DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt

2014/03/15

The Verb “To Draw”

 

Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Today, on Drawing Life’s fifth anniversary, I would like to invite you to an exhibition (details at the bottom of this post) and to ask the question, “Why is ‘drawing’ called that?

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

The word “draw” comes from Old English and Germanic terms describing various forms of pulling. Sometimes it’s draw, sometimes drag, draft, or the like.

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

(Note: The illustrations between paragraphs are details of my artworks that have appeared in the past five years of Drawing Life. Clicking on the images will link you to the original posts containing uncropped versions of the works. An earlier post with similar detail crops is here.)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

We have phrases like draw back, draw forth, draw out, draw in, draw from, draw towards, draw up, draw down.

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

An account can be overdrawn, a character in a play underdrawn, breath indrawn.

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

You can draw a card, draw a gun, draw a conclusion, draw a crowd, draw a salary, draw a carriage, draw water, draw fire, draw a blank.

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Supposedly the reason we use the word for sketching, or for making pictures, is because we draw our charcoal (or other marker) across a page. But of course the hand engaged in such action is pushing as much as it is pulling.

“The Active Mirror”,2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

The Active Mirror, 2003, drawing performance by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing 

Maybe if we called it “pushing” instead of “drawing”, we would think of this artform differently. But the sense of pulling seems right to me in myriad ways.

Earth, 1998, photo tryptich by Fred Hatt (detail)

Earth, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt (detail)

To draw observationally is to draw near to something, to study it as if you could pull its essence into you through your eyes. The artist draws inspiration from the subject. By having a subject or object of study the artist remains grounded in a living relational reality, drawing the spirit of life into the picture.

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw imaginatively is to draw images, entities, energies up from the unconscious. It is to find embryonic notions and incubate them, and to coax them out of the nest. It is to exaggerate, to extrapolate, to speculate, to reach into the well and draw up the water of potentiality, to make the unreal visible.

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw abstractly is to draw upon primeval attractive forces and the structures and processes that derive from them. It is to know hues and shades as pure qualia, to know marks and shapes as matter and energy, to know structures as harmonies.

Towering, 2012, 38? x 50?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Towering, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To share one’s artwork with another person is to attract someone to you not with your looks but with your vision. Even the work of an artist long dead, if it be strong, brings some of those that experience the work close to the artist’s bosom or cranium. The audience is pulled into the artist’s way of experiencing the world.

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Of course most of what I’m saying applies not just to drawing per se, but to any really great work of art, be it music or dance, storytelling or performing. Art is what draws us. It draws us out of ourselves, draws us to a new way of feeling. Art draws magical power out of humble, earthy materials. Art calls up the bright spirits and the dark spirits so that they dance for us. Art draws us in. It draws out the creative power that is hidden everywhere and in all. Inspiration means the drawing of breath. Our consumer culture is all about taking in. Drawing is taking in with acute high awareness.

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Most of our contemporary arbiters of culture think of drawing as a subsidiary thing – a training practice like a musician’s scales, a quick and dirty throwaway tool like brainstorming with Post-It Notes, a messy way of working out a composition or concept, like a plot outline. They see drawing as sketchy, undeveloped, unsophisticated.

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

I contend that drawing is one of the very most basic forms of art, along with music and dance and performing and storytelling. I think it makes more sense to say painting, sculpture, and design are developments from drawing than vice versa, and so drawing must be considered more fundamental.

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Those who have followed this blog over the years know that I work with photography, video, performance, body art. I think of drawing as the root of my practice, and the other forms as extensions or variations on drawing. The images accompanying this text are details of figure drawings, doodles, abstract paintings, photographs, and body art. For me they all have some quality in common – a quality that is the essence of drawing.

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Where do you draw the line to define drawing as distinct from, say, painting? Wet media vs. dry? That doesn’t quite nail it. Some pastellists call their work paintings, while ink wash or watercolor sketchers may call their work drawings. Quick vs. developed? That doesn’t work either. There’s a fashion in the art world these days for painstakingly obsessive works using ink or pencil, works that may take longer to make than most paintings, and usually these get called drawings. My friend Lorrie Fredette, sculptor and installation artist, recently made a series of works using sutures, black and white threads sewn into sheets of paper, and she called these drawings. Not all drawings are linear, not all are monochromatic, not all are simple. If there is an essence that defines the art of drawing, it might be directness, or spontaneity, the distillation of energy in image.

Double Exposure, 2007, 30? x 60?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Double Exposure, 2007, 30″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

What do you call an artist whose primary focus is drawing? Draftsman? That sounds to me like someone who makes schematics and blueprints. Calligrapher? Graphic artist? Designer? Cartoonist? Sketcher? Delineator? Depicter? Tracer? Doodler? Those are all subsets of drawing. “Drawers” usually refers to either sliding storage compartments or underpants, so that doesn’t quite fit the bill either. I have seen some use the term “drawist”, but that seems to me an awkward construction. It think I will have to settle for calling myself a drawing artist.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail)

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail) 

If you are someone who draws, or who loves drawing, let me know in the comments section what drawing is all about for you.

