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Diary

West Chelsea Contemporary Presents: Concrete to Canvas

FEATURING BANKSY, BLEK LE RAT, CEY ADAMS, MR. BRAINWASH, KAWS & MORE.


West Chelsea Contemporary is proud to present Concrete to Canvas, the gallery’s most comprehensive and large-scale exhibition of Graffiti and Street Art to date.

In celebration of the movements’ contributions to the greater art world at large and of their individual achievements, West Chelsea Contemporary will show selections from its 1000-piece collection in concurrent exhibitions at the flagship space in Austin, TX, and the newly opened gallery in New York City.

Contemporary street art exists in two specific and distinct spaces: traditional graffiti, words, names, tags and slogans painted on any material that affords a moment’s visibility; and street art, a more conceptual practice by which the physical world is altered by an artist whose objective is to create a piece that is both complementary to its environment and inextricable from it. The two, while separated primarily by media and intent, are united by their common exhibition space: the street. Unlike any other artistic movement, Graffiti and Street Art afford both their artists and their viewers accessibility never before experienced.

Graffiti and Street Art’s roots reach much deeper into history than immediately obvious: paintings of deer hunts on the walls of caves in France and Spain are, in fact, graffiti’s earliest iteration; scratched into the sides of public baths in Pompeii are phrases not far removed from what might be found on a dive bar in the Lower East Side; deep in Rome’s belly, in the catacombs, are snatches of prayers and symbols left by those fleeing persecution in the fourth century.

At its most fundamental and elementary levels, graffiti is the single most accessible means by which to leave one’s mark. Graffiti was born on the streets of New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its earliest practitioners were roving bands of “writers” who competed within their ranks and with rival groups to reach ever greater heights of proliferation, notoriety, and visibility. Stretching its legs, graffiti traveled the city over from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan to the Bronx. Crews of writers developed “tags”–small, easily identifiable, and quickly replicate-able names or signatures–and left them anywhere and everywhere: on subway trains, phone booths, and even an elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo. These tags served a dual purpose as an easy tool for transmission and as a nomme de guerre, an assumed name, that protected the writer from graffiti’s technical illegality. No small part of graffiti’s popularity stemmed from the fact that it was then, and is still, illegal to practice. Therefore, the better an artist can conceal their identity using a tag, the harder to hold them accountable for their trespass.

Out of necessity, graffiti evolved rapidly. This evolution saw artists graduating from paint pens and permanent markers and into the media, which would aid, in part, in the fracturing of the movement from the singular goal of competition between writers into an artistic practice for public consumption. Taggers began to utilize spray paint as a means to create grander pieces with greater staying power, while still more artists departed from these concepts entirely. Street art’s first practitioners took a more deliberate approach to leaving artwork outdoors.

Without graffiti, street art would never have become popular – Cey Adams

Clockwise from top left: Crash, Untitled Wood Circle, Blek le Rat, Joconda, Risk, Peaceful Buddha with Throwing Knives, Blek le Rat, Graffiti Rat, Robert Crumb, Green Girl, Richard Hambleton, Shanghai

Artists like Blek le Rat conceived of pieces in their studios and made stencils of imagery so that in large part, the work was whole and finished before it even found its way to the street. Later street artists would use media varying as wildly as mosaic tiles and shards of mirror, to moss and hand-soldered metalwork.

Subsequently, subject matter opened up and embraced nearly every aspect of contemporary life from politics to pop culture. What once aspired only to best the next writer matured into a vehicle for political satire, activism, and protest. Keith Haring made artwork that protested Apartheid in South Africa and brought awareness to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Shepard Fairey created the most enduring and recognizable image of an American president in his “HOPE” campaign for Barack Obama since Emanuel Leutze painted George Washington crossing the Delaware (1851). Anonymous British street artist Banksy has made a name for himself traveling the world over from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to London and Washington, D.C. skewering public figures of every stripe in his carefully stenciled works.

Keith Haring was among the first to champion accessibility as the reasoning for his practice. He fervently believed that “the public has a right to art,” so he left armies of glowing babies, barking dogs, and landing UFOs anywhere the public might encounter them. Richard Hambleton, a contemporary of Haring’s, was a masterful manipulator of his environment, using dark alleyways and abandoned corners to heighten the impact of his menacing ‘Shadowmen’.

These ‘Shadowmen’ were roughly rendered, life-sized figures made of drips and slashes of black paint, meant to provoke a visceral reaction that Hambleton hoped would shock his viewers out of the stupor of the banal nine-to-five grind. As the discipline grows, more artists have been adopting street art and graffiti’s most integral tenets. Today, pieces by RETNA refer both to graffiti’s earliest form–the tag–and the calligraphic traditions of Arabic, Japanese, and Hebrew alphabets. The resultant works are simultaneously familiar and foreign, yet universally “legible” as objects of beauty.

Like Pop Art before them, Graffiti and Street Art have captured the imaginations of millions as they transcend art and move into sectors like design, marketing, film, and music. These movements lie in those minds like so many seeds germinating new media and concepts current artists could never begin to conceive of. The implication of a movement so tied to accessibility is that anyone may practice it. Anyone may dream it. Anyone may love it. Anyone may revolutionize it.

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FEATURED IN WCC’S SHOW – CONCRETE TO CANVAS

BANKSY | BELK LE RAT | DABSMYLA | FAILE | RICHARD HAMBLETON | KAWS | KEITH HARING | LADY PINK | MR. BRAINWASH | SWOON | BILL BARMINSKI | CHARLIE AHEARN | CONOR HARRINGTON | BASQUIAT | HENRY CHALFANT | JONONE | KOOL KOOR | BARRY MCGEE | MILA SKETCH | MATTHEW TRUJILLO | PETER TUNNEY | RAMMELLZEE | CEY ADAMS | RICHARD CORMAN | RISK | RETNA | VHILS

Reach out to inquire or acquire.

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