September 2009

Martha Cooper’s Influence: Inspiration, Imitation, and Flattery

Martha Cooper’s Influence: Inspiration, Imitation, and Flattery

For the silly folks who consider themselves ordained to be critics, the prodigious street art scene in New York just bubbles with possibilities.

One of the favorite criticisms of a street artists’ piece today is its’ lack of originality, whether because it closely resembles the style of anothers’ work already on the street, or because it seems like an outright appropriation.  Imitation is not always interpreted as flattery.

It’s a fine line to tread for any creative person – dancer, singer, fashion designer, or stencil artist – when they decide to “pay homage” to the work of another, or merely to love it so much that is serves as an “influence”.   One recent discovery on the street by New York street art photographer Jaime Rojo included this wheat-paste of a pretty famous image from the New York photographer, Diane Arbus, smacked onto a bed of tropical flowers by Shin Shin:

Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962), by Diane Arbus. On the right

Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962), by Diane Arbus. On the right street artist JC2 colors the grenade red. (photo Jaime Rojo)

A quick search of the Arbus image reveals that it has served as inspiration for other street artists here,  and here, and here, and here, and even in Spokane!  Diane Arbus passed away in 1971 and this is one of her images that has passed through the years into the popular conscience.  A case could be made that the image somehow belongs to the people to do with it as they wish, invoking new meanings or recall old ones.  Maybe.  Ask Che Guevara.


Ready for Anything! Martha Cooper as shot by Jazi Rock

Martha Cooper has been taking pictures for more than fifty years. Yes, you read it right. With a continuously curious mind and sharp eye, Martha Cooper takes photos wherever she goes (including  Japan, Afghanistan, Guatemala and Surinam, to name a few), and it is a rare day you will see her without her camera draped around her neck.

Well known in the New York City graffiti and Street Art scene, she’s seen her images in National Geographic, Smithsonian and Natural History Magazines as well as several dozen books and journals.  Her photographs of New York’s streets and people are also burned into the minds of thousands; particularly the minds of young artists worldwide who examined their own creative skills after laying their eyes on “Subway Art”, the book she and Henry Chalfant published a quarter century ago.  Many have since used Martha’s work as inspiration for their own.


Cooper’s now iconic image of graffiti writer Dondi was the inspiration for the work by Grotesk on the right.

Ms. Cooper is no diva, but she is direct. Well traveled and warm, she smiles and laughs easily when talking with most people, and when the subject is photography, she easily shares her knowledge and opinion with you. In the past few years, a number of artists have been inspired by her work, and while humble, she is proud of the ongoing influence it has had.


Easy173 did a mural (left) based on her photo of Dondi (right) (photos Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: How do you feel when your work is appropriated and re-purposed by another artist?

Martha Cooper: I’m flattered the artists are actually looking at my work and liking it well enough to create something new based on it.


This image from “Street Play” by Martha was reinterpreted by Nazza on an LP vinyl. (photo Martha Cooper)


Street artist Chris Stain credits the photography of Ms. Cooper for shaping his own view of art and culture, and her impact can not be overestimated in his view.  He has poured over the pages of her books for years and internalized the imagery as well as the messages they convey about urban culture, the hip hop movement, and people.

“Martha’s influence on my work began back in 1984 when I first stole a copy of ‘Subway Art’. Graffiti hadn’t been documented so intimately (except by writers) in my opinion up until this point. I sat for hours day after day studying the photos, turning the book sideways and upside down trying to come up with my own styles.


“Urban Harmony” (upper right) by Chris Stain incorporates 3 of Martha Coopers images into one of his pieces (2 shown here)



Had it not been for her initial documentation I don’t think graffiti or hip hop would be the world wide phenomenon it is today. With the release of ‘Hip Hop Files’ a few years ago I got more of an insight into her photo journalistic work; Once again she was capturing the essence of the birth of a movement.

When I look at those photos today at 37 I feel like I’m 11 years old again.  I am met with the same excitement as when I first witnessed them. But more importantly I have the same hope that people can build their dreams out of seemingly nothing.


Chris Stain and Armsrock pose for Martha Cooper in front of some of Chris’s work that was influenced by Martha’s photographs. (photo © Martha Cooper)




I came across ‘Street Play’ and immediately connected with the photographs of kids playing in their neighborhoods. This time I contacted Martha and asked permission to work from some of the pictures. She kindly obliged. Since then I have worked from a number of her photographs.

Her work speaks to me directly not only because she is from Baltimore but because she goes to the “heart” of the matter.  Whether its Dondi hanging on and painting in-between subway cars, Ken Swift floor rockin’ at Common Ground, or a child holding his pigeon to the sky on a rooftop, Martha’s work is undeniably not only the most prolific but some of the most important documentation of organic cultures and city life to have grown out of New York and America as a whole.” – Chris Stain


“Among the artists who have ‘re-interpreted’ my photos include the Burning Candy Crew in London.  Henry Chalfant and I were recently there for the London release of ‘Subway Art’ at Black Rat Gallery and Burning Candy painted a lot of canvases from Subway Art.”


