“I don’t like Graffiti” states French artist Zevs, who is known for his street-art work and is currently showing at The Container in Daikanyama.
“Heaven” presents two pieces. The first — a poster depicting a young couple in New York surrounded by electronics, while the Apple logo bears down from behind— is a recreation of German painter Lucas Cranach the Younger’s “Adam & Eve” (1549). The forbidden fruit is replaced by an iPhone, while iPads reveal much more.
The other piece displays a phantom logo revealing its true self only when approached: an empty laptop case with a projected Apple mark, cast in an almost unholy light. As trompe l’oeil, these visual gags merely scratch the surface of Zevs’ own brand of urban commentary, one that treats these images as irreverently as he does the city, his metaphor for an ever-changing studio.
As street art, his work is more courageous than graffiti, evolved from marks of protest to playing with an immaterial canvas of light and visibility. Yet it retains graffiti-culture’s sense of self awareness that is limiting, and Zevs recognizes this. Though never outwardly critical, his “Liquidation” series of defaced logos point out our willing participation in and involvement with brand culture in general — it’s so pervasive and inescapable. Yet because of its pervasiveness there’s also an opportunity to be critical of it, so while Zevs appears as David amid Goliath-like corporations, his use of humor turns what could be an oversimplification into a comic parody where large fashion brands appropriate his work of their identity and use it on their clothing.
But his real charm is in the relationship he has with the city. Zevs mentions the delicacy and detail of Tokyo and how it feels like home, though clearly it isn’t. He draws parallels to Aikido reversal moves, “retournement,” and extending the life of an idea back and forth. The vagaries of the city complement his approach, though absurdly at times. He’ll happily paint for the result to be seen only momentarily or paint on stray cats with ink that only animals can see. Pressure hoses used to remove graffiti in Paris become paintbrushes to “creatively clean” vandalized walls where the real perpetrator is traffic pollution. Even marking out barely visible cracks with Ultraviolet paint in the fabric of Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum breathes life into the old classical building. Under Zevs these new images arise slowly.
So what of “Heaven” or the “pleasure garden” of the show’s Japanese title? Zevs’ own pleasure garden is seemingly littered with philosophical observations. Apple Inc.’s original logo, for example, had Isaac Newton sitting under a tree. It later adopted mismatching rainbow colors and the fallen apple complete with Eve’s bite mark. Like many other of his “liquidated” logos, you discover it forms a perfect analogy for a modern urban playground: Lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy. Outside the gallery, someone other than Zevs has “liquidated” the nearby wall. And so the unpredictable retournement continues.