SABER | the ugly american

December 24 2013 . 09:07am

imageSABER

En garde for one of the biggest names in international urban art, when SABER’s The Ugly American exhibition starts the 2014 program at The Outsiders London gallery. The enormously well-received show was unveiled at The Outsiders Newcastle in late 2013, and travels to the capital by popular demand.

The swashbuckling American is noted for his success in making traditional graffiti styles relevant to a fine art gallery context – and his effortlessly provocative executions. The latter have included the world’s largest piece of graffiti, interpretations of the usually sacrosanct Stars ʻnʼ Stripes, and using skywriting planes to daub politicised slogans above major US cities.

The exhibitions predominantly abstract works in spray paint, oils and charcoal also include both Saberʼs trademark Stars ‘n’ Stripes flags on stained wood – his “OldMath” series – and depictions of the UK’s Union Jack flag too. The artist’s on-going “BaseElements” works in an abstract graffiti style are also represented. The pieces come in the large-scale format Saber utilises regularly, and more manageable sizes.

“My work is a continuation of certain graffiti styles developed in Southern California,” says Saber by way of description. “However, I have always been fascinated by how to adapt it for a gallery.” His unique form of abstraction is the result of a 22-year journey as a graffiti artist, and consists of multiple layers of fragmented names, hand-styles, marks, shapes and movements woven into deep layers of urban texture.

Saber’s famed outdoor pieces are “about an unrepeatable spontaneous representation of the power of letters, movement and placement. I can’t bring those colours and gestures into a gallery. It’s not graffiti once it’s on the canvas.”

The gallery works, in contrast, he says “Have to be a beautiful painting. I want an average person who knows nothing about graffiti to say, “this is a beautiful painting” that’s the most important thing to me.”

Saberʼs abstracts are painted while considering a theme – in this case, the Ugly American of the title. The phrase was popularised by Eugene Burdick and William Ledererʼs 1958 novel of the same name. Made into a 1963 movie starring Marlon Brando, it concerns the international perception of Americans both personally and politically.

“Itʼs a reference to the excesses, and foul nature, that some believe Americans possess. Obviously this has similarities to modern Britain too, but… I come from this culture thatʼs so self centered, and self-preserved, and I want to expose the cracks in it,” says Saber.

“Not just the endless wars, or PRISM and the treatment of Edward Snowden, but healthcare,” he adds, himself an epilepsy sufferer. “In America thereʼs no philosophy of preventative care. In the UK there’s empathy directed towards the patient. In the US, you get ill and you lose your home. Iʼm a messenger for the future telling the British people what its going to be like when the NHS is fully privatised.”

The graffiti artist and painter known as Saber was born in Southern California in 1976. In 1997, over 35 nights, he painted officially the worldʼs largest piece of graffiti – his name, naturally, in a 250 feet by 55 feet section of the concrete banks of the Los Angeles river. In 2009 the piece was buffed over by US army engineers paid for by US federal stimulus money. Saber offered in person to paint it over himself, rather than use this method of funding: “I turned up with the official buffing colour paint and everything, but they just called the cops.”

In 2010 video clips of Saber painting depictions of US flags were picked up on by mainstream media outlets such as FOX News and MSNBC. While he was pilloried by the stations, the eloquent artist was given screen time to explain that “It was never my intention to insult or disrespect anyone. The decision to paint the flag was to show it as a living, breathing, changing, organism that represents me as an American trying to manage this disease [epilepsy] of mine without health care.”

During 2011, at vast expense to himself, Saber arranged for sky-writing light aircraft to daub the skies over Los Angeles and Manhattan with political slogans. This most commonly concerned a notorious ban on murals legitimate or otherwise, and removal of government funding for the arts, often by a prospective Romney Presidency – for example, “#RomneyHatesArt”.

The Outsiders Gallery
8 Greek Street, Soho
London W1D 4DG United Kingdom
Ph. +44 (0)20 32140055
info@theoutsiders.net
www.theoutsiders.net

Opening hours
Tuesday – Saturday
11am to 7pm

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