DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tagging Art: Hello my name is

Of course, they have real names, but when they produce their art work they go by their street monikers - Gator, Superwaxx, Never. As graffiti artists, their work is visible on buildings, bridges, walls, and train cars around the country. But now, for the rest of this month, you can view the art of more than 70 creative graffiti artists in the unique show Hello: my name is at The Fridge gallery.

Since proclaiming your name (or tagging) is the foundation of modern graffiti, the innovative gallery is using canvases with "Hello my name is" sticker tags in the exhibition. The stickers were distributed to graffiti artists across the country, then painted and returned for display. The show was compiled by legendary DC graffiti artists Ultra and Che KGB. In addition to 20 DC artists, the work of artists from 12 other states and 2 South American countries are in included in the show.

Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in DC
Graffiti as art actually started with the famous "Kilroy Was Here" postings in the 1930's and especially during World War II. According to one theory, the 1st Kilroy was actually a train inspector who started marking his cars to show they had been inspected.

The graffiti as art scene exploded in the 1960's and 1970's with subway art in New York City and other urban centers. While some thought the graffiti was an eyesore, others viewed it as art, a debate that still rages today.

No matter how you see it, it's clear that graffiti is centered on the ego. "The artists wanted to get their names out everywhere," says assistant gallery director Emma Fisher. "That's why there was a focus on transportation. The subway cars moved through the boroughs and the names spread."

Like all forms, graffiti evolved. At first markers were used. They were replaced by spray paint. The artists soon discovered that by using different size spray caps, they could alter the size of the lines they were producing. "It became more and more complex after the letters (of the nicknames) got obscured," Fisher said.

There has always been an underground element and sense of lawbreaking in graffiti. "It's about being subversive," Fisher explained. So how did the gallery convince the outlaw artists to participate in a museum-like exhibition? "The artists knew they could trust us and we weren't going to turn anything in to the police." Fisher said.

And the words of the subway prophets are written on the gallery walls?
Despite the common background and theme of the exhibition, the works show striking differences, some because of locale and some because of personal creativity. Most of the pieces display the vibrant colors usually associated with graffiti, but others are in stark black-and-white or monochromatic shades of a single color.  Cartoon and comic-book influences abound in many works; others take a more psychedelic or pop approach. As you would expect from an urban art form, references to both the Black and Hispanic experience are prevalent. "The artists are always looking for something new that hasn't been done before," Fisher noted.

But the question remains - it's colorful, it's creative, but is it art? Fisher maintains that it is. And she has a simple way to convince the doubtful - just come to the gallery and check out the exhibition. "When you see something like this, it's clear that this is a real art form," she says.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although the timing of the 2 exhibitions wasn't coordinated, the Hello my name is show at The Fridge is a perfect companion piece to Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s now at the Corcoran until April 7th. If you like urban culture, you should check out both shows.

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