11/16/2010 04:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Alec Monopoly: An Art Show, Minus the Artist

The first major exhibit of the street artist Alec Monopoly opened Thursday in New York, taking over a corner storefront in Chelsea, at 22nd Street and 8th Ave., and will be free and open to the public for the next week.

Alec's show displays the colorful styles of pop art which he has implemented in his pieces adorning neighborhoods in Los Angeles and New York -- iconic portraiture of Jack Nicholson, Bob Dylan, and Twiggy, interspersed with a large-scale series re-imagining the Monopoly man series on canvases coated in archived newspapers, sealed with resin. New large celebrity portraits are unveiled in this show as well, such as Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Christian Bale in American Psycho, and a dancing profile of Michael Jackson. Other paintings revealed a broader sense of style, as some canvases touched on impressionism, others evoking a feminine sensibility through color, subject, and minimal line art.

While such an impressive debut exhibit by a young artist would traditionally warrant an appearance by the creator himself, circumstances inhibit in-person accolades: The NYPD are looking for him.

In the past weeks leading up to this exhibition, uniformed and plain-clothed police officers have been stopping by the studio and gallery, asking neighbors about Alec, and were observed staking out his intersection on more than one occasion. Alec has credible cause to believe his cell was tapped, and has relied on pre-paid booster phones. That he is under surveillance may be a surprise to those unfamiliar with how the NYPD has treated artists since Giuliani bolstered "quality of life" crime enforcement in the '90s, largely kept in place by Mayor Bloomberg. Painters selling their work on the street as well as graffiti artists have been thrown in jail, with their artwork confiscated and destroyed.

Alec's street art has gotten him notice all over the world, and so it is not surprising that the New York City graffiti task force notices. In the last few weeks, next to the small crevices of the city's surfaces where tags thrive unabated, big bright posters of Jack Nicholson or DJ Monopoly Man sprung up. The urban eye ignores spray-painted names -- but when it's the face of the old guy from Monopoly? Alec's prominent signature also helps make his name subconsciously ubiquitous. So if the cops really are setting out every day to crack down on those that decorate the city (as opposed to those that vandalize private property) then Alec's advertised art show makes for easy police work.

While getting arrested has helped many an artist become a folk hero, Alec demurs and prefers to let his work represent him. Completing your first major exhibit is a struggle in itself -- that struggle is only compounded when you can't get in to your own studio because the cops are parked outside waiting for you in one of those unmarked cars that look like taxi cabs, but have sirens.

By the time of posting this, Alec has already left New York. Impressively, the work from his debut show has sold out. Wanting to share some of his art with others no matter what, Alec has offered free hand-finished prints to the first 250 visitors to the gallery. In the tight hours finishing the pieces for his show, I was able to film this exclusive interview with Alec. In this short doc, he discusses refining his medium from the streets to indoors, his philosophy on street art, and life on the lam.

This short doc is from the forthcoming feature documentary by John Wellington Ennis, PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy's High Stakes.

Photos by Andrew Einhorn.