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

If you’re in the D. C. area you can see one of my original drawings in the exhibition “Melange“, curated by Iurro, at Artspace 109, 109 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia.Artists in the show include Rachel Blier, Peter Bottger, Joren Lindholm, Scott McGee, Paul McGehee, Jitka Nesnidalova, Tea Oropiridze, George Tkabladze, and Tati Valle-Riestra. The opening is Sunday March 16, 3 to 6 PM.  The show will be up March 18-May 10, 2014.

2014/02/23

Creating a Masterpiece: Frank Moore

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Sasha Cagen, cropped

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Michael LaBash, cropped

One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.

When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990′s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.

Frank Moore's "Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam",  Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

Frank Moore’s “Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam”,
Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.

Frank Moore and dancers in the "Outrageous Beauty Revue", 1987, photographer unknown

Frank Moore and dancers in the “Outrageous Beauty Revue”, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco, 1987, photographer unknown

Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.

Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.

For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.

Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations

An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.

Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.

2013/12/20

Invitation to an Exhibition

solstice-gradientThe winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Now, in the Northern hemisphere, the days will start to get longer. To all my readers, a Blessed Solstice, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

My dear friend Claudia, the art model and Museworthy blogger, has posted the 2013 Museworthy Art Show. Claudia invited her readers to submit artwork based on their choice among four of my photographs of her. Click the link and check it out. I’m a big part of this wonderful and diverse gathering of artwork, since I took the source photos and also submitted a drawing for the show. I think this show is a brilliant idea. A blog brings together a great diversity of people around some shared interests, people scattered across the globe, people with different sensibilities and different abilities. Normally it’s all sort of vague, anonymous lurkers and commenters you know little about. Claudia’s show creatively manifests the community she’s growing.

2013/12/09

Vowels

Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

This post is an experiment. Some of my recent abstract watercolors, landscape sketches, and doodles have been randomly interspersed between the lines of Arthur Rimbaud’s synesthetic 1872 sonnet “Voyelles”. The original French poem and English translation by Oliver Bernard were copied from this site (where the fourteen-line sonnet is followed by a four-line “envoi” which is not included here below or in most versions of this poem I could find online). Oliver Bernard’s version is a prose translation, striving for the clearest expression of the sense of the original while sacrificing meter and musicality. If this version is too flat for you, check out Canadian poet Christian Bök’s fascinating version of “Voyelles”, translated five different ways.

These paintings were not inspired by this poem, and they have been sequenced randomly to avoid any specific reference to the colors or images mentioned in Rimbaud’s verses. When I draw or paint abstractly, I disengage my mind as much as possible from discursive thought and allow subconscious impulses to express themselves in the movement of the brush and the liquid medium. Imagery never drives the painting – any images are projections of the imagination, like the forms seen in Rorschach blots. I am trying to allow impulses of movement to arise from below the surface of awareness, as in my practice of Authentic Movement, described in this post. Perhaps this way of going fishing in the unconscious has something in common with the methods of a proto-surrealist poet like Rimbaud. Perhaps some accidental resonances may arise from the interleaving of sketches and lines of verse.  If not, please enjoy my humble doodles and Rimbaud’s delirious words separately!

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,

A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:

I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies

fredhatt-2013-autumn-wind

Autumn Wind, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Which buzz around cruel smells,

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;

Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

In anger or in the raptures of penitence;

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides

The peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:

Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!

O the Omega, the violet ray of Her Eyes!

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I recently discovered the work of the comics artist Julian Peters. One of his specialites is illustrating poetry, including work by Poe, Keats and Eliot. He has a really beautiful comic of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”/”The Drunken Boat” – click on the appropriate title to see it in either English or French.

Color pieces in my post are watercolor paintings except “Green and Blue”, which is drawn with aquarelle crayons and blended with water. Black and white pieces are drawn with Tombow brush markers. “Mane” and “Tracks” are 11″ x 14″ (28 x 35.6 cm), “Ego” is 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6 x 28 cm), and all others are 5.5″ x 8.5″ (14 x 21.6 cm).

2013/10/20

Pointz of Contention

Mural by Dase, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Dase, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. is a 200,000 square foot factory building occupying a whole block in Long Island City, the southwesternmost district of the borough of Queens, in New York City. Since 1993 the building’s owner has allowed the building to be used as a fully legal venue for urban graffiti artists from around the world to showcase their artistry.

