Specter, El Sol 25, and Russell Murphy “Putting It In” 17 Frost Gallery Tonight

17 Frost was living up to its name last night when we caught up with Specter and El Sol 25 preparing their new 3 man show with Russell Murphy. It was a frigid night but we didn’t mind. The guys were busy putting up lights, hanging the art and drinking beers; All good things. We were taking pictures and making sure we didn’t step on a painting or a tool or a beer can.

Putting It In, Rejection Therapy, Street Smart

The year has just barely begun and already this show has had three names.

We’ll go for the first one because the three artists have been putting it in on the street for a number of years – the work that is. And by work we mean illegal and legal art work on the streets of New York for much of the 2000s, and probably more. According to the manifesto/show description in their press release they each are somewhat sick of what they perceive as a softening of the game thanks to the cliche toothlessness and sweetness of the current “Street Art” scene. Hell, BSA is probably part of the problem in the estimation of many renegades on the streets.


Specter. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As you walk around this former garage space that now houses art and performance, it is striking how disparate these three individual styles are, yet they all work on the street. Massive painterly abstracts, idiosyncratic collaged portraits, and gritty pop-naive symbolism together in one room. What the artists say to have in common is a reverence for the graffiti lifestyle and each is not eager to do pleasing work just to cash in on a “trend”.

We had the opportunity to speak with Specter and El Sol 25 while they prepared the show.

“I think we all have different ideas in mind,” says Specter as he balances on the top few rungs of a ladder to adjust the clip-on light to an exposed pipe, flooding a 12 foot by 12 foot abstract canvas over the roll down gate at the front of the gallery. “We have three very different artists coming together who have very different approaches and styles that we are doing – but the commonality is that addiction to wanting to do things illegally,” he says. “It’s not that we’re trying to be anarchists, we still know that we are a part of the system, but we’re still like ‘Fuck you guys, we’re not worried about what you think or whether you like it or not’. We just do it because it’s that statement, that beauty of being able to express yourself.”


Specter. Installation shot. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The canvas he has illuminated is like many of the billboard takeovers he has been doing this past year – a deliberate disruption in the commercial-larded cityscape with artful abstraction. Despite its execution without permission, you might not typically associate this artwork with badass rebellion, but in a slickly perverse way it is – upending the steady stream of ads wherever we turn.

As El Sol 25 chases his winter-bundled toddler across the gallery, hoping to catch him before he tries to eat nails from a paper cup or puncture a canvas with a T-square, Specter talks about these enormous works he creates now suspended in the space and he says he swears by the material he is using to make them with.

“Polytab, or parachute cloth is awesome because I’ve figured out so many different ways to use it. There are so many different types of ways to paint on it – transfers, dyes, dye cuts, stencils – I mean there are just endless amounts of stuff that I’ve done with it. Probably the most versatile material that I’ve used,” he says.

“This one is a mixed-media collage – there is commercial material already printed, then hand painted. I call it mixed media because of the amount of different techniques that are involved with it before it’s done. There are probably 25 different techniques just on this one piece – you have the material, all the different effects, the layers of pieces on top of it, the transparencies, the hand painting, screens. I use this stuff all over the street too.”


Specter. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

El Sol 25 is moving large painted wood panels around on the wall alongside an impressive gallery of his original collaged miniatures. The wood panels are an interesting life-cycle installation because each has run illegally on the street. Now he has retrieved them to display here – a rare case where a gallery show contains actual street art, instead of new gallery work by a Street Artist.

Brooklyn Street Art: The truth is you don’t actually do too much work on the street. You do 98% of the work in your studio and then you put it up on the street whereas many graffiti writers like Cash4 for example, do a lot of their work while on the street. Is that right?
El Sol 25 : Yes, he works “in the moment”. I tend to be a little more calculated with my risks but he just tends to just go with it and go crush all the time. Like most graffiti writers have that mentality. I think I think I enjoy living through my friends like that because I just don’t have the balls to take those risks anymore.



These small scale collages are the genesis and the process for El Sol 25 to produce his larger pieces. Most of the pieces shown here have been created for the streets. El Sol 25. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Why do you think that is?
El Sol25: I think because I have a kid and I have experienced that stuff. I realize that I had my fun and I’m not that tough. I’m not going to kid myself. I’m not going to go out and try and hit the ground running so to speak. I’ve always thought that unless you are going hard with graffiti in New York, then you shouldn’t go at all. It’s like whispering in a room full of people shouting. You gotta go hard and you gotta go big. I’m not a big fish in a pond like I used to be when I was young. I wanted to go hard, I wanted to be like Nekst, doing huge pieces and just do hollows and tags.

We notice that looking at the multitude of smaller collages from which the larger paintings are derived, you realize that many of them are the actual studies for the larger pieces you have seen on Brooklyn Streets. In fact one of his collectors has loaned a large number of his older ones to El Sol 25 for this show exclusively, making it a rather rare opportunity for you to see this work while they are still feeling like generously sharing them.


El Sol 25. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: When you are making these small collages, is there usually a story or metaphor that you are working with and how does that compare to those you choose to interpret large scale and hand paint? Do those have more of a backstory or metaphorical/allegorical meaning?
El Sol25: Honestly when I’m making them its purely for the joy of making it, for the exploration of it. A lot of times I feel an immediate story or an immediate reaction to some of the pieces and some of them I don’t understand them at all.

A lot of the times, whether I chose to paint one those images (whether I have created a story or not) while I’m sitting in front of it painting it it almost certainly becomes apparent to me why I did this, why subconsciously I was making this. I was drawn to this imagery and a lot of it makes sense when I’m painting it and a lot of the stories attached often change again when they are on the street because I’ve let go of that story and it has a whole new environment.


El Sol 25. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: When you revisit earlier pieces, because you’ve brought some pieces from the past back into this show, do you feel like it is an earlier you, or do you feel like it is part of a whole?
El Sol: I feel a little embarrassed by how naïve some of the earlier pieces are. Both in their symbolic content and the way that they were actually put together. The way they were just like ripped. A lot of the new ones are like Hindu gods with multiple eyes and faces, and multi-gender, and some even have animalistic properties and I feel like that’s a direction I’m going more in now.


El Sol 25. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: I notice more nudity, more sampling from girly mags.
El Sol: I’ve always liked sort of painting those things. But I have to admit that the reason I’m more inspired to use what people may consider to be “vulgar” imagery is because I think we should say more things on the street that are not PG rated. I think we should explore our platform and not just say things that are safe. This is not a decorative art form. This is about expressing more than just that and I feel like this is the reason I want to be in a show with these guys because they are not afraid to drop “F bombs” with their work and I don’t think anyone should be.

Everything is so safe and boring – I do want to see something absurd. I’d rather see something that makes me think than cause me pleasure. It doesn’t necessarily need to please me aesthetically. I want the ideas to be more pronounced and I think that people who have been into Street Art for a long time are now doing Hello Kitty with a skull. Actually I’m tired of that. What are these other guys doing? What are the greats doing? What are the people in the museums doing? Hopefully they are paying more attention to what they are saying than just “That would look GREAT on a shirt”.


El Sol 25. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Russell Murphy. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Russell Murphy. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Russell Murphy. Installation shot. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


“Putting In It” Opens today at 17 Frost in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Click HERE for further information