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Off the streets, into the gallery

January 18, 2007|Alex Chun | Special to The Times

STREET art in Los Angeles has become as ubiquitous as bleach-blond hair and personalized license plates, so it's no surprise it has infiltrated art galleries as well.

"A lot of galleries used to be scared to put in street artists -- they thought people coming in would tag up the outside of their galleries and cause chaos," says Freddi "Freddi C" Cerasoli, proprietor of the Lab 101 Gallery in Culver City. "Then people like me began to put these artists in nice-looking galleries and proved that's not true, and in the last three years I've begun to see high-end galleries start to show these same artists."

These days, L.A.-area galleries such as Crewest, Thinkspace Gallery, Gallery 1988, Lab 101, BLK/MRKT Gallery and the Corey Helford Gallery are featuring notable street artists such as Shepard Fairey, Buff Monster, Greg Simkins, Asylm and Kofie.

"My generation grew up with culture jamming and MTV, and this is what we relate to," says Cerasoli, 37. "Rather than wanting a Warhol, they want to hang an icon from their own era."

Street art encompasses spray-painted graffiti, stencil graffiti, sticker art, posters and even performance art in public spaces. Though it's illegal in many cases, purveyors of the form are quick to distinguish it from tagging and other gang-related activities.

"In contrast to gang graffiti, artistic graffiti has nothing to do with territory, threats or violence," says Crewest owner Alex "Man One" Poli. "Artistic graffiti is all about expression."

A respected graffiti artist in his own right, Poli moved his 5-year-old gallery from Alhambra to a bigger location in downtown L.A. last March and says his new gallery has been well received by the artistic community and is part of Gallery Row and the Downtown Art Walk.

"The new location brings people into the gallery who normally wouldn't think twice about a gallery featuring graffiti art," he says. "The art's really powerful and bold, and it really captures people's attention once they see it, and when they learn it's done with a spray-paint can, it really blows their mind."

For the artists, showing in galleries affords them the opportunity to flex their creative muscles.

For example, at a show a year and half ago, Buff Monster, who is best known for his silk-screen posters often featuring a character sprouting breast-like ears, built a fountain in the middle of a pool composed of six breasts rendered in 3-D.

"When you're driving on the street at 60 miles per hour, you have to be able to read what I say in a split second, and it doesn't show all my visual vocabulary," says the 27-year-old Hollywood artist, who opens a solo show at Gallery 1988 on Feb. 1. "The galleries offer a nice opportunity to create something really ambitious that you couldn't do on the streets."

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