The streets of New York have come to Tel Aviv with an exhibition of works by
renowned American graffiti artist George “Sen-One” Morillo.
The show at
the Irit Hadani Gallery brings prints of his latest canvas pieces, merchandise
such as pillows, and even the opportunity for visitors to commission
Gallery owner and painter Irit Hadani is also participating
with a display of her New York-themed artwork, and her daughter Anat is making
her photography debut with shots taken around the Big Apple.
“This is the
first time we’ve opened the gallery up to a themed exhibition,” says Sharon
Dayan, the gallery’s PR director. She tells how Hadani – who also happens to be
her mother – met Morillo at an art expo in New York, after which things kind of
took on a life of their own.
“A few booths from me was George, exhibiting
his trains,” Hadani remembers.
She complimented him on his pieces. “I
told him, ‘You have wonderful work, it’s beautiful, you can do a lot of things
here.’ [He said,] ‘Yes,’ and I said to him, ‘I have a lot of experience with my
own work as an artist.
I’ve made pillows and coasters and
I have different things, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years.
I have my own suppliers, and if you give me the okay, I will show you what you
can do with your work.”
The rest, as they say, is a partnership made in
Morillo’s train works on canvas, which can also
be purchased in merchandised form at the Hadani exhibition, show old-style New
York City subway cars covered in graffiti.
They include the trains he
refers to as the “red bird” and the “white elephant.”
“It’s a cultural
thing,” he explains, recounting the early days of New York street graffiti –
days when he and his “crew” mates would search out the perfect wall or train for
their colorful works.
“We used to call the white train the ‘white
elephant’ because it was a rare train – those were the ones [the city] wanted
clean. You could hardly find a white train cause they’d wipe them up, it was
like a white elephant – a trophy. Then there was the red train – we called it
the ‘red bird.’ So these were the names back in the ’80s,” he says. “We’d say,
‘I bombed the red bird,’ and people would know what you’re talking about, or ‘I
got a white elephant’ – ‘A white elephant? Wow!’” Back in the early ’80s, George
Morillo was a young man living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, brother of
then-noted skateboarder and graffiti artist Ricky “SIA” Mujica, and son of a
single mother from the Dominican Republic. It was a time when the graffiti
subculture was gradually intertwining with that of a burgeoning hip-hop scene,
and an age before the mainstream had appropriated the elements of street art
into its commercial aspirations.
“By this time, there was such an
abundance of kids [involved in] the subculture of New York,” he explains. “You
was either part of this or you wasn’t, and it was really important to be a part
Being a part of it gained Morillo attention, and at the age of
15, he was commissioned by acclaimed photographer Richard Avedon to
do work for a live art show and canvas.
Graffiti had, according to
Morillo, become an “advertisement” for the hip-hop subculture.
these trains running through [on] all these lines, everybody would come to New
York and they’d see these trains and they would be amazed [by the graffiti]. So
this began to give us what today people do as advertisement – this was our
Graffiti, he says, represented the “break dancers and
fashion and styles.” It brought a new form of expression to the forefront, one
that finally spoke for a previously voiceless generation.
there was a form of not just representing us, but people. ’Cause before hip-hop,
there was no music, no clothing, nothing that represented us. Not on TV or
anything,” he says.
What happened next, he explains Morillo, was the
“explosion of the subculture.” Graffiti was finally gaining notice
Today, he has branched out. The teenager who once had his face
on a New York City Police Department wanted poster for vandalism is now a
teacher of graffiti art to Manhattan’s school children. He is courted by major
brands and celebrity designers eager to get him to lend his graffiti style to
their creations. Macy’s and Rachel Roy, the New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire,
a sneaker line for Hip Hop USA, plus exhibitions and installations at well-known
galleries, all play a role in the full circle his life has taken.
twilight zone, it’s weird and I kind of feel like it’s bigger than me,” he says
when asked about where his graffiti has led him.
“I’m not representing
myself anymore, I’m representing a culture, and the original essence of it
doesn’t exist. What we have now has already been transformed in many ways. This
[his canvas work] is the original form of it, before it was introduced to the
More than that, he continues, is the realization that when he
works on graffiti art, he is representing a generation – including fellow
graffiti writers and hip-hoppers – that has for a large part
“I represent literally thousands of people that are not
here. We had crack epidemics in New York City that wiped out almost an entire
hip-hop community. And then along came AIDS. So we have a lot of the childhood
friends that I was blessed to grow up with on the Upper West Side, which was
like the Mecca of ’80s hip-hop, and the majority of them are not here. So when
I’m doing this, it’s an emotional thing for me.”
And what about the young
street artists today who say they would never go commercial – that it’s a
sell-out? “I never compromise the principles,” the artist explains. And just
growing up is a major influence as well: “As you get older, you can’t continue
to do what you did, you know, it’s not intelligent. Plus, your mind
He talks about the adrenaline rush of spraying a wall, and not
being able to get the same rush on the second time.
“It’s a way of
evolving,” he says. “[The young street artist] says that now, because I said the
same thing. But as they get older.... I have a family now that depends on
Today, my role isn’t to do the walls – that’s his role, and he should
take that position. At that time, I was a voice that I needed to put out; now
it’s more of the artwork going out, and the history.”
exhibition will run through the end of December at the Irit Hadani Gallery, 8
Herzel Rosenblum Street, Tel Aviv. For more information, including gallery
hours, call (03) 741-2966 or visit www.irit-hadani.com.