Rubin: Typography Through Abstraction
A transplant from Sweden, Rubin has spent nearly three decades searching for his niche within the urban art aesthetic. The path to the development of the smooth curves and sharp intersections of his abstract pieces find their roots in his Nordic past. Through stories of racking paint, loss, and an impoverished upbringing we can trace the artist’s trajectory to assuming his current vision, a combination of traditional graffiti and contemporary abstract imagery.
Since his youth in Gothenburg, Rubin has expressed himself through the typographical use of aerosol. In the late 80’s, at the age of 11, the artist created his first illegal fill, which he recounts in saying:
“I still remember how I planned that piece. The location was a very visible and high-risk trackside spot in my old hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. The outline was dark blue and the can was racked from a local gas station. The fill in was one of those 80’s fluorescent green hair color sprays that we snatched from my friend’s older sister. I still remember the rush I got afterwards and I spent the next couple of days riding the commuter train watching the piece from the train.”
Although primarily associated with the abstractions of his moniker that have since been produced legally throughout New York City, the graffiti aesthetic remains an integral part of the artist’s identity and aesthetic.
The years idling around train yards, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, were also spent in a low-income housing project. In particular, the artist was close to his father, who passed away when the artist was only 13 years old.It is this loss that Rubin channels into the swooping lines of his abstracted style. The artist thoughtfully recounts this time in his life, saying that:
“I didn’t really deal with the loss when I was younger. Today he is very present in my work. He was a sailor and a welder and the use of copper relates to him. He used to bring home these weird copper sculptures that he welded at work when he had time off and as a kid I was very fascinated by them.”
Not only the loss of his past finds its way into his lexicon of inspirations, but urban decay as well. The artist is quick to cite a building treasured by many uncommissioned artists: a rusted, iron barn that stands several stories tall adjacent to the Williamsburg waterfront. For approximately five years, Gaia’s early image of a rooster-human-hybrid cradling the head of John the Baptist has graced the façade. Enduring two hurricanes and regular inclement, the pieces of this mural have peeled back like the pages of a book, revealing the raw steel and timeworn appearance that Rubin favors.
Alongside drawing from his European past, the artist also connects with the life he has created in New York City. Aside from its architecture, the Bronx and his graffiti crew, 4Burners, play an integral role in the assemblage of his creativity. The artist explains his stylistic shift since moving to the United States, saying:
“My life has changed completely since I moved to New York City and that reflects in my work. I’ve never been a nostalgic person. I like to move forward. I was experimenting a lot in the 90’s, but I chose to take a few steps back and focus on classic graffiti and letter structure when I started painting again about five years ago. It was important for me to go back to where it all started to be able to move forward.”
It is in this self-imposed break that the artist began to focus on adapting his letterforms, attempting to carve a space for himself within the continuum of urban art practitioners. Self-described as “Scandi-schizo-graffuturism-style,” the hybridism that culminates in Rubin’s flowing geometric complexities tie together in a manner that situates him firmly within the abstract graffiti movement while defining his own niche.
This essay is part of an ongoing series that examines the work of New York’s graffuturist movement, which combines the aerosol and typographical background of graffiti with abstraction to form a unified style within the urban art aesthetic.
To commemorate the “Spectrum” exhibition opening at Gallery Brooklyn, which features New York’s abstract graffiti practitioners, ArtSlant Street has conducted a series of interviews and studio visits with the artists represented: Col Wallnuts, EKG, Hellbent, Rubin, and See One. “Spectrum” opens to the public Saturday July 27th from 6pm-9pm and runs through August 17th.