Judging by the billboards and posters plastered all over New York City lately, the world is slated to end on Saturday by someone's calculation. Personally, I am skeptical- they've been wrong many times before. Other signs are much more subtle. I often say here that the streets of New York can be like taking in an unplanned visit to an art museum. As I walk through these alleys of concrete, I wonder what's on the mind of the people who create unsolicited artwork and put them out there for the world to see without formality. What prompts artists to display their work in this way or create it at all? What are they reacting to? What are they trying to say? It's a message of sorts crafted by a visual courier- you just have to be aware to pick up on the signals.
St. John, Williamsburg Warehouse, Brooklyn (February 6, 2011)
This larger-than-life sized paste-up by Gaia confronts its viewers suddenly and unapologetically. A giant rooster head is morphed with a robed human body as the figure cradles the severed head of St. John the Baptist, known as the messenger of his time. This piece is a variation of another by the artist called, "Deny Me Three Times" (below). Gaia is known well for renderings of animal and human figures that pop up on the sides of buildings and throughout the streets of Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and Korea but here, the artist is looking towards the museum-like work of the old masters like Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Bosch, and Bruegel. Rich with meaning, the rooster is known in symbology as an instrument that promotes watchfulness and foretells the end of the world. Combined with the imagery of the prophet, it is a powerful work of art.
In a time consumed by war and environmental concerns, there is obviously an omen being conveyed in these works. Is it some sort of prophecy for the modern age? Or a call to action concerning some tragedy before it occurs? Whether your opinion of art found in the streets is lowbrow or highbrow, Gaia cleverly entwines elements from both worlds here- a timely reminder for us to listen and watch for the signs of possible things to come.
Deny Me Three Times, SoHo Neighborhood of Manhattan (May 30, 2010)