Recently, the South African street artist Faith47 and her Chinese husband, the street sculptor Dal, visited me in New York City, after doing a city-sponsored project in the bad neighborhoods of Rochester. Faith and Dal go back and forth between Cape Town and Beijing, but their visit to New York City, along with Faith's 13-year-old graffiti artist son Kai (maybe the subtlest talent in the family), was their first.
I have oft remarked that, having been born in NYC, I will never have the experience of arriving here for the first time, so it was a thrill to cab it up the FDR Drive, salsa music blaring on the radio, showing them the Robert Smithson island piece in the East River, explaining who Smithson was, and otherwise bigfooting it.
Now, there is an argument blazing these days over graffiti -- and outdoor expression in general -- as outlaw practice, from New York to LA, thoroughly covered by Artnet magazine, so Faith47 and Dal may emerge as interesting soldiers in this heavyhanded, law-enforced war. Why? Because their work is fierce, full of animalistic and spiritual tropes and, it must be said, visually conservative.
Tigers, deer, lions, saints and sinners do battle in their quickly fabricated spectacles, a metaphor for the street-art-battles and "popular" enough for the most right-wing cop or politician. Kids love this stuff, too. Dal's wires, which call to mind the minisculptures made by homeless artisans outside Tompkins Square Park back in the '80s, marvelously cling to walls and bridges, as if growing out of them.
Faith47's murals come out of a limited, ghostly palette, assembled in one night, to deliver a pleasurable circus to passersby by dawn. Who, in their right mind, would arrest these artists for this work? So, maybe it's not wrong to give the right wing a dose of esthetic medicine to reopen the doors for all street artists and, most saliently, decriminalize all street art practice once and for all.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).