This is the journey of a man, of a creative act, an explosion of colour, a line lacing its way from one country to the next, a crossroads of space and time. This is the evolution of artist John Perello, a young New Yorker who grew up on 156th street between Harlem and Washington Heights. After seeing the very first tags emerge on the city’s screeching subway cars, he decided to join the movement under the name Jon156. Graffiti, in all its freedom and gesturalism, marked the dawn of a new era; it was an eruption in technicolour, a brand-new graphic revolution.
In the tunnels of the New York subway, Jon156 stood out for his freedom, defiance of convention and love of abstraction. In 1984, alongside fellow taggers Rac7 and Kyle, he founded the street artist collective 156 All Starz, which grew to become an international community. While visiting New York in 1987, French graffiti artist Bando noticed his work and invited him to Paris. It was a watershed moment ; he has lived there ever since.
His five years spent at the Hôpital Éphémère, followed by a series of residencies in some of the decade’s most notorious squats and art communes, allowed John Perello, rebaptised as JonOne, to further experiment not only with his use of techniques but also his choice of media. Although he maintains a strong link with the urban art scene, his work primarily transposes the essence of the mural onto the canvas. Just like those tag-filled walls, each canvas becomes a sort of palimpsest.
To immortalise his work without losing any of its vitality and raw energy, JonOne explores the principles of action painting and abstract expressionism: movements become wider and further reaching; like Pollock did before him, JonOne physically immerses himself in his pieces, walking across the canvases, splattering them with paint, adding multiple layers of material and colour.
Working to help break down the barriers between galleries, museums and street art, JonOne decompartmentalises art and anchors it in everyday life by collaborating with major brands: on one occasion, this took the form of customising an Air France jumbo jet, on another, designing his own version of the iconic Guerlain perfume bottle and his own capsule collection for Lacoste. In 2020, the Daum crystal studio asked him to design several exclusive pieces of crystalware; in 2021, he repainted some pieces by the Faïencerie de Gien, weaving a new link between art and craftsmanship.
This constantly changing practice, this desire to speak to the viewer and surprise them with the diversity of his oeuvre and choice of media, this physical, vibrant energy… All of these elements are being celebrated at the 2023 JonOne exhibition at the Piscine de Roubaix, the artist’s first retrospective.