Le site industriel rue des Grands Mortiers est une friche culturelle occupée depuis 2001 par la Compagnie Off et le pOlau – pôle des arts urbains.
En cours de réhabilitation, il sera inauguré en janvier 2015.
Son nom, le Point H^UT, fait écho à sa tour de 22 mètres qui s’élèvera depuis le hangar central.
Le 18 et 19 février 2014 a eu lieu une rencontre entre artistes visant à penser la ville du futur à l’horizon 2032 (« Du virtuel au vivant, la ville aux mains des artistes »).
En marge du projet « Objectif 2032 », (co-porté par le Festival d’AurillacHorsLesMurs et le pOlau …) j’ai filmé l’Action Painting d’Antoine Bonnet Alias « Kik », (membre du Graffiti Research Lab (France) et de la Brigade Neurale) en plein bombardement d’une façade du chantier.

Pour voir le projet original c’est ici :

Et le mode d’emploi est là :

Amusez-vous bien !

Cholo writing is the style of graffiti used by Mexican gangs in Los Angeles. Unlike its bulbous comic counterpart on the East Coast, Cholo has roots in curiously formal calligraphic and black letter traditions. This unique typographic language has been documented in a new book, Cholo Writing: Latino Gang Graffiti in Los Angeles (Dokument Press), by François Chastanet, who previously published a photographic survey of graffiti in São Paulo, Pixaçao (disclosure: I contributed the foreword). Chastanet, an architect, graphic designer, typographer and photographer from France, has spent much of his time documenting graffiti and its relationship to architecture. His current analysis illuminates how important these cultural writing (and tagging) forms are to their makers, and how they mark territories much like flags and coats of arms. In this interview Chastanet gives us a condensed lesson in Cholo’s history.

Cover of the book, Cholo Writing: Latino Gang Graffiti in Los Angeles by François Chastanet (click here for a look inside ).

Heller: What is Cholo writing?

Chastanet: The term cholo derives from an Aztec word xolotl meaning ‘dog’ that was later turned on its head and used as a symbol of pride by the Mexican-American community in the context of the ethnic power movements of the 1960s, from which emerged the idea of La Raza or Chicano nationalism (e.g., Brown Berets in Watsonville). Cholo writing originally constitutes the vernacular handstyle created by the Mexican gangs in Los Angeles as far back as the 1940s: a neglected phenomenon that has a specific place in the history and development of the urban graffiti of the Western world, it is probably the oldest form of the “graffiti of names” in the 20th century, with its own aesthetic, evident long before the explosion in the early 1970s in New York. Cholo writing or placas can be seen as cousins of the baroque gothic calligraphies typical of Mexico, as a genuine expression of a border culture between Mexico and the United States. It has had a major influence on the visual expressions of Californian popular culture, including the lowrider, surf, skate and hip-hop movements.

The book Cholo Writing explores the genesis of these specific letterforms that paradoxically gave a visual identity to Los Angeles’ infinite banal suburbia. For the first time ever a historical series of photographs from the early 1970s in L.A. is presented together with a contemporary collection, which gives a unique insight in the history of Cholo writing from an aesthetic point of view. Howard Gribble, an amateur photographer from the city of Torrance in the south of Los Angeles County, documented Latino gang graffiti from 1970 to 1975 with the simultaneous idea of “portraying the city.” These black-and-white photographs, frontal visual recordings of various Cholo handletterings, constituted an unique opportunity to try to push forward the calligraphic analysis of Cholo writing, its origins and formal evolution.

Heller: What are the messages in this form of graffiti? Are there any “stars” of gang graffiti, or is it meant to be anonymous?

Chastanet: The gang culture is a truly simultaneous phenomenon of the suburban Californian dream. Latino gangs are a parallel reality of the local urban life, with their own traditions and codes – from oral language, way of dressing, tattoos and hand signs to letterforms. Without ignoring the violence and self-destruction inherent to la vida loca (or “the crazy life,” referring to the barrio gang experience), one needs to document the visual strategies of this subculture to survive as a visible entity in a suburban environment. These inscriptions have a totally different function than what we call graffiti nowadays, i.e., tags representing individuals’ nicknames mainly (usually with additional crew names associated with them). These wall-writings, sometimes called the “newspaper of the streets,” are territorial signs whose main function is to define clearly and constantly the geographic limits of a gang’s influence area and encourage gang strength, a graffiti made “by the neighborhood, for the neighborhood.” Writing a group’s name makes it immortal. The image stays while the carnage between gangs continues—name writing has always been closely linked to death and memory. So, in Cholo writing the image of the name of the gang is at the heart of the writing practice. Most of gang members produce graffiti but at different levels: in each gang there are lettering specialists, usually one skilled writer writes for the whole group for large inscriptions, and some guys are genuine lettering experts, both today and in the past.

Roll call of names in Cholo writing, c. 1970s. (photo: Howard Gribble)

Heller: There appears to be a lot of references to gothic and inscriptional lettering. Is this studied on the part of the gang members, or naïve? Are there any rules governing Cholo, whether artistic or territorial?

Chastanet: Everything but naïve. How we make things, how we represent ourselves, how we display our name in that case: the style tells who we are. Drawing letters is a practice where identity and origin questions are essential. Cholo inscriptions has a specific written aesthetic based on a strong sense of the place and on a monolinear adaptation of historic black letters for street bombing. There are very precise calligraphic codes, constant through time and different generations of gang members, even if continuous evolutions appear. To represent their name with the maximum aura and “officialdom” Chicano writers have chosen since the 1960s (and even probably before) black letters like Engravers Old English or Goudy Text Old Style (mainly in uppercases) appearing in all sorts of official printed ephemera of that time (like school diplomas, birth certificates, etc.) to create the classic Cholo handstyle. Lettering manuals like Speedball Textbook for Pen & Brush Lettering by Ross F. George—his work appears in the Speedball Lettering catalogues from the 1930s and ’40s—seem also to be obviously known by some Los Angeles gang writers. In the Mexican community gothic calligraphy consciously communicate tradition, taking the written name to a certain degree of importance, to an almost religious level. What is impressive is to see that this style has a kind of geographic homogeneity through Los Angeles county even if each gang, each territory tries to have its own “corporate” identity through lettering details inside the Cholo script rules.

