It’s been a hell of a long time since we’ve seen, Melbourne street artist, Stabs’ work being displayed in a gallery setting and while you can still catch a ton of his work outside, it’s sometime comforting to be able to sit back, relax and analyse one of this cities best and most original stencil cutters from the last decade. While Stabs has previously shown some of the most intricate stencils I’ve personally ever seen, the last 12 months has seen the artist scale it down to epic minimal proportions, with a visually super simple style that presents more story telling rather then design and a single idea. ‘Keep It Simple’ is one of the first official exhibition pushing this style of work, allowing those who come to see it, a personal look into the mind and travel log of one of its cities most elusive artists.
I was lucky enough to see the show prior to the soft opening on Thursday night, completely aware of how busy this one was going to get, in terms of the opportunity for photo’s and my own personal chance of seeing the artwork itself. As you enter the gallery, you are introduced to a cave like surrounding which leads into two sections: the show itself and to personal viewing of Stabs’own personal blackbook, complete with first-to-final pages full of sketches, featured throughout the show.. The make shift tattered entrance, made from torn gig posters (and a whole bunch of other found bits and pieces), was a great addition to the show making the transition from the cold and dark atmosphere of the outdoors into the clean and warm landscape that is Backwoods Gallery. The blackbook itself, featured hand drawn sketches, filled from cover to cover, with ideas formed across continents, making it a fantasticly rare look into the process the artist has taken from early idea to the fleshed out pieces in the show. As previously mentioned, Stabs’ past work was of a highly intricate and artistic natural, with multiple colours, characters and layers of super fine stencils, but he has now reverted to this more simplistic, almost drawable style of work to push a much broader understanding of story telling through his visuals. Artists like Keith Haring and Keiichi Tanaami come to mind (for me at least) with their clean, simplistic and bold style of work being featured across broad and cluttered canvas spaces. And while it may look like the work of hand and brush, these are in fact still stencils, with Stabs’ using a ‘reverse style of stenciling’ where the canvas is either painted or with a layer added to it and then the formations being cut and peeled away to reveal the white canvas underneath. Technically and visually this show is undoubtedly impressive, particularly because I’ve yet to see an artist use this form of stenciling before.
While this show is visually unique from start to finish, it’s the stories behind the pieces that allow them to hold up with this simplistic theme. It comes as no surprise that this body of work is reminiscent of ancient Aztec or Mayan art and while it’s chocful of personality each piece tells a story about a time, place or person on an extensive journey throughout Indonesia. While I can’t even translate 10% of what some of these markings and symbols represent, it’s safe to say that some things are more obvious then others and while I could decode some of this for you, its probably more interesting to interpret it yourself blind rather then with a guided hand. And that’s the true fun in these pieces, to interpret them in your own way, while I have been told the meaning of a few, I can embarrassingly say that they weren’t what I originally thought they were. This is the true power of the work in ‘Keep It Simple’, in a culture where the visualization of pretty much everything is to sell, sell, sell, it’s nice to find an artist (particularly a street artist) using their work to tell a story rather then sell it. Stabs rarely sells his work or even paints commissioned walls, so to say that this is art for art sake would be false, instead this is open work for the viewer, each piece allows you to make it your own, while telling the artists story in the process, a very rare and original idea to display.
Stabs’ latest body of work ‘Keep It Simple’ is still ondisplay at Backwoods Gallery until this Sunday, April 28th. Congratulations to both Stabs and Backwoods for putting on another great show! Make sure you grab one of the limited edition glow in the dark screen prints shown above or the hand screen printed zines here.