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 November 12 we met the Romeo and Juliet of the street art world @menaceresa consisting the graffiti bomber Menace Two and the classically trained art world denizen Reca Piece. You know the quote, "two households, both alike in dignity…from ancient grudge break to new mutiny?" Well they are they are blending two historic rivals - graff writing and muraling, creating as they said, "the opposite of hate." I met them this summer up on 125th Street while checking out the murals painted for @UptownGrandCentral a non-profit neighborhood advocacy organization. Their work consisted of fluid stunning letterforms and a complicated skillful portrait of the trumpeter Satchmo sprayed not as a battle but in an interwoven collaboration by the duo. I have never seen a pair of artists - or even a couple - so in sync - they finish each other's stories and even sentences, converse in "twin speak" and squabble effectively. They explained how usually how graffiti (which is a big dick contest) vs. street art or muraling (an artist that wants to sell merch.) situation is a "demonstration of class warfare" but they had come together to create something new - an intentional game change. They discussed how they place a work where it needs to go, as Resa said, "if a piece wants to be there it will be there," legally or illegally by first choosing the spot, thinking of images perfect for that location and making the concept match the populace. And they told stories about their #PaintLoveAccrossAmerica , a year long odyssey across the US where they painted, due to time constraints, most of their murals illegally but 95% of them have remained un-buffed. After they were done chatting and had signed all our black books I noticed my face hurt from smiling so much. Thanks for the knowledge you two - please please keep painting.
And this is what my students had to say about the visit.
Amy L. Young
Adina: I was amazed to see how in-sync they were with each other. Although they have similar themes, they have their own way of creating art and internalizing concepts. Resa is the portrait guru who drafts how the whole mural will look, while Menace Two is more spontaneous with his graffiti letterforms. Whether it is legally or illegally, these dynamic two artists are on a mission to get their voices out... and they are being heard!
Anastasia: The collaboration these two artists is something extraordinary and unique, both focusing on local people's response and trying to bring value to an area, and make a dull and grey area look better. Instead of bigger percentage of “street artists” who are focusing on being famous, and sell merch., they are focusing on making beautiful and thoughtful art pieces which will grow emotional attachment with the community.
Andre: What I took from them, they said that they want to bring some fresh air into the neighborhood and something that wasn’t with the trend. From their Instagram post, “In a world full of Cardis and Nickis, strive to be a Lauryn.”
Ariela: I asked them if the graffiti movement causes negative karma and their answer to was that now, because of social media, there are too many grimy artists who threaten each or who are just making street art for clout and money. What they fail to realize is the impact that street art has on people. As a duo, it’s important to them to have good intentions behind their art - its the main reason they create.
Byron: They gave funny but true lessons of the graffiti art world we live in. As an artist myself I try my hardest to get my art out there. Even as far as what Menace Two and Resa did talking to the cops and taking risks, which is the life of an artist. Risk taking and decision making.
Daisey: When asked about fake artists, they got into what defines an artist which is doing it for the love of it and spreading positivity and change and not for the fame. They gave us some pretty good advice which stuck to me the most - if you are an artist and are afraid to go out and share your artwork you should stop overthinking it and just do it, just go out there and share it with everyone.
Domica: I really related to that Menace said, “our free time is the most valuable thing to us as artists,” because of the need of a space to being creative and develop new ideas. I do feel much more productive art-wise when I have a lot of free time as opposed to little to none. After seeing how far they’ve made it up to this point, and being such normal relatable people, it makes me feel like that opportunity to grow in that way is up for grabs for anyone, including me.
Imerald: They were as filled with positivity, as they were laid back, yet good-humored. It felt as if I were associating with a close friend. Not to mention them as a couple doing street art together is probably one of the most heartwarming moments I’ve experienced. I can tell they’re in tuned, real artists. Considering the high intake of gentrification that’s been occurring throughout the country, I feel as if these artists create pieces in order to go back to the roots from within that community. This gives the youth a chance to learn the history of places such as Brooklyn and Harlem before gentrification.
Liping: Two points caught my attention, property owners see street art as a tool to increase property value and street art also works as a representation to get people's response. Years ago, property owners hated graffiti because they believed it will destroy their property, today many people have changed their opinion, more and more people pay attention to street art and like it. So, property owners changed their minds and want to have it on their buildings. The reason is to cause this change, because more street art artists today focus on match their concept with the neighborhood, so, these artworks can represent the local area and get people's attention.
Natasha: Not only are they the cutest love story and couple I’ve seen in longtime, but they are amazing artists and collaborate to make stunning murals all across the states. Learning how fluidly they work together gives inspiration to collaborate more rather than work alone. If Menace and Resa worked separately, they will be stunning on their own. Learning about them inspires me to reach outside of my comfort bubble and collaborate with an artist I wouldn’t think about partnering before.