One of the exciting book releases this fall drops today in stores across the country – which is appropriate with a name like Spray Nation.
The centerpiece of the complete boxed set released this spring, this thick brick of graffiti tricks will end up on as many shelves as Subway Art; the book of Genesis that prepared everyone for the global scene of graffiti and street art that would unveil itself for decades afterward. See our review from earlier in the year, and sample some of the stunning spreads here, along with quotes by the book’s essay writers, Roger Gastman, Steven P. Harrington, Miss Rosen, Jayson Edlin, and Brian Wallis.
“Culled from thousands of her Kodachrome slides from the early 1980s, the celebrated photographer and ethnologist worked with American graffiti historian Roger Gastman over many months during the initial Covid period to select this rich collection of images of tags, walls, and pieces. Each turn of the page more profoundly deepens your understanding of the graffiti-writing culture Cooper captured with Henry Chalfant in their book Subway Art nearly forty years ago. That clarion call to a worldwide audience took years to reverberate and shake culture everywhere. With time that book became the standard root documentation for what many see as the largest global democratic people’s art movement in history.”
“To create Spray Nation, Cooper, and editor Roger Gastman pored through hundreds of thousands of 35mm Kodachrome slides, painstakingly selecting and digitizing them. The photos range from obscure tags to portraits, action shots, walls, and painted subway cars. They are accompanied by heartfelt essays celebrating Cooper’s drive, spirit, and singular vision. The images capture a gritty New York era that is gone forever.”
~ Prestel Publishing
“Martha’s photos have backed up graffiti writers’ tall tales more times than I can count. They’re like this crazy high school yearbook. As a result, Cooper is who every graffiti writer, fan, collector, and researcher wants to come and see. Most of them have not had the privilege of going to her studio and seeing the great amount of work she has amassed over the years – it’s truly awe inspiring. But every so often she pulls out yet another gem where we all scratch our heads and think, “Oh shit, what else is Martha holding?”
Roger Gastman, from the Foreward of Spray Nation
“‘If you want to publish your work, you cannot be ahead of or behind your time,’ she says as she reflects on an impeccable sense for capturing the birth of scenes like graffiti, hip-hop, and b-boying. ‘I was lucky to be at the right place and time.’”
“Martha is heralded today for capturing those trains and scenes along with Henry Chalfant in the seminal graffiti holy book Subwav Art, but few appreciate how painfully ahead of their time they were at that point.”
~ Steven P. Harrington, from Who is Martha Cooper?
“With a single snap of the shutter, Martha Cooper captured the searing rush of seeing a whole car make its debut on the line after being painted all night. You can all but hear the train thunder along the tracks and feel the ground rumble beneath your feet while a gust of wind hits your face. Is that the smell of spray paint?”
~ Miss Rosen, from Better Living Through Graffiti
“Martha took pictures of painted trains and b-boys because few bothered to at that time. Once people caught on, she considered her task completed. Martha followed the paint trail as it rose above ground. QUiK and IZ on the streets with Scharf and Hambleton. Madonna clubbing with Basquiat, Patti Astor with DONDI and FAB 5 FREDDY. Subway graffiti gradually died, street art rising from its ashes. Disinterest, drugs and AIDS decimated NYC’s cultural apex, its brightest stars perishing before their work hit the seven-figure mark – lives as ephemeral as our pieces on the train. These fleeting moments of births, peaks, and deaths live in perpetuity thanks to the foresight of Martha Cooper and a handful of others who tracked cool’s scent like underground bloodhounds.”
Jayson Edlin, from Peter Pan Haircut
“In a sense, Cooper’s photography picks up on the New Documentary approach of the early 1970s, in which independent photographers such as Larry Clark, Susan Meiselas, Jill Freedman, Mary Ellen Mark, and Danny Lyon recorded insider’s views of various closed societies of outsiders, social groups and “others” shoved aside by postwar American society in thrall to consumerism. The alienated drug users, prisoners, bikers, and prostitutes that those photographers lived among and depicted were largely invisible and had been further marginalized in America by class, race and gender prejudices. In a similar vein, Cooper sought to expose and legitimize the young subway writers as earnest and mildly rebellious artists with a purpose and a rational aesthetic agenda, rather than as the lawless urban vandals the police and the media sought to represent.”
~ Brian Wallis, from Graffiti As The People’s Art Form
French Street Artist Julien de Casabianca is debuting a new series of photographs that may appear as a surprising departure from his previous multi-year multi-city OUTINGS project, but a closer examination contains many similarities between that one and “Grand Mozeur Feukeur”.
The street artist’s pastings for his OUTINGS Project featured scenes from figurative artworks, classical and modern, from museum collections. Julien de Casabianca wanted the images displayed on facades of buildings in public view rather than hidden away for a limited audience. By bringing outside these selected artworks from cultural institutions worldwide, the artist created a genuinely new category of street art, which doesn’t occur with the frequency you might expect.
From Poland to Mexico to Palestine and Vietnam, OUTINGS expanded to be many things at once, including a form of public service that exposed passersby to cloistered artists whose works were prized but generally unseen by the everyday citizen, therefore unconsidered. Everyone was required to re-think the artworks as well as their pre-conceptions of propriety.
Sometimes partnering directly with local art institutions, Casabianca traveled the world, bringing images into the light of day. Considered anew in this city street context, these excised images took on newly discovered relevance, weights, and character. While some appeared as ghosts of the past, others were remarkably contemporary in these modern surroundings. With the implied or explicit imprimatur of academics and art institutions, his novel approach to art on the streets was timely and of our time, short-circuiting convention and garnering countless press articles in cities and cultures widespread.
For one campaign, he selected only “sex scenes,” as he calls them. Motivated by his disappointment at the lack of sexual themes in the street art scene, Julien de Casabianca isolated duos and polyamorous parties engaged in the erotic arts. “It was my first step of questioning sex, gender, and body in street art,” he tells us in an exclusive interview. A redefining of the street art scene, which can be ironically conventional considering its unconventional origins, was necessary.
“My pasting work used characters taken directly from classical paintings – and I put them in the streets,” he says. “There were dozen of sex scenes – heterosexuals and homosexuals – extracted from classical paintings.”
The impulse to expose audiences to these images was liberating, leading him to publish a manifesto on the streets of his home city, Paris. The long screed excoriated his fellow street artists worldwide for what he perceived as their lack of bravery and possibly hypocrisy by avoiding explicitly sexual scenes.
One excerpt says, “What’s wrong with you guys? Street artists are the purest of them all, then? The least ballsy, apparently. The least boobsy too.”
Today, following his own counsel, Casabianca presents a personal campaign in photographs that again introduces themes infrequently seen on the street, this time using himself as muse and canvas. As LGBTQ issues have mingled with a volley of newly coined terms and freshly minted (often self-appointed) experts in the academy, the media, and the street, many everyday persons have continued to navigate through life with seemingly new definitions of gender identity. This new campaign may clarify, or not.
As an artist familiar with both public display and figurative artwork, Casabianca models here his unique flair for fashion. He also displays a previously little-known relationship with gender, sexuality, and our coding guidelines for classification of each. In this new project, he models dresses that he has collected, each endowed with several associations and assumptions.
As in the OUTINGS project, these photographs are excised from their original intended context, if you will, and given a new venue for consideration. Along with the quality of materials and construction, the viewer will evaluate categories such as “day” or “evening,” occasion, income level, social status, age, gender, sexuality, sexual availability, and degrees of masculinity or femininity.
“This new series of pictures presents my body as a form of street art. I do not see the body used in street art either, but I believe it can be a kind of contemporary art performance,” he says in his description of the new project he’s calling “Grand Mozeur Feukeur.”
Paired with footwear that is not typical for the styles of dress, he poses with some deadpan expressions, occasionally appearing as solicitous, coy, non-plussed, or decisive. You may even say they are a parody of the poses in classical antiquity or fashion magazines. This is a very personal act of self-exposure, and the project reveals his questioning of identity and the paradox of self-expression – and society’s propensity for categorizing.
