empathy

2 Square To Be Hip: Fake It Til You Make It

I was first introduced to “street artists” 2Square at an international art fair in Berlin by a gallerist who was exhibiting fake Banksys in his booth, supposedly in tribute to a young graffiti writer that was accidentally killed by Miami police earlier this year. If you Google the name of this gallerist on the Internet, one of the first articles that pops up is one about him going to prison in 2009 for offering to do the taxes of an entire church parish, then funneling all of the refunds into his own bank account (which, from the surface, sounds like a pretty moronic crime if you ask me). If we figure that he served all of his 3 year sentence, he emerged back into reality about a year ago, which gives him that long to get enthusiastic about graffiti and street art, do some internet research, scrape up some capital, and become a street art gallerist in Berlin, a street art gallerist in Berlin who told me over the phone that his first major exhibition at his upcoming space in Alexanderplatz will be “to find his favorite graffiti-ed doors in Kreuzberg, rent them from the apartment buildings they belong to and have an art show of the doors.” (I wish you luck with explaining let alone negotiating this with the apartment companies, and getting Berliners to take you any degree of serious.) 

When I first encountered them at this gallery's booth in front of one of the fake Banksys, the one on the left, Justin, introduced himself as "Art royalty. Just kidding. But nah, we're art royalty.” I realize at this point that I have neglected a very important detail from this scenario: there are four or five men holding video cameras of various weapon-like makes and sizes aimed at us while we meet. Earlier, the gallerist had mentioned to me that “some important street artists are coming from Miami to Berlin on a worldwide painting tour,” and that they are the focus of a “street art reality TV show” that is being bankrolled by “[a major American television network].” I thought of the graffiti teams that I've met through the years, and wondered who the lucky recipients were of such an awesome opportunity. DABS MYLA? Os Gemeos? Those cats are so nice and talented! Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I encountered the swarm of semi-professional cameramen and 2Square at the vortex of this hype interest.  

I thought 2Square were Australian when I first met them for some reason. Their energy was both striking and painful. I think I am supposed to be a girl to really appreciate them, because they exude a kind of "rock star" sexuality that I'm not too on board with (our intern asked me to ask them if they are related to Kid Rock in any way). One of the first things I noticed that was really shifty about them is Justin's jacket.

2 Square's graffiti jacket. Photo by Drury Brennan

For those relatively uninitiated into street culture, a quick briefing. Decorated jackets are almost like cultural military uniforms for the respective subcultures their wearers belong to. Crust punks have careful patterns of spikes, patches and fabrics applied like so many enthusiastic battle scars to their jackets. Though the tradition is dying out, graffiti writers used to make “crew jackets” that had majestic pieces on the back panel, the art work on them a culmination of skill and meaning, the paint hardening on the jacket like armor. So, needless to say, I was really surprised to see 2Square's leather “graffiti jacket." As you can plainly see, it is peculiar. Notice the brushwork, the colors, the spirit, the execution, the disrespect to the idea of taking pride or exhibiting something that the world should see. 

The author in his crew jacket. Photo by Hector Rios

At this point in our encounter in the gallery booth, 2Square decides to write a dedication on the gallery wall in memoriam of the young graffiti writer Banksy supposedly made his fake works in honor of. Expecting to at least see some competent handstyles, something remarkable or redeeming emerge from this process, instead the cameras turn on and we experience the crafting of this strange "artwork:"

Tribute to Reefa, 2013. Photo by Drury Brennan

Seeing this scribble emerge on the wall convinced me that shit was not right with this situation. What's that middle word on the third line? WHPILE? WAFFLE? WHILE? Why do these people have a TV show as world-renowned street artists when I have encountered 5 year old children who are better? I started to get curious and do research so I friended them on Facebook. What I found was worse than I could have ever imagined.  

2Square, as you can readily see, are some of the worst artists that you have ever seen. Do I even have to begin to inform you as to what's wrong with this picture? The portraits of women who look like battered mid-aged trannies? No knowledge of proportion or color, or spirit for that matter? The fact that this was painted in large scale somewhere and that people must encounter it in one form or another? Let me show you some more from their Facebook feed, which I screen-capped for your visual assessment.  