Detail of Cholo writing, c. 1970s. (photo: Howard Gribble)

Heller: The look of Cholo writing is decidedly different from East Coast and European graffiti, in part because it’s monochrome rather than chromatic. Why is this?

Chastanet: Los Angeles gang graffiti is much older than what we see as normal or regular graffiti today, which are variants around the New York model of tags (based on the gestural signature aesthetic), throw-ups (quick efficient bubble letters) and pieces (based on comics lettering with highly colored inside surfaces, outlines and background). To the contrary, Cholo writing and placas are traditionally black. This is mainly due to the fact that their influence is based on typographic headlines and titles from newspapers for example, mainly black prints. At the same time, their ambition is not decorative but mainly functional, it is clearly a tool for gangs to create a simple, efficient and legible signage system. Nevertheless, nowadays you can see more places written with all sort of colors; white or silver are occasionally used on walls with dark backgrounds for better visibility of course. Their lettering culture is much closer to epigraphy, in a way, no ligatures between signs. Since the beginning of the 1980s a kind of New York style of graffiti—(mainly individual and going all-city, not confined to the neighborhood/turf limits—started to appear in Los Angeles streets, but it has only a very limited influence on gang graffiti.

Heller: You had to go through many gang neighborhoods to document Cholo. Did you have any scuffles?

Chastanet: Not really, but I was close to it several times—I had to run a couple of times. Approximately half of the photographs are shot from the car while driving slowly. Howard Gribble was using the same method back in the 1970s. I was usually shooting photos in the early morning, from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. (mobsters don’t wake up very early), and after 12:00 p.m. it was only possible to do some recognizing of neighborhoods by car and walking, no cameras with me. It was problematic because most of the gang graffiti is removed within 12 hours by the different municipalities of Los Angeles county. Basically, I wanted to work with an SLR camera first, but the street context didn’t permit it many times. I had to be as discreet as possible so I used a digital point-and-shoot camera—sometimes taking the picture under my arm and shoulder to hide the camera while walking. In all neighborhoods most of the people believed I was a cop. Rarely it was possible to engage in conversation, but I was not expecting it. I had to jump over fences for some pictures, and also had some problems with LAPD while shooting photos from the banks of different freeways.

Cholo writing on a Los Angeles street, c. 2000s. (photo: François Chastanet)

Heller: You’ve documented graffiti in São Paolo, Brazil, and now L.A. What is it that appeals to your eye and sense of aesthetics? Do you have your sights set on another genre of graffiti to document next?

Chastanet: In my work the main idea is to document original graffiti phenomena that created their own visual culture, different from the New York kind of graffiti that became almost a worldwide conformity today, partly because during a long period New York graffiti was the only graffiti visible in traditional media. Tags and pieces from New York were also over-documented in the graffiti fanzines and books world. A book like Subway Art by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper (first published in 1984) had a massive impact worldwide and made the global emergence of graffiti possible worldwide, spreading mimicry among the youth. Even young Japanese writers don’t write with their own characters and choose to follow the existing practices based on the Latin alphabet (only a few are using Japanese signs). The New York myth of the origins is still so strong today that very few people worldwide try to surpass it or to find another way, their own way linked with a specific urban context. And the internet reinforces the recurrent tendency toward sterile mimicry, a lot of “me too” people.

Only few original alternative models exist independently to the now global New York experience/aesthetic—the São Paulo pixação scene and Cholo writing in Los Angeles are two pretty rare examples and constitute geographical aesthetical particularities. We can observe the emergence of a genuine “urban efficiency” in (illegal) architectural lettering, the illegal and hand-crafted context bringing new formal solutions. The fact that these letterings are illegal is essential; pixações from São Paulo can be seen as an alphabet designed for urban invasion, a beautiful “total coverage” writing system. So both the pixações and Cholo letters can be seen as an expression of the consequences of the 21st-century megalopolis conditions on the drawing of letterforms, as an unexpected evolution of the Latin alphabet. São Paulo and Los Angeles Cholo writers were able to create their own original identity through letterforms, this fact being pretty unique in the visual communication of subcultures. As an architect interested in urban planning, and a graphic designer and typographer by academic training, it was hard not to be interested be this.

Detail of contemporary Cholo writing, c. 2000s. (photo: François Chastanet)

Heller: Do you link this to typographic or calligraphic history?

Chastanet: Like many people I always have been fascinated by the history and evolution of letterforms, calligraphy, etc. But I had the feeling that calligraphy was a field mainly marked by historic mimicry rarely questioning what is writing today, what is writing without a broad pen (the contrast of “translation,” according to Gerrit Noordzij’s analysis of the letterform) or without a pointed flexible pen (the contrast of “expansion”), but with tools of the 20th century such as ballpoints (Bic Biros) and felt-tip pens (Pentel’s SignPen) producing writing without contrast (without classic thick and thin effect). In a way, calligraphers produce calligraphy, not today’s writing or useful models for the masses. Nobody is using a broad pen anymore in its everyday practice, even graffiti writers that were obligated to use broad pen markers because the only really big markers existing on the market—for many years were broad pens—recently created their own tools, giant markers with round tips (mop markers and squeezers). We have to accept that we are now a monolinear writing civilization based on ballpoints and felt-tip pens way of thinking since more than 50 years now, and the consequences of this is too rarely observed in today’s type design production (mainly never-ending re-conducting the historical existing type of contrast with only slight variations in proportions, weights and outlines). Nevertheless, quality typefaces like Flora by Gerard Unger—who worked on his own handwriting with a ballpoint for this font—or ABC-Schrift by Hans Eduard Meier constitute interesting projects.

