NBD: Oakland Artist Swampy's Exhibit Shows the Romance of Dropping Out

Vinnie Well

Less than a year-and-a-half after many longtime galleries were expelled from 77 Geary Street, it’s good to know that new ones are still popping back up. Chandran Gallery, which opened in 2013 to exhibit contemporary artists at all career levels, will find its way into a permanent space near Union Square this September.

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But before that, Chandran is staging a solo show and book release by Swampy, a mysterious Oakland graffiti artist with a penchant for long-term disappearances and who operates anonymously. Having developed a cult following after his sold-out 2011 debut at FIFTY24SF, he has re-emerged four years later with NBD, a switch from his earlier street art into photographic work about life off the grid.

The images in NBD, of transients riding the rails, hooded figures staring off the stern of a rusting ship at sea, punks with blue mohawks and anti-authoritarian jackets, and people grabbing some z’s in uncomfortable transit. America’s fortunes may have largely rebounded from the dark days of 2008, but millions of Americans have dropped out of the labor force and into a gray economy, with one foot on solid ground and another dangling over a cliff. Is Swampy’s vision of outsiders liberating, an incredible freedom from credit scores, password resets, and Obamacare tax penalties? Or does it show utter desperation, a hardscrabble existence as a stowaway on a train full of fracked gas that could derail in a fireball?

Like Okies and hobos in the 1930s, escaping destitution with their worldly possessions in a bindle, the romance of dropping out is inexorable. Swampy captures its 21st-century equivalent with enough grace and humor to get even the most comfortable bourgeois to reconsider his or her life choices. Find out tomorrow (July 25), at NBD’s opening reception from 7-10 p.m., or else check out Swampy’s latest work in the weeks to come.

NBD, July 25-Aug. 8, at Chandran Gallery, 459 Geary.

 

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