Is it possible for two curators—Laurie Weitz and Eddie Donaldson—to put together a street-art exhibition at an established gallery that lets the participating artists retain their street credibility?
The 5th Element: The Golden Era of Street Art, now on display at Gallery 446 in Palm Springs, essentially achieves this goal by spotlighting 10 artists who work on canvas, board, paper and/or metal. Irrespective of their basic style (e.g., abstract, realism), each artist demonstrates the street-art tradition.
Mear One’s tall vertical painting “Ascension (Surrender),” greets gallery visitors. This tall, vertical painting reminds of Picasso’s blue period. In shades of blue, blue-black and black, with the spare use of white, his androgynous figure soars upward, reaching for and through a swirl of zodiac signs. A group of black birds, parallel to the subject, fly upward; they enhance the experience of dimensionality and movement.
Other Mear One works are also rooted in the figurative tradition. In “Tagger,” a work on paper, one watches a teenager tagging an old wall. To the right of the wall, one sees a 21st-century skyscraper. As the work is floated in a box-like frame, viewers become voyeurs.
While not formally trained, Annie Preece comes from a family of recognized artists. Gained either through DNA and/or osmosis, Annie’s skills led her to become one of the Bay Area’s first female underground graffiti artists. Her humor seems to be a front for some telling messages. “Fuck You Soup” is a riff on Andy Warhol’s pop art images of soup cans. One cannot help but pause and do a double-take when passing by this image.
Her “Pink Elephant” is an image with two stories. At first, the animal’s face—created out of bands of pink, salmon, gray and grayish white—seems happy as it stares at the viewer. Light gray ears and tusks complete the head, generating a sense of depth. But upon closer inspection, we see the cheerful elephant is not so happy: Doleful eyes look outward. The less-than-subtle use of dripping black and white paint creates vertical bars, reminiscent of cages at a zoo.
Defer is an icon among L.A. graffiti and street artists. Each of his four images here contains a controlled yet kinetic energy. Although these works were painted in acrylic, it is easy to imagine them spray-painted on the side of a building. In “Ultra Magnetic” (pictured above), a solid black canvas is the backdrop for a frenzy of deep red and magenta brushstrokes. In the foreground, a diamond-like shape—composed of jagged, sharp brushstrokes in white, gray and amber—furthers the sense of agitation and dimensionality. The diamond seems to pulsate.
Two of Gregory Siff’s images infuse humor and abstraction into street art. Like most of his works, “Untitled 1” is based on a grid. Here, the artist sketches caricatures of faces and familiar pop objects (e.g., a lollypop, a ice cream cone, a lit candle) on a stark white canvas. A second and more impressive work is “If You Want to See the Stars Look in the Sky” (a work done in conjunction with Mar). Here, the white canvas becomes the backdrop for a grid of sketched faces—six by 16—with each one depicting a distinct emotion. While his sketching skill is apparent, Siff’s pictures are also abstracts. Both canvases—when looked at from a distance—become non-representational abstractions.
The leap from building wall to canvas is not difficult when looking at Cryptik’s “Mantra Mandala I” and “Mantra Mandala II.” Against a light-gray canvas and limited palettes of gray and gold, or gray and silver, Cryptkic appears to employ stencils of Tibetan-like characters to create floating concentric circles with mosaic-like qualities.
Whether these 10 artists work on canvas, paper, metal or board, each of them demonstrates an ability to translate a message from an outside wall to a work in a gallery. The 5th Element is worth a visit.
The 5th Element: The Golden Era of Street Art continues through Sunday, Nov. 3, at Gallery 446, 446 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and by appointment. For more information, visit www.gallery446.com, or call 760-459-3142. Proceeds benefit the anti-bullying organization BOO2bullying.org.
Victor Barocas is a photographer, author and educator. Contact him at Victor@VictorsVisions.com.