Album cover for Rank Strangers (Taxim Records) using Cholo lettering by Rick Griffin.

Both São Paulo and Los Angeles offer us a chance to see other and different ideas, changing the structure of the letter itself, even if the people practicing it are not totally conscious of what they are doing. These two examples are not just vernacular phenomena, there is an authority, a real knowledge in the mastering of drawing written signs, imparted year after year through generations (like calligraphy and its transmission through history), a shared knowledge with a relatively long history in the case of Los Angeles. I am not interested in vernacular for vernacular, I am interested in trying to describe the genesis of innovative shapes, mainly letterforms, urban contexts offering many examples from my point of view. It’s a matter of drawing quality, whatever the categorization of a given practice (whether institutionally recognized or not), playing with letter strokes and intelligence of composition with architectural space. Large-scale writing (off the page) is maybe one of the last spaces where handlettering/gestures resist the keyboard ever-growing monopoly.

Heller: What other graffiti or cult letter cultures intrigue you?

Chastanet: China and Japan (kanji civilizations) are definitely interesting me. I have seen some interesting examples of inscriptions mixing Japanese and short English acronyms made by the Bosozoku, Japanese motorcycle gangs (pretty strong in the 1970s and 1980s) and also some graffiti poetry and messages traced to Kyoto’s different temples by the same anonymous author, inscriptions made in the 19th century apparently. I also have personal type design projects around questions of monolinear writing, changing the usual referent in a font project, i.e., working from today’s different handstyles of the Latin alphabet.

by Steven Heller
Source :

Steven Heller, co-chair of the Designer as Author MFA and co-founder of the MFA in Design Criticism at School of Visual Arts, is the author of Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Avant Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century (Phaidon Press), Iron Fists: Branding the Totalitarian State (Phaidon Press) and most recently Design Disasters: Great Designers, Fabulous Failure, and Lessons Learned (Allworth Press). He is also the co-author of New Vintage Type(Thames & Hudson), Becoming a Digital Designer (John Wiley & Co.), Teaching Motion Design(Allworth Press) and more.

In 1995 when I started doing graffiti, there were not many books and magazines & nothing on Internet to see what was happening.
Since the beginning, I’m only interested by tags & throwies, the pieces are sometimes pretty cool but I don’t always find the energy inside…
The first fill’in that struck me was from USA ( Iz, Cap, Ghost, Quick, Reas, Espo, Chino, Cope 2, JonOne, Veefer, Oze…)
But in 1997, some french magazines & fanzines began to include photographs of painted walls providing an overview of the Europe style and made an effort to give us the right thing about « hardcore » graffiti, which was popular among French writers of our generation.
When I discover the stuff of GT, UV & VMD crew, I felt less alone in my delusions and thought to myself  :
 » This is it ! There are guys in France who have some good taste ! « 

« Pro » is one of the best writer of our generation.
Parisian born in 1976, influenced by American comics, science fiction and horror movies, painting pieces in a retro-futuristic style with Egyptian symbols and secret societies signs + post-apocalyptic scenery…

« Pro » foremost for me a pioneer in France in terms of fluidity of the line.
This week I talked with him about our first met in 2001 and I thought it would be an opportunity to make a post with some recent photographs.
Even if I present some paintings and sketches of his own (which are crazy too) I want you to remember this typical flow of a throw-up master !

Synopsis :
In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.

Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.

Featuring interviews with : Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O’Brien, Maripol, Kai Eric, Nicholas Taylor, Fred Hoffmann, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Suzanne Mallouk, Rene Ricard, among many others.

ARTFORUM Magazine : Volume XX No. 4, December 1981. p.35-43

The Radiant Child by Rene Ricard

I remember the first Tags (where is Taki ?), Breaking (where you spin on your head), Rapping (where I first heard it). I know the names, but are the names important ? Where is Taki ? Perhaps because I have seen graffiti, then seen something else, thrown myself on the dance floor, then gone on to dance another way, I say that the reason for abandoning so much during the ’70s was that each fad became an institution. What we can finally see from the ’70s buried among the revivals and now surfacing (Tagging, Breaking, Rapping) was at least one academy without program. Distinct to the ’70s, graffiti, in particular, was the institutionalization of the idiosyncratic that has led to the need for individuation within this anonymous vernacular. This is why the individuals (Crazy Legs) must distinguish themselves.
Artists have a responsibility to their work to raise it above the vernacular. Perhaps it is the critic’s job to sort out from the melee of popular style the individuals who define the style, who perhaps inaugurated it (where is Taki) and to bring them to public attention. The communal exhibitions of the last year and a half or so, from the Times Square Show, the Mudd Club shows, the Monumental Show, to the New York/New Wave Show at P.S. 1, have made us accustomed to looking at art in a group, so much so that an exhibit of an individual’s work seems almost antisocial. Colab, Fashion Moda, etc., have created a definite populist ambience, and like all such organizations, from the dawn of modern, have dug a base to launch new work. These are vast communal enterprises as amazing that they got off the ground as the space shuttle and even more, fly-by-night, that they landed on solid ground.

