99% Perspiration, 1% Inspiration
Anyone in New York will tell you that the adage holds true if you are trying to get your dream to happen in this city– a band, a restaurant, a store, a website, a clothing line. It could be a genius idea, but you’re going to have to work for it. Gallerist/curator Andrew Michael Ford and artist Mikal Hameed, both in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg since 1999, have put in plenty of perspiration getting separate projects off the ground over the last decade in NYC. This spring as their shared dream of an art center and gallery in Billyburg gathered momentum, they redoubled their efforts and called every artist and source they knew. Tomorrow, their dream, called “99%”, will open with a community fundraiser auction of prints by those artists. Ford and Hameed are going to do the necessary perspiring to make it happen.
Common Dreams, Rooted In Respect
Together, the two partners (along with a silent 3rd ) have discussed this gallery and community art space for a year and a half. Studio talks about formal goals, bar-stool wisdom about esoteric ones, and serious footwork finally secured this location in a Brooklyn neighborhood considered a Street Art destination for artists and fans since the late 90’s. Formerly an artist enclave, the neighborhood is rapidly changing as rezoning from 2005 allowed gentrification to rapidly bland the bohemian vibe, even as the change was slowed by the speed-bump of a huge recession. Ironically, as the street art in the neighborhood is gradually disappearing, 99%, a gallery that celebrates it, opens it doors.
Mikal (known professionally as M11X), an innovative ingenious creator of art merging furniture and stereos, came from a graff background on the west coast writing as SMUGE with the WCA crew as a youth.
“So I was a writer, then I was an MC, a break dancer, whatever – all 5 elements. I started to gradually change and become well connected with people who are part of the street art scene,” says Mikal as he recounts his path to this place. He recalls how he ran a gallery called Headquarters in San Francisco and Oakland before coming to New York and running MJH’s gallery in Williamsburg.
“This is just part of my whole evolution. It’s been building up inside of me for so long. “
As he speaks about his goals for 99% he talks about the life of an artist. You can tell that he sincerely wants to bring a greater command of the craft to the newer graff and street artists out today – people he refers to often as “The Kids” .
Ford, a gallerist best known for his work as gallery director at both the pivotal Street Art gallery Ad Hoc Gallery in Bushwick and for the Dark Pop and Pop Surrealists at Last Rites Gallery in Chelsea, hopes to merge his affinities for any number of current art movements, most considered “outside” or lo-brow by the established gallery scene.
“Yeah, I think it’s more about ‘the work’, the skill levels, and the imagination. The artist may also put up work in the street or do comic books for a profession or they are a professional illustrator but they have such a desire to do personal work. A lot of galleries will look at them as simply an illustrator and not an artist, and I think those kinds of distinctions are ridiculous. An artist is an artist and they want to express themselves creatively and they want to have a place where they can do that. ”
Street Art, comic books, illustration, pin-up, animation, new media, graffiti, tattoos, folk art, – these terms pepper-spray through the conversation as Andrew, an enthusiastic conveyor of ideas about the current state of art and the gallery scene, barely keeps up with his own ideas. Clearly he hopes to create a gallery where unsung and marginalized art forms are given the respect he thinks they’ve missed. Street Art may be hot at the moment, but labels are not going to be the determining factor for whether 99% Gallery works with an artist or not.
BSA: Are we going to retire the term “Street Art” at any time in the near future?
Andrew: That obviously is a public debate, and obviously that is something that everyone should be involved with as far as what’s going to happen with these other terms like “low brow”, “pop surrealism”, “street art” and similar terms.
Mikal: They asked the same question about graffiti in the late 80s and I don’t think we were ever able to retire it.
BSA: So is there such a thing as “Street Art: Phase 2”?
Mikal: I think we are at Phase 3 or Phase 4 at this point.
An Educational Component
But it’s not just going to be a gallery. The guys want to create an art space that serves and educates, along with showing cutting edge art.
Sketching out their plans for the near future, Andrew explains, “We’re not talking about traditional education here – we’re talking about re-examining how the work is presented to people. I would say first phase is about lectures and talks, and we can work our way into workshops and classes down the road.” The ideas for educational topics run the gamut, but they often touch on the basics that both partners feel have been missed by many of today’s artists.
“Yeah, kids need to learn how to do their own framing, make their own stretchers”, says Mikal, “I wish somebody taught me how to do that.”
Sounding like he is creating a new class on-the-fly, Andrew jumps in, “I do have a traditional art education background, — it was so much conceptual stuff, so much theory. There wasn’t a whole lot of practical stuff. It was amazing that I could have this degree and yet it was after school that I had to learn a lot of stuff on my own. It seems like a simple thing but I have this conversation with people all the time; What is the difference between a Giclée print, a hand silkscreened print, and what is a serigraph?”
A grassroots, populist philosophy enters the conversation again and again, and it becomes evident that the focus will be on the person, their approach, and the talent –rather than the formal educational background or pedigree of an artist.
“Yeah we want to create an equal playing field for a lot of artists,” stresses Mikal.
What playing field are they trying to equal out? Mikal responds, “Sometimes it just comes down to skills and imagination. You may not have the proper education but you have your passion and your motivation about this whole movement – you should be recognized as well. Your sh*t should be up right next to the other stuff because your education could have come from somewhere else beside school.”
So the men have a lot in store, and they have what can only be described as a healthy dose of mutual respect.
Andrew praises Mikal’s talents and explains what he brings to the partnership, “One of the most important things is that Mikal is a very vibrant active artist who is doing shows regularly and has a different relationship with people than me because he is a working artist. It is really important to me to have Mikal because we are really good sounding boards for each other. I might be thinking a little more about the business side of things and how we are going to present it and he is thinking more about the specific piece of art and where the artist is coming from. He could say to me, ‘You may want to consider this because this is how the artist is going to feel’. I think it is a really really good match”
For his part, Mikal sounds solid in his dedication, “The people that work with Andrew just have straight up respect for him and they know that he’s the main guy in this business right now but he just needed his own platform to show everybody what’s up.”
Is this place big enough for all their dreams?
“No, but it’s a start. There is no place like that,” says Mikal.
Andrew agrees, “I’m really grateful for the fact that it is a tremendous starting point and an incredible location. I think it is going to benefit everybody that we work with”.
images of Andrew Michael Ford and Mikaal Hameed © Steven P. Harrington
99% Gallery and Art Center
99 North 10th (between Berry and Wythe), Brooklyn, NY 11211
OPENING RECEPTION: JUNE 11TH, 7-11PM
FUNDRAISER PRINT GROUP SHOW SILENT AUCTION to benefit 99% and the artists.
Participating artists for the print show include:
Bast,Chris Mendoza,Cycle,Dennis McNett,Doze Green,Ellis G,Eric White,Esao Andrews,EZO,Gaia,Ian Kuali’I,Imminent Disaster,Jeremiah Ketner,Jose Parla,Kenji Hirata,Lady Pink,Martha Cooper,Martin Wittfooth,Maya Hayuk,Mel Kadel,Morning Breath,Nathan Lee Pickett,Orlando Reyes,Rage Johnson,Ricky Powell,Rostarr,Ryan Humphrey,Skewville,Swoon,Tara McPherson,Tono Radvany,Voodo Fe,Xiaoqing Ding,Yuri Shimojo
For more information about the auction