Written By Michael Ashman
A proliferation of graffiti in New York City around the 70s became the focal point of several campaigns for its removal. The mess of tagged walls, quick throw ups and drip graffiti was seen as a stain on the city. “New York ’73” by Saratoga Sake possesses a grimy quality that refers to that time. Graffiti is seen as an urban expression that has both a good and bad side to it depending on the perspective of its audience. Sake is known as one of the first graffiti artists in San Diego, but has recently taken a stroll along the more abstract expressionist side in his solo show at Thumbprint Gallery titled “Red White Blue: Abstract, Minimalism and Not So Abstract.” However, even with this new idiom, graffiti is still prevalent in Sake’s expression which combines abstract brushstrokes and semi-hard lines, as if creating a visual history of graffiti and America.
Sake’s latest work draws on his fascination with the colors red, white and blue. When they are put together, they create the well-known color slogan that makes the United States of America. Splashes and strokes of these colors are placed randomly throughout this painting. They are masked by another layer of black brushstrokes that dims their color. However, three hard lines, made from red, white and blue streak across the middle of painting on top of the chaos. Those simple, abstract lines convey a sense of American branding of this artwork. Without them, it would look like any number of other abstract expressionistic paintings. It creates a sense of order in a landscape full of unruly pigments.
The chaotic overlapping of reds, whites and blues, along with the simultaneous erasing, or defacing, of those colors by the smeared black paint shows real aggression. Solid lines and abstract drips mixed together present the feeling of a heavily used, graffiti-tagged wall. Violence and graffiti often go together as street gangs exert their influence on street art by using the graffiti idiom to mark their territories. In the forefront, the unstained red, white and blue streaks stand as the prevailing mark for America over the rest of the painting. The clean American colors wash over the violent past of the painting, but they do not do a good job of covering it all.
Street graffiti can be minimalistic and abstract, as artists have a tendency to tag their location very quickly. This painting has general qualities of graffiti, such as quick single brushstrokes, splashes of paint that drip from the source, and randomly sprayed spots. Graffiti and abstract painting go well together for this reason because they rely on fast gestures of the spray can or paint brush. Fast abstract splotches and brushstrokes clash with the uniform, minimalistic American color streaks, creating the combination of graffiti that is truly American-made.
See “New York ‘73” and Saratoga Sake’s other American graffiti and minimalism paintings at Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla. His “Red White Blue – Abstract, Minimalism, and Not so Abstract” solo exhibition is on display until August 4. A second reception for his work will also be held on Saturday, July 27 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Click HERE to RSVP.