Feathered Bastard

Shepard Fairey, Watch Your Back: Keith Haring Meets DOSE at Scottsdale's Bentley Gallery

For those who doubt Phoenix graffiti writers have the stuff to invade the realm of fine art, Scottsdale's Bentley Gallery has a one word rebuttal: DOSE. The PHX's sultan of street art is known for his work with the Forever in Control art collective, which is in turn known for rocking walls from downtown Phoenix to the barrios of L.A. and back again. Now DOSE's aerosol stylings can be appreciated right along with the radiant babies and modern hieroglyphics of Manhattan art icon Keith Haring in a show that continues till March 3.

Indeed, before you get to the chalk drawings and orgiastic pop art doodlings that Haring once gave away or left on New York subway platforms for any takers (and now will run you anywhere from $30K to $1.2 mil), you'll see DOSE's entrance art, which is simply Haring's moniker writ large on a wall, old-school graf style. It's similar to the sort of tags you'd see a lot of in New York back in the '80s, when the graffiti then in vogue was nearly ubiquitous, long before Rudy Giuliani became mayor and graffiti abatement was given equal billing with preventing rapes in Central Park.

According to DOSE, the Bentley Gallery was looking for a local writer with a name, and someone in the know pointed the owner his way. Now DOSE and BG are discussing the possibility of a full-on, graffiti show, drawing from Phoenix's talent base, but set square in the moneyed midst of Marshall Way. Let's hope it happens.

From Forever in Control to spraycan Picassos like The Mac, there's more than enough talent in Sand Land. And the trend of accepting graffiti artists into the fine art fold is already well established in elite galleries on both coasts. Other than the usual suspects in that art swap meet known as First Friday, it's a trend that's yet to blindside greater Phoenix's "uptown," if you can call it that, in Scottsdale. After all, Scottsdale's rich, addled alter kockers are for the most part hellbent on buying more cowboy art. It'd be kinda hard to explain that DOSE piece by the mantle to a bridge-club social in Fountain Hills.

And there's no point in trying to divorce street art from the very thing that makes it exciting: The fact that it's usually against the law. Shepard Fairey's famous "Hope" portrait of Obama was recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., though Fairey continues to get arrested for posting his images on the property of municipalities, abandoned houses, billboards, you name it. (The guy's like the Energizer Bunny. I tried following him around L.A. once as he went "bombing." Nearly had a coronary doing so.) Fairey was recently nabbed in Beantown, just as a massive exhibit of his work was opening at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. The exhibit was sponsored by corporate giant Levi Strauss.

London stencil king Banksy is the scourge of Scotland Yard, yet his work sells for six figures, as long as the buyer can find a way to get it off the wall it was illegally affixed to. Keith Haring himself was popped on more than one occasion by Gotham's finest for "criminal mischief," whatever that is.And I once interviewed San Francisco's Barry McGee, aka, "Twist," before a show of his art was to open at UCLA's Hammer Museum several years ago. He admitted to me that he would likely be tagging that evening, though under another name.

You see, all true artists are outlaws in one way or another, but street artists turn that metaphor into a literal truth.

Other than The Mac, DOSE is one of the few Phoenix graf artists I've met in town with the drive to take his art to the next level. Along with the others in Forever in Control, he's been doing more and more legal walls of late, like at Miranda's Custom Cars and the Madison Event Center. But as The Mac once pointed out to me, Phoenix is not just racked with an anti-graffiti mindset, the city is also anti-art. A show of local graffiti artists by some ritzy salon would be a radical idea for our relatively provincial megalopolis. All the more reason to do it. 

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons