John "CRASH" Matos, Off the Hook (2016), courtesy of the artist and JoAnne Artman Gallery.

John "CRASH" Matos, Off the Hook (2016), courtesy of the artist and JoAnne Artman Gallery.

JoAnne Artman Gallery:

John “CRASH” Matos

The graffiti artist John Crash Matos, known simply as Crash, started spray-painting buildings and trains in New York City in his early teens. Before long, he transitioned to showing in galleries. Although he may not be as renowned as colleagues Shepard Fairey or Barry McGee, his eye-popping spray-painted canvasses and smaller watercolors, which incorporate the dark outlines, bright colors and cartoonish figures intrinsic to this genre, are mash-ups of popular 20th-century art forms.

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John “CRASH” Matos, Search for the Serif (2016), courtesy of the artist and JoAnne Artman Gallery.

A result of his decades-long autodidactic art practice, the paintings combine realistic details with sharp outlines, serpentine lines and undulating shapes. The 55-year-old artist uses images from popular cartoons from the late 1920s and early 30s, including Popeye, Dick Tracey and others. The works also depict large eyes and feature broad arrows that appear to be inspired by the 1960s Batman TV series.

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John “CRASH” Matos, Silver Streak 2 (2016), courtesy of the artist and JoAnne Artman Gallery.

These artworks echo childhood memories, but even more importantly seem to draw on images from a collective unconscious. In doing so, they gleefully appropriate and excavate visual history to deliver a lushly appealing, somewhat nostalgic experience. Yet, more than simply borrowing images, they contain a tension between balance and chaos, between harmony and madness; and thereby become visual metaphors for the politically unhinged world that many of us inhabit today.

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John “CRASH” Matos, Wrapped In My Own Existence (2016), courtesy of the artist and JoAnne Artman Gallery.

The artist, who grew up in and resides in the Bronx, New York, exhibits paintings and murals throughout the East Coast and in Europe, yet “Breaking Ground II: Redefining the Urban Experience” is his first West Coast showing in two decades. His paintings in this show, some as large as 82 x 64 inches, include Off the Hook (all works 2016), featuring a large brown eye within a Popeye arm, and Search for the Serif, which depicts a small-scale eye surrounded by rolling graffiti images. Wrapped in My Own Existence, which combines hints of a woman’s face and hair, along with an orange arrow and bright red heart, evokes sensuality and the promise of romantic love.    

John “CRASH” Matos, “Breaking Ground II: Redefining the Urban Experience,” January 2017 – February 2017 at JoAnne Artman Gallery, 326 N Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA, www.joanneartmangallery.com.