Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Jon Naar has led a particularly fascinating and varied life; he has fought fascists in both the streets of London and the Mountains of Serbia, counted Henry Miller and Andy Warhol as personal friends as well as been the first person to document graffiti art.

Jon Naar had no clue (as is the case with most artists) how influential his works were going to be when they were first conceived. Regardless, over the last 34 years since its release “The Faith of Graffiti” has awed artists, photographers and civilians alike. Although this particular work was a focus on the birth and first footsteps of graffiti, Jon’s primary focus with his photography has been to capture ‘the layering of one thing over another as a revelation of history’.

This is exemplified in many of his photos whether it involves writing over top of a brick wall with a can of paint in Harlem in 1971 or the postering of a strong armed government over top of student protestors in France during the ’68 riots.

Pointing to a wall on Queen St W in Toronto, Jon exclaimed in his hybrid English/New York accent “Heres a perfect example, where you’ve got a wall, a 3D mailbox, a poster advertising Spanish. What interests me here is how people are living amongst this and as a part of it; I don’t see it as art that should be hung in a gallery”

“You’ve got the complete relationship between the functional like the mailboxes, the posters and then the graffiti overlay. It’s a fragment of history, as this could only happen here and now. I like to think that I am capturing it and capturing its zeitgeist.”

Although he directed great attention towards graffiti, he never followed up on its evolution. Jon always regarded graffiti as only one of many outlets that have been made available to the general public. He has however been of great assistance to many others who have influenced it over the years. People such as Tony Silver, the director of Style Wars, , whom he introduced to many of the graf writers (Jon, however has never seen the film), Martha Cooper, who spent numerous years studying both hip hop history and the evolution of graffiti. Even today he is being used as a consultant on the unreleased film ‘Bombing it’

As any craftsman would, Jon has figured out how to role with the punches that modern technology has thrown. Owning 3 digital cameras and 16 film cameras (which he doesn’t use anymore), he is still at the late age of 86 taking pictures to this very day. His newest book titled ‘Getting the picture’ (released out of Holland) is a study of his 50 years as a photographer. His subjects range from gang writings in New York in the mid 1950s to corporate photography used in advertisements. He has voiced that he will hopefully be penning a contract with a German publisher that will allow for him to release a second book on New York graffiti in the early 70s titled ‘The Birth of Graffiti’ which is to be outtakes from “The Faith of Graffiti”.


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