Once thought of simply as vandalism, graffiti is gradually becoming more accepted. Yes, in a lot of cases it isn’t seen in such a positive light, however, the graffiti as an art form is slowly become much more appreciated. Celebrated graffiti artist, such as German-based Seak, New York-based Shepard Fairey, or French-based Blek le Rat, changed the perception of street art. Artist Lady Pink, often known as the “First Lady of Graffiti”, started her career in 1979 in New York City. Decades later she now has her artwork on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even Groningen Museum in Netherlands, challenging the idea that graffiti art solely belongs on the streets.
Arguably the most popular artist currently is Banksy. Banksy, an anonymous street artist, has been part of the scene for over two decades. Nominated for an Oscar for his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, he has had his artwork displayed in places from his hometown of New York to places like the Gaza Strip. He even had his own art exhibition in the United Kingdom called “Dismaland”, a twisted and sinister Disneyland, which was visited by many celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Jack Black. An enigma of sorts, Banksy has never been seen and his identity, whether it is a man, woman, or a group or artists, still remains a mystery. All of this contributes to the authentication of graffiti as a legitimate art form. While there is a certain mystique about graffiti, as reflected by artists like Banksy, this has in a way brought the art form to mainstream society.
Locally, a group of artist have been taking over the graffiti scene the last couple of years. Founder of Green Villain, Gregory D. Edgell, focuses on working with local business owners to create their art. Edgell, while not an artist, helps broker deals between Green Villain and businesses who have space available in order to display the art. Although the group is based in Jersey City, their art spans 25 different sites around Jersey City, Brooklyn, and Manhattan (see map below). While they have grown worldwide, the company began in 2009 with its base in the Clorox Bleach Factory. While their work can be seen all throughout Jersey City walls they also work on larger projects as well. Once a year Green Villain works with other artist to work on the Mural Program, which again is possible as a result of a collaboration with other businesses.
One of Green Villain’s largest exhibitions was in 2014 at the closed down Pep Boys Auto Center near Newport Centre on Marin Blvd. The group was able to negotiate a deal with new owners of the property, Forest City and G&S Investors, to give them and other graffiti artist in Jersey City permission to display their art in the 30,000 square foot building. At the start they were only given permission to work on the exterior wall facing the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, but after further negotiation they were allowed the whole building. Knowing that the exhibit would be temporary, they labeled the project as the “Demolition Exhibition”. The location was named #GVM004 as it was the fourth location for the Green Villain mural program. They used this hashtag to spread the word of the exhibit, eventually bringing together about 100 artist to work on the gallery, with over 4,000 people visiting the area. Although the exhibit was temporary, the location was locally known as the New Jersey Mecca of Graffiti, some say in a comparison of New York City’s “Mecca of Graffiti” 5 Pointz. The exhibit brought attention not only to Green Villain and many other upcoming artists, but to graffiti as an art form.
Green Villain was also able to work with Google under their new Street Art Collection website. Since the Demolition Exhibition was temporary, the Google Street Art Collection site gives viewers a glimpse of the exhibit using the google street view feature to capture the inside of the building, even after it was demolished. It also allows artist to keep their artwork alive forever, even if the murals are not at the present locations. In a way, the complete website enables a sort of “digital exhibition” which enables people from all around the world to view these exhibits. Along with hundreds of other artist online, users of the free site are able to view older Green Villain mural program exhibits, dating back to 2009 when the group was based out of the old Clorox Bleach factory. According to the Green Villain gallery on Google Culture Institute, the factory “was a safe haven for the graffiti artists, musician, and party goers – it was a brooding ground for visionaries.” Besides the so-called “urban art” available on the website, the website also displays popular tourism locations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Stonehenge, and Pompeii.
Although the company is primarily known for its mural art, Green Villain can be thought of as a production company instead. Aside from creating murals across New Jersey and New York, the group also creates music as well. Under their own label, Green Village, they launch new music every month, sometimes even collaborating with other artist. The group host monthly events to launch their new music, while other times they launch it on their own station, Green Village Radio. Their first musical debut came in 2014 when they launch their premiere EP called Number and Shapes Revisited. The Green Village website states that they have “a local vision with global reach” when it comes to their music. Lastly, the company creates clean looking videos to promote their work (see above). They cover many different facets of entertainment, not just urban art. While they like to keep their upcoming work a bit of a secret, they have launched new video on their Vimeo profile page showing that their next project will be a collaboration with So+So Studio on the Erie Cut. The Erie Cut, better known as the Bergen Arch, is an abandoned railroad line that runs through Bergen Hill. While no other details have been given about the project, we can rest assure that it will be an impressive piece.
While they like to keep a low profile and air of mystique about themselves, (total number of artists, next big project, etc.) the mission stays consistent. On their main website, founder Edgell stated the following: “The goal of Green Villain is to turn an artistic vision into a multi-faceted redevelopment plan radiating from Jersey City. We are creating the media infrastructure for a global art program rooted in the Hudson River Valley. This infrastructure is a replicable platform that we plan to expand into other cities – such as Paterson, Newark and Trenton. The art is part of the process; it is what attracts observers and allows people to see the beauty in a region. The opportunities in post-industrial cities fascinate us because they have unique possibilities for building a high-tech future on an industrial past. We are bringing fabric and substance to a city that is ripe for creative expression.”
Author Take: By promoting an open communal location for people to display their art it perhaps deters or minimizes other people from doing graffiti in unwanted sites. By giving artist a blank location (at that time) they were able to give first-time artists a great opportunity to try their art that they might not have been able to in another circumstance. It’s unfortunate that the town was not able to find a way to keep the location open further, but it is understandable as they are now working on the new Hudson West Exchange complex. As Green Villain founder Gregory Edgell states in an interview with NJ.com, “Without getting too philosophical, it’s kind of the epitome of graffiti in of itself because graffiti is temporary. It could be five seconds that something’s up or it could be five years. So this is kind of just the truest form of that.”
Showing the slow but growing positive attitude of graffiti art, Mana Contemporary, located at 888 Newark Avenue, opened the first permanent space committed to graffiti and street art, under the name Mana Museum of Urban Arts. Opening in 2014, they invited artists from all over the world to display their artwork in the new 100,000 Sq. Ft. location, known as the Mana Ice House, because of it’s prior purpose (ice factory).
Something that Green Villain was able to do perfectly was using social media. They were able to using the marketing tactics in such an effective way, which seemingly made them expand the company. They were smart in using hashtags as a form of geotagging, labeling mural locations (ex. #GVM004) in order to provide easier access to people to view them online.
While graffiti is slowly becoming a bit more acceptable, it is unfortunate that it is still seen as a delinquent activity. Sure graffiti sometimes does carry a negative stigma. It can be done on an unwilling location. Even worse, it can be done to promote violence or ownership of a territory. However, this excuse can be used for any forms of art and entertainment. When done right, graffiti can be be used to promote an idea or even tell a story.
Through my search for images to learn more about the Green Villain group, I came across a mural by artist Abdul Gonsalves, better known as Paws 21 in the graffiti universe. The mural adequately explains the importance of art in general. The quote on the mural states, “What does art mean to me? It’s the visualizations of how tribulations become inspirations for the work that you see.”
Here are a few others murals done by Green Villain members around Jersey City and New York City. The map below also showcases the locations of the murals and street views via Google Maps.
Featured Image Credit: Green Villain Demolition Exhibition Book