Studio Visit

Isaac Cordal In-Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain.

Isaac Cordal In-Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain.

The endgame of vulture capitalism. The implosion of the corporate culture. The subtle differences between public housing and private jailing. The melting of the ice caps.

However you have wished to interpret the work of Spanish sculptural street artist Isaac Cordal over the last decade, you probably thought he didn’t hold much hope for our future. Or us. But he says his work is more a reflection of what he sees, and he presents it will a subtle humor.

After a recent visit to his ceramic tiled and flourescent-lit artist studio in downtown Bilbao, we realized that his public art darkness is at least as hopeful as it is critical. All around the studio he has created a variety of rehearsal spaces, vignettes, and theatrical scenarios or displays with his figures interacting with other objects that he collects along the way.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

It is at least as entertaining as it is educational. His sad characters and formal scenes of concrete dystopia are also humorous in their unlikely repetition, their utter lack of comfort, their repurposing of common objects as dire ones. His critiques of consumerism, environmental degradation, militarism, corporatism merging into fascism are sometimes couched by his own understated humor and attitude of childlike play as well.

Not that people were chuckling as they encircled the austere and degrading urban jungle scene he constructed in the Spanish capital for the Urvanity 2019 showcase in the courtyard of the Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid. The tribal clusters of bald men in suits were situated above, partially submerged in, or up to their chins in gravel from a bombed out lot, perhaps churned rubble created by a drone.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

But did the art crowd also see the two businessmen carrying a stretcher full of wheatgrass? The absurdity is a relief. Are they rescuing a rectangular slab of nature? Possibly cultivating it for farming? Blissing out on a wheatgrass juice cleanse to counter the martinis and amphetamines?

And what about these new human-faced pigs gathered around, looking for a trough? He presents the human/animal hybrids without comment under electric lights that glitter warmly across the compound. They could be a metaphor addressing attitudes or behaviors. They may also be a glimpse into a law-free amoral future where any new life-form you conjure can be sequenced and produced.

(Click here to read our review :Urvanity 2019: Isaac Cordal’s Dire Courtyard Installation”)

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A graduate in sculpture at the University of Fine Arts near his hometown in Galicia, he also studied conservation of stone crafts and trained in London at Camberwell College. He was a founding member of a digital art community called Alg-a.org, a heavy metal guitarist in a band called Dismal, and a publisher of a fanzine called Exorcism.

As you learn these details about his life in the 90s and 2000s, you gain a greater appreciation for the powerful work of a guy who has emerged uniquely on the global street art stage with his Cement Elipses.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As hard driving electronic drums, bass, and cryptic lyric loops pounding from a radio on a shop stool, we witness the fastidious artist at work in the tidy studio area in this converted warehouse on a dead-end block. As he circles the center island in his overalls looking for the appropriate steel bit or resin mold he bobs gently to the beat, skillfully switching attachments on his drill and hand-designed vacuum device.

Here is where you see the craftsman at work; carefully attentive, problem-solving industry in play, possibly more at peace while he is creating than when he is left to think too much. He picks up a pink pig figurine and begins the plastic surgery, the fine reconstruction; a gentle whirring, a whittling away of snout and a defining of chin-line.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The result is rough and unrefined, proportions not sweet. He blazes through these final actions and presents his new hybrid man-pig, a satisfied glint flashing by as he blinks. The drill whirrs downward and he sits on the stool for a minute to flip over the figurine a few times and inspect it.

BSA: I imagine sometimes that people must think that you are walking around with a cloud over your head –  but you’re not really. You’re a happy person who thinks seriously about the world and its issues.

Isaac: It’s not that I am choosing the topics. It is something that came by default. It is my personality. Also I make this work because I do not like the kind of society that we have now. I think about all the improvements that we have from our new discoveries – and I don’t understand what the reason is that we have all of these situations and problems. We should be a smarter society and more just.

We can find water on Mars but we can’t feed people here – what’s the reason for this? Why is our only worry about how we can have more and more and more? In that sense probably in my work it is like that because I don’t understand what we are doing, or our idea of progress. I say ‘Wow, it’s incredible that we cannot work on a common welfare.’ So the work is probably a reflection of what I do not like.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you think your work is conceptual art?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t think so because it’s pretty direct. It’s not codified. It’s very easy to understand and with conceptual art there is a semantic idea, meanings. It’s more of a movement of art.

BSA: So you been doing this project using cement for maybe 15 years?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t know maybe the first one was in 2005. Maybe before because I have some others that I made in cement that maybe go back 1999 it’s crazy how fast time goes. Because it was in 1996 that I started to study fine arts at the university in my hometown in Galicia. I also went to stone-carving school for five years. We were like slaves there because we were working with big stones – but I learned quite a lot because I learned to do more in terms of carving and modeling clay.

It was quite an experience for me. Most of the school was nice because it was more conceptual or theoretical – and it was interesting for me to learn more about contemporary art.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How do you feel about this time of your life as an artist?
Isaac Cordal: The future for me I think is a little uncertain because every day is like a new year. I’m laying in the bed hiding behind my covers just looking over the edge. You say, “Oh my God another day that you have to prove yourself, do your projects.”

There are different venues and situations for artists but I think it is a kind of battle, a combat that first starts inside of you and after splashes onto others – your family or maybe your girlfriend. It’s not easy. It’s quite complex. I’ve had so many friends who were studying with me and they were talented but they couldn’t live their lives in this manner. It is a little bit uncertain. People may prefer to have a proper job. For me, probably not.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you have a sense about how people see your art?
Issac Cordal: We have to deal with so many fears that this society is selling to us and it seems that you have to think about them. I think the people can understand my work very easily as it is very simple and representative.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: What perceptions or reactions do you think they are having when looking at the “Yard” installation, for example?
Isaac Cordal: The “Yard” is kind of a reflection of ourselves on a small scale. The topics are a little bit pessimistic but perhaps people can see it as a sort of reflection. They probably think about the topic that is suggested behind the installation.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Did you feel a sense of tension, given your worldview about politics and power and privilege and all of the societal structures we work within – your politics are so strong. How do you decide what to manifest?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t want to do real political art. I think it is quite complicated. You have to be very clean. When you do political art you cannot make mistakes. In my work I am more interested in creating a reflection of what I see through the window. Sometimes I think I’m only speaking about myself. We are a reflection of the society and the society is always growing and evolving so probably as an artist we have to grow too.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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How & Nosm Studio Confessions

How & Nosm Studio Confessions

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.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

How & Nosm. At work on a sculpture. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

How & Nosm. Detail from a sculpture. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Like so much of the work HowNosm choose for their sweeping street murals, these new pieces may be read as undercover confessions of artists on display, but you’ll need to figure that out on your own.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.”

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“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.

How & Nosm. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.”

How & Nosm. The sun goes through a hand cut stencil. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.”

Niko provides security and inspiration at the studio. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How & Nosm. Detail of a completed sculpture. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How & Nosm. Detail of a completed sculpture. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How & Nosm (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How & Nosm’s pop-up exhibition “Late Confessions” with the Jonathan Levine Gallery opens on February 1st.  at 557 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011. Click here for more details.

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Judith Supine is “Too Much for One Man”

Judith Supine is “Too Much for One Man”

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.

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“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.”

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.
BSA: Yeah
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.

Judith Supine. Detail of a piece in progress. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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..
JS: Yeah,
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.

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

Judith Supine. Detail of a piece in progress. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Judith Supine. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Judith Supine. Studio shot with a detail of a piece in progress. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Judith Supine. A sketch/study for a piece. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Judith Supine’s solo exhibition “Too Much For One Man” opens this Saturday, Sept 08 at the Jonathan Levine Gallery. Click here for more details on this show.

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Please note: All content including images and text are © BrooklynStreetArt.com, unless otherwise noted. We like sharing BSA content for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit the photographer(s) and BSA, include a link to the original article URL and do not remove the photographer’s name from the .jpg file. Otherwise, please refrain from re-posting. Thanks!

