The graffiti culture that exploded onto nearly every available surface in 1970s New York City was to a great degree about disenfranchisement and disillusionment – and it was generally pretty pissed off. But from the start, LA artist Ryan Wilson set out to employ the style in the service of a distinctly more positive message: paying sincere homage to none other than Andy Warhol.
The Pop Art giant had greatly inspired a young Wilson, and the latter began stenciling tributes, or “thank yous” around the city. Art blogs quickly labeled the mysterious artist with the intriguing moniker ThankYouX (essentially, because of the “X” he would put below each finished piece) – and a genuine phenomenon was born. It decisively took off when one Demi Moore publicly declared herself a fan in 2010.
Officially rebranded, ThankYouX became a sensation, with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel commissioning a series of 13 portraits – including Nelson Mandela and Daft Punk – from him, and, in an astonishing acknowledgement of his talent, a request coming from Paul McCartney’s people for a portrait of the legendary Beatle.
Map to Malibu
“It took me forever,” Wilson recalls, “because I wanted it to be right. I actually made two pieces for him – I figured the better one would be for him, and I wanted to keep the other one, almost as a trophy or something. That was a big time for me. I was starting to get more recognition and began pursuing art full time.”
Eventually, with a desire to evolve his artistic scope, he began exploring more abstract concepts and ideas. His experiments led him to create a series of colorful “cube” based patterns, which seemed at once sort of retro and psychedelic, but also technological and futuristic.
Throughout the ensuing years he was also building a significant national and international following, with his works exhibited from Miami to NYC, Hong Kong to London.
Meet Me In The Mystery
And at last this June 20, the BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, will unveil his debut New York solo exhibition. Focused on his latest series of abstract works, the show, titled Movement, in many ways conveys the rare sense of serenity and tranquility that he is able to achieve by way of the artistic process – even if what ends up on the canvas appears to be quite a bit more turbulent. He explains, “I’ve never been able to sit still and be calm, except when I am inside the chaos of a painting.”
The new work may surprise some of his early advocates. But like most creatives, the need to challenge himself meant moving beyond image-based work. Now, with Movement, he reveals just how far this direction has taken him into the realm of abstraction and, it could be said, enigma – he is, in a sense, urging the viewer to dig a little deeper to find meaning, and to experience a multitude of emotions while doing so.
Paintings like State Of Dreaming and Meet Me In The Mystery, especially, appear to be doorways to the esoteric and otherworldly.
State of Dreaming
“I like paintings that I don’t understand right away,” he says. “And recently I felt like I wanted to take it one step further, to almost imagine what it would look like if you put one of my cube paintings under a microscope, and looked at all of its pores and layers.”
Of course, with “street art” now hanging in office buildings and some of the more exalted, traditional cultural institutions around the globe, does the term still resonate for him? Or is it perhaps time to conceive a new way of codifying the genre?
He surmises, “The term has become known more as a style than an act of rebelliousness. When I was putting a lot of art in the streets at night, I was doing it because I loved the feeling it gave me. But if it’s in the streets then, yeah, I guess you can call it street art. If it’s in a gallery or an office, then it’s just art. But I do love seeing people who used to be in the streets now doing well in galleries. It’s inspiring.”
Movement, the debut New York solo exhibition by ThankYouX, will be at the BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, from June 20 to August 18.
Centre of the Parade