ALL BIG LETTERS Opens in Haverford, PA

January 30th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Photo by Caleb Eckert

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, head out on to the burbs for ALL BIG LETTERS at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, probably my most ambitious curatorial project to date. The exhibition features specially-commissioned work from CURVE, FAUST, EKG, Egg Shell Stickers, and Evan Roth, plus contributions from dozens more artists and photographers.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

ALL BIG LETTERS investigates the tools and strategies of graffiti writers. My hope is that visitors can walk into the show with next to zero knowledge of graffiti, and leave with the ability to see a tag on the street and roughly understand how it came be there and why it looks the way it does. Was it made with spray or a marker or something else? Is the style something city-specific, like a wicked? Why did the writer choose that spot? How did they get there? How long did it take to paint? Curve’s installation in particular functions as both an artwork and a teaching tool. A similar thread runs throughout the exhibit, like in Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy series, which highlights 140 S’s from each many different tags, all written with a variety of different styles and tools.

Photo by Caleb Eckert

For people already immersed in the culture of writing, ALL BIG LETTERS is a different take than your typical graffiti group show. This is not tags or throw-ups on canvas. Rather, it’s a show for the graffiti nerds who understand that style is an important part of writing, but it is just one element, and it serves a particular purpose. A collection of homemade tools from MOMO, stikman, Fumakaka Crew, Biancoshock (yes, I know that a handful of the artists in the show fall more towards the street art spectrum, but I swear they fit in), plus commercial graffiti products, is paired with a series of photos by Martha Cooper of writers and street artists that highlight their tools.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

From a new diagram by EKG to photos by Luna Park and Steve Weinik (among others) to an investigation into the development of BLADE’s style over time to never-before-scene work by Adam VOID, ALL BIG LETTERS covers a lot of ground that is all-too-often ignored in more commercial settings, and I would like to think that it’s a pretty unique exhibition. On opening night, a handful of Philly writers all told me a similar story: I came out to support a friend in another group exhibition, but this is unlike any graffiti show I’ve ever seen.

So, if you want to see an exhibition about graffiti that’s truly different, an exhibition where the whole of graffiti is acknowledged (the repetition, the drive for fame, the performance, the risk, the competition, the hacking…), I hope you’ll stop by ALL BIG LETTERS. It’s open through March 3rd.

ALL BIG LETTERS is open at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery through March 3rd. Contributors include Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Learn more, and read essays related to the exhibition by RJ Rushmore and Carlo McCormick, here.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

Photos by Caleb Eckert and Kendall Whitehouse


Category: Art News, Gallery/Museum Shows, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A deep dive with NTEL

January 20th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

NTEL in Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

NTEL is one of my favorite Philly graffiti writers. From stickers to throw-ups and extinguisher tags to beautiful pieces, plus sculpture and other methods of getting up, is one of the most versatile and unique writers in the city. That’s why I’m so excited to include his work in ALL BIG LETTERS, which opens today at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Haverford, PA. NTEL also has a solo show coming up next week at the Deep Space gallery in Jersey City, NJ. With these two shows approaching, NTEL and I thought that it would be the perfect time to chat about art, politics, philosophy, and his unique approach to graffiti. Enjoy!

RJ: Does the title WORLD WAR FREE, or the upside-down flag on the flyer, have anything to do with the fact that the show opens just one week after Trump’s inauguration?

NTEL: Unfortunately, it was not a conscious pre-conceived link to Trump’s inauguration, specifically. It was just a perfect little accident, which sadly would have been just as relevant regardless of who ‘won’ the election. The title, upside-down flag, the color palette of the works, and the Philosophies behind them reflect a variety of issues, locally and globally, that add up to the senseless actions like, electing a racist, ignorant, short-tempered, bully/pussy, sexist, greedy, scared, Narcissist into one of the most powerful positions in the World. The absolute worst part of it is that we as a People, are the ones who hold the most blame. Americans should feel even more responsible, because Amerikkka is often the original engineer of the lifestyle trends, violence, and legislatures that become so popular, World-wide. We let them get away with their Black Coffee Briefings, and never hold them accountable when they breach the laws of Man, Morals, or ‘God’. We allow them to frighten, confuse, exhaust, and overwhelm us into accepting The Christie’s and The Trump’s of our Society. We literally and figuratively buy into what they’re selling from the Capital to Corporations, which only encourages their behavior. It’s all of our faults.

The title, WORLD WAR FREE, is an evolution of WORLD WAR THREE. It is the next stage. WWIII has been going on for years, ‘informally’ through globalization and exploitation of the World’s peoples and resources from biased, mis-used politics, greed, ‘smaller’ wars, injustices, and disregard for Culture. Even though there have been no declarations, or structured movements, or open references to a WWIII – proper, the actions of our policy and product makers over the past few decades have had the same effect. Global Alliances. Social and Economic Abnormalities. Destruction. Hatred.

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ALL BIG LETTERS: Exhibiting graffiti tools and strategy

January 6th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Philadelphia graffiti. Photo by Steve Weinik/@steveweinik.

On January 20th, I hope you’ll join me in Haverford, PA for ALL BIG LETTERS, an exhibition I’ve curated at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, just a few minutes outside of Philadelphia.

ALL BIG LETTERS includes art, photos, tools, and ephemera from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMONTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more.

