05/08/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hellbent, Abstractions and "The Mixtape Series" in NYC

In-Studio Visit With the Guy Who Took His Street Name from Richard Hell

"Even Romantics Love Violence", Hellbent's first solo gallery show unveils the graffiti / Street Artist doing a new collection in abstraction, "The Mix Tape Series". With each piece named after a song he was listening to while creating it, the series testifies to his intense love of music (from punk to country to big band and indie rock) and the practice of making custom collections for friends and lovers on blank cassettes.

"Violence" alludes to the concomitant firestorm of emotions, thoughts and ideas that the perfect mixed tape collection can convey, especially when you are 15, or 25, or 35, or ever. While "Mix Tape" is a sort of his own nostalgic homage to his high school years in Georgia in the 1990s, for Hellbent this new sharply eye-popping collection is one more refinement to a body of work he's developed on New York streets over the last 10 years.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

"Mix Tape" also refers to his cyclical process; Recording, erasing, recording - he literally saves the tape he uses to create pieces, and creates some more. Here is the thick and sticky masking tape that's covered in overspray and patterning, now newly arranged and layered and edited into finished abstract compositions, to be used later as a sketch for larger painted pieces.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Included in the show are the "Demos", the actual tape pieces or sketches now encased in liquid glass.

"The first time I tried to make something with them was when I was in LA doing a big mural and I thought I could try it out on a sketchbook. So at first I started off layering them, building them. I gave myself parameters, you can't just be all willy-nilly," he explains. Once marginal, here center-stage, these new vividly patterned pieces vibrate with the same rage and charm one associates with his bared-tooth dogs, hissing snakes and signature Freud jawbone as they lie gently cloaked in delicate lace floral patterns you last saw covering grandma's end-table, topped with a bowl of plastic fruit.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In studio you can see the violent beauty of a hellish production process as he chops and slices through the distortion and guitars and drums and vocals pounding and vibrating through his thoughts. "The Mix Tape Series" celebrates Hellbents ever-more discordant color palette, the re-aligning and openly opposing shards and shapes that he keeps pushing to reach a level of punk rock splendor. Even so, he says, "I've never really studied color theory. I never really think about it."

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art:
Some of the color combinations - the seafoam green next to hot pink - they vibrate and I can't get them to stop.
Hellbent : So some of them, because of the clashing of colors, some of them want to come up and some of them want to drop back. So I've been trying to add depth. I'm trying to create depth through flatness. Everything is super flat but they are layered on top of one another. And the colors create optical effects.

Like an uninhibited and pissing fire extinguisher slicing across complacent suburban vinyl siding, Hellbent forces dark colonial blue death and blaring orange fluorescence to lie uncomfortably next to one another, making the eye push and pull the shapes to the fore- and back ground, an optical effect caused purely by their nearness to one another.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbent on the street in Queens for Welling Court (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbents' pattern play has gotten sophisticated too; trompe l'oeil evokes printed wallpaper even when achieved with aerosol. As he rocks through new printed motifs and razor sharp shapes he likes to alternately calm and jolt, forcing the painting to pop for a fraction of a second, the snapping life of an impulse. With this new sharpened geometry and these comforting patterns and these challenging color choices the pieces rise above the canvas as they lay upon, slam against, and step on top of one another.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

"Music is the ultimate teacher," prophesied Vasily Kandinsky, and the blank cassette tape onto which the Russian painter and art theorist would have recorded his mix would probably have included Richard Wagner, assisting his movement from landscape or portraiture to embrace pure abstraction. The music stories told of sound poems and Stravinsky at the MoMA show this spring, Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925, has inspired Hellbent as well, furthering his own fascination with this abstract route on the street, even as he curated the Geometricks show with Brooklyn Street Art last fall.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A classic Hellbent snake on the street in Brooklyn. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

His own recent mural and street works mirror a direction found in other movements popping up on streets in Europe and on America's coasts and Hellbent happily name checks San Francisco's Poesia (and his blog Graffuturism), Agents of Change in London, and a growing list of alternate abstract avenues for street based art now sometimes described as post-graffiti. No longer reliant on text or tags or even imagery, Hellbent continues to mix his favorites in search of something new.

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Here is a short list of some of the songs and titles of Hellbents' new pieces for "The Mixtape Series". In addition to sighting everybody from Lollapalooza 1, 2, and 3, his references can include early British shoe gaze, 90s indie rock, early and contemporary rock n roll, country music and Bob Dylan.

"Vapor Trail" by Ride
"No God, Only Religion" by Spirtualized
"Benediction" by Thurston Moore
"My Ways" by The Concretes
"Start Choppin" by Dinosaur Jr.
"Youth Against Fascism" by Sonic Youth

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Hellbent (photo © Jaime Rojo)

"Even Romantics Love Violence"
Hellbent Solo at Brooklyn's Mighty Tanaka Gallery
Friday, May 10, 2013 at 6 pm - 9pm
Other references
BSA Presents GEOMETRICKS, Curated by Hellbent
Color, Geometry and Pattern on the Streets by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo on The Huffington Post and BSA
Sneak Peeks from Geometricks



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This article was also posted on Brooklyn Street Art.

Read all posts by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo on The Huffington Post HERE.

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