May 27 - July 20, 2011
Group Show
galerie jerome de noirmont

FUTURA 2000, Cookiepuss, 1983, Spray paint on canvas, 135 x 236,5 cm - 53 1/8 x 93 1/8 in. (c) Futura 2000. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris.

exhibition release

May 27 – July 20, 2011


    Graffiti New York 80’s at the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris from May 27 to July 20, 2011 will present a collection of works by the pioneers of this art movement that gathered momentum in the streets of New York at the beginning of the 70s to become a worldwide phenomenon in the 80s. More than 10 years after the anniversary retrospectives dedicated to Andy Warhol (1996/1997), Jean-Michel Basquiat (1998), and Keith Haring (1999) whose Estate we represent in France, the gallery is now showcasing an art movement that fed into the creative exuberance of New York in the 1980s: the graffiti movement and its precursors.

Twenty or so pieces, some of which have never been exhibited, will illustrate the pioneering styles of 11 leading New York graffiti artists:

Jean-Michel BASQUIAT

and an unseen collaboration by LA II, Kenny SCHARF, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT and FAB 5 FREDDY…

The exhibition presents the different founding schools of New York graffiti art in the 1980s. With Blade’s letter pieces through to the figurative abstract works on canvas by Dondi, as well as Basquiat’s “SaMo©”, Keith Haring’s chalk drawings and Futura’s or Rammellzee’s lyricism of anticipation, this collection spanning 1978 to 1987 communicates the artistic vitality of a fundamental decade in contemporary art history.

If the origins of graffiti were considered from an etymological perspective, the movement’s beginnings could date back to the Lascaux cave paintings or the wall writings observed in Roman latrines. Leaving a signature on a public wall is, beyond the subversive and illegal nature of such an act, above all a testimony of identity and recognition. This is the very essence of graffiti. The two elements that set the New York movement apart however are its visual aspiration and its stylistic diversity. Graffiti, or street art, has been a progressive phenomenon ever since the very first "tags” (the artist’s street name) appeared at the end of the 1960s, first in marker pen and then in spray paint. This continual evolution has been marked by many formal innovations. Graffiti was thus legitimized as an art form and became part of the fine art world early in the 1980s.

It was in the cosmopolitan and frenetic city of New York, which had been undergoing radical economic and social transformation since the end of the Vietnam War, that this fresh urban and creative energy would take root and propagate. From 1971, “taggers” began to invade subway walls and tunnels. “Crews", often grouped by neighborhood and ethnic origin, began to form. Tags grew in size and in complexity, and above all, were brazenly displayed for all to see on the railcars of the New York subway. Media and art galleries quickly developed a fascination for the movement´s popular cohesion and for the artistic potential of its “writers” (graffiti artists). 

It was in 1980, that many of the leading names of graffiti movement made the transition from the street onto the canvas, from underground to the art world. The first major graffiti art exhibition was held at Fashion Moda in 1980, an alternative exhibition space in the south of the Bronx, and later at the Fun Gallery. The following year, two key group exhibitions took place, the renowned New York/New Wave at the PS1 Contemporary Art Center, and the event Beyond the Words organized by Futura 2000 and Fab 5 Freddy´s the Mudd Club, definitively establishing this first generation of graffiti pioneers exhibited today at the gallery. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf exhibited alongside the “subway writers”. These young artists, unlike Dondi White, A-One, Crash and Toxic, had studied fine art while discovering a more spontaneous form of art by working alongside this new underground New York scene.


DONDI WHITE (Donald J. White), considered as the “King” of New York graffiti and “wild style” lettering (stylized writing which is almost impossible for the untrained eye to decipher), founded the CIA (Crazy Inside Artists) crew in 1977, and is set apart from other writers by his stunning “whole cars” like the famous Children of the Grave from 1980. His graphic talent allows him to vary styles, moving from the arcane wild style tag to a smoother graffiti that is more accessible to a wider public. The three pieces exhibited here are representative of these two aesthetic styles. Firstly, Brain Damage (1981), from Keith Haring’s personal collection is a reminder of his association with this first generation of graffiti artists who had begun by spraying their talent on the subway walls. Looking back (1982), exhibited at the Fun Gallery in 1982 and Portrayal values (1984), feature semi-abstract figures inspired by Vaughn Bode’s fantastical cartoon world. This association of minimalism and influences from popular culture and literature illustrate the artistic progressions that arose as a result of the transition from the subway onto the canvas, and the adaptation to a wider public audience than the graffiti community alone.

Another graffiti artist renowned for his lettering is CRASH (John “Crash” Matos), who also develops a dynamic graphic style incorporating imagery similar to that in comics with the bold colors used in advertising. The piece exhibited at the gallery, The Car (1983), demonstrates his desire to transpose the dynamism and force of his subway letters into movement on canvas.

In Images (1986), Steve Ogburn, aka BLADE, pursues his study of forms of lettering, a continually evolving theme in his work since his first train paintings in 1973. This first generation graffiti artist, whose creative fervor is symptomatic of the effervescence of the East Village in the 1980s, never adopted wide style, and perfectly masters bubble letters and shadowing to create veritable three-dimensional, lettered frescos.


