I hardly noticed when NYC’s gritty vibe, with graffiti ubiquitously peppering the subways, started fading away. I notice it more now, now that it has devolved into the realm of nostalgia, of how things used to be, and reemerged into a respected art form – enough to have mass-market appeal and allow a rebellious kid who went around tagging up to grow up and make a career out of these once seemingly aimless interests.
“Beyond The Streets,” an exhibition celebrating “street art, graffiti, and beyond” is the brainchild of Roger Gastman, born from his affinity for counter-culture. Underlying the grandiose scale at which the works of 150 artists show in over 100,000 sq ft of space at Williamsburg’s Twenty Five Kent, is a personal homage to the excitement and allure of those formative years that buttressed the evolution of his passions into a sold-out show in L.A. In its NYC debut, the array of art including new works from widely recognizable names like Shepard Fairey, show alongside ephemera for context and memorabilia from Roger’s personal collection.
The juxtaposition of underground and mainstream, of play and profound, sets a unique experience of discovery that appeals to visitors of all ages. One minute you stumble upon a collection of graffiti-ridden model trains by Tim Conlon and the next minute you will find yourself immersed in a beautiful installment of flowers by DabsMyla. The majority of artwork has been made exclusively for the show, and for those of us who are locals you might see some familiar names – FAILE, whose mural dons the brick wall in Transmitter Park, is one of the participating artists.
There’s less than a month to catch the show, which runs through August 25th, so check it out before it closes. Here’s a discount code for 20% off: GRNPT203
More from our conversation with Roger Gastman:
GP: What is street art now, as opposed to what it used to be, where it is going and how did you capture that?
Roger Gastman: This show isn’t a historical show. It’s some of the best artists who have roots in graffiti and street art, running around doing lots of illegal activity and went on to have studio practices. The studio practices turned into galleries, turned into museums, turned into large scale works. No one’s in this show is salvaged works from the streets. It’s work made for this show of studio works. All the artwork is directed from the artists. And the majority of artwork has been made just for the show.
Every 10th or 15th exhibit, we made sure to include something more historical or ephemeral to remind you where you are and to root the show in some sort of history and context. For the show, we put a NY spin to it because wherever we are at, we want to respect that city.
No matter how different the laws are, no matter how clean the trains are, clean the streets are, there’s always going to be a new group of artists, the young kids continue to push things and put up their name in the form of activism, ego, or just wanting to write on shit.
GP: So how do you qualify as an artist to be part of a show like this? Do you have to “graduate” from the streets to be here?
Roger Gastman: A lot of artists “graduated” so to speak. It’s also artists who helped define the culture and pushed the culture to where it is. Not every artist in the show did a large amount of graffiti or did street art. A lot helped organize the shows and were artists in their own right and helped push the artists that came off the street in the right way. Someone like Murakami who we end the show with never was a graffiti artist or a street artist but he loves the culture and he’s been drawing inspiration from it. He has a gallery that has been showing a lot of artists that come out of street art. He’s been collecting the work and then there’s a whole crew of Japanese street artists that he’s helped bring up and made collaborations with. So someone like him, who’s one of the most famous artists in the world shows how far it’s gone from him loving it, drawing inspiration from it, wanting to learn more about it, and backing it.
Roger Gastman: So many of the artists truly want to be seen as artists. Their work on the street is one thing, and their work on indoors is inspired by their work on the street and vice versa. Often, street art is a much easier way to refer to some of these artists – street art is a much safer word for than graffiti for most people right now. That is the Shepard Fairey and the Banksy effect in a sense. Graffiti is much more letter-based, someone’s name written over and over again, in different stylistic ways and often the general public no matter how smart they are don’t understand it, care about it, and just look at it more as vandalism because it’s not as easily decipherable. But if you look at a street artist that has a stencil, it’s going to be looked at as more whimsical cute, than a graffiti artist who has a tag up and bubble letters up all over the place.
GP: I see a range of mediums and styles here. What is the common denominator of these works?
Roger Gastman: Artists are drawing inspiration from the streets but don’t necessarily bring the same kind of work indoors like Todd James painting. The loose lines and bright colors is reminiscent of the types of graffiti he did. If you look at the graffiti and look at his studio work, you might see a connection but the work is so so different. Bills he’s known for using a chisel or jackhammer and going straight into the walls and making faces. While he can’t necessarily do that indoors, he takes ads from the street, layers them up, paints them while, and chisels and cuts out to create images out of the textures. So with materials, he took from the street, to a much more high-level studio environment.
GP: What’s next for you?
Roger Gastman: Hopefully Beyond the Streets continues to evolve and continues to travel.
GP: Any other cities in mind?
Roger Gastman: I gotta survive this one first.
GP: You say you get to know a lot of the artists that you work with. Have you met Banksy? Do you know who he is?
Roger Gastman: I have no idea who you’re talking about.
All photos by Julia Moak