Never Follow Suit showcases the art of graffiti at Gallery 119

James Powow creates art, but not the kind that usually hangs on walls inside a gallery.

Trains and buildings are the canvasses he uses to make his mark on the world.

Graffiti has a double edge. Some see it as a symbol of lawlessness and urban anxiety. Others see it as a form of cultural and artistic awakening. From now until June 16, the controversial talent of 10 graffiti artists is in the spotlight at Gallery 119.

Never Follow Suit, an exhibit curated by Powow, includes a community of street art masters who all know each other from their experiences in Lowell. Many have been honing their craft for more than two decades now. It’s the kind of art urban legends are born from.

Once upon a time, young outlaws would sneak through subway tunnels and train yards, armed with cans of spray paint. We don’t see the art taking shape in the shadows. The final work is revealed when the sun rises, long after the artists have gone.

On the side of a building or sprawled across the facade of a train car, their work demands an audience to acknowledge an unknown figure.

“It’s the poor man’s way of standing out, of saying I’m here,” Powow says. “You do it based on a feeling. For self-gratification. And over the years your style gets better. It becomes your craft.”

The one-month exhibit, with art by Adam Brandt, Jay Forsythe, Jackson Kelsey, KC Russell, Avesone, M31, Hot Boy Hert,  MAST, Monk and Powow, has seemingly transformed Gallery 119 into an outdoor city scape.

Austraila-based company, Ironlak, provided 100 cans of paint to do the job. Graffit dominates the space, and it shows writing on the wall has come a long way.

Spray painted pieces that take planning and imagination have gained recognition as a legitimate form of art. Even though Powow says the guys don’t really see themselves as artists.

“They’ll say I don’t do art like it’s a separate entity,” Powow explains. “But it stands on its own. I admire what every single one of these guys is doing.”

Never Follow Suit, he adds, pays homage to the past and present. Because whether you view graffiti as an art, or an eyesore, it’s here to stay.

“There’s always a kid out there who’s writing all the time,” Powow says. “Another kid saying to the world, I’m here.”

 Never Follow Suit can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday at Gallery 119, 119 Chelmsford St., from noon to 5 p.m.

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