“As much as this is art of the highest order, James and Karla Murray are also doing a public service. These words speak louder than you think.” Joe Bendik
Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Thanks Pops. Check out more of Pops’ amazing panos at his flickr site. (click above pano for large size)
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Stop by if you are in East Hampton this Saturday Night 4-6 PM! Clic Gallery East Hampton is at 23 Newton Lane East Hampton, NY 11937
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Owner Peter Migliorini with our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York. Excellent piece on Peter’s Closing by EV GRIEVE:
Monday, July 20, 2009
Store Front is a visually compelling tome filled with photographs of stores that have maintained the I’ve-been-on-this-corner-since-your-ancestors-came-over-from-the-old-country look. Photographers Karla and James Murray intentionally selected places that “look like they’ve been around forever” — though, ironically, the stores may only exist forever in photographic form, since they’re becoming ephemera so quickly. Organized by borough and further subdivided by neighborhood, the book encyclopedically chronicles the shops that have (or had) outlasted the onslaught of aesthetic and commercial homogeneity.
The project, while evoking all kinds of politicized issues about commerce, is ultimately about art. Always interested in fonts, it was in scavenging the city for graffiti that led the Murrays to Storefront. Returning multiple times to a particular neighborhood, the couple noticed how sharp the local turnover was between one trip and the next. Without photography, these marginalized subjects would have faded into the ether, unremembered. It became their quest to counter the vanishing of old-world New York.
Their archival project, carried out with near-exhaustive zeal, is in the vein of Bernd and Hilla Becher (a German couple who photographed neglected industrial architecture from a firmly objective point of view), with an August Sander-level scope. The Murrays shot with a traditional 35mm manual camera, and the old-school apparatus serves as an apt mirror of the time-honored authenticity of the subjects. The un-manipulated approach wholly preserves the vintage aesthetic of the stores.
The extinction list for small businesses is swiftly growing as the contemporary city shifts. A certain manic pursuit was necessary to archeologically capture these venues before they were lost in the constant palimpsest that is New York. The Murrays note in their introduction that a third (a third!) of the businesses photographed no longer exist, which imbues the photos with a mournful feeling.
Small-scale business survival is rooted in endurance, with signs often making proud declarations of longevity (Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery, original since 1910; Russo’s Fresh Mozzarella & Pasta, since 1908). Embedded in these dates is a confirmation of successfully maintained tradition that is tried and true and unflappable in the face of passing trends. These long-standing guys are the real New Yorkers, with street cred as caked into their reputation as the stains into their decades-old signs. It is they who have witnessed gentrification firsthand — not just of populace, but of branding, of visual grammar. They have refused to wither in the face of trademark. The signs’ missing letters, the rusted corners — they are a badge of individuality. Their ramshackle aesthetic dates them as much as their actual histories, and proudly so. Like modern forensics, you can actually size up an older store by the visual cues of its exterior. The Murrays list some singular visual hallmarks indicative of the stores’ storied pasts, including overhanging signs (which are no longer permitted and must be grandfathered); huge turn-of-the-19th and -20th century wooden display cases; rolling wooden ladders that hook onto a metal railing for easy access to upper display shelves (found at hardware stores and liquor stores, dating back before Prohibition). Something as seemingly mundane as a ladder is actually a historical marker.
Of all of storefronts photographed, it was a single letter on the sign for Ralph’s Discount City in Tribeca that provided the most surprising example of original typography. “We were fascinated by the “S” when we first saw it,” the Murrays recount. “We had never seen anything quite like it before. One person even commented that “it looks like an Elsa Peretti heart. We specifically chose Ralph’s as the cover image because we liked the font so much.” The fate of the store that used such innovation? Out of business.
The few modern enterprises trying to recapture a vintage approach to signage have nowhere to turn. The Murrays were contacted by an East Village bar owner who wanted to produce a sign resembling the ones they had photographed. “He has not been able to locate anybody capable of doing this because most sign-makers now have plastic printed signs that are computer-designed, not hand-painted or original.”
In losing intricate flourishes of signage — and the kinds of stores that interested in having them — the city is losing unique neighborhood localization. In the four pull-out pages, the few stubborn huddles of consecutive mom-and-pop shops represent an old world microcosm. It’s startling to realize how foreign they look when compared to the streetscape we are used to strolling past.
In the face of this downward economic spiral, business is bleak for megacompanies and little guys both. But the authors maintain a hopeful attitude, emphasizing that where you shop is as much of a choice as what you buy. These places instill a sense of nostalgia, they honor tradition, and they contribute to the aesthetic of New York’s commercial and architectural legacy. Though their pictures are worth a thousand words, being devoted to small businesses while they’re still standing is worth all the more.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Miami Herald: Urban scrawl: New book on graffiti celebrates a vibrant, misunderstood South Florida subculture
`The world can easily discard you as a nobody, but you can take a couple of spray cans of paint and blow people’s minds with your talent. That is an addictive feeling.’
