I Am Here, James Oliver Gallery
Cornbread and Isaiah Zagar talked with Sara McCorriston of Paradigm Gallery about their early experiences with street art. Cornbread says he is the World’s First Writer. Tagging his moniker on everything in a bold clear typography that would start a world wide trend that morphed into hip-hop and modern graffiti. In 1965 Cornbread was known in the media, like a political gadfly, he demonstrated time and again that the word is powerful and attracts attention.
“In 1965, McCray was sent to the Youth Development Center, a juvenile corrections facility, a move that would change his life forever. While in the institution, McCray adopted the name Cornbread and made connections with Philadelphia gang members that would ensure his safe passage through all of the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.” Cornbread the Legend
When Cornbread managed to tag a TWA jet on the tarmac in Philly when Jackson 5 arrived, his signature, his brand, was spread across the country. Soon hip hop artists and street artists would begin to develop their own identity through tags. I Am Here explores street art with actual installations right on the gallery walls by street art legends Isaiah Zagar and Cornbread along with the next generation of street artists like Conrad Benner, who documents contemporary street art on the blog Streets Dept, kid hazo who has really caught attention with mock street signs, ishknits yarn bombs and wheat paste artist, Joe Boruchow.
“I am 75 years old. I clearly remember the day I first saw Clarence Schmidt’s rambling sculpture environment on a beautiful and breezy June day. I thought to myself, What is this? I had no categories, no frame of reference for it. There I stood, a third-year art student and I didn’t know that I was looking at art. That was 1959.” – Isaiah Zagar
Isaiah Zagar talked about the late 1960s when there were plans to run an expressway down South Street. The mosaic artist and his wife began an art business in the, then, decrepit blocks of real estate, he described as ‘dangerous’. The artist talked about dealing with neighbors and the social practice of negotiating with the community. When Zagar speaks of South Street in 1968, his face lights up with the spirit of artistic conflict and public opinion. At first his mosaics were considered a public nuisance by some critics but the genius of what he has created has prevailed over time.
“kid hazo (pronounced has•ohh) is a Philadelphia based street artist out to catch a few smirks and smiles by creating pieces that parody the heart of Philly culture and venues around the city. His lighthearted props and sculptures are interjected into the urban environment in attempts to brighten up someone’s day and add a layer of comic relief on the streets.” – kid hazo
kid hazo uses the semiology of civic signage and signifies the symbols with street cred. Fake signs, stickers and penalties have an authentic voice. The ‘Violation’ ticket spits civic-speak like a rap song about the parking authority caught in a situation they enforce.
Conrad Benner‘s photography documents the contemporary landscape with a collection of images about the urban experience. His blog about street art documents the voice and spirit of the contemporary graffiti scene. In 1965 when Cornbread started writing our society was dealing with the Civil Right’s movement and part of his plan was to exploit the public space that really plucked nerves. Now, street artists go to great risks to signal to the world, I am here.
“My name is Conrad Benner. I was born and raised in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA. (My dad went to the Barbary when it was a strip club.) As a kid I wanted to be a bus driver, then a priest, then an architect, but somewhere along the line I wound up a blogger/photographer/all around very curious fellow.” – Conrad Benner
James Oliver expressed to me how important this installation is to the status of Philadelphia as the creative hub of hip-hop culture. It happened in Philly first and then spread around the world like a cultural virus, a meme so powerful it has become a dominant art form. Isaiah Zagar‘s once derided alley wall installations have ushered in a creative era and urban revival in Philadelphia that influences art world wide in a coherent historic message. Power to the People. Right on.James Oliver Gallery 723 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, 267.918.7432 www.jamesolivergallery.com
View the I AM HERE exhibition pieces at shop.paradigmarts.org.
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Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.
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