Legendary NYC Graffiti Artist Al Díaz Visits Highlands


Internationally known graffiti artist Al Díaz, right, talks with media arts graduate students such as Erick Rangel, left, at Highlands Sept. 1.

Las Vegas, N.M – Legendary New York City subway graffiti artist Al Díaz told media arts students at New Mexico Highlands to look within when creating art.

“The most authentic art people create is art that reflects your own experiences and what you believe,” said Díaz, whose work is exhibited and collected internationally.

Díaz was a visiting artist at Highlands Aug. 31 – Sept. 1, thanks to Mariah Fox Hausman, a media arts and technology professor who has collaborated with Díaz on her research about influential art and artists during the 1970s and ‘80s in the U.S.

Díaz told the media arts students in Hausman’s graduate seminars that for him, artistic ambition is about the writing and the message.

“I try to be topical and timely with my art. My messages tend to be about waking up and paying attention to what’s going on around us. Someone has to point out the elephant in the room,” Díaz said.

Hausman said Díaz is an influential graffiti writer whose career spans five decades.

“Al is one of the earliest graffiti artists to gain notoriety when the movement first formed in America during the early 1970s,” Hausman said. “He came from humble beginnings and achieved success that has made an impact on global urban culture.

“His career is endlessly inspiring for my research, and he has helped me understand the cultural zeitgeist of the periods I study and write about. He’s participated in so many interesting creative movements including the birth of hip-hop,” Hausman said.

She said Díaz’ visit gives media arts students an opportunity to see how an artist can create a lifetime of thought-provoking work that is relevant across generations.

“Al’s creative practice in Brooklyn, New York includes using the standard ‘wet paint’ signage used throughout the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority to create clever and poignant anagrams which he reposts on the city’s subways and on the social media site Instagram,” Hausman said.

Hausman met Diaz in 2014 when she was conducting research for a book she is writing about Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American abstract expressionist painter who died in 1988.

“Díaz’ artistic collaboration with his high school friend, Jean-Michael Basquiat, has been noted often in contemporary art history,” Hausman said. “They worked together on SAMO©, a late 1970s avant-garde graffiti tag project.”

Hausman and Díaz are planning an exhibit of his previously unseen black-and-white photography of himself and Basquiat as teens. In addition, an interview with Díaz is featured in the exhibit catalog for Basquiat: Boom For Real that opens Sept. 21 in London at the Barbican Museum.

While at Highlands, Díaz also introduced the documentary film, Style Wars, at the public outdoor film screening space at the McCaffrey Historic Trolley Building. The building opened in August 2016 and houses the Media Arts and Technology Department.