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Kosbe: Under the Radar and in the Studio

Kosbe: Under the Radar and in the Studio

Why One Brooklyn Stick Up Kid is Worth Watching

Sometimes on the street you get an inkling of the future. It could be an overheard excerpt from a cell-phone conversation about a club show the night before, or the color and texture of woman’s blouse as it flutters around her while she reads on a park bench, or the sight of the 3rd food truck this week selling spicy meatballs. Something tells you that you just got a glimpse of the future. And while it doesn’t completely reveal itself in it’s fullness, you can see a nascent potential, a storyline developing that may go far beyond it’s current self. Sometimes when you see a Kosbe sticker on a paper box, it feels that way too. In fact, each time you see one of his pieces on the street, it grabs you from above the fray. Yet it seems like he’s been under the radar. He may not stay there much longer.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In the ebb and the flow of the Street Art conversation in New York, you keep seeing Kosbe’s wacky characters popping up in doorways and paper boxes. They aren’t tossed off little marker drawings done while watching TV – they’re intense petite character studies. Packed into one slapped on sticker is a lot of cacophonic kineticism; near crazed city characters with primitive wild eyes staring or blinkered, with tight jaws and teeth squarely gritted. The folk faces and forms are framed by an ardent prose, non-sequitors of angst and inside jokes. “What’s the guy saying?” you could ask. And why is he yelling? “Is he okay, is he mocking me? It’s the bundled rage and cryptic cleverness of the court jester.  Layers of reapplied color and repeated lines trap multiple actions on one non-static figure. This is not simple tagging, it’s a stationary tornado.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Street Artist Kosbe has put in two good decades of practice, and has learned some lessons the hard way. He’s been hitting up New York for a half decade but he comes from a long graffiti history as a kid in his native Chicago. Now a practicing artist readying a solo gallery show for fall, he grew up in a very young single-parent home where his mom created a small studio for the boy in the back of their apartment. “My mom was really supportive of me as an artist. When I was a kid she gave me this little back room that she allowed me to use like a painting studio. So I was always grabbing stuff off the street and bringing it in there, painting it. I was very secretive with my stuff. A lot of people would come over and see my stuff and they were like, ‘Dude, I didn’t know that you painted’. I was very protective of it.”

That hasn’t changed. He still likes to use found materials as canvasses, as he shows us around his small studio hidden in a warehouse in New York. “I’m always using things that I find in the streets. Like this is an old grading book from 1919,” he says as he pulls out a tattered tome with pages ripped out.  “It has all these people’s signatures. I found this outside a high school in Brooklyn. It’s really cool. So that’s what I’ve been using for my drawings.”

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Tough times at home got him in trouble at school and with the police as a youth. Describing himself as hard headed, he talks about running away as a young teen to San Francisco for a while in the early 90s, where he spent a lot of time on the street admiring a new kind of character-based and tattoo influenced graffiti on the street by people like Twist (Barry McGee), Mike Giant, and Reminisce. “I went out and there were these Reminisce horses everywhere and they were great because you were going down the street and you would see this horse like galloping down the street. This stuff really blew me away. So I think the same time this stuff was going on there, over here in NY you had like Cost and Revs posting bills and doing rollers. And back then there wasn’t the internet.”

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Years later here in this fluorescent lit studio filled with his drawings, paintings, books, ‘zines, assorted ephemera, a desk, and a loveseat, his excited retelling of stories reveals how much those childhood escapades running Chicago streets and exploring San Francisco formed his view of Street Art and prepared him for moving to New York eventually in the 2000s. A self-schooled student of graffiti, fine art, and street art, Kosbe can recount names of writers and crews, timelines, styles; drawing etymologies and stylistic connections and talking about migrations. With much fanfare he’ll also tell you the  stories about the famed Chicago “buff” – a citywide anti graffiti campaign in the mid-late 1990s that he says whitewashed the city’s history.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

But now he’s an artist on his own, and his practice is daily. “Now I’ve learned more that the only way, as an artist, that you can kind of grow and come up with new ideas is you gotta keep giving them away. So that’s why street art is kind of funny. I have friends who are painters that have become painters because of me. They are like ‘Dude, I was totally influenced by your drawings’ and stuff like that.” But the practice of Street Artists putting fully formed works out on the street still confuses some of his peers, “They say ‘Dude you give all your art away’ – you know, they don’t understand the concept.”

His new work on the street and in this studio now bends toward abstract expressionism and his years of comic book reading enlivens that rawness with a furtively bombastic character-driven personality. Almost every piece he does has some sort of commentary- a sort of helpful therapeutic narrative to explain what the character is thinking or feeling at the moment. “I like being bad for the sake of being bad”, “Tupac!”, “deathy”, “not good”, “astro zombie”,”power to the people”,“Kosbe don’t cry”.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe also credits the street as his formative and evolutionary art instructor. “When I took an oil painting class, my teacher was like, ‘Dude you already know how to paint. How did you learn this?’ and I was like, ‘graffiti.’ ” Even though graffiti still attracts him and captures his imagination, Street Art and fine art have occupied his efforts lately and the combined synthesis of a lifetime studying art on the street and plenty of experimentation is coming together very strongly aesthetically. Combine that individual vision with the maturity that hits a person in their 30s and you may think that you are seeing a sudden glimpse of the future.

Brooklyn Street Art: I want to talk about you and your art and your influences. What are these characters? Where did they come from?
Kosbe: I don’t know. I’ve been drawing since I was real young.  It’s always something that comes naturally. I don’t do any sketches, I don’t plan anything out. I just – for me it’s more a guttural, more natural thing. It’s good and bad.

Brooklyn Street Art: What’s the bad part?
Kosbe: The bad part is that I don’t focus on it, you know? I just have been doing it so long and I really enjoy it.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Is your experience kind of like a faucet that you turn on and it all comes flowing out and then you decide, “Okay I better turn it off”?
Kosbe: Exactly, right. So the thing with me is, I try to also look for other outlets. So I’m really into other things. Like I like music, photography, writing, all that stuff. But that stuff doesn’t come as naturally to me like this does. But it’s a great outlet for me and I feel really kind of lucky to have something like that – to be able to express myself in that form and manner. It’s helped me out tremendously to kind of learn how to communicate with people. Every year I realize new things – like this is how I communicate with people. Is it bad? Is it bad that I think that this is the only way I think that I can talk to people? Maybe I’ve gotta learn how to become better with talking with people verbally or something.

Brooklyn Street Art: You don’t seem to have great difficulty communicating verbally. But I’m interested in understanding a little more about how you think of this work and this practice as communication.
Kosbe: There is definitely a lot of emotional stuff in my work, you know,

Brooklyn Street Art: There is! Despair, anger …– you use a lot of descriptive words, verbal narratives throughout – whether it’s a sticker or a wheat paste.
Kosbe: Yeah it’s whatever is always popping into my head and so there are a lot of things that are on my mind and hopefully this is a good way to have an outlet for it. I’m trying to not be so negative anymore. And some people are like “Man, it’s so dark”. You know I use a lot of bright colors now, which has been phenomenal. That has really changed my work. Here you can see some of my earlier stuff and it’s really brown, dark. Actually this is beginning where I started experimenting with more color. And then as I got to New York, more and more color started getting into my stuff.

When you do graffiti you learn the fundamentals of color theory, you know. You learn what works.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You know WK Interact talks about New York being a violent city
Kosbe: I love that guy! You know when I first moved to New York he had that little shop on the Lower East Side and you’d walk in and it was like a locker, a desk, and some Japanese kids standing around. And it would be like, “What is this? Is this a store? Is this a studio?”

