John Fekner

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John Fekner
John Fekner

October 6, 1950
EducationNYIT Lehman College
Known forArt, Multimedia, Poetry, Music, Video

John Fekner (born 1950 in New York City) is an American artist known for his spray painted environmental and conceptual outdoor works.

Fekner's has created paintings, cast paper reliefs, video, music recordings and performance works, sculpture, photography and computer-generated work. Fekner has addressed issues involving concepts of perception and transformation, as well as specific environmental and sociological concerns such as urban decay, greed, chemical pollutants, mass media and Native American Indians.[1]

Early life[edit]

Fekner began writing poetry as a young teenager, and his first outdoor graffiti in 1968 were the words Itchycoo Park painted at Gorman Park 85th Street Park in Jackson Heights, Queens. Along with his accomplices on the park house roof, he painted the phrase in large white letters across the front of the building. Fekner appropriated the name of the popular hit written and recorded by the Small Faces about a park in Newham, England. Subsequently, the Jackson Heights local football team took the name, Itchycoo Chiefs in the 1970s. Ten years later, Fekner used the park as a base for his stencils projects. In May 1978, he curated the Detective Show with help from the Institute for Art and Urban Resources (P.S. 1). A group of thirty artists including Gordon Matta-Clark, Don Leicht, Len Bellinger, Lucio Pozzi, Lou Forgione, Richard Artschwager, Frances Hynes, Karen Shaw and Claudia De Monte hid art and created subtle art work in situ throughout the park.

Stencil works[edit]

In 1976, Fekner began to spray paint temporary messages onto buildings in New York City using hand-cut cardboard stencils and spray paint. First seen on the industrial streets and highways of Queens, the East River bridges, and later in the South Bronx, his signs (such as Industrial Fossil, Urban Decay and Decay/Abandoned) were spray painted in areas that were in need of construction, demolition or reconstruction. The projects succeeded when the existing condition was removed or remedied.[2]

In February 1980, Fekner began working in, around, and out of Fashion Moda, a storefront for experimental art and cultural exchange, and an outpost for showcasing graffiti, breakdancing and rapping.[3] I

In 1982, Fekner curated From The Monkey To The Monitor which featured his NOTV4U2C wall mural and audio loop installation, Don Leicht's metal Space Invaders, Fred Baca's drawings and a live performance by Phoebe Legere.

In 1968, he painted the words Itchycoo Park in large white letters on an empty building in Gorman Park, New York.[4]

In 1978, he curated the Detective Show at the same outdoor location in Queens which included the words street museum on the invitational card.[5] In reaction to the desolation of the abandoned burnt-out buildings of the South Bronx, Fekner stenciled Last Hope in large letters above one crumbling structure.[6]

In 1981, Martin Nisenholtz invited Fekner, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and John Matos/Crash to experiment on the early interactive teletext system Telidon at NYU’s Alternate Media Center, the predecessor of its Interactive Telecommunications Program.[citation needed] Fekner received his first international award at Toronto's Video Culture Festival in the Videotex category for Toxic Wastes From A to Z, an 8-bit computer graphics animation created at AMC which featured a rap by k-8 students from a South Bronx school.[7]


Fekner began collaborating with Bronx artist Don Leicht at PS1 now called MoMA PS1 where they shared a studio in 1976. In 1982, they began a series of work and installations using steel, cut metal, aluminum and automotive paints based on Nishikado's Space Invaders arcade game with the statement: "Your Space Has Been Invaded-Our Children are Fighting a Terrible War. Whole families are being sent to Battlescreen." Their "Beauty's Only Street Deep" was installed at the Wooster Collective's 11 Spring Street street art 2006 exhibition in NYC.

