Hellbent: A Decade Living with Lace
A transplant to New York from the South, Hellbent began utilizing the decorative motifs of lace fabrics as a means to push the limits of stenciling. Prior to this move, the artist honed his graffiti skills as a punk kid living in the urban abandonment of Atlanta. Drawing on punk’s anti-commercialist ethos, the lacework that has come to dominate his recent series initially acted as a backdrop for a monochrome jawbone that was the artist’s proverbial middle finger to the commodification of skulls in pop culture. Hellbent expounds:
“I had just read this article about Freud being saved by a dwarf as he was being treated for some sort of jaw ailment. And had been thinking about the blatant commercialization of the skull by major corporations in logos and t-shirt designs (Paul Frank really pissed me off with his cute skull). When I was growing up in the skate and punk scene this sort of image was common, but out of the mainstream. So, the jawbone was a way to take back this sort of imagery and put it back into the underground.”
Subversive culture has since become hidden in the seemingly innocuous repeating of patterns. These passions for music and counterculture are most aptly represented in the artist’s last solo exhibition, Even Romantics Love Violence, where the “Mixtape Series” paid homage to these inspirations through a series of lace collages constructed with repurposed masking tape. With his passion for music, the artist is quick to cite references ranging from hip-hop to the fast paced screams of punk rock, including the band F.I.D.L.A.R (Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk), Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Jane’s Addiction, and Pixies. Channeling the energy of a youth spent sweating in mosh pits and tagging urban spaces with fervor, this vibrancy can also be seen in the neon hues of his color palette.
The energy springs forth from each canvas and mural that the artist touches, bringing to life the past in a contemporary progression. After peeling back the layers of his composition, we can see that what was once a backdrop for Freud’s jaw, those sharp lines in neon hues, have become his central trajectory. After paring down his imagery to flattened patterns, Hellbent’s latest evolution has seen these intersections separated, with shading and dimensionality added between them. The artist explains this transition:
“In the initial stages of working with this I was using color and the way they played off each other to achieve this effect. And these early works achieved this, color combinations next to each other would rise and others fall back on the pictorial plane. This was best achieved when viewed in person. I began using shadows and highlights in public murals and for this current body of work brought them on to canvas and have been really happy with what is happening.”
Now that the layers have been pared down and reformed again within the geometric planes, Hellbent hints that optics will take on a larger role in the next body of work. If his past is any indicator, viewers can expect the precision perfected with multiple lace applications combined with the energy distilled from his youth and infused into each color palette.
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.