Guest Blog by Erica Gomez: Making a Mark in Street Art – Graffiti Installations and I Am Crime

“Untitled,” site-specific collaborative mural at SOMArts by E. Claire Acuda Bandersnatch, Jessica Hess, Jeremy Novy, Nite Owl

SOMArts’ Curatorial Intern Erica Gomez takes a deeper look into the work of four street artists exhibiting in I Am Crime: Art on the Edge of Law, which closes with a reception Thursday, April 19, 6–9pm.

When navigating the the politics of art history, we as writers, artists and curators are often confronted with opposition and pressured to conform to specific standards or styles. The very idea of a chronological art history, a singular meta-narrative, is in itself a contested modernist notion, one deeply rooted in tradition and often attacked by an “avant-garde” or anarchical class of cultural producers.  The “Untitled” collaborative graffiti installation featured in I Am Crime: Art on the Edge of Law, by artists E. Claire Acuda Bandersnatch, Jeremy Novy, Jessica Hess and Nite Owl, explores the non-traditional artistic style of graffiti art while strategically communicating underground and queer civil rights messages in their work.

Walking the streets of San Francisco, many of us have encountered and have become familiar with the “signature” styles associated with each artist. The characters created by E. Claire Acuda Bandersnatch, maintain a punk-rock girl aesthetic, frequently rockin’ killer five-inch heels and with attitude driven one-liners, while also advocating for safe-sex practices in stencils like, “Wrap it Up Pretty When you Party in the City.” An interesting reference that comes to mind when thinking about  E. Claire’s name references the fictional creature by the same name from Lewis Caroll’s 1872 book Through the Looking Glass.  Whether it was intentional or not, this girl can definitely hold her own when it comes to the infamous wild animals from Carroll’s mind. I was lucky enough to come across a YouTube video of San Francisco’s very own Bandersnatch, donning a bright pink wig, covertly laying down a stencil  on a sidewalk: in five-inch heels!

Stencil By E. Claire Acuda Bandersnatch, Photo by Thomas Hawk, September 2009

Perhaps best known for his iconic koi fish that swim the sidewalks and walls of San Francisco, Jeremy Novy works to bridge the gap between street artists and queer art in his work.  Novy, who is also infamous for wearing a mask to protect his identity, works to create awareness and a supportive environment for queer artists within street art. Street art is a male-dominated scene, and  acts of homophobia are not unheard of in this venue either. Novy and other queer artists often get harassed and discriminated against and their work defaced by other street artists. Novy has expressed the importance of being able to see and identify with queer imagery in one’s environment. Among the stencils in the installation, are his queer wrestlers and his Leatherline series depicting nude and semi-nude men as soliciting sex, followed by “1-800-BONE.”  Furthermore, he locates the street as the front line for battling for  civil rights, and stencils, small often inconspicuous and surreptitious non-normative messages for the urban citizen, as the weapon of choice.  His past work has also included an exhibition of queer street art from around the world; artwork that has helped shape the existence of the international queer rights movement.

Stencils by Jeremy Novy, photo originally appeared in Bold Italic

Also in the mix at SOMArts are the “Cocky Girls” by artist Jessica Hess.  In many ways light-hearted and fun, giant rooster heads are positioned on nude female bodies that harken back to the pin-ups of the 1950’s. A clear break from her urban landscape paintings depicting graffiti, this witty response is directed towards the still-present issue of female subjugation  in a male-dominated field and continually underrepresented in art galleries and museums (unless they’re objectified through their sex).  To reference this further, she often confesses how  her “Cocky Girls,” comment on “…gender bending and arrogance,” and she often is the only female artist represented in an exhibition or by a gallery.

Painting by Jessica Hess, Cocky Girls III, gouache, watercolor, and ink on paper, 2009, courtesy of the artist’s Flickr stream

Lastly, the artist Nite Owl’s male graffiti artist figure in the installation provides a sense of action and immediacy in the foreground and strive for a rhythmic repetition in the background.  His enormous owl stencils act as a symbol of identification, and one can immediately draw connection to the Nite Owl character of the Watchmen comics, an irreverent vigilante.

Aerosol painting by Nite Owl, Bomb the Bay, July 2010, aerosol on wood, courtesy of the artist’s Flickr stream

The installation at SOMArts gave us a rare opportunity to see these artists together working on one wall. Although they represent different styles, syntax, and technique, together they represent a substrate of underground societal and cultural issues.  They bend gender politics, and all directly engage the status quo legislation about tagging and “bombing” in the streets.

About the author of this post:
Erica Gomez is currently a Curatorial Intern at SOMArts Cultural Center and has a B.A. from Metropolitan State University, Denver, Colorado, in Art History, Theory and Criticism. She has been accepted into the California College of the Arts Visual and Critical Studies Graduate Program and will begin in the Fall of 2012.

For more information about internships at SOMArts, please click here.