"I Play Gangster Rap Only" by Jeff Soto
"Pervasive Fusion" NYArts Magazine Vol. 10 (March/April 2005) No. 3-4.
Here in New York where anything interesting in the overpopulated expanses
of the art world is hard to come by exists a subculture. It's vocabulary is rooted in
grafitti, tattoo art, hot rod detailing, comic book illustration, punk rock and hip-hop.
It's practitioners look down on Andy Warhol as a vapid rip off artist who took their
best ideas and made millions. They think Clement Greenberg was an asshole for
devaluing their influences as mere kitsch. There is a value placed on craft, skill,
labor and narrative representation that is a refreshing alternative to the sloppy
slipshod shit that all too often passes for objects of worth at art fairs too numerous
to count or care about anymore.
Many of them are illustrators or graphic designers who want to say something
more than what is allowed by their commercial shackles. Some are rock stars
outright, some just rock stars in their own outsider minds. They don't care about
Lacan or Foucault, Derrida or Baudrillard but look instead to Herman Munster, Joey
Ramone, Ed "Big Daddy"Roth and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs for truth and meaning. They
prefer Coney Island to Dia Beacon and if they have been to Matthew Marks Gallery
they wondered why the hell things cost so much or why anybody gives a shit about
It's called lowbrow art by one of it's chief proponents, Robert Williams,
(painter and founder of Juxtapoz magazine) and Pervasive art by one of it's stars
Gary Baseman. It's getting really big.
Juxtapoz boasts readership that rivals that of Art in America and is competitive
with Art Forum all without their exclusive endorsement and closed door insider
bullshit. With the designer toy industry's boom, webzines like crowndozen.com
touting their wares and magazines like Beautiful/ Decay, Alarm and Giant Robot
or galleries like Fuse and Jonathan Levine providing a platform in the last several
years it's gained tremendous steam.
A fortress for this subculture exists in New York at Fuse Gallery which hosted
the Supercalligraphic Show in November. A two person showcase of the work of
young lowbrow bonafides Jeff Soto and Tristan Eaton, Supercalligraphic offered
something fresh, colorful and exciting.
Jeff Soto specializes in quasi robotic-looking creatures that upon closer
inspection appear to be manned by smaller creatures from the inside. Some are
one-eyed droplet eared beasts who wear spiked jack'o'lanterns as clothing while
roller painting butterfly wallpaper (‘Manifest Destiny"). Others are hidden inside
Iron Man-like metal helmets with boom-box tape deck bodies that play
"GanstaRapOnly" (At least that's what it says on the tape inside the deck right?).
All have long syrup-string arms that are spiked, holding flowers, or roller
painting. The characters loom over city scapes, some in layers of cartoon green
clouds, patterns of enamel squares or cubes set over spray painted black areas.
Soto dabbles in the political with "Los Angeles" a piece that shows a cop's night
stick spiked on fire and intertwined with pink, spikey plant stems in front of a
smoggy city scape. And he susses out the spiritual with "Black Skull" and "Heart"
whose title subjects are shown with either roots or stems growing out of them.
Soto insists that interpreting his work need not be too involved a process- "It's
about change" he stated when I met him at the reception.
Tristan Eaton has already distinguished himself as creative director for
Kid Robot, a major distributor and flashpoint for the collectible toy movement in
New York. While the pieces shown draw from some of the same set of influences
as Soto, Eaton's work is much poppier, shinier, and happier. African princesses,
a constant in previous work, appear here again. Some facing each other divided
by canvas edges lined by graffitti, some ballooned out and floating as though
waiting for the Thanksgiving procession at Macy's. His imagery and characters
have the snap and jive of sexed-up cereal box icons from the streets of Detroit or
Brook'nam. Know what I'm sayin'?
It was a cohesive and well-curated show. Both played off each others
strengths well with analogous textures and color schemes. Despite the large
amount of work it all fit tidily on the flat black walls of Fuse Gallery. The 3-D prints
they collaborated on were pretty great as well. It was a fitting combination of artists
in a great gallery from a subculture in need of more recognition from the High Art
establishment. Ya heard?!
For more information on the work of Jeff Soto visit jeffsoto.com.
For more information on Tristan Eaton visit thunderdogstudios.com