In total, “Grand Mozeur Feukeur” is a very intimate, provocative presentation that may surprise and draw closer examination by viewers. Grand, severe, and even humorous, the performer/muse/artist places himself against a “typical” scene of urban aerosol graffiti tags on walls. – It’s not exactly street art, yet you can imagine some of these images may end up on the street in a city near you.
“This work questions gender,” he says. “There is a malaise in the masculine aspect in our society at this moment, and I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexually attracted to people who identify as this as well. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. I may be something like a cross-dyke, because “dyke” at one time was a slang term for a well-dressed man. A well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.”
BSA interviewed Julien de Casabianca about his new project:
Brooklyn Street Art (BSA): Can you talk about what led you from your previous street art project to this new one? A number of those pasted works focused on sexual and erotic themes. Is the new project related to each other in any way?
Julien de Casabianca (JC): My OUTINGS work uses characters removed from classical paintings to paste them in the streets. I pasted a dozen sex scenes extracted from classical paintings in Paris streets, and I published the series in Nuart Journal. Some were heterosexuals in nature, and some were homosexual. So this was my first step in questioning sex and gender in street art. And I discovered how sex and gender are rare in street art.
Sexuality is seldom discussed, except in a way meant to be comical. Homosexuality is rarely addressed, except in a political way, in defense of visibility, for example. Rarely are these themes presented for just what they are: sex and love. So once I realized this, it opened my eyes, and I decided to continue to work on these queer questions.
BSA: The dresses present a traditional look at female gender roles. Here they are contrasted with perhaps more modern classic male presentation. How is a costume/dress selected?
JC: These are only “old lady” dresses, grand-mother style. I’m fascinated by kitsch and how there can be a beautiful state in the sublimation of ugly. I think these dresses fit me really well. Since I was 15 years old, I always wore these dresses when I went to a queer party. I did not intend it as a travesty or an absurdity, not just to “dress up.” It is just because I’m beautiful in it! I don’t act like a girl. I’m a man, with my virility intact, and I’m absolutely not androgynous. And some are funny, yes. I have a huge collection, around 150.
BSA: The footwear and socks are frequently well-matched to the color scheme of the dress, yet they are not directly related to the style. Is this intentional?
JC: Yes, I’m a sneaker addict, and I always wear sneakers, even in a dress. And I’m in urban style all the time, and it’s my job, so I wanted absolutely to create this mix between old-school and contemporary.
BSA: Does posing before heavily graffitied walls make these modeling sessions more “street” or “urban”?
JC: Yes, I’m a street artist, and this wall is in my home. There are two ways to connect this series of photography in the continuity of my street art work: the urban style association of the sneakers and the walls covered in graff.
BSA:Are you challenging gender roles and definitions, or are you expressing identity and sexuality?
JC: This work questions gender. There is a malaise in the masculine in our society. I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the typical heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexual attracted to people who identify as this. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. Maybe I am something like a cross-dyke, because people used to use “dyke” as slang for a well-dressed man. And a well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.
BSA: Is there comedy here?
JC: There is comedy too, sometimes, because I’m funny in my life and the photographs are my work. But these styles are from my nightlife. At my house, my decor is full of old-lady stuff. I’m in love with those things. They are deeply moving.
BSA: In terms of society and your personal evolution, could this project have occurred in 1991? 2001? Or is there something about 2021 that makes it feel “right”?
JC: It has been an incredible evolution in the last few years in the overall recognition by people of the variety of genders that exist. Ten years ago, people would have regarded my looks as travesty or comedy, period. I’m not either one, not traditionally hetero. I’m queer. During the day, I wear what could be considered a “heterosexual urban” style – maybe androgynous. At night I’m wearing old lady dresses while keeping my virility and masculine behavior.
It is an age of self-discovery, and the twins continue to be surprised by what they find as they attack huge walls with zeal and precision in New York, LA, Miami, Stavanger, Prague, Las Vegas, Rochester, Philadelphia, Rio – all in the last 12 months. Now while they prepare for their new pop-up show, “Late Confessions”, to open in Manhattan in a couple of weeks, the combined subconscious of How & Nosm is at work, and on display are the personal storylines they will reveal if you are paying close attention.
It’s a crisp sunny Saturday in Queens and we’re in the studio of a secured elevator building with cameras and clean floors and air thick with aerosol. Davide (or is it Raoul?) is on his knees with a tub of pink plastering goo, applying and smoothing and sanding this large oddly-shaped structure. When it is painted it will debut in the newly renovated Chelsea space whose walls were destroyed during the flooding of falls’ super storm “Sandy”. The gallery space of Jonathan Levine wasn’t large enough for the scale the brothers have grown accustomed to working with, so this more cavernous temporary location will take on a feeling of being part exhibition, part theme park.
The impermanent sculpture of pressed cardboard is rocking between his knees as he straddles the beast and chides his dog Niko for jumping up on it. Rather than a sculpture, you may think it’s a prop for a high school play at this phase, but soon it will become a shiny black beacon of psychological/historical symbolism culled from the collection of objects they gather in travel. Born from the imagination of the brothers and affixed with bird decoys, clock faces, large plastic blossoms, and a rotary dial telephone, these rolling clean lines and saw-toothed edges of these sculptures will glisten under a heavy coating of midnight lacquer soon.
As you walk through the high-ceilinged studio, the excited twins talk continuously in their deep baritones at the same time at you around you and in German to each other. The barrage of stories are spilling out and trampling and crashing like cars off rails; An energetic parlay of authoritative statements and direct questions about work, walls, gallerists, graffers, cops, trains, toys, techniques. All topics are welcomed and examined, sometimes intensely. Sincere spikes of laughter and sharp swoops of fury act in concert: clarifying, praising, and dissing as they swirl in a rolling volley of goodness, pleasantly spliced with a caustic grit.
Looking at the precise lines and vibrant patterns at play in their work today, there is a certain cheerfulness and high regard for design in the compositions and sense of balance. Both of them site influences as wide as early graffiti, later wild style, cubism, and the abstractionists in their work. Fans are attracted to the confident and attractive illustrative depictions of scenes and characters, appreciating the ever strengthening free-hand command of the aerosol can and stencil techniques that HowNosm have demonstrated in their machine-like march through the streets of world over the last decade plus.
Though they estimate they have visited over 70 countries, they still love New York and both call Brooklyn their home right now. And while the work they do hits a pleasure center for many viewers, time with both reveals that the stories within can be anything but cheerful. Raoul characterizes their work as dark and negative, born from their shared past, the adversity of their childhood.
“Negative sounds… I don’t know if that’s the right word for it,” says Davide, “but it’s not the bright side of life.”
And so goes the duality you’ll find everywhere – a study of opposites intertwined. One paints a skull in the half circle, the other paints it’s reflection alive with flesh. You’ll see this split throughout, unified.
“We came from one sperm. We split in half,” says Raoul. “Life, death, good, bad. We’re one, you know. We used to do pieces by ourselves with graff – you know I would do “How” and he would do “Nosm” – then with the background we would connect. Now we would just do pieces with our name “HowNosm” together as one word. I never do a How anymore, really.”
Their early roots in graffiti are always there, even as they became labeled as Street Artists, and more recently, contemporary artists. But it’s a continuum and the line may undulate but it never leaves the surface. Davide describes their auto-reflexive manner of moving from one icon or scenario to another seamlessly across a wall and he likens it to a graffiti technique of painting one continuous stream of aerosol to form a letter or word.
“It’s like a ‘one-liner’,” he says, referring to the graffiti writer parlance for completing a piece with one long line of spray. “That’s kind of far from what we are doing right now but it is all kind of one piece. The line stops but it kind of continues somewhere. We are refining and refining, and it takes time to develop.”
Blurring your eyes and following the visual stories, it may appear that a spiral motion reoccurs throughout the red, black, and white paintings of HowNosm. Frequently the pattern draws the viewers eye into the center and then swirls it back out to connect to another small tightening of action. While we talk about it Raoul traces in the air with his index finger a series of interconnected spiral systems, little tornadoes of interrelated activity.