Brooklyn Street Art: What made me think of him was I was interested in how you describe the city because WK has said that when he makes work on the street, if it is violent in nature and people walk by it, they sometimes give him the thumbs up! And it runs longer. But if he were to paint a pink bunny it would get crossed out because New Yorkers don’t really respond to positive cheerful stuff.
Kosbe: Oh yeah, and New York has definitely had a profound impression on me in that sense because my work before I got here still had that weird dark edge but it was a little cutesy-er. But like as time has progressed I just think I have kind of matured a bit more, becoming more of an adult and my stuff is getting more serious. But with me everything’s gotta be fun. I think it’s supposed to be fun.

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kosbe (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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QRST Studio Visit and Interview

QRST Studio Visit and Interview

The Brooklyn Artist Talks about Painting, Street Art, and Choking Chickens

You’ve seen his cats and dogs and birds and rats and people in wheat-pasted drawings and paintings on the street in Brooklyn the last couple of years, their big dark eyes staring plaintively at you, usually with some critters holding a banner overhead displaying his tag, QRST.

In a way, these are snapshots of his life, endowed with psychological drama and musings and universal or personal symbologies. Comedians and storytellers are always the most successful when they stick to the regular stuff that we all do and weave in the outlandish – just enough that it’s fantastic but not so much that it’s fantasy. QRST renders his characters without romance but maybe nostalgia,  their magnetic eyes drawing you past the still countenance, grounded enough to sort of convince a passerby of their realness, even though they can’t possibly be. These are his relatives, his friends, his loves, his memories melted with meandering.

In addition to his regular job he’s been painting on a heavy schedule lately so he can have his show ready for unveiling this Friday in Bushwick, Brooklyn at The Active Space. A visit to his studio reveals a spare, brightly lit quietly manic room with a laptop playing the Bush Tetras balanced on a stool and a careful collection of the tools of the trade – paint tubes, canvasses stacked on the floor against a wall, a small pile of pencil sketches, an easel with a painting of a chicken beating up a boy.

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“Yeah, it’s called ‘Formative Years,’” QRST says as he describes it’s origin, “My aunt and uncle had chickens and a giant rooster and when I was like two or three, one of them just mauled me. So it’s that story … but it’s also a lot about sex in like a generic, formative way. It’s a cockfight… he’s choking a chicken… So it’s kind of like a joke at my own expense because I’m getting my ass beat by a chicken but it’s also about figuring out masturbation and sex hangups and weird sex issues.

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s all “nested” in there.
QRST: Yeah, and it’s all inside of a childhood.

If it is a battle, the boy in the painting doesn’t look like he’s going down without a fight. His stuff on the street explores the past plainly, including the painful parts, like his serious re-examination of the influence in his life of his deceased father, called “Patron”, laden with symbols and signifiers. The work can be odd, and oddly sensitive to meaning and nuance as QRST is compelled to continually assess and think his way through the battles of life, peering at it from all angles.

QRST does a painting of his mom in a snowy park. “She didn’t know she was posing for it.” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“I think a lot of my work is always autobiographical. It always seems to come from stuff that I’ve experienced or thought about or people or places that I’ve seen, or been in, or things I’ve experienced. I think a lot of it is that. These paintings are not obviously exact. They are little seeds of actual reality that have all this stuff piled around them that comes from my mind wandering. So the stories kind of become fantastical and weird and their own thing but they really do start from a seed of, ‘I was walking down this street and I saw this thing’ – or ‘I was with this guy on the Mississippi River’, or ‘my aunt and uncle have a hummingbird feeder,’” he explains.

Brooklyn Street Art: Aside from studying painting, in a lot of ways I can see that your work is therapeutic for you.
QRST: Absolutely. If I’m not painting regularly I go crazy basically. I get all super depressed and mean. And I’ve had people tell me “I can tell when you haven’t been making art because you’re and a**hole.” (laughs) I’m like “Great! Cool.” I’ve had more than one person tell me that. You can tell when I’m not painting enough. I get really distressed. It can be also be drawing but painting seems to be the best.

One of the 50 hand drawn sketches QRST will be giving away at his opening. ” I just like the idea that a stranger that doesn’t know me gets a thing that I made just because they showed up.” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For QRST the work he makes for the street is the fun stuff, the place where he can experiment and get a little looser. His painting teacher from his youth would have cringed at the idea of painting as being fun. “He yelled a lot but was a good teacher,” he remembers. “He used to yell ‘Painting is not fun! Painting is in the blood!’” On reflection, QRST agrees that painting is something more for him. “There is a certain truth to that. I mean, I need to do it and it’s immensely satisfying in a way that is not parallel to anything else in my life. But it’s not “fun”, ya know?”

QRST painted this portrait of his cousins after creating a version of them for the street.(photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST. The wheat paste version tells stories of their youth in this painted version for the street. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

It may still be a little perplexing to the average person passing a particle boarded construction site to see one of his elaborately hand painted, wheat-pasted pieces. To think that he’ll spend forty to sixty hours on a street work that ultimately gets destroyed seems self-defeating but he has clearly delineated in his mind what work is meant to have permanence and what needs to stretch it’s legs and go talk to the city.

“The street stuff is really nice. It can get really stressful too but it feels less formal. It’s hard to describe but I can do whatever I want, and it’s just for kicks. I can figure stuff out real easily and put it out and it really doesn’t matter because it’ll be gone soon. It’s like doing studies or sketches or something,” he explains.

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s also maybe a safe way to experiment with an idea or technique?
QRST: Yeah, it is. It’s easy to be experimental because with oil paint there’s a way you are supposed to do it. I’ve thought about being more experimental on the canvas but then, it doesn’t feel right, at least not at the moment.

Of the studio work and the street work, he sees separate goals and lives. “They serve different purposes, they go in different places, they are supposed to function differently. Also with the street stuff – at the end of it it comes with the adrenaline rush of doing something very barely illegal,” he smiles.

Brooklyn Street Art: They need to walk out that door.
QRST: They do! They want to go outside.

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST paints on three panels an homage to both his grandmothers in the gallery. In the family tree tradition his maternal Grandmother sits on the right while his paternal Grandmother sits on the left. The chair’s legs are represented by the roots of trees.  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: That’s something I associate with your work is the symbolism and metaphor, the additional layers of meanings that can go in multiple directions.

QRST: I spend a lot of time – I come up with the idea and its something that is sort of stuck in my head and then I start to flesh it out.  As I’m painting it, I end up thinking about it a lot obviously. All of the language and connection to it comes out as I’m working on it. I’m like “oh yeah!”.

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST (photo © Jaime Rojo)

QRST’s solo show “Dreaming Without Sleeping” opens Friday February 24 at The Active Space. Click here for further details.

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Cake Studio Visit : Inside Out

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.”

 

Cake (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.”

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.”

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

Cake. Her inspiration for the painting above. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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.

Cake. The first layer of a piece in progress. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Inspiration in Cake’s studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Portrait of the artist. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Cake and Don Pablo Pedro show “Inside Out” opens Friday February 17, 2012 at the Mighty Tanaka Gallery in DUMBO. Click here for further information regarding this show.

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STUDIO : Shepard Fairey : Too “Street” For Corporate, Too Corporate For The Street

Shepard Fairey has grown up before the eyes of fans, peers and would be competitors. Undaunted by criticism he gets from both sides of his chosen vocation as a globally-known street artist, the man still has a great deal to say. His art has made its way into homes, museums, wardrobes and book collections in addition to all the walls–legal and illegal–and he pays the price and gains the benefit of all of it. A living conundrum, he embodies the sharp tongued anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-police state ethos of his formative years, while gradually beginning to resemble the middle-aged dad who so much of the punk generation rebelled against.

