Graff 101: Observer Obscura
I've taught The Art History of Graffiti and Street Art class every other semester or so since 2011 at City College. Every session we meet with a section of amazing artists. On sweltering July 11 we met the necessary magician, purveyor of mayhem, Observer Obscura, on the street in Williamsburg with one of her works, at the site of her upcoming first painted mural, and gratefully inside Sideshow Gallery to get out of the heat. Since 2012 she has been placing her #workonthestreet Jenny Holtzer inspired versions of truisms, revamped, wheat pasted on street walls for those intended to see them. And she gifted us with one of her works, reprinted just for us, pulled from her bag - thus chosen randomly - to place somewhere in our world. Mine was blushingly, "current position open: lover collaborator". Here is what my students had to say about the visit.
Amy L. Young
Oliva: Obscura’s work is her feelings, poetry and innermost thoughts transcribed to lines of magic, such as “Break yourself open,” or “Let’s get dirty I have a bar of soap.” All of her work is placed in the least obvious of places making an encounter with her work seem like moments of fate and wonderment. She said, “That’s why a lot of the stuff is in obscure places …works that are below eye level, it’s a message that says you are not alone. You know how lonely this fucking city can be, when things are down sometimes it’s just you and you and why can’t you have that message from the universe that says “yo, you’re not crazy, you’re not alone.”
A lot of her work dwells in her emotions, which correlates to the goal for her work "to evoke emotion at all costs. The more we turn away from things that bother us, the stronger the hold they have on us. I’ve learned all this from running away and realizing the further you run the closer you are to your problem. Self love, find what makes you happy and pursue it by all costs.” My truism was, "you have no allies".
Lory: What do you feel when you first read the words “It’s all right. I have all day to feel sorry for myself?” That's the piece I received after visiting the magical and mysterious, beautiful and creative Puerto Rican firecracker, one hot and sunny summer afternoon. She leaves subtle texts written, throughout the boroughs specializing in benevolent mayhem and necessary magic. I found her work to be very authentic. She wanted her artwork to serve its purpose, to make you stop and pause for a second to look at her words, to create a dialogue with its viewer rather than to brand herself.
Erica: Seeing Observer Obscura was like finally meeting my street art therapist. She talks from place of experience and that right there created a fan out of me. She states, “my work isn’t just about the phrases I put on the wall, my work is about the reaction I get from those who see it.” She’s believes strongly that people just need a listener not someone to respond. I asked her how does she achieve the love for herself? Her answer, "it starts with confronting myself with my insecurities … the longer you run away the closer you are to your problem …Don’t be mad with yourself about it but ask why? Find what makes you happy and pursue.” Damn!
Gwenoviere: She was helpful in terms of giving motivation for upcoming artists, encouraging them / us to follow their / our passion because she didn’t have much of an ideal how it would go for her. She followed her passion to spread messages throughout the city. I think it was cool that she posts messages but won’t respond back on the wall. I agree with a comment she said and its very relatable “no one will give you a shot because they never seen you do it, you do it for the first time and now they’re like you can do that.” I really loved when she mentioned her Latin American heritage involved in her work which is great because its apart of self identity, her work dealing with magic as her influencer and driving force to do the work she does while still maintaining her self identity. My truism was, "Oh, you like playing with fire? Well then, here's a box of matches".
Jakari: When we first met up with her, her personality was very vibrant and open so it naturally radiated out of her. One of the messages I believe she wanted to stick with us is how she ended up finding herself and started doing her art in 2012. Her first piece stated, “unlock yourself” which in a few ways is very astonishing. It was the beginning of her making and posting art outside, and she had actually unlocked something in herself. What I also found interesting is that she doesn’t always know what she will post at any given site before she posts it. All of her works are spontaneous and she likes to let it come to her as she does it. I found this to be cool because it’s sort of like letting the universe work and letting it help posts what’s needed in any specific area.
Jennifer: Until the last week, I felt that I haven’t known such a real and humble artist till now. She was definitely not what I expected. I saw many stories of her on Instagram, with her wig, singing and doing weird things and I always thought she was kind of strange but now that I met her I can say she is weird in such an incredible way. She said, “I’m not important, the people are important, I’m just a performer who is discovering herself." This quote really touched me, because I feel that sometimes when artists get famous they sort of lose a little the sense of what really matters or mattered when they were not yet recognized by people. My truism was, "amaranthine love".
Lucas: The visit taught me that, at a time when stickers and murals seem to be the prevalent forms of street art, writing is still very much alive. In some important ways, her work is more directly related to the graffiti of the 1970s than to most contemporary street art. It is as if she had inserted herself at a time before wild style or Keith Haring, just as graffiti was departing from the unadorned name and becoming increasingly formalistic, and took a divergent turn, pursuing the literary rather than the visual possibilities of the art. She does not paint with a spray can or practice lettering, but she has developed an instantly recognizable presentation of black type on white paper. Instead of tagging her name, she tags her compositions. I wonder if her work will lead to a foundation of literature in street art—not merely the reference to literature in street art, which already exists, but a very street-art literature, in the same way we speak of English literature or modernist literature. My truism was, "once you remove the rubble there's nothing left but the dust".
Lucy: The thing that I love most her is that she thinks the art world can be a bit “cliquey.” I agree with this, and I can relate a lot to the fact that she doesn’t want her face associated with her art work. Nowadays everyone just wants to be famous, but she simply wants her work to be seen, instead of focusing on fame. She creates art to spark emotion in people as they go along their daily routines. She said that she doesn’t even mind if people cover up or take down her street art, because if they felt strongly enough to remove the piece than the art has done its job. My truism was, "love is my profession, revenge is my hobby.”