As artist Ellis G. was preparing an installation for Neo Con artist collective’s first exhibit, “Neo Con New York,” at Williamsburg’s 17 Frost Gallery, the gallery manager knelt down, casting a shadow that looked like a man crouched in the Thai position of respect. Ellis G. quickly traced his shadow in blue chalk, adding the blue outline to the installation, as a show of respect for the space.
Next to the crouching man is an outline of a garbage can with colorful images spilling out. The inspiration behind this installation spawned from a demeaning remark from a group of citizen vigilantes who saw Ellis G. outlining shadows on the street and told him that his work is garbage. Instead of getting offended, Ellis G. turned the insult into art.
“[For this exhibit] we are taking things that we encounter every single day to create space,” Ellis G. “This is New York City, stuff from every day life.”
“It could be anything, a garbage can, a brick wall,” added artist Aakash Nihalani.
The newly-formed Neo Con artist collaborative is comprised of prolific street artists Ellis G., Aakash Nihalani and Poster Boy. Ellis G. is a former graffiti artist NET whose work has appeared all over New York. He is most recently known for his chalk outlines of shadows all over city streets. Aakash Nihalani works with neon tape to create three-dimensional illusions on New York City’s walls, doorways and sidewalks. Poster Boy, who needs to remain anonymous to avoid the long arm of the law, is the man, or rather the concept, behind a renegade art movement that cuts up advertisement posters in the subway and rearranges them to create art with a poignant message.
Owner and gallery director Steven Pacia, who exhibited Nihalalani in October, wanted to provide a space where the three artists, who usually work alone, can work together without the hassle of being in the streets, or risking that their pieces may be taken down by authorities or washed away by the elements. He said the socio-political group creates vibrant, unpretentious art that deserves to be seen.
“Every piece has a reason,” said Pacia. “It shakes people out of their daily lives, shows there is more to life.”
The Neo Cons did not have a plan when preparing their installations; they let the large industrial art space guide the aesthetics of the show. Most projects were a group effort with each artist contributing both ideas and work.
The urban landscape along the left wall of the gallery alludes to a recent collaboration between Nihalani and Poster Boy on remixing Museum of Modern Art’s advertising campaign in Brooklyn’s Atlantic-Pacific station. A cutout of Brian contemplatively smoking a cigarette from Nan Goldin’s “Nan and Brian in Bed,” is replaced with Fred Flintstone’s face for MoMA’s poster, and hangs near a suspended orange cone in the gallery.
On the other side of the gallery, tucked in a corner, is an homage to derelict urban spaces that gave birth to graffiti. Ellis G. placed empty cans, bottles and cigarette butts on the floor, suspended a blue spraypainted skateboard on a string and traced its shadow on the wall. Poster Boy hung an image of Barack Obama overlooking the installation, and Ellis G. gave him a Mohawk.
On the adjacent wall is Nihalani’s polysemic piece. The red tape pasted in parallel and perpendicular lines is at first construed to be a brick wall, but when a blue hand peels away the tape it is transformed into the red and white striped American flag.
“It is open to interpretation,” said Nihalani of the multi-dimensional exhibit. “It speaks to us in many ways.”
“Street art and graffiti has permeated every facet of pop culture,” said Ellis G. “[With it] there are more ways to interact in public space, change understanding of visual art and the meaning of visual culture.”