When we talk about Living Legends, or Kings in our culture many names come up from different generations. From the origins of the 70′s to the 80′s and even now new legends from new era’s take their place upon our history. Many of our original kings have passed recently and it is important we take the time to appreciate those artists that have spanned over decades and contributed to our culture. Mare 139 is a living legend who’s work has influenced many. There are artists that sometimes really do fit the cliche, ahead of their time. Mare 139 was and has been ahead of his time creating 3 dimensional sculptures and transitioning his graffiti into fine art in the early eighties. A true pioneer not only of our culture but also for those artists that have chosen to embrace modernism and fine art. Now as the art world buzzes about graffiti and artists look to take their place among modern masters. let us not forget the true pioneers that have been doing this since the origins of our culture still producing relevant and groundbreaking work. Mare 139 fortunately for us is an artist doing exactly that.
Before street art, before the hype. Graffiti, hip hop, and the origins of our culture took place in New York. Many of you know the history and many of you were influenced not only by graffiti at a young age, but also break dancing and bboying. Mare 139 experienced firsthand the golden age of graffiti and hip hop. He has drawn on these experiences and influences to create a special series of work that he has loosely titled the Bboy series. By acknowledging the importance of Bboying and its close relationship to graffiti Mare has is able to put these ideas to paper. Working in a modern context he is able to capture the nuances of an art form like break dancing. Mare’s Bboy series allows us into a world of not only modern dance but modern art. Mare reflects in the video above, and in our talk about the series.
Mare 139′s work is a testament to the intricacies and layers that our culture has. Many forget our commonality with dance and rap. We may have grown in so many directions and influences have been spread across the world. With Mare’s Bboy series allows us to remember, and gives a glimpse into a pioneers take on the building blocks of our culture. Mare is not only able to interpret actual motion through his sketches, he does so in a modern language. Below is a talk we had with Mare about the Bboy series. Also make sure you watch the video as he also goes into more detail about the series. Here is a conversation we had with Mare.
GF: We were recently talking about your series of drawings Based on Bboys and influenced by some modern Masters. When and how did this series come about?
Mare 139: The B-Boy series is a unique body of work for me because there are so many things informing the work, the first obviously is the dancers themselves, Ive had personal relationships with some of the most influential dancers of the early 80s the formative days of Hip Hop culture, I was associated with the infamous Rock Steady Crew as a kid, though I wasnt a dancer I was a visual artist who was always joined them at jams and B-Boy battles.
Many of the dancers were also graffiti artists notably Doze Green and Ken Swift who would often correlate the dance forms complex metaphors to wild style graffiti, they would exchange ideas about interlocking moves, aggression in space, relationships of movement to music, all this I found was relative to style writing on trains.
This dialogue stayed with me over the years and when I went to the HS of Art and Design in 1982 I met Bboys like Fabel and Mr. Wiggles who were into Pop Locking, and Electric Boogaloo, another form of expression in the dance movement. They too were graffiti writers and understood the symbiotic relationships between our art forms. Fabel in particular had broken down body movements to letter forms, even expressing the dynamics of arrow movements and letter flows in space. My conversations during this period where based around the physicality and spacial occupation of the body and how close it was to applied art. I saw both forms of art as methods of assaulting space either with your body or your paintings.
By 1985 when I started making graffiti sculptures this idea was realized in metal form and though I hadnt found a perfect translation of the B-Boys I new the litteral and figurative or caricature of it wouldnt cut it so I allowed it to manifest in other ways into my work.
When I had first expressed this relationship of Graffiti Sculpture and B-Boying I was giving a lecture at Norwich University of Art in England-1985 and while talking to students about how arrows would flow and cut through letters then quickly disappear on the moving trains, I was moving my arms and body to draw it back to B-Boying, this would become a defining moment for me. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t just a singular expression informing my work but an overall experience with a culture.
I would say another formative event was the first impression of Modernism into any and all of my work which came from visiting Henry Chalfants studio and going with him to the Picasso retrospective at MoMA in 1980. This was the most important and defining moment of my creative life aside from when I began writing on trains in the mid 70′s.
The Picasso show wasnt my first exposure to modern art but it was an overwhelming indoctrination into it, something that has taken me years to digest. I remember drawing parallels to graffiti aesthetics in his cubist works and though it took some years to allow myself to be directly influenced by his work it opened the door to the study and admiration of early modernism.
