If you pass by Vandevoort Place often enough, you may already know two things: 1. You’re not in Kansas anymore, and 2., Sweet Toof is in town.
The artist known for his signature hot-pink gums and gleaming choppers (with gold tooth) painted what he called his longest row of teeth ever across a building nearly a block long this week. In doing so, he covered the “You’re Not In Kansas Anymore” roll-down painted by Skewville in the same space during a block party last November. This isn’t Sweet Toof’s first visit to Brooklyn, or Bushwick; he’s hit walls and roofs on previous visits, and a couple years ago sunk his teeth into the entrance of Ad Hoc’s space, when it was Ad Hoc’s space. But what’s brought him back to Bushwick this time is his first New York solo exhibition, Dark Horse, which opens Friday at Factory Fresh.
I sat in the gallery’s studio with the artist talking about his new work. The series of classic oil paintings reflect Sweet Toof’s fine-art training and nod to 16th century Vanitas paintings. The classical settings feature modern themes that playfully reference what the artist dubs “the Battle of the Buff.” His characters, well-dressed skeletons who sport the familiar bubble-gum-pink gums and teeth, engage in polo-field battles on horseback with paint rollers. Sometimes characters are invading Trojan-horse style, striving heroically to bring color and lightness to drab, colorless environments; in other scenes, a painter dodges the vandal squad, skeleton horse replacing the modern bicycle as the mode of escape. The skulls and skeletons convey his affection for Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions, which feature skulls as symbols of life and rebirth, but are also a gesture of respect for friends who have passed away.
An art teacher once told Sweet Toof, “the only thing about art is that you never retire,” but the warning was more an inducement than a deterrent for the artist, who’s been engaged in his own battle of the buff since writing his first tag in ’86. What began as letterforms and characters evolved into drawing and comics, and led him to art school, but he never stopped painting in the streets. In fact, the signature Sweet Toof gums and teeth didn’t start showing up around London and other cities until around 2005.
One inevitable consequence of waging a decades-long battle is that the artist is shy and cautious about his name and image, a caution that sometimes even prevents him from attending his own openings. And Sweet Toof’s concern for privacy has likely only increased since footage of him with friends (and now-former crew) Burning Candy was included in Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Despite the risks, Sweet Toof likely won’t give up painting in the streets anytime soon, if ever. He says looking for a spot is primal, and compares the search to an animal’s hunting instinct. Moonlight, danger and adrenaline mix in with a street artist’s paint to become elements of the final painting as much as the pigment itself. As the art teacher said, you never retire from art. But unlike gallery art, street art is a habit that becomes harder and harder to pursue, a predicament even Sweet Toof concedes has him slowing down--a little; walking more, running less. “I’m not as crazy as I used to be, I’ve got a lot more to lose these days.”
Four days before the opening, the Factory Fresh space seems to be nearly ready. The long outside wall is finished, as is a set of teeth that completely covers the walls of the gallery’s outdoor alcove space; the interior doorways are similarly painted, creating a tunnel of teeth. The canvases, which were shipped from Sweet Toof’s East London home base and stretched on frames in the gallery’s studio, are already hanging in place. There are plans to re-stretch one large canvas, but otherwise the artist hopes prep work will be wrapped up soon, so he will have a couple of days before the opening to relax, check out the neighborhood.
We walk outside and take his picture in front of a set of teeth and gums much larger than himself. As he conceals his face behind a plastic Halloween cow-mask and a masquerade-ball-style Sweet Toof row of teeth & gums, I ask if he’ll be doing other collaborations around the neighborhood while he’s in town. His face changes, and he looks anxious and hopeful, very much the self-described graffaholic who’s been at it since he was 13. He looks up at our fickle spring sky, which has turned gray and looks vaguely London-y. “Weather depending,” he says, smiling. Dark Horse, by Sweet Toof Opening April 29, 2001, 7-10 PM Closing May 22, 2011 Factory Fresh 1053 Flushing Avenue Bushwick, Brooklyn By Robin Grearson For shots of the up coming show see below:
Fresh from the mad genius web designers at Wefail comes Die Hipster, a humorous and interesting web game that centers on single hipster and his goal of suicide. The gameplay is a bit tricky and can be frustrating at times, but the detail and depth of the game itself is incredible; the landscape being nearly indistinguishable from certain spots in Morgantown. Its certainly fun to explore, to throw your character to his death over and over again, or to spend time furthering his hipter-fication in order to earn trophies in the afterlife. They say the hipster is dead. Go kill him.