John Fekner

John Fekner

Infobox Artist
name = John Fekner

imagesize = |thumb|240px
birthname = John Anthony Fekner
birthdate = October 6 1950
location = New York City, NY, US
field = Street Art, Poetry, Music, Video
training = New York Institute of Technology Lehman College
movement = Graffiti
works = Urban Decay

John Fekner (b. NYC), is a street and multimedia artist, who in the 1970s created hundreds of environmental and conceptual outdoor works consisting of stenciled words, symbols, dates and icons spray painted throughout New York. Fekner's output includes paintings, cast paper reliefs, video, audio and performance works, sculpture, and computer-generated work. Throughout his thirty-year career in the arts, Fekner has made a commitment within his work by consistently addressing issues that demonstrate an interest involving concepts of perception and transformation, as well as specific environmental and sociological concerns such as urban decay, greed, chemical pollutants, mass media and Native American Indians. Fekner creates multiple versions of work in entirely different media and will use whatever means are necessary to communicate a vision or message, and whose work changes as that vision expands. [ Gumpert, Lynn, Curator, "New Work New York at the New Museum" Exhibition catalog essay, January 30-March 25, 1982. p. 12-15]

Early years

Fekner attended Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic elementary school in Jackson Heights together with John Genzale a.k.a. Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Fekner began writing poetry as a young teenager, and his first outdoor graffito in 1968 were the words "Itchycoo Park" painted at Gorman Park 85th Street Park in Jackson Heights, Queens. Along with a few buddies on the park house roof, he painted the phrase in large white letters across the front of the building. Fekner appropriated the name of the popular hit written and recorded by the Small Faces about a park in Newham, England. Subsequently, the Jackson Heights local football team took the name, "Itchycoo Chiefs" in the 70s. Ten years later, Fekner used the park as a base for his stencils projects. In May 1978, he curated the "Detective Show" with help from the Institute for Art and Urban Resources (P.S. 1). A group of thirty artists including Gordon Matta-Clark, Don Leicht, Lucio Pozzi, Lou Forgione, Richard Artschwager and Claudia De Monte hid art and created site-specific subtle art work throughout the park. [Interview with John Fekner via webcam, email and written transcription ("in progress") for doctoral thesis June 21 and August 13, 2007 ]

Queens projects

Fekner's "Warning Signs" project focused on accentuating deteriorating conditions that dominated New York City and its environs in the 70s. In 1976, Fekner began to create ‘word-signs’ using hand cut cardboard stencils and spray paint on a relentless crusade concerned with social and environmental issues. First seen on the industrial streets and highways of Queens, the East River bridges, and later in the South Bronx, his ‘messages’ were spray painted in areas that were in need of construction, demolition or reconstruction. By labeling the structures, Fekner's objective was to draw attention to the accumulated squalor by urging city officials, agencies and local communities to be more responsible and take action. His first stencil projects, "Industrial Fossil", "Urban Decay," "Decay/Abandoned", "Instant This Instant That", and "The Remains of Industry" were not intended to remain for long periods of time. The projects succeeded when the existing condition was removed or remedied. [Fekner, John (1982). John Fekner: Queensites. Sweden: Wedgpress and Cheese. ISBN 9185752320.] In 1979, Fekner began experimenting with video and audio. He worked with Fred Baca on "Environmental Stencils 77-79", a grainy, grim black & white 8mm film/video that not only documents Fekner's stencil projects, but is also a bleak portrait of New York City in ruins.

Bronx projects

Fashion Moda is most often associated with graffiti art and its acceptance into the art world through such figures as Fekner, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, and Keith Haring. [FASHION MODA: A BRONX EXPERIENCE by Professor Sally Webster, 1996,] In February 1980, Fekner began working in, around, and out of Fashion Moda, a storefront for experimental art and cultural exchange, and an outpost for showcasing graffiti, breakdancing and rapping. Through his association with Fashion Moda, Fekner went to Charlotte Street and stenciled six spray painted messages including "Decay, Broken Promises, Falsas Promesas, Last Hope, Broken Treaties and Save Our School". When Presidential Candidate Ronald Reagan stood in front of Fekner’s stencils, "Decay" and "Broken Promises" on Charlotte Street in the South Bronx on August 5th, 1980 at the People's Convention, Fekner detoured away from the notoriety to explore a new found interest in multimedia art.


In 1981 Fekner was invited by Martin A. Nisenholtz to experiment on the early interactive teletext system Telidon at NYU’s Alternate Media Center. AMC evolved into the Interactive Telecommunications Program under the leadership of Dr. Red Burns and George Stoney. Fekner received his first international award at Toronto's Video Culture Festival in the Videotex category for his "Toxic Wastes From A to Z", a computer graphics animation created at AMC which featured a rap by k-8 students from a South Bronx school. In the New York Times, Matthew Mirapaul said, "Fekner's work incorporates jagged, pixilated computer-generated imagery because 'its characteristic of the's almost like the drip in a Jackson Pollock,' Mr. Fekner stated." [Mirapaul, Matthew "A Brush, a Mouse, a Canvas: Mixing Paint and Pixels" New York Times . New York, N.Y.: Jun 13, 2001. p. H15 (1 page). ]


Collaborating with Bronx artist Don Leicht in 1982, they produced a series of art objects and installations using cut metal, aluminum and automotive paints based on Nishikado's Space Invaders arcade game with the statement: "Your Space Has Been Invaded-Our Children are Fighting a Terrible War. Whole families are being sent to Battlescreen." Since the 70s, Fekner continues to collaborate with Don Leicht; most recently at the Wooster Collective's "11 Spring Street" exhibition in NYC. Through the years, Fekner has collaborated with artists like John Matos, aka Crash, David Wojnarowicz, Sandra Seymour, Lady Pink, Jim Recchione, Steve Grivas, Andrew Castrucci, Sasha Sumner and other musicians, writers and new media artists. Fekner’s work was included in Documenta 7 as part of Jenny Holzer's and Stefan Eins' Fashion Moda Store, and the "Committed To Print" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Music Recordings/Music Videos

