Tjalf Sparnaay’s Photographs are Masterpieces of Humble Magnificence

Photo: “Classified” 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20”

The thing about New York is how you traverse the same streets, over and over again, embedding memories of life lived in the concrete under your feet. Sometimes you remember but mostly you forget. You are so deeply present in the moment that you leave a part of your behind, like an invisible stamp. And then you imagine all those stamps, building up over time, all those people whose lives have crossed without knowing the hows or the whys.

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But not all are content to remain invisible. The need to see and be seen is pure and visceral. From the earliest days when we were first handed crayons we knew: the best surface was a wall. It was, for the better part, immovable. For many, the urge to leave their mark was curbed, but then there were those who would not—could not—be deterred.

"Funny Fishes" 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20''

“Funny Fishes” 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20”

They took to the walls like a fish to the sea, finding their freedom in the vast expanses of open terrain. Whether graffiti or street art, whether paint or wheat paste, one thing was evident: the mark of the wall was an indication of life, unbridled. Liberated from the restrictions of the law, as well as the classroom, the office, or the gallery, those who have used walls as their canvas are true purveyors of public art. This is not some grand sculpture sitting in the plaza of a bank’s corporate headquarters nor is it anything commissioned by a well-intentioned curator. Rather, this is free will in its most essential form: risking life and liberty to get up on the wall.

Dutch artist Tjalf Sparnaay recognized this. A self-taught photorealist painter and photographer, he was drawn to the streets of New York to document the beauty he found in works themselves and the artifacts they leave behind. In celebration, Bernarducci.Meisel.Gallery, New York, presents Urban Works of Art: New Photographs, the artist’s first photography exhibition in the United States, on view now through October 29, 2016.

"Karl" 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20''

“Karl” 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20”

The exhibition is a sensual mix of representational and abstract photographs, offering a glorious way of reading the writing on the wall. Sometimes, it’s quite literal, like a happy school of fish in bold, bright colors that evoke the creativity, spontaneity, and vibrancy of city life. Other times it is rather tongue-in-chic as we see a smiling Karl Lagerfeld shining through a weather-beaten image wheat-pasted to the wall. For what and for why, we may never know, but the gleam of Karl’s pearly whites is as unexpected as the image itself.

Contrast this with the Graffitical Archeology X series, depicting of a wall covered in layers of graffiti. These images are spectacular for their attention to detail and the nuance they evoke, bringing to mind Confucius’s observation, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Through Sparnaay’s eye, urban decay becomes a study of humble magnificence.

"Grafitical Archeology XXII" 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20''

“Grafitical Archeology XXII” 2016, Chromaluxe PHOTOGRAPH, 16 x 20”

All photos: © Tjalf Sparnaay, courtesy of Bernarducci.Meisel.Gallery, New York.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.