Alongside this generation of writers, the East Village underground scene would also establish other young artists exhibiting in galleries at the time. Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, Keith HARING and Kenny SCHARF adopted some of these same street practices, and quickly became figureheads of the movement as a legitimate artistic discipline. Artistic connections and friendships developed, giving rise to reciprocal emulation illustrated here in a unique collaboration between Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, LA II and others. Art is the World, a wooden board from 1981 covered with all the artists’ tags, also from Keith Haring’s private collection, symbolizes a coming together of these styles which are clearly different, but share the same connection to the city.

The straight-forward, easy to interpret, graphic expression, developed by Keith HARING from the end of the 1970’s was partly influenced by his discovery of urban art and the New York writers he was exhibiting with at the time. In 1981, he began to draw his figures in white chalk on the unused advertising panels covered with black paper in subway stations, and then to invade city walls, street lamps, cars, clothes... even bodies. Subway Drawing (ca. 1983), exhibited here, is a rare testimony to this urban style that aspires to serve life and to be accessible to all. Untitled (1980/81), a marker-pen drawing on wooden board, also illustrates this unique artistic language, coherent with the positive spontaneity that characterized this New York underground graffiti community.

BASQUIAT also adopted the graffiti artists’ approach displaying his work in public places under the impertinent signature “SaMo©” (for “Same Old Shit”). With the intention of attracting the attention of the art world, his nihilist aphorisms covered the walls of specific neighborhoods like Soho and Harlem. The materials he used and the appearance of his work however differed from that of the graffiti artists. The three works on paper dated 1978 exhibited here are emblematic of his early artistic career. The contrast that characterizes him as a precursor to the graffiti artists can already be observed: a nervous and energetic style marrying poetry and drawing, an insight into his revolutionary attitude towards urban poverty, associated with the use of traditional supports, here paper.

Untitled (1980), by FAB 5 FREDDY (Fred Brathwaite), confirms the diversity of graffiti and its links with the hip-hop scene. This artist’s work is directly influenced by his perception of music. He co-organized Beyond The Words (Mudd Club exhibition in 1981) with FUTURA 2000, putting together the musical program and presenting a break dance program within the exhibition. This event is representative of the hybrid nature of the creative movements of the time, and Fab 5 Freddy was the connection between the hip-hop culture in the Bronx and Brooklyn and the avant-garde neighborhoods of the East Village. In 1980, Rapture by Blondie, the first rap single to top the US charts, included a reference to this graffiti artist and hip-hop DJ.

FUTURA 2000 (Leonard Hilton McGurr), another visual graffiti artist wishing to associate his work with the music scene, toured with British punk band “The Clash” on their 1981 European tour. Working live on the backdrops during their concerts, he created intense but light graffiti on stage. Untitled (ca. 1983), spray can on board, is the fruit of one of these performances, a reminder of the instantaneity and dynamism of the graffiti displayed on subway trains and a way to maintain the artist’s relationship with tags, despite graffiti´s transition onto canvas.


FUTURA 2000, a true icon of the graffiti world, quickly distinguished himself from other writers, partly in his easy transition from the subway to the galleries walls, and partly by developing an abstract approach to graffiti, inspired by cyberpunk and science-fiction films. 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 and was the inspiration for his tag/signature, “Future 2001” which then became “FUTURA 2000”.

Favoring movement and color over lettering, his skilled use of the spray can and of colors create an “other-world” effect that could be compared to the lyrical abstraction of Kandinsky or Hartung. His “tag” also developed into a series of geometric shapes that would become his signature. The immense, almost fantastic, layouts of colors and the decorative elements such as those in Cookiepuss (1983) earned FUTURA 2000 the status of a accomplished abstractionist. Here, his expressive use of the spray can imposes an organized vision of these disordered colors. He plays with our senses, our feelings of incompleteness; he leads us into a celestial universe. His work has delicate force and spontaneity, and blends existing street codes with a new urban romanticism to enhance the space.

The work of Bill BLAST (William Cordero) also illustrates this futurist tendency in street art. Blast to the future (1983), a frescoe-like canvas, could well be taken straight out of Alex Raymond´s Flash Gordon universe.

RAMMELLZEE has developed a theory based on the war of letters and the alphabet, producing a very personal style the artist calls “gothic futurism”. The two pieces exhibited at the gallery, Gothic Futurism Jekyll Seeʼs All Fear (1983) and Equation Note! Namid Foe, Rae Square (1986) are particularly representative of this school of thought which attempts to modify the role of language in society, and which translates aesthetically into the use of gothic characters in wild style. With A-ONE and TOXIC, he founded the “TMK crew (Tag Master Killer)”.
Exhibited here, with Exerpis (1992) and In Criminidating Evidence (1990) respectively, A-ONE and TOXIC were very well received in the Europe of their expatriation in the 1980s (A-One to France, Toxic to Italy), thus symbolizing the development of the graffiti art movement outside the United States.

In a monotonous urban environment of concrete and noise, all these young, inspired artists have successfully enhanced their city, and offered new perspectives to contemporary art, shattering bourgeois artistic conventions.
In a similar vein to Pop Art, which intended to transform symbols of popular culture into works of art, graffiti, born in the street, is today recognized as a legitimate art movement, and has also become part of our everyday lives. Similarly to Warhol’s work, graffiti’s masterpieces are now exhibited in museums whereas its minor expressions have invaded our collective memory. Graffiti art lies so at the very beginning of 21st century art history.

Press Contact: Emmanuelle de NOIRMONT / Laurène Flinois