Artwork: John “CRASH” Matos, Off the Hook, Spray Paint on Canvas, 48 × 60 in.
“You know it when you see it, graffiti we mean. It’s edgy. It’s powerful. It speaks to the streets. It speaks to the people of the streets with statements of Revolution and Evolution, where Impermanence becomes Freeing. See its public outrage morph into private solidarity; works that tease with bold abstraction and sophisticated amusement. You’ll be biting to become part of this artistic crew,” American artist John “CRASH” Matos observes.
Born and raised in the Bronx, CRASH is a seminal figure in the graffiti movement. Back in the mid-1970s, when he was just 13 years old, he picked up a can of spray pain and went down to the yards. In an era of innovators and originals, CRASH made his name on the trains alongside some of the greatest in the game.
By 1980, he began transitioning from the yards to the galleries, curating the groundbreaking exhibition, Graffiti Art success for America, at Fashion MODA in the South Bronx. As writers took their talents to the canvas CRASH remained in the vanguard, his style adapting beautifully and appealing to collectors worldwide. Over the past four decades, his career has soared to legendary heights, his work finding home in dozens of museums as well as inspiring collaborations with companies including Absolut Vodka, Levi’s, and Fender Guitars.
Deftly combining a broad array of influences, from Speed Racer to Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns to Gigantor, CRASH’s work take modes of graffiti to a new level, going beyond the name itself to something even more visceral. The vibrant colors, the bold lines, the clean and curvaceous forms all combine into a singular vision of contemporary art, attesting to the sheer pleasure of the pure formal aesthetics made manifest through sight.
In celebration, JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York, presents Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience, currently on view through October 31, 2016. The exhibition includes 18 paintings of varying sizes, made in both spray paint on canvas and watercolor and India ink on handmade paper, the latter more affordable pieces for the starting collector.
Artman, who has always been a fan of CRASH’s work, came to connect with the artist in the most serendipitous of ways. A year ago, the Laguna Beach gallerist opened a second gallery in New York’s famed Chelsea neighborhood. While building out the space, she was speaking with some of the construction workers on the job. They were former graffiti writers, and suggested she reach out to CRASH.
Artman reveals, “For me, I have to love the work and have a connection with the Artist. CRASH is lovely. He’s humble and appreciative—and that makes for a great relationship. He wants to do the best and he’s very generous with his time and spirit, as well as talent. He’s a Zen guy. He cares about his work and he’s excited about it. He still has that energy that makes him connected to the work and connected to people. He has a joy of life.”
This joy is evident throughout his work as the bright, bold colors fly off the canvas and land in your heart. Standing before a CRASH painting, you simply want to kick back and relax, have a drink, put on some music, and take in the scene. His paintings can go anywhere—in a gallery or a museum, in your home or office, or on a public wall. Because they remix the familiar in new and exciting ways, they are as fresh as they were when he first took his cans to the yards,
Artman observes CRASH’s impact, his ability to catch the eye and reel people back: “The gallery is street level and the work is visible from the outside. People come in off the streets. People drive their cars down the block, then they back up, get out of the car, and come inside the gallery to see what is going on. Why want to know, ‘What is that!?’”
For Artman, it is a labor of love. She observes, “A director from a larger gallery on the block came in and said, ‘I can’t believe what you are doing in this tiny space. These are spectacular shows.’” Then she adds, “Hard work will reap rewards.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.