Sep 13, 2011

REVIEW | Unknown Artist


Dragging myself from one art gallery to another and finding no inspiration worth mentioning I pass a mailbox and do something worth mentioning, I laugh.  The image is a stenciled painting of a Buddha sitting in meditation over a script of words which read, “If you’d stop building walls, we’d stop painting on them” on the side of a mail box. 
  I came upon this work while walking to the Blanton museum of art at UT Austin.  The work was made recently however an exact date will be impossible to place, due to its high visibility and lack of wear by the elements it can be said to be very recent and produced with in the year maybe even month. 

The Buddha is seated in the lotus position with legs crossed and hidden under his robes.  He is robust in stature despite his sitting pose and his robes are thick and billowing with weight and many folds that cover everything except his head, chest, fore-arms and hands.  His hands are closed into fists resting in his lap, palms up.  This hand gesture is known as the Dhyāna mudrā which means meditation mudr­ā.  A mudrā is a symbolic hand gesture in Buddhism or Hinduism used in works of art of religious nature.  Thus, this Buddha is meditating while also displaying meditation which also indicates that he is an Amitābha Buddha.  The large earlobes of the Buddha indicate wisdom or enlightenment in both the Hindu and Buddhist tradition.  The Buddha’s short curly hair made up of circles that shrink in size as they move away from the brow indicate his renouncement of the court life he was raised in and expected to one day rule.  The image itself is inspired by the Great Buddha of Kamakura in Japan. 


The script below the Buddha which reads “If you’d stop building walls, we’d stop writing on them,” is done in a bold lettering reminiscent of Arial black style is pretty straight forward.  Arial black is a thick or bold script that where ever possible eliminates angles in the lettering giving them a smooth and robust flow. 

The two parts working in concert with each other become a powerful and satirical message about modern graffiti and the society that hates it.  The message is clear, where you have people building walls, you will have people who will mark on them.  The Buddha as symbol of meditation asks the viewer to meditate on this simple truth.  By playing off the relationship the message then takes on the character of a Buddhist kōan. 

This sort of work is representative of street art which treats the streets and everything in them as a veritable art gallery ripe for decoration or installation.  Often containing a message of political or social concern, this artist chooses to comment on the nature of graffiti art and trying to stop it. 

Typical of this style of art is the use of stencils and spray paint, which this artist uses in an excellent fashion, clever, witty, contemplative, and satirical.  The fact that he chose a mail box as canvas to deliver his message in itself is evidence of a well thought out work re-contextualizing the mail box into a message while at the same time framing the work and there by re-containing it, like an undeliverable postcard that’s already at its destination. 

The positive image of the Buddha as well the lettering is very clean and well rendered.  The rendering of the statue’s hair as circles which get smaller as they move from the brow line to the back of the head was a smart technical choice on the part of the artist.  Making his or her statement into a sort of modern street-wise kōan to authorities is very smart, subtle and clever in a way that is sure to infuriate more than cause thoughtful meditation to the authorities it’s directed at.  To be sure this is no Banksy or Swoon, but it’s top notch none the less.
- Miguel Garcia

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