How Faith47 Translates Her Public Art for the Gallery
By Mike Steyels
There’s always a battle within an artist when it comes to bringing street art or graffiti into the confines of a gallery. The ideas that make art work in a public space don’t always translate well when brought indoors. Usually, the problem is one of tone, learning to use an ‘indoor voice.’ In the street, most artists clamber for attention, struggling to be heard above the din of noise created by hundreds or thousands of people crammed into one area together, all going about their own business. But when you’ve got the room to yourself, there’s no need to yell.
Faith47 has never tried to dominate a space though. The power of her public work is actually created by absorbing itself into its surroundings. She adopts the texture and colors of the surface being painted on and uses its shapes to find a composition. Rather than erasing what’s already there, she accentuates it. The paintings take into consideration the area and work within that context, which is frequently reflected in the content of her work, like portraits of Durban street vendors or images of abandoned cars.
So the question is different for her when it comes to a gallery show. How does she continue along that path, now that she’s speaking to a more selective public who have come to see her create something from scratch? The answer can be found at her show at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York, which opened this week, where she managed to combine the many and separate human stories from her prolific travels into one collective whole.
Called Aqua Regalia, the purpose of the show is to make the everyday sacred, and its centerpiece is a shrine dedicated to objects she’s gathered along her world-wide way. An assemblage of truly random bits and pieces, it does accomplish this. Under a shed roof addition with candles and incense lit at its base, a mix-and-match of shelves host things like pill bottles, little boxes, gold flakes, and lanterns. Pasted and nailed to the wall are sketches, old signs, and maps. Various types of paper currency in small amounts are strung across the top like festive decorations. Leaves kept pressed in books even make the cut. In the middle of it all is one of her canvases, adding a touch of regalness to the whole scene.
All the objects are all individual little items, odd pieces of ephemera, but Faith arranges them all together in a way that captures her aesthetic. The familiar rough textures and angular lines with golden bits and splashes run all throughout it. While the items on display may only be discarded, leftover objects that even the individuals they once belonged to may have deemed worthless, together they tell an engaging story full of mystery, loss, and history.
Opposed to organized religion in her personal beliefs, the South African artist reimagines religious imagery in a way that worships mankind and nature. The Santeria-style candles and ritual use of incense, the saint-like figures, and influence of sacred geometry are all used for secular purposes, drawing our spiritual gaze down towards earthly things.
She uses found objects for the texture behind paintings and drawings shown as well, recreating the feeling of her murals. There’s heavily worn, compressed wood panels, old manilla files, and pamphlets that all tell something of a tale in themselves. Blank surfaces are used as well, and she creates textures of her own that resemble the lived-in and worn-down walls she so much admires. Faith uses techniques like layering transparent paint to give the appearance of stains, cracking gold leaf stripes that may as well have battled the elements bravely, drips appearing as grooves across canvases, the edges of stencil oversprayings, and blotches that mirror darkened gum stuck to a side walk. She also frames collages with as diverse an input as a well-papered wall on a busy strip, full of sketches, lottery tickets, notes, and posters from all over the globe.
As interesting as her paintings and pieces are, they feel like small scale replicas, like gift-shop versions of her larger murals. There’s value in that, the ability for your average person (who can afford it) to hang their own piece of hers at home or their place of work. But it’s obvious she’s more passionate about the street having ownership over her work.
The truest distillation of all the urban environments she’s experienced and interacted with is found with the shrine centerpiece. As an artist that has traveled to many more places than the majority of people, combined with her guerrilla experiences as a street artist exploring spots overlooked by even those living nearby, she’s seen so much. Those stories deserve to travel too. And Faith47 offers us a glimpse of them, presented in a way that captures her personal style.