He raises money for individuals and organizations who advocate for those who are disempowered or victimized, yet street art and graffiti kids who feel marginalized in their lives call him a sellout for making commercial work. Without the credibility of major shows, arts institutions, and collectors he could never afford to employ people who help him. Yet keeping it clean and doing legal walls costs him “street cred.” How exactly does one become an authority on questioning authority? You try this balancing act, and see how far you get without a scrape or two.

brooklyn-street-art-shepard-fairey-jaime-rojo-studio-visit-los-angeles-04-11-web-4Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Actually, Shepard seems pretty down to earth and surprisingly un-embittered for a guy who has made a few mistakes and taken some hard bumps since growing up a skateboarder, going to RISD, and making all those weird “Andre the Giant” stickers.  It’s not like he’s been hiding behind the couch of course.  He likes to be celebrity DJ at openings. He likes to inveigh on panels about Street Art and graffiti and it’s impact on culture. He loves to write on his blog about all manner of social and political issues.

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Because of his professional and commercial success as a street artist, designer, and illustrator and his talkative spates as social activist and cultural influencer, he’s laid himself out there for self-appointed persons of outrage and myriad colorful verbal pugilists with rapidly batting wings who are attracted to the light. Just a few weeks ago he and his wife had a first encounter of the gossip kind when they were hi-jacked for 90 seconds by a brain-free tabloid show at an airport.  Sure, it was sufficient dish for the terminally distracted, and his fans and critics jumped to throats to settle burning questions like the current state of his credibility as a real Street Artist and to analyze the innerworkings of his marriage.

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

If you get to see the people who work with him at his studio in Encino, some for many years, you’ll get the idea that the CEO is fair and friendly as he seems. People buzz in and out of rooms and offices in this polished wood complex; each genuinely warm and welcoming to a stranger, willing to take an extra minute to talk or point the way to something interesting to oggle. They could be stoked because their daily grind is surrounded by cool and storied artwork, stacks of books, records, art supplies and ephemera, and this afternoon alone you might just run into Martha Cooper, Cope2, D*Face, or Word to Mother as they stop by to say hello or discuss a project. Obviously an achiever, he is always in motion and critical of so much in this world and you could see how he may have a choice word in pursuit of greatness, but if the regard for him and the camaraderie you see is forced, Los Angeles really must be full of actors.

The artist himself takes time to give a tour of some of his favorite items, all the while hitting whatever issues or artistic inspirations are evoked; gifts of art from friends and famous, his record cover collection from the 80s displayed on the wall, personal mementos that have meaning or stories. Here is a personally signed Clash LP cover and now let’s talk about America’s dependence on fossil fuels. He’s a new rubylith transparency of Ronald Reagan called “Mo(u)rning in America” and now lets talk about how influential Russian Constructivism has been to his work and how to simplify and exaggerate perspective.

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

With the meteoric rise in interest in Street Art during the last decade, it’s difficult to know if Fairey pushed the wave or learned adeptly how to ride it, but the list of cities, walls, art products, shows and professional accomplishments requires a catalog. A hotter younger head might get too swollen to fit through a door and hubris might cloud his worldview.  During a brief interview at his studio in Los Angeles while he signed multiple copies of a new print, the husband and father of two with grey flickering around his temples comes across as a pretty sincere guy who may worry a bit too much and who has a fire in the belly that burns fiercely, if a little more controlled than before.

brooklyn-street-art-shepard-fairey-jaime-rojo-studio-visit-los-angeles-04-11-web-9

Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: What is interesting to you at the moment?
Shepard Fairey:
The MOCA show is interesting. The rise of street art in general is pretty interesting. The reason I called my book “Supply and Demand” is because the forces, economic and cultural, are what’s fascinating around the evolution of an artists career, an art movement, politics, fashion, music, everything.  I think a lot of what’s fascinating to observe right now is that as Street Art and graffiti have become maybe a little bit more acceptable and marketable that certain people are very happy about that because maybe they have done it in obscurity and poverty for a number of years and other people prefer the idea of it staying underground.

To me that’s actually kind of an elitist standpoint. “Oh the institutions are elitist! We’re underground!” and they don’t want to share it.

brooklyn-street-art-shepard-fairey-jaime-rojo-studio-visit-los-angeles-04-11-web-10

Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: And in the process they are creating their own institution which is called, “The Underground”
Shepard: Exactly! So just seeing how all these points of view are going around – I think debate is really healthy. I think that the most potent things are maybe contentious. So seeing how many people are loving this moment and how others are going out and attacking all the artists stuff that showed in the museum – calling them sellouts – these are all not always uplifting in terms of my opinion of humanity but are fascinating to see. To me it’s just an exciting moment.

But I also think a lot of it revolves around these sort of reductivist arguments that are valid based on defining things very narrowly and putting them in categories that are unhealthy. My strategy as an artist has always been, “Look at every single situation and adapt to it the way that is logical”; the “inside/outside” strategy I’ve called it. For example, trying to reach people in a democratic way by putting stuff up on the street but also if there was an opportunity, for example, to do something for a band I like, or do something in a gallery – that’s just another way to reach people. So it’s not being dictated to by the system, working around it when you need to, but also not being afraid to infiltrate and work within it.  That’s been my approach.

And I guess a lot of the friction that I’m seeing seems to based around people who cannot think that way.

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Your participation in the MOCA show; There weren’t many new elements in that show were there?

Shepard Fairey: Um, yeah there were actually. The big canvas was new, all the environmental pieces were brand new paintings. But really what they asked for in that show was a historical overview but they also wanted the work to have the spirit of the street but have it a stand-alone artwork in an institution. So there are sort of two agendas that aren’t always easy to bring together. So my solution on some of it was to make “paintings”

brooklyn-street-art-shepard-fairey-jaime-rojo-studio-visit-los-angeles-04-11-web-15

Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: It seems like we’re swimming around in this system that we are all kind of uncomfortable with and that friction that you speak of flares up during times like this. It’s a punctuation in the flow of thoughts. We have this huge show and it’s like, “Here marks a beginning, or an ending”.  So many people feel they have to weigh in with opinions.

But you’ve certainly borne a number of strong or vehement attacks over the years just because of the way you negotiate the system and your place as an artist within it. Do you think your skin has gotten thicker as a result? Or have you always been kind of thick skinned.

Shepard Fairey: Um, I’m actually pretty thinned skinned and it always hurts my feelings when people attack my work but the real enemy is indifference. If something is ire-ing or inspiring it is motivating someone to respond.  I think that could be the starting point for a conversation and I’ve known a lot of people who, once they’ve heard me articulate my opinions about things, they’ve changed their opinions about my practice, my way of working. Other people haven’t. But it’s not my goal to win everyone over but it is my goal to make work that I think sparks a conversation. So I’ve accepted that my feelings are going to get hurt trying to do what I think is most important to do. (laughs)

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: I’m not sure I could withstand the continuous attention and negativity that can be out there.

Shepard Fairey: Well the nature of street art is about people who are aggressive and rule breakers and oftentimes very opinionated about how they think things should be done or not done. So just by inserting myself into that arena I’m going to be dealing with a lot more static than almost any other area of culture (laughs). But that’s my choice.

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: It also feels like home.

Shepard Fairey: But when I look at the rewards of it, and when I say rewards I don’t mean financial at all, I mean the satisfaction of creating something from nothing and empowering myself and speaking to a lot of people in a way that’s democratic – to me all of that greatly outweighs having to deal with haters from my own community or law enforcement. I mean all of that stuff has been really stressful but when I’m out doing something and a kid comes up and says “Hey, you know I got into graphic design or I got into making art cutting stencils because of you,” – that happens frequently – and that makes it all worth it because that person might end up making art that is very powerful, that’s going to change someone else’s life. The sort of cumulative effect of that influence is hard to even quantify.

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Shepard Fairey, Craig R. Stecyk III (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Is there a sound? I know you have a musical ear – is there a sound when something like that happens in your life when a kid talks to you like that, do you hear a “ping!” or “ching!” – and think, “That was exactly what I wanted”. Or do you see something visual like a light?
Shepard Fairey:
Well, I remember a moment in my life when that happened for me and so it’s almost like when you smell the same smell as your first girlfriends perfume or something that’s very Pavlovian, I guess.

