Art can help change our reality by shaping our vision. At the Bushwick Collective, these altered realities are wonderfully contagious.
This is the second post about the Bushwick Collective, an unusual and inspiring collection of street art in Brooklyn, New York. You can read the first part here.
In the early days, the Bushwick Collective gave Joe Ficalora an outlet for his grief. He lost his mother to cancer in 2011 and poured the love and energy he had used to care for her into securing space for artwork on the streets of Bushwick. It was a way of remembering her and his murdered father, as well as a way of raging against the losses he had suffered. Mural by mural, artists helped Ficalora build a new reality over one that had become increasingly painful and unsustainable. From this exceedingly personal beginning the Collective has grown into something much more. Today artists from around the world come here to paint and tourists from around the world come to marvel at their work. Many of these artists, like Bushwick itself, began on the “wrong” side of the tracks. They painted out of angst, out of rebellion, out of a sense that the world was not fair. Now that their art is legal, does its meaning change or are they still telling the same story?
This striking piece which decorates the Fatking Film Studio is called Plastic exercise to describe the alteration of reality II and it is the work of Argentinian artist Ever. Coming from a vibrant Latin American protest tradition, it isn’t surprising that he sees street art as message, as a form of communication for important and deep matters. What is unusual about his work is that he paints much more like a portrait painter and less like a street artist. Check out the shading of the faces. Over time he has moved from letter based graffiti work to murals like this one, which shows the influence of Gustav Klimt, one of his favorite painters. Note the trees and the patterning around the figures. There is a great deal hidden here, but we can surmise that love is at work in the alteration of reality, transformation and rebirth. This remains one of my favorites at Bushwick. You should note that it was organized by a group known as 1985, not painted in 1985. Nothing stays vibrant that long and that’s part of what makes this kind of art special.
Luis Lamboy, Zimad, grew up in South Bronx. When he was five years old, his mother bought him a pad of paper to keep him occupied during long train rides to his grandmother’s house. She had no idea what she was starting. By fourteen, Luis was painting in the subways and on the street. Teenage rebellion and artistic talent found their outlet in illegal graffiti and the excitement that accompanied it. Luckily for Luis and the world, Fashion Moda held an exhibition of art from South Bronx in the early 1980s, including pieces by Zimad. As his works found a receptive audience, he turned from graffiti, which he defines as illegal work, predominantly verbal messages in stylized form, to aerosol art and murals. The piece above harkens back to the roots of graffiti. The irony is that legal art, which, at first, seemed to limit where Zimad could paint his messages, has given him more time and space to recognize his dreams than graffiti ever did. Zimad possesses a textile degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and, in the 1980s and 90s, designed for Janet Jackson and Anita Baker, as well as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (now actor Will Smith). Since then he has worked as an art handler for Sotheby’s. The man breathes art.
Unfortunately, there was a large vehicle blocking a full shot of Zimad’s mural (such things are part of the Bushwick adventure), which can be viewed in its entirety on his Facebook page. You can see a little of it above, on the left, with the fabulous toadstools and Millennium Falcon style spaceship. He’s a master of imaginative juxtaposition and exquisite detail.
On the right is a piece by Fumeroism, who began cartooning at a very young age and then expanded into graffiti in his teens as a way to explore form and letter design. He went on to study graphic design in community college and later cartooning and illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His pieces are interesting for their intense color and the use of interior contour lines to create movement. It’s fascinating for me that, unlike other pieces by Fumeroism, the movement here is in the grass, not the baby. Is this to illustrate that the child is being swept up in the tide of her environment? I love her big, shiny eyes, like dark pools, and the vibrant yellow of her jumper. She’s a very big baby!
The doorway in the center between these murals features a lovely piece bearing the exhortation, “Don’t be sheep.”
Murals and graffiti alike take inspiration from popular culture, especially the cartoon. This is not surprising when you acknowledge that many artists began forming their style while teenagers. It also gives their pieces a wistful look that, depending on their personality, is sometimes charming and sometimes disturbing. Above we see the colorful and jubilant work of Jerkface (NYC) bringing to life a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I dare you not to smile. Below we have something on the other side of the spectrum, the madcap surrealism of Sheryo. This piece is a little Ren and Stimpy, a little tattoo parlor, and all cool. Sheryo hails from Singapore, but makes New York City home when she isn’t traveling the globe to paint walls.
The piece above is by Robots Will Kill, a trio of artists: Veng, Chris and Kev. These guys started in graffiti, with stories not unlike the artists already mentioned, but they still consider themselves graffiti artists, despite their work as muralists. Note how the piece, though it is peopled by fascinating cartoon characters, is an elaborate tag, or signature. Robots Will Kill is adamant about giving voice to the voiceless and run a fantastic and very intriguing website that features legal and illegal art around the world. They feel that all artists have value and have planted themselves on the dividing line between graffiti and fine art. More power to them!
Rubin415 made his first tag at the age of nine, a son of Finnish immigrants growing up bored in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he first began to envision the walls blooming in front of his eyes. Geometric shapes, conservative color and clean lines have forged his style, which remains decidedly Scandinavian despite his residence in Brooklyn and artwork that lies all over the globe. The piece above is entitled Dream, Baby, Dream. I find the restrained and organized joy of it both arresting and calming.
Beau Stanton moved to Brooklyn from Southern California and has a background in classical painting, drawing and illustration, not graffiti. He developed a taste for making street art while working with iconoclastic artist Ron English, although Stanton’s approach is more subtle, attuned to past forms of public art, such as the frescoes of the Renaissance, rather than modern pop culture. His works show an affinity for history, architecture and symbol. They often feature a delightful rusty patina, evident in the mural above, achieved by a mixture of painting and screen printing, a technique that uses multiple layers of mesh based stencils to apply color. It’s often used in t-shirt design, but Stanton’s use of it is unique and really pushes the envelope. Hints of steam punk are present in his work, as machinery and mythology come together.
This particular piece features an intriguing fusion of the spiritual and the mundane. What is the nature of the relationship described between church and factory–are they in contradiction with one another, or do they somehow hold one another up? Stanton’s images verge on the dystopic and apocalyptic, and yet they feature rebirth and renewal as well. This creates a wonderful sense of ambiguity.
Another artist that didn’t come up by the usual route is the Lady Aiko, who grew up in Tokyo and received a degree in graphic design and filmmaking at Tokyo Zokei University before coming to NYC for a MFA in Media Studies at the New School. She apprenticed with Takashi Murakami, directing the biopic Super Flat about him, and then with Banksy, before becoming a part of the street art group known as Faile. She’s on her own now, and there is no one quite like her. The street art bug bit hard in her case, and her skills as a graphic designer, filmmaker and photographer have helped her hold her own in a group dominated by men who started early. She does beautiful work, delicate and feminine, with a an interesting pop-art Japanese aesthetic that often hearkens back to the pin-up. These particular pieces are relatively small, but the delightful sensuality of them makes them very special.
I’m exceptionally fond of pieces painted on loading dock doors. New Yorker Steiner, a wonderful artist that I hope to learn more about, does a beautiful job of creating movement by using the door’s corrugation. Thanks to his concentric circles and bright colors, this skull really pops.
Below is a Maneki Neko, or beckoning cat (painted by AT?). These kitties are usually in the form of statues and refer back to stories of a samurai who stopped to pet a cat in the street. Because he paused, he was five minutes later in his routine and missed an assassination attempt on his own life. A lucky cat, indeed!
Stopping to view the art in Bushwick will take you out of your routine–who knows, it might even save your life!