Unknown artist in Philadelphia

Loving my time so far at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, but it’s definitely more than a 9-5, so it’s time for me to play catch up yet again…

  • Speaking of the Mural Arts Program, I am really pleased to say that we now have a major Shepard Fairey mural in Philadelphia. Find me some day and ask me the whole story of this mural, but let’s just say it’s complicated and thank goodness for Roland at Domani Developers for getting us a wall at the last minute.
  • We also have a new much more politically-charged mural from Shepard Fairey through The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, and while I’m sure the process for that was also quite complicated, my friend Wayne took care of that and all I had to do was pitch Shepard on the idea of a big wall in NYC and the property owner on the idea of a Shepard Fairey mural on his building (neither of which were too difficult). I’m absolutely honored to have played even my small role in each of these murals. It was my first time working with Shepard, and it was a pleasure.
  • Two real kings of NYC graffiti, Blade and Freedom, have shows open now at the Seventh Letter flagship store in LA. Blade is an undisputed subway king who also pushed graffiti forward as an art-form, a rare combination. Freedom is a personal favorite of mine (his piece in my black book is a real prized possession) for combining pop art, an ability to paint very well, comics, and graffiti in an intelligent way without too much of an ego. I’m sad to be missing both of these shows, but I hope LA will give them the love they deserve.
  • Hi-Fructose posted some interesting GIFs by Zolloc, but the best part of the post is the first sentence: “While GIFs have yet to find an established place in the art world, they’re fascinating because they have the potential to go beyond the frozen image in two dimensions.” Of course, Hi-Fructose is part of the art world, so just having them post Zolloc’s GIFs counts for something. Hi-Fructose seems to be saying (albeit hesitantly) that GIFs being in their corner of the art world, which is great. That’s not a bad corner to be in, and it’s a hell of a lot better than nowhere. So, why be hesitant? If the work is fascinating, embrace it.
  • Oh Olek, always the best of intentions, but the results are not so great…
  • Some absolutely great ad takeovers.
  • These projections from Hygienic Dress League are a bit different. Very cool though. Anyone know of other artists who are projecting onto steam?
  • Smart Crew have teamed up with Beriah Wall on a series of cool collaborations. Does anyone else see this as further evidence of Smart Crew growing up, aka transitioning from a crew producing illegal graffiti into a brand or collective that does legal (and sometimes commercial) work referencing illegal graffiti? Nothing wrong with that. I’m just noting the transition.
  • Even when recycling old work, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is always poignant and powerful. She’s also created a new poster of Michael Brown that you can download on her website.
  • I’ve been saying for a while that there’s great similarity between GIFs and street art, so I’m a big fan of this series of installations organized by Guus ter Beek and Tayfun Sarier.
  • Hyperallergic has been covering artist reactions to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Public performances in Philadelphia (by Keith Wallace) and New York City (by Whitney V. Hunter) exemplify to the unsurprising obliviousness to the situation or at least lack of caring that so many people openly display (for more, see Kara Walker at Domino). It’s amazing to see these two striking performances go widely ignored while it’s mostly pretty but empty murals that go viral. Is that the state of street art and muralism today? I hope not. And of course, maybe what makes those performances so jarring online is that they were ignored on the street.
  • I have tried to resit the allure of Pejac’s work for a while, but no more. Yes, some of the jokes are cheap and feel twice-told, exactly the sort of easy made-to-go-viral work that I am complaining about in the previous paragraph, but Pejac is painting them really well, and they consistently catch my attention. As much as I would like to write him off as a Banksy-ripoff who even came to that idea a few years too late, I can’t do so any longer. The work is actually quite good. Have a look for yourself.
  • Last week I was in Atlanta for the Living Walls Conference. A great time was had by all. I was there to speak with Living Walls co-founder Monica Campana and Juxtapoz editor Austin McManus about the evolution of street art and graffiti over the past five or so year, and Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell was there to paint a mural. Atlanta got some real gems this year, including new work by Moneyless, Troy Lovegates and Xuan Alyfe in collaboration with Trek Matthews. Juxtapoz has extensive coverage. Congratulations to Living Walls on a truly impressive 5th anniversary event.
  • This coming week I’ll be in Norway for Nuart and Nuart Plus. The artist lineup features some of my personal favorites, including John Fekner, SpY and Fra.Biancoshock. I love Nuart because it’s a festival that always strikes a balance between the best of the best artists painting epic murals on the “street art festival circuit,” and the oft-under-publicized but highly-political activist artists intervening in public space. Putting these artists in the same festival strengthens the work of everyone there, and reminds us that murals can serve many different purposes. I’ll be speaking at Nuart Plus on behalf of the Mural Arts Program in a few capacities. I’ll be moderating a panel about activism in art, presenting couple of short films during Brooklyn Street Art’s film night, sitting on a panel about contemporary muralism and giving a talk about how government-sanctioned art and muralism can be used to promote positive social change. There will be a lot of great speakers at Nuart Plus this year though. Brooklyn Street Art has the whole line up for the festival and the conference.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Web hosting craziness link-o-rama

