Juxtapoz Magazine – John Fekner: New York State of Mind

Doug and I initially satisfied John Fekner back in 2018, when the three of us had been attending the Nuart Pageant in the town of Stavanger, Norway. John’s unassuming presence conveyed an aura of calm amidst the sea of chaos swirling close to him. At that stage, I was not totally conscious of his inventive legacy, and he certainly is not the variety of particular person who has the need to have to announce it. As a scene, avenue artwork and graffiti have no shortage of figures, with quite a few whose existence needs consideration by way of flamboyant or signature style options. John’s not the style of man to be donning a trilby and sunglasses anytime soon.

To comprehend the importance of his capacity to marry street and art culture, we have to go appropriate again to the 1960s and the 1970s, to a time that predates Banksy, Blek le Rat, or even Basquiat. John was a youthful artwork university kid with a penchant for social discourse and a adore of the concrete playground that was New York Metropolis. Like all fantastic artists, John’s work is a reflection of his surroundings, in his circumstance, a flower pushing by way of the rubble of a metropolis pressed to the limits, a solution of his natural environment.

The function is famous: stenciled textual content that boldly proclaimed “Broken Guarantees,” “Urban Decay,” collaborations with the first Room Invader, Don Leicht, or his existence all-around the Style Moda space. In brief, Fekner has been one of the most pivotal political and social voices in avenue art and graffiti. By conceptual artwork, pictures, songs, poetry, stencils, paintings and even early forays into electronic art, Fekner has usually been at the precipice of prevailing art culture. Dough and I persuaded him to sit down for a chat — Evan Pricco

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Evan Pricco: Throughout your career, and even now, with your virtually slight irritation in accomplishing an job interview, is this sort of anonymity just a place of flexibility for you?
John Fekner: I feel so. It was a put where by I could find some solace and something where by I am heading to do what I’m heading to do on Friday night time. I am not going to cling out with the little ones down at the park exactly where I lived. I would commit a Friday or Saturday evening performing artwork. This is back again into the late 1960s, into the ’70s. And that was just crafted into me. I was type of, like, I am not going to say a recluse, but I required the time when I could just do a thing. I would use my time that way. I believed it was effective. I indicate, some men and women would read through guides, but it wasn’t like remaining in the park every single night and staying a showman or taking part in handball or hockey and then cards and performing anything related with hanging out at the park in the center of the night. That’s in which I 1st started carrying out outside function.

Doug Gillen: So let’s chat about this outside do the job then. What was the drive for you? I consider there was not a large quantity of this type of do the job about NYC in the late 1970s. If I’m a young avenue artist coming out now, it is a quite diverse time and I could very easily be encouraged by the under no circumstances ending quantity of avenue art that’s out there, but what was it for you?
Nicely, there was not that significantly. I mean the to start with substantial text I did was a phrase from The Little Faces, and I wrote the words “Itchycoo Park.” It was a hit, and my mates and I resolved to just juxtapose issues. I took a green freeway indicator off the Grand Central Parkway. We introduced it into the park and hung the freeway indication on the steel fencing above the handball court docket partitions. So it was like this incongruous factor about why this indicator in this article would be pointing to the Grand Central Parkway exit. I was in college or university, and this was the tumble of ’68. We painted with white paint and rollers, and it was huge. That was the very first instance of performing something outside the house with large letters. And I then did a few other items like bringing a motor vehicle into the basketball courts. It was not a park, it was a playground, a cement asphalt playground. And that is why I’m this sort of a actual physical wreck these days since I under no circumstances played on nearly anything that was comfortable or grassy or a football field. Every little thing was rocks or stones or asphalt.

Having again to the place that led, in conditions of the stenciling, I was very privileged to be involved with the early Soho scene in 1968. My lecturers at the New York Institute of Technologies established the first co-op gallery called 55 Mercer on Mercer Street. And a couple years later, Mercer Arts Heart opened up and that was the initially position most punk bands began to engage in. It was the early period.

EP: In 1968, when you took the coach in New York City, have been there currently tags inside the subway vehicles?
No, I assume it was rather obscure, and possibly fairly tiny. I mean, there were gang users that tagged the bridges, the Hell Gate Bridge, names like that coming out of West Side Tale. If you see the initial conclude credits, and even by means of the movie, there had been some rather interesting early… you could possibly not say graffiti, but it was certainly any individual placing a thing on a wall in city times. I am not conversing heritage here, I’m conversing, like, the late 1950s. So there was some stuff about, and of study course, Taki 183 was, like, everywhere you go.

