques by John

The Techno Plaques are collages made of CDs.

Detail of a Techno Plaque

The studio visit was a really amazing experience, but John’s place in art history comes from his street art. At some point, I’m sure I’ll do a post here with a “best-of” selection from John’s amazing career, but for now, you can check out his website. After seeing the studio, John actually took me to see some of his street art. Throughout his art career, John has been painting at a park in New York that he has nicknamed Itchycoo Park. It was the site of his earliest street art and he curated an outdoor show there in 1978 with artist like Gordon Matta-Clark. I wanted to see one of the birthplaces of street art, so I was excited to visit the park, but John surprised me when we arrived by showing me some of his more recent stencils at the site!

Back in 1983, John painted the word “Memory” on a handball court at the same site, now he’s come back to reflect.

I cannot thank Don Leicht and John Fekner enough for the opportunity to see their studio. They are two of the original street artists, and with street art reaching such popularity these days, it’s important to not forget where it started.