The most accessible and immediately contagious productions in these shows were those of the graffiti stylists. The graffiti style, so much a part of this town, New York, is in our blood now. It’s amazing that something so old can be made so new. There is an instant appeal in the way spray paint looks, ditto markers. Any Tag by any teenager on any train on any line is fairly heartbreaking. In these autographs is the inherent pathos of the archaeological site, the cry down the vast endless track of time that « I am somebody, » on a wall in Pompeii, on a rock at Piraeus, in the subway graveyard at some future archaeological dig, we ask, « Who was Taki ? »

Graffiti refutes the idea of anonymous art where we know everything about a work except who made it: who made it is the whole Tag. Blade, Lady Pink, Pray, Sex, Taki, Cliff 159, Futura 2000, Dondi, Zephyr, Izzy, Haze, Daze, Fred, Kool, Stan 153, SAMO, Crash. (Crash is still bombing.) But trains get buffed (the damnatio memoriae of the Transit Authority), and with the need for identity comes the artist’s need for identification with the work, and to support oneself by the work is the absolute distinction between the amateur and the pro. Therefore, the obvious was to raise oneself by the supreme effort of will from the block, from the subway, to the Mudd, to the relative safety and hygiene of the gallery. Because an artist is somebody. Say what you will about group shows and collaborative enterprise: Das Kapital was written by one man. This is no graffito, this is no train, this is a Jean-Michel Basquiat. This is a Keith Haring.

Both these artists are a success in the street where the most critical evaluation of a graffito takes place. Jean-Michel is proud of his large SAMO Tag in a schoolyard, surrounded by other Tags on top of Tags, yet not marked over. This demonstrates respect for the artist as not just a graffitist but as an individual, the worth of whose Tag is recognized. There’s prestige in not being bombed over. There are also fake SAMOS and Harings as well as a counter-Haring graffitist who goes around erasing him. The ubiquity of Jean-Michel’s SAMO and Haring’s baby Tags has the same effect as advertising; so famous now is that baby button that Haring was mugged by four 13-year-olds for the buttons he was carrying (as well as for his Sony Walkman.) The Radiant Child on the button is Haring’s Tag. It is a slick Madison Avenue colophon. It looks as if it’s always been there. The greatest thing is to come up with something so good it seems as if it’s always been there, like a proverb. Opposite the factory-fresh Keith Haring is Jean-Michel’s abandoned cityscape. His prototype, the spontaneous collage of peeling posters, has been there for everyone’s ripping off. His earlier paintings were the logical extension of what you could do with a city wall. (For the moment he’s stopped the collage.) His is a literal case of bringing something in off the street but with the element of chance removed. I’m always amazed at how people come up with things. Like Jean-Michel. How did he come up with the words he puts all over everything, his way of making a point without overstating the case, using one or two words he reveals a political acuity, gets the viewer going in the direction he wants, the illusion of the bombed-over wall. One or two words containing a full body. One or two words on a Jean-Michel contain the entire history of graffiti. What he incorporates into his pictures, whether found or made, is specific and selective. He has a perfect idea of what he’s getting across, using everything that collates to his vision.

Where is Taki. When writing or just thinking about say a movement or a style, we automatically attach progenitors of common appearance, attributes of an individual or stylistic precursor to the object of contemplation. I bought an assortment of Wild Style and Plain Style (Daze Rocks, etc.) Tags done in marker on a piece of newsprint at the Mudd Club graffiti show because it looked like a late 18th century Chinese literati-type thing, no, maybe more Japanese, yes Japanese. Even the names of the different scripts are like Japanese calligraphic distinctions. (The underlying discipline is getting a character down so good you can repeat it exactly.) This of course leads one into the Zen calligraphic renovations of, say, Mark Tobey, Bradley Walker Tomlin, and just about everybody in the late ’40s, early ’50s. And you have no choice but to look at things this way because . . . « Does His Voice Sound Some Echo in your Heart. »  This is the double-headed monster of erudition, half seeing too much and half of it blind.

I asked Jean-Michel where he got the crown. « Everybody does crowns. » Yet the crown sits securely on the head of Jean-Michel’s repertory so that it is of no importance where he got it bought it stole it; it’s his. He won that crown. In one painting there is even a © copyright sign with a date in impossible Roman numerals directly under the crown. We can now say he copyrighted the crown. He is also addicted to the copyright sign itself. Double copyright. So the invention isn’t important; it’s the patent, the transition from the public sector into the private, the monopolizing personal usurpation of a public utility, of prior art; no matter who owned it before, you own it now. After all, Judy Rifka did not invent the artist’s dilemma. I think it’s hers for the time being, however.

But influence, when we reach the peak and look down at what we’ve come from, see mists and clouds under mist, not the base of the mountain. As much as one would like to escape the idea of generation and decade in favor of something better, this provides an easy common way to track development. Where is Taki ? Graffiti has been around in the way we recognize it now for about ten years and whether one considers this a long or a short amount of time (the entire High Renaissance from the painting of the Mona Lisa to the Sistine ceiling covered exactly ten years) it is already in its second generation. The transition, however, was neither sudden nor unexpected because in the past ten years we see the full exchange of graffiti from trainstyle to museum candidate. What’s unusual is that the gallery bid was not made by the innovators but by the second generation. Graffiti has had a dyslexic development in that the second generation is capitalizing on territory pioneered by its lost innovators. More interesting and more possible to scan than the movement leading up to the picture is, rather, the picture’s life after it leaves the artist. The picture must be protected. (I’m not interested in the prestige of discovery. Part of the artist’s job is to get the work where I will see it. I have to be aware of it before I can hype it. I consider myself the metaphor of the public. I’m a public eye. And I only hype the sureshot. The possibility of life without galleries ? But how much time, when you really get going, can you spend crating, carrying on correspondences, hiring secretaries, negotiating your appearances in European museums, in fine all the little labors that galleries are supposed to do and that keep you away from your work ? There is a place for responsible representation. This is an enormously important season in New York and to make a false step could have severe repercussions for years. In a city comprised of individuals it is important at some point to form the right connections; for your own protection you have to trust someone. Someone else has to have a personal commitment to your work so that it isn’t shopped like merchandise. It’s cute to be 20 and be pursued when hundreds of young artists are dropping their slides off at these same galleries, but the crass fast-turnover speculators’ market can have a deleterious effect on an artist’s future career if you don’t have protection. We are no longer collecting art we are buying individuals. This is no piece by SAMO. This is a piece of SAMO. When the work tops a certain mark and the collectors begin their wholesale unloading of your old work in direct competition with your new work you’re in trouble with no protection. Every time one of your old paintings is bought one of your new paintings isn’t. Plus, old more famous pictures always cost more and you don’t get a cut off the resale. Of course a record price always helps an artist, but what if the artist has radically changed styles ? In any event, it’s clear that a good dealer is very careful about where the things land. If there’s no personal commitment the chances are that the dealer-as-buyer will unload the stuff anywhere for the money, why not, without thought to possible repercussions it could have in the long run. Whereas if the dealer has a stake in your development they will, for example, save the best picture for a possible museum sale rather than just anywhere the cash is flowing. Besides, when anything goes wrong you can blame it on your gallery.)