This has me thinking about my individual historical past. I had a teacher in artwork university in the late 1960s who told me a seriously excellent factor: you do not have to be an artist and use paint to make a painting. That was form of profound, and I arrived in the up coming day and I designed a painting with masking tape. He seemed at me, like, this kid got what I just explained to him. In advance of then, I was executing landscapes and portraits, the usual college 101 basis type of paintings, which was genuinely fantastic. So at the time, that type of turned me onto a distinct kind of approach and function. The 2nd crucial detail a professor told me was that there is certainly not just the real environment and the artwork globe, John. There are other worlds you can glimpse at. 

EP: What you might be type of outlining, and I know we detest employing this time period, but it’s practically like you had been kind of specified access to becoming more of a conceptual artist.
I was. It was conceptual artwork. And that was the get started of, like, Trend Moda, breaking all the regulations.

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DG: I want to go right again into this type of road sensibility. There is this other entire world, but what was your coming of age into art, the variety we appear at, say, from the early 1960s. Was that an option?
No, we were being looking earlier than that, as children owning distinct sorts of designs, car versions, creating styles, portray versions, some kind of casting wooden burning kits. My parents often gave me all those sorts of presents when I was, like, seven or eight a long time outdated, so I was presently drawing. I was combining some varieties of drawing. I continue to experienced drawings with textual content, and, of study course, like just about every artist, cartoons had been quite essential. The Flash was my guy. I did a comedian book with my buddy, and we made a black and white zine when I was 14 years previous. I was creating in 1965, poems and stuff. Then recognizing as that went on, I imagined. ‘why do I have to create a complete book or produce a poem when I can just say specifically what I want in a person sentence?’ You get that from Bob Dylan. I indicate, it’s just kind of like, yeah, ‘The Times, They are a Modifying.’ I signify the tune could just have been that, Or “Blowing in the Wind.” I assumed that the performance of that kind of tactic was pretty interesting.

I utilized to Pratt and Columbia College and was recognized, but my dad and mom, who had under no circumstances owned a residence, generally lived in an apartment, could only manage a further school. It was a model new school, the New York Institute of Technological innovation, which was a whole lot more cost-effective than those two. I wound up going there, and it was the very best factor that in all probability occurred to me.

EP: Have been you conscious of how these folks around you have been likely to determine that interval of time, folks like Jenny Holzer, Keith Haring, Basquiat? Have been you aware of all this taking place?
It felt pretty crucial due to the fact every single working day there was a thing new being introduced to the table. A whole lot of it was pushed by tunes, a great deal of the rap, electro, hip-hop, regardless of what I signify, most people listened to Kraftwerk, I imply, listening to a song for 20 minutes driving from Jackson Heights to go to participate in West 4th Street handball, and the tune was still on. It is phenomenal.

DG: Some of your most legendary illustrations or photos appear from the 1980 sequence in the South Bronx, a town in the midst of a crack and heroin epidemic. There were staggering premiums of murder, burnt out and deserted cars, piles of rubble and properties that had been extra like vestiges of war than destinations of comfort and ease, forming a concrete playground. To attract notice to the scale of the city’s mismanagement and absence of expense, you and your lengthy time inventive spouse, Don Leicht made a series of large scale, substantial affect stencils on structures all through the neighborhood. The uncomplicated, but properly bold captions, red phrases like “broken guarantees,” or “decay,” gave the desolate buildings a lifestyle, as they cried out for interest and change. How did this appear about?
The “Broken Promises” arrived from Jimmy Carter, who was President at the time. Ronald Reagan, a presidential candidate for that forthcoming November, was in New York. So I did not know what was significantly heading to take place, but there was an substitute people’s conference from people throughout the U.S. as nicely as the neighborhood individuals. Don taught on Tinton Avenue in the South Bronx, so we understood these neighborhoods. I was currently doing things in the decaying areas in Brooklyn and elements of Queens. I knew that the Bronx was a put to do anything, a spot where by this could genuinely be major.

DG: So, let us go scaled-down. I’m really fascinated in the heritage of the stencil. What did the stencil give you that producing something freehand did not?
Authority. It gave me the look of authority. It seemed official. It seemed like it was done by the Office of Sanitation, a thing so major that it would capture your eye. I signify, they would tag a car or truck, and if there was an deserted car on a freeway, they would set a tiny sticker. So I just took that notion and just produced it on a design wall. It would say “post no costs, write-up no expenses.” I took that and made it “Post No Dreams.” That was a tribute to Don since an art gallery person informed him that his function would in no way be revealed on 57th Avenue. Don arrived out all depressed, and he was considering that it was just not heading to transpire in this article. So I did a piece referred to as “Post No Dreams” around the IBM developing at 57th and Madison. I was usually seeking to make it look like maybe it was lawful!

JohnFekner.com

 

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