Monday Nov 30th, 2015
On Wednesday, November 18, 2015, YoungArts presented an intimate Salon, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with American hip hop pioneer, visual artist and filmmaker Fab 5 Freddy, moderated by YoungArts Alumnus James Allister Sprang (2008 YoungArts Winner in Visual Arts). It was a robust discussion on the progression of hip-hop, visual arts, and culture, and one theme was clear: it often comes down to supporting a young person’s art.
James asked Fab about the turning points in his career, uncovering insights behind what transpired behind some of the key steps of Fab’s success and how that looks now in the lens of modern-day art career building. The essential ingredients were cheap rent and a “fertile scene” - many of his biggest steps came from easy connections with accessible better-known artists, who could catapult his career forward (how one time he put his phone number in a newspaper for another artist he admired to contact him, and it worked). But these things may never exist again: rent will not be cheap in those same New York City neighborhoods again, nor connections easy to grasp through the over-saturated field of emerging artists.
Growing up in a household that was connected to critical thought and tuned into global events, Fab was given a framework for being active in the reality of current events and grounded in the presence of peers with his same ambitions and mentality. His journey in New York City’s art scene was projected by his simultaneous desire to be true and real as an artist, while still knowing how to be cutting edge with art, music and culture - he found his voice in merging the two sensibilities together. Inspired by the way contemporary art and hip hop music was being made, he took those concepts and principles and applied them, together, into his artwork.
Fab was dubbed a founder of the “graffiti” art style, although he was never the “street artist” people thought - he was making his art in a studio, as a fine artist would. But his art reflected that graffiti-style process of appropriation, properly adopting, borrowing, recycling or sampling aspects of visual culture. Fab took this method onto canvas and video.
For Fab the curiosity of how something starts, incubates and grows is a crucial component to understanding what it will be. That is what made his approach to hosting Yo! MTV Raps so groundbreaking - because it was filmed on the ground (no pun intended), at the roots. Back then, to discover what was cool and emerging was a serious quest, so the success of the show came from the exposure of new artists. James and Fab discussed how now, in the modern digital era, everything is at our fingertips: something can be discovered before it has even really been born. It brought up a conversation about how accessibility now triumphs maturity, a challenge for things that have to ferment or cook on the stove for a while until they are ready. Genuine connections (like those Fab made in his early career which projected him forward) are infrequently made these days, making the cluttered ecosystem of the arts harder to navigate for up and coming artists like James.
James was no stranger to Fab’s work or the movements Fab lived through. Those movements were influences on his love affair with art and music, and James now looks to new ways of intertwining fine art and hip hop. After our Salon, he showcased his own work, GAZR, a poet identity who’s obsession with voyeurism becomes a showcase for interactive portraits.
But aside from their curiosities in blending hip hop with fine art, what James and Fab have is common is focus and support. The lesson of the night was to find your way by circumventing obstacles - by staying curious and true to your interests. It kind of starts with that, and that’s what will get you through.
Images taken by World Red Eye. Recap by Mikey Centrella, Director of Digital Communications at YoungArts.