As rebels against not just art world norms but against conventions for public space, many see graffiti as by definition disagreeable. Artists like Ugly-Kid Gumo embrace that position, providing commentary through art that originated on the street. Gumo's raw, emotional figures and faces draw attention to the flaws and fallacies in our urbanized society by literally and figuratively staring straight at them.
The 30-year-old Parisian street artist Nicholas-Gumo first became involved in underground public art while he was still in high school. Going on to graduate with a degree in fine arts from Paris' Ecole Supérieure des Arts Appliqués, since then he has taught art to children and dabbled in fashion design before turning back to graphic arts.
Gumo's work emphasizes the cruelty of life in the city. "It's a constant questioning and reinterpreting the brutal code of the city, again, especially in the suburbs—its plasticity, or rather the abstract figurative aspect of it," he explains, continuing, "it depends on the moment, it depends on the music in the MP3. It's brutal, romantic as a dinner with black light."
Often the urban environment itself becomes the medium (like in his graffiti paint chips series, pictured top and below) with materials varying based on his location. When in Paris, the artist works mainly on the streets of the city, but while in NYC most of his process takes place in his studio location—even bringing in chunks of plaster from Paris to pursue his passion in the remote location.
Oz, the mythical city created by L. Frank Baum and perpetuated by Judy Garland, figures as a driving force in Gumo's work. According to Gumo, attempting to understand the world around us is comparable to making sense of Oz. "These stories are actually metaphors for the social problems that plague the American society but which are transferable to every corner of the world or human lives. Oz is never far from us," he suggests.
The mythical city is the only recurring thread in Gumo's work, as he prefers to work organically from a feeling, rather than basing it on an abstract idea. "When people ask me to describe my work, to explain which wave I'm close to, I just want to answer: I don't know. I'm honest. I don't have a strategy or a project study, only maybe with OZ. I was too bored at school because we needed to justify our reasons and explain our influences. I find nothing more annoying. The important thing is that we're here and together."
New York got a preview of Gumo's collection,"Oz, le visage du mal," in a one-day gallery showing last fall, but his first solo show at Dorian Grey Gallery, curated by Marianne Nems opens tonight. It includes a wide variety of Gumo's work, ranging from spray paint on paper and acrylics on canvas to cardboard and mixed media. The reception tonight from 6-7pm will have a live performance, "Mask," by performance artist Blizard, and the show runs through 24 July 2011.