Futura pictured during the press launch of “Futuraland” in Hong Kong. Credit: Courtesy Belowground
In the early 1980s, Leonard McGurr’s name was often uttered in the same breath as those of his artist friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Known then as Futura 2000, he was a rising star of New York’s graffiti scene, his celebrated subway murals bridging the gap between graphic street art and abstraction.
But then, as galleries began merging street art with fine art — an evolution that would propel some of his contemporaries to multi-million-dollar stardom — he grew disillusioned with the establishment. “I got sour,” he recalls.
“I felt I was just being manipulated a bit. I was a token in their world,” McGurr says of the institutions he felt were pigeonholing his work. “Yeah, I was showing in a gallery with Jean-Michel, Keith, Kenny (Scharf) and other contemporary artists. But then there I was — the ‘the subway guy’ — and I’m there thinking, ‘The gallery is using me.'”