Canadian-American artist Gabriel “Specter” Reese has only been in New York City for three years, but he’s already made an indelible impression on the street art scene. As a kid living in Toronto he sketched and painted the streets of Montreal with the Kops crew, but he longed to take his art all over the world, including to New York and other American cities. However, the politics of the conservative Bush administration put that wish on hold.
“I didn’t want to be associated with what was going on [in America],” he told Flavorpill.com in 2009. But before long, Reese won a grant to come to the United States to pursue his art, another stretch of a long journey that started in the mid-1990s.
Since his arrival, the offers have been pouring in. His work has been featured in countless gallery shows and he’s been commissioned to do several large public works in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including one for the New York Department of Transportation’s Urban Art initiative. In addition, there’s the constant pursuit of his more personal street art projects.
Unlike much of what New Yorkers see on the street, such as stencils, tagging, and even silk-screened works, Reese’s work is all done by hand. Even more intriguing is the fact that, despite his immense talents as a draftsman and painter, he also explores creating art in three dimensions. Reese is among the world’s few artists who create interesting and relevant sculptural pieces for the street, the place he ultimately prefers to show his work.
“When you work outdoors, you already have a lot of information, such as signs, competing colors, and more that influence your creation,” he said. “It’s up to each street artist to decide if he or she wants to bring the work indoors [in a gallery or museum]. It’s great for some, but it doesn’t work for others.”
Still, little if any of Reese’s work is self-serving: Most of it has a compelling social message, such as his attention to New York’s growing homeless population and its ongoing problems with gentrification. His artist’s statement sums it up more succinctly: “[Reese’s] striking paintings and sculptures document change, celebrate the marginalized, and ultimately act as monuments to common urban experience.”
In one series we see immigrant workers, in another cheeky “advertisements” that mock our ongoing battle with gentrification, and yet another that documents the disappearing storefronts of New York’s mom and pop businesses, this time recreated in Paris. The results are amazing because, in addition to being beautifully and sensitively articulated, they immediately call the viewer’s attention to some greater, larger issue, even without words.
When asked about why he uses his art in this way, Reese is incredibly modest. “I often work with social issues because that’s the sort of person I am,” he told Bloginity. “I think that each artist needs to figure out what is important to him or her and not look to others for approval.”
Another curious drive of Reese’s has been to literally restore and remix the art that’s already on the street. Much of the art he restores is in a terrible state of decomposition before he goes in and makes the work collaborative, as he has done in the past to pieces by Swoon, Faile, and others. When we asked him about the collaborations, Reese’s modesty surfaced again. “I think they all liked [the altered works],” he said, “but I don’t care either way. It’s not about them or me. I am just reaffirming the fragility and impermanence of street art.” Check out a sampling of Reese’s works from the last few years in our gallery. To learn more about Reese and his work, head over to his website at http://www.specterart.com.