Written by Oscar Holland, NCSHong Kong

In the early Nineteen Eighties, Leonard McGurr’s title was typically uttered in the identical breath as these of his artist pals Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Known then as Futura 2000, he was a rising star of New York’s graffiti scene, his celebrated subway murals bridging the hole between graphic street artwork and abstraction.

But then, as galleries started merging street artwork with high-quality artwork — an evolution that might propel some of his contemporaries to multi-million-dollar stardom — he grew disillusioned with the institution. “I got sour,” he remembers.

“I felt I was just being manipulated a bit. I was a token in their world,” McGurr says of the establishments he felt have been pigeonholing his work. “Yeah, I was showing in a gallery with Jean-Michel, Keith, Kenny (Scharf) and other contemporary artists. But then there I was — the ‘the subway guy’ — and I’m there thinking, ‘The gallery is using me.'”

A work by Futura on display at a Monaco exhibition about the history of street art in 2011.

A piece by Futura on show at a Monaco exhibition in regards to the historical past of street artwork in 2011. Credit: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

In the many years that adopted, he moved past partitions, canvases and aerosols, discovering new mediums for an aesthetic that nods to particle physics and the area age. With two kids to assist, McGurr shunned exhibitions in favor of graphic design and, later, edgy model collaborations with the likes of Comme des Garçons and Nike.

His spacey atoms and rocket ships — signature varieties typically set in opposition to hazy, colourful blotches of spray paint — have since discovered their means onto sneakers, streetwear and even bottles of Hennessey cognac.

“In the end, I found other things to do,” he says. “I got into clothing, I got into other means of expression, I found the internet in the 1990s. I just tried things other than being a classic artist, represented by XYZ gallery in Asia and North America — you know, the classic cookie cutter stuff.”

Collectibles on display at Futura's new pop-up shop in Hong Kong.

Collectibles on show at Futura’s new pop-up store in Hong Kong. Credit: Courtesy

None of this is to say that McGurr hasn’t been profitable — removed from it. After all, it might be unfair to measure anybody’s accomplishments in opposition to these of his most idolized contemporaries. (“Jean-Michel was the golden child,” McGurr notes fondly of his late pal. “He was the chosen one.”)

But now, aged 65, the New Yorker is finally getting his dues.

Known merely as Futura (the brand new millennium rendered “2000” an anachronism), McGurr is arguably extra related than ever. Having lengthy embraced the type of collaborations which have turn out to be de rigueur for as we speak’s up to date artists, he finds himself completely positioned to capitalize on his decades-long expertise.

McGurr could also be sufficiently old to have fathered two millennials, however he additionally epitomizes the zeitgeist of new, youthful generations of artwork collectors. He is presently collaborating with Italian bikemaker Cinelli, and has lately designed a special edition BMW and a line of Uniqlo activewear bearing paint streaks and atom graphics. He has additionally simply completed filming a MasterClass, the celebrity-led on-line studying platform reserved for industries’ largest names, from Gordon Ramsay to Samuel L. Jackson (“I guess I’ll be teaching kids how to spray paint,” he muses).

“I feel I’ve been very patient, but I’m getting mine now,” he says.

A brand new abstraction

When it involves restricted version collectibles, a profitable business for up to date artwork heavyweights like Yayoi Kusama and KAWS, McGurr is an previous hand, too.
We meet within the labyrinthine basement of Hong Kong’s upscale Landmark mall, the place McGurr’s “Futuraland” sculptures, mobiles and streetwear can be found through a pop-up store that counts Dior and Gucci as neighbors. In the atrium above, his largest work up to now — a 20-foot-tall stainless-steel rocket — recurrently shoots clouds of smoke over passing buyers.
Futura's new installation in Hong Kong is his largest work to date.

