Graffiti in the Gallery

By Maurice Pinzon
Graffiti art recently received national attention when the graffiti artist “Keo” designed a backdrop for a Bryant Park rally for presidential candidate Howard Dean. (See our article, The Transformation of New York Graffiti.

On Friday the underground culture of graffiti art surfaced again in a loft just off of Houston Street. Graffiti art took a few small steps toward the art marketplace, although the event was mostly a celebration of the graffiti writing, hip-hop and break dancing culture that migrated long ago from isolated urban neighborhoods to mainstream Americana.

Graffiti artist James Top, the organizer of “Graffiti 2003,” said the event was the fifth annual graffiti show. The graffiti artists at the show seemed determined to regain control of an art form they had developed on the streets and its authenticity, which they thought had been compromised. Artists such as Keith Herring and Jean Michel Basquiat and commercial advertising firms have borrowed techniques from graffiti art. In addition, Mr. Top said, there were mis-perceptions about graffiti that he was determined to change.

At “Graffiti 2003,” Keo exhibited his work as part of a total of 31 graffiti pieces by various artists. One painting by Keo was called “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” which was a drawing of a map of Queens with Rikers Island and the famous New York Daily News headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

Another graffiti artist, who went by the name of “R.D.” and is well known in the graffiti world, displayed a painting called “The Machine.” When R.D. was younger he was known as the “king of the inside” of subways, according to David Park, a friend. His graffiti, Mr. Park said, “has been around everywhere.” Mr. Park, who is a construction worker, added, “God bless him, I hope he makes it.”

Mr. Top himself was part of a group known as “The Odd Partners,” which also received the “King” title, because it had tagged more subways overall than any other “crew” in its heyday in the 70’s. One drawing is of a man with a big Afro and an array of colors springing from the top of his Afro.

Some of the graffiti art at the event was reminiscent of New York’s subway graffiti style in the 70’s and 80’s, now on a canvas. No longer on a wall or on subway car and free, it was now for sale. And Mr. Top said there were new trends developing in the graffiti art form. Graffiti websites to display the art will be online within a week, and there are also plans to start a graffiti artist school, Mr. Top said.

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