FUTURA2000also known as FUTURE, is a pioneering graffiti artist who became known on the New York art scene of the 1980s for his distinctive style, a fusion of graffiti and abstract expressionism. Born Leonard Hilton McGurr in New York in 1955.
The New York native’s graffiti journey began painting subways and walls across the city. In the early 1970s he formed the Soul Artists collective with Marc Edmonds, also known as Ali. While he is also a member of other Graf crews including UGA (United Graffiti Artists) and Stay High 149. McGurr’s enigmatic grip, FUTURA2000was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the book Future Shock by futurist Alvin Toffler.
In 1980, FUTURA made the scene by painting an entire subway car titled “Break” sans writing, a first for a graffiti artist at the time, and was celebrated for his abstract approach. An aesthetic that resulted from FUTURA’s exploration of the unknown and unexplored became one of the defining characteristics of his work and increased his notoriety as an artist.
I noticed that these letter structures, beautiful color fields and abstract areas are missing. These unknown, unexplored places were something I was dying to explore
In 1981, Futura 2000 exhibited for the first time alongside Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and numerous artists from the artistic Factory of NYC in Diego Cortez’s New York/New Wave collaborative exhibition, which opened the door to the art world. Consolidating FUTURA’s position as a notable artist. In 1982, FUTURA organized his first solo exhibition at the Fun Gallery, which initiated a series of national and international exhibitions. 88, the iconic character of FUTURA, the Pointman, appeared on the cover of the psyence fiction album by uncledesigned by FUTURA, a synonymous character who has appeared countless times throughout his work and collaboration.
Pointman’s success caught the attention of the Japanese toymaker medicine who made limited edition Pointman figures. In the 1990s, FUTURA2000’s work began to express a more sophisticated style of abstract art with commissions from brands such as Highest, A bathing monkeyand Stussy. His work made the transition to a more cross-genre aesthetic. 97 he started FUTURA Laboratories, its official design studio and brand platform; Brand collaborations continued to flourish, including Off White by Virgil Abloh, Nike, bmwand COMME of the GARÇON to name a few, as well as releases ranging from limited edition prints to clothing.
FUTURA’s paintings have a pleasingly futuristic look and feel; His canvases are fluid with intentional gestural marks, shapes, and atomic motifs surrounding the adored alien robotic character, Pointman. FUTURA’s polished use of an aerosol can leaves a remarkably defined figure, a testament to his skill as an artist.
Over the years he has evolved his artistic practice; in recent years he has created collaborative works with Takashi Murakamiincluding the exhibition at Murakami Kaikai KiKi gallery in Tokyo and numerous gallery spaces around the world.
FUTURA2000’s timeless abstract approach encompasses visual art, graffiti, fashion and sneakers. His creative passion has been a driving force in culture, collectibles and art for over four decades. He is an emerging artist who has found international success blazing a trail from the street to the gallery. He continues to push boundaries to be one of the most celebrated and respected artists of his generation and the world. I had the honor of catching up with the legendary artist to talk graffiti, his new Pointman sculpture and more.
Q: Hello, FUTURA2000! How are you? Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. Please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you.
FUTURA2000: Hello, my name is Leonard; Most people know me as FUTURA or FUTURA2000. I’m a creative person from New York City.
Q: You started with graffiti in the early 1970s. Please tell us more about your experiences at the time and what initially drew you to graffiti.
FUTURA2000: Well, that was a long time ago when the motivation was to be part of a larger movement and the pursuit of self-expression.
Q: Choosing the right name is important when it comes to being a graffiti artist. How did you choose your name and what is the meaning behind FUTURA2000?
FUTURA2000: 1970 when I created this identity [FUTURA2000], the name FUTURA has been around for decades. Of course, there was the typeface we still use today. There was the FORD FUTURA, a car and a Singer FUTURA sewing machine. The addition of the number 2000, taken from 2001’s A SPACE ODYSSEY (my favorite movie), served as visual inspiration for me early on.
Q: Unlike your peers in the ’70s and ’80s who focused on lettering, your graffiti aesthetic took a more abstract approach that set you apart from other Graf artists. Can you tell me more about the essence of your style and why you chose this approach to graffiti?
FUTURA2000: I always wanted to find individualism within this school of art that focused on letters and font styles. I noticed that these letter structures, beautiful color fields and abstract areas are missing. These unknown, unexplored places were something I was dying to explore.
Q: In the beginning your work had a performance aspect – like in 1981 when you were touring with The Clash and painting live on stage. Does music still play a role in your process?
FUTURA2000: Unfortunately not, and of course I listen to music, but it’s not like it used to be. Back then, these genres mixed and remixed. It’s also strange to talk about 40 year old memories when we’ve crossed such timelines. RUNNING: PARANORMIA by THE ART OF NOISE . . .
Q: In your recent collaboration with Potato Head, your pointman character, synonymous with work, takes center stage as a sculpture to raise awareness of river and ocean pollution. Can you tell me more about this project and the meaning of the sculpture?
FUTURA2000: It’s a long story and process, but it’s really all about the collaboration with Sungai Watch for the Singapore sculpture and Yayasan Kakikita for the Bali sculpture. Without their efforts and manufacturing capabilities, turning waste into the 888 kg, 6 meter high polygon puzzle would not be possible. I’m really grateful to Potato Head for hosting the work of the future to come. I hope we will inspire others to follow our example and think of ways they can contribute to the cause.
Q: You have worked with several global brands through your design company Futura Laboratories. What was your favorite collaboration and why?
FUTURA2000: Working with the late great Virgil Abloh and doing the footwork with NIKE – truly a legendary collaboration for the brand, thanks V.
Q: You were one of the many iconic artists to rise to prominence and contribute to the New York art scene of the 1980s, an iconic period of ups and downs alongside peers like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Hambleton and Andy Warhol. Can you tell us more about your experiences as an artist during this historical period?
FUTURA2000: It was an amazing moment in the transition from underground history and subsequent arrival to this diverse community.
I was in the right place at exactly the right time and added my threads into a beautiful tapestry. I was also very fortunate to have fond memories of all the great artists who are no longer with us…
Q: You started writing your name as a graffiti writer because you wanted to communicate with the world. Can you reflect on your early work and how it compares to your work today? Can you describe the distance you have traveled from then to now and what interests you and motivates you to create something 40 years later?
FUTURA2000: There are some pieces of mine from the early 80’s that certainly look like they could have been painted last week.
Which is easy to say; They have a timeless feel. I’m very spontaneous when it comes to spray painting and it’s difficult to pinpoint a result once I start. The work just seems to fall into place in this process, and I’m constantly being challenged to arrive in new territories.
Q: What’s next for FUTURA2000?
FUTURA2000: The Futura is unwritten. . .
Q: Finally, what does art mean to you?
FUTURA2000: Art is the audiovisual escape from the norms of society; Performance, photography, painting, poetry and art can be found everywhere, from the streets of every city to the highest institutions on earth. Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to determine what they consider art. Thank you very much.
learn more about Futura Laboratories
©2022 FUTURA2000, Futura Laboratories, Sophie Bramly, Andre Grossman, Tommaso Riva
Len is a curator and writer at Art Plugged, a contemporary platform inspired by his passion for showcasing exceptional artists and their work. He is also studying an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths London.