In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition.
To be honest, I was beginning to think Rust Magic was never going to happen. In fact, it would have been a cruel twist of irony if local graffiti artist Saratoga Sake had never finished his new show at the Ice Gallery space (1955 Julian Ave.) in Logan Heights. Given the ubiquity of graffiti and so-called “street art” these days, not to mention the rapid speed at which it is made, I was certainly puzzled by the consistent delays especially when the show was originally scheduled to open back in March.
I’m happy to report that the show was worth the wait, but it’s not all that surprising considering neither the artist nor the gallery itself does anything half-assed. On the surface, Rust Magic could simply be seen as a tribute to the graffiti that was prominent in the New York City “bombing” days of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The days when crews with names such as the 3 Yard Boys and Death Squad sneakily crafted big, bold works on the facades of subway trains, likely not realizing at the time that they were giving birth to a movement much larger than themselves.
Just as I imagine it was with those vintage trains, it’s both easy and tempting to lose yourself in the vibrant colors and subtle twists within Sake’s huge mural. It helps that the show also includes a replica of an R17 subway car suspended from the ceiling, as well as a 10-minute audio loop of subway sounds that was originally recorded in 1986. These two additions take what would have otherwise been an enjoyable showcase of Sake getting back to his graffiti roots and turn it into a grand statement: A testament rather than a tribute. With one-half of the gallery blank and the other half covered in Sake’s art—as well as one-half of the train car covered in graffiti while the other is unmarked—the artist is saying something about both the current omnipresence of graffiti, as well as the fact that, ironically, the art form is almost never found in the subway anymore.
It’s almost hard now to think that there was once a time when graffiti was considered dangerous. I did experience a slight sense of dread while attempting to take in Rust Magic, but not because the work is in any way dangerous. Rather, I fear that no one would look at it and see it as threatening. After all, there’s really no danger in paying tribute to something, however well it’s executed.