This technique of creating inter-connected storylines is a way of intentional communication and storytelling, and how they describe events and relationships. It is an approach that feels sort of automatic to the brothers. “Our pieces make you think. You look and look and you find more images and you try to understand the whole concept,” says Davide. “I think you can spend quite some time just looking at one piece. You start somewhere and you can develop a story around it but you go somewhere else in the piece and you may do the opposite.”
Would you care to make a comparison to those other well known Street Art twins, Os Gemeos? They are used to it, but aside from being brothers of roughly the same age who began in graffiti and work on the streets with cans, they don’t find many similarities.
“Our stuff is more depressing,” says Raoul, “and way more critical. We talk about the negative aspects and experiences in life.” How much is autobiographical? As it turns out, it is so autobiographical that both brothers refer to their painting historically as a therapy, a cathartic savior that kept them out of jail and even away from drugs growing up.
“We kind of had a very disturbed childhood,” explains Raoul, “Welfare too, so…. I smile a lot and shit but in my paintings I think it is more important to express myself with what most people want to suppress and not show, you know? There’s a lot of love stuff, too. Like heartbroken stuff, financial situations – about myself or other people.”
Davide agrees and expands the critical thinking they display in these open diaries to include larger themes they address; deceptively rotten people, corporate capitalism, familial dissension, hypocrisy in society, corruption in government. It’s all related, and it is all right here in black and white. And red.
“Ours are continuing lines,” Davide says as he traces the canvas with his fingers, “Like this knife here is going to turn into a diamond.”
Bloated heads, severed limbs, plump and luscious lips; these are the fruits harvested from art, fashion, and porno magazines, carefully cut from their previous contexts and precisely reconfigured to reveal new ones that mock, shame, and cavort in glorious dayglow blasphemy out here in public. It’s probably more than most men can handle but Judith Supine keeps slashing forward with a sideways smile.
Thoughtfully arranged and stained fluorescent hues, the pretty collage chaos that is Judith Supine pops monstrously from these new canvasses. As he preps in studio for his solo at Jonathan Levine Gallery in Manhattan this week, the somewhat anti-social and highly admired Street Artist whose funhouse wheat-pastes twisted the sensibility of street art in the mid-2000s is now pouring a thick toxic gloss on what’s happening these days. “It’s really fucking boring. It just looks like shitty graphic design a lot of the time,” he says with a flippant derision that he almost pulls off.
The new huge gallery slabs here piled in the messy former living room facing the street are covered in an inch of drying clear resin, ensconcing the portraits, freezing them in place for decades, if not centuries. Despite the lickable and alluring effect of this material when finished, these fumes could kill him before he’s finished embalming the painted lips and bobbing heads. The last time he poured a batch of pieces like this he was preparing for a huge show in LA and the experience left him bleeding through his pores.
“I got really sick from it. It triggered an autoimmune disease and I was in and out of the hospital for three or four months. I got really sick from it…it made all my blood vessels explode but I kept using it and I was still doing drugs,” he remembers aloud as we sit on folding chairs atop a silver coated Brooklyn roof in the sun. The rotten experience left him weak and feeling like a punched out headlight but he hasn’t completely found a production solution and says it’s slightly stressful as we talk in the open air on the roof while his studio is a cloud of fumes below us.
Brooklyn Street Art: So when you describe it, it sounds self-destructive.
Judith Supine: Yeah. I would pass out and fall asleep in the room with the windows closed ’cause I didn’t want dust to get in. It would be a bad idea to sleep in resin.
Brooklyn Street Art: It’s bad to sleep in a resin-plume in an enclosed environment?
Judith Supine: Yeah, it was probably.
Brooklyn Street Art: And to do drugs that make you pass out?
Judith Supine: Yeah, probably people should be aware of that.
Brooklyn Street Art: “This is a public service message…”
Judith Supine: “..To all the kids out there; if you are going to huff resin, open a window.”
So it’s good to see new Judith, even if he’s not on the streets, and it’s brilliant to witness the sharp mind and hear the articulate and sometimes lacerating banter that has not been dulled by the addictive behaviors that he’s been working on.
BSA: Did it improve your art?
JS: Getting sick? No.
BSA: How about getting high?
JS: No. It just made me lazy and dysfunctional.
BSA: Yeah sometimes it makes you lethargic and apathetic. You don’t care.
JS: I mean drugs are, I don’t know, sometimes they are – there’s like a certain point where they could be inspiring, kind of help you relax.
JS: Get in kind of a childlike state, right?
BSA: Loosen up your inhibitions
JS: Yeah, but I wasn’t good at doing that though, in a moderate way. So it’s not effective. It’s like you are just constantly fucked up all waking hours.
BSA: Well moderation is not a word I would normally associate with your work.
JS: Yeah, well I’m not into it so much, I’m not very good at that.
BSA: I mean it’s extreme, it’s pungent.
JS: But now I’m at the other end of the spectrum.
BSA: And how do you feel about that?
JS: I feel healthier, physically and psychologically.
BSA: That sounds good.
JS: Yes, so I’m gonna stick with it.
In fact Judith Supine has pulled off a pretty strong collection that he’ll be showing this week, and he credits the new sense of depth to the techniques he’s been teaching himself to build up his work. One piece even brought him back to his lino carving days that pre-date his collage work, but he’s unsure of showing that one.
BSA: What inspired you to do these pieces for the show?
JS: Money. Actually it is getting more exciting – especially making these pieces I’ve been getting more excited about the idea of working back into something?
BSA: When you say “working back into” the painting…?
JS: Like I probably repainted each painting three or four times. I pull the image out and repaint the same image.
BSA: Put it back in, draw out certain aspects of it..
BSA: So how much time would lapse between iterations?
JS: A few hours. It’s pretty immediate the way I’m using multiples and xerox machines and shit. I can have lots of stuff painted to draw from.
BSA: Do you get the room ready first and then begin, or do you discover en route that you needed more stuff?
JS: It’s all pretty haphazard. I’m not like … I make a small-scale collage. That’s what I enjoy making – the actual collage – those tiny collages from books and magazines. To me that’s the most enjoyable part and creative part. And that’s become a kind of compulsive behavior. It’s something I do every day and I’ve done every day for the last 10 years. And then, from those I’ll edit out and I’ll pick one out of 20 of them or 30 of them to make into a painting. And then half the time I don’t like it when I start painting and I just abandon it.
BSA: So it’s like the thrill of that initial creative process …
JS: Yeah it’s like sifting through all these images and kind of finding these other hidden images – that part is really interesting and exciting to me. I’m trying to figure out ways to make the other end of the process, the actual painting part, more interesting to me where I’m like building up more layers of the resin and doing more like hand-painted shit so it’s not like “paint by numbers” – it’s boring.
So that’s it. No more work in the public sphere from Judith Supine, right? Not quite.
If he’s not into the Street Art scene that flourishes, at least in part, in his wake these days, it doesn’t look like he is completely out of it either, at least not just yet. While the thought of wheat pasting seems boring and uninspired and he has harsh words to describe the current scene, and the rise of organized “Street Art” events in cities around the world leave him feeling cold, he might just conjure up a new idea for sculpture one of these days.
BSA: So, you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with shitty graphic design and a bunch of derivative stuff?
JS: (laughing) What I like about Street Art is the feeling of the transgressive part of it and the illegal nature of it. That’s what’s exciting to me about it. You know, what qualifies as street art now is like legal murals and that shit just seems kind of boring to me. It’s kind of just like in the style of… it just kind of loses its power.
BSA: Well, that’s because it’s art whose installation has been approved. There’s no risk involved, it isn’t transgressive. You’re not breaking any rules.
JS: Not that there’s really a lot of risk involved anyway. It’s like fucking jaywalking, or something. You know, or maybe more. I mean on a daily basis, especially while using drugs, I was breaking more laws doing other shit that I could get in a lot more trouble for. It’s really not a big deal. It’s fucking slap on the wrist.
BSA: Some people have said that they’ve had really bad experiences when they’ve been arrested.
JS: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m still interested in doing things out doors. I guess it still needs to be illegal for me, for it to be fun.
BSA: To get you hard.
JS: Yeah, and I don’t have very much interest in putting up wheat pastes and posters – so maybe more site-specific sculptures – it’s kind of more interesting to me, more exciting. I’m more like excited about how to like plan something and get away with it than, a lot of times, the actual final result.
