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Graffiti Struck: Spotlight on NYC Artist Cope2

by Hannah Nashman

I had the privilege of meeting the graffiti artist Cope2 while working at an art gallery in Toronto called Struck during the summer of 2016. Struck is a contemporary art gallery that represents international Pop and Graffiti artists. The gallery hosted Cope2 for a week in Toronto while he created work for an exclusive show.

Cope2 was born in 1968 as Fernando Carlo Jr. in the South Bronx of New York City. He was one of the first artists spraying graffiti in New York City along with his consort, the elusive graffiti artist and now legend, Banksy. Cope2, Banksy and other graffiti artists used the city infrastructure as their canvas under the canopy of night. Their artistic gifts at that time were not revered by the general public since it was considered to be vandalism. The brilliance of the graffiti style as a means for public political messaging and colourful abstract beauty eventually evolved into mainstream art culture. This genre moved from public walls and spaces to canvases in great demand by art connoisseurs and the general public. 

Cope2 began his graffiti journey by painting subway cars with his colourful, lively designs and signature logo (see image below). In addition, in his current work, he typically captures the essence of his New York roots with subway maps and old newspapers mixed in a collage of graffiti colour. His thirty years of graffiti painting has earned Cope2 international recognition. As much as he still maintains a passion for spraying walls and other public spaces, he is more focused on solo or collaborative exhibitions in galleries and museums all over the world. This artist has inspired many other artists worldwide, including me.  

Prior to meeting Cope2, I was familiar with his work and had an image in mind of what a well established graffiti artist might look like. I expected a casually dressed slightly eccentric version of my middle aged hipster uncle, who is an actor.  At my first meeting I was introduced to a tattoo encased (even on his face!) forty-something man wearing baggy shorts, T-shirt, leather jacket and army combat boots. I was given the responsibility of photographing Cope2 while he worked on the roof top of the gallery spraying his signature talent on the side of the brick building. Once I got to know him, he became one of my favourite people. His initial ominous impression melted away as soon as his congenial disposition was revealed. He loved working to music. Even though he painted long hours beginning early in the morning typically until sunset, the work space he created had an uplifting, energizing mood that was contagious. In addition to the brick wall, Cope2 painted multiple canvases of varying sizes, a couple of interior walls in the gallery and even a set of white leather furniture. 

While Cope2 worked, we chatted about his art and family. He shared that he has five children. I inquired about his creative graffiti history with questions like: Who influenced and inspired him? and Was graffiti initially an outlet for adolescent rebellion or a means of creative expression, or both? I asked him if he was ever caught and arrested in the early years. He countered with questions about me and my family, and my work. He made me feel like a creative equal when he asked for my opinion regarding colours and designs for the pieces he was working on for the gallery. I was surprised but thrilled that a legendary graffiti artist was asking for my input regarding his work. His humble disposition allowed for this comfortable exchange. Not only did I witness and photo document a great artist at work, I also had the privilege of being educated and mentored.

At the end of the week, Cope2 created a collection of original pieces. Struck hosted an exhibit of his work, which was open to the public. The gallery was transformed by glorious, vibrant colours that popped off the canvas. The turnout was huge for this event with many from the Toronto art scene in attendance. Despite being surrounded by the media and art collectors, Cope2 found time to meet my family and friends. My conservative parents who own art from Winners and HomeSense were so impressed by his unique style they bought two canvases that are now hanging side by side in our home. Due to Cope2’s international recognition, his pieces at this exhibit were sold ranging in price from $250 - $25,000 USD.

I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Cope2 and watch him work. I am fortunate that he took me under his wing and found the time to encourage and mentor my growth as a young artist.

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