Graffiti culture burst onto the scene in New York City at the same time that the emerging hip hop sound gave the city its unofficial beat. The two art forms have been closely linked ever since. Street art has grown up and gone global since then, but on its way from the subway to the gallery the art form has held on to one major element from its hip hop roots—the sample. At Los Angeles gallery Guy Hepner, a current online exhibition “Street Art Takeover” features work by some of the most famous—or infamous, depending on your take—artists working in the form today, each of whom employs the idea of visual sampling in their own way.
The work of Los Angeles native Retna reaches back to the earliest days of graffiti, when the artist’s tag was his calling card. In acrylic works like Sacrament of Life and Untitled Black and Silver, Retna pushes text to its limits, combining old-school graffiti handstyle with visual notes from Arabic and Hebrew scripts, as well the pichação style of the São Paulo scene, even coyly copying slogans from “no trespassing” signs.
Other artists in the exhibition freely cite iconography from pop culture and politics, and riff on art history directly. Mr. Brainwash, the controversial subject of the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop, reinvented iconic images of everyone from Einstein to Kate Moss, even updating the style of Andy Warhol in works like Spock Monroe and other images from the series “Wigs Suite” at Guy Hepner. The show offers plenty of hidden-in-plain-sight references ranging from Hebru Brantley’s namechecks of his artistic forebears Basquiat and Keith Haring, to Alec Monopoly’s namesake Monopoly Men. How many samples can you spot?
“Street Art Takeover” is on view through May 1st at Guy Hepner, Los Angeles.