High above Fulton Street, on the 69th floor of a 540 meter-high building in Lower Manhattan, one can’t help but notice the bizarre sight of two life-size ‘vandal’ Gummy Bears, an unashamedly flamboyant Lambourghini in “auto couture” or the incriminating evidence of spray paint, stencils and wheat paste. Welcome to the gallery in the sky at 4 World Trade Center, an exhibition of New York street art, where neck tats and snapbacks meet pinstripes and braces.
Walls and floors erupt with vibrant colour and imagery usually found at street level in parts of the Lower East Side or Williamsburg. But, unlike the art that exists at ground level, this is strictly indoors, several hundred feet above the street and definitely NOT illegal. One of the featured artists, BD WHITE, describes his own work as “mindful vandalism” while the consultant, Robert Marcucci, recently called the exhibition a “contradiction on all levels” – a “blend of both inner-city street art tension and fine-art meditation” in a corporate setting”.
Watch the ART4WTC video above – produced and directed by Bobby Grandone and Joshua B. Geyer.
The artists were invited by creative consultant Robert Marcucci and Dara McQuillan, chief marketing officer for Larry Silverstein, the developer of the 72-story building.
LAYER CAKE, aka Sean Sullivan, is a New York-born and multi-faceted artist involved in music production, clothing, and his signature style stencil art. “My uncle was a graffiti artist, his friends from the neighbourhood were graffiti artists. I had access to their ‘black books’ and gained a knowledge of how markers and their pigments worked”, says the unassuming Sullivan.
As a kid growing up on the streets of New York City, Sullivan acquired the skills of the wily urban graffiti artist through osmosis. On one occasion the artist discovered that by attaching a magnet to the end of a spray can, the internal ‘pea ball’ wouldn’t rattle when shaken, thus eluding the authorities. “I learnt the mischievous parts of graffiti from a very young age”, he says, with a cheeky grin.
But Sullivan’s connection with the new World Trade Centre goes far deeper than the expressive layers of spray paint on partitions and reinforced concrete that make up the surrounding walls.
His personal journey to the 69th floor began while having breakfast back in 2001. It was a typically bright September morning in New York. “I had just turned 21 and was listening to the Howard Stern Show in an appartment on 42nd Street when the terrorist attacks were announced live on-air”.
The artist’s father, a serving member of the NYPD Bomb Squad, was immediately ordered to the site. “My father got hurt on 9/11 and lost one of his close friends. I was down here on the day searching for him and eventually found him. When I asked him where was the safest place to go, he said the Bronx”. Without delay, Sullivan took his father to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to his knees and eye.
“I wanted to do something right away”, Sullivan says of his innitial reaction when first approached to be part of #ART4WTC.
Being a young graffiti artist growing up on the streets of New York, fellow street artist and co-exhibitor, ZIMER, managed to avoid most trouble. “Graffiti did the exact opposite. It gave me something to do”, he says. “It can be very destructive, it can ruin people’s buildings. It’s just how you use it.”
Zimer equates the art and practice of graffiti to that of skateboarding – a constructive skill that requires large amounts of practice, providing structure to a young life that could, otherwise, be bound for delinquency. “Like graffiti, skateboarding can ruin property, benches and mess up marble”, he says. “It just depends on how you use it”.
Like his friend Layer Cake, Zimer’s memories of 9/11 are still vivid: “You could see it and you could smell it”, he says of his experience as a Brooklyn highschool student during 9/11 attacks. “It was unlike any other day, ever. It changed everything. Everyone was different after that”.
To find out more about the artists exhibiting go to World Trade Gallery.
With special thanks to Joe Woolhead, Robert Marcucci, Bobby Grandone and Josh Guyer in New York.
Read our profile of IRISH PHOTOGRAPHER AND RESIDENT NEW YORKER JOE WOOLHEAD’S JOURNEY IN PICTURES – from 9/11, Ground Zero and the new World Trade Centre.
Check out the latest issue of Murmur below – featuring Street Artists of the World Trade Centre and a photography special.