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Barely Here: Patience, Persistence, and Evolution

Revise’s recent solo exhibition, Barely Here, at Modest Skate Shop in Forest Park, Illinois, explores what it means to try to maintain a relationship with an artistic community that measures visibility based on productivity and intense presence.  Such a relationship is complicated when the realities of multiple jobs, and the experience of growing into adulthood mitigate the possibility of maintaining a high degree of productivity, and hence, visibility.  However, rather than mourning the loss of the freedom to focus exclusively on painting, the show, and Revise’s discussion about it, offers a compelling vision of what it means to cultivate a new relation to one’s artistic practice that builds in a more elongated, durational experience of attention.  This approach could perhaps offer a tentative answer not only to the demands for “getting up,” in graffiti parlance, but the existence of a contemporary attention economy based on the momentary and sound bytes.

Revise, member of the CMW (Chicago’s Most Wanted Crew) and Chicago native, started writing around 1994 when he was in high school. Although he’d moved to the suburbs at that time, away from his Rogers Park neighborhood, he maintained his commitment to the city, his art, and the graffiti scene there, taking “two buses and a train” back to the city “every day.”

Revise, The orange intestinal looking thing…, 2013. Modest Skate Shop, Forest Park, IL. (Image Credit: Caitlyn Bruce)

Despite its evocative title and flyer, connoting loss, nostalgia, and the risk of invisibility, Barely Here is surprisingly non-elegiac.  Focusing on experimentations with negative space, the use of acrylics and only using spray paint “for effects,” and the careful labor of applying detailed curlicues and curves to create the effect of a stencil but with the labor of the steady hand, the show is an evolution rather than a repetition of Revise’s stylistic roots as a graffiti writer. He explained:

“Someone said that they missed my ‘old style,’ but I was telling [them] that it is not about one thing that defines me as an artist…it’s just the moment, the way I am thinking these days that [influences] the direction you see my pieces going in.”

We can see in Revise’s work in the show the adage that many writers use to describe their art and the graffiti scene – an evolution rather than a static tradition. Whereas illegal graffiti frequently uses speed as its key ingredient, the show does not feature letters, Revise’s name, or graffiti styles as such. Importantly, Revise tried to slow down his process, working on one piece for two weeks or more, meditating on it, thinking about how to carefully develop it. He says of his favorite piece:

“That [the piece] is really a test of how much I have grown as an artist and that patience. [It] is kind of tall, and is red, an amalgamation of shapes and colors and cleanliness, hopefully. It took me two to three weeks of just observing it, always having it in the back of my mind, seeing it, being like, ‘need to fix that today, need to fix that today’ and going back, constantly layering, and just really giving a shit. It really was a labor of love, and it took me a long time, and I hope when people see it they see that it took me a long time, that it wasn’t like, ‘oh a ton of stencils, it must have taken a long time to cut that out!’ But it was all done by…my own hands. I feel pretty proud of it.”

Revise, The only red piece in the show, 2013. Modest Skate Shop, Forest Park, IL. (Image Credit: Caitlin Bruce)

Revise’s labor of love also points to the transformations and conflicts that artists in any community may experience as their own life experiences transform their relationships with such communities. The show poster depicts “a really faded piece” that was part of his show in Art Basel Miami. The show meditates on the difficulties that Revise faces in “representing” and painting the way he used to. He illustrates: “I used to come home from college…I would work, go to college night class, come back home, eat a piece of bread, go out painting freights, catch tags, go to fill in on the line, maybe catch tags, go back home and sleep and start the whole process over. And this would be like on a Tuesday. And it was great. I had that energy, and that momentum, and that passion. And the passion is still there, but life gets in the way…So with the theme of the show, I want to show people that I still do paint, I still do have a passion, I am still trying to push the envelope for myself. Whether it is neat or [if] anyone thinks that it’s forward thinking…it’s up to them to decide.”

The show then offers a gentle reminder of Revise’s continuing presence in the Chicago art world, while expanding that audience for new members. Revise asserts that he hopes that his fellow writers and friends can see the show but also “non graffiti writers” and people unfamiliar with “lettering.” At the same time, the potential pathos of the exhibit is rebuffed by humorous components, notably, the price list that describes the works: The only red piece, the girl with a lot on her mind, that lone piece hanging above on the green wall. Using humor to point to the limited gravity of the pieces points to Revise’s interest in stylistic experimentation and elaboration, but also his reticence in letting those styles become static and fixed. Instead, the only red piece, earlier described as Revise’s favorite and most labor-intensive piece in the show, is gestured to flippantly and jokingly alongside the images of those three sexies top being all sexy and shit. Barely Here, a meditation on growing up, paying attention, and evolution, also might be subtitled “Still There.”

The show runs through May at Modest Skate Shop at 7416 W Madison St Forest Park, IL. For more images of Revise’s work check out his blog.

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