BSA: So it’s like the process of the heist. Planning the logistics, executing the plan..
JS: Yeah, that part is intriguing to me. It’s not anything really exciting about walking around fucking gluing some Xerox to the wall. It’s pretty simple to do it and not get caught.
BSA: I wonder if there is an age element involved with the “fun-ness” of this?
JS: Probably. I don’t know what I want to do. I’d probably like to stay home and fucking read a book.
German Street Artists and collaborators Hera and Akut have been in San Francisco recently for their solo show “Loving the Exiled” and while there they also had time to get up in the street. With roots in crews in the graffiti scene when they were both in their mid-teens, the two are twice that now and have a strong practice of fine and street art that takes them around the world. With distinctly different styles, the tension and contrast compliment one another in their mainly figurative work, and each considers the other a perfect counterbalance in an ongoing conversation.
While preparing for their show at the 941 Geary Gallery, photographer Jennifer Goff captured some of the newest street work for BSA readers. We had the opportunity to interview Herakut and learn about their process, their preferred materials, their prose, and the importance of finding your own voice as an artist.
Our thanks to Herakut for stealing away some time to speak with us and to Jennifer for her photography.
Brooklyn Street Art:Your work is truly collaborative and integrated. In what way does it seem like a conversation between two people?
HERAKUT: In every way. And there are more voices than just our two. We open up the dialogue when we come across a great thought, quote it and work with it, like we did in SF with the poem “LASH” by the exiled Iranian writer Mehrangiz Rassapour – a woman who has seen a lot of pain. She added some strong thoughts to our conversation and raised questions for us to come clear with.
Brooklyn Street Art:There are a number of loners – single graff/Street Artists on the street today, as well as those who like to run with a partner or a crew. Which approach helps an artist to develop their own voice?
HERAKUT: Only when you have found your own voice you have something to contribute to a conversation, right? So, fit is probably best to find your own artistic identity first because then you know what it is that you are lacking. Akut and Hera are like Ying and Yang. That is what makes the work in our duo so effective. We don´t step on each other´s feet, because we have separate territories.
Brooklyn Street Art:If you had very similar styles, do you think it would bore you? Do you think the tension between the more fine art approach of Akut and the raw expression of Hera is what we see in a finished piece? HERAKUT: Yes, the contrast between our styles highlights each one. And the is another bonus to being so different from each other – there is no competition between the two of us. We don´t try to exceed the other, we try to add on to the other one´s work.
Brooklyn Street Art:It seems like your work has some of the same cadences and lyricism found in the written word. Have you illustrated a classic piece of literature or poetry? Do you want to?
HERAKUT: It´s like we are sitting in this boat in a stream and we grab and work with whatever happens to be floating close to us. We don´t stretch out too far, it has to find its way to us naturally. Therefore, we don´t even check for it´s qualities in terms of having a classic value. If it sounds good, we´ll work with it, like with this line “COWARDS DIE MANY TIMES BEFORE THEIR DEATHS”. Loved it, and then later found out it was something Shakespeare had written. Supposedly.
Brooklyn Street Art:Sometimes your pieces contain text – are those pieces of poems? A bit of inspiration?
HERAKUT: When we really quote, we always try to reference to the writer. Other then that we use our own words. They are the titles of each piece, but more so – it´s the words that add the twist to the painting. It is another layer of communication and we don´t want to miss out on that one, since communication is the whole reason for us to create art.
Brooklyn Street Art:Most favorite surface : wood, concrete, canvas, bricks, rusty metal.
HERAKUT: Brick is not a good one, because it causes too much disturbance on the realism bits. It´s too busy to begin with. Like wood. And wood is often so beautiful that it doesn´t need anything to it. Just like rust. Rust is actually a performance art created by water and air. Pretty good combo. For us concrete is probably the best one. There is something very frustrating about it. So many horrible walls and boundaries have been built of concrete. It´s not a friendly medium. It needs to be attacked, we think.
“Loving the Exiled” is currently on view at the 941 Geary Gallery in San Francisco. Click here for more details regarding this exhibition. With our sincere thank yous to Jennifer for sharing her photos with us.
It’s true that the art fairs descended on New York this week. Equally true is that the multiple fairs don’t just bring rivers of collectors and dealers and Looky-Loos, these teeming steaming orgiastic fuster-clucks with names like Poke, Stroke and Fountain also can bring in a wave of the Street Artists! Look at the seven days alone with BSA posts on LA’s Retna, Tel Aviv’s Know Hope and todays’ very special edition King of Images of the Week, D*Face!
D*Face, one of Street Art’s original British invaders, hit up New York with three new murals this week (two in Williamsburg, one in SOHO) employing sharply graphic pop lines and a humorously tart tongue to create works of high drama. With themes of lust, treachery and broken promises, the D*Face miniseries was streamed live on the street with no cover charge or icy art matron scanning through her iPad list for your name.
The final mural D*Face did was on Friday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While nicely sunny, the wind whipped through often enough to keep his fingers cold and his collar up. But on days like this New York can feel like a small town and the icy weather didn’t prevent a small group from hanging out, helping the artist and entertaining one another. Producer Stephen Thompson, photographer Jason Lewis and videographer Cliff Cristofarah took turns making observations, cracking jokes, fiddling with the music, and checking out the local parade as it scurried by.
For an additional feeling of street art community, Futura sauntered by to say hello and to offer entertaining stories and even go on a run for refreshments; water, coffees, and Mexican Coca Cola (with real sugar!). With Rob and Cliff taking turns at their MP3 players and the speakers blasting a bit of a 70s arena rock tribute (The Who, Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath), a couple of bike dudes came by to practice their tricks with a dog in the backpack.
Brooklyn Street Art:How would you describe these new pieces in New York? D*Face: All the pieces surround the notion of ‘Love’, ‘Loss’ and ‘Longing’, all drawn from recent personal experiences, everything I create is pulled from experience personal to me, hopefully people will also connect to them too. I have three new pieces so I wanted to get three good spots with as much visibility as possible, the larger the better.
Brooklyn Street Art:Will you get a chance to skateboard while you’re here? D*Face: Unfortunately not. I love this city for skateboarding, but I wont get to do much other than paint walls and hopefully cut loose and party a bit.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about where your work is going thematically now? D*Face: Thematically my work always draws upon personal experiences, whether thats the saturation of media in our lives, our fascination with celebrity and stardom or more singular experiences such as the loss of loved ones, searching your heart for love or holding people close when you should be letting them go.
I mostly rework old imagery that I’ve discovered, chopping bits of one or several images with another to create a new image that I feel is more relevant to today’s society and certainly the message I want to get across. So thematically its a continuation, it just has several veins that it runs off into.
Brooklyn Street Art:It feels like the Occupy Wall Street movement may have taken up some of the same punk aesthetics and energy that you were first drawn to. Is your work changed or affected at all by OWS? D*Face: Haha! No not at all, but there’s always someone more punk than you, punk!
Brooklyn Street Art:Reworking the vocabulary of advertising and the practice of culture jamming can be very effective as education. Do you think of your work as message-driven?
D*Face: Yes, first and foremost my work has to have a concept, an idea, a message, it’s that which drives my work. Conceptually I’m always trying to push my ideas, push myself, keep myself excited and interested. I don’t want to stand still and see the growth of my work as a flik book, by that I mean small evolutions over time, what I want are solid chapters, which carry a thread of thought linking them all together.
Brooklyn Street Art:What role does humor play in your stuff? D*Face: Oh its massively important, life is pretty heavy at the best of times, so even serious messages or thoughts don’t have to be heavy in execution, even the dark thoughts or concepts in my work I hope are executed in a poppy way, I want to draw people in first, get them to appreciate the aesthetic, then hopefully they start to question the image, its content, its meaning. If they don’t and appreciate it only on its surface value then thats fine. I don’t want to ram messages, political, religious, consumerist or otherwise down peoples throats in a way that burdens life’s load.
Brooklyn Street Art:You’ve had some serious success in galleries. Why is it still important to you to hit the street today? D*Face: I’m privileged to have the gallery success I do. I thank everyone that has supported me and my work over the years, to live as an artist, support my family, employ artists to help me, is an amazing opportunity and something I wake up thankful of everyday.
