Graffiti on trains or dissipated buildings is ubiquitous in cities like New York, London or Paris. But as the art world embraces street art, graffiti artists are moving away from illegal tagging and into the confines of a gallery. After spending a decade of painting anonymously in the streets of Paris, Gully – who still remains incognito – is bringing his vibrant, contemporary works to Opera Gallery in DIFC for his first major solo exhibition in Dubai, Beyond the Canvas, on show from Wednesday September 30 to Thursday October 15. Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at four works in the show, with the artist’s philosophy behind producing them.
1. Everything has the potential to be a canvas
Starting out as a teenager in Paris, Gully’s first pieces were created on his way to high school. Every day he would take a train and soon he found himself painting on the tracks, inside the trains and then on the outside of them. “In my mind, none of these surfaces belonged to anybody, they were just raw canvases for people to apply their signature to,” he says. Many of his works in the exhibition depict spaces of observation, such as museums and galleries, which suggest the surroundings are an integral part of the experience of a work of art.
2. The effects of art on society
“I promote the beauty of art in my paintings, while still paying respect to my roots, by subtly introducing graffiti to my canvases,” Gully says. He believes it’s his job to ask questions and to absorb the environment around him. “As artists, we spit out the results of complicated social, cultural and environmental interactions in our works.” Surprisingly, Gully has chosen to remain anonymous, but he is known to attend his own shows to hear viewers critique his pieces. “People have the right to love or hate my paintings. Listening to them [speak openly] would not be possible if I was not anonymous, and what I hear makes me grow.”
3. Influences and the effects of American culture
The various images of Americana and comic illustrations are sources Gully says have been an inspiration to him throughout his career. Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Alexander Calder are just a few artists referenced in his works. He says he uses this technique to tell stories with existing characters and paintings. “It’s important for me not to start from scratch, but from a culture that I spit my own message and vision back at.”
4. The art of storytelling
In this work titled Leyendecker meets Giacometti, Gully explains that his vision is supposed to relate to the mind of a child, and to see through his eyes. “The boy in the middle of the painting is intrigued by this tall figure who walks his dog as he passes him by. His sister walks like a robot, decidedly towards her destiny, like the route has already been mapped out in advance for her. She’s dragging her brother, as if she’s indicating the way to go, whereas he clearly wants to take his time. This frontier is to my eyes the limit between the world of adults and the world of children. Like most of us, we advance through life without paying attention to what surrounds us.”
Free. September 30 to October 15. Opera Gallery, DIFC (04 323 0909).
Graffiti three ways
Street Art Gallery is the only space in Dubai dedicated to graffiti artists. Scottish artist Charlie Anderson’s exhibition Love Will Tear Us Apart is on display until the end of the month.
Free. Daily 10am-7pm. Villa 23, 10B Street, Jumeirah 1 (055 888 8247).
Tokyo-based Australian artist Campbell La Pun specialises in a mishmash of colourful urban stencil pop art pieces and digital collages, such as this aerosol stencil on wood titled Tanks Tom Ate Toe Ann Sell Army Girl.
US$4,800 (Dhs17,630), www.drawdeck.com.
Learn to put all the elements of a comic into a cohesive narrative, including basic character design, writing, panel transitions and self-publishing.
Dhs1,050. Mon and Wed 7pm-9pm. Ongoing. Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha (04 341 4777).