Conceived Bully, on view at Digging Pitt Gallery, is an outstanding example of American urban art realized to its fullest potential. The yield of each of the three artists featured -- JC One (who also curated), MCA/Evil Design and MAGMO -- embodies the fundamentals of street art that herald urban aesthetic as a cooperative form. At once, each emerges as a distinctly individual creator while participating in a global artistic movement that gravitates more toward concrete than marble. And while all the stimulus bestowed by the relatively young traditions of their forbears is evident, that history has been digested and built upon rather than merely echoed.
New York City native JC One, now partly based in Pittsburgh, is represented primarily by works uniting qualities of World War II cautionary bills, early Brit punk rock, and the design modes of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- Joe Strummer Wants You For The Red Army. Glowing color that vibrates off the wall, laconic stenciled slogans, sprawling scrawly text all give a shout to the practices of early U.S. hardcore as well. Where these works differ is in the detail of the message -- the military and political art that we see evoked here concentrates on specifying how the one, the viewer, can fit into the whole. This approach is more personal and introspective, and calls for action inspired by one's own values, rather than the desire to be adopted by a group.
MCA/Evil Design, meanwhile, riffs on a single theme: the ape, revisioned as paintings on paper, pug-sized sculptures, fluorescent shiny toys, all the myriad trappings of design marketing and art collection for one and all that would bring a smile to any enthusiast of the superflat and send avid fanboys to the Coinstar post-haste. The ape, whether portrayed ultra close-up in vivid brights, faded into woodgrain, or stark on slate, ranges from rebel to elder and is perfectly positioned to step into the role of most-beloved trademark. It's cute, but not too; imbued with a measure of personality; and yet with enough empty surface that viewers can easily impose their own expectations.
(One does wonder, though: Why must it always be monkeys? Cannot the world of comic/manga/cartoon-influenced art next embrace, perhaps, the dignified rhino, the wily lemur, even the hippo, kangaroo or aardvark as its totem?)
While MCA/Evil Design bear the inspiration of the East, MAGMO's contributions are flavored with the hallmarks of the South, with glimmerings of Central American tribal work and Mexican Day Of The Dead-style imagery. Panicky, color-filled renderings combine pointy-toothed skulls atop sketchy crossbones, horrific ice-cream-cone monsters, and craniums topped with party hats and bottomed with tentacles, titled "Bombmo," "Transfato," "Octomo." "Good Auto" and "Bad Auto" depict a family-populated vehicle, first motoring through green leaves, white clouds and blue skies, and then through charred earth, smokestacks and flames. The series "In America ..." confirms what we know about fat, prescriptions, oil, religion and war, in simple red, white and blue.
Collectively, the trio of artists in Conceived Bully incorporate techniques of superflat, agitprop, old-school punk, anime, comics, graffiti, manga, lowbrow and every other element of Now; taken one by one, they are exceptionally worthy of solo shows and undiluted focus. What makes this exhibition so exemplary is what happens when their works are juxtaposed. Artists as visionary as Baseman, Murakami, Banksy, Biskup -- and pretty much anyone else who either lives in Tokyo or is hanging at L.A.'s La Luz de Jesus -- inevitably provoke a hellspawn of imitators, resulting in group shows that highlight the works of dozens of artists but end up looking like the output of one guy obsessed with either Ultraman or the shared traits of mushrooms and penises. Here, though, we have three artists who mirror the philosophies and methods of a movement while retaining the singularity of individuals.
Conceived Bully continues through Oct. 27. Digging Pitt Gallery, 4417 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-605-0450