The Devil's Workshop:
Graffiti art takes over Piante
In 2016, industrial ruins behind the Bayshore Mall, an area known as the Devil's Playground, were torn down. Over time, the structures had become a community canvas, attracting graffiti writers from near and far. Years of art and expression were lost. Inspired in part by this loss, Piante gallery owner Sue Natzler decided to do something bold. She handed the keys over to a bunch of graffiti writers, and walked away. The striking result is this month's exhibition, titled "Idle Hands."
Natzler tapped local artist Ananda Oliveri to curate the exhibition and oversee installation. Oliveri's experience with the medium and his graffiti-community connections made him the perfect choice. Once he got over his initial shock at Natzler's willingness to let her gallery be overrun, Oliveri went to work assembling nearly twenty local artists (many Devil's Playground alumni) to fill the gallery, floor to ceiling. The participating artists range from self-taught to those with extensive fine arts training.
The show's title references the old saying about idle hands being the devil's workshop and is also a nod to the Devil's Playground. "The concept for the show was to saturate the space and overload the viewer," Oliveri explained. "We wanted to kind of short circuit them, to give them a lot to look at." Mission accomplished. Piante's three rooms feature all manner of styles, palettes, and figures sprayed onto the walls. Examples range from realism to lines and compositions more recognizable as "traditional graffiti." There will also be hanging works, sculpture, installation, and graffiti-culture ephemera.
Seeing the work in a confined space highlights the fact that graffiti art offers as much stylistic variation as fine art. The fact that the work is in a gallery rather than an alley also encourages the viewer to reconsider distinctions between "fine art" and "graffiti art."
"Most graffiti writers want it to be seen as an art form," Oliveri said. "It's not just vandalism, it's not just tags scrawled on things. That's a part of it, a starting point perhaps, but it's much more. It has artistic merit. There are skills required. It's a practice just like any other art form. You don't just wake up one day able to do this. It's a year after year process of making things better and better."