Urban art as a genre developed out of street art that is directly connected to graffiti culture. In the street art vernacular, words like bomb (to cover an area with graffiti), buff (to erase or remove graffiti from a wall), cross out (place an X over graffiti out of disrespect) and back to back (block of street painted) are understood among the graffiti artists. Although street/graffiti are still relevant, the genre has grown into a broader cross section of artists. The exhibit titled Urban Art: Expressions of an Environment at the Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County focuses on different sensibilities across the country and relevant urban themes: response to contemporary urban culture, political issues, use of spray paint, graffiti and/or stencils and use of industrial materials.
Several of the artists in the exhibit are experienced and authentic graffiti artists who have shared new work in the gallery. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know which artists have already exhibited in major national exhibitions, been featured in Juxtapose Magazine, participated in La Biennale (55th International Art Exhibition) or have received major national artists grants and are published. All 11 artists in the exhibit — emerging and mature — bring a unique approach to the themes of the exhibit.
Five local artists were invited to participate: Aaron Wallace, Eric Longley, Jihad Z. Ali, Michael Romagano and Lovell Pulley along with six artists from across the country: JooYoung Choi (Texas), Senghor Reid (Michigan), Kevan Foust (California), Abezash Tamerat (Maryland) and Percy Fortini-Wright (Massachusetts).
In the painting titled “The Masked Phantom,” Fortini-Wright skillfully integrates a figure wearing a gas mask against a gray, stark background. Mixing oil painting techniques with the graffiti vernacular, Fortini-Wright clarifies his intent on his website: “I interpret, depict and decipher the world around and within me … as a graffiti artist I bring that same energy into my pieces, showing a carefree innocence with bold daring marks not distinguishing between a scribble and fully realized object. Using spray paint with the physical nature of the calligraphic mark, my pieces investigate relationships of linguistic entanglement as form. Many times the subjects are letters either tagged or written fast into the pieces elaborately camouflaged into a three dimensional “wild style” form of lettering. Through the ethereal qualities of spray paint juxtaposed with the physical nature of the calligraphic mark I deface my images with words and words with images expressing there limitations and intricate connections.”
Sengor Reid is also a painter in the exhibition and interprets his environment in a way that explores people reacting to the urban landscape. A subtle, political approach, the verisimilitude of the painting charms the viewer; yet the portraits are charged with an electrified state of being.
Reid states on his website how his paintings are like “film stills which document the lives of people in an urban environment … the relentless imprint of human activity in an age of post-industrial age … the capacity of registering the space we are moving through, our conscious or unconscious decisions to ignore, scream, run, escape, destroy or rebuild.”
In sharp contrast, the works by JooYoung Choi promotes the idea of ethnic unity. In the mixed-media work “It’s as Easy as 1-2-3,” Choi surrounds the figure with repeated patterns. “The Transmissions of Pleasure Vision” series is a combination of text on repeated horizontal bands delivering a hopeful message.
Two computer graphic artists in the exhibit have very different approaches. Kevan Foust uses the medium to incorporate his drawing skills into a highly personal message about personal identity; whereas Lovell Pulley is known for his interpretation of the culture at large. Foust’s composition is complicated whereas Pulley reduces his images to a minimalist style.
In a quick-witted manner, Pulley’s “Gangsta Pop” and “Legally, I’m Yo Pusher” are designed in grays with a small pop of color somewhere in the image. Turning a mirror on ourselves, everyone is able see how the artist has reframed roles in our culture.
Jihad Z. Ali brings the traditional graffiti game inside the gallery with his framed works. “No Train, No Gain,” the most ambitious of the Ali’s works being exhibited, exemplifies the cross-cultural phenomenon that is taking place in graffiti art. In this work, Ali breaks his space into horizontal layers, each layer is a construction of an identity and communal ideologies are simmering throughout the work.
In stark distinction, the paper works by Abezash Tamerat demand their place in the exhibit. Exceptionally large works on paper are torn, burned and mounted on the wall with map pins. Abstracted, yet still remaining hauntingly figurative, Tamerat’s work is edgy and provocative in a way that cites the potential of material and obscure meaning.
Aaron Wallace is an artist who also emphasizes material — material being the most important element in his work. No reference to a subject, the oozy, puffy and textured abstract paintings rely upon their physicality to become an art object, evoking tactile meaning.
Michael Romagano incorporates spray paint into two of his complicated mixed media works, resulting in images that have a multi-layered essence. When asked about his process, Romagano stated he “places instantaneously what resides in his thoughts through medium and application.”
Eric Longley is the only artist in the exhibit who is exhibiting sculpture and print making. Longley effortlessly moves between relief sculptures and silk-screened monoprints; both mediums incorporate the artists’ gritty, fascination with the heart as a theme, and a three dimensional interpretation of the dripping paint that can often result from spray paint.
Sponsored by Zipquest Waterfall and Treetop Adventure and Skin Prik City Tattoo Studio, Urban Art: Expressions of an Environment is an exhibit that remains up until July 19. For information call the Arts Council at 910-323-1776.