This is an edited redux post from 2011. It seemed timely to resurrect it now to add fuel to the comment discussions that have arisen recently, on this blog, around graffiti / street art and gallery art. It also dovetails nicely into my ‘The 100’ series.
I attended an exhibition at the Elliot Louis Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, titled: justiFYD: Art Crimes in America – this was a collaborative art project with Vancouver street artist easer one and Canadian fine artist, Bruce Pashak sharing canvases.
There is a long history of Gallery owners risking the support and promotion of innovative forms of art. In 1910 Picasso painted a portrait of Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important art dealers in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1893 Vollard opened his own gallery with an exhibition of sketches by Manet. As the most important art dealer for the avant-garde, he organized exhibitions and supported works by Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse.
Another example is Alfred Stieglitz, (1864-1946), a famous American photographer and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe. He was instrumental in bringing new art from Europe to the USA. His ‘291 Gallery’ in New York was the first in North America to show work by Brancusi, Matisse and Picasso amongst other avant-garde artists.
I understand that a Gallery is a business but I also believe that it has an obligation to the art world to promote new visions in art rather than exhibiting only what is likely to sell. I give all Kudos to the Elliot Louis Gallery for taking this risk with justiFYD: Art Crimes in America.
Whimsy MRDF. 72”x48”. oil, acrylic, collage and cement on canvas.
Whimsy MRDF is one of the more successful examples of the collaboration between Pashak and easer one in this exhibition. Pashak’s Pop influenced stencilled letters and easer one’s gestural spray-painted tag converse with a well-matched tension. The flatness of the text contrasts to the 3D realism of the horse head and the actual texture of the cement surface. The refined realism of the horse shows Pashak’s classical training while the calculated spontaneity of the dripped paint reveals his modernist leanings. The carefully applied dots and composition of text and colour easily accept easer’s tagged signature. As in all the paintings in this exhibition this is a challenging postmodern fusion of images that refer to styles of the past and incorporate street art of the present. A number of distinct styles of art exist comfortably within this particular work, although this was not true for all of the art in this show.
I Want You. 42.75” x 76” oil, acrylic, spray paint and mixed media on canvas.
In I Want You we again see Pashak’s classical drawing background along with painted over collage, the obligatory modernist drips and an attached actual folding chair to contain the extended arm of the figure. The street artist easer one has tagged the painting and also added skulls, creating a Golgotha or Thanatos symbolism to the work. The collaboration of these two artists elicits a number of interesting questions; one being: how does the radical, anti-social, anti-gallery role of the street artist change when his/her art is incorporated in a gallery setting?
(The title 112263 refers to the date of President Kennedy’s assassination).
Another pertinent question is, can two or more artists work on the same piece with viable results and who has ownership? It has been done – Pashak says, “There is a historical precedent set for works of art produced by a group of artists. Notably, the Canadian collective General Idea and the ‘infamous’ collaborations of Warhol and Basquiat”. At the artists’ Q and A we were informed that easer one was paid for his work and was given a “directed freedom” to bomb where he wished on Pashak’s canvases. Pashak stated that an honour system existed between the two artists and easer one, who was present at the artist’s talk, confirmed that all was agreed and fair.
Monarchy. 47.75” x 72.25” oil, acrylic and collage on canvas
Monarchy was given, at the artist’s talk by Pashak, as a prime example as what he was looking for in his collaboration with easer one. An “uncomfortable tension” or a “disturbing violation” is set up with the intent of making the viewer look closer and question their preconceptions of what art is. The postmodernist approach of these paintings rejects the traditional concept of art as being done by one person, of containing a single style and of being safely accessible and commercially successful in the gallery setting. The tagging of easer one almost creates a screen over the classically rendered face of Monarchy and forms a separation between the viewer and the face. At the same time the colour and intense texture to the right of the face invites tactile participation by the viewer. This tension is consciously created to add to the almost surreal incongruity of the painting’s elements.
Being present at the artists’ talk and at various other occasions when the public shared their views, I can confirm that this collaboration is a difficult one for the viewer. From the Realists on, the public has always found new art forms to be difficult to accept, yet, eventually the public does accept and the ‘new art’ of the past becomes the ‘traditional art’ of the present.
In this painting we can clearly see the process of collaboration between the two artists. Pashak presents his male nude to easer one who tags the painting and adds a skull to the nude. Pashak then paints back into the canvas. This process is the same for almost all of the works in the show. It is a dance between the two artists with each performer sensitively sharing the canvas’s arena with the other. It is a meeting of chance and the results are not always comfortable or even aesthetically successful. The American writer, Gertrude Stein, Picasso’s friend and patron, defended Picasso’s daring. She wrote, “Every masterpiece has come into the world with a dose of ugliness in it. This ugliness is a sign of the creator’s struggle to say something new.”
Except for artists like Basquiat, who have been courted and marketed by commercial galleries, graffiti and street art have existed in a separate world from Galleries and this has defined their role and intent. Much of the style of graffiti originates from the necessity of a speedy execution due to the illegal nature of the act. This brings to light more questions, including – if easer one is now relieved of speed in execution of his art, how does that change his art? Is Pashak now an ‘accomplice’ to someone who has previously committed illegal acts? Now that easer one’s signature is known in a gallery setting, can the law track him down? Does graffiti art lose its raw quality when introduced in a gallery setting? How is this type of collaborative approach viewed by hard-core street artists – is it considered ‘selling out’?
This collaboration challenges our way of seeing and requires the viewer to question what is known and what we bring to an artwork. Known subjects, such as the human body, are placed into surface contexts that are incongruous to our preconceived ideas. Pashak goes outside of the gallery and commissions the ‘radical’ art of the street into a collaboration which then both violates and integrates fine art and extends modernist boundaries into a new, post-modern visual style.
‘The 100′ series was initiated by my 100th Post in April 2012. As text and images are the essence of my blog my intention is to present 100 pieces of textual art from historical and contemporary artists and from my own hand. To view the series to date click on ‘The 100’ in my Category Menu.