Ride or Die
Graffiti or “street art” has been largely synonymous with being made and viewed outdoors, on surfaces of public structures throughout cities worldwide, usually without permission. The visual vocabulary used by graffiti artists has often expressed modes of activism, creative thought, and personal and cultural insignias. Contemporary artists like Barry McGee (Twist) and many of his fellow “taggers” from San Francisco’s Mission District as well as others like Chicago native and KCAI alumnus Jordan Nickel (POSE) have made the transition from working outside to showing in galleries.* This is a development that has significantly changed the artistic practice of graffiti artists, prompting the making of three-dimensional and smaller compositions.
Visual signifiers and recognizable motifs often associated with graffiti culture, such as abstract graphic shapes, vibrant colors, bold lettering, and mural-like dimensions, are identifiable in works by artists outside of the genre. These works, culled from the Kemper Museum’s permanent collection, serve as examples of the influence that graffiti has had on artists showing in museum contexts.
New York-based artist Frank Stella’s Ohonoo (1994), part of his iconic Moby Dick series, evokes elements of graffiti such as distinct lines, sweeping gestures, and bright colors done on a monumental scale. Greg Miller and Archie Scott Gobber incorporate text into their works, another visual component used by graffiti artists and often inspired by comic book artists and illustrators. Graffiti is also intertwined with pop culture and politics as a means to deliver messages quickly and to a wide public audience. Roger Shimomura includes political figures and media icons in many of his works, such as Untitled (1984), to address sociopolitical issues of Asian American ethnicity, while Ed Blackburn’s Painted Magazine Rodeo Rider (1976) recontextualizes an iconic image of an American cowboy from small scale magazine ad to billboard-size status. In the painting Ride or Die (2005) Gajin Fujita (Hyde) incorporates multiple aspects of graffiti art informed by his years as an active member of two Los Angeles–based graffiti bombing crews.
*Graffiti artists use personal signatures or “tag names” to identify their works.