Make New Friends But Keep The Old: Lydia Fong, Alicia McCarthy, Todd James and Steve Powers in Brooklyn

Apr 20, 2018 - Jun 15, 2018Muddguts, Brooklyn

On April 20th, Brooklyn space MUDDGUTS opened a killer group show featuring the works of four celebrated artists - Alicia McCarthyLydia Fong (aka Barry McGee)Todd James and Steve Powers. With a sharp, razor-like focus on each of the artist’s distinct styles, the show playfully brings together these four individuals with a longstanding history of community and DIY sensibilities. Organized by gallery owner / tattooer Mark Cross (Rose Tattoo), the show was held at his recently re-opened space, MUDDGUTS in Williamsburg.  

Given that the gallery portion of the ground floor space is relatively small, each artist displays only a handful of works, showing whats truly representative of their own unique takes on art making. Todd James’s wall displayed a series of punchy, chaotic drawings as well as a large graphic painting to accompany. Energetic, playful and a bit coarse, James’s paintings are a nose-dive into a calamitous, crude world of shape and movement. Born and raised in New York, James comes from a background in graffiti and street art- which is clear in his approach to painting. Each piece booms with fervent illustrative details and nods to James’s past as a graff writer.  

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Following that thread, Lydia Fong aka Barry McGee displays a few new works directly next to James. Hot off his recent solo show at Cheim and Reid in Manhattan, McGee’s works take on a myriad of influences, including but not limited to; urban culture, op and folk art, themes of anti-consumerism and of course, graffiti. With one large painting done in his unmistakable palette and clean geometric style, we get his notable moniker THR (The Human Race, a graff crew from the 1980’s) executed in neon orange alongside a prismatic vase and figurative head. Moving down the wall, a group of clustered aerosol paintings are joined together with more of McGee’s signature floating heads as well as a couple tags that read “CBT” and “Drugs.”

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Jumping onto the third wall is Alicia McCarthy. Living and working in Oakland, CA, McCarthy is no stranger to the group. Also a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, she’s been painting for nearly twenty five years. Her cluster of illustrations and paintings are fluidly assembled and bring an air of singular clarity to the exhibition. Satisfyingly constructed, McCarthy’s shapes and compositions feel effortless but have clear intention in their execution. Known mostly for her layered ribbon color paintings, these smaller pieces distill down the same philosophy and motifs of her larger works. Utilizing aerosol and mixed media techniques, McCarthy’s paintings are truly lovable in their imperfect and straightforward approach. 

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Last but definitely not least is Steve Powers. With a serious devotion to sign painting and the written word, Powers has been painting walls all over the world since the early 80’s. Known as ESPO on the streets, his sharply rendered turns of phrase shift focus to the interior. With a tightly packed black and white painting gracing the inside of the gallery, its surface dons notable quotes such as “Trying to be OK with being OK” , the painting is a road map of charming illustrations and approachable word play. Alongside that rests a series of large vinyl banners like the ones you see at grand openings for local businesses. But instead of “Open Now” we get endearing and dark sentiments like “Me and my moral compass are going for a spin.” 

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Collaboration and community are at the core of this exhibition. These four individuals have been producing work alongside each other in one way or another for nearly three decades and with this strong sense of kinship comes a show that is important and touching to say the least. The DIY scene in which they all came up together has influenced an entire younger generation of artists, graff writers and creatives of all kinds and will continue to do so for years to come. Check out this group show at MUDDGUTS before it closes on June 15th, 2018. 

Text and photos by Jessica Ross