You’ve likely seen DC5’s work on display before whether you knew it or not. For nearly thirty years, this graffiti crew has been bringing their art to Chicago on authorized and unauthorized surfaces, so “Def Con 5” (a threat-alert code for the military and the source of the crew’s acronym) at Chicago Truborn serves as a retrospective of sorts featuring eighteen artists associated with the group.
An enduring challenge for graffiti artists is moving from creating art in the street to the gallery without losing the ineffable quality of graffiti. At Truborn, the artists rise to the challenge in different ways, or don’t. SHRED’s work is a little too slick and indebted to graphic design and so loses something along the way. A clear standout in this exhibition is ASEND’s untitled acrylic-on-wood piece that layers a couple of wild-style letters (not enough to form a word) over vibrant patterns. The result is a glossy, wonderfully colorful, all-over painting that invites the eye to race over it. In that vein, KANE presents six gemlike canvases that explore the aesthetic effects of spray paint with heightened attention to droplets and drips. Again, color combinations are carefully considered and built up, privileging the translucency of layered paint. Compared to some of their artistic peers, graffiti artists generally have a deep understanding of how to use color to construct a work and make an impact.
On the less abstract side, WOES presents two delightful little shadow boxes containing old spray-paint caps, documentary photos of train pieces (New York and Chicago transit lines clearly identifiable), and in the final touch, model-train cars, one of which has a to-scale, full-car piece on it. GREVE’s large acrylic-on-panel work “West Ferdinand” also conveys the feeling of hitting the train yards at dusk or dawn.
Seeing each of these artists present their vision of graffiti art made me realize that what’s missing in this exhibition is a large-scale piece reflective of the whole crew—but that’s something to look forward to in the next show. (Abraham Ritchie)
Through May 8 at Chicago Truborn, 1741 West Chicago