From Outlaw to Cultural Trendsetter

Not much was working between the city and the community when John Lindsay became mayor of New York in 1965. He wanted the city to be known as “fun city.” Yet, it was a tough lift at the time, even for the popular Lindsay. Working for the Mayor in the early 70s, I saw the City as a restless, angry, messy place in which tensions boiled into protests and expressive behavior erupted at every turn. This raucous mix would slowly simmer into a new and vibrant urban art form. At its core, it was simply Graffiti, an in-your-face form of protest in which buildings, walls and other properties were defaced with huge lettering applied by spray paint. One might, as city officials did, call it vandalism. Thumbing their noses at deco-rum, artists performed daring feats in order to “tag” public properties – even subway cars and overpasses. No place was too difficult to tag since, in part, the act was an adventure and the process was an act of creation. Who were these brazen anonymous adventurers? Not known by their real names, these night crawlers adopted street monikers like Crash and Pink Lady. Driving through the streets of the city as I did regularly, it was not uncommon for me to see new works of art pop up seemingly overnight. Most jarring were the ones in areas of the city where former housing was a pile of rubble. It was almost as if the taggers were saying to the city “clean up this mess.”

As savvy as I thought I was, I did not foresee then that this self-styled, emboldened, graphic out-of-a-can art movement that came directly from the streets would be embraced by the art world as the language of a generation.

From The Streets will be on view in ArtsWestchester’s gallery at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains from April 11 through July 15. An Opening Reception will kick things off next Saturday, April 8, when guests can meet the artists and preview the show before it opens to the public.

Photo caption: Artist Crash at work on a mural (photo courtesy of the artist)

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One Response to “From Outlaw to Cultural Trendsetter”

  1. Milt Ellenbogen April 4, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    Dear Janet:

    I found your most recent column (re: Bearden) an especially interesting and well-written piece about an artist who was misunderstood for many years but kept working true to his beliefs and his style of expression. When the critics finally agreed that his work was indeed fine art, pregnant with meaning, they were surprised that the public had seen this and accepted him way before they did–and his art and reputation, being reinforced, soared to new heights. The black experience, through art, was finally recognized. Many other art forms followed.

    My best regards,
    –Milt Ellenbogen

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