Brooklyn Street Art:
That’s what I’m thinking about.
Shepard Fairey: When I first got into skateboarding and I went over my friends ramp and the experience of riding that ramp and how it seemed like it was changing the world for me. Or the first time I listened to The Clash or The Sex Pistols and how it was like, “Okay, wow, everything just got a lot different, broader, more exciting.”

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Shepard Fairey, Invader (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Doors flew open.
Shepard Fairey: Yeah, knowing those moments in my own life, when someone talks about that for them – I’m like, “How could I not feed into that as much as possible?”

Brooklyn Street Art: I think that is very gratifying.
Shepard Fairey: Yeah it is, I mean ultimately I still enjoy this stuff. I don’t feel in any way like “Oh, I’m such a martyr, I’m doing this for the people” – The great aspect is that I enjoy doing the work and I enjoy going out and putting it up. The funny thing is I used to think about being a thorn in the side of the authorities when I was doing my thing. Now I’m actually a thorn in the side of the authorities and some of my own peers who think I’m too successful. This is really funny. I’m too “street” for the corporate, too corporate for the street.

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God save the chandelier; A signed work by Jamie Reid; anarchist, situationist and designer of the covers for Sex Pistols records. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s a funny place to inhabit.
Shepard Fairey:
I guess it is about understanding the world we live in and learning how to navigate in a way that you get as much good and as little bad as you can but not just being unrealistic and an isolationist because you refuse to engage something that inherently is going to be problematic. There are a lot of people who do this – they’re like, “oh I’m not part of that” – BUT you go to the store and buy stuff that’s made by evil corporations, you’re wearing Nikes, – by saying that you are not part of it you actually are just being complicit anyway.

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Blek le Rat at Shepard Fairey Studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile (detail) at Shepard Fairey Studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You’re actually not helping in any way to bring it forward in any way at all. You’re dropping out.
Shepard Fairey:
Exactly. And…

Brooklyn Street Art: You’re an expert critic today, but your not doing anything constructive.
Shepard Fairey: And my whole thing is that if there is a really great net positive in doing something that you might have to engage with a company but they facilitate a project that ends up really benefitting the kind of culture and art that you believe in, to me it was worth having to put a logo on a wall in the corner of an art show. But there are some people who, I think in a lot of ways in an effort to justify their own complacency, say “Oh that’s not cool because of that. The whole thing is ruined”. So now they feel much more justified just sort of sitting around hating on everything. And you know, not being able to have the chip on the shoulder is something that a lot of people from the Street Art world don’t want. They want to remain persecuted and angry. It’s something that feeds them.

You know that is something that has driven me in a lot of ways – frustration, anger. And there are people who I think are very self destructive in how they deal with those emotions. But now I feel like I’ve just channeled that in much more constructive ways.

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Barry McGee at Shepard Fairey Studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Banksy and Keith Hering at Shepard Fairey Studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Shepard’s collection of signed album covers at the studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post

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A New Clown Comes to Town : Clown Soldier in Studio

All the World is a Circus! Says I.

brooklyn-street-art-clown-soldier-jaime-rojo-03-11-web-10Clown Soldier Silk Screen (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Jugglers, acrobats, trapeze artists, bareback riders, high wire walkers and of course the stern Ringmaster to smartly sharply keep them all on task.  Enter the clown, bobbing along on the stage periphery, gamely plumbing audience notions of propriety for absurdity.

Winter sun floods the old factory stable, crowded with tall boards, small canvasses, art and history books stacked on handmade shelves, multiple screens leaning 5 deep against a light table.  An oblong work table with flat files underneath holds myriad constellations of actual clip art arranged and stuck together in endless combinations on rolled paper. For the first public interview with the Clown Soldier you’ll have to gingerly squeeze yourself into the unkempt low-fi cyborg factory, lest you knock something off a nail.  Once you are in, the merrymaking is evident, and so is the well studied industry behind the images.

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Clown Soldier Silk Screen (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Since Clown Soldier first appeared, people have wondered what the hell it is, and what it means. The incongruity of a military jester in cool poppy color standing 8 feet tall amidst a field of detritus on walls across the city has mystified a number of Street Art watchers. Behind each image is 15 years of fine art, academic study, fascination with chance and experimentation. The collage process is not haphazard, but it is part divination. In the end, the work of Clown Soldier it is about the absurdity of the world and engaging the spirit of play and discovery.

(Ed Note: For people in town to see the art fairs – the most recent piece by Clown Soldier can be viewed right now at the Fountain Art Fair on West 26th Street floating on the Hudson River.)

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you think that people realize what goes into making your work for the street?
Clown Soldier:
No I think that when they see it they think that it’s a computer printout. They probably think that I scanned in the image, blew it up to 8 feet and printed it out in two seconds at Kinkos.  And they might say, “Where is the art in that? Where is the skill?”

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Clown Soldier The screened image. Work in progress (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Clown Soldier in the wild. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So what do you do, how do you make these, what is the process?
Clown Soldier:
I start with collage. I cut up thousands and thousands of pieces of imagery until something works. What’s great about collage is you come with things that you wouldn’t come up with if you were drawing.  So you cut up all these fragments, you know – it’s inspired by (William) Burroughs and it goes back to Picasso right? Anyway that process, you cut up these things and you put them together and not in a million years I would put these things together or come up with… so when I find this gem, this absurd thing.

There was a photographer who’s name I can’t remember right now who said that they felt like they were Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”  –  He’s got “Devils Mountain” in his mind.  And he’s making Devil’s Mountain with his mashed potatoes his family thinks he’s crazy. And he’s ripping apart his house and he takes everything including the garbage and makes this Devil’ Mountain in his living room. It’s like he knows something – he’s like “this is something” – he’s channeling something…… And that’s what I feel like when I’m cutting up the stuff. I’m channeling something. Something is there and I’m going after it. And I’m not exactly sure what it is.

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Clown Soldier Detail of a finished canvas (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: How would you characterize that something? Is it the creative spirit? Electicity.
Clown Soldier:
I don’t know. It’s beyond anything I can comprehend. I mean I’m cutting up things and something happens and you can’t believe you created this thing and it didn’t exist a minute ago. These two objects that you put together and it didn’t seem like it worked yet and you are making a realization.  I was originally inspired by (Max) Ernst and the idea of automatism.  So you get at the subconscious. So I’m getting at my ideas and it doesn’t look contrived. I really don’t like work that is contrived and as a painter I worked that way and I worked through color and form and I like when it just evolves naturally.

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Clown Soldier. Silk Screened images in progress for Fountain Art Fair (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Clown Soldier collage in the wild (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You mentioned Burroughs and I think of him and I wonder, did he just accept the outcome of the process or did he select his favorite outcome?
Clown Soldier:
That’s a good question, I mean he and Brion Gysin were working a lot with chance. I mean I think in a way they were very similar to the Da-Da-ists in the 1910s but I think that they were trying to push it much farther.  I don’t think they were selecting their preferred outcome, and I think that would be a difference between me and Burroughs process because I am only taking the cream of the crop from what I make and then it becomes really powerful to me.

But also there is a consistent absurdity to me of all the work. There’s a sense of humor. I feel like there is a whimsical quality and my sense of humor comes across.  But it’s the same strangeness, same absurdity. Writing is not my strength, and I can’t nail down exactly what it is saying.  It’s beyond that, beyond words for me.  Maybe if I actually found out what this about maybe it would not be interesting for me or for other people.

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Clown Soldier. Collage  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you describe, for someone who hasn’t done it before, how do you make a screenprint.
Clown Soldier: That’s cool, that’s a good question. Basically you start with making a film, a positive transparency, a photocopy on a transparency for example.  The way the screen printing process works is you have different meshes of screens, and it can go from 80 mesh to 300 mesh for example. So 80 mesh is not that tight a weave,  and the higher you go, the tighter you go and the smaller the squares formed by the weave.  It’s like thread counts, or in Photoshop you have different resolutions, or dpi. Same thing with screen printing.