Whistling while they work, these goulish Sweet Toof train writers influenced by photos by Martha Cooper in “Subway Art”

Brooklyn Street Art: Did you think that eventually your work would be influential to a generation of artists and photographers?

Martha Cooper: Not at all. I would say that my work is pretty much unknown to artists and photographers of my own generation so it’s especially gratifying to connect with younger artists and photogs.


An image by Martha Cooper on the left was interpreted in a large mural street artist Armsrock did with Chris Stain in Brooklyn at the end of July. Says Martha, “I took that photo on the Lower East Side (of Manhattan) in 1978. Don’t know who the boy is or anything more about his drawing. The photo is part of a series published in my book ‘Street Play’.” (photo on right by Jaime Rojo)


see a video of the mural above being created here

Brooklyn Street Art: What’s your impression of the current state of street art in New York?
Martha Cooper: Well I’m definitely not an expert or any kind of art historian so I can’t give you a definitive evaluation. However  I love walking around and being surprised by all the fresh stuff going up all over the place. If it weren’t for street art, NYC would be turning into a bland and boring city.

Brooklyn-Street-Art-Defiant Youth-Martha-Cooper-and-Shepard-Fairey

“Shepard Fairey has also worked with two of the images from ‘Street Play’, says Martha. Fairey selected five of the troops from this group of toughs when creating this poster called “Defiant Youth” this year. (photo Martha Cooper, poster Shepard Fairey)


Brooklyn Street Art: Why aren’t there more female street artists?
Martha Cooper: I have no idea. I wish there were more. I’m working on another little sticker book, this one about the smaller name badges. I couldn’t find even one active “Hello My Name Is” female stickerer. Do you know any?


Shepard Fairey only slightly changed this image of kids jumping off a fire escape onto a pile of mattresses when he converted it into a stencil. This spring and summer a version of the image was made by Obey’s clothing line into skateboards, caps, t-shirts, and bags along with others of Martha’s “Street Play” photos.  (photo on left Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: When you hit the street, camera in hand, do you consider yourself more of a photo-journalist, or an artist?
Martha Cooper: Neither–an ethnographer.

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you have a word of advice to a street art photographer starting today in New York?
Martha Cooper: Back-up!

– Good advice from a person who has catalogued perhaps hundreds of thousands of images of graffiti and street art over the last 30 years. We continued our dialogue about the use of Martha’s images over the years, and she added this clarification, I’m pretty much a purist when it comes to my own photography. I absolutely hate when designers want to mess with my photos. I want my photos to be used as I took them. However, when an artist wants to take one of my photos and turn it into a completely different piece of art, I don’t mind at all.

To paraphrase Martha and the critics, the guidance one would offer to a street artist (and any artist) is “Be original”.


Special thanks to Jazi Rock, who at 12 years old “was infected by the graffiti bug when he saw Martha Cooper’s infamous book circulate around his neighborhood” of Baltimore.  See more at his website.

Photo of Martha above by JaziRock – his website is HERE


See Martha Cooper this weekend with her newest book "Going Postal"

See Martha Cooper this weekend with her newest book “Going Postal”


Martha Cooper will be at the MBP Urban Arts Festival this Saturday October 3rd in Bushwick Brooklyn. A multitude of street artists, musical acts, skaters, vendors, and live painting events will be there. You can learn more about the festival HERE.


The day before that on October 2nd, Martha Cooper will be at The New York Art Book Fair.  Stop by the SCB booth (Z-01).

Friday, Oct 2nd
2pm – 4pm: Daze, Ghost and Papermonster (with online gallery)
4pm-6pm: Martha Cooper (photojournalist/NY graffiti scene documentarian), author of Tag Town, Hip Hop Files, and Street Play

Saturday, Oct 3rd
11am – 1pm: Alain “KET” Maridueña (hip hop artist/activist)
2pm – 4pm: Ron English (contemporary pop artist)

You can learn more about the Book Fair HERE.


Read Martha Cooper’s Blog on Juxtapoz

Read Martha Cooper on 120z.Prophet

“Subway Art” 25th Anniversary Edition

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Habana Outpost, “All the Pieces on the Wall”

Veng, NohJColey, Milo Carney, Billy Russomano, Alex Mosley, Ca$h4, Awol, Erizk, Avone, Christian Vargas, Brandon Cox, Gabriel Smith, Jay Roberts, Carlito Bragonti, Jenevieve&!#, Nikeisha Nelson, Maximiliano Ferro, Royce Bannon

All The Pieces on the Wall Opening Reception

October 6th, 7-9pm Exhibition

Runs October 6th-27th, 2009

Habana Outpost 757 Fulton Street Brooklyn, NY 11217

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“Staying Alive” at Hamilton Fish Park Branch, New York Public Library

STAYING ALIVE is a vibrant selection of artwork and photography by four young, talented urban artists: Sofia Gallardo, Jonathan “Chino” Garcia, Tara Murray and Nelson “Chief” Seda. October 8th through Decmber 17th. Opening reception: Thursday, October 8th, 5-7pm with break-dancers: the Lethal Weaponz Crew and Nelson “Chief” Seda. Coordinated by Lois Stavsky with Aaron Williams aka Kove



Hamilton Fish Park Branch, New York Public Library
Thursday, October 8, 2009
5:00pm – 7:00pm
Hamilton Fish Park Library
415 East Houston Street
New York, NY
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Dennis McNett “Year of the Wolfbat” Swarming the East Coast

Dennis McNett “Year of the Wolfbat” Swarming the East Coast

Gallery Tour Stops in Philadelphia Friday at Space 1026

Smile and the World Smiles With You (McMutt) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Smile and the World Smiles With You (McMutt) (photo Jaime Rojo)

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2009 is the Year of the Ox, which said that I would be winning the lotto around mid-year.  Maybe I should have read the “Year of the Wolfbat” instead.  Dennis McNett seems to be having a rocking good time.