Whilst I love gallery shows and the opportunity to work in a gallery, it brings with it the ability to create different works, execute concepts and play with space in a different way, but you have to want to see ‘art’ or know about the artist or the gallery to see that work, galleries can be intimidating places, I don’t want that, I want my work to be inclusive, not exclusive, so putting work in the streets is the most effective way of doing this.
You can’t beat the feeling of painting in the street, interacting with people, hearing their views, thoughts and ideas on what it is your painting… you know you get to bring the unsuspecting public in, people that may have no interest in art, never walked in a gallery, suddenly when faced with a painting in the street have a different take, a different perspective… it’s really, really interesting, that interaction, even if they don’t like it, you’ve still changed their day, opened their eyes, hopefully you might get them to LOOK at their surroundings and not just see.
Today we are pleased to bring you two talented players on the Street Art scene, brought together for the occasion of a BSA interview. Daniel Feral guest writes today – a more dedicated and insightful analytical mind on today’s street action would be difficult to find. His subject today is one of the newer street art talents we have had the pleasure of following for for his abstractly entertaining mind and sharp skillz, Radical! Our sincerest thanks to both of them for their contribution to the BSA family.
Many paradoxical words and conflicting terms can be found within and applied to Radical’s art: Cute and disturbing. Humorous and distraught. Compassionate and brutal. It’s a kind of Whimsical Hardcore. Hello Kitty Horror. Rural Graff.1 Underground Street Art Cartooning.
Yet, even though this string of vocabulary is conflicted as it proceeds to connect, the chain still contains a pulse of veracity. When first approaching Radical’s murals or gallery work, the color palette and cartoony style betray and instill a sense of fun and frivolity. On closer examination the ragged line, pock-marked surfaces, grimy found materials, and gory scenarios unsettle at a deeper level. This kind of contradiction within the elements of style and tone belie a poetic voice that entertains as well as stimulates further reflection.
The paintings are full of personal themes and motifs that will also be read as cultural commentary. As an example, in a video2 made during his first show in NYC at the Munch Gallery in 2011, Radical shares that he was diagnosed as having ADHD in kindergarten and since then has been on medication for it. So the consistent recurrence of capsules throughout his work is an expression of his personality and part of where the art comes from. Of course, in public on a wall or canvas the pills will be seen as symbols to be analyzed and interpreted through a societal lens as metaphor. This is where the poetry of his imagery comes into play with multiple interpretations bulging within the imagery, kicking like embryos in a womb. Are the pills just our sedatives or our salvation? Is science advancing our cause as aspirational animals or mutating us into empty borgs? Are they a new tool, like the discovery of fire, that will immolate or protect us?
Utilizing elements of graffiti and street art, illustration and painterly expressionism, cartooning and fable, Radical parades a cast of animals and humans, sometimes one and the same, marching, dancing, limping, crawling, swimming, through a dystopian, rurban3 American landscape where a visionary disillusionment and painful joy reign. These ragged and damaged looney toons literally are the walking wounded: missing limbs, vomiting their own insides, swimming in pills, spinning their heads on their necks like tops. They struggle with existence and yet seem oddly adapted to it and happy about it.
The following interview with Radical and the photographs of his art reveal a young, fanciful and thoughtful man with a high level of facility at his craft. He has found a strong visual voice that has already resonated quickly through the street art and gallery communities. At the end of this interview and in another,4 he has expressed his desire to paint an oval-shaped water tower like a cheeseburger. Maybe it seems like a joke, but we here at Brooklyn Street Art are taking it as a serious request and ask that someone step up to provide just such a canvas. We would love to see a pill burger water tower surveying over all!
Daniel Feral:Where did you grow up?
Radical! : SLC Utah and Cleveland Ohio were my places of upbringing. They’re both really awesome.
Daniel Feral:When did you start making art as a kid?
Radical! : Just really early on when I became physically capable of holding any sort of drawing utensil. Kind of a typical “artsy” kid thing. It has stuck with me my whole life from the beginning. It’s the one thing that hasn’t come as some sort of fad or phase in my life.
Daniel Feral:When did you start doing art on the street?
Radical! : Around the end 2006.
Daniel Feral:Did you study art in high school or college?
Radical! : Currently studying right now. High school art classes were fun but I never really took them too seriously, not to say that they weren’t an important asset to where I am with my creative pursuits today.
Daniel Feral:What other kinds of things did you do or were interested in that influenced you as a person and artist?
Radical! : As with a lot of people, music and skateboarding etc. I got a lot of influence from album artwork by people like Raymond Pettibon. I think another great influence on me as an artist and a person was my family and the way I was raised. Growing up, me and my brother weren’t allowed to have video games and many of the “easy ways out” parents would give children to satisfy them. This led to me being outside playing a lot, and with what we had we would always be using our imaginations. I feel like this type of exposure to my surroundings has influenced me greatly as a person and an artist. I still have a desire to creatively interact with my environment to this day
Daniel Feral:Do you feel allegiance to graffiti or street art? Is there a distinction for you?
Radical! : Having been involved in both areas, I have come to have a different kind of love for each. I can also see why writers would hate street art. The subject of defining the two is very difficult for me. I still can’t really decide if the distinction between the two should be made by the way it looks, or by the materials used and the context the act is done in. A good friend and I were having a conversation on whether the characters Twist spray-painted (illegally) were graffiti or street art. He claimed that they were street art because they were characters, where as I was claiming them to be graffiti because of the context they were done in such that they were done illegally with spray paint, and that graffiti didn’t have to be limited to being letters.
Some pretty clear differences to me is that graffiti really only speaks to other writers aside from it being done for self-satisfaction and visual ownership. To society it is just a look. That is why any random person probably wouldn’t know the difference between good graffiti and bad graffiti. As long as it looks like graffiti, it’s either offensive or dope to them. Street art has the potential to speak to everyone. It’s less exclusive in a sense. Also I don’t really consider graffiti to be art, nor would I want it to be art. Art is a whole other world of its own.
Daniel Feral:Why are the freights so important to you?
Radical! : Because they rule.
Daniel Feral:Who are your running partners? Are you part of a crew?
Radical! : Crews are cool. They can be another set of letters to get creative with and throw up than just your name. I dislike anything revolving around a gang mentality. That’s as far as I want to comment on a crew, ha ha. My partners and beloved friends all know who they are.
Daniel Feral:You seem to have a few different styles. How did that come about? Do they apply to certain kinds of situations or do you just enjoy exploring different aesthetic directions all at once?
Radical! : I’d say they apply to certain situations. With my artwork the way it looks is something that has involuntarily developed over time. It’s a strange set of rules I’ve gradually developed. I’ve been refining some of the visual aspects of the work while trying to progress the imagery without having more than it needs through the ideas being explored behind it all.
Daniel Feral:You recently had a show in NYC. Where was it and how did it go?
Radical! : Yes I did! It was at the Munch gallery on the corner of Broome and Ludlow in the Lower East Side. It was an extraordinarily awesome experience beyond what I had anticipated. It was also a great learning experience being able to display my work in a very professional setting. Also hopefully I will finally get a damn car from the work I sold.
Daniel Feral:What are your goals as an artist on the street?
Radical! : To make people feel happy, or feel something at all. But also kind of the complete opposite of that. I feel like the street is a place where work can be, and at times should be abrasive. The idea of putting something on the street without ultimately giving a sh*t is pretty jolting in a way. Also, who is going to let you legally paint a giant uzi with a syringe coming out of it, no matter what the meaning behind it is, on their building?
Daniel Feral:What are your goals as an artist in galleries?
Radical! : To further explore ideas as an artist, and to not be afraid to break the set of rules I’ve created for my work. Also I would like to slow down and focus longer on specific subjects rather than having a broad range of them. A big struggle I’m having with myself is wanting to keep the imagery engaging and visually pleasing without it obstructing the ideas being conveyed through my work.
1 An essay by Daniel Feral is in progress elaborating on this term, which stems from an analysis of the subcultural phenomenon that inspired it.
