Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday ProFile: Mare139

I spent yesterday afternoon on a bus from New York City to Washington, D.C. Normally, I’d cringe at spending 4.5 hours on a bus. Thanks to the brilliance of Bolt bus (free wi-fi AND plugs?), the experience was better than most domestic flights. Also, I finally had time to listen to the Tate Modern podcasts patiently waiting in my iTunes. My favorite is “Street Art Now: A World View,” which features a presentation by Marc and Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective. In their discussion, they mentioned where they thought street art would go in the next 10-20. Sara mentioned a possible revival of interest in graffiti. She thought perhaps galleries would do retrospective exhibits celebrating graffiti from a historical perspective.
Her comments prompted today’s Friday ProFile on graffiti legend Mare139. A self described “New Yorican,” Mare139 was raised on a steady diet of Krylon and wild style. Using the 1, 2, 4, and 5 trains as his canvases, he plastered his tags everywhere. “My name was shortened from Night Mare 139 to Mare139 so I can focus on style writing,” he adds.
Growing up in NYC, life was a battle for graffiti artists. Mare139 faced heartbreak, fights, theft, risk, danger, pain, and punishment for his work. “It’s never a safe prospect,” he explains, “but that’s what makes it fun. I’ve been too slippery, so the law never gave me metal bracelets.” Like most NYC youth, he got his start with the old crews bombing train yards.“I learned from the old masters,” he recalls. “I studied their work, asked for outlines, and painted with them. The relationship was a mentorship of sorts. I also had my brother Kell who was my partner and a good style writer. I’m cut from the cloth of traditional style writing, so I inherited a great bounty of knowledge that keeps me at the apex of this genre of art.”
For the past 33 years, Mare139 has bombed the hell out of New York’s streets. During this time, he’s held membership in crews like ROC (Roc On City), CIA (Crazy Inside Artists), and RTW (Roc The World). While each crew pushed the envelope and produced amazing pieces, jealousy between the crews created friction. Today, he pulls from architecture and early 20th century artists for inspiration.“There isn’t anyone specifically influencing me right now,” he says. “I have enough history in my own work to draw from. My work evolves quickly upon itself, often unfolding its narrative faster then I can create it. Obviously, I have influences from my early years but I have surpassed what my generation initially proposed with the painted trains and walls.”
After a long period of spray painting, Mare139 began experimenting with sculpture. “These projects evolved from my disdain of graffiti pop during the early 80s,” he explains. “I hated painting on canvas and felt graffiti didn’t translate well on it. In a response to my peers, I started sculpting the form of traditional wild style out of metal, in relief form, and finally in 3-D. I felt this was a better evolution. It was purely descendant from the art and culture I came from.” These sculptures caught the attention of local curators. His latest show, "B-Line: The Art of the B-Boy Dance and Sculptures," brought his new sculptures to Jersey City's 58 Gallery.

Through graffiti, Mare139 had the opportunity to travel the world. At the Outsides Project in Wuppertal, Germany, he collaborated with a new generation of ‘writers.’ “Many young street artists like Blue, JR, ZVES, Akim, and others came together secretly to create illegal installations all over this small, sleepy village,” he recalls. “It was an extraordinary time and event that has a place in history.” This experience doesn’t even come close to his most unusual tagging location. “Inside a volcano in Hawaii,” he laughs. From trains to tectonic plates, no surface is too dangerous.

In the future, Mare139 hopes to paint and sculpt on a larger scale. While he doesn’t aim to engage the public, he adds, “I like to think of my sculptures as an intellectual observation object. It’s something which speaks to the relationships the forms have with themselves and with the space they occupy.” When he’s not on the street, he’s enjoying life with his five year-old son, Leo. Just because he’s a father, don’t expect him quietly retire from the scene any time soon. “The world is my canvas and my gallery,” he insists. “If you don’t participate and share your work or theories, you only fulfill half of your obligation as an artist. As a child, I put my life at constant risk to be an artist because I believed in it so much. As an adult, I am no different.”

All images courtesy of Mare139. For more info, check out his website.

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