« What’s with art anyway, that / We give it such precedence ? » 
Most basic is the common respect, the popular respect for living off one’s vision. My experience has shown me that the artist is a person much respected by the poor because they have circumvented the need to exert the body, even of time, to live off what appears to be the simplest bodily act. This is an honest way to rise out of the slum, using one’s sheer self as the medium, the money earned rather a proof pure and simple of the value of that individual, The Artist. This is a basic class distinction in the perception of art where a picture your son did in jail hangs on your wall as a proof that beauty is possible even in the most wretched; that someone who can make a beautiful thing can’t be all bad; and that beauty has an ability to lift people as a Vermeer copy done in a tenement is surely the same as the greatest mural by some MFA. An object of art is an honest way of making a living, and this is much a different idea from the fancier notion that art is a scam and a ripoff. The bourgeoisie have, after all, made it a scam. But you could never explain to someone who uses God’s gift to enslave that you have used God’s gift to be free.

What is it that makes something look like art ? I can’t answer that. I asked someone once why he liked Jean-Michel’s work and why it was being singled out for acclaim and he said, « because it looks like art. » But then again art doesn’t always look like art at first. The way the space shuttle that lifts off doesn’t much resemble the space shuttle as it lands.

My favorite Francesco Clemente, for instance, looks just like something in a junk store. It’s even painted on one of those premade stretched canvases that are the stock in trade of amateurs. The direct and artless oil paint here, however it looks like a 13-year-old painted it, is very much about being 13. I remember still green ponds like that where I’d go . . . and the anomalous sexuality of the frog, that, no matter what sex it is, a frog’s crotch, belly, and thighs, when viewed together, look like a woman. It was brought to my attention that the very thing that freezes this picture compositionally, the flashbulblike shadow of the arm, is what keeps it from being the work of a child; children don’t depict cast shadows. Clemente has frozen an instant here, and the sex object of the painting, the frog’s crotch, is already underwater. This preservation of a lost moment from childhood, perfectly seen and remembered in a flash, sets this picture apart as art, yet it looks like something in a junk store.
Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh Boat. There is no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. Nobody wants to miss the Van Gogh Boat. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent van Gogh for really sending that myth into orbit. How many pictures did he sell. One. He couldn’t give them away. Almost no one could bear his work, even among the most modern of his colleagues. In the movie Lust For Life there is a scene of Kirk Douglas (as van Gogh) in front of La Grande Jatte being treated rudely by Georges Seurat. When I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Grande Jatte, it was having a hard time competing with the white walls of the gallery. This habit of putting old pictures up against the white walls is deadly, the walls reflecting more light than the picture, but van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles was on the opposite wall and it was screaming at my back and I turned around and I listened. He has to be the most modern artist, still. Van Gogh’s don’t crack. But everybody hated them. We’re so ashamed of his life that the rest of art history will be retribution for van Gogh’s neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another van Gogh. And yet looking at art history we see that these other guys were pros. They started when they were kids. They sold their work. They worked on commission. There is no great artist in all art history who was as ignored as van Gogh, yet people are still afraid of missing the Van Gogh Boat.
One of the obvious and more interesting developments that insure a nongallery look is the ready-made support, standardized stretchers, artist’s panels: the vocabulary of the amateur. The throwaway is the handle absolute of junk, and in using the throwaway one is relieved of the responsibility of constructing one’s own outside proportions. Pieces of foam rubber, doors, subway cars, toilet walls make one’s considerations, size of image, stroke, etc., purely inner ones. It is impracticable to enter a gallery carting the F train. In the Mudd Club « Beyond Words » show, the most impressive work was either in documentation (photos of bombed trains) or actual junk sprayed over, not the specially-constructed-for-exhibition pieces that looked, frankly, headshop, and it seemed clear to me that whoever was going to get out of the subway was going to have to figure out a way of sophisticating their work into scale, to avoid the cloying naiveté and preciousness that inspire more condescension and « isn’t that charming » than, say, awe in the viewer. I don’t mean that they have to go big. The sense of scale is innate and relying on found size isn’t good enough. When you cut up a roll of canvas you’ve made your biggest decision. Making something out of nothing is the prime artistic act and I don’t mean, « Come to my studio I’ve got ten refrigerator doors finished. »

So what defines the art look ? When people say Jean-Michel looks like art, the occult significance of the comment is that it looks like our expectation of art; there is observable history in his work. His touch has spontaneous erudition that comforts one as the expected does. In the first gallery piece I saw by Jean-Michel (as distinct from his Tag SAMO) the observable relationship of his drawing to past art alienated me as immediately as it gratified. The superbombers in the same show, with their egregious lack of art history, had the repellent appeal that commands self-analysis in the viewer (me). I didn’t want to miss the boat. When you first see a new picture you are very careful because you may be staring at van Gogh’s ear. Then I stopped caring about what the pictures should (and might later) look like; regardless of what Jean-Michels look like now, they are transmitting signals that I can receive, that are useful, and finally the graffiti bomb style looks like what it’s about and what it’s about is packaging.

