In 2012, when graffiti artists Ceres and GMoney were sentenced to nearly two years imprisonment for Conspiracy to Cause Criminal Damage to Trains, it inflamed the debate on whether graffiti crimes should or should not be punishable with a prison sentence, the UK being one of few countries globally that take such a hard line approach.
Their incarceration also reignited another controversy, that of the value of graffiti as art. If some would be graffiti artists fall short of aesthetic success, leaving work that is inaccessible to outsiders and others, for better or worse, deliberately outrage their audience in a proud statement of nihilistic vandalism, it is not so with Ceres and GMoney. In common with all great graffiti artists since the movement began in 1970s New York City, Ceres' and GMoney's train writing was in confident discussion as much with contemporary art and design as it was traditions of graffiti art, and under any system of critical evaluation the work reached veritable heights of abstract complexity and graphic vitality - a clear-cut reminder of pop artist Claes Oldenberg's experience ‘standing there in the station, everything is gray and gloomy, and all of a sudden one of those graffiti trains slides in and brightens up the place like a big bouquet’.
Locked in prison, their various cells would become their art studios and in those studios they were to plan new ideas and innovate new techniques for artwork. ‘A-4-11’ at Proof Gallery is an exhibition of unseen work by Ceres and GMoney; it is named after the cell come studio that housed them in Wormwood Scrubs. In their typically playfully provocative way, the artists deal with their experiences of prison life, the work being at once immensely personal yet universal in its conceptual depth and visual impact. Ranging from abstracted form to dynamic graphic figuration, the exhibit embodies the spirit of freedom and invention in which Ceres and GMoney make their art and live their lives, and invites debate on the wider issues of freedom of expression and the appropriate utilisation of public resources and the justice system. It is a complex show, as visually triumphant as it is morally and politically resonant.
- April 19, 2016
- John De Plume