Photo by Luna Park

For the last week or so until today, we’ve been in the process changing Vandalog’s web hosts. No need to get into the technical details, but now the site should run more smoothly and with less downtime. Unfortunately it means that we haven’t been able to write anything new on the site since that process began (everything that’s gone online was pre-scheduled). So this is a mega-link-o-rama combining the usual weekend link-o-rama content with stuff that I could have written about last week even if I’d had the time.

Photo by Luna Park

Freedom Tunnel reboot

The outside of the tunnel

It seems that portions of The Freedom Tunnel were recently buffed, including some of Freedom’s murals. Maybe this has something to do with our recent interview with Chris Pape aka Freedom reminding people about this graffiti treasure trove… More than likely though, it had to do with the New York Times article about Freedom and his work in the tunnel. Not all of Freedom’s work was painted over, but some was. I’m not sure how much work was painted over by other artists. Luckily, people are already back in and repainting the tunnel with fresh artwork, including Gaia. Here are some recent photos of the tunnel by Dan Solomon:

Some work by Freedom survived, alongside Dart, Maven and others

Part 1 of Gaia's work "Robert Moses and the hand that creates and destroys," painted over buffed Freedom pieces. Robert Moses is the man responsible for the tunnel being built
Part 2 of Gaia's work "Robert Moses and the hand that creates and destroys."

PS, NewYorkStreetArt also took a trip to the tunnel and has plenty more shots.

Photos by Dan Solomon

The Chris Pape aka Freedom interview

Self portrait by Freedom, photo circa 2011. Photo by an urban explorer

Not many people can say that they have a tunnel named after them. Chris Pape aka Freedom aka Gen II can say that. He painted what is now known as the Freedom Tunnel between 1980 and 1996. Over the last few decades, this tunnel underneath the Upper West Side of New York City has become an icon for the urban exploring and graffiti communities. While graffiti has always been influenced by other art movements, Freedom made this more evident that most writers by skillfully recreating and explicitly referencing great art throughout history (from Renaissance art to pop art). Over the years, he turned the tunnel into his own personal hall of fame.

Since Freedom has a show on online at Dirty Pilot and he’ll be signing books this weekend at the NY Art Book Fair, it seemed like a particularly good time to speak with Freedom about his work, as well as his thoughts on graffiti and art in general.

RJ: Freedom is one of my all-time favorite artist pseudonyms. Where did the name come from? What does it mean to you?

Chris Pape: I wish I had a great story as to how I got the name but I don’t. What I can say is that when I returned to writing in 1979 I didn’t want to be GEN 2 anymore, that name held no weight to it and was more about being a teenager, FREEDOM was more message oriented.

Chris painting in 1985. Photo courtesy of Chris Pape

What inspired you to go from writing graffiti on trains to painting non-letter based work in a relatively private environment?

I wasn’t a very good graffiti artist, I didn’t steal paint and that meant I was never going to king anything. I used a lot of silver and black because you could stretch it. I began doing tonal work on the sides of trains and realized I could draw with paint, this was still while doing letters. I began doing portraits in the park above the Freedom Tunnel which were pretty bad. One day coming out of the park I looked through the grating above and realized that that was the place for the paintings, that the early works were monochromatic was a fluke, it just happened that the walls were too porous for color – the idea of priming a wall had never occurred to me.

I’ve asked writers the difference between street art and graffiti, and my favorite answer is that graffiti is a sport and street art is art. While I don’t think these two categories are mutually exclusive, it seems like you moved more towards the street art side of that definition once you began painting in the tunnel. How did you think about your work in the tunnel? Did you view it as graffiti, something closer to what would now be called street art or something else entirely?