Generally speaking, when galleries try to bring graffiti indoors, the focus is on style. Those shows portray graffiti writers as designers, illustrators, the new pop-artists and calligraphers… Headlines along the lines of “Can you believe what he does with a spray can? Now you can buy it on canvas!” still seem all too common. But style is just one component of graffiti. Or maybe the shows focus on writers who have gotten up a lot, trying to capitalize on their fame. Or, as in the case of someone like Barry McGee or Boris Tellegen, the art is (largely) removed from graffiti, a separate practice.

For ALL BIG LETTERS, I took a different approach. To write graffiti is, at its most pure, the performance of an illegal act; the performance is as important as the product. The best graffiti is also strategic. It relies on a combination of repetition, longevity, visibility, degree of difficulty, novelty, and style. ALL BIG LETTERS explores all of those strategies, and the tools writers use to realize them.

Because of the show’s angle and some deep digging over the last year, it’s full of surprises. New work from FAUST, Curve, NTEL, and EKG, never-before-seen photos of two Philadelphia graffiti legends at work (you’ll have to come to the show to find out who), homemade graffiti tools dating back as early as the 1960’s, and more.

ALL BIG LETTERS opens January 20th (4:30-7:30pm) at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Haverford, PA. The exhibition runs through March 3rd.

On a personal note, I worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery for just about my entire time as a student at Haverford College. It’s humbling to be invited back to exhibit at the space where I learned so much, and where we exhibited the work of so many amazing artists and curators (Hank Willis Thomas, Natasha Logan, the Dufala Brothers, Sam Durant, Pete Brook, Raymond Pettibon, Christine Sun Kim…). I can’t say thank you enough to everyone at Haverford for this opportunity.

Photo by Steve Weinik


Category: Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The evolution of Philadelphia’s Northeast Rail Corridor

February 11th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
psychylustro by Katharina Grosse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

psychylustro by Katharina Grosse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

In the spring of 2014, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program installed psychylustro, a multi-site artwork by Katharina Grosse, across sections of the Northeast Rail Corridor in Philadelphia. Grosse treated walls, warehouses, and even trees as her canvas. psychylustro‘s bold colors and brush strokes certainly changed the scenery for Amtrak commuters, and Hyperallergic described the work as “a mysterious, puzzling, and surprising presence.” But psychylustro was also an intervention at a site usually controlled by graffiti writers.

There was graffiti along the rail corridor before Mural Arts and Grosse got to work, and it’s no secret that psychylustro was tagged and bombed. For six months, Mural Arts regularly revisited the walls to apply fresh coats of neon paint. And then… they stopped, leaving psychylustro to the elements, the writers, and the buff.

The installation of Katharina Grosse's psychylustro. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The installation of Katharina Grosse’s psychylustro. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Although psychylustro did cover notable graffiti (including works by Retna, Nekst, Skrew, Curve, and Ntel), it also presented an opportunity: Before installation began, Mural Arts invited Martha Cooper to document the graffiti at the sites where psychylustro was going to be. And recently, a little over a year after Mural Arts stopped maintaining psychylustro, they sent photographer Steve Weinik to revisit the installation. The result is a likely unparalleled documentation of graffiti along the Philadelphia section of the Northeast Rail Corridor in 2014 and 2015.

One nice perk of working at Mural Arts is that I have access to those photos. Since I’m about to leave Mural Arts for New York City, it seems like the perfect time to show the evolution of the psychylustro walls, from the graffiti captured by Martha through to how they look today. The photo captions are incomplete, but hopefully useful nonetheless (thanks to NTEL and Air Rat for help with captions). Enjoy!

Sever, Skrew, Cense, Retna, and more. April 2014. Photo by Martha Cooper.

Sever, Skrew, Cense, Retna, and more. April 2014. Photo by Martha Cooper.

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What and where are open walls?

December 24th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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AIDS Crew refresh a Philadelphia garage

October 27th, 2014 | By | No Comments »

Earlier this month, four members of AIDS Crew came together in Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood to paint a mural on the backside of a tucked away, but not so little, garage. When I first saw the wall, I thought to myself that would be a great spot for a collaboration between NTEL and Distort, two of my favorite underrated writers. Somehow, the right site of circumstances fell into place and the neighborhood got something even better: A collaboration between NTEL, Distort, Mr. Mustart and Clarence Rich.

Anyway, the photos (special thanks to Steve Weinik for these)…

Brewerytown_RJ_WALL_0002

Brewerytown_RJ_WALL_0004

Brewerytown_RJ_WALL_0011

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Category: Photos | Tags: , , , ,

Banksy + 5: October 12th

October 14th, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »
Banksy. Photo by carnagenyc.

Banksy. Photo by carnagenyc.

I’m late on this one, but hey, it was the weekend and I was in Little Italy watching this wall come together. Saturday’s Banksy, while a pretty standard stencil besides the great placement, continues on Banksy‘s theme for Better Out Than In of it really being about the crowd. Concrete Confessional is just perfect for photos like the one above, and really requires a fan to activate the piece.

Here’s today’s + 5 by Ntel, Frank Ape, La Ira, and two unknown artists edit: Cane Morto and one unknown artist:

Ntel. Photo by Bill Benzon.

Ntel. Photo by Bill Benzon.

Frank Ape. Photo by edenpictures.

Frank Ape. Photo by edenpictures.

La Ira. Photo by món mort.

La Ira. Photo by món mort.

Unknown artist. Does the signature say Mari?

Unknown artist. Does the signature say Mari? Photo by Beth M527.

M? Photo by svennevenn.

Cane Morto in Bergen. Photo by svennevenn.

Photos by carnagenyc, Bill Benzon, edenpictures, món mort, Beth M527 and svennevenn


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