Arts & Entertainment

Street Art: Off the Street and Into the Galleries

The growing importance of street art cannot be underestimated. Once known only in the underground, recent generation’s urban art creators are both making a name for themselves and making a living too. From the streets of London, Paris and New York to upscale art galleries around the world, street artists have become part of the cultural landscape.

Bergen County has many things of which to be thankful. The extent and quality of the culture found here is easily one of the most important.

We have our own Performing Arts Center, a Symphony Orchestra, concerts in the parks, theatre productions, and lots and lots of art. From local libraries to cafes that feature area artists to fine art galleries, Bergen County is filled with countless ways to enlighten and engage you in art of all styles and subject matter.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” (Thomas Merton)

Just as listening to music can transport you to another time or place, so it is with art. I’ve loved the work of Georgia O’Keefe for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I saw an exhibition of her work in person that I felt myself moving to another dimension in her vision.

Whether art is in the form of paintings, glass, sculpture, prints, or jewelry, seeing it in person, as it was created by the artist, is certainly one way to get the right side of your brain working overtime. The city of Englewood has a rich tradition of celebrating the Arts. Take a short walking tour and you’ll be rewarded with several art galleries and shops where you can enjoy a break from a busy day and escape to a different world.

Street Art’s Rise to Fine Art

Located on Palisade Avenue, the Borghi Fine Art Gallery opened in 2007 and is a second-generation family-run art enterprise involved in the art world for the past seventy-five years. Four of the eight siblings in the Borghi family are involved in the business. Laura and Michael Borghi oversee the Englewood gallery which specializes in fine art from the 15th to the 20th century and features many contemporary artists as well.

In that regard, no art is more contemporary than street art. The days when street artists were dismissed are long gone, and each new generation of street artists contributes to exciting new ideas and techniques. A recent showing of street art at the Borghi Gallery was a visual representation of the present-day perspective.

Through the Eyes of a Street Artist

Banksy, the English graffiti artist whose social commentary depictions have made him a household name was represented by two well-known pieces. “Flying Copper” is a 2003 screen print on paper, and it depicts a Smiley face police officer dressed in riot gear with small white wings over his shoulders. The pairing of a Smiley face with a policeman ready for battle was strong imagery when it was created and remains so even today.

The other Banksy piece in the exhibit was “Napalm” and featured three well-known but dramatically different figures. The girl in the middle is Kim Phuc, a nine-year-old girl burning from napalm in the midst of the Vietnam War. Holding her hands are Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. A social commentary on America, it is a 2004 screen print on paper.

Shepherd Fairey, famous for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster, was represented at the exhibit by “Lotus Diamond, Version 4,” a 60” x 40” mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, collage) on paper. It was flanked by two smaller Fairey screen prints on paper of the artist Jasper Johns. Fairey, an American artist and graphic designer is also the founder of OBEY clothing, a line that provides its own social commentary.

Brooklyn based street artist Swoon is known for her portrait dominated street art. For her tagging art her method of choice is wheat paste, and she creates her own paper for her four-color screen prints. Thought-provoking, her piece titled “Braddock Steel,” immediately draws you in with its subject matter as well as its color palette.

Philadelphia’s John Stango takes inspiration from among other things: celebrities, B-movies, pop culture, newspapers, and magazines. His style is reminiscent of contemporary artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Basquiat, and Rauschenberg. His mixed-media portrait of Muhammad Ali captures the Champ in a standard boxing stance as an American flag with dripping blood imagery hangs in the background.

Many of Stango’s works, while full of interesting contrasts are just fun. The mixed media and acrylic on canvas “Art Test,” shows Warhol and Basquiat surrounded by the art test advertisements found in magazines during the ‘60s.

Tony Montana vs. the Superhero is the subject of Stango’s “Captain America, Say Hello to my Little Friend.” The mixed media and acrylic on canvas piece is a compelling juxtaposition of comic book characters and the movie gangster.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash, makes a very interesting statement in his “Don’t Be Cruel” silkscreen and mixed media on paper creation. In it, instead of holding a guitar, Elvis Presley cradles an automatic weapon in his arms. In another example of getting a message across, “I Love You” has Mr. Brainwash using hundreds of Fragile stickers and a little black spray paint to offer a statement on the delicate nature of things of the heart.

Street artists are known for their messages. Whether it’s political or social, the works of these artists make people stop and think. Many take their references from the world around them, building on statements or imagery already in the public view. Others use their own vision to cause people to question not only their place in the world, but the world itself. Now that their art has moved into galleries, it can be viewed by many and their talents recognized by the world.

Kath Galasso

Wordworker, Observer, Force of Nature   @KatsTheory

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