For the past few weeks, visitors to The Outsiders art gallery in Soho, London, have been treated to an exciting new street art exhibition. Saber: The Ugly American is the latest show put together by Saber, the Californian graffiti legend who needs little in the way of an introduction.
Saber found mainstream notoriety in 1997, after painting what was classed as the world’s biggest piece of graffiti on the banks of the Los Angeles River. The piece measured 250 by 55 feet, was visible from satellites, and lasted an impressive 12 years before removal. In an act of similarly epic proportions, the artist also hired a number of sky-writing planes to spread controversial political messages above the New York City and Los Angeles skylines. His messages criticised plans to outlaw artistic murals, as well as cuts to public services in the arts.
Although on a much smaller scale, we can now find this same sense of excitement and innovation on the walls of The Outsiders. Saber: The Ugly American ran for a number of weeks last year at The Outsiders Newcastle, but due to popular demand the collection has now made its way to our capital city, where it will remain until Saturday February 15th 2014.
Saber: The Ugly American showcases the urban artist’s unique talent for combining the traditional graffiti of the streets with the modern art gallery environment. The artist’s style of street art dates back to Los Angeles in the 1980’s and 1990’s, with abstract letterforms, bright colours and jagged edges featured on almost every piece. However, in the gallery setting Saber has combined the traditional aerosol spray can with the likes of charcoal, ink and acrylics. Within the walls of The Outsiders you will find pieces of all different sizes on a variety of materials, many painted directly onto wooden sheets and pallets.
A number of the pieces featured in the Saber: The Ugly American exhibition show the American stars and stripes and the British Union Jack painted, carved or scratched into wooden sheets with graffiti letterforms and other abstract designs scrawled over the top. Aside from looking very visually striking, these pieces resonate with the artist’s previous work with the American flag, and form the basis for the exhibition’s intriguing name.
“The Ugly American” is direct a reference to the 1958 novel of the same name, which highlights the international perceptions of Americans and became a Marlon Brando film in the 1960’s. Similarly, Saber has attempted to address what he refers to as today’s “self-centred…self-preserved” American society, and the foul excesses which feature in many peoples’ perceptions of America. The artist cites the likes of healthcare, online privacy and war as “cracks” in American society, and the inspiration for the contradictions within his beautiful yet sinister pieces of work.
Sabre: The Ugly American will run for another couple of weeks, so if you haven’t already checked it out, we’d advise doing so. Fans of graffiti art will especially enjoy the experience, but others are also likely to enjoy the exhibition. In fact, in the words of the artist himself, “I want an average person who knows nothing about graffiti to say, ʻThis is a beautiful painting.ʼ Thatʼs the most important thing to me.”
Saber: The Ugly American runs at the The Outsiders in Soho until Saturday February 15th.