New York

Stefan Eins

Fashion Moda

Stefan Eins, who founded the South Bronx gallery Fashion Moda in 1978 and was the director there until last year, returned recently as an exhibiting artist. This show displayed the fruits of his absence, an artistic hybrid that crosses urban graffiti with conceptualism. His mingling of contrasting styles and esthetic concerns in these works produces not a pluralistic potpourri but instead a fruitful crossbreeding of disparate traditions. Eins’ spray paintings on discarded boards are steeped in an urban primitivism redolent of much of the art associated with Fashion Moda, as well as of the ghetto where the gallery is located; installed as an ensemble, they were particularly responsive to their environment. In his use of trash-heap materials and the deliberately casual, almost random distribuition of paint, Eins seems to offer up the rubble of urban decay for its own inherent beauty, in a kind of translation of despair into hope.

The relation to graffiti must be considered not only in terms of materials but in light of recent graffiti-derived abstraction. Eins shares with the so called post-graffitists an interest in deconstructing both language and lettering. The elaborated writing style that developed in more sophisticated graffiti has been extended into systems of formalist abstraction in the work of artists like Koor, Sharp, Delta II, Toxic and A One, whose alphabets no longer function simply as legible characters but have become collections of abstract symbols. Eins’ quick, elegant lines evoke a formal language akin to the most ornate calligraphy When he signs his name in Russian or Chinese, as he often does in his paintings, the signature both serves as a symbol of the self much like the “tags” of earlier graffitists and comprises a central element in the grand scheme of his iconography.

Eins’ use of an unmediated, almost sloppy paint-handling stops short of being the expression of an egocentric attitude and instead reiterates both the esthetic and theoretical significance of the spontaneity of the artist’s hand. “Coincidences take place necessarily,” Eins says; he posits a system of composition where present marks produced by the artist—both by conscious choice and as the result of unmediated action—combine with the marks already present on his found materials to give an organic imperativeness and esthetic validity to the random. Eins, who formerly worked in a conceptual mode inspired by the scientific, has essentially used expressionism and graffiti paint-handling techniques to illustrate a conceptual theory. The deliberate and the accidental are presented as concrete evidence of biological evolution. Paint drips are turned upside down so that they grow upward like grass or plants. Clouds and planets are built up steadily with spray paint, and appear as if they had condensed organically from gas and vapor. The sprayed paint leaves a record of its natural growth , branching out like a fungus in intricate patterns. In the end the terms of graffiti, expressionism, and conceptualism seem inadequate to classify an artist whose work resists such distinctions.

Carlo McCormik