Bomb style packages itself. At its purest, it’s a Tag, a perfect auto-logo, not the artists’ names but their trademarks. Designer jeans ? You are buying the label proper: the essential iconic self-representation. In any event, the bombers in the show clearly defined a vernacular and made me wonder how long this would take to get off the ground in a big way. Here was, as much as it was predicated on commercial art of the past, the commercial art of the future. Here was the look of the times, this is what packaging should look like: kids would buy it. These guys should get themselves design jobs, before they get ripped off. Several have already worked their way into the applied arts, where they belong: on record covers, doing the art direction for movies, slides behind Rappers, backdrops for Breakers. Sitting by yourself on a wall is different.

An artist’s attitude toward the work is telling. It’s all hype, sure, but there can be quality in hype and I’ve caught some sleazy acts. A guy came to my house to deliver a small picture. With a friend. No picture. Broke. « Give me the money I’ll come back later with the picture. » « OK. » While he was there he told me that he was entertaining the idea of giving Andy Warhol a picture. Well, Andy is everyone’s culture parent, it’s true, but I’m just a poor poet and Andy’s turnover must be thousands and thousands a week in prints alone, and it hurt my feelings that I had to pay 50 clams and Andy would get it for free. I could see, though, that this boy’s climb was on. This was my advice: don’t give him the picture. Kids do that. Trade. That’s what real artists do with each other. Since Andy’s a press junkie, and I see you’re getting the taste, call up page six of the Post and get a photographer to the Factory on the « Graffiti goes legit/street kid trades Tag for Soup Can » angle. You both get your picture in the paper, Andy comes off looking like friend of youth, you get a press clipping, and it’s gravy for all parties. Easily $50 worth of advice. So he left with the money, and, like copping drugs in the street, beat me for the picture. A month or so later, after some friends put on a little muscle, I finally got the doodad, and promptly gave it away. Foolish way to hype yourself. When you’re climbing a ladder, don’t kick out the rungs.

As much as undervaluation can kill, so can a false sense of the value of your work. Jean-Michel was advised to stop giving it away. But if your friends can’t have it, why live ? Overprotection is deadly; the stuff has to get out there to be seen. Making money is something between artists and their stomachs. To turn one’s work into fetish that is almost indistinct from oneself, to overpersonalize and covet one’s own work, is professional suicide. Fear of rip-off is paralysis. One is always ripped off. Keeping work a secret is the psychology of the applied artist, not the fine artist who must live in a dialogue.

Is innovation important ? When one compares Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures with Fellini’s Satyricon we see that Fellini manages with pasty millions a bad reproduction of what Jack Smith achieved with a sequin. The trick is to make it appear that the innovator ripped it off from you. A good example of this principle is the case of Judy Rifka’s work at the debut of the ’70s. Her single shapes on plywood are among the most important paintings of the decade. Every painter who saw them at the time recognized their influence. She could then be called a painter’s painter if feeding ideas to others is what painters’ painters do. I suspect that it would be a heartbreaking thing to watch others get credit for your invention. Her researches into Constructivist theory were groundbreaking, but a pioneer is never at a loss for uncharted territory. At the first group show at the Mudd Club I was arrested by a gray painting with a little red blob in it and some drawing on it of Patti Astor from her starring role as Vickie in the movie Underground USA. The application of the ground and the way that little red spot was laid on was obviously the work of an extremely sophisticated handler of paint. Although I’d never seen a Judy Rifka of this type the outline of the red left me in no doubt as to its author. There was no visible label and on inquiry I saw I was right. Hers is the poetry of New York. The joy in her new work, the reveling in these characters she creates superimposed on her earlier work, demonstrates that her concerns have dovetailed my own temporary ones: that a picture is only as interesting as its storyline. The Patti Astor iconography is supreme. One must become the iconic representation of oneself in this town. One is at the mercy of the recognition factor and one’s public appearance is absolute. (The iconic representation of the artist, in manifestations from sublime to tedious, sublime in Manzoni and Warhol through the tedium of Byars and Beuys, authorship as object, is the precedent for the legitimacy of the Tag. This is the individual as archetype, where we order a « Bud, » where every bleach blonde is called « Blondie, » the Tag name for the individual Deborah Harry. If Andy Warhol can’t be used as an object lesson in how to become iconic then his life has been a waste. We become our name. I have spent my life becoming my name so that it would somehow protect the radiant child it has been created to arm.) Judy’s perception of this is accurate. Her multiple-panel pictures are like movies. She has spent the last few years evolving a recognizable cast of characters to people her work. She is the eponymous lead. This is about her life in art, the frustrations and momentary ecstasies of painting a picture; the sub-mafia of artist’s assistants; the domestication of pet boys refined into their specific types that become at once the original and the archetype.

Where is Taki ? We can’t escape the etymology or genealogy of art. It’s not coincidental that the time that saw the gestation of graffiti was the period of gallery-referential art that flourished (wrong word) in the early ’70s. During the era of the white wall, what would have the greater effect on us now was being produced by guerrilla artists bombing trains during their mechanical slumber in Queens. Those teenage prophets are lost in the mists of their own maturity, reminiscent of the way the origin of the blues is lost, the simple expression of the individual followed much later by full-scale commercial exploitation. Contrary to the rules of modern art that hallow the innovator, here is the second generation capitalizing on the innovations of the first. The commercial exploitation of innovation is, conversely, the primary logic of commercial art.
Even as I write, the Transit Authority has unleashed police dogs around the Corona yard, so perhaps there is still hope. Bombing will continue even with the dogs. When it stops you’ll know it’s played out. If it’s still alive the autopsy will kill it. What would happen if subway graffiti were recognized as the native art it is? Would they find Taki and declare him a National Living Treasure as the Japanese do their keepers of the flame of native craft ? Or if the TA legitimizes it, i.e. encourages it with NEA funding ? What happens when the revolution is televised ? It bombs out. Train painting has already been severely formalized almost to decadence. It has become historically self-conscious, the progression from expression to Pop; there is a Campbell’s Soup can train; sophistication to boredom.
Looking through the Mailer book on graffiti from 1974, was it photographer’s optical bias, editorial selectivity, or was the classic period of graffiti as « abstract expressionist, » ’50s, as the book makes it look when compared to the Pop psychedelic ’60s of the train I was on today ? It looks so much more severe in the book, metallic style, less balloon style: tougher, muy switchblade, mas barrio. But who remembers what it looked like ? I remember that it was very sexy, the feeling; I don’t remember the look. Eidetic overlays can’t be trusted. What did it look like ?

