When he's not kicking back with hip-hop royalty, chilling inhis Harlem brownstone, having dinner with David LaChapelle or managing one ofhis numerous side-ventures -- most recently as a curatorial advisor to Jeffrey Deitch on MoCA's monumental "Artin the Streets" exhibition -- Fred "Fab 5 Freddy" Brathwaite can be foundpainting in a Brooklyn studio he shares with his old running buddy and fellowgraffiti artist Lenny McGurr, a/k/a Futura 2000. After putting art on hiatus for anumber of years to launch "Yo! MTV Raps," direct videos and maintain his status asplaya par excellence, Brathwaite is back with "New York: New Work," a solo exhibition that will be onview at Gallery 151 (350 Bowery) through July 1.
With the help of Art Production Fund and Swarovski,Brathwaite has produced a series of crystal bedecked pieces on the theme of boxersand show girls that are included in the current exhibition as well as a secondseries that harkens back to his graffiti work. Brathwaite's graffiti cred stems from an entire subway carhe painted in homage to Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can, foreboding his criticalrole as a bridge between the art world and the street. Co-Producing and actingin Charlie Ahearn's seminal film WildStyle, which told the story of how the downtown art scene of the '80sembraced uptown and vice versa, was another pivotal moment in Brathwaite'sevolution, straddling many worlds but never losingsight of his roots. "Working in film and TV has been very closelyassociated for me aesthetically with what I did as a painter," he says. "When Ilook back at it, I didn't plan to stay away from art for so long. I starteddirecting music videos to get stuff more immediately in front of an audienceand when the MTV thing dropped in right after it kept me in that lane. I was thinkingabout art but I wasn't making it on canvas."
Being in LA for the "Art in the Streets" opening brought thestory full-circle. "That show is a real culmination of a hell of a lot of people expressingthemselves. Jeffrey [Deitch] was one of the earliest champions of the work that me, Jean (Michel Basquiat), Keith(Haring), Kenny (Scharf) and Futura were making. He was literally the first guy inthe building then as the art buyer for Citibank. So as the director of MoCA today,I couldn't have thought of a better person to do the show."
There remain purists who maintain that graffiti loses itsenergy when placed in a museum setting, but Brathwaite is not one of them. Theongoing dialogue between the artist and the art world, he believes, is anecessary component of graffiti. "The MoCA show puts in historical referencethe pieces that created the movement, inspired people globally and led to its new manifestation street art."
As the man credited with connecting the graffiti hip-hopcommunity with the downtown scene immortalized in Blondie's 'Rapture" and GlennO'Brien's TV Party, Brathwaite is forever on the pulse, a pattern-recognitioncognoscenti who can make all the connections. "Walking into CBGB and seeingthat place completely scrawled with tags at a time when every subway stationwas I knew then that there was a connection. And we built on that."
With the MoCA show a certified blockbuster and scheduled for amodified run at the Brooklyn Museum in 2012, Brathwaite feels like it's time todip into the art world again. "What I didn't know [about the street artists oftoday] is how they all studied the blue print of what we did in the 80s. "Theyall saw Wild Style, they all saw Subway Art, they all saw Style Wars. At the opening, I was going up tomeet Shepard [Fairey] to say 'Yo, dude I want to shake your hand for helping toelect the President.' Before I can get that out of my mouth, he's gushing aboutall the shit he knows about me and what it meant to him. It was the same with Banksyand the guys in Bristol - Goldie, Tricky, Massive Attack -- they all had the Wild Style, Style Wars blueprint."
As time passes and people begin to look more and more on the'80s as a Golden Age of art and lifestyle, does Brathwaite feel any nostalgia? "Cant fight change," he says. "You willplay yourself out if you try to do that. If you look at history, New Yorkthings have been changing forever. Nothing has been the same for too long.Although we're in a period now with media when things move at hyper-speed comparatively,I've always been about now and tomorrow with a strong understanding of what'sgoing down."