The wild animals that Dennis “McMutt” McNett brings to the streets are ferocious and savage and sometimes byzantine in carved detail.  When you turn the corner and see one of them plastered or, in the case of recent sculpture, pacing behind a chain-link fence, you are excited by it’s raw rage;  a black and white wheatpaste lino print of a snarling snow leopard with jagged pointy incisers ready to rip chunks of flesh.  Rarrrrhhh! McMutt is on a tear!

Here kitty kitty! (photo Helen Christenson)

Here kitty kitty! (photo Helen Michelson)

The “Year of the Wolfbat” tour began in New York in June and has flapped it’s webbed wings across the US, swooping in for exhibitions, artist talks and workshops along the way. The migratory flight of the Wolfbats has included shows at Fecal Face Dot Gallery in San Francisco and Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles.



The swarming mass of wolfbats will next fly to the city of Wolfbrotherly love, Philadelphia Space 1026 in Philadelphia (Thursday Oct. 2) with an installation of print-derived sculpture and mural, accompanied by unique and editioned works both large and small.

Willoughby Windows project

Dennis McNett’s installation Willoughby Windows Project in downtown Brooklyn this summer (photo Helen Michelson)

A longtime head-bashing punk and metal music fan, Dennis is also a professor at Pratt here in Brooklyn, sharing his thousands of hours of experience and mastery of craftsmanship with aspiring artists of the new generation. An artist and street artist, you’ll find his wild animal kingdom wheatpastes in Brooklyn on the facade of KCDC skate shop in Williamsburg, and in the ongoing Willoughby Windows exhibit downtown.

Vans by Dennis McNett

You can also find his designs on sneakers, t-shirts, and skateboards.

Brooklyn Street Art: How many hours does it take to carve one of those giant 4’x8′ linotype blocks?
Dennis McNett: If I have no distractions and lots of coffee it usually goes very quickly once I have my drawing on the block.


Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles this August (photo Helen Christenson)

Dennis’s show at Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles this August. Says owner Andrew Hosner, “Dennis rocked our spot. One of the best installs we’ve had to date.” (photo Helen Michelson)

Brooklyn Street Art: Is it possible to develop Carvel-Tunnel Syndrome?
Dennis McNett: You mean Carvel like the ice cream?….. I’m sure if you scoop too much you could.

snake in the eye

Come quick Hilda! There is something in my eye! (Dennis McNett at Thinkspace) (photo Helen Michelson)

Brooklyn Street Art: There was recently a sighting of a prowling mountain cat in Bushwick. Have you seen this ferocious feline behind a fence?
Dennis McNett: I have seen it but I think it was a snow leopard and just like the illusive and mystical cat it is now nowhere to be found.



So I’m a snow leopard, eh?  Watch me chew a hole through this fence. (photo Helen Michelson)

Brooklyn Street Art: Who are the five best heavy metal artists of all time?
Dennis McNett: Black Sabbath is timeless to me. Gwar is underrated for the amount of creative energy put into their theatrics, longevity, and mastery of the mediums of story telling, costume making, set design, character development, album cover art, comics, metal music, etc… whether you like their aesthetic or not. Slayer!!! Motorhead!!! Death!!! This list may change from day to day…. there are too many.

Gwar At Bamboozle 2009

Gwar getting ready to go to the supermarket (photo Kerosene Photography)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Kerosene Photography
Brooklyn Street Art: Now that we are in the fourth quarter, how has the “Year of the Wolfbat” been?
Dennis McNett: It was awesome to travel around and show work. I met a ton of really amazing people and was able to invoke their wolfbat. The folks at Fecal Face and Thinkspace were really generous and hospitable with their time and space. The Badlands were intense. Good times.

Some not-so-casual fans of Dennis McNett (photo Helen Christenson)

Some not-so-casual fans of Dennis McNett (photo Helen Michelson)

Brooklyn Street Art: You have referred to the Wolfbat as a spirit. Would you say that you are a spiritual man?
Dennis McNett: Wolfbats are spirits… they are kin to the great wolf Fenris who was wrongfully bond by the gods …. I started a sort of mythology of my own by resurrecting Fenris. He was killed during Ragnarok (the battle of the Gods and Giants) by Oden’s son Vitar. I rewrote the ending where his sister Hel resurrects Fenris and raises a new army. Wolfbats wake the sleeping spirit of people who need to be woken. That is their reason for coming into our dimension and world.


Odin and Fenris by Dorothy Hardy, published in 1909 in

“Odin and Fenris” by Dorothy Hardy, published in 1909 in Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.

