A look inside “Street Cred” by Keisha Lambert:
Tinney Contemporary’s latest exhibition, “Street Cred” featuring world-renowned street artists Blek De Rat, Mr. Brainwash, Seen, Risk as well as Nashville’s own Chris Zydek. ‘Street Cred’ is curated through a collaboration with Brian Greif, co-founder of the Nashville Walls Project. Curated with unification in mind, “Street Cred” features work from the original epicenters of graffiti. The ‘Golden Age’ of graffiti originated in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. From the billboards, subways, and streets of Los Angeles to the sides of architecture in London gave rise to the ubiquitous Street Art movement. The underlying motif of each of these artists is to showcase the compelling relationship between humanity and the streets.
Xavier Prou travelled from Paris to the streets of New York City and had his curiosity peaked by the ambiguous scribbles strewn across the buildings and subways. Prou questioned the origin and intent behind the marks. The initial motive of graffiti is held within the anti-authoritarian or counter-cultural drive. Upon returning to home, Prou knew that he wanted to leave his mark on the Parisian streets. Xavier Prou chose the tag name of Blek Le Rat inspired by a comic series ‘Blek Le Roc’. He viewed the term ‘Rat’ as an anagram for art. Rats also served as an icon of invasive species of Paris and metaphorically rooted in giving art back to the people of the city. Blek Le Rat also felt that in respect to the architecture, he would need more finesse in his application of paint. Speed and transport of paint was another important factor after Blek Le Rat faced a run-in with the authorities. Thinking back to his early memories, he recalled the spread of the Italian Fascist Propaganda through the stencil posters of Mussolini. This drew him to develop the detailed, painstaking process of paper-cutting and transporting of stencil graffiti. He is now given the moniker as the ‘Father of Stencil Graffiti. His art became more emblazoned through a more political lens within society. It was the beginning of disenfranchised citizens expressing their dissatisfaction with society through graffiti—a view just as poignant today. Blek Le Rat also referenced historical elements within Art in his stencil graffiti such as Dali, Picasso, and Michelangelo. At a 30-year Retrospective of Blek Le Rat at the San Francisco MoMa, he tagged a fence post with an array of his stencil art graffiti. This piece is currently on view at Tinney Contemporary’s “Street Cred.” It is the quintessential unification piece of the show—containing countless tags of adornment from numerous graffiti artists across the globe.
Closer to home in the 1980’s, Kelly Graval was in the Streets of Los Angeles, beginning his career as a graffiti artist. He started by finding spray cans inside his uncle’s garage and testing them on the street with the tag name of ‘Surf.’ This tag became too associated with his name because he always carried a surf board and spray cans inside of his car. He began to get too much ‘heat’ from the police and soon changed his tag to what is known today as ‘Risk.’ This was not only a label; it also reflected the style of his graffiti. He was known for ‘Going for the Heavens’ by tagging and painting extremely dangerous to reach billboards and overpasses. Risk began to get much notoriety early in his career from the highly attuned color play and artistry of his tags. If the thought, “I have seen this style before” crosses one’s mind; it is because in the mid-1980’s Risk published a cover on underground ‘Ghetto Art Magazine’ that distributed his how-to guide on graffiti lettering. This caused his style of graffiti to spread like wildfire.
Risk has always been a multi-disciplinary artist and entrepreneur having started his own clothing company ‘Third Rail’ and serving as a set designer for Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones. ‘Street Cred’ features his well-known ‘Rolling Risky’ piece cultivated by the Rolling Stones emblem. Today, Risk operates his own gallery in LA championing local street artists within the city. He still features his own wide breadth of work containing canvases coated with car paint, neon lettering, and sculptural works that contain his ingrained California Surf and Car Culture motif.
Across the coast in the 1970’s, Richard Mirando began infiltrating the New York City subways at the early age of twelve years old. The tag name that he identified his work with was ‘SEEN.’ This stemmed from the ubiquitous nature of graffiti itself. Across the streets of New York, Seen’s work came to providence with his bringing to life of imagery of comic book characters and super heroes. With the New York subway battle against graffiti coming to paramount in 1981, Seen began to paint his work on canvas. Due to Seen’s mastery of color and level of prestige in the Graffiti world, Seen’s work was shown alongside Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol.
Local artist Chris Zydek brought ideas of ancient geometry and harmony to the walls of Nashville in his meticulous approach to street art. Within the gallery walls, his work allowed the viewer to be able to appreciate his subtle shadows and precise mark-making. It evokes a thoughtful and meditative approach to the application of paint. Street Cred is available to see in person until August 23rd 2019 to experience the work of established local artists as well as Street Art legends in one space.