Then you take silk that is stretched on your frame and you coat it with a photo-sensitive emulsion and put it on a light table with the film you made. Wherever the light goes through and hits the emulsion, it hardens. The light doesn’t go through where the black is, so the emulsion stays soft and it washes out with a water hose. So that’s it.

Brooklyn Street Art: So each Clown Soldier is made of three screens?
Clown Soldier:
It’s like 7 screens for each one! I mean, the thing is, it takes me a whole day to make a clown soldier. People don’t realize that. I have to print the head and then dry it with a hair dryer and then print the next section because they’re tiled together and then I paint it – the skull cap, the lips, the blue of the suit, and the yellow belt. Then I cut it out. So, yeah, the whole process takes a day. And people look at it for 2 seconds. I think they can tell it’s hand rendered.  There’s a lot of time and effort put into it.brooklyn-street-art-clown-soldier-jaime-rojo-03-11-web-5

Clown Soldier. Collage in progress. Detail  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You know what people would want to know the most – What is the significance of the Clown Soldier? The name? The image that goes with it?
Clown Soldier:
I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Originally I liked it because I was watching this movie “Bomb It” and there were a bunch of Street Artists who were talking about being soldiers of the street. Not that I compare myself to people who jump into trains or over fences and risk their lives in that way. But I feel like every time you go out on the street you put yourself at risk so you are sort of soldier. In no way do I want to compare myself to a real soldier and I highly respect real soldiers. I really thought of it like; The incongruity of it was interesting to me – just having the two names combined – clown and soldier – is an oxymoron.  But about the clown portion; I want to know when did clowns get a bad rap? It’s like everybody thinks clowns are scary. I tell people my tag and they say, “Clowns are scary”.  I mean, in no way do I think that that clown is scary. I mean when Picasso did it everybody loved it.

Brooklyn Street Art: But his clowns were more like a harlequin, though.
Clown Soldier: That’s the thing though he sort of looks like a harlequin. What’s the difference between a harlequin and a clown?

Brooklyn Street Art: I think a harlequin is this sort of foppish character from a royal court, maybe from the Renaissance.
Clown Soldier: Oh, maybe he’s more like a harlequin. I was thinking about myself more like a clown. I definitely connect with this image of a clown soldier.  For me it had no political connotation – I certainly respect soldiers and I don’t want to give the wrong idea about that.

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s about the absurdity of the pairing.
Clown Soldier: Yeah, the absurdity! It’s obviously such an innocent image, I think. It’s also interesting that he has a Dutch ruffle, a French Revolution uniform, and a clown head. It’s three different cultures and time periods.

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Clown Soldier. Work on paper in progress  (photo © Clown Soldier)

Brooklyn Street Art: It’s like someone got lost in a costume shop, trying on different things.
Clown Soldier: Right, that’s what it is like for me. I’m trying different things, combinations, having fun. I think life is a circus.  Like this Fountain Fair is a circus.

Brooklyn Street Art: So what has your experience been like at the fair so far? What are you going to do while you are there?
Clown Soldier:
Well, I’ve been looking at a lot of circus imagery and I think that is a direction I’m going to be going in. I’m going to try to create a piece that looks kind of like those banners you see going into a circus.  Like those banners that advertise ‘freaks’ – a culmination of things you’d see on the way into the circus.  I want to make it look very circus like.

Brooklyn Street Art: I always think of what Fountain does as a kind of punk circus.
Clown Soldier:
It is. It’s avant-garde. I love what John and David do. I think that they are incredible guys because they put so much into it and it’s amazing what they are able to achieve in such a short amount of time.  They take this boat, canvas it with a tent, which is a huge feat, put walls all around it and get all these different galleries, set it up, and then throw this incredible party. You know? I mean they get a lot of help from their friends but basically they do it themselves and I’m like, “How do they do this?”  and it winds up being a success.

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Clown Soldier. “beef, bef,” An early work  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Clown Soldier’s work will be on display at Fountain Art Fair in New York City. To read more about Fountain click on the link below:

http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/?p=18835

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Augustine Kofie in Studio

Augustine Kofie in Studio

Graffiti writer and fine artist. Old Skool Bomber. Wildstyle. Mid-Century Abstractionism. American Modernism. Choose One and Stick with it, right?

You find the evolution of artists of the streets can go in many different directions with time. As the current generation of wild teens and art school grads claim a hip-hop birthright to get up on public walls across cities everywhere, we are reminded of 1970s New York train-writing graff artists like Lee Quinones and Futura who eventually evolved their skills into galleries, private collections, museums. And they are only two. It has happened enough times now for it to be identified as a natural progression for some artists ‘of the street’, and in many cases, to incredible effect. It is a worthwhile point to consider if not labor over; the street has proven a valuable training ground for an increasing number of our great artists; With or without, and sometimes in spite of, our participation.

brooklyn-street-art-augustine-kofie-todd-mazer-4-webAugustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Augustine Kofie began as a writer in Los Angeles in the 1990s and has always had a deep love for illustration and linework. Today he has a studio doing markedly different work from what he developed on the streets – and it is a direct result of his evolution as an artist and as a person.

Todd Mazer recently visited the studio of Kofie and talks here about what he saw:

“Tucked away in the sleeping hills of Filipino town in Los Angeles, just a stones throw away from an Emergency Room entrance where Bob Dylan’s immortal words “He not busy being born is busy dying” are literal, you’ll find Augustine Kofie. This meeting of degradation and downfall with birth and uprising seem to be principle themes that play out in this ongoing story. It’s a story that eloquently eludes those who question the direction, proximity and order of the beginning to the end.

Kofie will be the first one to tell you that we are a product of our environment. Upon entering his work/living space it becomes nearly impossible to find the separation point between his environment and his work. A quick scan across the dimly lit room offers the realization that these aged manuals, endless sketchbooks and found artifacts are like records to a beat-maker and that Kofie is creating his own version of soul music on canvas”

~Todd Mazer

 

 

brooklyn-street-art-augustine-kofie-todd-mazer-1-webAugustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Kofie talked with Brooklyn Street Art about his work and his inspirations;

Brooklyn Street Art: The clean architectural lines and shapes in your work fit together as if they were a floor plan. Have you had experience designing buildings?
Augustine Kofie:
None at all. I’m inspired by preliminary design, drafting, architectural renderings and pre production concepts revolving around visual futurist design. I wouldn’t be opposed to an actual build out based on my work at some point but it’s not where my heads at right now… sticking to what I know.

 

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Brooklyn Street Art: Why is it important to incorporate found items into your work, when you obviously could create them yourself.
Augustine Kofie:
I’m taken by their texture, color and age, plus I enjoy the archeologist/ ‘digging in the crates’ aspect of collecting. Sampling is the best way to put it.. It is like finding a strange soundscape from a record or film, then twisting, manipulating and layering it with other found bits to create a new component, both audio and visual. They possess lost histories and past stories all their own so it feels appropriate and truthful to use such ephemera instead of recently produced papers. The up cycling and reinterpretations are endless.

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Brooklyn Street Art: What kind of object catches your eye and forces you to bring it back to the studio?
Augustine Kofie:
Usually outdated garage and office items from estate sales make me geek out. Anything that ‘contains’. Old wooden boxes, metal file boxes and hand made cabinets from an old mans garage workshop. Drafting based items. Paper wise, the more fatigued and yellowed the better but not to the point of crumbling. Engineering and accounting paperwork is nice as well. Yardsticks definitely get scooped.