Brooklyn Street Art: Your creatures are violent and rageful. Should people be afraid of you?
Dennis McNett: Absolutely not. I don’t see my work as violent or rageful. I just see these characters as very alive and expressive in their gesture. I usually choose animals with some mythology behind them or that are mystical, misunderstood, or pack/family oriented.


Sunset blved

A Wolfbat on Sunset Boulevard (photo Helen Michelson)

From the 1026 Space gallery:

“You can expect to see a loud psychedelic woodcut landscape covering several walls of the gallery in which nature’s bass has been cranked up to 11. Duck your head walking in and make way for an entire flock of hotheaded Wolfbats swooping overhead, not to mention the supercharged eagles diving out of their path to let them through.”

Dennis in studio working on a new piece to be debuted Thursday

Dennis in studio working on a new piece to be shown Friday.

…as well as new wood carved pieces, relief cut prints, masks, oversize tapestries, leopards with serpent tails, goat heads wrapped in snakes, angry beasts, eagles fighting snakes, bats, and of course, Wolfbats.

 Wolfbat and Goat: detail of new work to be shown at Space 1026

Wolfbat and Goat: detail of new work by Dennis McNett to be shown at Space 1026


“Year of the Wolfbat”
An installation by Dennis McNett

Show dates:  October 2nd –October 31st
Opening Reception: Friday October 2nd 7-10pm
Where: Space 1026, 1026 Arch St. Philadelphia, PA

Space 1026 Website

Dennis McNett Website Howling Print


Great thanks to BSA special correspondent Helen Michelson for her cheerful disposition and her eagle eye!

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Dennis McNett “Year of the Wolfbat” Space 1026 (Philadelphia)

“Year of the Wolfbat” An installation by Dennis McNett

Show dates:  October 2nd –October 31st

Opening Reception: Friday October 2nd 7-10pm

Where: Space 1026, 1026 Arch St. Philadelphia, PA  19107

The “Year of the Wolfbat” began in NYC in June and has since trekked across the US stopping for exhibitions, artist talks and workshops along the way. The migratory flight of the Wolfbats has swooped in for shows at Fecal Face Dot Gallery in San Francisco and Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles. Their tour will culminate at Space 1026 in Philadelphia with an installation of print-derived sculpture and mural, accompanied by unique and editioned works both large and small.

You can expect to see a loud psychedelic woodcut landscape covering several walls of the gallery in which nature’s bass has been cranked up to 11. Duck your head walking in and make way for an entire flock of hotheaded Wolfbats swooping overhead, not to mention the supercharged eagles diving out of their path to let them through.

Also on view will be several new wood carved pieces, relief cut prints, masks and oversize tapestries. Leopards with serpent tails, goat heads wrapped in snakes, angry beasts, eagles fighting snakes, bats, and of course, Wolfbats are just a few of the images you’re likely to come across.

Event Announcement
For information please contact Space 1026 215.574.7630

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OS Gemeos: Brazilian Street Artists’ Mural was a highlight of Summer’s Crop on the Streets of New York

The consensus is that the summer in the City goes by way too fast. This year is not an exception.  But the harvest has been good.

The green markets that dot NYC’s 5 boroughs boast some great fresh produce that isn’t sprayed with pesticides or that will give your children 3 eyes. From Bay Ridge to Borough Park to Bowling Green to Bronx Borough Hall to Sunnyside and St. Georges, the tomatoes were the superstars this September – big and meaty and fragrant.

And the bold brassy sunflowers have been clamoring into our little apartments and putting a smile on our worried faces.

The summer crop of Street Art of course has been bounteous! The creative output from the indomitable, wild, and restless street artists – home-grown and imported – seems record-breaking.  From commissioned public murals with photo-ops for  politicians to the secret stick-up kids on newspaper boxes, the voices of people on the streets grew.

The Mural
The mural by Os Gemeos (photo by Jaime Rojo)

One truck-load of fresh produce that won a NYC Street Art blue-ribbon this summer was the giant colorful pop-surrealist mural by the hard-working and gentle twins from São Paulo, Os Gemeos.

Gustavo working on the mural
Gustavo of Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)

During a brief 2-week growing period, Gustavo and Octavio labored in the fields of dreams and eye-popping colors while the curious and the hungry stood by on the sidewalk in clusters of cameras and black books, day after day watching the fantasy open up and reveling in the sunshine.

Os Gemeos
The ladder meets the scissor lift (Os Gemeos) (photo Jaime Rojo)

With cans of aerosol and buckets of latex, they worked the fertile soil of Deitch Projects orchards on the corner of Houston and Bowery under an intense heat and punishing sun.

Os Gemeos. Detail
Detail from Os Gemeos mural (photo Jaime Rojo)

In a location that had been painted in previous summers by other migrant street artists including Haring and Scharf, the Brazilians delighted the weary New Yorkers and curious tourists with their vivid imaginations.

The Twins
Octavio and Gustavo; Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)

To say goodbye to the summer of 2009 we pay homage to their industry and talent once more. Long after the summer sun fades and the grey cold winter takes us over, this bright gift from Os Gemeos will remain on Houston Street.