– CROOK, Miami graffiti artist
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
Graffiti artists are the bad boys of the art world.
When they get ”the itch” to paint, the city becomes their canvas.
In blazing colors they spray paint what they’ve got to say on the walls of empty warehouses, on the sides of beat-up buses at the depot, inside abandoned crack houses, underneath overpasses and on highway signs, this last for the most part when they’re young, brazen and angry enough. Highway bombing, they call it, and it has cost some their lives.
Unlike most mainstream artists, they don’t care if the public ever sees their artwork. It’s not for sale, and they know that it’s likely to be painted over by rival graffiti ”crews,” by property owners or by the authorities as soon as the paintings are discovered.
They create to express themselves — to ”tag” their colorful murals with the streetwise nicknames they’ve adopted. Sometimes those names are the sole content of the work: QUAKE, CROME, CROOK, ABSTRK, ATOMIK.
”The spirit of graffiti is leaving your name behind in one of the most crude ways possible,” says QUAKE, a Miamian in his late 20s. “You are out there, and people will be forced to know you. . . . It works. . . . People know us, and it feeds us. We want to paint even more. Anyone else paints, and we want to paint more than them — twice as much as them; twice as good.”
The graffiti artists exist in an underground that’s tough to access. They rarely give interviews. They go by nicknames only. They decline to be photographed.
To find their work, one must leave prejudice and fear behind and follow the train tracks to the grittier sides of Hialeah, Overtown, Wynwood, North Miami. That’s what New York photographers James and Karla Murray did for 10 years to chronicle a span of Miami art history from the mid-1990s to today and a subculture many seldom see.
”A strong graffiti art scene has existed in Miami for over a quarter century, but it had hardly been documented,” the photographers write in their new book Miami Graffiti (Prestel, $25).
Known for their images of New York graffiti showcased in previous books Broken Windows and Burning New York, the Murrays earned the trust of the Miami artists by showing up in the most seedy parts of town, equipment in hand, ready to listen and document without judgment.
They visited housing projects, walked crack alleys, and climbed onto roof tops and loading docks. They photographed graffiti everywhere — on a palm tree trunk, at neglected public spaces such as Key Biscayne’s Marine Stadium and the cavernous abandoned buildings next to the train tracks in Hialeah that the artists call “the penit.”
These buildings, the Murrays say, have become “de facto museums of graffiti art and incubators of style.”
”In New York, the color palette is darker, but here there are these bright, tropical candy colors,” says Karla Murray, who has family in Miami and, with her husband, visits often. “When I saw the great quality of the works, we knew we wanted to document them in a serious way.”
Says QUAKE: “They earned our respect. They were not afraid to get their hands dirty. It took them months to find me, and they caught me painting.”
In Miami Graffiti the Murrays feature various South Florida crews.
But the book’s cover image with the King Orange character and many of the most striking murals featured inside are by MSGCARTEL to which QUAKE, CROME, CROOK, ABSTRK and ATOMIK belong. The crew is some 50 members strong and stretches as far south as Homestead and north to Palm Beach and has participants in graffiti centers like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, according to CROOK, who now paints less and has assumed the role of organizer.
The crew lost a member, BENO, when he and several others tried to celebrate the Florida Marlins’ national championship by painting their pride and joy on a Metromover track by The Miami Herald building in 1997.
”He pushed his limits and ended up getting run over by the trains,” CROOK says. They now honor BENO and SEGE, who died of a drug overdose, by signing their names in murals throughout the city. (SEGE was a founder of MSG, and his style of lettering influenced many other MSG members in the mid-’90s.)
Last February, a 28-year-old artist who called himself MERK lost his footing while attempting to tag a traffic sign overhanging the Palmetto Expressway near Bird Road. MERK, whose real name was Enrique Vincente Olivera, plunged 24 feet to the pavement and died as early-morning commuters drove by.
”There’s a lot of different crews, and they have their own persona,” ABSTRK says. “Us, we are like an empire, a mix of different artists, but everyone has their own traits. One does metal and wood work, one graphic design, one tattoos. So many doors can be opened to us as a crew. It’s a great thing to be a part of. It’s all about building together for something better.”
ABSTRK, a 25-year-old who teaches children how to paint in a school program and is the father of a 2-year-old, is known for wild color schemes that are ”off the wall” and have a lot of movement and for developing quirky characters like a spray can with wings.
QUAKE, whose tag stands for ”Quarts Up And Kegs Empty” because he used to be a heavy drinker, draws devils ”puppeteering as graffiti artists” in a mural titled The Devil Made Me Do It. He and CROME and ATOMIK painted a Metro bus.
