Olga Kitt
718 796 3671
olgakitt@verizon.net
Demoiselles Da
Bronx Cezannes Apples Skinny Love
Demoiselles Da Bronx Cezannes Apples Skinny Love

I was born in a tenement in the east Bronx in 1929 and grew up in New York’s educational and cultural institutions (H.S. of Music & Art, Queens College, New York University, Art Students’ League, Hans Hofmann School, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the Frick, the Guggenheim, New York’s numerous galleries and artist communities.) In the 1950’s and early 1960’s my work was abstract. During the late 1960’s I turned to realism as a better way of communicating visually with people. I wanted people to know what I knew, not just what I was or felt. The Bronx Arts Ensemble, the NYC Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, as well as trees of Wave Hill have been my subjects. I almost always work from life.

For a more complete biography see Who’s Who in America.


About the Media
Many years ago I became familiar with black markers at De Witt Clinton H.S. in the Bronx where I taught art, often cartoon graphics. Some of my students were already experienced graffiti artists and used the tool with deft mastery. I had spent considerable time discouraging them from pursuing their art on the streets, so I saw the black marker as a social weapon and was reluctant to use it.

Vincents Starry Night as a Graffiti "Starry Night" if Vincent was a graffiti artist Vincent's "Starry Night" as seen by a graffiti artist
Vincents "Starry Night"
as a Graffiti
"Starry Night"
if Vincent was a graffiti artist
Vincent's "Starry Night"
as seen by a graffiti artist

 

GRAFFITI, THE FUGITIVE STYLE

While not unique to the Bronx, graffiti has had a long history here, marked by a light-hearted sense of survival. A tag, or defining initials, announces the presence of the artist and its endless reproduction everywhere proclaims his virility. Though it may be painted over, washed, scrubbed with solvents or blasted away it will reappear.

Two survival aspects of graffiti interest its makers. Since its very existence is condemned and extraordinary efforts are made by citizens and government officials to remove its presence on public and private property, the graffiti artist must accept the fugitive nature of his work; assume it will not last, but select materials for their durability. Often the toxic nature of spray paints and indelible markers intensify his fears for his own survival. Nevertheless, there is joy in the graffiti artist whose work announces, “Look, I’m here, I’m alive, deal with it.”

Usually graffiti art faces destruction without recourse to judge or jury. Newspapers label it offensive. Is it the message or the style that is objectionable? Why is a graffiti backdrop to a fashion show or a Democratic politician’s rally considered dangerous? Even when the work is commissioned it can be outlawed. Some communities have considered passing laws that would hold the owner of a vandalized property responsible for the removal of graffiti on it.

Dada artists enduring the demoralizing conditions of post WWI Europe, like Kurt Schwitters, selected discarded papers or trash, and produced small works of great beauty from them. Perhaps there was a relationship between the self image of the artist who worked in collage and the trash he immortalized. The graffiti style is also often linked with trash, poverty, social ills and decay. However, it did not create these conditions.

Graffiti announces the presence of poverty in a neighborhood, a condition even the poor would like to see erased. Some see poverty as shameful, and believe one can rise above it if one has enough intelligence, determination and moral fortitude. Others accept it, acknowledge its terrors and struggle to find some beauty among the shards. That’s where graffiti enters the scene.

Does the graffiti artist improve the environment anytime? An art critic covering a story on Chicano wall paintings in Los Angeles remarked, “One doesn’t need a college education to be an artist.” An aesthetic sense is part of our human nature and reflects our cultural values. Prehistoric painters never left tags in caves but our graffiti artist shares stylistic qualities with him. Both paint over other work done on the same surface and both reduce their images to a few efficient lines. Cy Twombly, a contemporary American abstract-expressionist in a recent show titled Bacchus in the elegant Madison Avenue Gagosian Gallery reflected the Dionysian side of contemporary graffiti style. A graffiti artist would frown on his loose dripping paint. He would have preferred clean edges. Twombly’s speed of performance and powerful direct statements would have met with approval.

A strong rhythmic flow with overlapping planes and intricate or complicated color patterns would be identified as a “piece,” short for masterpiece. Graffiti artists critically judge their own work and that of other street artists. Hopelessly inadequate work may find the work toy scrawled over it with a black marker. Another street artist had judged it child-like. Many street artists start designing tags not long after they have learned how to write their signature. No casual pedestrian who sees graffiti as defacement could be more critical than the graffiti artist himself. The quality of graffiti in a neighborhood depends on the critical standards of its artists. Occasionally museums and galleries will exhibit graffiti, but it still remains largely a street art.

While some hope the golden age of graffiti has ended, others miss the bravado of its most flamboyant artists. The fugitive style required a large format, an image that could be grasped in a glance and an efficient use of materials. Other artists loved an execution that demanded speed and power. Advertisers would love to channel that energy. The poor kids who made them just loved them.

What if Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or Picassso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, or Robert Indiana’s Love were painted in a fugitive style? Imagine Mona Lisa as a graffiti. Would Da Vinci be picked up by the police?

The Hall of Fame Art Gallery,
Bronx Community College, Bronx, NY
“GRAFFITI, Past, Present & Future,”
April 4th and 11th and April 24th to May 4th, 2006

Olga Kitt
718 796 3671
olgakitt@verizon.net