2 Quote from a video shot for Radical’s “Upside Down Frowns” exhibition, Munch Gallery, Oct. 21 – Nov. 20, 2011 posted on ArtFuse.com.
3 Definition: (a) A mix of the rural and the urban. (b) Any geographic environment that is not a very large city, such as NYC, Philadelphia, LA, London, Tokyo, etc., in which its local residents attempt to apply mores or aesthetics of urban culture to similar elements in their environs. (c) A conceptual geographic space that contains the rural and the urban, and attempts to map the cultural interplay between the two. An example of a cultural telemetry that would be scored across this conceptual environment would be the trajectory of fetishism and dissemination of the now mythological graffiti subway culture in NYC in the 1970s by media, in particular the movie Style Wars, and its application to freight trains in a rural environment. These mythic ideals are then morphed to fit the various rural locales and become living metaphors of said NYC subway graff culture.
Daniel Feral is a writer, designer, historian and theoretician, who studied literature and writing in college. Afterwards, working as a designer by day, he continued his studies in the library and on the streets at night — where his friends were taking action to transmit the most direct, resonant and radical art at the turn of the new millennium. He has lectured at the School of Visual Arts, Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning, University of Southern California and Remsenburg Academy of Art.
Artist Jean Seestadt Plants a Package in a Bus Stop
Since the never-ending “War on Terror” commenced so publicly a decade or so ago, an intermittently insistent campaign exhorting the public to be aware of odd things and behaviors has beat a steady message of fearful dread in New York. Posters on buses, brochures in city offices, and disembodied, firmly voiced recordings on trains and in airports remind us that evil walks secretly amongst us and we should be ever-vigilant and tell the nearest police officer if you see something suspicious.
Aside from the obvious challenge of staying alert on the morning subway ride when you haven’t gotten a coffee yet and you stayed up until 2 am playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”, the plain fact is that most New Yorkers have no idea what strange looks like. We lost that ability sometime after hippies and freaks turned into punks and goths, pants dropped below butts, zombies had parades, “no pants day”, men started making out with each other on the park benches, and of course Donald Trumps hair. For something to catch our eye these days it would have to have to be levitating or in some way involve chocolate. Otherwise, we’ll keep walking and texting.
The billowing cloud rising in Manhattan this time is from artist Jean Seestadt, whose cut paper installation in the bus stop entitled “If you See Somethin” evokes one prevailing vision of the unmarked package spilling forth it’s curvilinear bilious hot plume into a public place with a stylized hand. On a warmish evening last week it went up on this buzzing island metropolis without anyone saying something.
Following a similar installation in the subway a few weeks ago, Seedstadt brought her new installation to a well lit bus shelter on the street. Aided by a stool, a roll of tape, some scissors, and her good friend Nick, Jean rolled up her sleeves and installed her new work while some people stood by looking, pawing through their mobile devices, or leaning forward to preen down the street for a bus. Cacophonic truck and car traffic, including periodic police cruisers, rattled by in the night while the two enterprising Street/Public Artists took turns teetering on the stool to get it to hang just so. If anyone paid attention at all, no one said something to the artist or her assistant. You see??
Brooklyn Street Art:You have done painting and ink work previously. What do you think of cutting paper? Jean Seestadt: Cutting paper has all the things I like about painting and works on paper, I love the tedious beauty to it, but I was having a really hard time feeling that I could reach a viewer to the fullest when I am forced in a square 2D format. Also, the process of letting go of the overly crafted piece and knowing it is eventually going to turn to litter is a real release.
Brooklyn Street Art:Would you say these are sculptures? Jean Seestadt: They are very sculptural… I guess I think of them more as site-specific installations. They have no meaning when they are in a static setting.
Brooklyn Street Art:What leads you to mount this work in such a public place? Jean Seestadt: I was interested the fragile, traditional paper cutting medium being forced into a public context. Each piece will be eventually be broken down by either the viewers or by the environment. Because it is not in a precious space the viewer can approach the work however they’d like-if that means touching it, ripping it, taking it, or taking care of it. The piece doesn’t really work without people feeling free to do whatever they want.
Brooklyn Street Art:Have you seen paper cut work by street artists? Jean Seestadt: I’ve only heard of Swoon… it doesn’t seem like the ideal material for street art because it only last for a day if you are lucky. But street art is all about the temporal nature of the city’s surroundings so I think it makes a lot of sense as a medium.
Brooklyn Street Art:What makes you explore the theme of “If you see something, say something”? Jean Seestadt: I was interested in the daily reminder we all digest about terrorism and how it is a fragile ghost of this city. It just floats about our transit system and I thought it was really sad and strange. People might think I am making light of terrorism but I am really not.
The Street Artist Readies for Her Show “Inside Out” with Don Pablo Pedro
Inside out. The words capture the dynamic of an artists journey to the canvas – and the Street Artists trip to the wall. Cake, her street name, has been hitting New York streets for five years with some of her innermost dialogues; stories of love, loss, addiction, emotional turmoil. The act of painting, cutting, and wheat pasting her figurative work on decayed and battered walls bears witness to the story. The thought of what can happen to it frightens and thrills her, an experience she has referred to as therapy.
“Because it’s relinquishing control, which I have huge problem with doing in my life, so that helps me,” she explains while glancing out at the Brooklyn street below the window of her warm studio in a former factory on a recent winter day. “You put it there and then you leave it. Someone can go over it, or destroy it the next day, you know? That – I mean that would kill me when that happened. I mean I hate when that happens but it helps me – it makes it so that everything is not so precious.”
It’s all part of the game for Street Artists. You know it’s temporary but it still feels entirely necessary. The new work by Cake for her show at Brooklyn’s Mighty Tanaka this month is not far from the exposed portraits she has pasted on the street – layered and flat, stiffly lifelike, healthy and gaunt, painfully…pretty.
“These are all of my friend Emily mostly. Usually I take pictures of the models myself, because I know what I want. Instead of that, since she’s kind of an actress and an artist too, I told her to pose herself and to take the pictures herself so she wouldn’t be inhibited by my presence. And so she did… and the pictures turned out f*cking amazing.”
When you see the pretty torment of a Cake wheat-paste on a brick wall low to the sidewalk, the exposed raw uncomfortable nature of the portrait surrounded by graffiti tags, it can be an oasis from falseness, and a mystery. Like the 4, 5, 6 layers of paint she uses to build the canvas, these figures have more drama stirring than is obvious on the surface. Each painting is almost an unconscious act she says, and with the help of talking with others, she gradually peels back the layers of meaning, becoming conscious. One thing is evident; She’s lived this, and she’ll tell you about it when she’s ready.
BSA:When do you realize the underlying stories in your work? Cake: Usually by talking about it, or from someone else. BSA:So sometimes with the aid of another person Cake: No, like a LOT of the times. Because it helps me when other people see things that I can’t see because I’m too close to it.
She explains how she coached her friend to model for the pieces. “I basically told her to think of these dramatic words, like ‘agony’. Like f*cking rip yourself apart and feel that, you know? Like I wanted to see how you look when you are experiencing that kind of reaction to life.”
Her intensity when describing this tells you that pain is not abstract. Ironically, that is exactly how she painted before becoming a Street Artist.
“I was an abstract painter for like 13 years, in Pratt and in Parsons. I didn’t do this figurative work or Street Art. But the second I got out of Parsons in 2007 I was doing it. Because I was an abstract painter for so long… paint is like my – like I can really do f*cking sh*t with paint, just because I’m always doing it – Working with the material.
BSA:You have a deep love and regard for it. Cake: The paint? Yeah I’ve always been like that. I’m such a f*ckin formalist that way. I’m really obsessed with the material.
BSA:So you are a trained fine artist? Cake: Yeah, well my grandmother taught me how to paint when I was nine, because she was a fine artist. So I was always doing it.
BSA:There are many fine artists on the street now. Cake: Yeah, that’s good, I like that.
BSA:Yeah it’s like it has changed the whole nature of Street Art. Cake: What do you mean? BSA:Previously in graffiti, and when it kind of morphed into what we call street art, there weren’t many art majors, or graduates, or art school kids, or whatever you want to call them.
