THE BOOK REPORT: Subway Art, 25th Anniversary Edition

Subway Art, 25th Anniversary Edition
By Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
(Chronicle Books)

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Subway Art, 25th Anniversary Edition by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant dispenses with the words about their subject (though there are words here) and gets on with the gettin’ on of showing the reader the art. And it is artful. Yes, vandalism to be sure, still you will not believe what the subway artists ‘get up’ to here and the 150 pictures (70 more than initially released in the book’s first run, which sold a half a million copies) are spectacular.

The new larger format of this Subway Art edition shows pictures of the artists at work, guys like Dondi painting in a New York train yard in 1980, Lady Pink posing with a shelf of her favorite colors, but it’s their art that makes the book so special. As Henry Chalfant says in the book’s opening, he started taking pictures of graffiti in 1977 after coming upon the infamous Fabulous Five Crew’s ‘Merry Christmas’ cartoon and in Subway Art we see lots of ‘get ups’ of colorful cartoons as well as distinctive lettering of names. There’s fold-over inserts and centerfolds but the pictures of the trains, running cover to cover, showing their painted sides with pieces that have titles like “Noc is Back” and “Blade Delores” are truly startling.

Colors really jump out at you here in this 25th anniversary edition and with a book this big you are really holding works of art. Subway Art, 25th Anniversary Edition by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant is a beautiful book about beautiful, often maligned work.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

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