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Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion, Part I

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion, Part I

Murphy Hill Gallery. Current Exhibition Polymetric. Chicago, IL. February 2011. (Photography by Nicolette Caldwell)

If you have not visited the Murphy Hill Gallery you are missing out on a truly fascinating experience. Off the path of some of the most frequented art districts in Chicago, the space is located at 3333 W. Arthington just off Kedzie Avenue. Murphy Hill is situated on the third floor inside the Historic Sears and Roebuck’s building so you get a sense of history just upon entering. This massive and entirely unique space houses an eclectic collection of fine art including a variety of media from painting, photography, sculpture, film, video and performance art.  Current programming includes New Spaces, Spiritual Health & Wellness Expo and their most recent exhibition, Polymetric Urban Art Show.

Every weekend Murphy Hill presents a different panel discussion as a supplement to each exhibition. Sixty attended the first of a series of panel discussions last Saturday that are being held in conjunction with Polymetric: Urban Art Show. Moderated by one of five participating artists in Polymetric, Rahmaan Statik, the point of this panel was to consider and examine issues with Urban Art and Capitalism. All over the map, Rahmaan Statik continues to challenge the standard with the progressive nature of his own creative contributions.

The text below is shortened for brevity and clarity. It is part one of a two part series documenting this discussion. Stay tuned next week for the second half of this panel discussion.

Polymetric Poster

Polymetric Exhibition Poster. February 2011.

(Rahmaan Statik lays out premise of discussion)

Rahmaan Statik: The main function behind this gathering right now is to bring a third party point of view and a different perspective of the art movement that we are all part of but from different angles and extremes from the spectrum. From the full-time artist’s perspective to the artists that do art but not full-time but still have the same passion to the aspect of the merchandising of the art—all of this same art falls under a similar umbrella if you will, it can be pigeon holed in a way when we put into categories specific marketing genres. But the question is getting a deeper point of view from artists that actually do it—other active artists from the artist’s standpoint to the merchandise standpoint—i.e. the panel discussion relating to Urban Art and Capitalism.

(Panelists introduce themselves)

Ruben Aguirre Jr: I wrote graffiti for a long time as Likeone and I am 31. I live in Pilsen.

Hebru Brantley: I reside at the X Mansion Rochester New York. I don’t know how old I am. I don’t know if that can be measured in human years. But in my native land I am known to be one of the elders I am 964 years old. (Hebru laughs)

Arthur Banks: Aka Arty Mc Fly, Joker, Co-Founder Jugrnaut and Midwest Sales Group.

(Each panelist introduces their body of work and explains how the images relate to them)

Aguirre: My fine art work and graffiti work are starting to mesh in a way. As far as non-graffiti work, I have been doing a lot of paper collage. This is kind of the direction I am moving in now, very different from my other graffiti, similar but kind of emphasizing on a variety of techniques and color. I have been doing graffiti for a long time now so at this point I am just trying to do things that I have not done already. In branching away from my graffiti, I started doing paper collages because it is just different and I am focusing on color composition and layers. I like paper and the way it feels. I have done some installations as well.

Ruben Aguirre Jr., Siempre/Always

Ruben Aguirre Jr. Siempre/Always. Chicago, IL. Mixed Media. (Image Courtesy Ruben Aguirre)

Statik: For the record, is there anything as an artist that you want to let the world know that you stand for that separates you from most artists?

Aguirre: That is a big question.

Statik: Exactly.

Aguirre: With some pieces I would say that is true. I think some pieces are personal and I don’t expect everything to come through my work and for people to get everything that I put into it, out of it. Not with everything. I am not sure how to articulate that answer.
Statik: I have seen you do some wild stuff consistently for a long time, which is pretty intriguing from artist to artist. I am speaking in regards to the way that you actually separate but yet combine your graffiti initiative versus your fine art initiative. I have watched you paint hundreds of trains. Is that connected to this?

Aguirre: My influences are always going to change and therefore my work is going to change. I am not going to say that one thing is the backbone of everything I do. I think just kind of growing and evolving. That would be the backbone. I guess you can say that graffiti is the one thing that ties it all together.

Statik: As an artist, how does this piece of your work represent you?

Hebru Brantley, Into Obscurity

Hebru Brantley. Into Obscurity. Chicago, IL. (Image Courtesy, Hebru Brantley)

Brantley: It was made about four years ago. It represents me because I painted it. The title escapes me because it was so long ago. I think at the time I was delving into the concept of collage and obviously using this man as the main subject and the things that go on through his mind and it just evolved from there. I am a huge fan of Romare Bearden and the way that he would layer a piece not only with paper or other materials but painting as well.

(Hebru Brantley talks about Into Obscurity)

Honestly with this piece it is more just about flex and style. It does kind of borrow from a graffiti aesthetic with the abstract cloud shapes and what they are starting to formulate. I did this piece for a show last year in Seattle called Lions Disguised As Lambs and a lot of the show talked or lightly referenced cartoons from the ‘era’ 1940s and 50s. In this piece, it is kind of a reverse black face happening with the kids. It is black children with white painted faces. I mean you can take it as that or not. They can be seemingly menacing with white painted faces or seemingly harmless with white painted faces. I think that with a lot of the work it was calling attention to sort of a time, I don’t want to say forgotten about but also referencing society now in hip hop and I think African American culture as a whole and how we are perceived and also how we perceive one another.

(Hebru Brantley talks about Joe’s Boys and the Fame Monster)

Hebru Brantley, Joe's Boys and the Fame Monster

Hebru Brantley. Joe's Boys and the Fame Monster. Chicago, IL. (Image Credit, Hebru Brantley)

This is a piece I did I think around the time that Michael Jackson died. It is called Joe’s Boys and the Fame Monster. I mean it was kind of a homage of that time of the Jackson Five and all that they meant to a lot of people, not only black but otherwise and the great music and the wonderful things they brought. But also kind of referencing how big of a monster and how big of a trap they got caught into especially Michael being the epicenter of the group and how he is kind of fading away into being opaque. Just kind of referencing what happened to him and his career.

