Sheets of rusty metal, reclaimed wood and stenciled graphics in spray paint: While graffiti-style art has long since gained recognition in mainstream culture, there’s still something odd about the juxtaposition of these elements of urban and industrial culture with a gallery setting.
That feeling isn’t lost on Brian Buono, a/k/a Scout/Pines, whose most recent exhibition “Give ’Em Hell” is on display now in Hudson’s Time & Space Limited (TSL). “Everyone in a subculture starts putting things up in the street, but if you do enough, people notice,” says Buono, adding that his exhibits and his “public” art “feed into each other.” The gallery brings awareness, but spontaneous, unofficial exhibitions still have his heart.
Buono is not a formally trained artist. He left his hometown of Rensselaer after high school to move to Oakland, California, where he had his primary exposure to street art and radical art. After returning to New York, Buono began working at the screenprinting department of the independent record label Equal Vision, where he first experimented with found objects and stenciling to create art.
“There’s an unspoken kind of mentorship program [in this art scene],” he says, noting that in the days before the widespread use of the Internet, skills like his own were “all word-of-mouth. Someone really had to show you.” That someone, for Buono, was his co-worker and future co-creator, Chris Stain. In 2001, he partnered with the stencil artist from Baltimore and made his first pieces, which they displayed in group shows at TSL.
He continued to paint for a few years, but life put a hold on Buono’s art career. As the father of two daughters and a full-time employee, he had little time to work on his art, and he “went through quite a bit of stuff” that kept him from it. Linda Mussmann, the TSL co-executive director who approached him about doing his most recent show, recalls his vanishing. “I knew Scout probably a dozen years ago, and then he disappeared,” says Mussmann. Then one day, Mussmann was on Facebook when she saw that someone she knew had purchased a piece of his art, and she decided to reach out to him. “He’s one of the most talented artists in the area,” she says.
Mussmann cites energy and spontaneity as two characteristics of Buono’s work. The pieces on display at TSL consist mostly of brightly colored, high-gloss, vintage-inspired portraits on pieces of found wood. While they certainly maintain the elements noted by Mussmann, Buono says that the pieces in the show have been reworked and refined. Since stenciling allows him to reproduce an image, many of the originals have been set free in New York communities: hung on abandoned buildings where they’re available for viewing and taking.
Buono likes the immediacy of street art. He still experiences a thrill when he hangs these “non-permission” pieces. “There’s a sense of adventure to just go and do it,” he says. And, he notes, it’s something that anybody can do. That democratic nature – the lack of constraints that allow him and others to show their work publicly and instantly – is much of the appeal for Buono. He does have one restriction, though: “I’ve certainly never vandalized a private property.” He wants his pieces to be a conversation with the community rather than an intrusion, so he chooses to hang them in abandoned places.
While Buono leaves many of his pieces to be taken, his installations are an exchange of sorts. “Getting around and walking – that to me is as critical to the process as the studio work,” he says.
The locations inform his choice of materials, both by necessity and happenstance. He works with materials like reclaimed wood because his pieces have to be durable to withstand the weather, but also because places that he visits provide many of the materials he uses. Often, he’ll find his canvases in the forms of fallen signs or other discarded items, and he believes that using them in his work is “a logical extension” of his mission. “It just made sense, that notion of trying to give new life to something. It’s like a metaphor for what I was trying to do in the spaces.”
If Buono’s work could be said to have a driving purpose, it would be to bring to the foreground people who have been, as he puts it, “forgotten or marginalized.” In the case of his most recent show, vintage imagery features heavily. Porters, chieftains, rural folk and old leatherhead footballers are some of the subjects repeated in Buono’s work. He collects old books and ephemera, scouring for images that he feels have been lost to history. With pieces like Hey, Porter, which depicts a Pullman railroad porter with an expression of subtle pride painted on a piece of barn door, Buono aims to provoke his audience to consider what the life might have been like for a person in this bygone profession.
Among the work on display at TSL are many pieces that include elements of text. A tiny inscription of “eyes on the prize” accompanies an image of a boy in overalls, while the Lakota Sioux rallying cry “Hokahey!” is painted prominently in a sharp font atop a background of graffitilike lines. The words are a nod to graffiti culture, with Buono saying that he has always been intrigued by “the power of making art out of a word.”
He believes that the interplay between images and words provides a layered meaning. He points to the name of the show as an example. It’s a phrase that one might imagine a captain saying to a team of underdogs about to take on an antagonistic rival, but Buono reveals that it’s a bit of a double entendre, as “giving ’em hell is what society can do to the marginalized.”
“I have a conversation in my head with the people I’m trying to portray,” says the artist, adding that he wants his portraits to be respectful and dignified. In his future work, those conversations may no longer have to happen in his head. Buono expects to take his art in a new direction by capturing more of the photos himself, depicting contemporary subjects instead of historical ones. “I want there to be a social and community component to it,” he says. “That’s the biggest part of it.”
“Give ’Em Hell,” Scout/Pines, May 14-31, Time & Space Ltd, 434 Columbia Street, Hudson; (518) 822-8448, www.timeandspace.org.