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Brooklyn Street Art Your work is vintage and futuristic – vintage in that jazz modernist warm way, and futuristic in its 1960s complex precision.  Do you feel some nostalgia for that period and what does it represent for you?
Augustine Kofie:
When I was a kid my parents played old jazz and soul records. This became the soundtrack to my life and I created my own perspective of a time-period that I only experienced as a child. That combined with the Futurist viewpoint of Syd Mead as well as the Futurist Movement set the foundation for what I do today and who I will become in the future.

 

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Brooklyn Street Art Your studio working environment really parallels the clean lines and warm tones of your work. Could you create this same work in a different place (like a chaotic and messy one for example), or is it not important at all?
Augustine Kofie:
To me my studio is a place of comfort, meditation and inspiration. I prefer a ‘workshop’ environment over a living room setting. I have been working on my aesthetic for long enough that as long as I’m given paint and a surface then I could create a style that is mine, anywhere. The energy and execution of the art is always influenced by my surroundings, though.

 

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

Brooklyn Street Art: Your earlier graffiti contained foreshadowing of the abstract approach you are using now. At what point do your pieces stop being called graffiti and start being Street Art?  Or does it matter at all to use terms like this?
Augustine Kofie:
This is a strange place for me, this sort of limbo between titles. I just want to contribute my work as a man and as a whole, regardless of its contemporary title or standing. Confusing or not it is what it is.

My work and I are in constant progression. Evolution is mandatory. There is no seam that defines a beginning or ending to who I am and what I wish to produce. I do both the Graffiti and ‘art on the street’ depending on the moment and situation and especially moods. I’m a moody cat and I tend to gravitate to what I want to do to ease my restlessness. A different attention and energy is given to each form of expression here. Sometimes I want to blast on a crew production with classic characters/ letters & background scenarios. Other times I want to take a 20 year old can of outdated American spray-paint to a refused and abandoned surface and paint triangles, circles and lines without lettering, just getting loose on the foundations of line-work. I feel like Graff gave me a voice and I’ve contributed to this art form, now I have to contribute further and test my styles as well as change my own mindset and preconceived ideas of what this art form is as much as where its going.

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

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Augustine Kofie (photo © Todd Mazer)

On Saturday March 5th Augustine Kofie will be part of a group show curated by Indigo at the Becker Galleries in Vancouver, Canada. To learn more details about this show click on the link below:

http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/?p=18278

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Swoon in Studio : A Warm Welcome on a Cold Night

Swoon in Studio : A Warm Welcome on a Cold Night

A visit to Swoon’s studio is a full immersion into her passions; meditations on humanity, the process of collaboration, and sculptures you can inhabit.

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Swoon adding color to the busy streets of  “Cairo” (Sunday Afternoon) (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In the rustic warm light of a triple height cavernous space that might have served as a town hall a score of printed artworks on paper lay scattered across the wooden floor. Tiptoeing between the images to cross the formerly grand chamber, the familiar faces of children and adults who you’ve met on walls across the city look up at you. Together these figures, a de facto retrospective of Swoons’ last few years on the street in NYC, are burned into the retina of many a Street Art fan, and yet they lay here on this whitewashed wood-slatted floor without any ceremony at all. brooklyn-street-art-swoon-jaime-rojo-12-10-web-9

Photo © Jaime Rojo

Around the rooms’ periphery a handful of assistants listen to music, straddle ladders, and attentively stroke warm earth tones on pieces taped to the wall. A rustling cold wind from the black New York night outside is blocked by clear plastic stretched across the windows, buffeting the draft. Swoon, one of Brooklyn’s  most celebrated street artists, sits on her knees in the warmly lit room, jar in hand, adding shades of ochre to her piece, “Cairo  (Sunday Afternoon)”.

Swoon: So can I just be over here painting?
Brooklyn Steet Art: Yep, wherever you like to be.

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Swoon is at ease and at home here in the studio (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Within a couple of days she’ll fly to the west coast to plan her installation of a large interior sculpture, possibly housed in it’s own room, for the upcoming “Art in the Streets” exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art with it’s new director and her former gallerist Jeffrey Deitch. Days later, while New York suffers one of it’s worst snowstorms in years, she’ll return with a team to Haiti to begin laying the foundation of the first Konbit House for a woman named Monique and her two daughters as part of the second installment of the Konbit Shelter Project. But tonight she is relaxed and buoyant in this homey hearth of communal activity. This is the beehive environment that she invokes repeatedly throughout her creative life and processes, and one that buzzes with easy conversation.

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An assistant works on “The Girl from Ranoon Province” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Thai food’s just been ordered for the team and in a few minutes everyone will sit at a long makeshift table happily trading stories about the rumored ghosts living in this old building, the Underground Railroad that ferried slaves through Brooklyn, and the coming Wikileaks revolution. But for now we both crouch low on the creaking boards, sometimes kneeling, sometimes sitting cross legged, and talk about whatever comes to mind.

Brooklyn Street Art: I was thinking about how you talk about this internal world in your work being a world that you have dreamt about or you do dream about. And I was thinking about the fact that a lot of peoples work is autobiographical. What part of you is in here?
Swoon: Well you know it depends with each piece. This one is very literally “I went for a walk and I drew it”. Some pieces are much more about bringing together various symbols and some pieces are very much an impression transferred. Sometimes they can be a little bit like a travelogue. This is kind of a sensory recording of a place. And I think that in the form that I bring them together it is a little in that layered, kind of confusing state of dreams. Otherwise I think it’s pretty straight-forward.

As she speaks and dabs the brush in a tub of hand-mixed hue she appraises the urban pathways she has created in the robes of the woman in the piece.

Brooklyn Street Art: Sometimes places are confusing anyway on their own.
Swoon: Totally.
Brooklyn Street Art: So maybe you capture some of that confusion too.
Swoon: Yeah (chuckles), and I really am attracted to those places; Those kind of winding labyrinth-like cities and all of those places. I feel like I’m always kind of looking for them.

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Three of Swoon’s street pieces in the process of hand coloring (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: What are you dreaming about these days?
Swoon: Hmmm, well I guess I’ve started a lot of dreaming about building things. Which is unusual I guess finally because…
Brooklyn Street Art: Maybe it’s because you’ve been building things!
Swoon: (Laughs) Yeah like it’s finally coming through! No, but really like the problem-solving process. Like, “I’m trying to put this roof on!”– which weirdly never happened.

She refers to the first Konbit Shelter she and a team completed in Haiti as part of an art installation/ sustainable housing project she spearheaded in 2010 as a response to the earthquake which shook the nation one year ago.

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An assistant works on “Sambhavna” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The conversation quickly reminds her of word she’s today received that gives her the go-ahead for a brand new project of a similar nature in Brazil.

Swoon: I just got news yesterday that there is a new project, that I’m pretty excited about, is going to be possible.
Brooklyn Street Art: Excellent! Congratulations.
Swoon: There’s these people in Brazil who are organizing this project with this museum and one of the things that was sort of part of the goings-on in this neighborhood is this train station. It is getting cleared out because there are a lot of homeless people living in this station. And I was like, “What’s happening with the train station? What’s happening with everyone?” And the guy was like, “ Well, they’re going to a shelter”. And then I was thinking about how sometimes people don’t like to go to shelters.
Brooklyn Street Art: Right, a lot of times they avoid them.
Swoon: And so I remembered that I had seen this place in Miami called Umoja Village – it was a thing where this group of activists had found a law on the books in Miami that (said) you cannot be arrested for taking care of your basic life necessities. And so they took it one step further and said, “We’re going to organize people to take care of their basic life necessities together” – so you don’t have the vulnerability of sleeping outside by yourself, you don’t have access to services, you don’t have access to healthcare, all of these things. So they organized people together into this village and they were still sort of independently living in their houses that they had put together. – But they had access to counseling, and they cooked meals together ..

