New York

Dondi White

51X Gallery

Totally unlike Bruce Davidson, with his ethnocratic descent into the subway, and defying as well the myopic delight of current supporters of graffiti as being merely ethnic, Dondi White informs us that graffiti culture is a state of mind. In his affectionate depictions of personages, motifs, moods, styles, and activities of kids who claim the subways, streets, and parks as theirs—the breakers, the graffiti writers, the gangs, the DJs, and the spray masters—we find the ethos of the Beat Boys.

In our society, where the individual is supposed to be the ittiest treasure, there is still no provision for privacy in a dense anarchistic shared environment. Private acts are pushed into a constancy of public appearances resulting in a person’s being branded delinquent. The current generation of Beat Boys are the enfants terribles of public privacies. The historical Beat generation consciously estheticized this delinquency. The difference between those Beats, who were an American version of French existentialists, and this, is that the current Beats, calling themselves the Beat Boys, know you have to be on the beat if you want to survive. The currency is style. The Beat Boy is a meta-figure on the move.

From somebody who exercised graffiti on the subway for half a decade the art world has come to expect aggrandized names/titles squeezed onto a stretched canvas by the author/artist. This marketing practice discourages developments of adjustments from one visual social arena by the graffiti master to the systems that do exist for other fledgling young artists. This demand by consumption and its assumption of a contribution that is on the level of value of dogtag relics from a subterranean teenage war is fortunately more telling about these souvenir hunters’ patronizing patronage than about the work that is victimized by such projections.

Claiming territory as beyond defacement, Dondi is no longer sending out his name as a message of identity but commemorating a style of living with a complex set of codes within which he pays homage to, or pictorializes, friends, characters, looks, and doings of the kids below or his memories of himself beneath, evoking the human component of message, image, speed, and power.

On Beat Boys, camouflage is a highly elaborate clothing system, from do rags to categories of hats which can be broken down by boroughs. On letters camouflage is the bright colors that clad the structures of the letters according to the scope of financial investment in paint as well as skill, speed, and nerves in situ. Dondi can pull the support, stretch against it, scale structure, colors, and shapes in highly centered, confident handlings of fragments of letters or movement. Breaking (a body stunt) Wild Style (a letter stunt), Dondi’s rhetoric of movement reflects the witty, virile, stylistic miracles that can happen around the axis of both the human and the graphic figure. With its implied three-dimensionality the letter is a real thing with directions of folding and spinning limbs on the move. In the present show he has shadow figures, silhouettes like the Chiller, in vaporous hues. Here where he’s not working on the subway, not in the dark but in the light, there’s almost a darkroom development process reflected in these memories of a speedily articulated image that now gently appears hue by hue. This understated show is about a switch of content from first person singular, to ambient poetic portrait sketches that are born in mid-air from the very mist of the spray medium.

Edit deAk