Saber: The Ugly American
Friday January 10th – Saturday 15th February 2014
En garde for one of the biggest names in international urban art, when Saber’s The Ugly American exhibition starts the 2014 program at The Outsiders London gallery. The enormously well-received show was unveiled at The Outsiders Newcastle in late 2013, and travels to the capital by popular demand.
The swashbuckling American is noted for his success in making traditional graffiti styles relevant to a fine art gallery context – and his effortlessly provocative executions. The latter have included the world’s largest piece of graffiti, interpretations of the usually sacrosanct Stars ʻnʼ Stripes, and using skywriting planes to daub politicised slogans above major US cities. The exhibitions predominantly abstract works in spray paint, oils and charcoal also include both Saberʼs trademark Stars ‘n’ Stripes flags on stained wood – his “OldMath” series – and depictions of the UK’s Union Jack flag too. The artist’s on-going “BaseElements” works in an abstract graffiti style are also represented. The pieces come in the large-scale format Saber utilises regularly, and more manageable sizes.
“My work is a continuation of certain graffiti styles developed in Southern California,” says Saber by way of description. “However, I have always been fascinated by how to adapt it for a gallery.” His unique form of abstraction is the result of a 22-year journey as a graffiti artist, and consists of multiple layers of fragmented names, hand-styles, marks, shapes and movements woven into deep layers of urban texture.
Saber’s famed outdoor pieces are “about an unrepeatable spontaneous representation of the power of letters, movement and placement. I can’t bring those colours and gestures into a gallery. It’s not graffiti once it’s on the canvas.” The gallery works, in contrast, he says “Have to be a beautiful painting. I want an average person who knows nothing about graffiti to say, “this is a beautiful painting” that’s the most important thing to me.”
Saberʼs abstracts are painted while considering a theme – in this case, the Ugly American of the title. The phrase was popularised by Eugene Burdick and William Ledererʼs 1958 novel of the same name. Made into a 1963 movie starring Marlon Brando, it concerns the international perception of Americans both personally and politically. “Itʼs a reference to the excesses, and foul nature, that some believe Americans possess. Obviously this has similarities to modern Britain too, but... I come from this culture thatʼs so self centered, and self-preserved, and I want to expose the cracks in it,” says Saber.
“Not just the endless wars, or PRISM and the treatment of Edward Snowden, but healthcare,” he adds, himself an epilepsy sufferer. “In America thereʼs no philosophy of preventative care. In the UK there’s empathy directed towards the patient. In the US, you get ill and you lose your home. Iʼm a messenger for the future telling the British people what its going to be like when the NHS is fully privatised.”