Graffiti artists move from street to gallery walls

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In the shadowy world of graffiti art, chosen names identify creative output. Farce, Limer and Wane are Holyoke-based artists whose studio work at the West Stockbridge Diana Felber Gallery forms "En Mass: Pushing the Boundaries of Graffiti."

School and family brought the artists to the area, where they found inspiration in abandoned mills and factories.

Farce, 22, discovered graffiti through high school skateboarding and hip-hop culture.

"It's one of my passions," he said at the exhibit opening. While researching the global community, he met Wane and Limer, local artists with international exposure exploring how graffiti fits into galleries.

"It's new territory," Farce said. "All of us try to embody the roots of authentic graffiti of the '70s and '80s."

While people often confuse graffiti with street art, true graffiti is illegal, he explained. Writers keep identities hidden, adding mystery to the culture.

The moniker 'Farce' connects his studio work to graffiti roots. Like wall art, he often incorporates paper, using vintage blueprints surrounded by painted geometric shapes, or colored solely by yellowing edges and creases.

These industrial relics are things people just left and neglected, he noted. "We take them and add life to them."

More abstract works with minimalist color fields reflect "buffing" where cities paint over graffiti. These rectangles invariably attract new graffiti.

Spray paint remains the dominant medium, with straight lines formed by masking tape. Farce's truncated signature appears Asian, a comparison he finds apt. "In those cultures, writing is an art form, and that's what graffiti is, down to the simple one-color tags."

Following an arrest-filled youth, Limer, now in his 30s, currently embraces South Korea's graffiti scene. His companion works "Reflect" and "Absorb" are finely wrought fragmented circles and squares cut from paper.

Wane is the senior and most established exhibitor. He now concentrates on studio art and murals, but still uses his street name.

London-born in 1970, at age 7 his West Indian family moved to the North Bronx. He noticed graffiti immediately on walls and especially subways.

"The trains ran on the elevated lines, you would see these colorful cars go by, and I thought, what was that?"

He learned to read the letter-based language and understand artists' styles. "As a kid, I doodled and drew cartoons, and started to do it in the neighborhood." He discovered he loved to paint.

Not wanting to do drugs, graffiti was his way to fit in with peers trying to find their own identity and acceptance, despite the obvious dangers of creeping around trains in the dark.

In 1988, he met a German artist under a bridge. They traded pictures of their work and collaborated on a piece.

"Two years later, he organized this huge festival in Germany that changed my life," he said. "Not only for graffiti art, but for culture, interacting with people and seeing how they live in different places."

He met artists from across Europe who took graffiti very seriously, and returned home inspired, studying graphic design as a way to apply his subway painting skills. He has since participated in exhibitions and mural festivals around the world.

A few years ago, he said a friend asked him, "So, what are we going to leave behind, how are we going to tell our dream?" Graffiti doesn't last in the urban landscape — it can be there a day or 10 years — so Wane transitioned to working inside institutions.

A traditionalist at heart, his work is constantly evolving. "I want to bring something fresh and move on with the times," he said. Even finding his name in a painting is now less obvious, often involving negative space.

He evokes the historic mills and architecture — "they're dying and people won't remember anything from them" — in artworks painted on reclaimed wood. One has a shelf with old spray paint cans, "a graffiti artist's strongest tool," he says. "You can go to the ends of China and Russia, and people paint with spray cans."

The single-themed, three-artist collaboration departs from the multi-media group shows the venue, open since May, typically presents. When Farce visited the gallery with his mother, a local artist, "the idea sparked and we flew with it," Diana Felber explained. "He had the connections, and I want to do things that stretch people in their receptivity of art."

"Now is probably the most visible time for graffiti because of social media and the Internet," Wane said. "This is an American art form developed by kids. People don't yet understand the history of where it comes from, the journey. That's what I try to convey."

If You Go:

What: "En Mass: Pushing the Boundaries of Graffiti" Art Show

Where: Diana Felber Gallery, 6 Harris Street, West Stockbridge

When: Now through Feb. 27. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Monday

Information: dianafelbergallery.com 413-232-7007

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