Music projects / Idioblast[edit]

In 1983, Fekner formed his own band City Squad composed of musicians and non-musicians as an extension of Queensites, a group of teenagers from Jackson Heights who assisted with the outdoor stencil work. In September, Fekner released his first rap/rock 12" EP on his own Vinyl Gridlock record label. The A-side, "2 4 5 7 9 11" had Kwame Monroe, aka Bear 167, a South Bronx graffiti artist as the guest rapper; and the B-side featured Dave Santaniello on rock vocals on "Rock Steady". On the Apple II, Fekner experimented with early speech synthesis programs, Votrax and SAM-Software Automatic Mouth as vocal tracks on "2 4 5 7 9 11" and on his Idioblast (album) in 1984. In addition to playing keyboards, electronic drums and vocals, he wrote the music and lyrics for the eight songs on the album which featured extensive sampling and tape loops of TV, radio, Native American voices, phone and airport transmissions over rock/rap/hip hop beats. Tracks on the album included Travelogue The 80s, I Get Paid To Clap, The Beat, The Sight Of The Child, Wheels Over Indian Trails and Rapicasso, which Fekner also created as a 6' × 12' six-panel painting. Both the painting and song pay homage to Picasso’s The Three Dancers. Fekner spray painted LCD-style letters on industrial silkscreens to portray three breakdancers, the song’s lyrics acknowledging the work, energy and spirit in breakdancing, rapping and graffiti: "Watch the street, see the modern art, it's the present and future tied to his heart."[8] On Earth Day 1990, Fekner painted over it.[9]

Concrete People music and video[edit]

The 12" EP single, "Concrete People/Concrete Concerto",[citation needed] was a music collaboration with Dennis Mann (1950–2008) and Al Belfiore who programmed the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer. Fekner recorded at Mann's Monkey Hill Studios from 1983 to 1989 where the Fatback Band, whose "King Tim III (Personality Jock)", considered to be the first commercially released rap single in 1979, were also recording. On both "Concrete People/Concrete Concerto", Fekner worked with musicians Sasha Sumner (sax), Jim Recchione (harmonica), Sandra Seymour (vocals), Sandy Mann (vocals) and Andrew Ruhren (animator and EP cover illustration). Concrete People was a popular dance club video, shown on USA Network Night Flight (TV series)'s Salute to Animation with Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer", Talking Heads "And She Was" and Timbuk 3's "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades". "Concrete People" and "The Last Days of Good and Evil"[citation needed]("Concrete Concerto" soundtrack) both won honorary awards in the Prix Ars Electronica's Computer Animation category, together with award winner John Lasseter for his Luxo Jr. and Red's Dream in 1987 and 1988 respectively.[citation needed]


New York Times art critic John Russell wrote…Fekner is an artist who works not only in New York but with New York. The city in its more disinherited aspects is the raw material with which he has been working ever since he got a studio space in P.S. 1 in Long Island City in 1976 and learned to regard the huge dilapidated building as "an elderly person who has acutely perceived his experience of life." He went on to work outdoors in Queens and in the Bronx in ways that gave point and urgency to places long sunk in despair. With a word or two (Decay, for instance, or Broken Promises), he brought an element of street theater into disaster areas. With a single stenciled phrase (Wheels Over Indian Trails, for instance) he mingled present with past on the side of the Pulaski Bridge near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. What in other hands might have been vandalism had a salutary effect. People in desolate parts of the city saw more, felt more, thought more and came out of their apathy.[10]

Lucy Lippard in the Village Voice called him "caption writer to the urban environment, ad-man for the opposition."[11]

The Wooster Collective said, "For us, John Fekner's pioneering stencil work is as important to the history of the urban art movement as the work of artists like Haring, Basquiat. It was artists like Fekner, Leicht, Hambleton and others who truly held down the scene back in the early 1980s."[12]


2 4 5 7 9 11/Rock Steady (ASCAP) 1983 VG#10538/10539
Idioblast (album) 8 songs (ASCAP) 1984 VG#10541-A/10542-B
Another 4 Years 1984 VG#10555 Flexidisc
Cassette Gazette 9 songs (Same as Idioblast plus E Z Gee Jammin) 1985 Audio cassette/Photography book. 62 pages. Produced by Fran Kuzui, Published by B-Sellers, Japan
I Get Paid To Clap (ASCAP) 1985 VG#10569 Flexidisc Released in "Between C & D" Magazine, NYC
Concrete People (ASCAP) 1986 VG#33331/44442
The Beat (89 Remix) 1989 VG#678 Flexidisc
When The Future Collides With History 1989 VG#679 Unreleased-Video soundtrack only.
Oil Drum Mix (ASCAP) 1999 Listed as Final Concerto Oil Drum Mix on David Wojnarowicz-Optic Nerve (CD-ROM). Produced by the Red Hot Organization.
LPEPMP3-Selections (ASCAP) 2008 13 track album release as mp3 available on iTunes Plus.
Another 4 Years (Edit/Elect08) 2008 mp3 available on iTunes