Futura’s new set up in Hong Kong is his largest work up to now. Credit: Courtesy Belowground

True to his title, Futura is unrelentingly forward-facing. Fresh out of Hong Kong’s obligatory two-week Covid-19 lodge quarantine, he has already moved on from the ordeal. “Once I walked out of there yesterday morning, from my point of view, it never happened,” he says. “It’s like I just arrived from the airport.”

“I look at my life that way too. I don’t live in the rear-view mirror. I don’t want to come telling you about everything I did. Who cares, it’s irrelevant.”

Having simply declared the previous’s irrelevance, McGurr gamely entertains my questions on his early profession. (“I certainly don’t ever mind taking about it,” he clarifies. “And I have a great memory and know exactly what happened.”)

After breaking onto New York’s underground graffiti scene within the ’70s, it was his 1980 “Break” mural that earned McGurr wider recognition. Bringing a complete subway automotive to life in brooding shades of orange, he centered the work on an summary patch of putting blue and purple that appeared to shine out by imagined cracks.

It was maybe little shock that New York, town answerable for Abstract Expressionism, may also produce a model of nonfigurative street artwork that eschewed daring lettering and cartoonish varieties. But, McGurr says, “it wasn’t premeditated.”

A work by Futura on dsiplay at an exhibition in Calais, northern France.

A piece by Futura on dsiplay at an exhibition in Calais, northern France. Credit: Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

“I didn’t really know much about art,” he says, “I did not know De Kooning, I did not know Rothko … I could not title you anyone that was an summary painter. I knew Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. I knew about American artwork however I wasn’t actually into it.”

“People were comparing me to Kandinsky,” he provides, “But it was kind of an accident what I did.”

Revisiting an period

Accidental or not, McGurr might now be benefiting from revived curiosity within the street scene he emerged from. With Basquiat the undisputed star of New York’s latest spring auctions (his 1983 portray “In This Case” bought at Christie’s for $93.1 million), there seems to be rising institutional intrigue about an period immediately answerable for many of as we speak’s artwork stars, from Banksy and JR to Shepard Fairey and Osgemeos.

“The story that we were telling, way prematurely to its acceptance, is all coming back,” McGurr says. “And all the contemporary artists of the moment are out there keeping it going, and transitioning from the street to commercial galleries and institutions or whatever their path is.”

Items from the Futura's 2014 collaboration with streetwear label Crooks & Castles.

Items from the Futura’s 2014 collaboration with streetwear label Crooks & Castles. Credit: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images North America

Fitting, maybe, that McGurr is additionally dipping his toe again into the institutional waters. In 2020 he exhibited a sequence of work at gallerist Eric Firestone’s New York area (a present dubbed “Futura 2020”). And regardless of Covid-related postponements, he hopes to open a present at Takashi Murakami’s Tokyo gallery later this yr.

Overcoming his misgivings in regards to the artwork institution is each about “being in control of production and publication” and discovering — in Firestone and Hong Kong’s AllRightsReserved — representatives he trusts.

“I have too many options to let myself get manipulated now,” McGurr says.

Futura pictured during the press launch of "Futuraland" in Hong Kong.

Futura pictured in the course of the press launch of “Futuraland” in Hong Kong. Credit: Courtesy Belowground

Nonetheless, his causes for reconnecting with the artwork mainstream nonetheless intently resemble his causes for rejecting it within the first place: For Futura, the concept of legacy seems intently tied to the wellbeing of his household.

“Prior to Keith (Haring’s) passing, he laid out a bunch of artworks for all these kids — my son got three or four pieces,” he remembers. “I thought ‘Wow, dude, how benevolent and generous of you. You know you’re going to die, and you’re taking care of other people and children?’ So, I was super inspired by that.

“For the second, I’m making ready for my guys, placing away work and archiving stuff. My digital IP will reside in perpetuity. You know sooner or later my household, whether or not 100 years from now or in 2050, will be capable of use that.”

Futuraland” is on the Landmark Atrium, Hong Kong, till June 16.


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