Whitehot Magazine

January 2014: RISK: Metallic Tissue


 RISK, Installation view, photo by One Point Eight


RISK: Metallic Tissue
Fabien Castanier Gallery, Studio City
November 2 - December 15, 2013  

By Megan Abrahams

It comes from the Italian word, graffiato – meaning scratched. A medium of visual expression imported from the Old World, contemporary graffiti is not just about scratching, defacing, or subtracting. It is the creative act of adding -- words, layers of meaning, political commentary, insignia, territorial slogans, mark-making -- changing the prevailing context of its location, and challenging the accepted view of what art is and does. Its impact is profound, compelling and indelible, no matter how often it is erased; and graffiti has long since been invited off the street and inside galleries and museums. 

During his 30-year career, Kelly “RISK” Graval has defined his own distinctive brand of graffiti-based art. The artist built his fame -- or notoriety, depending on your point of view -- painting Los Angeles freeway overpasses, signs, and billboards, often dubbed “heavens.” His work has continuously evolved, integrating various visual and cultural influences, transcending the traditional vocabulary of both graffiti and abstract painting. His recent series of large murals exist as abstract color field paintings, eschewing the customary words and graphic symbols that typically predominate works of graffiti. 

In Metallic Tissue, RISK uses metal as a ground for his work. He has collected many thousands of spraypaint cans over the years. Now, cutting and pressing them, he uses them as a canvas. Flattened and riveted gold paint cans, license plates, and aerosol paint cans combined into a mosaic, adding mass and texture along with layers of narrative significance. The ingenious use of these metal surfaces also lends the pieces the gritty feel of the street from which this artist and his oeuvre has emerged.  

Other artifacts of “the street” make appearances as well. Neon lights are incorporated into some of the pieces, introducing another sculptural component to the painted surface. As is customary in the graffiti vernacular, tagging is pervasive, and is deployed prominently in works like the huge multi-colored sculpture, RISK, (neon and metal, 120 X 23 inches), which features painted letters in bold relief with neon tubing in front. It stood like a theatre marquee inside the entrance of the gallery. The tag, RISK, is emblazoned on the foreground of many of the pieces; in Metallic Tissue, (neon, mixed media and metal, 94 X 67 inches) RISK is painted in hot pink letters outlined in black -- dominating a textured background of connected license plates.  

RISK, Installation view, photo by One Point Eight

In both
The American Dream and Metallic Tissue WTF (both mixed media on spraycan metal, 60 X 48 inches) the artist adds visual contrast by coating individual metal rectangles with layers of paint in different colors and assembling them, collage-style, in a quilt-like background. Superimposed lettering glitters with iridescent paint, creating a light-catching surface. A monumental sculptural piece, RISK 1300 (mixed media on wood, 95 X 150 inches) is another composite work, made of three-dimensional concave fitted blocks, painted with a different graphic element on each side. Popping off the wall, the work is dynamic, gestural, with the name RISK in blue, against a background reminiscent of a flaming sunset. 

Sections of RISK’s studio walls are featured in Collateral Damage 1, 2 and 3, (walls from RISK’s studio, 71 X 58 inches each). The works are layered with multiple textures and graphic techniques, like spray paint in stenciled patterns, hard-edge lines, diffused dots and lettering in relief. These three raw, abstract compositions are bordered with ornate traditional gold frames, which surprisingly work, despite (because of?) the obvious incongruity. RISK pays homage to the aerosol paint can, an essential tool -- almost an appendage -- of the contemporary graffiti artist. Tapping into an apparently unlimited versatility, the artist transforms spray paint cans into a sculptural medium in The Rack (mixed media on spray cans and metal, 48 X 60 inches). A mosaic of spray cans mounted sideways in a frame, the piece juts out from the wall, in bold dimensionality. The surface features red and glittery highlights, with turquoise letters in a flourish through the center. Escaping the frame, the lettering extends onto the gallery wall, demonstrating with graphic intensity the artist’s refusal to be constrained. RISK may have migrated off the street and into the conventional art world, but his swagger defies convention. In the gallery context, his work succeeds in capturing the dynamic flair of the street, with a sophisticated dose of commercial savoir-faire thrown into the mix. 

The exhibition was curated by Roger Gastman, who co-curated the 2011 exhibition Art in the Streets, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. 


RISK, The American Dream, photo by One Point Eight

RISK, Collateral Damage, photo by One Point Eight

RISK, 1300, photo by One Point Eight

  RISK, Metallic Tissue, photo by One Point Eight 

RISK, The Rack, photo by One Point Eight




Megan Abrahams

Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings. 

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