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graffiti

Post #137 • October 28, 2003, 9:09 AM

Ambar Hernandez, in an article entitled “Shitti Graffiti: Tao Rey’s graffiti pieces at Placemaker lack street cred” from the Miami Hurricane, the University of Miami’s student paper:

For those expecting to see rough-and-ready, street-wise graffiti, try again. Tao Rey’s work is (unfortunately) the kind of graf metrosexual SoBe shop owners would pay to display on their outer walls or it’s what some rich phony cokehead living on Brickell would buy to let all his drug-dealing “homies” know that he’s down too by “appreciating” urban culture and doesn’t even need to leave his lavish apartment to enjoy sparkling “graffiti-inspired canvases.”

A run-on sentence, but what a run-on sentence. Anyone who gets this wound up about art and can write about it will make a fine critic one day.

Me, I didn’t dislike the show so intensely. Whether these examples of graffiti are street-grade is immaterial; local public specimens are so ugly and unambitious that doing it in the studio may be a good idea. The bigger issue is that stunted ambitions are part of the nature of graffiti; the very word is Italian for “little scratches.” Although in theory superlative art can come out of any genre, graffiti has yet to prove this conclusively for itself.

Rey references tagging, the subset of graffiti that concentrates on letterforms. Tagging fits into a tradition of calligraphy. There are stunning examples of calligraphy, and it is more flattering to consider Rey’s works as contemporary attempts at it, rather than full-blown paintings. Thinking about them this way, they work, at least stylistically. Rey’s pieces are well crafted, and the idea to combine the production techniques of traffic signage – the graphic evidence of government – with a style born out of illegal activity is worth appreciating.

But whereas Asian, Arabic, and Medieval European examples have a message that reinforces the formal qualities of the work, Rey renders phrases like “and I quote” and “in other words,” giving them a so-what air. Still, they are an improvement over his earlier work, which includes giant wild-style expletives on canvas and “blah” written repeatedly in white paint on a white wall. Finally his vector points out of banality; its velocity, if any, remains to be seen.

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