Here we have what appears to be a dead child with the pickled head of an Amazon warrior lying on a bed of roses. At least the roses look practiced, like what you would do in junior high detention.  

This one is a “mural” they just completed in Lisboa. Mind you, these are people who fancy themselves “street artists” who consider what they are doing a “craft.”  

This picture is from their recent visit to Berlin, where the four or five cameramen they have in tow appear to have been filming 2Square make that strange mess of a blue woman-thing in the upper half of the picture.  

The bad art on this page is endless, it really, truly is. These are people who, for not a single moment, have stopped to think about what they are contributing to street art with their mission, which, apparently, is to use the walls of the world as a stoner Sharpie sketch book and to create artworks that are as dissonant and ugly as boiling live hamsters. On to the next one.

Lil Wayne. He looks like a retarded troll.

Endless.

This is the other half of 2Square, Jeremiah. He is a cute and nice guy, but he is standing in front of a mural of what our intern said are two dying shrimps fighting for their right to party.  

This is a recent piece of theirs from London. In an era where it's so easy to see what good street art is, to know through pop culture, packaging design or t-shirts what solid, considered color combinations are, this approach to art is strange and neglectful. This is a garish violation of the idea of making.  

2Square are desperate people that steadfastly refuse to acknowledge their lack of all redeeming qualities in their work. They have a camera crew that is following them around Europe as they make messes and casualties of walls, with no regard for any degree of technique, development or beauty in what they do. They also refuse to acknowledge that what they do has any potential to suck, which in contexts without precedent and history would be appropriate, but on the world stage of graffiti it's a giant mephitic sickness of the ego forced down the gullets of people who trust that those who call themselves dedicated street artists will paint things on walls for the benefit of others.  

This Instagram capture is a prime example of the problematic nature of what 2Square is involved in. Note the hashtags related to street art (none depicted), fashion, and also the unique #bitchdontkillmyvibe, which shows up in all of their recent posts (and serves to highlight their painful self-awareness). To visit also their active website is an endless self-promotion of their quasi-sex appeal and odd selfies taken by professional photographers, in which one or both of the Squares look like bastard fans of Motley Crue. The art they actually make is given little to no recognition, there is a pathetic sleight-of-hand occurring where the image of themselves as street artists is attempting to override the evidence of their actual making.  

Since meeting them, I became so fascinated by their advanced denial that I had to have an interview before they left Berlin. They agreed to meet me at a local coffee shop and as we sat down to talk, I began to really take stock of their vibe. Justin was highly suspicious of me, possessing a tense awareness that felt like a shotgun booby trap, and they, rather than be articulate and committed to the decisions they make as artists, felt much more in love with the idea of me interviewing them, treating the encounter as a kind of motel jacuzzi for their respective egos. Over the course of it, Justin tells me that he is 2Square and then also an alter ego, “Lefty,” in which he uses exclusively his left hand to make art. He has many influences as a street artist, but refuses to name anyone due to what he calls “hater chatter.” I pretend like I know little to nothing about street art throughout the whole thing, and it is a strange affair.

In conclusion, I don't know what much else to say about 2Square. It suits them well that we met in a gallery where an ex-con with no background in art was selling fake artworks by an international street artist. 2Square are only one example of how Internet culture is creating more fakes by the day, more fake-it-till-you-make-its, everyone's-an-artists, anyone-can-be-anything-these-days-if-you-just-believe-its. 2Square believe in the image of themselves as great street artists so violently that anyone who disagrees with their terrible art is instantly a villain, a hater (a social tactic deployed by the American government), even if all I really want 2Square to do is just check themselves and look at the shit quality of what they are doing, which is by definition vandalism. Take stock, guys, and also take a lesson from the hundreds of thousands of those before you who have worked in the dark, meticulously, with spray paint, who fell on third rails, who risked their lives and still painted with a steady hand in proper color order. Graffiti (street art?), after all, is an art form. People are mentored into it. People learn from masters, not just look at what they want to be on the Internet and then become a street art avatar with no actual skills. Also, stop showing the world your miserable sketchbooks, and stop painting until you actually can to some extent. The Internet has taught you that all you need to do is craft an image, when really all you have to do is look closely.

The media entourage, with author in top right. Screen capture from 2 Square's Facebook.

Article by Drury Brennan