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Remembering The Great Dondi White in Marseille

  • Dondi by Sophie Bramly
April 13, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The rise of graffiti and street art is intangible from the social context of the city that never sleeps in the mid-70’s. Due to general disorder, a huge number of young people started expressing themselves on the walls of their neighborhood. Many of them were existentially endangered, and even involved with gangs to keep themselves protected, so the creative energy helped them much practically in staying alive.

Such was them a case of Dondi White, one of the pioneers of graffiti. Over the years he managed to develop a distinct style, which gained him international recognition and reception of his work. The Ghost Galerie, a new exhibition space in Marseille, decided to start its activity with a retrospective of this legendary artist.

 Boe & Arrow, 1984
Dondi White – Boe & Arrow, 1984. Aerosol paint, 174 x 181 cm

Struggling For Art’s Sake

Donald Joseph White aka Dondi White was raised in a family of mixed origin in East New York. His development had been rather affected by the mentioned circumstances, and still he managed to work and in the formative years has used tags NACO and DONDI. The second moniker, which he kept at the end of the 70’s, was quite risky at that time, since the authorities were on the writer’s siege.

Notable is his involvement with the famous TOP crew (The Odd Partners), and later on with IA (Crazy Inside Artists), a crew of his own. As the time passed by, Dondi developed a recognizable style, which has influenced a whole generation of graffiti artists.

Untitled, 1985
Dondi White – Untitled, 1985. Drawing on papir, 42 x 35 cm

The Highlights of The Retrospective

A brief, yet extensive survey on Dondi’s work in Marseille will be curated by his brother Michael. The selection covers thirteen canvases and a few collages. On the display will be a number of private photographs, as well as those taken by photographers Sophie Bramly, Henry Chalfant, and Martha Cooper, who captured the atmosphere of the making of his famous piece Children of the Grave from 1981.

Dondi White was focused on communication level of his works, so even when he did wild-style works, he always painted the letters in such a manner so the viewers could read it. Furthermore, the following statement tells much about his agenda:

I never was a graffiti writer artist even when I was active in the subway yards. I was a subway painter. A subway writer. Now that I do work on canvas. The work consists of high tech letters with ghetto based images (they are not graffiti painting). If you must title my work it can only go under one title Dondism, which is the state of Dondi, the composer of Dondism.

Man 101, 1992 Right Untitled, 1985
Left: Dondi White – Man 101, 1992. Ink, pencil, marker ac collage on paper, 35,5 x 46,5 cm / Right: Dondi White – Untitled, 1985. Drawing on paper, 35 x 42 cm

Dondi at the Ghost Galerie

The exhibition at Ghost Galerie celebrates the life and work of Dondi White twenty years after he passed away. It opened on 8 April and it will last until 10 May 2018.

Although the audience will be able to see just a part of his vast production, since the majority of his canvases belong to private collectors, this particular exhibition will offer them a fine insight into the life of Dondi, but at the same time, the insight into the historical development of graffiti.

Featured image: Dondi by Sophie Bramly © Sophie Bramly. All images courtesy of Ghost Galerie.