On the graf

Young Blood keeps urban spirit alive in Grant Park with Krylon and Beyond

Named for a brand of spray paint, the Krylon and Beyond graffiti renaissance at Young Blood Gallery supplants the '80s loopy, bubble letters, evocative of the script favored by junior high girls, with a jagged, angular '90s style that more often suggests Arabic script or barbed wire. Krylon artist Seven executes this approach with illustrative finesse, his letters spiked with insect-like pincers, but in a melding of new and old, still graced with the requisite custom car sparkles of the classical '80s tags.

Young Blood is a plucky gallery started two years ago with an ultra-laid back, seams-showing aesthetic (down to the wobbly-typed wall labels and works hung with the precision of a child's drawings stuck to a refrigerator). It straddles the gentrifying armpit of Grant Park where winos sleep off a Saturday night bender in the overgrown grass of a derelict house while a couple of blocks away, shotgun houses are being pasteled and picket-fenced and made ready for the nouveau suburbanites. In this context, graffiti art seems not so much a response to the hopelessness or limitations of urban blight as an attempt to keep the vibrant and funky aspects of city life alive in the midst of Atlanta's snowballing yuppification.

The encroaching cutesifying of the neighborhood only makes one respect the rough-edged but endearing outpouring of all that was once urban and defiant in Krylon. Outside the gallery, a long wooden "fence" snakes through the parking lot, which artists have decorated front and back with their spray-can calligraphy, in a more controlled, civically minded form of graffiti.

The Sunday morning after the Krylon opening, with the empty kegs lined up inside the gallery and the local color strolling the avenue in fuzzy slippers or doing a dipsomaniac's samba, a lone graffiti artist with his car parked next to him is painting a gray figure of a boy on the fence — filling in his little parcel of personal expression. All but one of the artists in Krylon are men, and like garage bands and skateboarding, the artform/pastime/lifestyle seems to attract a guy-oriented mentality of entitlement in expressing its presence. Some of the work in Krylon tends to play up the dude-ier aspects of the form, like Soner's signage featuring minxes in bikinis, eight balls and dice.

Inside, the bold, frantic territorial pissings have been toned down, contained within the more orderly parameters of canvas or plywood, or in Brooklyn artist Derek Lerner's case, the far humbler margins of Sun Trust and Chase bank statements. The artist has inked onto these bureaucratic missives black pen abstractions that look like aerial views of a city grid or the animated lettering of graffiti art. Like most of the work, which asserts an individual presence in the face of sterile, institutional culture, Lerner's work suggests an individual response to corporate anonymity and an identity reduced to policy numbers and paperwork.

The more interesting works in Krylon make a statement, like Lerner's, about the individual vs. the grid, or somehow manage to sketch a subjective view of The State of Things. Artist Totem's painting of a crowd scene is typically dire, executed in morose grays. A haze of words rises above this representative sampling of humanity's heads like a smog, signifying the combined mania of a hundred different thoughts — an invisible, intellectual graffiti of multiple identities colliding like bumper cars.

In much graffiti art, a sense of naive optimism is encoded within its pessimistic, shrugging collision with the status quo. Beneath the youthful angst and apocalyptic sense of gloom is an aerosol acrylic olive branch, from Seven's ferocious color bursts busting out of gray backgrounds like meteors exploding in space, to the show's one girl piece, by "Colleen." A cityscape rendered in moody reds and blacks, Colleen's work is inscribed with the kinda sweet Lilith Fair answer to this Boypalooza, all about feelings expressed in phrases like, "I'm safe with you," "I love you" and "I give you my heart."

The artists' pricing system is its own statement of starry-eyed young adult dithering, with some pieces defiantly marked "NFS" and another tagged either dreamily or irreverently $999.

That by turns frustrating, and infectious, inspiring spirit of youth, with all its blindered hopefulness and its grandiose sense of doom, too, makes Krylon as telling an encapsulation of the post-teen spirit as punk music or the desperate, dreamy, frantic doodlings that fill spiral-bound notebooks and crowd concrete buildings in urban centers and small towns alike.

Krylon and Beyond runs through May 27 at Young Blood Gallery, 629 Glenwood Ave. Tues.-Thurs. and Sat.-Sun. noon- 5 p.m. 404-627-0393.??

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