StrayOnes Studio Visit : Seeing Fellow New Yorkers As Stray Cats

“I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air.”

“Stray Cat Strut” by The Stray Cats, 1981

The lyric invokes an image of New Yorkers of all stripes whom you’ve seen working the sidewalk in neighborhoods across this city, including presumably Manhattan’s Washington Heights, where Street Artist and sculptor StrayOnes grew up at the turn of the century.

His wire and steel felines have a certain sassy, scrappy, savoir faire that tells passersby that you can have a sense of class no matter the situation you may find yourself in; like catwalking along the top of fence for instance.

“Stray cats are wild. They live free on the streets,” StrayOnes tells us.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“I remember where I grew up seeing tons of stray cats,” says the mid-20s street sculptor who got his start doing graffiti for a decade or so before his game moved to installing these crafty cats with a high tensile strength high on window ledges, fences, and telephone poles throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan over the last few years.

“Everyone can relate to the struggle of a stray animal,” he says in his well-ordered studio in a railroad space on the top of a Brownstone in Bushwick, “So that’s where the name came from; StrayOnes.”

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

His is a uniquely practical and poetic point of view that makes a great deal of sense considering the sleekly sensible manner that one often has to navigate through situations, opportunities, threats, obstacles, and relationships in the city, particularly on the street. “I also think that cats are like humans in a way – the way they act and move. Plus when you understand animals you understand people. If you understand a stray cat you understand a person.”

The cats he was digging on the street in the 2000s are true heads in the graff game and he rocked aerosol and markers long before these fully formed characters. “I was very much a graffiti artist for a long time. I love all the big heads like Noxer, Cope2, Cost,” he says. “I like lettering a lot but then when I got into sculpture, something about a 3D. It’s so alive to me. So I wondered why not put 3D work on the street which I love so much? I also love graffiti but it started to look flat to me. I wanted to work more on something that ‘pops.’ ”

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

You’ll see his cats and other characters more now than before as he is seriously dedicating himself to conceiving storylines and sculptures regularly – even though he has a straight 9 to 5 that takes up his time when not in the studio or on the street. And of course, there has to be time for prowling…

“Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies cat
I’m a feline Casanova, hey man that’s that
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man
Get my dinner from a garbage can.”

This 1980s rockabilly song is not the only thing from that period that we are reminded of when talking to this guy born in the 90s. A fine arts grad from FIT in 2014, many of his artistic inspirations from the street come from that first wave of renegades, as well as a few from this century.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“I’m inspired by Keith Haring, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, a lot of the graffiti legends – Lee (Quinones) I like a lot. Banksy, especially during my graffiti teenage years.” Perhaps surprising is his mention of Lucian Freud, the British painter and draftsman, until you think of the rendered full forms in his portraits with figures almost appearing to have been modeled in clay.

Anonymous and largely unknown personally to many artists whom you meet on the New York scene, StrayOnes couldn’t be more enthusiastic or committed to it.

“NYC is the Street Art Capital and I’m happy to be a part of it. I always felt that with Street Art and graffiti you are just born loving it and I wanted do it. That’s how I grew up and the people who I grew up with – they all feel like that,” he says.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“So I’m happy to be a part of the Street Art scene. Actually nothing makes me happier. I feel like a rush, being involved in it. And I feel like it is very much alive and so is graffiti. They are not going anywhere. I’m an innovative street artists and I feel like more people are starting being innovative. I love it all.

BSA talked to StrayOnes about his pensive and inquisitive movements around the block, his affinity for sculpture, his interactions with police, Pokémon, and what he’s been reading lately.

BSA: Why do you sculpt cats and put them on the street?
StrayOnes: After graffiti a got into sculpting and I wanted to put people on the street. Life-size figures. But I realized that they were kind of big. They were cool, some people were a bit creeped out about them. But then I moved to Brooklyn and I got inspired by my roommate’s cat; By the way it moved so I thought about putting a cat sculpture on the streets.

I still wanted to continue doing graffiti but at the same time I wanted to try something new. A cat sculpture always fits perfectly in the little niches and spaces on the street. Unlike my people sculptures that are always very big. The other element is the fact that they are stray cats. I feel like strays represent New Yorkers in a way.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Why did you transition from graffiti to sculptures?
StrayOnes: Part of it started with the spray paint; I don’t really like the fumes that much. But I still love graffiti, typography and love doing tags with markers. I do use spray with the sculptures but now I use a mask. But something about the sculptures that is so alive. It is like when you see it it looks like a real thing and to me that’s what drew me to sculpting.

I also wanted to be unique and do something new. I also really understand the material and have figured out how to get it out on the street. I use chicken wire and it’s pretty cheap. The material is pretty hardy but it’s also light. So switching to sculptures to me is doable. It’s manageable. It isn’t a crazy process.


StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you have a cat?
StrayOnes: I used to have a cat but it passed away. But that was the cat that inspired all of it in a way. It made very much realize how much I remember every stray cat interaction I had.

BSA: I like the transparency of the material and how it perfectly camouflages on the streets.
StrayOnes: Yes that’s before I used to paint them. But you caught a very early one.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How do you choose the spots for your cats?
StrayOnes: I usually pick a high foot-traffic block. That’s my goal. Then I look for a steel fence or grate that is a cool distance away so people can’t snatch them, but not too high that people won’t be able to see them. Lately I’ve trying to get a good contrast. My last one was a yellow cat and I place it on a bright red background so it pops more.

I really wanted people to see them actually. I didn’t intend for them to be super subtle. So I began painting them. So I went for bright colors.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: When they are painted bright colors people see them and sometimes they take them. Do you care when that happens?
StrayOnes: At first it pissed me off a lot. Like now it doesn’t piss me off as much. When I used to do graffiti people get buffed all the time. It is part of the game. The art is in the wild. Like leaving something in the jungle.

BSA: With your work sometimes I think that a certain piece is not going to run for a long time and others I think they will run for a long time and I’m often wrong. Do you know why?
StrayOnes: I’ve gotten much better about knowing which piece will run for a long time. My intention is for a piece to run for as much as it could be possible. Of course they are on the street and it is what it is. But that’s my intention. Blocks that are covered with Street Art already they are usually good spots.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you feel like they are the anti-heroes on the streets; The badass actors of the streets? I’ve seen a couple of your sculptures where the cats are going after mice or birds.
StrayOnes: I feel like cats represent us in a way – like strays are us. And for the bird piece you mentioned I feel like the bird was looking at the enemy on the face. Most of the time rats run away from the strays. They just don’t stop to look at cat on their face. So on the bird piece the pray is very aggressively looking back. That’s the subtle commentary running trough my work right now.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: You have also sculpted other animals besides cats. I saw a raccoon recently and a Pokémon too! Are you getting bored with the cats?
StrayOnes: I just wanted to have more variety. Then I got to the point where I was also getting inspired by things. Like I saw a hawk that landed on top of the ledge so I decided to do a hawk. I also see tons of raccoons in the Heights. Raccoons are really cool. It is like the animals I see in New York.

BSA: Yes many New Yorkers don’t even realize how much wildlife there’s in the city but you are bringing the wildlife to their doorsteps, or their window sills, if you will.
StrayOnes: Yes stray cats are wild. They live free on the streets.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you have a specific time to put your work up on the street?
StrayOnes: I usually go alone during the day. When it’s very sunny and everyone is in a good mood. Two o’clock in the afternoon. I used to do it at night but then I had to hop up ladders and people might have thought I was robbing their apartments. So when I do it during the day I sort of look the part and people don’t bother me. I mean people watch me doing it but they don’t have issues because they think it is cool.

BSA: How about the police? Do they bother you?
StrayOnes: I haven’t dealt with the police yet. I have been stopped by park rangers. I tried to put one up in a park but they were very chill about it. They just told me to take it down. So it wasn’t a big deal. With the police you just don’t act suspiciously when you are putting the work up. It takes a lot of time do it. I tie the sculptures with wire. Sometimes I use screws and tie the sculptures to the screws. I don’t use nails. And it really isn’t easy to take them down. If they take them down they will damage the sculptures in the process. I do the same thing with the plaques.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Are you currently reading any books? Short stories?
StrayOnes: Right now I am reading “King Leopold’s Ghost”. Is a historical book about the King of Belgium who made a colony in the Congo and killed millions of people. This is pretty much unspoken about in the history books. I didn’t know about it until I began reading this book. It actually explains a lot about American history. This books describe Americans from a European eyes and different points of view of the world and Africa from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. A co-worker recommended it to me.

I’ve been into history lately and with all the conflicts we are seeing today I’m trying to understand how we got to where we are. Currently the world is a mess and there’s a reason why. When I’m reading this book I see why people act the way they do now. This book was written in 1998 describes events from 150 years ago and many of the same things are still happening in today’s world. The way they teach history in America is way too American. There are all these other countries to consider and the histories can be complex.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How often do you put work up?
StrayOnes: Every two or three weeks I’m working on a new sculpture. But I have also started making wood pieces.

BSA: Do you get cut a lot? Sometimes it isn’t easy to work with gloves.
StrayOnes: Yes a lot. I usually start with gloves and about the time I’m done sculpting they gloves are off to do the finer work.

BSA: Have you met some of your peers in NYC? Some other Street Artists?
StrayOnes: I’ve only met a couple of them but I’d like to start meeting more. I’d like to meet as many people as possible.

BSA: Is this one going outside?
StrayOnes: That one has been on the street already. But it is the first one I ever did so I kept it to myself. I just sprayed it with color but underneath the layers you can see the original wire. He was going on a catwalk.

StrayOnes (photo © Jaime Rojo)