New York has always been seen as one of the starting points for graffiti. Indeed, it’s embedded into the everyday experience in that city, seen on the rooftops as you take the train from into Manhattan, scribbled on the subway. Graffiti is everywhere in that town, especially when you cross the East River and head into Brooklyn.
Brooklyn-based artist Joseph Tierney loves graffiti, you can see it almost every piece of work he does. It draws heavily on New York’s definitive style, and he sees the work as something that fights back against gentrification, a problem that’s been plaguing Brooklyn for decades. And while Brooklyn has plenty of amazing street art, he’s quick to call out the difference between it and graffiti.
Rime doesn’t mince words about the difference, either. His website describes street art as “Privileged motherfuckers flock to “hot spots” and commutable convenience. Digestible. The urban adventure… Art without soul. Surface high. Flat excitement. Commercials.” By contrast, he describes graffiti as “Full bodied application. Complicated motherfucker’s sport. Interaction. Force play. Passion… Handmade master of your craft. Contradictive self.”
The binary is clear for Rime. One happens in spite of development, it calls out and challenges. The other happens as a result, which is why his most recent claim to fame is so important to not only his approach to art, but to him as an artist.
Rime is perhaps most recently famous, unfortunately, for plagiarism, as in someone stealing his work for their own benefit and leaving him without proper compensation. The controversy arose in the early months of 2015, when Italian designer Moschino debuted a dress by their designer Jeremy Scott that featured a mural Rime had done in Detroit. The mural, called “Vandal Eyes” was a commission piece that Rime did on the side of a building in Detroit, the same place where Jeremy Scott hosted a Fall Fashion event in the late parts of 2014. By May, superstar singer Katy Perry was roped into the controversy when Moschino allegedly paid her to wear it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala. Rime, never one to shy away from controversy, stated that “his credibility as a graffiti artist was compromised by inclusion in such a crass and commercial publicity stunt.” The lawsuit, at the time of writing this, has not been settled.
In many ways, Rime’s art is representative of the history of graffiti as a whole. Unapologetic, working outside the normal bounds of gallery space constraints or legal loopholes, his work is against coopting, turning mainstream, and being hung in coffee shops. And it is especially ironic that it ended up on a high fashion dress at one of New York’s most famous, and famously exclusive, art museums. But like his now-infamous mural, Rime’s work watches and is unashamed of its extra-legal status. There is art for those who want to pave over, and there is art for those who want to fight. At least, that’s what Rime’s art expresses.