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Royal Young: “Rather Unique” at Woodward Gallery

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"Go Hard 2011" by Indie184. Photo credit: Royal Young.

Street art, of course, has a legendary history on the Lower East Side. From graffiti and gang signs to colorful murals on the walls of community centers, the canvas of the streets has always been a perfect place to paint the urban dreams of downtown Manhattan. Artists like Jim Power (Mosaic Man), who tiles New York’s surfaces, and Chico, the ubiquitous muralist, have made street art a highly visible and dynamic form.

Now, Woodward Gallery, on Eldridge Street is celebrating artists who draw inspiration from and paint on public spaces. The gallery’s first ever guest curator, Harlem-based street artist Royce Bannon, has put together “Rather Unique,” an exhibit of fellow creatives who use their visual skills to reflect and redefine what they see in the streets. Artists include: Cassius Fowler, Celso, Chris RWK, Cope2, Darkcloud, H.veng.Smith, Indie184, infinity, KA, Keely, Kenji Nakayama, Kosbe, Matt Siren, Moody, Nose Go, Royce B., Russell King, UR New York, Veng and Wrona.

Last week's opening reception at Woodward Gallery, 133 Elrdidge Street. Photo credit: Clayton Patterson.

Woodward Gallery has a history of representing pop sensibilities. All of the pieces in this show have a distinct boldness; sharp lines and blocks of rich color. There is also a re-imagining of everyday consumer culture, from the Dunkin Donuts font artfully transformed to spell out “Grumpy Guidos” to pills and a Twitter “Unfollow” button hidden in the burning wreck of a riotously colorful urban-scape.

"Grumpy Guidos," by Moody. Photo credit: Royal Young.
"The Write Track," by UR New York. Photo credit: Royal Young.

Some of the work reminded me of the Lower East Side I grew up in, when Sara D. Roosevelt Park was filled with hypodermic needles, and spidery graffiti wound down the slides and around monkey bars I swung from. For me, the palate of hard pastels spelling out “Go Hard!” on one painting recalled the attitude of the early ‘90s and the wheat paste posters I would see glued over advertisements, the juxtaposition somehow a beautiful melee. A somewhat menacing skull imposed over what looked like tagged up white tile recalled the subway stations of my youth.

Woodward Gallery boasts an extensive collection of limited edition prints by art world luminaries Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Yet with this show, the gallery was able to go in new directions — presenting a serious, layered reflection of life in the city. The artists draw their inspiration from the loneliness, beauty and bombardment of visuals that surround us every day. As curator Bannon comments, “Even if you’re not into the scene, you can see their iconic images in your head.”

“Rather Unique” will be up at the Woodward Gallery, 133 Eldridge,  through February 19th.


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