Just across the Hudson in Jersey City there’s a seemingly abandoned auto repair shop covered in graffiti art. Its entire exterior is doused with spray painted characters and letters that appear to explode off the wall in vibrant shapes and colors. And it doesn’t stop there. (Click gallery above to see every piece.)
Scores of meticulously spaced graffiti pieces can be found inside of the 22,000-square-foot building as well. The former Pep Boys station — which has been stripped of all its lifts and equipment — has been fully transformed into a sprawling urban arts gallery as part of a soon-to-open group show called “Demolition Exhibition.” It features work from over 100 artists across several generations and continents. The exhibit with too many names to list is the brainchild of Green Villain, a scrappy production company founded by Jersey City-native Greg Edgell, which also boasts a record label and a regional murals program. For a little over a month, the 27-year-old has been inviting writers to come and paint the space before it’s demolished as part of massive a new development project.
Edgell has a particular connection to this spot. In 2014, when Pep Boys was still doing oil changes and checking tires, he convinced a regional manager to let him curate the rear facade of the building facing the light rail tracks. He rounded up a crew of artists who enthusiastically obliged. Recently, when it was announced that the shop would be shuttered and then razed, he asked the auto repair chain if he could expand the project and they agreed. “This past April we were given permission to paint the full 360 degrees around the building, top to bottom,” explains Edgell.
Still not content with the amount of aerosol, he decided to go all in and ask the new property owners if the inside of the soon-to-be knocked down building could be painted as well. Edgell also wanted to throw an event there and send it off in style. He said they kicked in about $7,500, all of which was quickly eaten up by the hard costs associated with throwing a big party. When I asked him about the gentrifying factor in all of this, he didn’t shy away from the question, and admitted it’s “a bit of a double-edged sword.”
“There’s a duality,” said Edgell. “Maybe developers are taking advantage in some way of this niche subculture, but at that same point, these artists are getting to promote themselves and be a part of something they would have never been a part of.”
None of the artists were paid and don’t seem to care. Graffiti writer LOSER of the well known AIDS crew said he started actively writing his name in 1997 and for him there were two major motivations for doing the show: “Green Villain and the love of painting.” When I asked if he thought the developer was getting over, he replied: “Everybody is getting over somehow, some way.” Another local writer, NARK, doesn’t think there’s an issue with the property owners. He’s just glad to see the general “acceptance of murals.” Urban artist Jahan Loh from Singapore is into the “semi permanence” of the show. He also sees opportunity in new development. “Commerce is the main driving force of all urban areas, and one building down with one new one up means a fresh new canvas,” said Loh. It’s a sentiment that graffiti veteran SPOT echoes. “I’ve painted condos before where they wanted artist to paint,” he said. “So, hopefully this can inspire them and who knows maybe they’ll build a place for us to paint somewhere on the development.”
Edgell readily admits that the property owners are “getting over,” but he’s looking towards the future. “The bottom line is that I’m looking to use examples of this type of work to continue to do stuff like this whether it be with developers, the public sector, non-profits, city officials, or small businesses or brands. I now have a repertoire with all these artists and now I can hopefully pass jobs their way.”
“Demolition Exhibition” opens Saturday from 12pm – 8PM and is located at 410 Marin Blvd in Jersey City.
(Photos/Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)