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Monumental Totems for the Modern Pagan

Street artist RUN fills an LA gallery with unlikely monuments to our lost pagan roots.
Giacomo RUN Bufarini: Man is God. Installation View. All images courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery.

If Alice’s next trip after Wonderland was to Easter Island, it might look a lot like the current installation inside Howard Griffin Gallery. Between now and October 31, the Los Angeles outpost of this London-based urban art venue offers Man is God, a masterpiece of technicolor paganism from painter, sculptor, and erstwhile street-art legend Giacomo “RUN” Bufarini.

Visitors are greeted with a vibrant but imposing array of monumental sculptures, brightly colored, smoothly finished totemic heads with the exaggerated, sloping features of the gods of tropical places. There are about eight of them, all identical save for color (red, blue, orange, green), each about the size of a moving van, with the cheeky gravitas of homemade idols—exotic, and with just a whiff of circus tent.


Wandering among and quite close to them by turns reveals and obscures a suite of immense paintings hanging like banners or castle tapestries from the high ceilings. These portray combinations of mysterious figures and complex geometrical patterns with a psychedelic but non-specific quality of ritualistic, anthropological pageantry. The artist’s iconographic and conceptual interests are in the origins of ancient civilizations transposed with 21st-century society’s ills and appetites. He pulls at the threads of a particular narrative of spiritual bankruptcy, in which modern man has killed the old gods and replaced them with his own image—which is not necessarily a good thing.

Though he rose to prominence through a proliferation of murals and other uncommissioned public art projects from his native Italy to China and North Africa, since 2007 RUN has made his home London, where, like many artists of his generation and background, he’s been steadily working to manifest his vision in a proper studio practice, bringing it, so to speak, in off the street.

Where this alluring, unsettling, installation excels is in merging RUN’s faculty for generating surreal experiences, architectural interventions, and spectacular scales—honed in outdoor works—with the increasing maturity of the more complex, patient ambition, and craftsmanship of the gallery world. Which is not to say these objects are particularly precious. In a nod to both the ephemerality of street art and the logistics of having built the monuments on site over the course of a residency, they will be destroyed at show’s end, as they are simply too big to get out the door.


Man is God is on display at Howard Griffin Gallery through October 31. To learn more about RUN, click here.


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