- Words by Joanna Pan
Houston Bowery Wall Celebrates Graffiti with TatsCru and Crash
[L-R: BG183, Janet Goldman, Martha Cooper, NICER, and BIO. Photo: John Domine]
"It's the Oscars of graffiti art," arts patron Jessica Goldman Srebnick has said of the Houston Bowery Wall.
A bold contention, but scant on hyperbole. Many artists who have installed at the coveted spot hold such renown, their names are known even to non-art fans [think Banksy; Shepard Fairey].
The latest Houston Bowery Wall commission is a collaboration among BG183, BIO, NICER -- all of Tats Cru -- and John "Crash" Matos. The four Bronx artists have both created and witnessed decades upon decades of graffiti legacy, and painted together often.
"The first time we collaborated with Crash was at the Bronx Hall of Fame," BG183 tells Sold. "We painted one of the biggest Halloween art walls [amid a] total of 50+ writers."
While graffiti artists [e.g. Futura, Crash, Twist, Amaze] have painted the Houston Bowery Mural in the past, the commission of Tats Cru marks the first time a graffiti crew has graced the famed wall.
NICER of Tats Cru shares the group's vision for the wall with Sold:
"Overall, the idea is -- we're NYC-based artists, and even though we have a graffiti background, we wanted to do something that's an homage to New York City. So BG did a hydrant that is replacing an 'I'. Bio does his signature heart, which is the 'Love,' and where I'm working at -- it's gonna be an outline of 'NY.' So it's gonna read 'I Love NY" subliminally, and underneath it says 'New York.' And then we have the Statue of Liberty that has this glow on it -- where people can actually take photos and put their finger on the glow and be like, 'I touched New York!"
The finished collaboration teems with vibrant iconography -- click through our gallery of detail close-ups:
But the mural doesn't merely trade in visual joy. "It's [also] us finding images that relate to the history of the Bowery Wall community," BG183 tells Sold. Memorials to artists, art patrons, and lower east side activists are showcased in tandem with the bright visuals. And graffiti is celebrated as both art form and community.
Read on as we give you a break-down of components in the installation, with assists along the way from NICER:
Mural-Within-A-Mural and Tony Goldman Tribute
Using a photo reference, the artists nested an early Houston-at-Bowery moment within the larger mural. In it, Keith Haring and others get up on a concrete slab that will not be crowned "The Oscars of graffiti art" for some 25 years.
There's innovative anachronism here. The throwback depiction features tags put up by present day graffiti artists -- friends of Tats Cru and Crash who came through the install in a show of support.
NICER explains: "Throughout the years, we've always had an open door policy with people that are real and about the [graffiti] Culture -- not Culture Vultures. These are friends that we grew up with, and we've seen the evolution of this art form go in so many different directions that -- you know -- just for them to reach out to us and say, 'Hey I'm gonna come by,' we were like, 'Oh, while you're here, can you take a tag?' Why not spread the love out amongst our peers?"
"Tony Goldman Forever A Part of New York": In 1984 -- two years after artists Keith Haring and Juan Dubose got up at the site -- Tony Goldman took ownership of the property.
In 2008, to honor what would have been Haring's 50th birthday, Goldman and curator Jeffrey Deitch commissioned custom set-design company Gotham Scenic to recreate Haring's original mural. The Haring recreation ran until late December, 2008, jump-starting a curated program for the wall that featured a revolving roster of street artists like Banksy, Os Gemeos, How and Nosm , Ron English, and Lady Aiko .
Graffiti artists lauding the character of a real estate developer and his scions?
Well, Tony Goldman had a different vision of urban revitalization than many of his colleagues.
"Developers are knock 'em down, build 'em up guys," Goldman told the New York Times in 2000. "That's not me."
Liz Christy Tribute
In 1973, Lower East Side resident Liz Christy spearheaded the rehabilitation of a derelict, abandoned lot on Houston Street in the Bowery neighborhood. Christy was no real estate developer: her tools of trade were topsoil, vegetable beds, trees, and an activist collective called the Green Guerillas. Her efforts were infectious, prompting other local communities to nourish and reclaim their own discarded, dilapidated spaces. Christy's time on earth was much too short: she died of cancer at age 35 in 1985.
Christy tribute artist NICER elaborates:
"It was an unsavory neighborhood in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, so one of the things that we wanted to do is highlight people like [Liz Christy], and what she did for this community by paying homage to her and making sure that someone like that goes up on this wall, instead of [references like] the classic Katz Delicatessen. We figured activists like that should be recognized."
[BG183, TATS CRU. Photo: John Domine]
[NICER, TATS CRU]
Click through this dazzling constellation of tags from the Keith Haring portion of the mural:
Support and learn about the people/orgs in this article (BELOW), and make sure to check out the wall in person, and appreciate its time on the Houston Bowery Wall, sharing its history with the neighborhood and city for all to see!
On photographer Martha Cooper and Graffiti: David Gonzalez in the New York Times