Concrete Cathedrals was an art show held at Court Tree Gallery in Building 5 of Industry City (formerly Bush Terminal) at 51 35th Street alongside the Gowanus Parkway, featuring canvas work by Brooklyn graffiti writer, tattooist, screenwriter, painter, actor, and musician, Kaves.
Industry City isn’t like what you remember the former factory area to be. If you haven’t been there in years, you’ll be quite surprised. Recall the sweet scent of the flavors wafting through the air from the candy factory as you drove under the Gowanus? That’s the place.
But today, it’s been transformed into a hip, artsy paradise, a series of malls with interesting shops featuring custom wallpaper, antiques, artists’ galleries, and tons more cool stuff. The Makers Space is located on the upper floors, home to design, technology, food, fashion, art, media, production, and other sorts of companies.
The canvases of Concrete Cathedrals featured hand-styled typography, overlapping in many layers forming complex textures, juxtaposed against backgrounds of black, grey, and sepia, with street scenes of Kaves’ home-town, Brooklyn. Media included China markers, acrylic, oil, and spray paint.
Canvas sizes ranged in proportions, with dimensions of 48″ x 36″, 59 x 102″, 65″ x 141″, to cite only a few. All were different.
This show is one you shouldn’t have missed if you’re a serious student of New York hip-hop cultural history and street art.
Unfortunately, yesterday was its last day running, as the show was open to the public from February 8th to March 8th, 2020.
You will have to wait until the next time Mr. Kaves decides to put together a show with the Court Tree Collective.
Kaves, born Michael McLeer in 1969 in Brooklyn, is one of NYC’s original graffiti artists, writing with the Bay Ridge-based crew, LOB, or Lordz of Brooklyn, dating back to 1980.
Famed for his color-saturated, high-contrast pieces with zany characters and on-point lettering, executed in the 1980s, Mr. Kaves is one of the best-recognized writers from the era.
You may recall seeing Kaves’ work in Henry Chalfant’s 1984 tome Spraycan Art, a follow-up to Subway Art, both considered part of the lore of NYC graf in the 1980s. There’s even commentary by Kaves’ in Spraycan Art.
Kaves’ visual work has also been featured by Jaguar, NIKE, Rockstar Games, WWE, PONY, MTV, ADIDAS, Van’s Warped Tour, and Georges Duboeuf, according to his website, and his works have been shown in the Gunther Sachs Museum of Fine Arts in Germany, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and many books about graffiti have also displayed his pieces.
Besides being signed to Warner Brothers and creating and performing some memorable hip-hop tracks and touring worldwide, the Lords of Brooklyn tore up Kings County way back when, hitting the yards, racquetball courts, and other prime spots all over the borough, covering flat surfaces with pieces worth remembering.
The Lordz of Brooklyn, later shortened simply to The Lordz, even performed their rap/punk-rock music on the Conan O’Brien Show. This was one of the crews that got things done, an example to the rest, still to this day, of art in action.
Kaves also brought his unique hand-style to the world of tattooing, operating his own shop, BMT. Many people walk around with his graffitieque artwork and lettering on their bodies.
Now, Kaves works out of an art and tattoo studio right down the hall from where the show was, on the second floor of building 5 at Industry City, creating new works to this day. It’s called Mr. Kaves’ Pigtown Tattoo and Atelier.
Even if you’ve missed the show, a visit to the studio is in order. It’s a nostalgic trip, as many objects from Kaves’ life are on display, to evoke memories for those that were there and lived through the era, and to let others who hadn’t get a feel for what they missed.
The show also featured a piece featuring ironwork by legendary writer and sculptor Revs and Kaves, which once was sited it Kaves’ tattoo parlor ib Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Revs, who once went by the tag “Revlon,” famous for his gigantic paint-rollered sides of building he did in the early 1990s with his partner, Cost, as well as the flour-pasted-flyer campaign the two tirelessly worked on, plastering 8 1/2 by 11 paper signs with phrases like “Cost F***** Madonna” and “Lousy Kid Revs” and tons of other insane and puzzling phrases all over NYC.
There was even a flyer with a phone number you could call to hear strange messages on some of the flyers stuck up by Revs and Cost. Remember that, NYC kids? Even if you don’t, you can still read about it online.
And, that’s not all. The show also featured newspaper clippings about Kaves and LOB. On a desk sat Kaves’ hand-written list of writers, including those from Staten Island, a statue of the Virgin Mary, and blueprints for the piece that appeared in Chalfant’s second glossy book featuring graffiti artwork.
Besides this, there were a few poems posted on the walls. Between these various elements, it was enough to evoke 1983, freshly bringing forth “that feeling”, that incredible feeling of excitement and awe and the feeling of the Present, the Presence, of Now.
Is it nostalgia, strictly? No way; though the artwork certainly conjures memories of Brooklyn in its 1980s bombed-out heyday, there’s far more here.
The present moment is eternal, and though the impermanence of life, expressed in Kaves piece entitled, “Nothing Lasts” sums it up succinctly, that feeling of newness, of being on the verge of a novel era, a fresh day of limitless possibility, something unexpected, is something we can carry with us every day we’re alive.
Seeing this show was like seeing an impossibly masterful piece pop up one morning back in ’83 or ’85: all the wonder, the awe, the appreciation.
It won’t ever be 1983 again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep that artistic vision of hip-hop alive in all we do, whether we’re native New Yorkers writing graffiti, spinning records and DJing, rapping, or breakdancing, or expressing ourselves as transplants from Ohio, working in theatre, film, or a myriad of other media.
The future is limitless. The time is now. Do you feel “that feeling” again?
This show recalls a time when many NYC kids had stars in their eyes and knew this truth in their gut, in their heads, in their very hearts. Mr. Kaves clearly never forgot.