”At this point, it’s become more therapeutic than anything,” QUAKE says. “Everyone has their different reasons. Some people still hold a grudge, want to stick it to the Man, but I sleep good when I paint. I wake up, and I feel like it’s Christmas Day. I get to see the work we painted and get the photographs.”
When they were younger, most of the artists were involved in some kind of ”highway bombing.” CROOK, who in the 1990s painted a ”Nixon as crook” message on a highway sign featured in the book, and CROME got arrested. They spent time in jail and had their supplies confiscated. They never got their equipment back, but their case was dismissed.
But ”I’m a family man now,” says CROOK, who is the father of a 2-year-old and has a T-shirt printing business and clothing line.
Still, he sometimes gets “the itch, and I gotta scratch it.
”I enjoy the rush, the adventure, and the lifestyle that goes with it,” CROOK says.
By day graphic artists, tattoo artists, clothing designers, or active in other professions, the graffiti artists are inspired by the hip-hop culture and its four elements: graffiti writing (painting), rapping (poetry), DJing (composing), and b-boying (dancing). Some are hoping for careers in the fine arts; the late Keith Haring, for example, started out as a graffiti artist who developed his style in the alternative world of New York’s downtown streets and subways.
The graffiti crews are not gangs, which use crude symbols such as Roman numerals to mark their territory and threaten intruders from rival gangs. In fact, the artists say, they’re often caught between the pressure put on them by police and by gangs that don’t want them around either.
To police and other authorities, however, the artists are vandals defacing public property, causing government and property owners to spend thousands in clean-up costs.
”Graffiti is taken seriously, and whoever defaces someone else’s property is committing a crime, and our role as a law enforcement agency is to enforce the laws,” says Alvaro Zabaleta, public information officer for the Miami-Dade Police Department.
But more and more graffiti artists are being recognized as a component of the contemporary art scene.
Their best work — the stylized murals of female faces in black and white by Santiago in Wynwood, for example — has attracted the attention of the international art world.
During December’s Art Basel Miami Beach, the Murrays plan to stage Graffiti Gone Global, an exhibition to showcase 20 of the area’s best artists.
”It’s a big subculture within itself,” Karla says. “Small to people outside the world, but big and complex when you’re inside.”
Last year, a graffiti expo dubbed True Elements was held in Wynwood during Basel, and graffiti artists from South Florida, Europe and the United States left their marks on murals along the neighborhood’s Interstate 95 perimeter. The murals can still be seen at the Northwest 29th Street intersection.
”These giant murals — 50 foot long by 20 feet high — can cost the artists some $2,000,” James says. “Paint is expensive, and that comes out of their own pocket — and the work could be gone the next day. The city can come and whitewash it, or a rival crew can paint over it. That’s why we thought to document the work in a book. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
photo: CROOK MSG
Friday, July 17, 2009
Photo Gallery: The Disappearing Face of New York Store Fronts
by Sarah Moroz
Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York is a remarkable book of photos by Karla and James Murray, featuring a huge selection of store façades snapped all over the five boroughs. Unified by their charmingly unvarnished aesthetic, these stores have maintained a look seemingly impervious to the slick architecture and generic branding that has redefined the topography of modern New York.
Clic Gallery (255 Centre Street), a space dedicated to showcasing emerging artists, is displaying a medley of photos from the Murrays’ book through August 30. Easily identifiable New York institutions like Reggio’s and the now-shuttered Vesuvio Bakery are on display alongside nameless bodegas and barber shops characteristic of many a local hood. The venues are throwbacks to old New York, when family business legacies and specialty shops weren’t such novelties. The gallery’s white walls and white frames (not to mention large-windowed, well-lit corner location) allow the viewer a clear zoom-in on the frontal details, including carefully-considered embellishments like hand-painted signs and surprising typographical choices that fly in the face of big-business homogeneity.
As the husband and wife team told Flavorpill:
“[Curator] Christiane Celle selected all the photos for the exhibit. We have found that everyone is drawn to different stores and has different ‘favorites’ so we were happy to have someone else do the selection for us. It’s also interesting for us to see what stores people are drawn to. Our favorites tend to involve more than just the photo because we have such a personal connection to many of the store owners since we interviewed them for the book project. Many of the owners have in fact become friends with us and we remain in touch with them even if their store has closed.
The arrangement of the photos for the show was also done by the gallery. They grouped the photos into collections of “booze-related stores”, “guy-related stores” (ie: fishing, bicycles, tire shops, guitar shops), food-related stores and bakeries and “girl-related stores” (ie: hair salons, fur shops, clothing stores)”.
It’s a visual touchstone to an old New York not [yet] extinct or maimed by architectural Botox — a discrete yet rousing reminder to recognize the beauty of small-scale commerce.
View a slideshow of a few of the photos courtesy of Karla and James Murray