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On a dark street in Bushwick on Beat Nite last week, one storefront stood out. From the plate-glass façade gazed out a classical, simplified portrait of a smiling girl’s face filling the entire doorway. Her hand stretched over the rest of the window, grasping a paper airplane, about to let it go.
The installation was the work of Nether, a Baltimore-based street artist whose Twitter bio states his mission: “Beautifying Baltimore one vacant at a time.” Nether’s work, both wheatpasted and as wall-mounted pieces on permanent backing, is characterized by thick line drawing and gradient fills that give his portraits and urban scenes a monumentality that is shared in the work of Swoon, Sten, and other well-known street artists.
Nether also shares with those artists a pathos for cities and their inhabitants. His works often picture figures that become archetypes, men and women, boys and girls, standing against urban landscapes that seem more carved in stone than drawn by hand. On his website, he writes that his pieces “comment on the city below the smog as well as the forces that have brought it to its shameful state.” It’s a strong comment that demonstrates an awareness of the structural forces that box in his portrait subjects — poverty, ineffective planning, ignorance, and neglect.
The artist’s palette is dominated by the cardboard dun color of his supports, but he heightens their visual impact with areas of deep black, pure white, and intermittent splashes of red, as in one portrait of a fellow graffiti practitioner tagged with “red gettin’ up.” There’s a mixture of high and low here: a seemingly lowbrow subject matter portrayed in a monumental, highbrow treatment; an epic document created on humble materials.
Founded by Khari Parson just last year, Weldon Arts is a recent addition to the Bushwick scene, amping up the neighborhood’s commitment to street art. One hopes that future exhibitions will be just as energetic and emphatic as Nether’s.
Nether: Crumbling Cities ran at Weldon Arts (181 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn) through February 16, 2013.