So how did a seedy, rundown neighborhood in Brooklyn become one of the world’s premier street art galleries? The backstory is a positive one, illustrating how beauty and inspiration can rise from a place of pain and ruin.
Joe Ficalora is a lifelong Bushwick resident. He is now in his mid-30s and his family still has a steel fabrication business there. In the 1980s, the area was dangerous grounds – robberies, violence, drugs, and prostitution were ever present. Messy graffiti covered the cold, gray building exteriors. For Ficalora, Bushwick’s harsh realities culminated in one life-changing event – the murder of his father in 1991. He was only 12 years old.
Ficalora’s Sicilian mother became his anchor. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and passed away in 2011. Her death was another crushing blow for Ficalora. He struggled. How does one get on with life when the neighborhood they call home continually reminds them of suffering and loss?
There’s a well-known quote by Pablo Picasso: Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
As if channeling these words, Ficalora saw art as the answer to both his personal problems and those plaguing Bushwick. More specifically street art. He started reaching out to street artists he really admired, inviting them to paint on the neighborhood walls. Soon, local business owners were offering their building to Ficalora’s project, which would become known as the Bushwick Collective.
Street artists from all over the world – Italy, Paris, Ireland, Australia, England, Mexico, Iran – have contributed work. As curator and impresario, Ficalora has built up a creative synergy that brings together today’s emerging talents with graffiti legends and street art pioneers. All artists donate their time and materials for the opportunity to get up in NYC, create, and be part of something truly special.
The Bushwick Collective Graff Tour is a unique opportunity to see sanctioned street art in its rawest form. This world-class gallery is always changing – new members are continually joining as more walls are donated to the project.
Sheryo and the Yok, and Joe Iurato were some of the first artists to join the Bushwick Collective. Sheryo, originally from Singapore, and the Yok, an Australia native, often paint in collaboration. Cartoonish and offbeat, their pieces always inject a little humor into the environment. Stencil artist Joey Iurato is driven to make imagery that will make his young son proud.
Street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode collaborated on a colossal wall depicting two young girls against a text-based background. As socially conscious artists, Stain and Mode set out to make a piece addressing the struggles of unrecognized and underrepresented individuals of society.
Dubbed the “Father of stencil graffiti,” Paris-based Blek le rat painted for the collective. Working since 1981, he formulated a technique that would influence a younger stencil artist. You may have heard of him – he works under the pseudonym Banksy.
Iranian brothers Icy and Sot are regular contributors, creating stencil based murals that contemplate themes of hope, peace, war, dreams, and childhood.
NYC graffiti legend Meres One is a member. Meres One is founder and former curator of 5Pointz, the graffiti mecca in Long Island City, Queens. The heart of NYC’s graffiti and street art community broke when 5Pointz was ordered to shut down last year. The property is being transformed into luxury apartments.
Rotterdam based artist Eelco ‘Virus’ van den Berg added a dynamic piece to the collection using his signature style defined by strong line and form and a bold palette of color.
One of our recent favorites is a collaboration wall spelling out B-U-S-H-W-I-C-K. Artists Sexer, JUNE, Sheryo and the Yok, Dasic, Billy Mode, Eelco, Crash, and Zimad were given a single letter with which to work. It’s really cool to see the artists’ singular styles and motifs come together to celebrate Bushwick.
Yes, there are some other really good street art galleries out there. But, the Bushwick Collective has a history and purpose that is matchless. Its spirit emerged from despair. There are no pretenses here. What started out as a way for a young man to deal with personal tragedy grew into project that has since enriched and supported the local community. Graff Tours is very excited to support the Bushwick Collective as it defines itself as one of NYC’s most genuine artistic legacies.
Graff Tours’s mission is to connect people with the street art and graffiti culture. Our talented staff showcase this misunderstood craft.