It is weird that I ended up in the street art world, I had a very graffiti centric mentality. While I was around the early street art movement ie: Fekner, Ahearn and Haring I always considered myself a writer – still do.

Ted Williams baseball card, circa 1988. Photo courtesy of Chris Pape

Most people probably don’t realize that Freedom and GenII are the same person.  How and why do you separate your identities of Freedom, the tunnel painter; Freedom/Chris Pape, the gallery artist; and GenII, the graffiti writer?

I think that you think I’m the new GEN 2 who has gotten up extensively – that’s not me. At the age of 14 and 15 I wrote the name GEN 2 on the streets of Manhattan and Queens, I wasn’t up much because of my age, but it was a nice introduction to the graff world. While painting in the tunnel I would like to say that I took a lot more chances, there was absolutely nothing at stake, few people knew the works were there and they had no intrinsic value, I could fail consistently and did – if I was lucky I made art. OF course you could easily argue that the failures are art as well because without them I wouldn’t have gotten to the next level. As a gallery artist I’m more conservative. I have a responsibility to the gallery to include a few images that I know will sell, out of 10 paintings 2 of them will be proven winners, the other 8 are where I get to take risks. I can live with that percentage for now.

Yep. My mistake about confusing two different Gen II’s. Sorry. When Amtrak reopened the tunnel in the 1990’s, your art became linked in the minds of the public with the men and women living there who were kicked out. How would you describe the relationship between yourself, your art and the people living near it?

Luckily for me I was there first, I started in 1980, the homeless that I knew moved in in 1986. They had a natural curiosity of me and my paintings and we eventually became quite close. Early on I would only go in the tunnel if I was going to paint, by the late 80’s I was there hanging out and documenting the people. Towards the end I was involved in getting some of the people out. I would call them friends.

The Freedom Tunnel, 2011. Photo by an urban explorer

How did going to the La Guardia High School of Music and Art impact your graffiti?

It ended my days as a teenage graffiti writer. I was writing because of the urban competition part, I loved that. At LaGuardia the talent was limitless and you could draw with your friends all day – that’s where all of my energy went.

What was it like to revisit the tunnel recently with The New York Times?

I felt old because I had a problem getting over a fence that I used to be able to leap over – it’s been 11 years. I still love the environment but once they sealed the whole thing off and got rid of the homeless it was time to go. I left on a high point.

The Freedom Tunnel, 2011. Photo by an urban explorer

I’ve heard it said that, when graffiti moves indoors, it is a still life. How have you transitioned your art to an indoor setting?

It wasn’t easy. When I started in the tunnel I was 19 years old and homeless. By the time I left I was 35, had an apartment and a degree in visual journalism from the School of Visual Arts, I knew how to paint and draw and had a criteria for what I believed art was. I had a series of images to paint – that’s the good news. Everything I’ve done based on the tunnel works are diluted. Once you’ve reconciled yourself to that it becomes liberating because your no longer tied into the exact image in the tunnel, or the textures or the lighting etc. That feeling of liberation allows you to go down different paths and explore earlier ideas in a different way. They’re two separate experiences. The key thing is knowing that their two separate animals, that took a long time for me to figure out.

Artwork by Freedom, circa 1995. Photo courtesy of Chris Pape

You’ve been involved in several cycles of graffiti’s waxing and waning popularity in galleries. What do you think about the art market’s influence on graffiti?

It’s a larger question about money. A booming economy drove the art market in the 80’s which allowed for a larger amount of galleries and a new client base looking to get rich off the next Haring or Basquiat. When the crash came in 1987 the galleries closed and the client base dried up, everyone got hit across the board. Graffiti’s success in the galleries today is tied in with the larger success of street art and Banksy in particular. It’s happening during a bad economy which bodes well for the artists involved. Having said that, I don’t think the art world has any impact on real writers.

Portraits of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. by Freedom, photo circa 2011. Photo by an urban explorer

Do you see any moral issues about selling artwork in galleries based on your graffiti art that is linked to a disenfranchised homeless population?

None whatsoever. Having said that, there are 3 different portraits of the homeless on the walls of the tunnel, two have been transferred to canvas, nobody wants them. Even if I felt I were dealing in a grey area morally and decided to give 50 percent of the earnings from the canvasses to Bob and Bernard (the models for the paintings), I can tell you that people don’t want to look at homeless people. They don’t want to see them on the street and they certainly don’t want them on their wall.

