John “Crash” Matos Brings the Bronx to “Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience”

Aug 23, 2016 8:50PM

Born, raised, and currently residing in the Bronx, John “Crash” Matos hasn’t left behind his roots as a graffiti artist who spent much of his youth “bombing” subway trains in New York City rail yards. But he has come a long way.

Since the 1980s, museums and galleries worldwide have embraced his work. This fall in New York, JoAnne Artman Gallery celebrates the start of the season with “Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience,” a solo show of Crash’s always-exuberant paintings.

“I’ve been painting since I was a wee little kid, and while living here, [I] discovered the beauty of graffiti,” Crash has said. It was when he moved to a housing project that he “started to merge [his] love of art and graffiti. It eventually morphed into what is happening today.”

At JoAnne Artman Gallery, that morphing can be seen in his bright spray paint on canvas as well as watercolor and India ink on handmade paper. Though the dimensions of this work might be more contained than, say, the broadside of a subway train, Crash still blows up the spot.

Among the paintings in this latest show is Off the Hook, which Crash divides into four roughly triangular sections, each featuring different patterns and imagery. From left to right, we are confronted with swollen pink polka dots on a purple background, a fragment of what looks like a muscular arm (maybe Popeye’s?), a giant brown eye, and two sparkling A’s squeezed against a sunset background.

His smaller-scale paintings on paper present jumbled visions of more letters, eyes, and polka dots, often shot through with cartoonish images of fiery explosions. 

These colorful motifs play with Crash’s diverse influences: Speed Racer, Gigantor, James Rosenquist, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, anime, and more. The paper pieces could have been torn from a comic book, while the larger works look like they were carved from one of the countless bombed-out walls in the Bronx.

—Karen Kedmey

John ‘Crash’ Matos | Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience” is on view at JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York, Sept. 8–Oct. 31, 2016.

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