Cake: Yeah, Street Artists are art-school kids, right? BSA:Now there are many, yes. The disciplines are many, the techniques. It’s not limited to say, aerosol art, or stickers or massed produced wheat pastes. It seems like the second half of the 2000s there started to appear more one-offs, more highly individual pieces…
Cake: Well I think that’s because there are just so many out there you really have to work harder to make something beautiful. I mean I do it for beauty. I don’t have any political stances or anything like that. Like I don’t give a sh*t about that. I probably should though, huh? BSA:I don’t know why you should. Cake: I don’t know. I mean you should be higher quality, that’s for sure. I don’t know. I think everything should be high quality though, like workwise.
BSA:So this one is like “The Virgin Mother with Child in Outer Space” Cake: (laughs) Oh I got this from this picture in Metro over the summer. I’ve never done this before, but I saw this picture. The thing is, do you see this? – the mother’s face, like she’s not panicking. She’s very peaceful and calm, and somehow she’s okay but she’s holding her like dying f*cking baby. I don’t know …it like hit me really hard so I just painted it. But it took me a long time. I started this picture in the summer and then I stopped working on it. And then I was able to finish it with this series. And I usually don’t take so long, I can finish a painting in a f*cking week.
BSA:What stopped you? Cake: I don’t know. I didn’t know where to put them. Then I placed them in the night sky. I was looking at all these Renaissance portraits too for this show and there were like f*cking UFOs inside of them. Did you know that?
BSA:No! Cake: Yeah! In some Renaissance paintings you’ll see a UFO. I’m not kidding you, and it’s totally weird.
BSA:Is it like an aura, an aurora borealis? Cake: No it’s clearly like a UFO. And in some of them there is a person in them. It’s really bizarre. It’s kind of hokey but I don’t know. It’s like this; everyone is always in wonder “the universe is so big, what does it matter?”. But look at this. This matters. Oh my God I just figured this out. That’s good.
“F*ck Art”, an undulating and adventurous group show by New York Street Artists opens its arms and legs to you at the Museum of Sex (MoSex) tomorrow and whether it’s the human powered penetrating bicycle or the glass bead encrusted dildo, it endeavors to satisfy.
Co-curated by Emilie Baltz (Creative Director) and Mark Snyder (Director of Exhibitions), the show selects 20 current Street Artists who have pushed notions of propriety into provocation on the street and it invites them to let it loose behind closed doors. Not that Miss Van needs anyone’s permission; her sensual role-playing painted ladies have been playfully preening on graff-piled walls and blue-boarded construction sites for much of the 2000s. Similarly the powerfully stenciled sirens by Street Artist AIKO have been bending over in high heels on walls all over the world with just a hint of the geishas from her native Japan for over a decade.
The “Fuck Bike #001”, a pedal operated plunging machine by William Thomas Porter and Andrew H. Shirley, has at its conceptual base an ode to the lengths a guy will go to reach his natural objective. The two artist met at a Black Label Bike Club event called “Ridin’ Dirty” in 2010 and later schemed together to make an entry for a bike-themed group show in Bushwick, Brooklyn that featured many Street Artists like DarkClouds, Ellis G., UFO, Noah Sparkes and Mikey 907. “I approached Tom with the idea of creating a kinetic bike sculpture which you could f*ck someone with,” remembers Mr. Shirley, “Tom is a very gifted artist and bike engineer, it took a few days for him to build our design.”
Visitors to the show are invited to mount the bike and take it for a spin. “This bike is more sculpture oriented, but still functions sexually. It’s also totally interactive,” explains Mr. Shirley, who has displayed the bike in cities in Europe and America, most recently at Art Basel in Miami in December. So the bike has gotten around and Shirley happily recounts stories of intimate encounters it has had with both genders. (See the very Not-Safe-For-Work film of the bike in action below.)
The street has certainly seen an increase of fairly graphic sex related Street Art in the last decade or so as people have become more comfortable with such themes and much of this show can often be seen throughout the city without the price of admission. Gay couple Bryan Raughton and Nathan Vincent have been putting large and small scaled paste-ups of sexually themed imagery as a Street Art duo called RTTP for about two years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Short for “Reply To This Post”, the line-drawn torsos and spread eagles are all part of their collaborative Street Art project that explores the desires of men seeking men on Craigslist.
Describing the work, Vincent says it’s a process of lifting the mystery off of a just-below-the-radar Internet dating game – and pasting it on a lightpole. “Users post an ad with an image, title, and a short description of what they are looking for tonight. The photograph they post of themselves is drawn and titled with the ad’s title.” By putting these erotically based desires on the streets, Vincent thinks “they magnify those desires that often seem to live at the edges.” Says Raughton of the project, “We see it as an interesting way to take people private desires to the public street.”
In discussing the origins and underpinnings of a show like this, the co-curators reveal a more academic and sociological grounding than the prurient and salacious sauciness one might infer by a display of so much “F*ck Art”. We asked Baltz to give us a sense of the context for a Street Art driven sex show.
Brooklyn Street Art:What is your favorite part of curating a show like this? Emilie Baltz: Seeing the different interpretations and energy that each artist brings to their work is always the most interesting part of curating – with this topic, especially, it’s the fact that they are all pushing the limits of their medium by creating such provocative statements.
Brooklyn Street Art:While these pieces are behind closed doors available to a certain audience, Street Artists typically put their work out in the public. Do you think the work should change depending on the audience? Emilie Baltz: We don’t think it’s about changing the work, it’s about how the work changes the environment it lives in. Street art has a long history of revealing different perspectives on its surrounding environment and by placing this work in a museum it creates a certain energy and visual provocation that changes the relationship we traditionally have to the museum-going experience.
Brooklyn Street Art:Do you think there has been an increase in sex-related street art in recent years, and if so, why? Emilie Baltz: There definitely is an increase in sex-related conversations in recent years. It’s not that there is more content suddenly, it’s just that culture is actually ready to start talking about it now, rather than ignore it.
Brooklyn Street Art:We have noticed that themes of sex and sexuality are often quickly destroyed on the street, while other pieces remain for months. Is this a form of selective censorship by the public? Emilie Baltz: Street art is a dialogue. Its creation is about expression and commentary, and therefore can become a barometer of cultural consciousness (or unconsciousness). The intimate and emotional nature of sexual content can obviously elicit strong feelings in viewers, and, given that street art is an environmental medium, either you have to live with it or get rid of it. Sex walks a fine line between acceptance and rejection. Public response to this kind of art is potentially a mirror into how our society relates to the topic.
Brooklyn Street Art:What surprised you the most about putting this show together? Emilie Baltz: The enthusiasm from the public. People are genuinely excited to talk about sex in public space and it’s an incredible honor to be able to help facilitate that discussion.
A Street Art Occupation at the Museum of Sex in New York City, opens February 8 and will run through June 10, 2012.
Emilie Baltz, Co-Curator, Creative Director, F*CK ART
Mark Snyder, Co-Curator F*CK ART, Director of Exhibitions, Museum of Sex
Meghan Coleman and Alex Emmart of Might Tanaka Gallery in Brooklyn served as Chief Advisors.
Last month photographer and video artist Carlos Gonzalez tagged along with Street Art duo Dabs & Myla in Los Angeles to do a bit more than the typical mural project. Following them through the steps of their own tradition, Carlos captured some of their humanity along with their serious skillz with cans. Since illuminating different angles of the creative process that provide you with more insight is always a BSA value, Carlos has appeared on these pages many times as photographer and videographer. This time he’s thinking his newest project is a documentary. Let’s see what you think.
Brooklyn Street Art asked Carlos a couple of questions about his experience shooting on the streets and how many arms he would like to have:
Brooklyn Street Art:You like both stills and video. How do you divide your time when shooting a new installation between still photography and video. Do you wish you could have eight arms to cover everything that happens?
Carlos Gonzalez: I still lean more towards still photography even though I have a background in film and graduated from film school. I like the concept of freezing a moment in time. That’s something you can’t capture in video. When one remembers a certain moment from the past, it’s always an image or a single moment that comes to mind. It’s hardly ever a scene playing out entirely. At least that’s my experience. So I feel like photography captures moments that will never happen again in a more honest way.