Murals by Freedom, photo circa 2011. Photo by an urban explorer.

What is your relationship like today with graffiti, both old and new?

I have a very small relationship with new graffiti, it is a fault of mine. To me there is only the train era from 1969 to 1989. I’m at the point where I’m done archiving my collection, lately I’ve ben trying to get writers to talk about their trains and what they remember about specific events.

What have you got planned for the future?

I have another biography of a famous graffiti writer almost finished. I have a sketchbook being published. And the documentary Wall Writers should be coming out. I’m proud of all three projects. I also plan to sleep a lot.

Photos courtesy of Chris Pape and an anonymous urban explorer

Pantheon Projects and Drago at the NY Art Book Fair

Photo courtesy of The NY Art Book Fair

This week, the annual NY Art Book Fair is taking place at PS1. Pantheon Projects, a group being launched out of the Pantheon exhibition that took place earlier this year in NYC, has a booth at the fair, as does the Italian publisher Drago. The fair is open, with free admission, this Wednesday the 30th through this Sunday the 2nd.

Pantheon Projects has a couple interesting projects going on at the fair as part of the zine tent. They will be launching a graff zine called Signal as well as selling Adam VOID & DROID’s graff zine, Learning to Die, Live the Dream II. They’ll also be selling Daniel Feral’s history of graffiti and street art poster and the exhibition catalog for the Pantheon show. On Saturday from 3:00-3:45, there will be a signing of the exhibition catalog featuring Charlie Ahearn, Chris Pape aka Freedom, KET1 RIS and Toofly.

Drago will be showing off their latest titles, including launching a new book by Chris Stain: Long Story Short. Chris will be around presenting and signing the new book on Saturday from 1-4pm. More on Drago’s plans can be found here.

Images courtesy of NY Book Fair, Pantheon Projects and Drago

Freedom at Corey Helford Gallery

Blurring the Lines, the current show at Corey Helford Gallery in LA curated by Roger Gastman, features graffiti legends Freedom, Risk and Crash. Nothing against Risk and Crash, but Freedom, maybe best known for his work in NYC’s Freedom Tunnel, is by far my favorite of those three. Here’s some of Freedom’s contributions to the show. Thanks for Hi-Fructose for the images. Check out more of the show on their blog.

Photos courtesy of Hi-Fructose

Martha Cooper has the story on Katsu at MOCA

Photo by Martha Cooper

Over at her blog on 12ozProphet, Martha Cooper has a series of photos documenting the work of Katsu, Blade, Rime, Freedom and Os Gêmeos at MOCA. Cooper had a behind-the-scenes look at how things transpired after Katsu hit the MOCA building with a fire extinguisher tag just a few days before Art in the Streets was due to open inside. That night, the wall was buffed, and then it looked like this:

Photo by Martha Cooper

Of course, that wouldn’t do. Os Gêmeos had been scheduled to paint a mural on that wall, but they decided that they did not want to go over Katsu, which is how they ended up painting the MOCA ticket booth. A replacement had to be found.

Similar to the wall that Lee Quinones, Futura, Cern, Push, Risky and OG Abel collaborated on just on the other side of the building which had originally been the site of Blu’s buffed mural, repainting over Katsu’s spot would have to be a collaborative effort. Freedom sketched a tribute piece to Blade, using some of his most iconic images. A few people painted the outline of the Blade tribute, and Rime came in to add the color. For more detail on the story and images of the entire process, check out Martha Cooper’s blog.

Photo by LindsayT

I don’t want to say that Blade does not deserve a tribute mural (he is one of my favorite early writers, particularly for the very piece that makes up the core of this tribute mural), but I think it is telling that no one writer would go over Katsu alone. MOCA has every right to do what they want with their own walls, which is why I don’t think the covering of Blu or Katsu’s pieces should be considered censorship, but I definitely wish that Katsu piece had stayed. The man is at the top of his game and a trailblazer in 21st century graffiti, so he deserved mention in the show as part of the next generation of great writers, and it just would have given the show a gritter feel. On the other hand, I don’t want to begin to imagine the problems that keeping that piece would have caused… At least Blade got some added props in the show and Os Gêmeos still painted something.

Photos by Martha Cooper and LindsayT

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