Often affixed to street signs and sometimes just pasted onto public surfaces, Russell King’s images — sometimes amusing and always alluring – have become an integral part of New York City’s visual landscape. This past week, Street Art NYC met and spoke with the artist in downtown Manhattan.
When did you first begin hitting the streets?
When I was 14, I tried doing graffiti, but I had such a despicable handwriting that I soon gave up. I even followed my friend’s advice and tried copying some of the girls’ nice handwritings, but it was hopeless.
We began noticing your images on the streets about two years ago. What inspired you to get your pieces up in the public sphere? We’ve seen them on stickers, paste-ups and as impressive installations.
Matt Siren, whom I’ve known for years, invited me to collaborate with him on a piece for a show in Greenpoint a while back. That was the beginning. Then I began to see the streets as the ideal alternative to galleries. More people get to see my artwork on the streets than they’d ever see it on gallery walls. And it’s a way of getting the message out to galleries, “I don’t need you for exposure.”
Have you any favorite spots?
Anywhere is just fine, but I especially like the blocks between Houston and Delancey on the Lower East Side.
What materials do you like to work with?
Metal and ink are probably my favorites. And I love working with spraypaint for the backgrounds.
At first we used to see social commentary, along with your images. These days it’s mostly portraits of women – quite a range of them. What happened to the words?
I felt that I was preaching to the choir. The folks who liked the street art didn’t need the messages, and the others just didn’t get it. I prefer presenting the public with an alluring image—or series of images like the ones I’m working on now — instead.
Who are these women who keep surfacing on your pieces? And why women?
I started drawing women as an attempt to win back my ex. She was the first image I ever did on a piece. It didn’t work. Now I just draw women in a lame attempt to draw women to me.
We’ve noticed some of your collaborations with Royce Bannon. Have you collaborated with other artists?
I’ve also collaborated on pieces with Matt Siren and Mike Die.
Have you any favorite pieces of your own?
Always the last one that I’ve completed.
Have you ever been arrested or had any confrontations with police?
No. When they stop me, I feign stupidity. Really, why should it be legal to bolt a bike onto a pole, but not a piece or art that others can enjoy?
When did you first become interested in art?
I suppose I was always interested, but I squelched my passion for many years. I will never forget the words of my third grade teacher. “Art is bad,” she said. “Do not become an artist. You can’t make money from art.”
We’re glad you got over that! Have you any formal art training or are you self-taught?
I majored in Art as an undergraduate at Long Island University and then studied Drawing and Sculpture at the NY Academy of Art.
Any favorite artists?
Jacopo Pontormo, the Florentine painter and portraitist, is always an inspiration. And I also love the American illustrator, J. L. Leyendecker.
Have you ever exhibited your artwork in a gallery or private space?
I have a few pieces now at Woodward Gallery’s “Rather Unique” exhibit, curated by Royce Bannon. And I’m preparing for an upcoming exhibit in Reno, Nevada. I’ve also sold artwork through Sotheby’s.
Any other hobbies? Or passions?
Well, I’m an avid Jets fan with season’s ticket. But that’s because I love punishment.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
Same thing I’m doing now – just more of it!
Well, good luck! And we look forward to seeing more of your work here on the streets of NYC.
Photos by Street Art NYC, Tara Murray & RK