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From the streets to the galleries

January 13, 2015
“Aveces” by Ruben Aguirre

“Aveces” by Ruben Aguirre

NIU’s Jack Olson Gallery will host “Graffiti Imagery in Contemporary Art” from Friday, Jan. 16, through Thursday, Feb. 26.

An opening reception and curator’s talk begins at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15.

“Graffiti Imagery in Contemporary Art” explores how the aesthetics and processes of graffiti have been reinterpreted in the careers of professional artists.

Chicagoans Liz Lazdins, Mario Gonzalez Jr. and Ruben Aguirre began their careers as graffiti writers and transitioned from street to gallery. Their work demonstrates obvious connections to the graffiti art form and also reveals unexpected evolutions.

Although the direct links to graffiti are not visually evident in all of the works, these artists have found inspiration in the aesthetics, techniques, site specificity and urbanism of graffiti that speak to their experiences as street writers.

Lazdin’s work appropriates the media of graffiti utilizing stencil, spray paint, marker and collage. Her work is deeply embedded in graffiti culture, especially in its references to hip-hop and social inequality.

Against Lazdins’ work, Gonzalez Jr.’s calligraphic pieces are more subdued, offering a quiet, expressionistic interpretation of graffiti letterform. Using the techniques of pouring and dripping, his works show an interest in urban culture and decay. Their seemingly dirty surfaces and mundane materials mimic the urban environment they reference.

The collaged and painted works of Aguirre offer the most abstracted interpretation of graffiti. His practice as a muralist and studio painter inform one another; compositions shift and evolve as they move from public to private. His work distills the design quality of graffiti to its most basic form, while retaining the performative aspect of the practice in the use of organic, sweeping forms.

“Elemental” by Liz Lazdins

“Elemental” by Liz Lazdins

The collective works of Lazdins, Gonzalez Jr. and Aguirre challenge expectations of graffiti’s influence in contemporary art, showing it is not merely an aesthetic relationship but also encompasses environment, process and culture.

“Graffiti Imagery in Contemporary Art”  is curated by Alison Balcanoff and Alyssa Jaracz, 2014 graduates of the NIU master’s degree in art history and Museum Studies Graduate Certificate programs.

Part of the NIU School of Art and Design, the Jack Olson Gallery is located in Room 200 of the Visual Arts Building. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to noon Friday during the academic year.

For more information, call (815) 753-4521 or email [email protected].