John Tsombikos

United States 1987


John Tsombikos
John Tsombikos
United States
April 2, 2014
Jean is researcher and author for Widewalls.

Born in Manhattan, New York, 1987, Straddling the street and the academy, John Tsombikos, aka BORF, pours his heart into tagging and painting alike, addressing what he sees as the alienation of modern life and commuter culture, and the sad status quo of adulthood.

His burgeoning career was forged out of anguish over his best friend’s suicide. Adopting his friend’s nickname, BORF, he bombed the walls of Washington, D.C. with statements like, “grownups are obsolete,” until his eventual arrest.

The end of his probation coincided with his graduation from art school, where he honed his practice and developed an appreciation for painting, and Mark Rothko’s canvases in particular. BORF pays homage to the modern master in his “Rothko’s Modern Life” series (begun 2008), in which he melds the artist’s moody stains with graffiti in a visual symbiosis that reflects, in his words, “human tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”

The youth practically sing ballads about Tsombikos in Washington DC where he grew up.  As a teenager he embarked on a prolific, partisan graffiti campaign after becoming enraged by the suicide of a close friend, daubing slogans like “Grown-ups are obsolete” and “BORF writes letters to your children” around a consistent picture of an eager, positive and rather stupid grinning face, alongside politically charged stencils, wheatpastes and tags. BORF, some will be aware, is also the acronym for America’s Bill Of Rights Foundation.

After a sabbatical working out of Detroit, John has returned to his birthplace of New York City. His artistic background in hardcore graffiti has evolved considerably. Now employing a sensitive realist style combined with abstractive elements, he often contrasts “adult” life with the vigour of youth. This is exemplified by his enormously successful Rothko’s Modern Life series of paintings, which feature graffiti overlaid with colours in the acclaimed 20th century painter’s multiform style.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2014Art14 LondonLazarides Rathbone, LondonGroup
2013BORF ShowLazarides Rathbone, LondonSolo
2012Walls Are Two-SidedThe Outsiders, NewcastleSolo
2012Fresh PaintLazarides Rathbone, LondonGroup
2011See Something Say SomethingThe Outsiders NewcastleSolo
2011Outside InReed Projects gallery, StavangerGroup
2010Potty Trained At Gun PointThe Fridge, Washington DCSolo
2008OutsidersLazarides Rathbone, LondonGroup