On a summerlike October evening after a pleasant Yom Kippur, we sauntered over from Dumbo Books HQ to catch an early couple of hours of the 7 p.m.-midnight launch party for Japan Graffiti by Remo Camerota at Greenpoint's store for all your urban art needs, Alphabeta.
As the promo material we got says:
Japan has always been a breeding ground for innovative approaches to Western traditions, such as cinema and baseball. Another example includes graffiti, which covers the buildings and walls of Japan’s largest cities, as well as the more rural areas. While graffiti in Japan shares many of the same characteristics with examples from other parts of the world, distinct cultural aspects of Japan, from Kanji to popular anime characters, set Japanese graffiti apart. Tokyo-based photographer Remo Camerota has captured these culturally unique aspects of Japanese graffiti, and in doing so has befriended some of the country’s major graffiti artists. Colorful spreads and intimate interviews provide a detailed examination of Japanese graffiti, a subject that has yet to dominate the graffiti book market.
Remo is an accomplished photographer working for people like Kiss, Jello Biafra and many magazines. Remo’s photographs are also included in the Kiss Alive 4 CD and DVD, Kiss and Make up and Speaking in Tongues DVD, which he co-directed with Gene Simmons.
In his native Australia, he's known just as much as a film director, animator and videographer who put his stamp on the popular Australian extreme sports TV show Xtreme and a similar show on South American TV, Not Recommended Behavior. His production company, Whitewall Studios, does everything from film and TV to graphic design and animation.
After we showed our ID to the nice man in front of Alphabeta who "doesn't like to discriminate" and so even asks alter kockers for proof age before he stamps our wrist PAID, we headed for the outdoor courtyard with its white walls, where we joined a crowd of hipsters enjoying free PBR (with a dollar tip) to watch five graffiti artists work live on the white walls.
It was a gorgeous night, with temperatures so mild we were in shirtsleeves and a gibbous moon with a pale halo low in the southern sky, just above the walls of Alphabeta's structure.
Graffiti Japan is published by the Manhattan-based Mark Batty Publisher, which produces luscious volumes on design, pop culture, street graphics and urban art, including such other international explorations of graffiti and street culture as Protest Graffiti: Mexico: Oaxaca and Urban Iran.
Hanging out in the courtyard, we noticed most of the five graffiti artists who worked on their elaborate taggings and designs at various heights around the white walls - some were at ground level, with one on a stool, another on a stepladder, another on a real tall ladder up high - favored Belton spray.
Three of them wore white face masks, ans we hung out on the metal steps leading up to Alphabeta's second floor, trying to play Addison Dewitt to some young Japanese woman's Marilyn Monroe, we realized we were getting a contact high from the spray paint.
So we moved to watch a ground-based artist doing an elaborate portrait of a busty nurse with Medusa-like hair. We were fascinated by how he peeled off black tape to make what would become the white of her eyes and shadows in her face and tight-fitting nurse's uniform.
We were even more impressed when that graffiti artist turned out to be Remo. Finished, he went into the front store, where he stood and talked to some of us who were getting the lush book autographed.
In the backroom beats from VDRK and Bradley D of Famous Friends were attracted a larger crowd.
It was turning into a really great party, with live breakdancing from the USA Breakdancing team and a special live 80s hip-hop mash-up set by NYC electronic artist KRTS, who'd earlier been standing by us in the courtyard admiring the live graffiti.
We always enjoy going to Alphabeta, and on the two stops home on the G train we were admiring the photos and fascinated by the interviews with some well-known artists like DETACH, SHAWL and KENGA in Graffiti Japan. The party would go on for hours after we left, and we're sure it only got better for those younger, hipper and less drowsy than us.