Octavio working couldn't help himself and found time to paint on a truck
With a history that started in writing graffiti in the late 1980’s, the brothers also found time to paint on a truck (photo Jaime Rojo)

Os Gemeos
Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)

Os Gemeos Detail
Detail from Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)

Os Gemeos Detail
Detail from Os Gemeos (photo Jaime Rojo)

Os Gemeos
A tribute to Dash Snow was added when he died during the creation of the mural, adding a historical touchstone to the event. (Os Gemeos) (photo Jaime Rojo)

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211, rue Saint Maur 75010 Paris – France

10.14 > 11.12 – 2009
Opening : Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Since Gallery

TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH  – It is inside the Parisian subway that FKDL drew the material for those 20 pieces chosen for the exhibit at Since gallery.

Underneath the earthenware tiles and the branded posters, the artist, endless strider of the streets and entrails of the French capital, stumbles upon a treasure : strips of olds ads, forgotten remnants of the 50’s.

Vintage colors, shapes and fonts that instantly take us back in time,
somewhere between nostalgia and modernity. Here, over that colored paper from the 50’s, playful silhouettes stretch out in black & white, and adorn themselves with actors and actresses from those days. On the back of each piece, the artist carefully listed all the appearing people, along with the number and the date of the magazine he used.

Those silhouettes have been part of FKDL’s family since 2006, and he gave them life on the streets of Paris, Barcelona, New-York, London… Now, it has gotten bigger to welcome this testimony to the 50’s.
For old papers, left on walls to hang for decades, tell a universal story and link us all through time and space.
Urban recycling “made in Franck”: a touch of eternity, life forever reinvented.

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Images of the Week 09.27.09

Images of the Week 09.27.09

Our Weekly Interview with the Street

Caper (Caper) (photo Jaime Rojo)

A sale on melons at Met Supermaket this week? (Celso) (photo Jaime Rojo)

dark clouds
A melange of soot, chain links, and dark clouds (Dark Clouds) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Elbow Toe
Elbow Toe (photo Jaime Rojo)

Elbow Toe
“That’s funny, we’ve had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. We’ve been canning them, freezing them, Arlene even made chutney!  Maybe you should have the soil tested,” offered Farmer Bob at the Union Square green market. (Elbow Toe) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Skewville and Elbow Toe
Skewville lending words of support to Elbow Toe (photo Jaime Rojo)

Going through life as a lone wolf may not be as romantic as it sounds. (Yote) (photo Jaime Rojo)

I’m a male 9 year old adventurous intuitive Libra, medium-sized with brown eyes and no ear-tufts. I like squirrels and woodrats and occasional truffles. I’m looking for a lady soulmate who likes flying across the park on sunny days and enjoys long stretches of sitting on a branch just observing and talking about the mysteries of life. (Yote) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Infirm Society
The healthcare debate is inspiration for commentary on the streets these days (Infirm Society) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Keely and the bridge (photo Jaime Rojo)

Michael Defeo Smart Crew
Michael Defeo, Smart Crew, and a tall glass building jutting through space (photo Jaime Rojo)

You two are just a couple of lovebirds, anybody every tell you that? (QRST) (photo Jaime Rojo)

Looking forward to that applebee honey! (Shin Shin) (photo Jaime Rojo)

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Street Signals 09.26.09

Street Signals -News Off the Wires from Brooklyn Street Art

Beauty and the Beast – Chor Boogie and Cope2

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is opening in LA tonight at Mid-City Arts Gallery.  And while everyone acknowledges that Chor Boogie is cute, do we have to break it all down to appearance?  Maybe it’s the fact that Disney fair well killed our cognitive association with a relatively harmless children’s tale by saturating Broadway for years with their tripe.

Anyway, it’s a clever packaging of a duo – one old-school Bronx bomber throwie king VS. one expansive spiritualistic color wizard whose forms sprout and undulate across the wall.  Put these two together and LET THE HILARITY ENSUE!  Heck Cope2 has his own special appeal, right ladies?

Cope2! Bro! Get out of Cali before they make you start doing yoga and sh*t.  Look what they did to Chor!

Where is Angela Lansbury?

Where is Angela Lansbury?

Mid City Arts Gallery Website


Love Letters from Stephen Powers in Philadelphia

Makes you think of "I Love Lucy" doesn't it?

Makes you think of "I Love Lucy" doesn't it?

West Philadelphian and beautiful loser street artist Stephen Powers (AKA Espo) has harnessed the powers of love to mastermind a huge public art event in the city called “Love Letters”. A huge fan and faithful reproducer of that old-time sign painting aesthetic that was once the hottest thing since sliced baloney for outdoor advertising, Mr. Powers is combining efforts with a number of “writers” to be visible to travellers along a grand tour of a Market Street in Philly.

Mo money, mo love letters. (courtesy

The new works will be visible along the Frankford-
The new “Love Letter” campaign will be visible along the Market-Frankford Elevated Line

Download a PDF of the Map and additional information HERE

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Aerosol Academics at Solefood NYC

(New York, NY) – Graffiti. Today such a word automatically triggers certain perceptions and assumptions that are not always favorable. The best way to correct misunderstandings and assumptions is to bring those being criticized to the stage to discuss the art of graffiti and its evolution.

