Crosstown Traffic, a new installation by Michael De Feo, is the seventh exhibition in Rice Gallery's Summer Window series, which features works visible through the glass wall while the gallery is closed for the summer. De Feo, who was profiled this spring in The New York Times, is a painter with a penchant for street art, gaining international recognition for painting over outdoor fashion ads with buoyant floral patterns. In Crosstown Traffic, De Feo treats Rice Gallery's front glass wall like a supersized commercial display kiosk, enlarging a selection of fashion ads from magazines, printing them at nearly billboard size, and hand painting over them. As if a piece of Times Square or a large-scale storefront was transported to the gallery, the floor-to-ceiling imagery engulfs the viewer with ads for Balmain x H&M, La Perla, Coach, and Dior that De Feo abstracts and enlivens with pops of color and pattern.
Known as "The Flower Guy," De Feo has painted flowers on the streets of New York and in over 60 cities internationally. His iconic line drawing of a curving stem topped with daisy-like petals can be seen sprouting from the bases of telephone poles, tucked in between signs, and embellishing a myriad of surfaces. A project that started nearly 25 years ago and continues today began with a simple aim, says De Feo, "to spread some cheer and smiles in a city full of concrete, steel, and glass."
De Feo found a new way of inserting his work into the daily life of the city when in 2014, Public Ad Campaign, an international alliance of artists founded by Jordan Seiler that provides access to municipal infrastructure for public dialogues, gave him a key to open advertising kiosks at bus stop shelters throughout New York City. He removes the locked-away fashion ads, brings them back to his studio, and paints on them using bold strokes of bright color suggesting flowers. De Feo then returns the ads to different kiosks, completing what he calls a "quiet intervention" and an "unauthorized collaboration" with the company, model, photographer, and art director. The painted ads have been largely embraced by the fashion industry for their sensitivity, whimsical quality, and beauty, which has led De Feo to unforeseen opportunities: designing two covers for the April 2016 issue of the Neiman Marcus catalogue, THE BOOK, and designing his own line of scarves and wraps for Echo New York.
For Crosstown Traffic, De Feo selected specific magazine ads for their composition, color, styling, and alluring quality, or what De Feo describes as the "sex appeal that one would associate with luxury brand advertising." Using acrylic paint, De Feo responded to each ad differently, painting over brand names and parts of each model's figure or face, hiding them behind encroaching arrangements of contrasting and complimenting colors. Bright blue and green strokes of paint almost subsume pop star Rihanna, partially covering her Dior sunglasses and encircling her glittery red lips. De Feo plunges inside the seductive, fantasy world of high-end advertising, normally kept at a distance behind glass or beneath the sheen of a glossy magazine page, and adds a human touch. Says De Feo, "One of the compelling aspects of working on fashion advertisements is that although I'm subverting the ads, they frequently end up reading like they were designed that way."