5 Pointz Loading Dock Area, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Loading Dock Area, photo by Fred Hatt

Curator Jonathan Cohen, also known as the artist Meres One, selects artists, who must submit work samples and designs to get permission to paint at 5 Pointz. The building is regularly renewed with new murals replacing those that have had a good run.

Mural by Cortes, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Cortes, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The center is well known to anyone who rides the 7 train, whose elevated tracks pass right by 5 pointz. It’s directly across Jackson Avenue from PS1, MoMA’s satellite museum devoted to contemporary art, and many visitors to that august institution also visit 5 Pointz to see a kind of contemporary art that springs from the streets rather than the academies. If you’ve never heard of 5 Pointz, perhaps you’ve seen it in music videos by Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh, Joss Stone, or Joan Jett.

Mural by Sinxero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Sinxero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Jerry Wolkoff, the long-time owner of the building, has made it available as a painting space for artists over the past twenty years (Back in the ’90′s it was called Phun Factory). The idea was to discourage graffiti vandalism by offering spray paint artists a legal place to exhibit their work. Particularly since Jonathan Cohen’s curatorship began about eleven years ago, the place has become one of New York’s cultural landmarks, a destination for practitioners and appreciators of street art from all over the world.

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Posted Rules, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Posted Rules, photo by Fred Hatt

Jerry Wolkoff’s son, David Wolkoff, is a developer. He wants to tear down 5 Pointz to build two luxury high-rise condo towers. Manhattan and the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that are close to Manhattan are already glutted with fancy condos for the ultra-rich. Many of the most expensive apartments are not even used as residences, just held as investments by people who have a lot of excess money they need to park. New York, along with London and other international cities, has been subjected to massive development of this kind in recent years. It’s made it more difficult for artists and other middle class and working class people to live in the city, but money rules over all.

Mural by Joseph Meloy, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Joseph Meloy, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Long Island City is one of those parts of New York that’s a short train ride to Midtown Manhattan but still has a lot of old, decrepit industrial buildings and warehouses, so it’s a natural spot for development. On the blocks around 5 Pointz you’ll see wholesalers and taxi dispatchers and sidewalk food cart garages, but gourmet restaurants and designer boutiques are nearby, and the blue glass Citicorp Tower looms above the art center.

5 Pointz and Citicorp Tower, Long Island City, Queens, New York, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz and Citicorp Tower, Long Island City, Queens, New York, photo by Fred Hatt

The City Council voted unanimously to allow the bulldozing of 5 Pointz. The developers agreed to feature some aerosol artworks on the facade at the base of the new building, to “preserve the heritage and legacy” of 5 Pointz. It is hard for me to imagine, though, that the managers of a luxury condo building will allow the kind of freewheeling spirit of creative anarchy that the old 5 Pointz has embodied.

Mural by DT, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by DT, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I think destroying 5 Pointz is a crime and a disgrace. It was almost exactly fifty years ago that developers were allowed to raze the old Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, a true temple of transit and one of the great architectural masterpieces of McKim, Mead & White, to build the uninspired arena of Madison Square Garden with today’s depressing Penn Station in the basement. It was a true act of vandalism that shocked the aesthetic conscience of the city and led to the rise of the historic preservation movement.

Mural by Monsieur Plume, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Monsieur Plume, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz is no masterpiece of architecture like the old Penn Station, and the art on its walls is not all of transcendent quality, but neither is all the art on the walls inside PS1 or other centers for contemporary art. These institutions are valuable because they are vital laboratories of creative ferment, filled with many clashing varieties of contemporary art, not yet culled by time, the ultimate curator. We go to be wowed by some works, bored by others, and angered by others.

Mural by James Cochran, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by James Cochran, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

A lot of the contemporary art in PS1 is abstruse and condescending, or crudely and pointlessly transgressive, or gimmicky and commercial, but there’s a great variety and it can be a very exciting museum to visit. I’ve often thought of 5 Pointz as PS1′s outdoor annex, offering work that is grand in scale, with vivid colors given their fullest expression in the bright light of day.

Mural by Nicholai Khan, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Nicholai Khan, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The City Council would surely never approve the destruction of an established museum such as PS1, with wealthy donors and corporate sponsors and a respectable board of trustees. 5 Pointz, though, has none of those recognized signifiers of legitimacy.

Mural by TooFly, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by TooFly, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Currently the most famous “street artist” in the world, that master of self-promotion Banksy, is in New York, sending his fans on a sort of treasure hunt to find the new pieces of work he’s installing around the city at regular intervals.

Kool Herc mural by Danielle Mastrion, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Kool Herc mural by Danielle Mastrion, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mayor Bloomberg criticized Banksy, saying “Art is art, and nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am. I just think there are some places for art and there are some places [not for] art. And you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art.” And indeed, Banksy is painting graffiti on property he doesn’t own, without permission, but of course he gets away with it because he’s a celebrity and an international art star who also sells work in galleries for serious prices.

