Jesse North: Graffiti as you’ve probably
never seen it before: in a museum. Morris Museum has opened its doors and
its walls to some of the greatest graffiti and street artists
in New Jersey with their exhibit, which features 12 prominent painters who have created
original pieces exclusively for this showing. We’re here in Morristown to speak with some of
the artists behind this unconventional exhibit. Jesse: What is this exhibit about? Ron Labaco: “Aerosol” captures the site-specific nature of graffiti and street art We have invited 12 artists to come and paint directly on gallery walls and, actually, this is a first of any U.S. museum to have the artists painting directly on our walls. Jesse: Why did Morris Museum decide to do an exhibit on graffiti? Ron: This exhibition showcases graffiti and street artists for the talent that they have and for the contribution that they have to
contemporary art. They tell a story of the evolution of graffiti and street art. Jesse:When did graffiti make the jump from being something that kids got in trouble
for doing to being classified as artwork? Ron: There are still a lot of people who
don’t consider graffiti fine art and there continues to be the association
with vandalism because it is unsanctioned. It wasn’t until art galleries started to really appreciate the work in the ’80s, and have really embraced this genre. Jesse: So what’s going to happen these works when the exhibit is over? Ron: We have secured permission from all of the artists to paint over them. Jesse: It’s kind of difficult, but it’s part of the art, it’s part of the culture, and so you have to come see it while you can. Ron: Absolutely and graffiti is essentially
and inherently temporary. Jesse: Who are these artists? Ron: These artists actually come from
all across New Jersey several generations of artists who really
brought graffiti and street art to the fore in the ’80s, and came to be the
inspiration for subsequent generations. Maliq Grifin: My name is Maliq Griffin. This is my piece, “The Second Coming.” Back in ’85, I was part of a big show in Newark at City Without Walls gallery, so this is like my second go-around with the gallery and the whole graffiti scene, so I called it “The Second Coming.” This was all done digitally first then reproduced
it on the wall in spray paint. The area down here in the bottom, if you remember the show “Video Music Box,” this is kind of
like the intro so since I did a city background, I said, let me play off the
colors and the vibe of the intro to the show. When I used to draw faces, I would
leave the nose out, and I say, “Hey, that looks pretty cool,” so it’s kind of been like a signature, so I figured I’d throw the signature character in there. So that’s how I came up with this whole concept. Jesse: How did you get started in graffiti? Maliq: I got started in 1980 at Newark Arts High School and I met a friend of mine, Rahim Brown, So he opened his book and I saw “Attain” all throughout his book, and I said,
“What’s ‘Attain’?” it’s a graffiti tag and he was showing me things here and there, and
then I saw the documentary “Star Wars” and I said, “That’st what I want to do.” Leon Rainbow: Hi, I’m Leon Rainbow. I’m a
graffiti artist from Trenton, This is my piece, “Eyes at Work.”
Basically, this eyeball is a graffiti artist and he’s creating the piece and then this eyeball is painting over it with the white paint in the bucket and then somebody else came by after he painted over a bit and then did a tag. So it’s kind of like the story of graffiti. Jesse: Showing the life cycle of graffiti art. Leon: That’s exactly what I was trying to do Jesse: How did you get started in graffiti? Leon: I grew up in the ’80s, and breakdancing
and graffiti started being in the movies, here was “Star Wars,” which was like a PBS documentary and that was really the one that I was like, “Wow. I want to do that.” I wound up coming over here to New Jersey and learning from different graffiti artists from New York and New Jersey and Philadelphia and, you know, that’s how it kind of worked for me. Elan: Hi, I’m Elan, graffiti artist from
Elizabeth, New Jersey, and this is my piece “Out of Place” at the
Morris Museum for the “Aerosol” exhibition. I want to do something that really portrayed,
like, the art form in a good way, but also bring an homage back to my birthplace, Elizabeth, New Jersey. The heart and soul of all graffiti stems from the lettering and then around that, I tried to showcase
some of the other forms of art that we do. More figurative stuff, like the character or the cityscape and at the heart of it is this framed oil painting, that you might find normally in a museum, with the words “out of place” on it, just to
sort of strike the conversation, like what is out of place? Graffiti is not
something that you’d normally find or think about being exhibited in a museum. I got started when I was a teenager,
probably around the age of 16. I always loved the graffiti growing up; I’d see it around my hometown in Elizabeth and I loved both like the colors and
the abstract letter forms. So I started experimenting as a teenager and been doing ever since. Jesse: Do you feel like graffiti has taken a long time to be recognized as art? Elan: Absolutely. Graffiti is an art form that has really been around since of the late 60s, and, you know, here we are, you know, 60 years later and this is one of the first shows I’ve seen
graffiti in a museum. Leon: The act of graffiti is a defiance against society to begin with Elan: But I also understand, like, the stigma
of graffiti’s roots and how people can be sort of turned off to it so that’s why this kind of show is so important, right? It puts it in a different light and exposes it
to new people. Leon: When I first started, especially, it was just the rebellious-ness of it and then just the beauty of it, you know?
And just like, kind of, exaggerating, abstracting, you know, from a letter form. Maliq: I was a quiet, introverted kid and it was the thrill of going out and, you know, packing paint and no one knew what you
were doing, and they saw your name and you got all this praise but nobody
really knew who it was. Jesse: What is special about graffiti in terms of its messages and its culture? Leon: I think every artists has their own message, whether you’re a graffiti artist or another artist Maliq: It goes back to the African griot; it tells stories. Elan: You can spread all kinds of, like, messages
about social awareness, the culture, injustices, all kinds of stuff, memorials. So it’s a great way to, sort of,
convey any kind of message. Maliq: There’s pretty much like a mirror that’s held up, Elan: It has just about as much ability to speak as any art form. Jesse: What do you want people to learn when they come to see this exhibit? Leon: I just want the general public to recognize this is an amazing, creative art form. Maliq: No matter whether you’re doing graffiti, whether you’re doing comic books, whether you’re fine arts painter, just be true to what you do. Ron: People should maybe take a moment to
look at the artwork, see the complexity and the degree of thought that goes into each piece and really consider it like a painting. Elan: I just want people to sort of
be exposed and to appreciate it. To look a little deeper, look past that stigma
and understand that this is as legitimate in our form as any other.