Veteran street artists Buff Monster and James Marshall (aka Dalek) joined their artistic talents for “Spaced Out,” a new exhibition at GR Gallery that brings a splash of neon and hypnotic patterns to the Bowery in New York’s Lower East Side. On view through April 28th, the exhibition features 16 original paintings, editions and installations, proving that the two old-guard muralists are hardly resting on their laurels.
It’s almost hard to believe that “Spaced Out” is the first time these two artists have shared a gallery given how well their unique aesthetics complement one another. Dalek’s signature Space Monkey character, a sort of avatar of the technology-induced vertigo that most 21st century humans know well, hangs from the abstract arrangements that have been Dalek’s aesthetic hallmark since 2007. Prior to switching his focus to illusionary compositions of color and shape, Dalek’s artwork reflected his immersion in various interlocking subcultures including skateboarding and graffiti. His stint as assistant to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is a stated influence and visible component to his multi-faceted creations. Indeed, both artists are developing new processes and engaged in some personal pathbreaking for this new exhibition.
“Spaced Out” features 16 works across media, Image via Dana Dynamite
“Half the work in the show are these new experimental pieces,” explained Buff Monster. “I gave myself the limitations of no black lines, no characters, and allowed myself to use spray paint, which I don’t normally do in gallery pieces.”
As we talk, a ten-foot mural of one of Buff’s iconic googly-eyed characters’ looms over us with a toothy grin, subtly off-set in red and blue duplicate à la vintage 3D glasses. Across the narrow gallery space, an array of spray cans, glass bottles and concrete chunks lacquered in pale greens and pinks crowds a few rungs of narrow shelving. “It’s really like a portrait of the city right?” Buff says. “Cities are made of metal, concrete and glass — and if you live in New York there’s definitely lots of paint everywhere.”
Buff Monster’s painted spray cans. Image via Dana Dynamite
While there certainly is, less and less of it seems to be of the illegal variety. From where we’re standing, we can almost see the Germania Bank Building, a stately trapezoid of Renaissance Revival architecture at the intersection of Bowery and Spring streets. The building gained new relevance in the 80’s and 90’s as a canvas of note for the city’s nascent street art and graffiti scenes. Unfortunately, the rich patchwork of decades-old tags, bombs, and wheat pasted posters was unceremoniously power-washed in 2016 to make way for a new corporate tenant.
Buff Monster cut his teeth in the 1990’s plastering his bulbous, effervescent characters and designs across Los Angeles. In the interim years, he’s established himself in the above board art circles with frequent exhibitions and gallery appearances around the world. While this all signifies a dramatic shift from his early days skulking across over rooftops with paste bucket and roller in tow, he’s not sentimental. “I still have such a varied day,” Buff said. “I’m involved in so many things, not just making art but making merchandise and working with big brands on projects, traveling the world and doing talks.”
Buff Monster at work on murals inside GR Gallery. Image via Dana Dynamite
Though an unapologetic addition to the jet set — a talk in Barcelona, among other projects, is on deck after “Spaced Out” wraps up — Buff Monster still has the soul and opportunistic eye of a street artist. “I don’t do a ton of murals anymore and I don’t do any illegal stuff,” he says. But, if one were to be of that maverick persuasion, an understanding of place and context is key. For instance, “LA is a driving city so you want stuff that is easily viewed from a car,” he says. The East Coast, on the other hand, is more given to foot traffic, and of course, wet weather, making eye-level works in permanent mediums king. “Wheatpasting in New York doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Buff says (up-and-comers take note).
Left: A view inside Galllery GR Right: Buff Monster (left), and James Dalek. Image via Dana Dynamite
It’s a little surreal listening to the accomplished vandal-turned-art world darling talk street level tactics while aswirl in gallery-goers at his own exhibition with a fellow street art grandee. With some bulbous heart-shaped shades tucked into his button-down and his signature Mohawk slicked back and tamed, at least for the occasion, Buff Monster seems like he’s struck a balance between ambition and the easy-going spirit that suffuses his artwork. The art bedecking GR Gallery’s walls, both his own and Dalek’s, also represents a clear push forward without losing the thread. “It’s still bright colors,” Buff said. “Anyone familiar with my work will see the connection.” Go see for yourself at 255 Bowery through April 28th.