Through Oct. 1
Like tattoos, graffiti was once considered an act of rebellion. Now corporate executives sport body art as if it were the latest fashion statement — and a similar phenomenon has befallen the art of graffiti. Granted, there are amazing graffiti artists out there still breaking laws by embellishing highway underpasses, alley walls and the like (my garage, which faces an alley, included).
In Subsurface, a relatively clean graffiti-art exhibition on view at Pivot Gallery (formerly the Stutz Art Gallery), a group of self-identified graffiti artists from around the country exhibit the fruits of an annual pilgrimage here, making graffiti inspired by, and in, Indianapolis. Their work is street art in miniature, albeit a degree more polished — and, somewhat of a surprise to me, they offer an exhibition of many lovely and inspired moments.
Adopting the primary medium of the street, Ben Long spray-painted a trio of land/city-scapes, simple and yet soothing. Long’s nozzle aim is good — a spare, leafless tree in the foreground offers contrast to the misty landscape behind it. Yet there’s nothing subversive here, except in the appropriation of spray paint.
The graffiti artist Timber harkens back to street graffiti in another way: An explosion of graffiti elements, highly stylized but unidentifiable as objects, adorns an alley wall in miniature — a microcosm of found space. The slab of highly lacquered wood, a lone screw and metal bracket un-removed, offers a shimmering backdrop for Timber’s brilliant purple frenzy of shapes, coming together as a sculptural form, reminiscent of John Chamberlain’s larger-than-life car-parts sculptures. There’s the same kind of appropriation going on here, if more subdued. Chamberlain, too, reclaimed the abandoned urban-industrial object.
Graffiti, in the renegade sense, is often too hastily conceived to achieve the status of art, especially when it’s gang-related markings rather than artistic expression. At the same time, some graffiti is uniquely vibrant and, yes, explosive — an expression of raw energy that finds expression by flouting order.
“Evolution is a cycle, not a circle,” by the artist Like, moves even further into expressive possibilities: A blue silhouette of a woman in a cloudy expanse seems to be speaking; carefully written text sprawls across the small painting, another miniature alley wall — but the words are thoughtful, introspective. I could particularly relate to “As a mother you would think you’ve developed survival tactics that include the development of your family … being like everyone else doesn’t make you successful.”
When a graffiti artist goes public — or private, as it were — is his or her art still graffiti, in the pure sense? Or does it become something else? All anti-establishment artists, it could be argued, retain the rebellious element of the act of graffiti, so it could be said that these artists are still challenging the status quo. Whether or not this is the case, one assumes their street art is (also) alive and well.
Subsurface is on view at Pivot Gallery, 1005 N. Senate Ave., in the Stutz building, through Oct. 1. Call 317-536-0047 or visit www.pivotgallery.com for hours and information.