6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, we share a set of vintage photos documenting the NYC subway in 1981. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
Grim, gritty, grimy–these are just a few of the adjectives one could use to describe New York City in the 1980s. Homicide rates were at near-record highs, the crack epidemic had exploded, the police force had dwindled after the recession, and government mismanagement left the city on the brink of bankruptcy. At the time, a 22-year-old photographer from Florida named Christopher Morris was interning at the photo agency Black Star. According to TIME, he saw the graffiti-covered subway, dark, dank, and dangerous, as a battleground that “proved an opportunity to work on something of a domestic front line.” Now an award-winning photojournalist, Morris recently rediscovered this set of shots that he took over six months in 1981, during which time he devoted himself to this unique, seedy underworld.
See his photo series ahead
In a city where hundreds of interesting events occur each week, it can be hard to pick and choose your way to a fulfilling life. Ahead Art Nerd founder Lori Zimmer shares her top picks for 6sqft readers!
Photography lovers are in for a treat this week: New York legend Martha Cooper opens a new exhibition of her photographs of graffiti in the 1970s and 80s; historic works from India by iconic street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson are on show at the Rubin Museum; and touching portraits of West Africa by young photographer Anne Barlinckhoff are being showcased at The Quin. If you need a break from real life, take in the immersive and contemplative installation of Doug Wheeler, or float away on Pinaree Sanpitak’s meditative piece at Brookfield Place. Finally, join in on an Earth Day conversation in Times Square, or take in the work of “forgotten “ New York street artist Richard Hambelton in an event happening one night only.
More on all the best events this way
, Mon, September 28, 2015
When we think about decorating an apartment, most of us start with our walls, but with these new rug designs from Swedish artist Jonathan Josefsson you might want to consider your floor first. Josefsson is based in Gothenburg and has a background in graffiti. His brightly colored rugs take cues from his street art days and depict organic and playful patterns that will certainly liven up even the drabbest living space.
Find out more about the rugs
These days graffiti is celebrated in New York City. From top ten lists to graffiti tours, people can’t seem to get enough of this street art form. But this sentiment is a far cry from how New Yorkers felt 30 years ago, when the city’s graffiti epidemic seemed to be at its height. WPIX recently unearthed a news report from the summer of 1985 that shows the anti-graffiti resentment among New Yorkers, as well as the extent to which the city was coated in spray paint.
Watch the report here
Watch this 26-minute video without sound and you’ll see a striking, visual portrait of the 1970s graffiti movement in NYC, where everything from park monuments to subway cars was covered in tags. Listen to the commentary, though, and you’ll find something much deeper. Created as a mini-documentary for BBC, the video explores the root of graffiti culture. Is it folk art, youngsters marking their territory, planned-out vandalism, a result of pent-up anxiety, or quiet rebellion? Keep in mind this one of the roughest and crime-ridden decades in the city, so it’s interesting to see how some of those interviewed saw graffiti as a parallel to the crime, while others felt it was an artistic alternative that typified the energy of New York.
Watch the video here
It’s been 19 months since the 5Pointz graffiti mecca was secretly whitewashed overnight by the developers who have since razed the site to make way for the two residential towers that will replace it. Then, to pour salt in the wound, this past November G&M Realty announced that they planned to use the iconic 5Pointz name for their new project, infuriating the artists whose work adorned the building and leading them to launch a petition to stop the title.
Now, the plot has thickened. Nine graffiti artists filed a lawsuit on Friday “seeking unspecified damages from the owner who whitewashed away their artwork,” reports the Daily News. The plaintiffs claim they’re owed financial compensation as they were not given the opportunity to retrieve their work, much of which could have ended up in museums or the artists’ personal collections. The lost collection amounts to more than 350 graffiti pieces.
More details here
Artist Al Diaz is often asked to speak at panel discussions about Jean-Michel Basquiat or to lend his expertise for new exhibits about the world-famous artist. But Diaz was just as much a part of the downtown street art movement as his buddy Basquiat; in fact, the two got involved with the art form together. They met in high school and created the tag SAMO©, which appeared throughout lower Manhattan between 1977 and 1979 and put them on the map. They were first-generation NYC subway graffiti artists, and Diaz later became a text-oriented street artist. Today, you’ll see his hand in the subway again with his WET PAINT series, which uses individually-cut-out letters to create “clever, surreal and sometimes poignant anagrams.”
We recently chatted with Al Diaz to get the inside scoop on street art history in New York City, what it was like to work with Basquiat, and how he and his art work are much more than a shadow of his famous friend.
Read the full interview here