If nothing else, the urban-art show Colorfornia colors the concrete jungle
By Jon Dufort
The name Colorfornia suggests a massive artist’s enclave, a utopian state fixated on beauty that has somehow transcended concerns like budget deficits, rampant unemployment and drug murders that plague real states like California and New York.
The paintings made for the Warehouse Gallery’s show Colorfornia: New Forms in West Coast Street Art look like they could come from such a magical place, but it is important to remember that this art arose and thrives in real, public, urban environments, not in spite of them. The three artists participating in this show—Apex, Chor Boogie and Jet Martinez—all have created huge murals that live as part of the cityscapes they inhabit, including San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Oaxaca, Mexico.
Imagine rounding another gray corner and facing a bold explosion of color, a positive assertion of creativity in a place that sorely needs it, amid the heat, cursing, pulsing noise and smells, the expressionless pedestrians, lurching traffic and hopeless, homeless characters. Daily life in a city doesn’t consist of hunting about for beauty but an ambitious and well-executed mural reminds people every day that it still exists. This local gallery show can’t take you to those far-flung places exactly, but it can serve up some samples in the style of street art, sealed up safely indoors.
With all the public and private property marred by grubby graffiti tags, you’d think spray paint was a blunt instrument incapable of sensitive expression. Apex, aka Ricardo Richey, manages to use it to create compositions so intricate and precise they look computer-generated. For this show Apex produced a sprawling bed of jagged crystals, heaps of them that recede into the distance. Each is crisply outlined in black but an infinity of plaids and other patterns reflects and refracts through the facets. It’s as brightly colored as a tropical reef, and it teems with the same jewel tones and darting shadows found there. Also like a reef, the painting was built by overlapping a dizzying number of layers on top of a skeletal structure.
If Chor Boogie’s paintings were an echo of oceanic life they would be found much deeper down. His images are twisted, distorted as if by the gravity of miles of seawater. They seem fed by a strange energy like those alien worms that cling to the rocks near magma vents, waving in the blasting heat and noxious chemicals. Bright colors and abstract patterns play a part here, too, but instead of being part of a steady continuum, they mark the fringes of disintegration: Faces break apart into blurring eyeballs and teeth turn to loose tiles, cheeks flatten into plates of pixels, a pregnant torso melts into a series of ever-flatter circles. Each recognizable feature seems on the brink of collapsing into component parts in some sort of cosmic transcendence.
It is easier to recognize that Chor Boogie’s paintings are made with spray paint—while some areas are tightly controlled and sport perfectly smooth skin tones, in others he isn’t shy about accentuating spray paint’s characteristic drips and spatters.
You won’t see that in Jet Martinez’s murals: He uses a brush instead of a can. Still, Martinez’s style is not so different from the spray painters. Like them he favors flat fields of brilliant color and crisp ornate patterns that might as well have been stenciled. Here in Syracuse Martinez has created a mural as evenly crowded as an oversized swatch of wallpaper. Stylized flower blossoms, the tracery of vines, birds with fanning plumage and a blue stag all lie down flat as though fossilized.
When beasts such as any of these paintings are removed from their natural habitat, scaled down and polished up, they lose some of their bite. They’re still plenty big and powerful enough to awe visitors. It’s not free swimming with sharks, but a well-stocked aquarium offers other enjoyments and rewards. Personally, I don’t mind the thick glass
Colorfornia: New Forms in West Coast Street Art will run until Oct. 29 at the Warehouse Gallery, 350 W. Fayette St. The gallery is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call 443-6450.