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Art springs to life

October 8, 2018

GREENWICH — When Epic Uno was growing up in Puerto Rico, his brothers often let him tag along when they went surfing.

But the 8-year-old didn’t grab a board and catch a wave. He sat in the sand and drew.

Decades later, Epic Uno is still transfixed by art, especially the sure lines and saturated colors of the graffiti he’s found on the streets of his homeland and his adopted home of New York City.

“It’s the first thing that I saw as a kid that inspired me to want to do art,” said the artist, who now lives with his family in Cos Cob. “It was always present. It was always inspiring to me. It was something I always wanted to do.”

Local art fans can literally surround themselves with Epic Uno’s art Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Greenwich Arts Council’s Arts Alive!, an annual evening of performance art, live music, dance, magic and more at the Bendheim Gallery. Epic Uno is creating a graffiti art mural to transform an entire room at the gallery, and he will be working on his vision, called “Ode to Graffiti,” that night.

The event will also feature the abstract photography of Greenwich native George Phelps and works by 18 others, including renowned pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami and Betty Ball, who will offer her limited-edition color intaglio prints at a special event-only price. Many of the artists will be on hand to greet fans and discuss their work.

Running through Nov. 7, “Deconstruction” seeks to link the historical origins of high art with contemporary images and iconography, reinventing modern culture’s interpretation of art. Often taking familiar images and objects, these artists apply their own unique contemporary techniques, evocatively testing senses and triggering memories along the way.

Phelps, a Brunswick School alum who now lives in upstate New York, became a professional photographer after spending his youth capturing family vacations and his own rambles through nature on film.

“I always seemed to have camera with me,” he said.

Having earned a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture, metal, ceramic and wood at St. Lawrence University, Phelps went on to add a bachelor’s degree in advertising photography from Rochester Institute of Technology before setting out on his own, shooting images for Bloomingdale’s lingerie catalogs, movie posters and Rolling Stone covers.

An avid rare shell collector, Phelps most enjoys finding one-of-a-kind images from early-morning walks, often what’s left behind by waves, wind and other natural phenomenon. He’s interested to see what visitors will find in the series of large prints he will show in “Deconstruction,” the new exhibition to be unveiled Thursday.

“They’re very cool designs,” Phelps said of the nature-based photos. “It’s good for starting a conversation.”

Though he always drew, Epic Uno didn’t decide to throw himself into graffiti until he was in his 20s in 2005. A commercial design graduate of the esteemed Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he is a Manhattan-based art director, often using his graffiti expertise to inform his design for packaging, videos, photography and more.

Epic Uno said he’s drawn to the “architectural, colorful explosion” of graffiti and how a few simple letters or a name can grow into an intricate and unique tag over time.

“I became enamored with each artist’s evolution of their name,” he said. “And they’re free-handing it with spray paint. There’s a really big range of skill that you start to see when you’re really familiar with what graffiti is.

“You’ve learned through every stroke.”

Epic Uno knows some dismiss his preferred form as criminal vandalism — and he understands their point.

“It’s not a misconception,” he said. “For some artists there’s a sense of respect. For some, the main intent is to destroy and get their name out. They’re not all art. They’re not all graffiti. They’re not all vandalism.

“I tell (critics) that it’s a lot bigger and they need to be open to that.”

Epic Uno and others strive to create an “elevated urban typography” from the diverse range of choices that make up graffiti.

And when it’s time for a new artist to “buff” one of their finished walls and cover it with their own visions?

“It comes with the territory,” he said.

Arts Alive! 2018 runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at Bendheim Gallery, 299 Greenwich Avenue. The evening includes gourmet hors d’oeuvres by Douro’s Chef Rui, a raw bar by the Blue Ribbon Fish Company of New York and wine and cocktails by Vals’ Liquor of Greenwich. Epic Uno’s graffiti wall is sponsored by Lifewatr and Bubly sparkling water. For tickets, visit www.greenwichartscouncil.org/Arts-Alive.html.

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