Graffiti gets time in the limelight

“Run Wild,” an exhibit featuring the work of 50 artists at Wallworks Gallery through July 11, is a celebration of graffiti’s most visible era, the 1970s, when it was ubiquitous on subways and buildings around the city.

Kristy Elena with her piece "Industrial Daydream."
Kristy Elena with her piece “Industrial Daydream.”

Exhibit shows how once outlawed activity is now art

The graffiti-covered subways that rattled underground in the late 1970s and early 1980s are now gone. The cars are clean on the outside, though sheeted with paid advertisements on their inside walls.

More buildings and subway cars were spray painted back then because the bankrupted city didn’t have the funds to pay to clean them.

But although there is less graffiti visible on the landscape, street art is experiencing a golden age. At the exhibit, “Run Wild,” showing at Wallworks Gallery at 39 Bruckner Boulevard through July 11, 50 artists who graphitized their own miniature water towers or billboards in celebration of the classic urban art form showed their work.

“Graffiti is always evolving, and always a part of the creative world,” said Anna Matos, the gallery director. “It’s always finding a way to be a part of the mainstream.”

The artist’s works were placed on podiums around the gallery, each with a different style and message.

“There was no theme,” said the exhibition curator, Rey Rosa. “It was about fun.”

Contributing artist, Mary Damian, said graffiti’s explosion in popularity is due to the ubiquity of social media; while the beauty of the art form was once limited to a few local lookers-on who happened to see graffiti scrawled on their neighborhood walls, people all over the world can see the pieces now via the web.

In Damian’s piece, “Concrete Jungle,” the word “jungle” in burnt orange bounces off a bleak gray background. New York City’s bustling ecosystem inspired her, she said, pointing out that the metropolis is “crowded like the jungle, but all concrete.”

In Kristy Elena’s piece, “Industrial Daydream,” a silver-skinned woman in black, looking ominously back at her onlookers, takes up almost the entire water tower.

“What I like to paint most is strong women characters,” said Elena. She said that her work juxtaposes the pretty with the morbid to demonstrate the difficulties of being a woman.

“It all becomes commonplace,” she said. “But then one day you wake up and realize it’s not okay.”

In a group of male artists, she said, it’s often assumed that she must be there to support a boyfriend.

“I’m passed over as an artist,” she said.

Taylor Bown with "Misfit Party."
Taylor Bown with “Misfit Party.”

Artist Taylor Bowen named his piece “Misfit Party,” saying he likes to cast a light on society’s outcasts. Pink and white distorted heads with a bold “X” run up and down his water tower.

Richard Garcia, a visitor from Bushwick, said he came to the exhibit to see the work of artists he’s looked up to his entire life. He said he appreciates the camaraderie graffiti encourages.

“It requires a collaboration between artists – it takes a whole crew,” he said.

“Graffiti artists are finally being seen as real artists,” said Damian.

Wallworks was the perfect place to hold the exhibit, said Matos, since her father, John Matos, better known as “Crash,” is the gallery’s co-owner, and a famous New York street artist who moved from train lots to galleries in the ‘80s.

Crash painted his own water tower for the exhibit. Rosa described the black backdrop and pink and yellow scribbly letters splattered on it as “really old school.”

In Crash’s bio, he writes, “I always felt that what we were doing was so much more than what it was in that specific moment – graffiti could be more legitimate.”

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