Of course this complicates things when making a video because in essence, I have to choose between capturing those moments in stills or filming the moment. The best approach: Be ultra aware of everything that’s going on so when the special moment happens, you’re ready to capture it before it’s gone. What’s really interesting about this Dabs & Myla video, and one factor which didn’t hit me till later on, was how uniquely close the mural footage looked to my photos. In this instance, it was just a matter of predicting when those moments would happen and capturing them as soon as possible. So yeah, it’s a balancing act and at times, I do wish I had multiple cameras all running at once from 5 different angles. But even then, I’m sure I would still kick myself for missing out on a small human expression, a certain movement, a wink or a smile. Case in point, the shot where Myla’s hair is blowing amidst the wind. I wish I had photographed that moment as it happened. I still look back and think, “how did I not get that shot?”
Brooklyn Street Art:You begin the video with the artists going to a grocery store and debating over purchases. At the end we find out what they are used for. Can you talk about the experience from your perspective?
Carlos Gonzalez: The experience was really interesting and I felt privileged to be a part of it, mostly because I understood how important this tradition is for Dabs Myla. Before the mural even took place we got together and talked about the tradition, their reasons for doing it, and I even saw early sketches of the mural. From that moment I understood how special this project could be and it simply came down to capturing the whole experience in the most honest way possible. The entire process really came down to capturing as much footage as possible. Sure there were ideas of how to edit the video. But those concepts are always changing so you don’t worry too much about those technical aspects in the start. At least with this video, which I treated like a short documentary, I was just concerned with making sure I filmed moments that feel unique and that have a human element that we can all relate to.
I never once asked Dabs Myla to replay a certain moment just for the camera. I basically asked them to go through their routine as usual and pretend that I was never there. This feeling definitely comes through the video. From the second they walk into the grocery store to the final shot of the film, it’s all real emotions and actions bursting through the screen. So in a way, this video is not so much about a mural, but rather it’s a story about helping one individual with street art as the backdrop. The last part of the process was to edit the footage in such a way that put a question in the viewers’ minds about what the tradition may be and you keep their attention till the very end so there’s an emotional payoff.
Brooklyn Street Art: When you’ve hung out with artists creating murals on the street, have you had occasion to meet people who live there?
Carlos Gonzalez: I have had the chance to meet individuals whose properties or walls are being painted on. And they’ve always being very supportive of the art. I’ve only had one instance where certain people or neighbors feel like street art is affecting their neighborhood in a negative way. So yes, there’s a bit of stigma still attached to graffiti and street art, but it’s clearly changing and it’s more acceptable now than it ever was. And hopefully videos like this one and others can change more people’s perspective about how this kind of art can have a much more positive aspect across different communities.
Opening tonight, “Who Cares Wins” cares enough to make you laugh.
Bathed in the warm lucid glow that is the music of Pink Floyd, Bob and Chaz put finishing touches on their new New York show at Opera Gallery, compelled to sing along with two assistants while tightly touching up pieces with a brush or marker. The show is almost ready to be hung. On the sparkling white walls of this Soho gallery the everpresent LADS characters will be floating and cavorting throughout Manhattan space-scapes while handpicked celebrities, friends, and cultural icons bob into the frame. Among the active characters The London Police themselves are happily participating- like truly interactive players in their own pristine video game stills. After 13 years and 35 countries and a few personnel permutations, the LP lads are very happy to be making new art for you and having a bit of fun while doing it.
On the floor are stacks of completed paintings leaning against the walls, waiting to be framed. We’re not used to seeing their canvasses, large and small, with black simple and elegant wooden floater frames.
“We thought it would add an architectural element to the work,” explains Bob.
It’s quite usual for London Police to use the symbols and architecture associated with the city they are in when creating new works for a show, always in crisp linear black and white. What’s new this time is their use of color – employed here as washes of pastels, backdrops that evoke uneven city walls and incorporating graffiti tags; an homage to New York and their own roots. It’s the first time they’ve done color together on canvasses, and they are taking it slowly, happily.
Brooklyn Street Art:You went from dreaming in black and white to dreaming in color?
Chaz: I think the point is we always felt that there’s a whole world to explore. When we were ready to start with the black and white work we knew that once we opened the door to the world of color it would be a whole new world there too. Such is the way in London Police. We take something and we try to explore it fully before we move on.
Bob: Slowly as well, not jumping in and go too crazy. We like a slow evolution.
Brooklyn Street Art: Change can advance very slowly sometimes.
Chaz: It is not just that, it is also about exploring that which you have already. We haven’t even discovered everything we can do with black and white. Just holding back so color does not overflow yet. We felt ready to go into color. It’s a big show. Erik from Opera called and say “hey guys we’d like to see something with color,” and we said to each other “we make mostly black and white, are you sure?” He said, “Just bring in a few pieces with color and let’s see what happens.” We are quietly pleased with the results. We’d like to take it further, explore it. We’d like to dive in.
Bob: It does not mean that if you are doing a big show you should lose control and say, “Oh yeah everything should have color. Loud and bigger.” We like the black and white because I think we can leave it in itself in a few things. Just like Chaz said we have not yet explored it fully. To be honest, with the color works, we just wanted to have fun.
Brooklyn Street Art:The colors are muted, pastels.
Bob: Yes the palette is muted in all the works with color simply because we like nothing to fight against the black and white subject. You never really see dark blues. We didn’t want to do a black and white and colored in some big scene. We felt that we wanted to try a different approach with the color, not drastically different.
Brooklyn Street Art: So the color in this case serves as a background?
Chaz: Yes like wallpaper.
Bob: The color gives some sort of a context to the characters. These swirls that Chaz makes are like tagged over. These layers on the canvas give the same context that the street gives – it’s a reference to the street.
Chaz: It is like graffiti really – specifically New York doorways always inspire me. There’re doorways around the world that are tagged but with New York doorways, there is that beauty in seeing 50 tags on top of each other, wheat-paste being thrown off and a tag on top, and then stickers. These doors are rich with life. That’s why I always feel sort of romantic about graffiti.
I know that there’re a lot of people that have said it but I concur that I’d rather see a bunch of New York’s throw ups on a rooftop than a full commissioned color piece that is nice…in a way it says more when you see stuff on the street that is raw. Because we have not done so much stuff on the street in the last few years – we have been doing gallery work it is nice to revisit that style and hopefully, by doing a show like this we might make enough money that we can take a few months off and do other projects, get back on the street and work on other things.
In addition to incorporating color, there are a number of languages being bandied about on these new pieces; new scripts and characters – their curvilinear characters bold and swinging, sharp and smart in the whirling pieces of New York City, seemingly placed by the settling of a shaken snow globe. The appearance of other languages is again appropriate for the melting pot that is New York, but what does it say?
Brooklyn Street Art: Here’s a new color piece with the Statue of Liberty on the foreground. Can you talk about the words written in Arabic?
Chaz: There are different languages. We have the gift of Google Translate. We translate The London Police into every available language that has a different alphabet and different fonts. Being that we are two people and that I mostly work on the characters it is a way for me to really enjoy another part of art. Making all these different fonts and enjoying different languages. I like it a lot. That’s one of my things to do. Bob does everything else.
Bob: (in jest) I don’t like it personally but I’m glad he is happy.
Chaz: He just wants to see me smile.
And The London Police want to see you smile, so they are planning a number of twists on the typical gallery opening tonight in hopes that you’ll break out in a big LOL, and sing from the choirbook; 17 songs about dogs that will be handed out at the event. Included with the charismatic Abner Preis performing, telling stories, and changing his voice. Additionally, there is some talk about the dog singers.
Brooklyn Street Art:What about the performances we’re hearing about at opening night?
Chaz: We are going to sing 17 songs about dogs… It is The London Police Dog Singers and a surprise guest appearance will be singing with us as the back up singers.
Why? Why not?
“It takes off the serious edge off the gallery art show because it is a little bit too serious some times,” says Chaz. “This is what is so special about making performance and making art: It is pure entertainment. If you are going to worry about what people think about it if they like it or not you are thinking wrong in my opinion.”