Return of the Product

Return of the Product: “Alphabet City” by Michael De Feo

The violative nature of graffiti is not normally in agreement with lessons that you might teach a two year old. While some have argued graffiti is a proven artform worthy of acceptance and acclaim, others have denounced it citing not only its illegal nature (in fact, the insistence that it’s not real graffiti unless it trespasses), but also its oft association with many “there goes the neighborhood” notions as the physical manifestation of a degrading community. Whatever opinion we hold, it’s a reality which we live within. Some communities might only boast one local tagger who owns his locale by hitting every pole, dumpster or street sign with his/her five-letter tag while other metropolises might be represented by an army of truly gifted artists who create elaborate and magnificent works twenty feet long and eight feet tall, albeit, illegally. It’s an artform that’s truly pervasive yet it’s faceless, nameless. It’s without witness. Without fingerprints. And mostly without prosecution.

All that being said, when I came home briefly from the hospital to pick up a few articles at the house, I noticed that this book was left on the counter. I later discovered that it was the work of my mother-in-law who had purchased this book at a Dallas art museum. The concept of the book is pretty simple: famed street artist Michael De Feo uses his paste-up skills to create characters and objects to represent each letters of the alphabet. For instance, G is for giraffe.

And W is for whale.

There’s no other text to muddy the intent of the book. Just a simple san-serif font with the titles. Says the foreword from Marc and Sara Schiller of NYC’s Wooster Collective: “During the past year, while working on this book, Michael De Feo transformed Manhattan into one giant sandbox in which all of us could play…For Michael, the city itself is the canvas. And the only limits are his imagination. It’s a place where giraffes wander through brick buildings, tomato bushes grow out of concrete and penguins roam across construction sites.” Geez, talk about romanticizing the craft. Some critics just like to talk. While all that might be true, De Feo went where most street artists rarely go: consumer products. And, moreover, to develop a complete and concise product marketed toward parents triples the sellout status.

Lucky for him, it works. The colors are vivid and luscious. His execution is dead on and it achieves, in its simplest form, a sometimes metaphorical but otherwise accessible alphabet book that caters as much to young parents who enjoy moonlighting as art critics as it does to a two-year old pair of peepers. It’s the one alphabet book that doubles as a coffee table centerpiece. There’s not many books that can make that claim.

Three and a half Black Elvises for De Feo’s Alphabet City.

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