Jean-Michels don’t look like the others. His don’t have that superbomb panache that is the first turn-on of the pop graffitist. Nor does his marker have that tai-chi touch. He doesn’t use spray but he’s got the dope, and right now what we need is information; I want to know what is going on in people’s minds and these pictures are useful. This article is about work that is information, not work that is about information. No matter what the envelope looks like to get it there, the dope’s inside. Let the Parisians copy the athletic togs le look américain jeune Puma sneakaires le graffiti mignon, style is spin-off; what the pictures are internally about is what matters. If you’re going to stand up there with the big kids you’ve got to be heavy, got to sit on a wall next to Anselm Kiefer next to Jonathan Borofsky next to Julian Schnabel and these guys are tough they can make you look real sissy. There’s only one place for a mindless cutie and it ain’t the wall, Jack.

Judy Rifka and Jean-Michel Basquiat have both evolved a vocabulary, and so in his way has Keith Haring. In his gray eminence entrepreneurial capacity as director of the Mudd Club shows he was of particular importance in the general dissemination of work by other young artists, and not secondarily his own. His work is faux graphic and looks ready-made, like international road signs. This immediacy is his trump card. It is the already-existing quality of his characters that deceives one into accepting them as already there without the intervention of an individual will. But he did make them up. In their impersonal code they are transmitting a personal narrative. The code is here to be cracked. These poor little characters wigging out from the radioactive communications they are bombarded with are superslick icons of turmoil and confusion. They are without will, without protection from impulses of mysterious source. We can laugh at their involuntary couplings and tiny horrified runnings around because we see them as we cannot see, as the fish cannot see the water, ourselves.

Of course what artists see us as can tell us more about themselves than about us. The second-generation Pop artists who’ve been popping up behind their more innovative contemporaries show more interest in the(ir) poor victims of cocktail dresses, in the trials and tribulations of dressing up and going out, enchained by our fashion slavery, in Society, than in society. Chief of the Clubbists is Robert Longo who in his own way is concerned with our contemporary solipsism. As an undercover agent of the Fashion Police I am reluctantly placing him under arrest partly for being two years behind the times but really for forgetting that fashion imitates art, and that art that imitates fashion is two removes from the source. Art Deco comes after Cubism. On the subject of Troy Brauntuch, and the use of pictures, his work seems to have been anticipated by an Edwardian novelist: « ‘That habit of putting glass over an oil painting,’ she murmured, ‘makes always such a good reflection particularly when the picture’s dark. Many’s the time I’ve run into the National Gallery on my way to the Savoy and tidied myself before the Virgin of the Rocks . . .' »
We need to see ourselves now but not this literally. For some reason we need recognizable evidence of our existence. Something has happened and we need, if not advice, at least a demonstration of the situation and many of our fears are in the words contained in Jean-Michel’s pictures—Tar, Oil, Old Tin, Gold—we don’t need a lexicon to know what these mean. These morphemes are self-evident.

Phaedrus: Whom do you mean and what is his origin ?
Socrates: I mean an intelligent word graven on the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and who knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Phaedrus: You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which the written word is no more than an image?
Socrates: Yes, of course that is what I mean.

I’m always amazed by how people come up with things. Like Jean-Michel. How did he come up with those words he puts all over everything ? Their aggressively handmade look fits his peculiarly political sensibility. He seems to have become the gutter and his world view very much that of the downtrodden and dispossessed. Here the possession of almost anything of even marginal value becomes a token of corrupt materialism. This is the bum coveting a pair of Guston’s shoes. When Jean-Michel writes in almost subliterate scrawl « Safe plush he think » it is not on a Park Avenue facade that would be totally outside the beggar’s venue but on a rusted-out door in a godforsaken neighborhood. Plush to whom safe from what ? His is also the elegance of the clochard who lights up a megot with his pinkie raised. If Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet had a baby and gave it up for adoption, it would be Jean-Michel. The elegance of Twombly is there but from the same source (graffiti) and so is the brut of the young Dubuffet. Except the politics of Dubuffet needed a lecture to show, needed a separate text, whereas in Jean-Michel they are integrated by the picture’s necessity. I’d rather have a Jean-Michel than a Cy Twombly. I do not live in the classical city. My neighborhood is unsafe. Also, I want my home to look like a pile of junk to burglars.

