11 of L.A.’s Best Street Artists Reunite at L.A. Louver
By Anise Stevens
Through January 14th
“Graffiti took me all over the city, seeking out prime real estate to stake my claim, tag my name and flex my skills. It’s how I came to know all the artists in this exhibition; some of us go back almost 30 years. Graffiti is the foundation on which we built our artistic practices. But beyond graffiti, Los Angeles is what unifies us.” – Gajin Fujita
“Roll Call” at L.A. Louver features works by 11 artists whose ties to Los Angeles and their emergence from the outlaw graffiti cult will forever bind them as a force in urban history and culture. Curated by Gajin Fujita, the exhibition includes works by Fujita himself along with old friends who helped form KGB (Kidz Gone Bad) and K2S (Kill 2 Succeed), which grew to include an influential crew of taggers whose work is attributed to giving Los Angeles its own unique brand of graffiti lettering, reflective of the city’s indigenous Placaso hand styles.
While the L.A. street crews of the 1980s were formative in elevating graffiti as a distinguishable art form, Chaz Bojorquez remains recognized as one of the first street artists to successfully transition to the gallery. In the early 1960s, after he was introduced to the graffiti tradition of East LA’s Mexican-Americans, Bojorquez began honing his skills by spray-painting along the city’s riverbeds. Today his work is the culmination of various influences that, in addition to graffiti, reflect his interests in fine art. These include Asian calligraphy and Rumi’s poetry, evident in We come spinning…scattering stars (2016), which links the interconnectedness we share but are ultimately reliant upon in order to find our individual footing. Spanning 120 inches, the black and white work calls attention to Bojorquez’s exacting bold lettering, eloquently juxtaposed against an expansive sky where black smudges merge with translucent web-like white wisps amidst a sea of sparkling stars.
Since he first prowled the streets with Fujita, Alex Kizu’s (Defer) text-based work has evolved into a definitive style that the artist describes as a “spiritual language,” spontaneous in nature and generated from the subconscious. Like a Chinese mandala, Myths and Legends (2016) exemplifies Kizu’s aptitude for creating symmetry and balance amidst what might otherwise be descried as a chaotic cacophony. Calligraphic swirls, executed in white, gold and grey, implode within the work’s circular schism, a pulsating impetus of blue and green hues that generates an illusion of perpetual movement, beckoning viewers to pause for a moment of meditative contemplation.
While Fujita’s work continues to embody elements that characterize the lettering styles of L.A.’s original taggers and graffiti artists, it also includes a vibrant array of Japanese demons, dragons and courtesans among other prevalent figures common in ukyiyo-e iconography, a popular art form developed during the Edo Period. An intriguing blend of Eastern and Western urban imagery, Fujita’s work compels onlookers to consider the cultural barriers and class contradictions that prevail across Los Angeles. Guardian Angel (2016), for one, portrays a white-haired sumo wrestler, donning a Dodgers’ jersey and blue bandana while overpowering a green horned fiend.
Jesse Simon, who tagged alongside Fujita and Kizu in his teens, first found his passion for art on the streets. Today, his work speaks to his love for surfing and intrigue with sculpture. Utilizing pieces of old and broken surfboards as his primary medium, Simon manipulates his materials into three-dimensional abstract works that mimic the appearance of metamorphic rock such as phyllite whose surface is typically lustrous but also wrinkled. What looks like a pumpjack (and brings to mind the Inglewood Oil Field), CA Exempt (2016) mingles smooth milky surfaces with coarse black edges that collectively evoke the beautifully banded formations that result after age old minerals are bound together by time.
Perhaps most recognized among this group, at least within today’s mainstream, is Retna’s idiosyncratic script-based works. Born Marquis Lewis, the artist’s current work is an amalgamation of street-based graffiti, merged with Blackletter, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Arabic and Hebrew calligraphy. Not only has his peerless lettering distinguished luxury consumer brands such as Louis Vuitton and Nike, but it can be found on the cover of Justin Bieber’s 2015 album Purpose. Three of the artist’s paintings appear in “Roll Call.” Eye Don’t Think You Know You Opened Up My Eyes (2016) blends oil, ink, and acrylic on a 77 by 108 inch canvas. The work clearly reflects Retna’s typified style that integrates sophisticated, text-based line work with complex layering, which he achieves with a brush as well as a spray can.
Patrick Martinez is one of many who represent a younger generation whose art is equally emblematic of the Angelino experience despite the city’s ever-changing landscape. Influenced by the Hip Hop movement, Martinez was initially drawn to graffiti, a medium that pushed him to experiment with a variety of media that include ceramic, neon, painting and sculpture. Known for tongue-in-cheek commentary, Martinez doesn’t only use his work to address our obsessions with popular culture but also communicates real life concerns such as student debt, gun violence and the myth that the American Dream is still alive and well. The new 2016 pee chee (2016) is one of many in the artist’s ongoing series that confronts the issue of police brutality. Martinez appropriates the archetypical portrayals of American youth that have characterized the covers of Pee Chee folders for more than fifty years. Portraying scenes of excessive police force against unarmed minorities, Martinez speaks to our urban youth, who must struggle with more malicious forces than the fundamentals of the three R’s.
Works by David Cavazos (Big Sleeps), Fabian Deborah, Ricardo Estrada, Jose Reza (Prime) and Slick also appear in “Roll Call.” The exhibition’s title, a term used to describe the tagging of a crew’s individual members who collaborated on a single piece, aptly articulates Fujita’s intention, which was to bring together a group of artists who represent a “cross section of generations and geographies of graffiti” that continue to define Los Angeles’ unique cultural landscape. In Fujita’s words: “Graffiti gave us a voice and a sense of identity. It was our entry into another world beyond our neighborhoods, and we never thought what we were doing then would have such an impact not just on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, but on the generations to come.”
“Roll Call” will remain on view through January 14 at L.A. Louver, located at 45 North Venice Boulevard, Venice, California 90291. For additional information and gallery hours, please visit http://www.lalouver.com