80 International Graffiti Artists Are Bringing Street Art to the Mainstream

The first thing we do when we meet someone is say hello. In the West we shake hands and say, "Hello, my name is … " In my case, it’s Johnathen. Hello, readers, how lovely to meet you! Pretty much everyone abides by this social convention and none are excluded. 

In the graffiti art world, specifically, introductions conform to much the same idea, but with a twist. Graffiti artists, or writers as they have historically been called, sign their art with their moniker, or their art is their moniker. Their introduction is made thus, with a splash of paint or a marker or a spray can on surface, and is then oft repeated around a city or region. Writers have always talked to each other, gotten to know each other, and announced their presence to the world with a tag or a piece in their attempt to say hello. From the Philly origins of such legends as Cool Earl to the Taki183 bike messenger tags of Manhattan, to Saber’s massive LA river monster piece, graffiti has always been this sort of art for introduction, art for fame, art for the sake of saying hello. 

It appears that graffiti is making its way into the mainstream of the art world, with shows at such esteemed venues as Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, and the addition of illegally hung street art at the British Museum into the permanent collections. These venues and thousands of other small ones are giving normally obscure graffiti art and artists increasing chances to say Hello my name is to interested art lovers all over the world.

And now you, art lover, have a chance to get to know some of them, too. From March 2 to March 31, The Fridge DC in Washington, D.C. is playing host to Hello my name is, an international graffiti exhibit featuring 80 renowned global graffiti artists. 

Beginning with an opening reception on March 2 co-curators Asad "ULTRA" Walker and Edwin "CHE KGB" Merino bring you Hello my name is, an exhibit to give receptive audiences an opportunity to enter the world of graffiti art and witness the introductions these writers make to each other, albeit normally in more or less discreet spots. According to ULTRA, "The meaning of the show is the diversity of graffiti. You walk in the gallery and you're struck by the fact that no two artists approached this show in the same exact way; so many different philosophies, styles and techniques. Yet all the entries are recognizably 'graffiti.'" Ultra also happens to be "the longest-running active graffiti artist in DC (since 1982). You can find [him] in the books The History of American Graffiti and Free Agents: A History of DC Graffiti."

Hearkening back to the "foundations of graffiti," this exhibit seeks to highlight the graffiti artists’ name, the tag from which all of these artists began their careers, and upon which was built the modern graffiti movement. ULTRA says the impetus for the show came from a "desire to create a show that real graffiti writers would be interested in participating in. [He] wanted to emphasize that graffiti artists start from a common starting point, the name, and then each injects their own style and technique into communicating that concept."

ULTRA continues, "Each of these artists has received a canvas with an illustration of a ‘HELLO my name is’ sticker that they will paint and return to the gallery. The resulting collection of works is the chance to see the breadth and depth of graffiti artists working across the US and abroad today."

"From the start of the graffiti movement in the late 60’s to early 70’s, the act of painting a nickname has become a worldwide radical, infectious act. Repetition and size equal strength, fame and might, and in this collection of works the floor-to-ceiling canvassed walls will represent where graffiti came from and where it stands today," according to the exhibit description. "Fame," it should be noted, is the notoriety a writer gets from putting up enough tags and pieces in a specific area; all the little hello’s left behind. 

I had an opportunity to talk via email with one of the contributing artists who likes to "make stuff and put up stuff under the name iwillnot or IWN." From PG County Maryland, he tells me his contribution to the exhibit "tried to incorporate the hand [he is] known for, jumping off of the pre-suggested guidelines, trying to make a statement about not conforming and all of that ... " Regarding his participation in this project, and what he thinks Hello my name is means, IWN tells me, "HMNI is a group show highlighting artists that work outside in various mediums. I think the name implies introduction, representing yourself, and also a certain level of confidence."

We can dig that.

Interested parties can check out all the canvases made (which are available here for purchase). And be sure to get your hands on a t-shirt or the Hello my name is book being developed from the exhibit ("the launch will be March 23, 1-3pm and will also feature a panel discussion").