The explosion of “graffiti art” in the early ‘70s provided a vehicle of recognition for a large group of urban artists who otherwise would have been excluded from the rarified New York art world. One of the fundamentals of the subway writer’s methodology was the near universal adoption of the proletarian aerosol spray can as the single acceptable tool of expression. Over time, many of the original “writers” moved indoors, where they continued developing mastery of the spray technique on canvas. The current exhibition at the Eric Firestone Gallery, of Easthampton NY, a group show titled Down By Law includes a roster of accomplished veterans of this community. Many luminaries from “back in the day” were at the opening: Daze, Dr. Revolt, Blade, Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn and his wife, artist Jane Dickson who made a terrific showing with her 1982 portrait of Fab 5 Freddy; photo documentarians of the era Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfont; and Coco 144.
Of particular interest to these viewers is the work of Robert Gualtieri, AKA Coco144. Coco has a career that spans over 40 years, first as a 15-year-old “writer” on subway cars and later evolving into a studio artist employing stretched canvas. He is represented in the exhibition with three paintings selected from three different periods of his career. Each canvas has as its singular theme, various mutations of his tag, “coco.” Exploring the graphic play of these four letters has been the central themes of his oeuvre. This commitment of over four decades allowed him to develop a physical dexterity, which enabled his control of line and color, a practice that parallels the work of Chinese calligraphers. The work is most successful when the content of the letters dissolves, approaching complete abstraction. Limited to the self imposed restrictions of four letters and only one tool, the spray can, Gualtieri has created a body of work which calls to mind the duplications of Bernard Piffaretti and the intersection of gesture and hard-edge of Mary Heilmann.
One association, which has accompanied most of these artists throughout their careers, was their origins as outlaws. The hip overtone of that genre carries over to this day. Coco’s paintings, with a kind of dry humor, directly engage references to his past exploits while at the same time explore an ongoing, deep and exuberant interest in the collision of the graphic and the abstract.
*Eric Firestone Gallery
East Hampton, NY
DOWN BY LAW
August 14 – September 26, 2010
A percentage of the sales from Down By Law will benefit the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.*