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second half

What: Doze Green’s Discordia
Where: 111 Minna Gallery (111 Minna)
When: Until Feb 2, 2002
Cost: Free

About spray cans & permanent markers

Now that pop music is down with some degraded version of hip hop and Billboard’s Hot 100 features more rappers than a Snickers factory, the inevitable obsessive interest in the genre’s subculture has taken hold. It makes sense that to discover the true roots of a movement, you must seek out its major players. But what’s played on the airwaves right now is a sort of designer impostor (“if you liked hip hop, you’ll love hip pop!”) so watered down that the radio stars of today reek more of heavy marketing than of talent. So the originals are back and in high demand, riding the retro inquisition right onto gallery walls. And why not? The artists formerly know as criminals, wielding weaponry of spray cans and fat permanent markers, now find their work finally recognized for what it has always been to them.

One of the original originals is Doze Green, member The Rock Steady Crew, arguably the most famous b-boy group ever to have torn the roof off the mother. The Crew were pioneer breakdancers, performing their shows at art exhibitions in SoHo and the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But Green was also an immensely talented graffiti artist, eventually attending the High School of Art and Design along with other like-minded street artists. Their high school clique, containing artists like Lady Pink, Daze, and Mr. Wiggles, quickly evolved past the city and its boroughs and into the hip hop art movement.

Green’s paintings are just as influenced by the graphic story-as-picture style of Basquiat, the minimalist lines of Miro, and the fragmented, oversized reality of James Rosenquist as he is by the early graffiti art of Dondi White and Futura. His painting style has Cubist tendencies, focusing on the clarity of form, in this case the human or robot-like figures, and nullifying the remaining environment. Green’s subject matter tends toward theories and practices of religion and metaphysics, exploring the fundamental nature of urban reality.

Discordia, Green’s latest show at 111 Minna, presents work focusing on the past two years, culminating with a few pieces post-September 11.It reflects a definite sense of anxiety about the state of the world, as many of the figures seem distant or dehumanized, placed within a non-environment of cryptic text and confusing messages. The paintings are multi-layered, starting with a wash of color in the background that, compared with the definitive black outlines of the figures and bold colors within them, has the dreamy effect of watercolor. His “live paintings,” created in front of and reflecting back the same audience, depict crowded dance floors with figures overlapping in a maze of black outline. In these paintings, Green allows the ethereal background quality to permeate the figures, making the blurring the lines between the figures and their environment. The club and its music become the people, and the people become the music.

One of his most interesting pieces, entitled “Omnia Ab Uno” (2001), features a small hunch-backed man facing away from the viewer and holding a gun in his outstretched hand. The letter “B” is on his back, and the word “STANCE” is printed in bold text below him. The b-boy stance in the days of breakdance competitions was a pose à la Run DMC, with your arms wrapped around your shoulders like a hug, only it meant something more akin to “you saw how I break — what can you do to beat me?” The new hip hop scene, however, is more down with glorifying guns and smacking your bitch up than with seeing who can pop the best. Green’s interpretation of the new b-boy stance is a direct reflection of the gun violence of the inner-city; people battle each other with firepower instead of art.

The irony of acknowledging and accepting artists like Green by putting their work on a gallery wall after decades of seeing it on the street, calling someone down at City Hall, and having a City Improvement crew cover it up with some random shade of gray would be almost laughable if it wasn’t also so predictable. Urban artists like Green continue to be a testament to the fact that art doesn’t stop existing just because someone can’t afford the “real” tools of art making. And sometimes dirty trains, alleyways, and bathroom walls reflect your reality better than a clean, white canvas anyway.

Sarah Lidgus is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.