F.O.K.U.S. presents “Aerosol Academics,” a visual arts show and artists discussion that will take place on October 17th, 2009 at Solefood NYC from 7pm until 11pm. This show features works from graffiti writers from the ‘80s and ‘90s, namely Crane TMT; Ink 76 Bad inc; Part TDS; Priz TSF; Ree 2 MTA; Sonic 002 Bad inc and Stan-One TSF, many of whom have been featured in the PBS Documentary “Style Wars” and the classic book “Subway Art” by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant; two widely regard looks at the graffiti culture. “Aerosol Academics” will give a first-hand look at the art from and provide an interactive discussion with the artists to learn about their start and evolution in the art from of graffiti.

We will have free Frank151 books thanks to N.Y. Kings, limited edition shirts from Scrap Yard and Fresh Industries; free beverages from Pepsi, Brooklyn Brewery and IZZE and live art thanks in part to Montana Colors! There will also be several surprises at the event.

We would like to thank our sponsors- Solefood NYC, Fresh Industries, Brooklyn Brewery, Scrap Yard, Art Crimes, Pepsi, N.Y. Kings, @149st and IZZE– for providing the space and product donations for the event.

Solefood NYC
38 Lispenard St.
Between Church and Broadway
New York, NY 10013

Saturday, October 17th, 2009
From 7pm until 11pm

Suggested donation $5.00

You can take the 1,6, A/C/E, N/Q/R/W, J/M/Z to their Canal St stations and you are walking distance away.

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Graff to Graphic: Destroy and Rebuild

Graff to Graphic: Destroy and Rebuild

Artist collective Destroy & Rebuild blasts past obstacles and finds opportunity through persistence on the street.

(photo Steven P. Harrington)

(photo Steven P. Harrington)

True New York City is in the streets and in the hard-won winning grit of these three young urban artists; NYC is in their every utterance, every step.  It’s also all over their bombastic color-infused artwork; the man-made urban symbols and signposts of this great city are the superstructure that forms each sentence and drips down every canvas….

The Building Print 2 by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

The Building Print 2 by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

These are the readily recognizable elements that make up New York: The Brooklyn and The Williamsburg, The Empire State, Twin Towers, factories, brownstones, tenements, chain links topped by razorwire, NYPD cars and taxis, graffiti trucks, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and parachute jump, choppers in the sky, maples and oaks, the brass-balled bull of Wall Street, the New York Times, the stars and stripes stretched across the stock exchange, water towers, rolling grids of windows, colorful bloated throwies and a big-ass Revs tag.  All of this vaunted big-city imagery is splashed and layered into their work, and in their words.  It’s the language of destruction, and of rebuilding.

The Twin Towers by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

The Twin Towers by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

Destroy & Rebuild is a three-man Brooklyn-based artist collective whose art is structured and splattered, pieced and sprayed, screened and collaged, photographed and markered. More often than ever, it’s balanced.  All three guys got their start doing illegal graffiti on the streets and subways of New York City.  Eventually they decided to form Destroy & Rebuild on the premise that they used to destroy the city with their graffiti and now they are rebuilding it with their art.

(photo Steven P. Harrington)

(photo Steven P. Harrington)

“I feel like we are almost the definition of street art. Because we’re all bombers that come from the street, shelters, f*cked up childhoods, parents dying, drug addiction, and all that. But instead of falling victim to that and letting that take over our lives we just took it and kept on doing this.  Maybe it was going to jail and all that that made us have to do this but we’re doing it now,” explains Mike as he watches people stop by the table to look at their work.  The words don’t fly out in a bitter way, but with the confidence and authority of a personal truth.

Street art by Destroy & Rebuild (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Street art by Destroy & Rebuild (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Positioned on a street spot in Soho for going on three winters, Anthony (aka Avone), Mike (aka 2esae), and Ski all have the same position; artist and salesman.  On most days you’ll find them there with with canvasses stacked, displayed, and leaning on the front and sides of a collapsible table.  Each offering is a collaboration piece that mixes their personal styles and employs every new thing they are learning about their craft. The selection continuously evolves.

Today Ski isn’t here because he’s representing them in a show at a gallery in Austria, so Anthony and Mike tell BSA what their street art gig is about.

Anthony: Everything is by hand – we do everything ourselves – stretch our canvasses, burn our own screens, take our own photos, print our own photos,

Mike: A lot of these elements have meaning to us; from the graffiti trucks that we paint to the buildings that we stand in front of every day.  We even have pictures of our storage building, where we store everything.


(photo Steven P. Harrington)

(photo Steven P. Harrington)

While they talk there are frequent interruptions from potential buyers and curious inquisitors, to homies that roll by to give a shout out.

Anthony: I had a studio but I moved out. Right now I’m working out of my home, Mike is working out of his home.  We have designated studio space – like right now we are working in my living room, and I have the extra bedroom, which together I use for a space to paint in.  And Mike has a big apartment with extra space to paint in. So it’s kind of convenient in a way – we are spoiled in that manner.

Mike: We don’t stop. We take some breaks but we’re always working.  It’s always non-stop.

