In a unique new exhibit that brings together more than 15 graffiti artists and photographers, curator Jeffrey Thomas hopes to showcase the entire spectrum of the urban art scene—one that is largely misunderstood and misrepresented.
People who write off urban art as defacement of public property aren’t wrong, Thomas concedes. “I would agree with them,” he says with a laugh. “[This show] is celebrating vandalism.” However, he isn’t out to change people’s minds, but rather, wants audiences to recognize the amount of skill and pride that goes into making the art.
“[Graffiti]’s an art form,” he insists. “It’s a raw, unregulated expression of getting what you have out there. You can’t fake it. If what you’re doing sucks, what you’re doing sucks. People are going to see it—and that’s on you at the end of the day. Are you going to own up to what you did?”
Thomas explains that within the umbrella of urban art, there exists a sharp difference between “graffiti” and “street art.” There’s a Zen-like beauty to graffiti inherent in its creation—inevitably, it will be destroyed, covered up by the property owners or by someone else’s tag. Sometimes it’s gone before anyone even has the chance to see it. Street art, on the other hand, is made for the public. It’s meant to look good and clean—and as a result, lacks the history and culture of graffiti. At his exhibit, these vibrant works of art will be allowed to exist without the threat of eradication.
“You’re gonna get the whole 360 progress of how this stuff comes about. Completed stuff, photo work of process, just giving an understanding to the people that have no idea about this stuff, who think its just some kid who goes out with a can of paint. It’s so much more than that,” Thomas says. “Taking it into the gallery scene and bringing it to a different group of people to see not only gets it more publicity, more views. It allows it to have a longer life and to be more permanent.”
In addition to showcasing a number of talents in the urban art subculture, the exhibit is teaming up with Samaritans, a suicide prevention program that has provided the greater Boston area with compassionate, life-saving services for over 40 years. For Thomas, the decision to share the spotlight with Samaritans was deeply personal.
“I lost my best friend in December to suicide,” he says. “It’s been really awful. It’s given me a whole new outlook on everything. Art has helped me cope with that, and I know that within graffiti, the small community of people that I know, there is a lot of stuff like that that does happen…It’s a rough, raw thing.
Thomas adds: “I know, not just in graffiti, but in life in general, there are people struggling from depression and suicide, and I want people to know that there is an outlet, and it doesn’t ever have to get that bad.”
Above all, he hopes that the exhibit will open visitors’ minds and eyes to a passionate, colorful form of expression that exists, however fleetingly, in our city and across the world. Yes, it’s vandalism—but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently evil.
“It doesn’t have to be this malicious thing,” Thomas says. “It’s not always about going out, finding a blank wall, and pissing someone off.”
ARTS AT THE ARMORY PRESENTS: SEMI-PERMANENT LIFESTYLES. 191 HIGHLAND AVE., SOMERVILLE. FRIDAY APRIL 24. 7PM/ALL AGES/FREE (DONATIONS ACCEPTED). ARTSATTHEARMORY.ORG