Post Road Magazine #19

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D. Dominick Lombardi: The Graffoo

The term Graffoo refers to a combination of the creative/destructive method of graffiti, and the esthetics of tattoo. Between the years 1998 and 2006, I had compiled thousands of studies of individual characters, as well as abstract designs, some realized as reverse paintings, others made into sculptures, drawings and prints, all as witnessed by a future 'tattoo artist'; yet, I had little in the way of the world they lived in. The Graffoo came from that need to depict a variety of possible environments for my Post Apocalyptic Tattoo series characters; and, since the apocalypse occurs here on earth, I decided to begin by reintroducing my own paintings and drawings executed some 20-40 years ago. As a result, the old works were remade as Graffoos, with work like "Tattooed Landscape #3" (1976-2006). Soon, I had over-painted tattoo-like designs on dozens of old works that, in one sense, enabled me to re-experience long forgotten memories and feelings. When this makeshift self-analysis became less functional to me, I began making brand new "background" paintings by assuming an alter ego that was different from the tattoo artist I was originally channeling through. An example of this is "Tattooed Seascape #4" (2007). The new backgrounds painted by the alter egos were more superficial and varied, imagined and assumed separately for each new painting. In some instances, it worked quite well as it continued my focus on conflicting or complementary esthetics: hideous/beauteous, high/low — it's always been about covering a broad scope of esthetics, levels and concepts for me.

Layering imagery, especially the relatively unrelated variety in style or source, is nothing new. You need only look at the 1920s and 30s 'Transparencies' of Francis Picabia to know this. Yet, what is most important to me about these layered works, or any layering in any art form, is the conflicting intentions; how the later layers or overlays partially eliminate what is beneath, while at the same time, building something new and intriguing. It is not unlike the way a creative or inquisitive person processes information as they engage the new without eliminating the old. It allows one to make comparisons, which is something of a mathematical form that in this instance shows that subtraction by addition multiplies the meaning. Take, for example, "Tattooed Karate Guy" (1976-2006). The background karate figure was designed in 1976 for a start-up tee shirt company I was working for at the time; a business which ended up being a front for a drug pusher - but that's another story. I was asked by the 'proprietor' to create designs that would have the greatest mass appeal. One such fad at that time was a booming interest in karate prompted by such films as "Enter the Dragon" or "The Five Fingers of Death." Hence, the original ink drawing. Covering or subtracting part of the karate figure by adding, or over-painting, the abstracted 'head' multiplies meaning by questioning the original esthetics; by distorting scale, and pushing the plasticity of the dimension, which in turn, establishes an element of time, abrupt and truncated.

The last Graffoo paintings, as well as the digital collage Graffoos, were inspired by a 2008 trip to Japan. Prior to my arrival, I had been intently aware of the art of Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Mr. (Masakatsu Iwamoto) among others. Soon after arriving in Japan I began to realize that anything I had previously understood about that culture in no way prepared me for the onslaught of cultural differences I experienced. That was no more apparent than in the city of Tokyo. Little by little, a world with a proud past, and a very weirdly anxious present emerged. The biggest element that came through to me was the Japanese obsession with the cute little mutated monster — something that apparently goes back through the ages. To represent this obsession with their uses of an endless supply of 'characters', I designed two new tattoo-like figures: a half man, half dog and a flying 'happy head' to Graffoo over a series of eight paintings that are based on photographs taken in Tokyo. And in the case of the eight Tattooed Tokyo paintings #1-8, the characters ended up in a middle world, as they exist both atop a previously painted surface, as they react or play act relative to what goes on in the background.

A second series of digital collages were produced in a more classic Graffoo way where one or more heads, some transparent, some solid, float above the surface. The one exception is Tattooed Tokyo #13, which has fallen and partially flattened heads sharing the sidewalk with a number of Japanese commuters as they wind their way to and from the Tokyo Train Station. The digital collages are different from the previous Graffoos because I utilized a Photoshop-manipulated photographic background, overlaid with a selection of the 1,088, scanned, black and white India ink heads designed as Post Apocalyptic Tattoos. Here, the result is more immediate, and hopefully, another way of playing the meditative against the distracting, as is the case with any potent graffiti.

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