Back in the days when the only spray paint you could buy was foul-smelling spray paint (in great metallic colours) made for nothing but re-spraying cars, and if you bought more than one colour or can from your local car-parts shop you were treated with more than a reasonable amount of suspicion by the man who wanted to know absolutely everything you were going to do with it. You’d have to answer an interrogation before the jobsworth in Halfords would even let you out of the shop, never mind letting you out with a bag full of paint. Back when Wild Style was just a rumour and little hints of things were coming our way via the background of a Grandmaster Flash video or those bits between songs on that Malcolm Mclaren album, we might be lucky enough to catch (there was hardly any music on TV), back when notions of graffiti as an art form were only just forming and no one had even considered it might evolve in to something called street art, when tags weren’t called tags and were mostly about football gangs (well they were where I was from, the first I knew of Robbo was a name on walls around football grounds), back in that wasteland of the early 80’s a great big paint bomb of a book landed and a window opened to something really seriously exciting.
We’d heard about the art on the subways of NewYork, seen hints of it, the occasional photo or something in the background of a news report or an episode of Kojak, a magazine article, a Blondie video, that Duck Rock album cover (those bits between the music, the World’s Famous Supreme Team), a skate mag or an underground thrash metal zine, and then suddenly there it was, there all falling into some kind of place, when that great big glossy book bursting with colour and shape, with black outline and a whole car? Really? This really is art on the street! Subway Art, the book of new York Subway graffiti Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant threw at us in 1984 just landed and changed everything, there it was all laid out, exciting, fresh. I can’t recall where I heard about the book, must have read about it somewhere, had mine on order for what seemed like weeks, when it landed in my local north Wales bookshop I knew it was something important, the woman behind the counter looked disapproving as she told me this was a special order and not the sort of thing they’d usually sell, I wrote the date it landed in the inside of the cover, I got paint-covered sticky finger prints all over it, I sat with it for weeks, it was exciting, it was important, it just throw up so many things, i was just out of school and starting off as wet behind the ears art student, the book was scoffed at, it was worlds away, it was off to Halfords for more paint, experimenting with marks and layers and Martha Cooper you and your damn book, you ruined my life!
And so this week, over in Whitechapel, East London, opening on Thursday evening and then running from 5th Feb until 28th Feb Stolen Space gallery say they are “proud to present ‘Lifework’ a solo show from the renowned photographer, Martha Cooper”.
Martha Cooper is a legendary photographer who has shot around the globe, beginning with USA to Asia. She worked both for papers and magazines like New York Post and National Geographic and independently, making contributions into her personal archive.
Stories and captures that appeared in her lens were different and timely: travels, people and of course art. She has been documenting graffiti and street art for 40 years and her iconic book “Subway Art” influenced on graffiti culture and opened a new world to those whose countries came to urban art much later than in USA.
Martha Cooper is still working with graffiti and street artists, documenting artworks of US and international artists around the world, and continues to make an important contribution to the urban art movement.
Graffiti and street art are ephemeral but pieces and murals can be preserved through photography. Since the late ’70’s, Martha Cooper has documented urban art with a view towards historic preservation. Her work will help make this art form immortal, providing future generations of artists and historians with images of
what has been called the biggest art movement in the history of the world. The gallery will exhibit Martha’s photos in a timeline from the ’70s until today, following her interest in graffiti as it spread from a localised New York City phenomenon into a massive worldwide urban art movement. Included in the exhibition will be also photos of Stolen Space Gallery artists shot by Martha in various locations.
Martha Cooper preserved so much back there, a vital historical record of something very imporatnt, there really would be very little record of without her (and Henry Chalfant), that book still excites me, that cover was such an exciting thing to fold out for the first time, the book is still here of the shelf, a little more battered now, probably time to buy a new copy, a new one wouldn’t be the same though, this battered copy has been kicking around here for over thirty years now, that photo of the New York cops standing in the train carriage was so powerful, those full cars up in the air, were they for real? The shapes, the letter forms, the colours, the textures, the layers, the layers of paint on top of each other, the layers were so exciting! Martha Cooper enriched my life. Thanks Martha. (SW)