SABER The American Graffiti Artist @ Opera Gallery, 15 Spring Street, between Mercer and Greene Streets, New York, NY, 10012
As street cred gains more art world cred, street artists increasingly pop up in the gallery. Opera Gallery presents SABER The American Graffiti Artist effectively displaying his art in “fine art” context. SABER’s works explore compositional text alluding to graffiti while reconfiguring American iconography. SABER transfers graffiti to the canvas, yet he appears to be limiting himself in a series of abstracted American flag paintings.
SABER, born (1976) and bread in Los Angeles suburb, Glendale, affirmed his rank among graffiti aficionados and is considered a graffiti genius. The American Graffiti Artist offers the New York viewer a glimpse into the streets of LA. Textual composition stretches across the canvas as letter interweaves with letter to create an image representative of the word. His print KepRage (Hand Painted, 8/20), depicts dagger-like lines rise from the canvas oblique white yet bold and structural. These prints render strong and controlled highways of lines with minute accent color.
In contrast, the surface of Purple ripped tags (Mixed Media on wood panel, 42 x 42 inches) opens creating a visual depth seeping into the back-ground rather than a canonical pictoral space that pushes outwards to the viewer. The fragmentation of an individual section of surface draws attention to SABER’s skill with a bold color palette. The subject matter rips from the wood panel. Color remains a difference between New York and Los Angeles art. SABER embraces color and appraises it as subject matter.
In 1997, SABER claimed his fame with a foot-field sized graffiti piece sloping over a cement bank in near the Los Angeles River. The piece required over ninety gallons of various paint buckets and over a month to complete. The illegal mural ranked Los Angeles among top graffiti grounds and, in turn, pinpointed a pilgrimage location for enthusiasts.
Later in his career, SABER received mixed press for painting over an official American flag in a released video, which SABER used as propaganda for healthcare reform (October 2010). SABER met purports of misuse of an American icon with a group of abstracted American flag works. SABER’s website writes “Every single graffiti writer is a manic depressive, insecure person, because that’s the only thin that makes you want to go out and write on somebody’s shit.” (sic) The American flag remained an icon that belonged to the entire people of America, which gave a medium outlet to write over everyone’s “shit.”
In the series Tarnished, SABER repeats the image of the American flag over wood panel inflicting shattered technique from ripped tags and formal composition from his drawn works. Buffed (Mixed Media on wood panel, 48 x 72 inches) acts as a self-glorifying tribute to his aforementioned graffiti mantra. Here, I refrain to applaud SABER too loudly because the series falls flat compared to his prior performance video. Although in accords with his oeuvre, the series demonstrates a mature preservation of his accrued artistic acumen and further investigation of gallery work. Graffiti centers around repetitive motif. Think of the use of the tag name, perfected and written over countless facades. Therefore, SABER’s series should be viewed as a serious development to his style.
SABER’s most successful pieces remain his internal experimentation of geometric sculptural compositions without realistic subject matter because these works illuminate precision without compromising subject matter. His flags appease the general public as subversive, expected, works from a “graffiti artist,” yet the series appears as spectral allusion to an exact moment in SABER’s historical trajectory. Unfortunately, Tarnished renders a dichotomy of personal achievement and external misinterpretation—any failure rests on the audience’s lack of vision, not SABER.