I believe once I decided to be a graffiti modernist I absorbed all I could about my culture and modernist art forms, this exposure informed my development as a sculptor and of subsequently brought me to the B-Boy dancers. I saw the path in works by Duchamps Nude Descending a staircase and artists like Wilfredo Lam and Malevich when he was into cubo futurism, the Futurists also had a profound affect on my translation of B-Boys too as the concept of line movement was expressly a part of the objective in their painting and sculpture.
By 2005 I had been sketching out the first B-Boy drawings, I distilled the line, volume and the movement of the dances into simple geometry and gestures to suggest the body kinetic, then I made sure to have recognizable elements that would allow the viewer to identify the human figure so I used a recurring format to illustrate the hands, feet and head, all else in the drawings would change except these. Now that I had a visual language I married the physical language to it, illustrating moves like Top Rock , Backspins, Headspins, Shoulder Freeze , Baby Freeze, and footwork .
When I was looking for a sculptural language for the B-Boys I thought I had it when I made Prince Ken Swift in 2000 but it wasn’t until I went to Storm King to see Mark di Suveros massive sculptures that it all made sense. Once I saw this impressive possibility I rethought my concepts and made the Spy Award sculpture. The reasons I draw so much from history and other artists is in what is inherited by us from us even when we least expect it, sometimes its in the music or movement sometimes in what is suggested, that is why its so important for us to embrace arts and culture outside of genres so they can inform us about our selves.
Its always a great discovery when you come across parallel ideas that span across time. I recently bought a Kandinsky book and saw photos of dancers he translated into line drawings and to my surprise it was exactly along the same thread in my work. This is over a century of separation, can you explain this to me. Even when I dig deeper into African art I see the very same things, in particular the dance rituals and sculptures.
GF: Its interesting you bring up Kandinsky and the idea of synchronicity. I have always been into Jung’s idea of archetypes and a collective unconsciousness, but that could be a whole conversation in itself. Haha. What moves me more than anything in your Bboy series is your ability to eloquently capture the essence of the subject with minimal line-work. Being able to express and document a rather modern form of dance through a similarly modern form of art is no small task. The path from dance through graffiti, and then fused with modernism is amazing. Your ability to break the form down through abstract and cubist or futurist concepts seems to be your strength. Contemporary graffiti artists sometimes get pigeon holed into this idea that graffiti doesn’t lead to great art. It seems that we sometimes get stereotyped, and people forget we paint inside studios also. Although influenced and born from the streets, we also have higher goals of communicating through studio or gallery work. I feel artists like yourself are hidden treasures of our culture that dont get to showcase the decades of our progression. Your documentation of an important part of our culture, in a language of line and form to me is unparalleled in the artworld. Hopefully after Moca, and new exhibits this is a thing of the past. Which brings me to my next question. Do you have any projects coming about or plans with the Bboy series?
MARE 139: Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement. As for whats next see what I created in a few hrs on the footsteps of MoMA. I made this install on the spot for the El Museo del Barrios Street Files Beniale, it was directly across MoMA and its a huge window space.
As for the BBoys I am going to work on a new series in the coming wks and hopefully showing them in LA or somewhere…Im anxious for the new series and will do a direct colab with Ken Swift which will be terrific because I will document the dialoge and use him as a subject. Also I will turn out more BBoy sculptures too.
My hopes this year is to find a confident technique with painting, I am looking harder at styles and collective theories on abstraction and graff. I think I have more in common with my search with what you, West, Remi, Haze and a few others are investigating, that conversation is to me the most relevant and important to date. We have transcended the comic stage of pop graff and have matured into artists invested in real painting and theory something that is burgeoning right now particularly in Europe and Latin America.
Its an exciting time to investigate broader possibilities in the translation of our experiences and their outcomes. The hard work will ultimately culminate in a new expression a new paradigm that will be uniquely ours and yet hinged to art history. The BBoys took time and exposure from so many influences such as music, culture and sculpture, the fact that it is inspired by modernism in both dance and art makes it all the more compelling. The best is yet to come.
GF: The point that is driven home in this series is the realization by yourself of the importance of drawing and painting these Bboy Images. There are many photographers that have documented our culture. For an artist like yourself who has lived the origins of our culture, for you to now come full circle to paint these images with firsthand knowledge and personal experiences with the subject is groundbreaking. After watching the video you make the comment about Modern Masters, this is a statement that resonates with me. When we look back 400 years from now do you feel that people might finally be able to understand some of the concepts your talking and painting about? We look forward to watching you bring these new bboys to life in sculpture and in paintings. Any final words you would like to say and answer this last question.
MARE139: It is said that history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon so I think if we can continue to advance and promote these ideas and add value to to it we can offset the latency of historical record. Its present its now and all around us.