A multi-disciplinary artist, Fekner formed his own band City Squad in 1983. City Squad was comprised of musicians and non-musicians as an extension of Queensites, teenagers from Jackson Heights who assisted with the outdoor stencil work. In September, Fekner released his first rap/rock 12" EP on his own Vinyl Gridlock record label. The A-side, "2 4 5 7 9 11" had Kwame Monroe, aka "Bear 167", a South Bronx graffiti artist as the guest rapper; and B-side had Dave Santaniello on rock vocals on "Rock Steady". On the Apple II, Fekner experimented with early speech synthesis programs, Votrax and SAM-Software Automatic Mouth as vocal tracks on "2 4 5 7 9 11" and on his "Idioblast" album in 1984. In addition to playing keyboards, electronic drums and vocals, he wrote the music and lyrics for the eight songs on the album which featured extensive sampling and tape loops of tv, radio, Native American voices, phone and airport transmissions over rock/rap/hip hop beats. Tracks on the album included "Travelogue The 80s", "I Get Paid To Clap", "The Beat", "The Sight Of The Child"," Wheels Over Indian Trails" and "Rapicasso", which Fekner also created as a 6' x 12' six-panel painting. Both the painting and song pay homage to Picasso’s "The Three Dancers". Fekner spray painted LCD-style letters on industrial silkscreens to portray three breakdancers, the song’s lyrics acknowledging the work, energy and spirit in breakdancing, rapping and graffiti: "Watch the street, see the modern art, it’s the present and future tied to his heart." [ "Rapicasso" from the album "Idioblast" Vinyl Gridlock Records 10541-A, ASCAP. © 1984-2007 Words and Music by John Fekner/Courtesy Estate of John Fekner/Drama Design Music Publishing Company, ASCAP all rights reserved.]

The 12" EP single, "Concrete People/Concrete Concerto", [" "] was a music collaboration with Dennis Mann and Al Belfiore who programmed the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer. Fekner recorded at Mann's Monkey Hill Studios from 1983-1989 where the Fatback Band, whose "King Tim III (Personality Jock)", considered to be the first commercially released rap single in 1979, were also recording. On both "Concrete People/Concrete Concerto", Fekner worked with musicians Sasha Sumner (sax), Jim Recchione (harmonica), Sandra Seymour (vocals), Sandy Mann (vocals) and Andrew Ruhren (animator and EP cover illustration). Concrete People was a popular dance club video, shown on USA Network NightFlight's "Salute to Animation" with Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer", Talking Heads "And She Was" and Timbuk 3's "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades". "Concrete People" and "The Last Days of Good and Evil" [" "] ("Concrete Concerto" soundtrack) both won honorary awards in the Prix Ars Electronica's Computer Animation category, together with award winner John Lasseter for his "Luxo Jr." and "Red's Dream" in 1987 and 1988 respectively. [Interview with John Fekner via webcam, email and written transcription ("in progress") for doctoral thesis June 21, 2007 ]


New York Times art critic John Russell wrote…Fekner is an artist who works not only in New York but with New York. The city in its more disinherited aspects is the raw material with which he has been working ever since he got a studio space in P.S. 1 in Long Island City in 1976 and learned to regard the huge dilapidated building as "an elderly person who has acutely perceived his experience of life." He went on to work outdoors in Queens and in the Bronx in ways that gave point and urgency to places long sunk in despair. With a word or two ("Decay", for instance, or "Broken Promises"), he brought an element of street theater into disaster areas. With a single stenciled phrase ("Wheels Over Indian Trails," for instance) he mingled present with past on the side of the Pulaski Bridge near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. What in other hands might have been vandalism had a salutary effect. People in desolate parts of the city saw more, felt more, thought more and came out of their apathy. [Russell, John "Art: 'New Work New York' at the New Museum" New York Times March 19, 1982. p. C24 (1 page).]

Lucy Lippard in the Village Voice called him "caption writer to the urban environment, ad-man for the opposition." [Lippard, Lucy, "All Fired Up", Village Voice, December 2-8, 1981]

The Wooster Collective said, "For us, John Fekner's pioneering stencil work is as important to the history of the urban art movement as the work of artists like Haring, Basquiat. It was artists like Fekner, Leicht, Hambleton and others who truly held down the scene back in the early 80's." [ [ "Catching Up With John Fekner and Don Leicht"] ,, 22 January 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2008.]



elected Bibliography

*cite book|last=Fekner| first=John|year=1983| title="Beauty's Only Screen Deep"|location=NY, NY|publisher=Wedge Press, Inc. #10
*cite book|last=Fekner| first=John|year=1985| title="Cassette Gazette"|location=Tokyo, Japan| publisher=B-Sellers, ISBN-4-938198-14-2
* Gumpert, Lynn, Curator, "New Work New York at the New Museum," Exhibition catalog essay, January 30-March 25, 1982. p. 12-15
* Lippard, Lucy, , The New Press, NY 1997, ISBN-1-56584-247-2
* Taylor, Marvin J., Gumpert, Lynn, "The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984", Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2005, ISBN-10-069112286-5


External links

* [ John Fekner website]
* [ Idioblast Sound Clips]
* [ Don Leicht website]
* [ Wooster Collective]
* [ Prix Ars Electronica]
* [ Museum of Modern Art Online DADABASE]

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