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Graffiti Art Born On New York Subway Reaches London

January 18, 1985

LONDON (AP) _ New York’s graffiti art reached London on Thursday to test British reaction.

″I don’t know if it will work here,″ said an art dealer, Edward Totah. ″The British are less adventurous than Americans when it comes to buying art.″

Totah, a Lebanese with an art gallery in London, persuaded the Fun Gallery on New York City’s East 10th Street to bring over the snazzy, highly colorful art. So-called graffiti art developed from the defacing of New York City subway cars, as vandals used spray paints and felt-tipped marker pens to scrawl virtually illegible slogans and nicknames both inside and outside the cars.

The pictures displayed by Fun Gallery’s manager, Elayne King, are by artists who sport professional names that seem to match their work: Doze, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Lee, Score and Zephyr.

″Doing the trains was illegal so nobody signed their real names,″ said Ms. King, 27.

The pictures are made with felt marker pens and spray paint on paper or board.

″They’re street language, romantic, very alive, often political or aimed at the police - it’s a form of urban communication,″ Ms. King said with a grin.

″We showed it at the contemporary art fair in Zurich two months ago and it sold. Back home, it is bought by collectors, including very rich ones who like to have an example of everything that’s being done.″

The graffiti art went on show at the 2nd International Contemporary Art Fair in west London’s Olympia Grand Hall, a four-day event that displays works by over 1,000 artists, marketed by 120 dealers in 22 countries.

The original graffiti sprayers might have been the fastest art workers of all time.

″They had to be quick,″ said Ms. King.

″They had to climb fences to reach the trains, which were all collected together at night on the tracks away from the stations. That meant dodging the police so there was no time to ponder.

″I think the artists did it originally because they wanted to see their adopted names up. Now the best can make a living from it.

″Some of them graduated to pop art, like Fab 5 Freddy, who’s one of the original graffiti kings. He did a takeoff of Andy Warhol’s soup cans.″

Alongside the ″mature″ graffiti art are efforts by New York City youngsters for a Christmas show.

Ms. King said one of those small pictures sells for $100. Pictures by well- known artists of this school, like Futura, may run as high as 6,800 dollars.

Asked about the commission dealers get for selling a work, King said, ″Half for the artist, half for the gallery,″ she said.

Will graffiti art last?

″Who knows,″ said Ms. King. ″So buy one now.″

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