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“Sambhavna” and “The Girl from Ranoon Province” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So city services eventually did enjoin them at some point?
Swoon: Not really, no, it was pretty much an independent initiative and it had some resistance, and then some support. And I actually haven’t, I need to find out for curiosity, found out what their current status is. So anyway, I think that we are actually going to join up with some people in Sao Paulo and actually work on creating a crazy sculpture which at the same time can function as optional housing for people who are getting moved out of the train station. And they said they would bring on some community organizers, some mental health people, and build a kitchen.
Brooklyn Street Art: Thank God.
Swoon: And there will be like..
Brooklyn Street Art: Fire codes, little things like that?
Swoon: Actually fire was a really big problem with Umoja so that was a really good thing that you bring up because that thing burned down. So that is something that we really have to consider.

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Detail of “Sambhavna” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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“Sambhavna” in the wild. A street birthday gift to a friend that lives nearby. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The introduction of a new project that includes a sculpture that people can live in? A collective that coalesces around constructing it? Why does this new project sound so familiar? Her street art figures are often singular, but Swoon’s process for creation is more often than not colorfully collaborative. The thought of getting an approval for this new idea frightens her a bit, as the beginning of any huge public/private art initiative can summon fears of complications and quagmires. After talking for a few minutes Swoon notes that she’ll have help from many differently talented individuals for this new live-in scultpure, and that makes her happy.

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you think it might serve as a model for something else in the future?
Swoon: I think everything you do does, for better or worse. I mean, it will, if it works. It depends on what happens. I mean it could serve as a model that says, “Okay that was a total disaster”
Brooklyn Street Art: Here’s something to avoid!
Swoon: Don’t ever do that again! Or it could be, “this thing worked and let’s think about it some more”
Brooklyn Street Art: Well, it seems like it is kind of like the Konbit Shelter Project idea, right? You’ve completely put it into place with the collaboration of a number of different people and talents.
Swoon: Yeah.
Brooklyn Street Art: And it is serving as maybe a template for this future work?
Swoon: I think maybe so, as far as small groups working in a certain way. And of course you know we took a template from someone else.
Brooklyn Street Art: I see.

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Swoon Konbit Shelter. Bigones Village, Haiti. Photo courtesy Upper Playground © Tod Seelie

Swoon: We borrowed this engineered architecture style and so it’s like we took some working processes and we wanted … I think ours was almost a thought process too. Like, how can you, as an artist who isn’t a big NGO, that isn’t an aid organization, still be involved in a way that is offering something permanent?
Brooklyn Street Art: Have people from NGOs taken an interest and inquired about the project in Haiti?
Swoon: I think a little bit. Yeah, not a ton.
Brooklyn Street Art: Those buildings you created look like beehives to me. Where does “Konbit” come from?
Swoon: That word is an awesome word that is apparently pronounced like “Coom bee” and it
Brooklyn Street Art: I think I understand, is it like a combination?

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Swoon Konbit Community Center Inside. Haiti.  Photo Courtesy Upper Playground © Tod Seelie

Swoon: No, I think it’s a Creole, or I think it’s a Haitian word, and what it means, what it refers to is the time when the harvest is ready and there is usually too much work for any one person to do, people will cooperatively harvest each others farms together. So it is the word that means working together cooperatively when things need to get done. And we were like, “That’s beautiful. That’s really what we want to try to do.”
Brooklyn Street Art: You had like thirty people working together.
Swoon: Totally. And I think it’s about the US and Haiti, and starting to make that partnership that way as well.
Brooklyn Street Art: You feel like it’s been a good partnership so far with the US and Haiti?
Swoon: Well…. (laughs), with us and that village – it’s a really good partnership. I don’t mean that in the political boundaries sort of way.

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Photo © Jaime Rojo

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Swoon. One of her most popular pieces on the street. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So it occurs to me that with so many of your large expansive art projects what you have been doing is creating giant sculptures that people can live in or interact within.
Swoon: That’s starting to happen, yeah
Brooklyn Street Art: Well even in the Swimming..
Swoon: Oh, the boats!
Brooklyn Street Art: Yes the boats, and in these shelters, and when one is walking into your exhibits, like the one at Deitch – you feel like you are walking through sculpture and around it, interacting with it, seeing through it. And then I think of the work of Gordan Matta-Clark and those buildings that he turned into sculptures and it is amazing how no matter how many different projects you are doing there is a narrative thread that goes through all of them.
Swoon: Yeah, I sometimes get that crisis of ; “How is this related?”, but I don’t really live in that for very long. I’m just like, “whatever”, it will become apparent. Because it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t have to be related. And then in the end it’s related anyway.

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A view from above (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: A lot of Street Artists, as you know, prefer to work singularly. – They like to hide out in caves and do their work, secretly run out, put it up, and run back in. But this room has many people working in it. You are always working collaboratively.
Swoon: Yes a lot of the time. My drawing, I do by myself. This, what we are doing, is the painting, the sort of “afterwards”. But the drawing I have to do by myself for sure. It’s more focused. I can’t really get to that kind of focus if I’m around other people.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do you draw daily? Weekly?
Swoon: It depends on what’s happening. Daily if I can, and then sometimes I won’t draw for two months.
Brooklyn Street Art: Did you get a lot of drawing done when you were in Haiti?
Swoon: None. We were like, dead tired every single day. You know, it was like, “Up with the sun”, and then you would get home and you’d be like, “Oh my God Paypal has frozen our funds!” And then you would email for four hours figuring out how to deal with that crisis, and then try to put a picture up on your blog and fall on your face and sleep, so I didn’t do drawing.
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Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: It is back breaking work, but you had your creature comforts…
Swoon: We did actually, at that place. This next time around we’re going to be living in the place where we built. It’s now a community center so right now no one is actually living there at night. So I think that will be better because before we were staying at this nice house a little bit outside of the village, which was nice because we had the Internet. But I’m looking forward to staying in the village.
Brooklyn Street Art: Is the first Konbit Shelter going to be used as a community center? Is that still being debated about what to use it for?
Swoon: I think that it is slowly… because there isn’t any furniture in it, and we didn’t paint it. It can be used. But I feel like it’s not fully embraced yet. So I think once we go back and really put the finishing touches on get started on another house then it will be a little more.

Brooklyn Street Art: I haven’t seen much of your work on the street recently.
Swoon: I haven’t done anything on the street in the City in a long time.
Brooklyn Street Art: Maybe in the spring time?
Swoon: I’ve gotten into a weird thing where I neglect New York entirely.
Brooklyn Street Art: You’re done with it maybe?
Swoon: No, maybe it’s because when I’m home I’m so busy. There’s definitely something going on though, there is some neglect.
Brooklyn Street Art: When you come to New York you are all about work, no play.
Swoon: Kind of. In a bit of a sad way actually. I don’t really have friends here anymore. I just kind of blow through.

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A large collaboration in the Wynwood District of Miami with Ben Wolf in 2009 (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: What about Florida?
Swoon: No I just go to the ocean when I’m there, and hang out with my little brother. Otherwise Florida is my little zone home.
Brooklyn Street Art: Well that piece that you did in the Wynwood District last year is still there.
Swoon: Yeah that big mural?
Brooklyn Street Art: On that rounded corner of a building…
Swoon: It’s pretty weird. It was fun doing that, I mean it was fun learning. It’s a bizarre mural in every way, but I’m glad we did it.
Brooklyn Street Art: Me too, I’m glad it still looks good, wasn’t destroyed.

Conversation quickly turned to the Thai food delivery that presently arrived. Everyone jumped from their perches on ladders and stools and knees to arrange themselves around a table to share a meal and many lively stories. With Swoon in attendance, there will surely be many stories to come.

With very special thanks to Heather Macionus.

Read more about the new Swoon print for the Konbit Shelter from Upper Playground.

Follow the events in Haiti as Swoon is there now working on the second phase of Konbit Shelter (see the blog)

Konbit Project on Facebook

Donate the the Konbit Shelter Project via Paypal

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Photo © Jaime Rojo

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