Exhibit | Russell Murphy: Enterprises

Death Looms by Russell Murphy.

Death Looms, Russell Murphy.

The transition from the street to the gallery is a path many graffiti writers have taken over the course of the past forty years, moving between two very different world found in the same city. Both worlds are filled with politics, drama, and intrigue, yet in many ways they are diametrically opposite. On the street, there is no monetary reward, just honor and bragging rights. On the street, writers evade police and other writer’s beefs. Whereas, in the gallery, everything is white walls, white wine, and price lists.

No Romance Galleries recently hosted “Enterprises,” a private viewing of recent works by Russell Murphy, aka CASH4, a New York-based graffiti writer. Murphy is a painter and illustrator who deftly uses the urban vernacular to create a cohesive visual world, presenting a seamless transition between the street and the gallery. His artworks are intense, intimate affairs, deep, visceral responses to the dark forces of our times. There is a profound feeling of alienation, a sense that the abyss is near, and we find ourselves headed to the brink in vibrant, violent style.

Also: Exhibit | The Young Lords

With works titled “Generic Apocalypse”, “Soldier’s Duty”, and “Death Looms”, there’s the ever-present reminder that destruction is near, and what is happening now is the inevitable calm before the storm. Echoing the fate of countless men and women throughout time is the sense that we are all headed towards the same ends. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

Soldiers Duty by Russell Murphy

Soldiers Duty, Russell Murphy.

Like the classic memento mori paintings of European art, the reminder of death gives us clear perspective on life. All of this is transitory, fleeting, a moment that is at once now and forever gone, recalling the words of the Bible, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” It is that sense of the sublime, of the force greater than us, to which we all must eventually submit… but before we go—

Hunt's Point by Russell Murphy.

Hunt’s Point, Russell Murphy.

Murphy has works, as he has words, with titles like “Drinking to Keep You Off My Mind” and “This Is Not Real.” These works are as ambiguous as they are insistent. In “Drinking to Keep You Off My Mind”, the enveloping echo of SHE’S that pound against a bright red background are matched by the words RAPE and THAT’S ALL. It’s pop like pulp fiction, asking more questions than it answers. Hung beside it is “’This Is Not Real” which doesn’t hesitate to add, OR IS IT. Reminded me of the owl in the Tootsie Roll commercial. The world may never know.

Soothe Sprayer by Russell Murphy.

Soothe Sprayer, Russell Murphy.

And that’s what makes “Enterprises” consistent. There is no easy way out. It’s going to be unpleasant, perhaps exquisitely so. There will be confusion, and there will be pain. But there will also be pleasure found in the form of visual mediation. It won’t be pretty. It will be raw, yet infinitely compelling in its search for understanding of a sort.