Brooklyn Street Art: It sounds like a thousand canvasses a year.

Mike: Yeah probably. We have a lot of pieces that we sell and that we have in different places. We send it out a lot, to galleries, stores. We have a lot of work out there right now. We have some work right now in Austria, in Italy, some of it just went to Australia with Ski.  We have some in the Greene Space at 112 Greene Street.  We actually lend out our art to some people – they just use it to decorate their office.  A lot of connections we get through here.  We always take down all of our emails from people on the street and go home and email them all back.  We find them, invite them to our shows, like to keep communication with all of them.


(photo Steven P. Harrington)

Destroy & Rebuild (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s like you’ve got a whole business going, like you are businessmen, entrepreneurs.

Anthony: You know, a lot of people see you on the street, and they think you are low class; It’s New York. You have to forget about it.  I try to encourage others to do this, but I guess it’s kind of a blessing that they don’t. You got these kids who wanna say you are “commercial”, or that you are this and that.

A satisfied customer (photo courtesy Destroy & Rebuild)

A satisfied customer (photo courtesy Destroy & Rebuild)

Brooklyn Street Art: Isn’t that a typical criticism across the board that everybody gets no matter what you are doing if you are creative?

Anthony: Yeah, if you are creative – if you are working on a website at a company then you are “commercial”, if you are selling your art you are “commercial”… I’ve heard it all.  We just came out; it’s baby steps. But still we’re not in the door. We’re not anyone special. We don’t have an art rep, we don’t have an agent, we don’t have a gallery – we’re doing it ourselves. And we come from nothin’. You know what I mean? His mom’s not rich. We come from public assistance, housing projects… So for us this is an accomplishment.

The accomplishments are propagating, as is the quality and variety of the work.  Over the past three years the work of Destroy & Rebuild has shown growth and maturity, and the guys emphasize that it came from continued practice, studying the game, and saying “yes” to many projects that stretched their minds and challenged their abilities.  They continue to make custom work for private clients and paint murals in peoples’ homes, as long as they can keep their personal style intact.  Keeping the lines of communication open with opportunity has also meant they get invited to participate in group shows and solo shows abroad, create art for videos for 50-Cent, Grafh, and Busta Rhymes, design art and posters for Playstation,  paint semi-nude women with Ron English for the art-based social networking site Planet Illogica, have a show up this month at Destination Art Space in the Meatpacking District, and paint live at the MBP Urban Arts Fest in Brooklyn on October 3rd.

Stenciling up a mural in a private home (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Stenciling a mural in a private home (photo Steven P. Harrington)

BSA: Because you’ve been working so much you can produce good work fast. Being able to produce very quickly is a skill in itself.

Anthony: Definitely, that’s the power of silkscreening as well.

BSA: And the way you apply it, the way you place it. You’re eye has to be getting better with each successive round.

Mike: Yeah your eye, the color, the composition. Like if you look at our stuff in the beginning we were just taking it and screening anything anywhere.  Now we just keep stepping up and going higher.

Anthony: Yeah like getting our perspectives down.

Mike: Trying different things, you know.

BSA: So this is your education.

Mike: Yeah basically – experience.

Anthony: You know school is good for that, the experience of it. And the networking part, which is good too.  I learn more from you or Mike than I do from sitting down and doing a class or something.  So I would take the networking aspect of school and give that to people.  Being around other people who are trying to upgrade themselves is a good thing.


Gallery goers (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Gallery goers at a Destroy & Rebuild show (photo Steven P. Harrington)

BSA: What is Destroy and Rebuild?

Mike: It was just a saying for us for a while. We didn’t even dub ourselves with that name for a while.

Anthony: It was always like a “love and hate”, “yin-yang”, “boy-girl” thing. Can’t have peace without war, those kind of little sayings.  So we are building when we are working together, like right now, building means we’re adding on.  And we are destroying negativity,  we’re destroying stereotypes.

It also went great with our personal history. We had our time. We know vandalism is vandalism. At the end of the day we don’t go home and get arrested and say “Oh we were doing our art in the street”.  So we have that element – so that is destruction to a certain degree. And now we’re rebuilding. We’re rebuilding our lives, ourselves, our city – we make this city look good.


gallery favorite (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Silkscreen and the comics meet in this Destroy & Rebuild piece at Destination Art Space  (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Brooklyn Street Art: So many artists give up  – they give up when they hit a couple of obstacles because they don’t have the fire burning in them.

Mike: We keep on moving forward, no matter what.  We’re out here in the winter. We got customers bringing us hot chocolate. We’re the only artists that really come out here in the winter. We’ve been here for two winters.  People respect that.  No one would ever dare set up in this spot.


Twin towers on the table by Destroy & Rebuild (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Twin towers on the table by Destroy & Rebuild (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s a huge accomplishment, and the fact that you have the fortitude to continue is an accomplishment.

Anthony: And it’s hard because you get obstacles. It’s harder for us. Yeah, Obama is president, blah blah blah, but it’s like “This kid has an afro and tattoos all over him and a swagger about him” so regardless of what he does, he’s judged.  He’s got a show going on in Austria right now, he just got back from working with PlayStation – all this stuff. But you still got people who say “He’s just a street kid, or a street artist or graffiti artist.”

