Kyle Sherard and Rachael Inch

“They’re not murals,” Dustin Spagnola says. Spagnola’s pieces have been popping up on buildings all over town, but he calls them “large-scale public works,” a “middle ground between graffiti and corporate advertising.” They often tackle a single topic or portray one person within a tight range of color, usually black and white.

The Lexington Avenue Gateway is the type of mural you stop and look at for a while. Spagnola’s work is the kind that burns into your brain in seconds (hence the advertising aspect). The graffiti reference is thinly attached to the stock revolutionary figures he has put up in the past two years. His imagery is visually similar to Shepard Fairey-style wheat pastes and simplified graffiti forms, but otherwise, it could be called minimalism. And minimalism is effective in getting a point across. 

While hanging his work in 2010 at the DeSoto Lounge, Spagnola asked about the patio wall out back. After getting the go-ahead, he painted his first pseudo-mural, a portrait of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. From there he began painting around town. The Prospect invited him to paint a mural (this one, which features Marilyn Monroe, definitely is a mural) on the side of its wall. Spagnola combined a few film stills from 1961’s The Misfits. 

He’s painted an image of Crazy Horse on Lexington Avenue, Bob Moog on Haywood Road and, more recently, the Bush and Obama mask painting, also on Lexington.

That painting, an image of President Bush holding a President Obama mask, is now on its third life cycle. It lasted for 24 hours at the Arcade, then a few weeks on Forever Tattoo. Back in December, during Art Basel, Spagnola traveled to Miami, where he painted the image on a 22-foot wall with an American flag background. 

Spagnola’s met some harsh criticism for the simplicity, content and the method of his work (he paints using projected, borrowed images). The work is often temporary, and when one gets painted over, Spagnola considers it part of the process. He keeps it simple: “It’s not always about the talent; this work is about using a space to flex an idea.”