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

John Fekner for MLK Day

The Living Walls team installed the above stencil, designed by stenciling legend John Fekner, in Atlanta last week as part of a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I Still Have A Dream is Fekner’s first work in Atlanta. It can be found at Pal’s Lounge at 254 Auburn Ave NE on the corner of Auburn Ave and Bell Street, and was installed just in time to be seen by participants in Altanta’s 2012 MLK Day Parade. More photos are over on Streetela.

Photo by Streetela

Stormie Mills curates “For, Against, the Truth”

Three pieces by Jordan Seiler

Stormie Mills asked some of his favorite artists to paint three self-portraits from different perspectives. The result of that brief is For, Against, the Truth, a show opening this week at Linton & Kay Contemporary  Art in Perth, Australia. The show includes Vandalog regulars Remi/Rough, John Fekner and Jordan Seiler, as well as Kenton Parker, Jaybo Monk, Matt Doust, Marco ‘Pho’ Grassi, Jade Palmer, Amanda Lynn and Darren Henderson.

Photo by Jordan Seiler, flyer courtesy of Remi/Rough

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

Weekend link-o-rama

Stinkfish in London

Is it time for another link-o-rama already? The week has flown by. Except for when I had to read the multiple formal press releases I received this week which promoted artists’ gallery shows by talking about a recent campaign of wheatpasting that they were doing solely for the purpose of promoting their shows. Bleh. By contrast, Stinkfish has been in London for a bit and just seems to be getting up with posters, spraypaint and other materials because it’s fun. Here’s some of the things I’m not going to be kinda bitter about this week…

Photo by HowAboutNo!

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

Pantheon: A history of art from the streets of New York City

Matt Siren 

UPDATE: There are just a few days left for the Pantheon fundraiser on Kickstarter. There are some cool rewards for supporting this show, so check it out.

Abe Lincoln, Jr., John Ahearn, Adam VOID, Cahil Muraghu, Cake, Darkclouds, Droid, El Celso, Ellis Gallagher, Faro, John Fekner, Freedom, Gen2, Goya, Groser, Richard Hambleton, infinity, Ket, LSD Om, Matt Siren, Nohj Coley, OverUnder, Oze 108, Quel Beast, Royce Bannon, Sadue, Skewville, Stikman, Toofly, UFO, and even more artists are all part of a group show opening in New York on April 2nd. Pantheon: A history of art from the streets of New York City aims to bring together multiple generations of street art (and, to a lesser degree, graffiti) from New York City and tie them together into a cohesive history. There are some real under-appreciated gems in that line up like Richard Hambleton, Skewville, John Fekner, Don Leicht and Faro.

Pantheon will take place in New York City at chashama/Donnell Library Building, right across from MoMA and run through April 17th. I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to see this show in person. It should make a nice counter-point to MOCA’s Art In The Streets show opening in LA around the same time. If you do make it to Pantheon, be sure to check out the catalog, which Vandalog’s Monica Campana has contributed to.

Here’s a little preview of some of the street work from artists in Pantheon:

UFO and Gen2
Royce Bannon
Abe Lincoln Jr. and infinity

Photos by Luna Park

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