Street art has enjoyed a steady resurgence in rap over the last few years, with Kanye West and the Clipse jostling to let KAWS design their album and magazine covers, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes appearing in music videos featuring the work of Brooklyn's Destroy & Rebuild, and Pharrell Williams starting the online community ARTST. But as a mode of expression, its style and swagger was forged by a wave of pioneering artists who took to New York City's streets and subway lines in the early '70s. That moment is profiled in the current Down By Law: New York's Underground Art Explosion, 1970s-1980s exhibition at the Eric Firestone Gallery, which documents how the subculture successfully moved from the train yards to the corporate world, ingratiating itself with hip-hop music along the way.
|Jean-Michel Basquiat, Triple Self Portrait. All images courtesy the Eric Firestone Gallery.|
Blade and Coco 144 are two of the first-generation graffiti icons profiled in the exhibition. After coming to prominence in the '70s by painting his name on over 5,000 subway trains, Blade is certified graffiti royalty. Along with Andy Warhol, Blade is also the only living artist to have his work appear on the cover of the Sotheby's catalog. Fellow trailblazer Coco 144 made the train yard at Broadway and 137th Street his playground during the same era while also creating the world's first stencil movement--an invention that helped him swiftly spread his name throughout the city. With both artists on hand to offer expert commentary, here are ten pioneering examples of the development of New York City street art. More »