Politics can come up by inference in a work, without pointing, without overt dialectic, by the simplest depiction (as in the case of John Ahearn) of an individual. When one looks at Ahearn’s pieces , the sensibility is so specific and acute that we feel we would get the same feeling even if it looked entirely different. And his people are about feelings. I don’t know how anyone who could afford them would put them in their homes. « Why would the boss want to be reminded at home of the people who keep asking him for a raise ? » 
They are objects of devotion, of love and its ennobling ability, and are among the rarest and most moving in the history of art. They will command and dominate wherever they are hung and make all art that is anterior to it or that bears a resemblance seem like it was just leading up to Ahearn. They wipe out Segal. They make Duane Hanson seem like a snob and an insensitive jerk. When we look at Hanson’s lumpen proles and their dazed stupefaction we feel superior. Ahearns, like most physically dominant art, don’t reproduce well. The actual confrontation with the work is overwhelming. They are made to be seen from quite specific angles. Ahearn’s work is hung high, and these people up against the white wall of a gallery are looking down at the viewer with dignity, sobriety, querulousness, perfectly precise and specific expressions, fleeting and miraculously caught. The man seems to be looking into the future with intense responsibility as the woman, with her arms around his neck, trusts his ability to confront the world. I am that woman. Ahearn works in the South Bronx the way Caravaggio probably would. He gives his models the first cast. They’re poor and they’re owed the grace of their image. This is no exploitation and yet I have heard him referred to (by an artist) as a racist, exploiter of his sitters. If going into the ghetto and commemorating its inhabitants is racist, then what do you call people who segregate themselves and plot genocide ?

To Whites every Black holds a potential knife behind the back, and to every Black the White is concealing a whip. We were born into this dialogue and to deny it is fatuous. Our responsibility is to overcome the sins and fears of our ancestors and drop the whip, drop the knife. In Izhar Patkin’s parable of racial cannibalism we see that when a man with a .45 meets a man with a shotgun I guess the man with the pistol is a dead man.

Where is Taki ? I think now about Anya Phillips who so briefly illuminated this fleeting world. I think about clothes worn by people so recently and yet how long ago it all seems that Anya would show up in those cocktail dresses and of all things, a Chinese girl in a blonde wig. And now all the girls in their cocktail dresses who never heard of Anya and how quickly each generation catches the look of its creators and forgets the moral underneath. I think about how one must become the iconic representation of oneself if one is to outlast the vague definite indifference of the world. I think about how every bleach blonde is called Blondie in the street and Deborah Harry’s refutation of her iconic responsibility to reify her name as a brunette. We are that radiant child and have spent our lives defending that little baby, constructing an adult around it to protect it from the unlisted signals of forces we have no control over. We are that little baby, the radiant child, and our name, what we are to become, is outside us and we must become « Judy Rifka » or « Jean-Michel » the way I became « Rene Ricard. »

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Italian artists Blu did a wall painting at Fame Festival, in Grottaglie.
The city has a massive ugly factory called ILVA;  This factory is destroying the territory and killing a lot of workers ’cause of its big lack of security measures and high environmental pollution. The direct consequence is that Taranto has one of the highest rate of death by cancer in Italy.

see the finished piece here:

Fin 2007, lors de la troisième édition du café-exposition « les articulteurs » au Centre Culturel Picasso de Montigny-lès-Cormeilles, je découvre le travail de Jonathan « Djob » Nkondo, jeune dessinateur de 20 ans au talent exceptionnel excusez-moi du peu !
Observateur aguerri, Djob possède ce coup de crayon qui vous coupe l’envie d’en prendre un à votre tour.
Bref, blablabli et blablabla, la suite en image car le léchage de chaussettes n’est définitivement pas mon truc… suivi d’un court entretien avec l’intéressé !


 Entretien avec DJOB
Sayf_septembre 2009

Sayf : Tu te définis plutôt comme un dessinateur, un writer, un peintre, un graphiste ou autre chose ?
Djob : En ce moment je me sens plus illustrateur que graphiste, plus writer que peintre, plus designer qu’animateur 2D et un tout petit peu réalisateur.

Comment es-tu venu au dessin, tu as pris des cours ou reçu un don de Dieu ?
Je dessine depuis que j’ai 4/5 ans. J’ai beaucoup maté les dessins animés qui passaient à mon  époque du genre Mighty Max, Dragon Ball, Renard… Et vers l’age de 12/13 ans j’ai pris des cours de dessin avec un  caricaturiste très cool prénommé Sali. J’y ai rencontré Asone et Hama avec qui je peints aujourd’hui. Puis j’ai fais mon petit bonhomme de chemin.

As-tu déjà reçu la visite d’un extra-terrestre ou d’une entité étrange, ( Si oui )est-ce que cela t’a influencé ? parle moi de tes influences.
Alors Je peux te citer Joe Madureira, qui fait du comics. Ses crayonnés sont juste parfaits à mes yeux, il a bossé sur Battle Chasers, un comics pas très connu. En terme de Graffiti j’aime beaucoup ce que font Honet, Erwin (asu) , Brasko, Yaner, Ryngar (b2m), Rekm (tt) et pleins d’autres… et en terme de musique, beaucoup de Cannibal Ox, (Vordul Mega), de Buck 65, de Mr lif dans mon Mp3….

Certains de tes dessins semblent posséder un message caché, un sens profond, tu dessines pour faire joli ou tu essayes de nous parler via ton œuvre ?
Un peu des deux.

Qu’est ce que tu fais de beau à Paris et quand trouves-tu le temps de peindre et dessiner ?
Je fais des études de conception et réalisation de films d’animation. Je dessine tous les jours et j’essaye de peindre le plus possible en fonction de ce que j’ai comme matos.

Rolling Fever c’est quoi ? c’est qui ?
Rolling Fever c’est toi, c’est moi, c’est eux ! C’est une troupe de grands escrocs qui apprécient autant l’odeur d’un bon grec que celle qui émane d’une bombe de peinture.

Comment as-tu rencontré ces Messieurs ?
Je les ai rencontrés il y a fort longtemps dans une ville que l’on connait sous le nom de M-town sous l’œil attentif de l’Art.

Quels sont vos projets dans cette « bande organisée » ?

Et tes projets perso?
Des courts métrages j’espère, et de l’illustration à droite à gauche…

Je te donne 150 000 $, tu fais quoi avec ?
Je me rachète un velo.

Quelque chose à rajouter ?
Merci à toi. Gros salut à Yohann, Audrey, Nanouk, Micha, Akbar, Kinay, Rekm, Gabrielle, Jose, Hama, Momo, Myriam.

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