Hiding In Plain Sight: “Freestyle” at Fabien Castanier Gallery

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Friends mean well, most of the time, and I’m not the easiest person to talk to, so I understand that they’re just trying to connect with me on some level. Yet I have come to approach their art recommendations with a certain amount of trepidation.

Do you know this artist so and so? You should really check out this gallery

can often translate to

Hey, you’re an artsy type and I saw something resembling art at this thing and I thought I’d tell you about it, because I really don’t know what else to say to you.

They mean well; it just doesn’t always pan out. Still, Los Angeles is a gargantuan melting pot of artistic impulses, and from time to time a gallery will escape my attention. So, me being the artsy type, I’ll drag my feet from disappointing tip to disappointing tip, until I hit the tip lottery. Such was the case recently when a friend prodded me toward the Fabien Castanier Gallery in Studio City.

As soon as I walked in the door, I felt that endorphin rush that comes from discovering that what you seek in this mortal coil not only exists, but is plentiful, if you just keep looking.  “Freestyle,” the current show, features striking work from one of the founding fathers of French Street Art, Speedy Graphito, as well as Eric Liot, JonOne, and Charlie Anderson.

Urban street art has most certainly entered the realm of the mainstream, but transforming the gritty essence of graffiti into fine art has proven a bit more problematic.  Yes, we’ve figured out how to use it to sell skateboards, sneakers, collectible toys and the like, but acceptance from the upper echelon of High Art circles has been pretty slim.  However, after seeing the work of Speedy and JonOne on display here, I think the distance between the two worlds is narrowing greatly.

Both Speedy Graphito and Eric Liot pack their work with pop culture references from Krusty the Clown, Porky Pig, and Fred Flinstone to Japanese anime and Tintin. Speedy layers his work with intricately woven patterns of street tags and deftly rendered spray paint cans. He wallpapers large canvases with his source material before plopping these characters into strange new considerations.  Liot however constructs his three dimensional scenes out of painted wood, yardsticks, particleboard, and other materials. The repetition of the exposed screws give the comic book references an industrial subtext.

JonOne applies graceful, flowing graf-tags to canvases dripped and splattered with color. The end result is something surprisingly soothing, and dare I say, minimal. JonOne transforms the familiar noise of street tags into an elegant quiet, the likes of which I haven’t seen this side of Agnes Martin.

When you enter the back half of the gallery, don’t be fooled by those Charlie Andersons hanging on the walls. No, they are not pulp collages. Well okay, they kind of are, but they are not giant strips of paper glued together.  Step a little closer. He painted that, with acrylic, ink, and house paint. Yes he did.

These are all attention grabbers from the get go. I rarely return to a show, but today I went back to Castanier for another look. It was even more impressive the second time around. Apparently the gallery has been hiding here, in plain sight, since April of last year. My friend got this one exactly right. I love this place.

–Keith Ross Dugas

Speedy Grafito, Eric Liot, JonOne, Charlie Anderson
Fabien Castanier Gallery
June 30-Sept. 2, 2012
12196 Ventura Blvd
Studio City CA, 91604
Sun.-Mon.: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tues.–Sat.: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
















 Text and photos by Keith Ross Dugas

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