By: JUSTIN DAVIS, MAY 2014
The divide between capital S Street Art and capital F Fine Art, if such an objective divide exists, is not as expansive or profound as one might think. While surely there are practitioners who adhere strictly to one mode or the other – Low Brow or High Brow purity can afford artists a certain safety, appeal, or profitability – ArtNowNY’s recent group exhibition, Push It, proves that a vast majority of contemporary artists operate at the crux of the two, and to much success.
Like the title implies, Push It aims to challenge art consumers’ expectations via the way these artists (consciously or not) explore, repurpose, and expand the seemingly contrary aesthetics and techniques of Street Art and Fine Art. The showcase, curated by independent consultant Melissa McCaig-Welles, comprises of 42 works from 21 established and emerging artists based in New York and California, featuring mixed-media installation, painting, and photography. Though there is an obvious emphasis on fluidity and flexibility in the content and mechanics of each individual work, it’s apparent that Push It’s foremost priority lies in conveying the importance, as well as the sheer prominence, of transdiscplinary approaches in the contemporary art landscape.
Politics don’t play a pivotal role in Push It’s contextual spheres, but it’s also worth noting that the roster of talent is exclusively female. Gallery Owner Joseph Gross admits there was intention behind this, saying, “Men appear to dominate the art world and I can’t understand why. It’s definitely not for lack of female artists working. I’m just shocked by the number of galleries owned by women that primarily exhibit male artists.” He is quick to add, however, that this small fact was not the motivation behind Push It and that it shouldn’t be used as the primary lens for viewing and understanding the works.
“We wanted to line up to be a group of female artists who we felt were making a vast impact on this contemporary scene,” explains Curator McCaig-Welles, “but we all decided, along with artist May Hayuk, that we did not want to promote it as ‘all female,’ for many ethical reasons involved. Push It seeks to further a conversation about how the contemporary art sub-genre, Street Art, is influencing fine art studio practice rather than one specifically about gender.”
The pieces follow this premise closely, promoting entrancing dialogue instead of highlighting and protesting inequality. Their color palettes vary from wild to subdued, from INDIE184’s loud, graffiti-inspired neons to the simple and strategically accented blacks and whites of Amanda Reilly and ELLE. One common factor is the urban experience, which sits at the forefront of much of the composition in Push It, whether explicitly like the woman standing in a crowded isle of canned soup and vegetables in Katrina del Mar’s “Gina in the Bodega, NYC 2/7” or atmospherically like AIKO’s collage of comic book art and city iconography.
Obviously, environment has a clear and vivid significance, and here its influence comes through by way of vibrancy. The striking figures in Tracy Piper’s “The Boys” and “Princess” are swathed in dripping oranges, pinks, and blues, permeating organic yet hazy moods. In stark contrast, there is Alice Mizrachi’s “Guitar Player” and “Lady Sings The Blues,” two haunting collages that feature abstracted, almost Picasso-esque figures atop an array of darker though equally dynamic tones. And then there’s SWOON’s “#241 Neenee,” which focuses on a woman who, conversely, is creating and coloring in her environment – a church – and molding it into her vision as she sees fit.
Works whose centers lack figures rely on process as a means of transmitting the grinding urgency of city life to the viewer. Take for example L. Mylott Manning’s works with paint and thread, titled “Mantra,” “Psychosomatic,” and “O.C.D.” A void of black serves as the backdrop for each, and through this darkness Manning weaves threads of powerful colors into hard geometric patterns, dizzying the viewer with claustrophobic complexity and interconnectivity – a reflection of the way city-dwellers perpetually claw for room to live and room to move. GILF’s “Never Tomorrow” and “Relish the Shadow Sight” work in tandem with Manning’s disorienting techniques and rely on overwhelming the viewer with visceral optical illusions.
But whether their work is swirls of cursive text, two roosters locked in a cockfight, or a psychedelically decorated skull, it’s clear that these artists are hoping to dismiss any discrepancy there may be between Street Art and Fine Art. Through their works, the viewer is encouraged to see the virtue of amalgamating these two disparate forms because, much like a city, there is greater good in cooperation and convergence. With so much dazzling, cutting-edge talent, Push It was a tremendous must-see show.
Justin Davis is a writer living, working, and looking for work in New York City. He holds an MFA in poetry from The New School and currently serves as Features Editor for Brooklyn-based culture and music magazine Alt Citizen.view all articles from this author