Artists create from what they know. My interest in street art and those souls who make the city their personal canvas started after I saw a painting of a snazzy man with his hat pulled over his eyes; he could see everyone, but no one could see him.
The raw image moved me. My spirit understood the spiritually-sighted blind man and his quest for personal safety in a dangerous world.
The art also ignited my curiosity because the artist, a young Puerto Rican man, didn’t fit my ignorant image of a deep thinker or a fine artist.
He’s a menace to society. He’s been to prison. It’s not a label he enjoys attached to his name but one that he, sadly, earned in his early youth.
He now pours the perfect cappuccino and uses his street art as an outlet for pain from his past. He no longer hides paint cans along hidden routes, dodging police officers and risking life and limb to tag streets in acts of false bravado. Most importantly, he no longer associates with the troubled, misguided gangs of his youth.
Instead, between selecting the perfect coffee blends for caffeine-addicted customers, he is teaching himself how to paint and is experimenting with canvases and Instagram.
When I shared my conversation with Erika Pettersen Director of Exhibitions of ARTs East New York, and the opportunity to submit his work for an official gallery mounting, he went blind, dumb and deaf on me.
Ms. Pettersen is a champion for the arts. To wit, she extended the submission deadline from March 1 to March 7 in an effort to help spread the word even more.
ARTs East New York’s 2013 exhibit, “Off the Street,” will explore the complicated question: What is left of street art once it’s taken off the street?
Artists submit without fear. “Off the Street” will feature a few works from those submissions; the art will be more than just gallery-ready replications of artwork on the street, but explorations extending the space of the “street” from the physical to the conceptual.
Ms. Pettersen recently sat down to a Q&A with the AmNews
Amsterdam News: Why street art in a gallery setting?
Erika Pettersen: Street art being displayed in a gallery setting is a really popular trend at the moment. The reason why is only something I can speculate on.
The current art market is always looking for the next best thing and trying to keep edgy in order to attract buyers. Street art’s traditional setting is beyond the edges of gallery walls, so appropriating this medium in a gallery space is the very definition of “cutting edge.” I also think that such shows are a reflection of another renaissance taking place, emulating the raw, urban appeal that the borough offers.
I’m excited about the trend, but oftentimes, such gallery exhibits fall a bit flat. The reason for this is that they don’t take into account that the artwork has been removed from its original context. That has to be made up for. Artworks in the Off the Street exhibit will hopefully address how art remains authentically “street” with a move such as that from a warehouse wall to canvas.
I’m also hoping the exhibit can serve as a parallel for how “street life” can maintain its essence and spirit while moving away from its more negative associations born of the street, like gang activity, violence and vandalism.
AmNews: What makes “street art” art?
EP: What makes any “art” art is a question that has been struggled with for centuries. Many theories exist around the definition of art, yet there is no universal conclusion on the matter. My thought is that street art came into existence at the moment when graffiti writers started to consider themselves artists. It’s not necessarily all good art–in the same way not all paintings or photographs are good art–but it’s art nonetheless. However, I do think there is a lot of great street art out there and experimenting with the context of the gallery space is resulting in even more inventive street artworks.
AmNews: Who buys this as an investment? Tell us about buyers, worldwide.
EP: I really don’t have much to say about selling and buying art from a personal perspective, since I’ve only curated in non-profit spaces. From what I read about the art market, I know that serious art buyers are looking for art that will make it into the history books and thus be most valuable. Attraction to artwork that falls within a current trend is in hopes that the trend is one that will end up defining a certain period of time.
I think street art is very attractive to buyers for that reason. This is a moment where art is grappling with social issues, many of which are germane to the urban environment. Street art embodies this social engagement and is thus likely to be seen by many buyers as a defining art form of this era.
As for what individual pieces to purchase within this art trend, there are a myriad of considerations for art buyers varying from personal taste to public prestige.
AmNews: How does an artist make money while pursuing their artistic destiny?
EP: The truth is, very few artists can make a living solely by creating art. However, there are various creative career paths that can capitalize on an artists’ skills. At ARTs East New York, we hire teaching artists who make a meaningful impact on the lives of youth in our community through public art projects and art classes. Graphic design is another field that is related to street art in its creative play with the way text looks and its focus on conveying a message. Using the artist in you can be lucrative. You just have to be creative (which you should be already, if you’re an artist!).
As I turned to leave the trendy coffee establishment, a decorated, used coffee cup caught my eye. Completed in magic marker colors, I was dumbstruck at the intricate design. It reminded me, instantly, of the commissioned work presented by a spirit company in the 1990s.
I suspect I know the artist and I sincerely hope this message reaches him and many who have the talent and now have an opportunity to share.
The submission deadline has been extended to March 7. The show, which will be curated by Pettersen, will take place at the ARTs East New York gallery space (located at 851 Hegeman Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11208) from April through July.
For further information on the submission process, visit http://artseastny.org or call ARTs East New York at 718-676-6006.