Adam Suerte has owned Brooklyn Tattoo for over ten years, tattooing the denizens New York City in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he was born and raised. “I grew up just six blocks from here, and Brooklyn is in everything I do,” said Suerte. Tattooing the images of the Brooklyn Bridge or the landmark Williamsburg Savings Bank building on various limbs, as well as on some more tender body parts, is all in a day’s work for Suerte. “I do a lot of Brooklyn Bridge tattoos every week,” he said with a smile. But he is not just an in-demand tattoo artist, he is also a visual artist in his own right. He formed the artists’ collective, ‘Urban Folk Art’, in the early 1990’s in Bushwick, and his comic-book art and murals are well known throughout the city.
But a year-and-a-half ago, Suerte got lucky. (‘Suerte’ in Spanish means ‘luck’, so perhaps that is why it is a recurring theme in his life.) The space next-door to his tattoo shop became available, and Adam decided to open an art space, dubbed the ‘Urban Folk Art Gallery’. In its relatively short life, the gallery has hosted many well-received shows of prominent artists, including an exhibition of famed graffiti photographer Martha Cooper’s ‘Japanese Tattoo’ series. The show was highlighted by some original work by legendary Japanese graffiti artist AIKO, who currently resides in Brooklyn, and whose work can be seen at the renowned (and enormous) ‘graffiti’ billboard at the corner of Houston St. and The Bowery, in Manhattan’s East Village.
For the current show, ‘BROOKLYN YES INDEED’, Suerte enlisted two legendary Brooklynites, David ‘Chino’ Villorente, and Lee Greenfield aka DJ MR. LEE. Both go way back to the infancy of New York’s graffiti scene, and the show reflects that historic, yet simultaneously fresh, sensibility. Artists include JOUST, who started his career in the mid-’70’s, and whose initial work was focused on the M, D, and F subway lines. Amazingly, this is the first appearance of JOUST’s work in a gallery setting. Michael Mcleer, aka MR. KAVES, began fulfilling his artistic yearnings at the tender age of ten, writing in the tunnels of the NYC transit system. His rendering of ‘Ralph Kramden’, the Jackie Gleason character from ‘The ‘Honeymooners’, whose tagline was ‘How Sweet It Is’, is an urban classic. (Incidentally, ‘The Honeymooners’, the classic TV series from the ‘50’s, was set in a fictionalized version of the gritty working-class neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.)
View a Video of the show, and interview with Adam Suerte, at The New York Minute.
TRIKE, who started writing ‘Turk-1’ during the summer of 1972 on the IRT subway lines, has no formal arts training; but his careful renderings of popular cartoon characters like ‘Mickey Mouse’ and ‘Felix The Cat’, are colorfully realistic creations. In addition, his exploits as part of the GRAFFITI NEVER DIES (GND) crew, have made him an indelible force in NYC for decades. And Jamel Shabazz, who first picked up a camera at 15, has been documenting the scene for over 30 years. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he counts as inspiration the likes of James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks. His photos show the crews and their work at their most potent, and their most poignant, as well. He is the author of three monographs, including ‘A Time Before Crack’, and is currently at work on his fourth book, entitled ‘The ‘90’s’.
Urban art is, of course, very much at the forefront of the cutting-edge in visual arts today. (Pieces in this show range in price from $150 to $9000 for the giant ‘Kramden’.) Witness the wildly successful LA MOCA show, ‘Art in the Streets’, curated by one-time NYC art dealer and LA MOCA chief Jeffrey Deitch, which is but one of a growing number of museum shows that celebrate what was once reviled as mere vandalism. That attitude has evolved quite a bit in the last couple of years, both in the minds of important art collectors, and more importantly perhaps, in the eyes of the public. Graffiti art is now seen as important and compelling work, and the BYI show at UFAG is the best recent example of this amazing transformation. In the words of gallery owner Suerte, “Brooklyn is our home, and also our inspiration. And we’re all very prideful of that.”
Through the end of August at Urban Folk Art Gallery,
101 Smith St., Brooklyn. (718) 643-1610
Gallery hours:Tues-Sat 12pm-9, Sun 1-8