There’s a clear message in Kobra’s recently finished mural in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Through text and image, it endorses the ideaFight For Street Art. The piece, rendered in Kobra’s signature style aptly compared to looking through a tripped out kaleidescope, depicts Pop art legend Andy Warhol and 80s art superstar Jean-Michel Basquiat. Each stare down their viewers with boxing gloves criss-crossed.
Based in Sao Paulo, Brazilian street artist Kobra first caught New York City’s attention with his monumental mural that re-imagines Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photograph V-J Day in Times Square published in “Life Magazine” in 1945. Viewable from the High Line near W 25th Street, it presents a sailor and nurse in a passionate kiss. The black and white of the original gives way to a prismatic explosion of color in Kobra’s updated version.
The Williamsburg mural is inspired by photographer Michael Halsband‘s iconic poster of Warhol and Basquiat, which was used for the artists’ collaborative exhibition in 1985. Kobra’s choice to use Warhol and Basquiat in support of his message is very appropriate. With his references to pop culture and consumerism, Warhol was often in contention with the art world establishment. At least early in his career. And Basquiat first achieved attention as a member of the graffiti group SOMA, writing cryptic aphorisms during the late 70s and early 80s in NYC’s downtown neighborhoods.
Kobra is interested in times gone by. His work effectively evokes a sentiment for the past while connecting historical figures and events to the present day. Warhol represents a moment in recent art history when timeworn ideas about art and artistic practice were being eradicated. Basquiat symbolizes an exciting time in NYC when underground culture was on the rise. Artistic experimentation and collaboration were welcomed and led to cutting-edge work in visual art, performance, and music. In a sense, the art and ideas championed by these two trailblazers runs parallel with those of today’s street artists. Notably, collaboration, use of non-traditional materials to make art, appropriation of popular culture, and breakdown of highbrow and lowbrow. Galleries and museums are showing more artists with a street background, signaling a sway to recognize street art and graffiti as legitimate and something of value. Yet, at the same time, the movement’s original spirit is being undermined. Perhaps, this was most felt with the recent demolition of 5pointz. The loss of the graffiti mecca in Queens has left a gaping hole in the heart of the international street art community. Within this context, Kobra’s Williamsburg mural and its message is timely and worthy of further consideration.