Mike: Yeah, my upbringing was f*cked up. But instead of using that as an excuse to not do anything, I used it as a reason to knock out school. Nobody ever did college in my family.  I got my degree in graphic design, my little associates. But that totally opened my mind.  That sh*t opened my mind to this. We don’t have any recognition yet. We’re basically kind of the underdogs, you know. But we’re kind of like the rookies on the team, but we’re really talented rookies.

Anthony: Time itself sometimes destroys stereotypes you know.  You know people are biased for some reason.  You don’t have to address it, you can just go on your own accord and that in itself is good.

Mike: No, you just gotta keep doing what your doing, you know? Hopefully somebody’ll pick it up.

You can go see the rookies Destroy & Rebuild at the MBP Urban Arts Fest, where they’ll be killing a huge wall with other artists like Chris Stain, Royce Bannon, El Celso,  Abe Lincoln Jr., Indigo, Mania, Project Super Friends, infinity, and Ellis G.

"The Queens Perspective" by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

“The Queens Perspective” by Destroy & Rebuild (courtesy the artists)

“Sky is the limit and you know that you keep on, just keep on pressin’ on”  – Biggie Smalls

Destroy & Rebuild Website

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Street Art Conversations on Gentification, Mayor Mike, and PIGS

In 2005 a 175-block area of North Brooklyn (mainly the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg), was rezoned for architects and developers who had watched the influx of artists in the previous 15 years turn the area into a hotbed for creativity and exploration of new art, music, and performance.

Miss Bugs on the site (photo Jaime Rojo)
Miss Bugs on the site of a new building going up in Williamsburg. (photo Jaime Rojo)

It’s a well-worn story of course. The surge in popularity that follows when artists bring new cultural life to a dying industrial part of town is the double edged sword for a neighborhood, and not everyone is going to be happy with the cause or the effect.  Today, nearly five years into an unprecedented building boom of glass and steel rectangular residential buildings marketed to professional consumers and their Boomer parents, the hard-hitting recession has killed some construction projects, stalled many, and slowed others.  Condos are even turning into affordable rentals! Egad.

A Mike Marcus troop keep watch over the new arrivals. (photo Jaime Rojo)
A Mike Marcus troop keeps watch over the new arrivals. (photo Jaime Rojo)

Street artists probably know their days in Williamsburg are numbered because soon the same people who were attracted to the neighborhood for it’s quirkiness and free spirit of creativity will effectively squelch it – but as long as there are construction sites, there is still scaffolding to adorn.  In fact, one developer went as far as hiring artists a couple of years ago to hit up his scaffolding with work that resembles a street art aesthetic, as written in the Gothamist by Jake Dobkin.

A huge postering campaign
A huge campaign of thousands of posters on construction site scaffolding for a clothing company was hacked this spring when street art collective Faile placed animal kingdom heads over Lou Reed’s (photo Jaime Rojo)

The real competition for space are the advertisers who plaster multiples of posters for cell-phones and hair gel in block-long mass-appeal campaigns, far dwarfing the amount of space any street artist could hope to cover with their home-made wheat-pasted piece.  Aside from construction sites of course,  as long as there are still abandoned and moribund buildings that have yet to be demolished, a canvas on the street beckons.

Brooklyn-Street-Art-PIGs Political Interactive Gaming Systems sept09-DSC01773
The title of PIGS’ program

A brief street installation on one of these construction sites this past weekend by an artists/activist group attempted to open the conversation about gentrification to the young pretty passersby who have been attracted to the cache of a hip neighborhood with close proximity to the island of Gotham (and NYU).  In a dramatically metaphorical way, Political Interactive Gaming Systems (PIGS) points to the wooden walls that guard the open construction sites and contends that they are purely a way of hiding the wounds of a freshly lacerated and bleeding part of the city, rather than a public safety precaution.

People putting words in the mayor’s mouth.

Part of the Conflux Festival, the art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space, PIGS put up a large magnetic board on one of these blue-walled construction sites with the words of a speech from the mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg.  Much like the refrigerator game it resembles, the words were yours to rearrange. With the goal of raising awareness about gentrification, luxury condos, and displacement of the poor, Josh and Jessica Public happily participated.

OMG!  I, like, could like say SO MUCH right now but I'm like rully rully busy?
OMG! This is like so great!  I, like, could like say SO MUCH right now but I’m like rully rully busy texting?

Or as they say, “PIGS invites you to play a game: Can you get Mike to express how you feel about your changing city? Rearrange the words, and feel the pleasure of getting a politician to actually represent you.”

It’s hard to measure success on a street installation like this because anybody who walks by may or may not know what in the Sam Hill you are talking about. According to somebody from PIGS who spoke with anonymity, “We observed that many players focused their arrangements around the words  ‘defeated’ and ‘enterprise,’ while the word ‘liberty’ was almost never used.  We also observed that when passersby saw something written that they didn’t like or agree with, they took the liberty of rearranging the text to reflect their sentiment – which to us, is what politics should be: the work of reciprocal exchange where the rights and sentiments of each person are present in an equal discussion.”

“Believe in Yourself”
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