When talking about contemporary graffiti artists, most people envision young people in their 20s and 30s, and those born into the decade of the Millennial, or close to it. However, Crash (also known as John Matos), was born in 1961 and was a full-blown graffiti artist by the time he turned 13.
First noted for his subway murals and work on rundown New York City buildings, he is today considered both a contemporary abstract artist and a pioneer of the graffiti art movement, in general. Saying that his work is a “link between street life and established society,” Crash is also famous, according to artnet, for his “three-dimensional representation of lettering.”
Yet, as a biography of the artist in Widewalls explains, it was his participation (at the age of 19) in the “pivotal exhibition entitled Graffiti Art Success for America at Fashion MODA in the South Bronx…that played a crucial part in legitimizing the graffiti movement. It opened up new possibilities for graffiti in a gallery setting connecting street artists and the downtown fine arts world, with CRASH as a pioneer.”
Crash aka John Matos
Yet, it is probably his collaboration with the late Keith Haring that shows his nature or dedication to the Pop Art aesthetic. In 1984, while Crash was still emerging as a graffiti artist, he partnered with Keith Haring to paint a series of murals for the 5/5 Figuration Libre France/USA at the Musee d'art Moderne de la Villa de Paris.
The pair was commissioned again by British American Tobacco to design cigarettes under the Lucky Strike brand, too.
Lucky Strike Art
Pop Art Inspiration
Unlike other graffiti street artists of the same generation, Crash took his cues from American Pop artist icons like Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist, among others. By the 1980s, he was already a staple of the New York gallery scene and was soon working on public commissions including work in Paris as well as Times Square in New York.
He was creating world-famous works during his 20s, including a massive painting owned and displayed in the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation building in the Netherlands. He was hired by guitarist and rock star Eric Clapton to paint a series of guitars, known as Crashocasters, which inspired the Fender guitar firm to commission a series of 50 handcrafted guitars, and a line of custom painted amplifiers. Later generations of musicians have pursued Crash for similar work, including Ed Sheeran and John Mayer.
His commissioned work has varied widely with an amazing array of commercial endeavors proving his “pop art,” style continually attracts the masses. He has designed lines of luggage, footwear, jeans, and even Absolut Vodka labels, as well as countless murals. His work is held in a huge array of public collections throughout the world, as well.
Luggage Designs by Crash
Inspired by graffiti and Pop Art icons, Crash has created an instantly recognizable style that blends all of the most familiar elements of both styles. Using only spray paint, he clings to his roots and captures all of the feelings, color, and expression that comics, as well as pop and graffiti art, manage to convey.
Crash remains a pioneer within the movement, and he is as inspired as he is inspiring to generations of emerging artists. Gaining his name Crash after crashing a primitive computer at school, he is not known for bringing down or destroying anything with his efforts today. Instead, he is a contemporary graffiti and street artist whose influences appear in streetwear, wall art, and products of all kinds.
Graffiti Art by Crash