Graffiti bombings strike Tel Aviv art scene

Young and hungry artists are following in the paths of their predecessors in order to break into the establishment.

A number of graffiti artists are now displaying their skills at Tel Aviv's exclusive Shemonah Plus club in a unique exhibition entitled Graffiti Framed. The recent opening attracted critics, dealers, gallery owners and collectors from a wide range of traditional art styles, and the show runs through August. The story of graffiti's break into the mainstream art community - a masterpiece of entrepreneur creativity - is worth telling. In the 1960s, a kid from New York's Washington Heights neighborhood known as "Taki" began writing his name on walls and trains and in subway stations to be seen by commuters coming into the city to work. Taki's graffiti created such a craze that The New York Times was prompted to run a feature article about "the mysterious kid who [had] captured the attention of the entire city." Poor young artists, wanting to break into the establishment, saw graffiti as a way to promote their own art. They, too, began emblazoning public surfaces with their names, adding color and three-dimensional designs in order to attract more attention. Competition became fierce, and the artists were soon seeking out daring locations for overnight graffiti projects ("bombs") on city buildings, bridges, trains and entire subway stations. The sheer size of these works also helped secure them longer wall life. Graffiti art is an ingenious advertising strategy by aspiring artists looking for recognition. A "tag" is a marketing device used to hide the artist's true identity, and is meant to stir curiosity about whoever painted it. Consider some of the signature tags on display at Framed: "0¢" is a well-known Tel Aviv graffiti bomber. When asked by Metro what his tag means, he explained. "I have no money (zero cents) to create the beautiful art you see on the wall, so please give me a job - it makes "zero sense" not to!" "Know hope," another widely-known street tag, translates, "I have no hope of becoming an artist in this money-crazed city, so buy my inspiring art [that] you see around town , and I'll know hope of showing what I can really do." The meaning of "Broken Finges"? "What you see on the wall is only a fraction of what I am able to do, like having my fingers broken. Help me come into my full potential as an artist by commissioning me to paint murals on city park walls." How insightful to leave the "r" out of "finges," thus illustrating the meaning of his tag. Graffiti Framed pushes the boundaries of the graffiti genre, with "Tase" in the lead. Israel's first full-train "bomber" presents a masterful black-and-white quartet of African-American jazz players etched onto four RPM 33s. Each musician is silhouetted with a cryptic letter of the Tase's tag, and looks like a musical note floating through the air. "Fuse" is one of Tel Aviv's first graffiti artists. He paints a traditional graffiti tag "fused" onto a nostalgic scene of his extended family. Contrasting black-and-white traditions of his past in rural Russia with urban graffiti colors, Fuse shows us the extent to which this art form has become part of our world. Know Hope depicts a mummy-like figure, with a broken, bleeding arm dangling by its side superimposed three-dimensionally over a scene of city traffic. The piece's brown, hazy hues recall faded 16-millimeter movie clips from the 1950s. A cartooned bird pulls a thread, sewing up the broken arm, while a few drops of red blood splatter on the street below. The image is a powerful statement about a wounded generation stepping out of the past, in hope of healing. Graffiti and street art are rapidly breaking into the mainstream art world, and their success comes at a price. Once the price tags go up (and some of the works in Graffiti Framed are selling for over $2,000), will the creative energy invested in producing these intriguing artworks dwindle? Will these young artists retain their knack for cutting-edge art once they start making money - money that will keep them off the streets? Next month, Metro will continue to ask this question as it sends this reporter to visit another new exhibition of street artists at the Tel Aviv Museum of Fine Arts. In the meantime, the writing is on the wall. Shemonah Plus is a private, members-only club located at 8 Rehov Eilat, Tel Aviv. Viewings of Graffiti Framed can be coordinated in advance with the club's manager, Yuval. Tel.(03) 518-0686