Painting inspired by graffiti is a style that was established in the '80s by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and has since become an old standard in contemporary art. Interestingly, over the past few years, a new generation of artists has reinvigorated the approach (think Banksy), and it's safe to say that graffiti is definitely back.
One painter who uses graffiti among his many sources is Cole Sternberg, the subject of I was here for just a moment, an engaging and elegantly installed exhibit at the David B. Smith Gallery (1543 Wazee Street, #A, 303-893-4234, www.davidbsmithgallery.com). Sternberg is an up-and-coming, L.A.-based thirty-something artist who, in this show, is represented by post-abstract-expressionist pictures. Sternberg's twist is to combine the expected -- poured, scraped, smeared, brushed and sprayed paint – with found ideas expressed in cursive handwriting.
This writing is sometimes subtle and at other times obvious, appearing beneath – and, to a lesser extent, on – the surfaces. Sternberg has appropriated the words he uses from such entities as Twitter or TMZ.com. When read, the lines of text have a nonsensical quality to them, and that's the conceptual answer to the free association embraced by the original abstract expressionists back in the '50s. But Sternberg also does their kind of automatism by allowing the paint to be instinctually arranged in freely composed fields, and to drip and run so that the colors invade each other's domains.
Speaking of colors, Sternberg is skilled at orchestrating them. Many of these pieces have rich, deep grounds that seem to float over -- and almost completely obscure -- light ones that lie underneath. In several, such as "one view on the tides" (pictured), there's just the right note of bright contrast in the scribbled words and errant lines that Sternberg has included.
For decades, when conceptualism was crossed with painting, the results were realist in style, but in the past few years, artists such as Sternberg have been doing abstract takes on conceptualism. And that approach might just be one of the next big things.