Mural by Kram, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Kram, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The artists of 5 Pointz are nearly anonymous. It took me quite a bit of digging to identify the names of the artists who did the pieces pictured in this post, and still I couldn’t find some of them, and may have made some mistakes. If anyone who is knowledgeable can correct or amend my picture captions, I’d truly appreciate it.

Mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Some of these artists have surely engaged in illegal tagging elsewhere, but all the work at 5 Pointz is completely legal.

Mural by El Nino de las Pinturas, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by El Nino de las Pinturas, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I took all the photos in this post last weekend, and if you can visit 5 Pointz soon you can see the originals. Most of the murals are eight or ten feet tall, and these small photos don’t really do them justice.

Mural by Rimx & Nepo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Rimx & Nepo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

You’ll notice the great variety of styles and themes, abstraction and figuration, whimsy and seriousness, pop cultural and art historical references. There is a lot of the wildstyle lettering that came out of the New York school of graffiti art of the original hip hop era, and traditional lowbrow motifs like skulls and monsters, but there are also realistic portraits and some truly sophisticated painting techniques.

Mural by Fumero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Fumero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The city will do nothing to stop the celebrity Banksy’s illegal work, but they will sanction the razing of the outsider artists’ legal work at 5 Pointz. They’ll protect the gallery-anointed contemporary art at PS1 but not the street-culture contemporary art at 5 Pointz. It’s hard not to see this as an example of a class-based double standard.

Mural by True Fame, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by True Fame, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

As of the time of this writing, there is a temporary injunction stopping the bulldozers, based on a claim by seventeen of the 5 Pointz artists, invoking the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act.

Mural by Mr Blob, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Mr Blob, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

To be fair to the Wolkoffs, they do own the building, and we can be grateful to them for having made it available as a place for the creation and exhibition of artwork over the past two decades. But I find it disappointing that someone who owns such a collection of art would decide to destroy it to put up more luxury condos in New York. Surely there are other options available to billionaire developers.

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Click on the link and look at the principles of the Visual Artists Rights Act. No one would question the application of this law if someone who owned a recognized masterpiece like Picasso’s Guernica announced plans to destroy it. The court will need to determine whether works by little-known artists, not acclaimed by the curators of major institutions, and in a genre associated with criminal vandalism, deserve the same moral rights as the Picasso.

Mural by Auks, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Auks, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Fine art by recognized masters has been destroyed by its owners in the past. A famous case is Nelson Rockefeller’s destruction of “Man at the Crossroads”, Diego Rivera’s commissioned fresco at Rockefeller Center, which was interpreted as anti-capitalist propaganda.

Mural by Kid Lew, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Kid Lew, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The boundaries of art that is recognized as such by the arbiters of culture are subject to change over time. Not long ago, the common attitude among serious art curators would have been to dismiss popular artists such as Norman Rockwell and R. Crumb as “mere illustrators”, not fine artists, but that is beginning to change. A little further back, the art authorities in France dismissed the impressionist painters as crude daubers, not worthy to be considered in the same league as their favorites, painters we now see as stodgy academic bores.

Mural by Esteban del Valle, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Esteban del Valle, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I suspect the work of some of these street artists will some day be seen as important work – not all of it, but some of it. For now, these artists are clearly underdogs, Davids confronting Goliaths of great wealth.

David & Goliath, after Caravaggio, mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

David & Goliath, after Caravaggio, mural by unidentified artist (Reckin’ Krew?), 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Recent decades in New York have seen a significant loss of the city’s diverse cultural manifestations – not just street art but funky mom-and-pop businesses, community gardens, eccentric neighborhoods and vibrant local artistic scenes – to make way for generic apartment towers and homogenized franchise businesses. A recent editorial by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne expresses feelings I hear often expressed among New York’s creatives. Will history see rampant commercial development as a greater act of vandalism than graffiti tagging?

Mural by Onur, Senor, Wes21 and Kkade, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Onur, Senor, Wes21 and Kkade, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

If 5 Pointz is razed, the center of gravity for street art in NYC is likely to shift to the Bushwick Collective, an area around the intersection of Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Brooklyn where curator Joseph Ficalora has invited street artists to create elaborate works on the many blank industrial walls. It doesn’t have the high-profile location or the single massive building of 5 Pointz, but it’s already become a destination for the practitioners of aerosol art and their appreciators.

Mural by The Yok & Sheryo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by The Yok & Sheryo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I think street art is a vital and important part of the visual arts culture of our time. Let’s not dismiss this work based on class prejudice.

Mural by Mataone, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Mataone, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Update added November 19, 2013: Last night, under cover of darkness, crews working on behalf of the developers smeared over all of 5 Pointz’ murals with white paint. The “Graffiti Mecca” is no more.

My friend Steven Speliotis memorialized the whitewashing in this video:

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