Statik: As an artist and for the record, is there anything about yourself that you want to go on record and let the world know about you as an artist and what you do and what you art is about?

Brantley: Well if I have to go on record and let the world know I am going to just go and say that I am a bad motherfucker and if the world has a problem with language they can take it up with me. (Hebru Laughs) But no seriously, there are so many things I can say about art and this is an open-ended question. (Laughs) I just want the world to know how amazing and talented and gifted and handsome, charming, loving I really am. Despite what you think of my art and though it does represent me as a person, I say come and get to know me first before you judge because you might be pleasantly surprised. And I am only talking to the camera right here because that is where the red light is. (Laughs again)

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion, Part I

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion. Image from discussion. Murphy Hill Gallery. Chicago, IL. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

Statik: What is Jugrnaut?

Banks: A lifestyle street wear boutique in Chicago.

Statik: What is a lifestyle street wear boutique?

Banks: When we say lifestyle that means it encompasses everything that we grew up loving, whether it be comic books, skateboarding, graffiti or hip hop. It is about creating the stuff that we love from back in the day. Capturing what is going to be the new love for a lot of these kids in the future. A lot of the events we do are marketing but also creating a lifestyle; doing art, working with people and trying to be a part of society.

Statik: Success as an artist, what does it mean to you?

Aguirre: I think it means being happy doing what I want to do. It changes as I get older but I think waking up happy and doing what I want to do is successful to me. Money is part of it but that fluctuates.

Statik: If that is a success, if it isn’t about money, what would be the art that you actually do that satisfies you as an individual and as an artist?

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion, Part I

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion. Murphy Hill Gallery. Chicago, IL. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

Aguirre: What I am on right now is public work that creates a dialogue with the public. That is kind of what graffiti is but it is more personal and claiming space. The public work that I am doing now is more about communicating with the public instead of taking the space.

Statik: What does success as an artist mean to you?

Brantley: I am in agreement with Ruben. Being able to wake up every day and not having to clock in and do what I love to do but also have it be highly valued and revered by certain groups of people and affording myself different opportunities to travel, express myself and create on different playing fields I guess. Just to be able to be an artist every day. I measure success on different days. I can be hard on myself some days as most artists can be but success is just being able to do what you love and get a little recognition and a little paper for it.

Statik: What is the art that you say you do (for the sport of it) that makes you happy?

Brantley: I am an Afro Futurist so that is the work that I do. It is coming from a place that is very familiar with my peer group because we all grew up walking the same path, watching the same shows, hanging out at the same spaces and listening to the same music. That is where that art comes from. It comes from that culture, hip-hop culture, graffiti culture and a couple other cultures.

Statik: What is Afro Futurism?

Brantley: Afro Futurism is ME. (Hebru laughs) I am just trying to get Max to laugh. I mean you have a lot of famous musicians, actors and actresses, painters and writers throughout a certain period of time that have explored the notion of Afro Futurism. You have writers like Octavia Butler and Labelle, Parliament Funkadelic.  A lot of theses people were cutting edge for what they did. I mean you look at Miles in his later years… It is not necessarily subscribing to one thing, it is kind of breaking out of the boundaries alla Outkast Atliens. It is borrowing from Sci-Fi and other cultures perspectives on what the future holds and what will be the future and I guess merging them with what is now and also what was the past. I mean obviously to be cliché, you can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you came from.

It is different. For me personally, I grew up with a huge affinity for Science Fiction movies. I mean shit who doesn’t like Star Wars and if you say you don’t, I’ll slap you. But Star Wars to Japanese animation, most kids today watch nothing but. Where before, when I was younger, it wasn’t readily accessible. There was no Internet and you had to seek it out. I think that the hunt and that I actually had to look for it, it grew and to sit and watch it and learn about it, it grew. So I think that merged with what I do now and black culture as a whole. You can even dwell into the past with certain findings with the Egyptians and their connection with aliens and scientific studies. Just going back to certain things within history and being a melting pot with in all of that. That is what Afro Futurism is to me.

Issues with Urban Art and Capitalism: Polymetric Panel Discussion, Part I

Polymetric Exhibition. Murphy Hill Gallery. February 2011. Chicago, IL. (Photograph of image by Nicolette Caldwell)

Statik: Banks, the reason why I have you here is coming from the angle of the individuals that actually sell art-based merchandise that relates to a lifestyle. It may be a success not only as an artist but also as an entrepreneur. You can answer that question addressing both angles. What is that to you?

Banks: The funny thing is that success is ever changing. Take it back to the first job you had maybe in high school and you were thrilled to just get a $100 paycheck. As that progresses through life you start getting $500 and $1000 dollar paychecks and then you hit a certain mental point where you realize there should never be a selling to success. When you get to comfortable with success that is when you start to dwindle and start to fail. I count my blessings but I never look at anything as being successful. I just look at it as another chapter to move on to higher progression.

Looking at things from the commercial aspect of art. I am just thrilled when art becomes bigger than you because you are always going to have people that support your art or your movement based off the fact that they want to support you and want to help you grow. But I think it is better when you come across someone that has no connection to you and doesn’t know you and they happen to support your art because they truly just like your art. And then when you tell them that I am the brainchild behind this they are impressed because they actually met the person behind the system and I think that is good. When your art movement becomes bigger than you and when you become miniscule, that is when you have something going on.

Statik: So once your art becomes relevant and more important to people outside your social bubble, that is where you are getting at?