Whether or not you’re schooled in the culture of street art, you likely won’t be inclined to conjure up images of aging barrels of eaux de vie while mulling over what a few kids — equipped only with a can of spray paint and imagination — did in the dead of night to the back of your home. Simply put, cognac and graffiti are not natural partners. In fact, they appear at first glance at odds with each other; the senior spirit long associated with wealth and “society” and the relatively young art form springing out of poverty and the artist’s struggle to find a legitimate “place.”

In its nascence, street art was a rather gruff mode of expression; a vehicle for street kids to stake their claim on what has come to be known as turf.  In one smooth tag from a paint can — the essential graffiti tool — the street artist built a very impermanent home, leading inevitably to a violent overtaking by a rival tagger. More often than not, paint wars instigated all out wars and the culture of street-paint threatened to turn entirely into the culture of street.

But Futura (formerly known as Futura 2000) was a groundbreaking street artist, who in the '80s aimed to gain wider and more durable exposure for his “signature” by painting on subway cars in New York City. To him, subway cars were roving galleries, an easy outlet to make oneself noticeable.


And noticeable he was. Futura’s style was instantly recognized as a reinvention of the graffiti movement, his abstract expressionism challenged the form and abandoned the quick, economical block lettering which up until that point had been its foundation.

Futura fast became an artist in his own right, live painting on tour with the Clash and hanging in galleries with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. And though street art may never become a venerable profession, it certainly had its heyday — thanks to Futura and some of his buddies — in the '80s.

In the last 30-some odd years, graffiti has hovered somewhere between street and fine art, without really living comfortably in either. Art that was “too good” for the streets found its way into galleries and once placed there, was just as quickly labelled “too street” for the gallery, and so on.

Futura-at-Work.jpgThe struggle to find place seemed endemic to the art form until a brave brand came along to change that. Last fall in Paris, Hennessy cognac launched a limited edition bottle of V.S designed by Futura, claiming a permanent space for an otherwise transient art form. Each bottle marked by Futura’s signature style — brightly coloured abstracts created out of perfect circles. The intelligent branding is Futura at his best, playing with a sense of classical refinement at the same time as cutting it down.

The launch of the bottle, which took place at Paris’s chic department store Colette, was as much a clashing of cultures as the Hennessy/Futura collaboration. Punks and avant-garde street kids piled into the uppity shop to meet the Godfather of Graffiti and to celebrate this unwholesome unification.

Marketing ploy or not, the folks at Hennessy managed to make their product relevant to the streets of Paris. No small feat, considering the sophisticated elixir is part and parcel with salons and sitting rooms of yore.

This May, the dichotomous Hennessy V.S Futura Limited Edition finds its way to Canadian shelves — a far cry from the snifters of aristocrats. A small step for street art, a giant leap for, um, art (kind).    

Related >> Hennessy: A Taste of the Past | Video: The Classic Sazerac

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