Saturday, September 6, 2014

Outdoor Gallery: A Celebration of Art and Its Documentation With Author Yoav Litvin & Artist Chris Stain

Last week I was thrilled to attend a presentation titled after the book "Outdoor Gallery" featuring author Yoav Litvin and guest speaker Chris Stain at Bluestockings Book Store and activist center on the lower east side of Manhattan. In a winning combo of artist plus documenter and a real treat for us diehard graffiti and street art fans, Litvin and Stain spoke back-to-back about their work. Litvin began by outlining his passion for street art that led to the production of Outdoor Gallery, showing slides from the book and discussing his documentation style. Then Stain took the stage and discussed his personal evolution as an artist, stemming from his youth through his teen years transcending from graffiti and leading to his masterful stenciling we are well familiar with.

Stain and Litvin
As a prelude to the evening at Bluestockings, Litvin posted some text on his Facebook and Instagram accounts that I found intriguing and thought provoking:
“Can one truly understand artwork without acknowledging the talented mind that created it? Without appreciating the artist in the context of the reality it was created?”

And that's exactly what made this evening so enjoyable, the eloquent presentation of the personal and societal contexts within which street art is set. 

Chris Stain spoke of his evolution leading to a successful career as an artist and educator and how it all came together for him creatively. Accompanying his part of the presentation were slides of his more recognizable pieces whose work echoes progressive and social agendas. His work echoes his experiences growing up within a blue-collar environment as an inner city kid, with images of hard work, family struggles and more. Stain's love of art, graphics and writing graffiti began at the young age of 11. 

In the tenth grade he actually got arrested for "writing" and was grounded for two months. Not a problem as he was able to sit in his room and create art everyday! As a result his father noticed his devotion to the art form and allowed him to paint his room and create continuously. He then became interested in graphic arts and joined a new art class in his school where he evolved from lettering to stenciling. Soon his small stencils became more elaborate and he started getting some recognition for his skills. He then began shooting his own images, mainly portraits of inner city youth, creating stencils from them and strategically placing them throughout what he felt were communities that would appreciate and emotionally connect to his images. As an art teacher, Stain has photographed many of the kids he has instructed over the years and has transferred several of these portraits onto walls to make some of the most vivid and heartfelt pieces of art around.

Stain works with many youth who have had trouble in at home, school or with the law. In his teachings, he attempts to show them that their lives are important and that they too can express themselves through art, making a positive and lasting impact. Stain continues to work with our youth and recently, together with Billy Mode and in collaboration with the organization Cre8tive Youthink, finished an enormous project on the side of a building in Brooklyn.
This event marks the conclusion of the Outdoor Gallery talks in New York City that Yoav Litvin has organized over the past few weeks. Litvin has several more events planned outside NYC- details to come on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: (@nookyelur)

I had the chance to ask Litvin a few questions:

What was the purpose of these events?
These events were the final part of my book project. They aim to support Independent bookstores throughout NYC and a chance to talk about the renaissance of art that is occurring right here and now! The events are also a wonderful opportunity to showcase artists featured in Outdoor Gallery by providing a stage on which they can talk about their work and how it fits within the context of our cityscape. Support for art and independent businesses go well with the anti-consumerist, anti-corporate messages inherent within street art.

What’s the essence of street art for you in one sentence?
It’s so many different things for different people. But for me street art is a non-violent form of rebellion against norms and taboos in human society, including the traditional art establishment.

What do you emphasize in your talks?
I purposefully teamed up with artists for these talks so that the audience hears first-hand accounts of what its like to work on the streets as an artist. Here at Bluestockings with Chris Stain and previously at Word bookstore with subway art maverick Jilly Ballistic. I want to emphasize the importance of documentation for this ephemeral medium, and elaborate on my personal style and narrative conveyed in Outdoor Gallery.
I feel Outdoor Gallery is a real contemporary cultural snap shot and will be viewed so in the future, featuring 46 of the most prolific artists in NYC. However, it is important to stress that it is not exhaustive- there are many more artists which I did not showcase in the book for a variety of reasons, most of all because I’m only human. 

What’s your bottom line? Outline one take-home message you’d like people to leave with after attending one of these talks?
If there's one take home message it is that graffiti and street art are so rich and should be appreciated as such. They are extremely diverse art forms with regards to the artists, their motivations, mediums, techniques, influences and I try my best to bring that out in my book using a variety of design and narrative techniques. I also emphasize the central role of graffiti in the late sixtees and seventees as a movement that paved the way for the explosion of art we see today on the streets worldwide. Street art and graffiti should be celebrated, especially here in their birthplace- New York City! Outdoor Gallery is my contribution to the celebration.
Stain and Litvin
Artist Raquel Echanique & Stain

Stain with collaborating artist Billy Mode
For more information on the author, artist and future events visit: Yoav Litvin / Outdoor Gallery at, Twitter and Instagram: @nookyelur
Chris Stain at, Twitter Instagram: @leehalfpenny