Express Yourself

This article was originally published on on Jan. 19, 2013.

True expression requires a certain strategy. Whether it’s a conscious effort or a style that flows, forms of expression beg certain questions — What are you trying to convey? Who are you speaking to? Why did you paint, sketch, film, photograph or write what you did? Who are you, anyway?

New York City is saturated with struggling artists who have been or are at every stage imaginable in a developing artist’s life. In Dumbo, for example, at a small gallery named Mighty Tanaka (located on the same floor as thirteen other galleries) three talented street artists presented their portraiture at an opening reception last Friday night.

Quel Beast, a young man hailing from Rochester, featured four “Selfish Portraits” that represent his inner turmoil at a turning point in his life. By using a mixture of bright colors over a seemingly Caucasian skin tone, he strove to break the boundaries of race, color, and gender. Three larger-than-life faces framed within three upside-down triangular canvases sneered at visitors.


Each painting is based on the same photograph. The image of a Caucasian male is contrasted three ways using neutral tones and vibrant color. On an adjacent wall hung Quel Beast’s fourth piece: an eye-catching black-and-white self-portrait with colorful outward-bound lines that draw the viewer straight toward flaming eyes.

The Alcoholic
The Alcoholic

Two silk-screen prints created by Toofly, a female street artist from Queens, hung on either side of Quel Beast’s black-and-white. Toofly is heavily inspired by the urban landscape in which she grew up. The woman in each of her prints and sketches hanging on the sheer white walls of Mighty Tanaka is a strong urban character. She is complimented by dark hair with perfectly shaped bangs and waves looping over her fierce, angled eyes. She may have a meaningful tattoo on her powerful body or raw feelings hidden behind that smirk of hers. That night, Toofly’s prints were small and feminine compared to the larger portraits that boasted color and dominance. But her work remained true.

One Village
One Village
Love Warrior - Moon
Love Warrior – Moon

True, in the sense that her work focuses on a conscious character, whereas Tony DePew‘s portraits emphasize a real person. One was a colorful rendition of Chuck Close. Grey lines outline his white beard. Organic multi-colored shapes fill in the textures, shades, and tones of his face. His black collared shirt blends in with the equally black background, making his face explode with color. DePew’s painting of his friend, Rebecca Weinberg, is incredibly similar. But there is one difference: every single color is DePew’s unique blend of powders and paints that were developed one at a time to fill in each organic shape. No color is the same, whether you compare them between paintings or within.

Chuck Close
Chuck Close

There is barely a visible mark of DePew’s paintbrush, which makes the paint look totally flat and smooth like a laser-ink print found in a magazine. DePew also showcased two stained-glass renditions of his Rebecca Weinberg portrait: one opaque, the other transparent. Both beautiful.

Every artist wants his or her work to be considered. To be looked at. To be bought, even. However, it takes courage to sacrifice one’s art, as Quel Beast, an experimental street artist, brought to my attention. Street artists, in particular, sacrifice their work once they paint or spray-paint a portion of their expression onto a gritty wall or a rotting wood fence, which may get torn down, painted over, or spit on. On a good day, someone will actually stop and really look at it. On a great day, someone will admire it, be inspired by it.

This is all part of the sacrifice.

All photos courtesy of Mighty Tanaka.


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