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Stencil Projects 1978–1979, Lund & New York (Edition Sellem, 1979) ISBN 91-85260-14-2
  • Queensites (Wedgepress & Cheese, 1982) ISBN 91-85752-320
  • Beauty's Only Screen Deep (Wedge Press, Inc.#10, 1983)
  • Cassette Gazette (B-Sellers, 1985) ISBN 4-938198-14-2


  1. ^ Gumpert, Lynn, Curator, "New Work New York at the New Museum" Exhibition catalog essay, January 30 – March 25, 1982. p. 12-15
  2. ^ Fekner, John (1982). Queensites. ISBN 978-91-85752-32-4.
  3. ^ Fashion Moda: A Bronx Experience, by Professor Sally Webster, 1996,
  4. ^ Schacter, Rafael; Fekner, John (2013). The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti (1st ed.). USA: Yale University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0300199420.
  5. ^ Lewisohn, Cedar (2008). Street art the graffiti revolution. ISBN 978-1-85437-767-8.
  6. ^ Schwartzman, Allan (1985). Street art. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-19950-3.
  7. ^ Mirapaul, Matthew "A Brush, a Mouse, a Canvas: Mixing Paint and Pixels" New York Times . New York, N.Y.: June 13, 2001. p. H15 (1 page).
  8. ^ Rapicasso from the album Idioblast Vinyl Gridlock Records 10541-A, ASCAP. 1984–2007 Words and Music by John Fekner/Courtesy Estate of John Fekner/Drama Design Music Publishing Company, ASCAP all rights reserved.
  9. ^ F.Y.I by Jesse McKinley New York Times, Sunday, May 21, 1995
  10. ^ Russell, John "Art: 'New Work New York' at the New Museum" New York Times March 19, 1982. p. C24 (1 page).
  11. ^ Lippard, Lucy, "All Fired Up", Village Voice, December 2–8, 1981
  12. ^ "Catching Up With John Fekner and Don Leicht",, January 22, 2007. Retrieved January 1, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ault, Julie; Collective, Social Text; Center, Drawing (2002). Alternative Art, New York, 1965-1985 A Cultural Politics Book for the Social Text Collective. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-3794-2.
  • Edlin, Jay (2011). Graffiti 365. Harry N Abrams Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-8109-9744-8.
  • Deitch, Jeffrey (2011). Art in the Streets. Skira. ISBN 978-0-8478-3648-2.
  • Frank, Peter; McKenzie, Michael (1987). New, used & improved art for the 80's. Abbeville Press. ISBN 978-0-89659-650-4.
  • Gumpert, Lynn, Curator, New Work New York at the New Museum, Exhibition catalog essay, January 30 – March 25, 1982. p. 12–15
  • Howze, Russell (2008). Stencil Nation Graffiti, Community, and Art. Manic d Press. ISBN 978-1-933149-22-6.
  • Kahane, Lisa; Frank, Peter; Ahearn, John (2008). Do not give way to evil photographs of the South Bronx, 1979-1987. Miss Rosen Editions. ISBN 978-1-57687-432-5.
  • Lacy, Suzanne (1995). Mapping the Terrain New Genre Public Art. Bay Press. ISBN 0-941920-30-5.
  • Lewisohn, Cedar (2008). Street art the graffiti revolution. ISBN 978-1-85437-767-8.
  • Lippard, Lucy R. (1997). The Lure of the Local Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-247-2.
  • Lippard, Lucy, Get The Message-A Decade Of Social Change, Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 1985 ISBN 0525242562
  • Taylor, Marvin, Lynn Gumpert, Bernard Gendron, Roselee Goldberg, Carlo McCormick, Robert Siegle, Brian Wallis, and Matthew Yokobosky. (2006). The Downtown Book The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984. ISBN 0-691-12286-5.

External links[edit]