Henry Chalfant is an eminence in his field, but, above all, a hero. Without it, today there would be no trace of origins a cultural expression that, regardless of aesthetic and moral judgments, has influenced thousands of artists across the world. The sculptor Chalfant took the train in New York every day and looked around. Pieces painted in spray colors drew messages, signatures, characters, names with fantastic calligraphies, mysterious numbers. His intuition told him that something was beating there and he decided to find out more. The culture of hip hop was born and luckily he was there. He documented everything for more than a decade and finally justice is done in a spectacular exhibition at the Tomás y Valiente Arts Center in Fuenlabrada: "Art is not a crime (1977-1987)." Welcome to the golden age of graffiti.
For a decade, Chalfant photographed hundreds of times the fruits of this spontaneous creation, born of the imagination of poor children who lived in depressed areas of the city (as were then the Brox, Harlem or Brooklyn), and who sought to change reality of the oxide of the trains and the gray of the concrete by their names of colors. He gained the confidence of some of the pioneers and embodied it in several works recognized around the world: "Style Wars", a documentary that gathers the intentions, desires and frustrations of artists that no one calls as such and two volumes, " Subway Art "and" Spraycan Art "which are, according to the" Times "of London," the two most stolen art books in history ". Exaggeration? Speaks Suso33, graffiti artist and curator of the exhibition: "I knew the Reina Sofía Museum when I was a teenager because they told me that there were those books, the first one above all. That was my inspiration and that of many people. In my time, the kids were going to consult them and we cut out the photos. We took them to study and imitate them. Until the book was left in the covers. Is it stealing? Somebody may see it that way. I see guys who want to do things but do not have possibilities, "Suso explains. "Recently we went to the Queen to ask. And they said that on the card it appeared that they had the book. But when they went to look for him, he was not there. Not the second copy either. " To Henry Chalfant the matter makes him "feel very proud". "That was the intention of my work from the beginning. Teach people the beauty that I saw on the street ", says the artist," excited by the greatest and beautiful exhibition his work has ever had ".
Things of life, Suso33 has exhibited in galleries and has entered the very difficult market of art. "And I've also been rejected several times in the entrance exams to Fine Arts," he says. It seems inconceivable, but this is the kind of ironies that occurs with graffiti and the culture of hip hop, probably the most battered of contemporary heritage. Chalfant, for example, had never been the subject of a retrospective exhibition in any museum or institution in the world. However, in the personal experience of many young people, graffiti and rap rhymes drove children without resources into a creative activity. Many of them, even, saved their lives. They say no? Suso33: "I was a left-handed child and they forced me to use my right hand and they caused me a problem of dyslexia. And I started to shut up and I even became a stutterer. I needed another form of expression that was not the spoken word. And well, I found my way and my place. When nobody supports you or helps you, you look for it. Actually, as a child I wanted to be a dancer but I was not provoked because I was gay. And look, I learned to dance on the street and I won a breakdancing championship. I liked art and they told me it was not worth it. And I went out to do it. " Suso was raised in the school of "you can not", but found his collection on the street: "I owe everything to this culture. They said no and I said yes. Do it yourself, it's my advice. My social environment did not facilitate it and in those times there was no internet to receive knowledge, so I went out to the street ".
Therefore, the show is a tribute to Chalfant. "I have felt obliged to do so, although it has been an act of love and recognition. He was a mentor and a teacher, he changed the lives of many people, "says the Fuencarral people, who today still has, despite his career," one foot inside and one outside the art system. " "All my life they told me that I would not be anyone in art and I am not against the system because of that. I do not take it as a disdain, nor does it bother me. But I want to change it, "says this artist and set designer.
Without Chalfant's eye and camera, the fruits of the golden age of graffiti would have been lost forever. See the movie "Style wars". The entire establishment (from the mayor to the mothers of the artists) are against this way of expression "that undermines the American way of life," as proclaimed by the mayor of the city who would begin the process of speculation and "cleaning" that turned the art of New York into the very expensive setting that it is today. Chalfant agrees that many things have changed. "Definitely, in New York City, graffiti does not have the presence it had. Think that nowadays, if you are of legal age and causes an injury of more than 1,000 dollars to make a drawing, they accuse you of a crime (felony) and that remains in your record forever. It can cause problems to exercise the right to vote or to find work. That's why they stopped doing it. " However, the film shows the most fascinating side of graffiti: the boys competing, interacting, collaborating to draw. "It took me two or three years to earn their trust. I never paid them any money. Since he had a lot of documentation and photographs of his work, at first he was pissed that he was a police informer or something like that. It was not easy to gain their trust, but in the end I managed to let them let me record them, "explains Chalfant.
Do not you feel like it's an art that is lost? "Yes, it's partly like that. Because there is no trace of all that, but does not it make you happy to feel that the photos are there to tell? I think it's very nice to think of a time when people who lived in neighborhoods that, I assure you, were not beautiful, went out to express themselves. Even then they repressed doing it on private property and mostly it has been the attitude of graffiti writers since then. There are exceptions, of course. But at that time they were sending a message, improving their environment, announcing their presence in a place forgotten by the hand of God. They were saying. ''Hey! we are here, we are not invisible. " They painted trains that passed briefly throughout the city and were soon bathed in chlorine. His message evaporated.
In the exhibition, organized around three conceptual subway lines, the viewer can get on real-size train carriages with printed pieces of 3.60 meters in height. Chalfant's work consists of a large number of images, about 800, which include the sequences of train carriages. Chalfant designed an artifact to be able to take images at full speed, controlling the exposure times and the dimensions of the object of the photograph. It also includes an anthropological series of some of the most characteristic creators. The exhibition opened with a great "performance". With the art center completely dark, the visitors received flashlights and went into the vastness of the rooms without knowing where their steps lead. Then, they directed the beams of light where they wanted, deciding each one what he wants to see, as it happens in real life, when walking through the city. It is not the museum that tells you what to contemplate. On the other hand, the light beams of the lanterns are like those used by graffiti artists to paint at night, in a tunnel or an alley, and also those carried by the "seguratas" or the polis. A good declaration of intentions. That they do not look at you, that they do not tell you what to see. And even if they tell you otherwise, remember that art is not a crime.
WILL IT BE CHANGING SOMETHING?
Not far from the streets where Chalfant recorded "Style Wars" on Long Island (New York State) there was an abandoned building that in the 90s became a mecca for graffiti lovers and boasted a spectacular facade completely covered in pieces. Such was his fame that the City Council had granted permission to artists to continue painting the property, known as 5Pointz. However, in 2013, the owner of the building decided to erase the graffiti and a court determined that the graffiti had enough artistic value to be protected. The court imposed a fine on the owner, who intends to build luxury apartments in what was an open-air museum, of 5.4 million euros to be distributed among 21 different accredited creators.