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Graffiti Icon Crash Serves Up an Animated One-Two Punch in Chelsea

Culling from pop culture and comic book lore, the Nuyorican artist continues to produce dazzling murals both locally and globally.

Kaleidoscopic, explosive, and animated, graffiti icon John ‘Crash’ Matos' canvases pack a color-bursting optical punch in his latest exhibit, Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience, on view through October 31, 2016 at the JoAnne Artman Gallery. Navigating a near four-decade career, the New York-based painter and muralist continues to produce dazzling murals both locally and globally. He frequently works on collaborative murals with equally-notorious friends including Tatscru, Daze, and Nick Walker. High-profile commercial gigs are common, applying his singular visual style to brands like Absolut Vodka, Sanrio, Tumi, and Fender guitars, where Crash custom-painted Stratocasters for the classic rock god Eric Clapton. Most recently, Crash and fellow legend Daze were tapped as graffiti consultants for Netflix's The Get Down, a show that depicts the roots of hip-hop in the burnt-out Bronx of the late 70s. Both artists provided authenticity and creative input for the street art that appeared in episodes, contributing designs for mural ads which were executed by the show’s scenic artists and displayed around Williamsburg and Chelsea.

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Off the Hook, Spray Paint on Canvas, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

His current solo show incorporates about a dozen spray painted canvases and two watercolors on paper, varying in size, both visually intoxicating and fluorescently frenetic. Describing the essence of his new body of work, Crash tells The Creators Project that he's “always had the love of scale."

"I found myself filtering those experiences unto my new canvases," Crash says, adding, “I paint in a 'collage' style, I take from many different references that it blends into what I do. The title of the show, which JoAnne [Artman] picked was spot on in referencing the new pieces…”

Crash is a true child of Pop art's masters—echoes of Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Warhol reverberate stunningly in his works. Culling from pop culture and comic book lore, there's something inherently American about Crash’s paintings. In Wrapped in My Own Existence, a blonde female subject resembling Betty from Archie comics seductively gazes at the viewer, enveloped in a radiant neon palette capped off with a hint of sparkle. In Off the Hook, a panoply of pop culture references including Popeye’s tattooed arm, interact seamlessly in a collage-like composition. In another magnetic canvas, In the Nick of Time, a frenzy of elements like color splatter, female energy, and comic book vernacular collide intensely on the canvas. Gallerist JoAnne Artman shares with The Creators Project, “

Vibrancy and pure joy! Visually I get a sense of history for the art form...incorporating writings scribbles and drawings...taking back to Crash's origins..the Train Yards...this current show and work showcases Crash's talents and sense of community!”

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Wrapped in My Own Existence, Spray Paint on Canvas, 46 x 46 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

Born in the Bronx in 1961, Crash came of age in the 60s and 70s, picking up his first spray can at 13 years old. He gained notoriety for creating full-scale images as opposed to just tagging, and would emblazon his name in flashy 3D block lettering on subway trains and illegal walls all over the city. A second-wave graffiti pioneer, Crash came up in the game with fellow writers like Zephyr and Dondi White, was a contemporary and friend to Keith Haring, and became a graffiti superstar once the street art genre was legitimized in the 80s. That decade was pivotal: Crash curated the seminal show Graffiti Art Success for America at Fashion Moda in 1980, effectively putting graffiti on the art world's map, as well as launching the starry careers of Daze, Futura, Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink, and more. Transitioning successfully into the contemporary art world with the support of collector Sidney Janis, Crash began showing in galleries and museums to global acclaim.

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Installation shot of John ‘Crash’ Matos’ Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

Despite accolades and lucrative mural commissions, the Nuyorican artist remains humble, accessible, and keeps the Bronx close to his heart. He still maintains a studio in the South Bronx (shared with Daze) and in 2014 founded WallWorks, a contemporary art space that shows local and international artists. Replicating the gallery formula similar to Fashion Moda but for a different generation, Crash co-owns WallWorks with Robert Kantor, and his daughter, Anna Matos, runs the space. Crash tells The Creators Project, “The reason it is so close to my heart is that I grew up not to far from where the gallery is, and I had wanted to give back in some form or another to my people, my neighborhood, to everyone around me.”

I'm hoping we can make a difference as Fashion Moda made with me, because if it weren't for them, we would not be having this conversation today…”

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Panorama Overload, Spray Paint on Canvas, 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

Mural production and public art are paramount to his art practice. Having been involved in legal wall projects like Welling Court, Coney Art Walls, the Bowery/Houston mural site, and The L.I.S.A. Project, these outdoor street art museums which engage the community and showcase artists are key. Crash explains, “The importance of these community spaces and the groups that run/launch/back what is happening is huge. There are so many wonderful artists that don't work well in the 'art world box,' and they communicate so much better in the public arena…”  

“I pray it continues to grow, because the new generations need to see and understand what is happening," he says. "What has happened, and what is going to happen…”

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Wet and Wild, Spray Paint on Canvas, 60 x 48 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Blackbook Jungle, Spray Paint on Canvas, 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

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John ‘Crash’ Matos, Silver Streak 2, Spray Paint on Canvas, 48 x 48 in. Courtesy of the JoAnne Artman Gallery

Breaking Ground: Redefining the Urban Experience will be on view through October 31, 2016 at the JoAnne Artman Gallery

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