Speaking with Christian Cortes
NYC-based painter and illustrator Christian Cortes has been increasingly exploring combinations of graffiti typography with surrealism, abstraction, South American iconography and New York City culture.
Your extraordinary artwork has graced the walls of 5Pointz for years. Where else have you gotten up?
I’ve painted in France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and in Puerto Rico. I’ve also gotten up in Seattle, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. And here in NYC, I’ve recently painted in the Bronx.
Any favorite place?
Probably Puerto Rico
. I had many Puerto Rican friends as a teenager, and I feel a strong connection between NYC and Puerto Rico.
When did you first start getting up in public spaces?
I was in 7th grade when I began paying close attention to what was happening on the 7 train, on rooftops and along the 59th Street Bridge. Soon afterwards I was bombing those surfaces. I was most active on the streets – as Waqs A3crew– between 1990 -1995 piecing. But then I took a ten-year break.
Do you have a formal art education?
I attended the High School of Art and Design and I began fine art studies at three different colleges. But I dropped out of all of them, as I became increasingly involved in my own work.
What kind of work were you doing?
I was doing lots of commercial work such as record covers, backdrops for videos and steady commissions for rap groups. Among my projects was a video for Jeru the Damaja
. This was ideal work for me, as I’ve always felt strongly connected to musicians. When I hit a wall with other artists, it’s like we’re all making music!
What got you back into painting on the streets?
5Pointz – for sure! Also traveling and the Internet. I share much of what I do on YouTube these days. I feel a responsibility towards the younger writers, and I love the interaction with them.
Have you any advice for young artists?
Aspiring artists need to learn the value of discipline. Art doesn’t happen quickly or easily.
Who inspires you?
from France and I’ve developed a new appreciation for Seen
. I’m also inspired by musicians – such as Sadat X of Brand Nubian and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.
Tell us something about your skulls. They surface in so many of your pieces.
Skulls have forever been a theme in all genres of art. When I first started painting skulls – while still in high school — I was suggesting that graffiti is dead. But now I think of skulls as a celebration of life through acknowledging death. And in relation to graffiti, the skulls have come to imply rebirth, as graff has been reborn.
What do you see as the future of graffiti?
I see it developing into more of a grass-roots movement. I see us developing our own events, along with smaller brands, as the huge brands have been dictating what kids see.
How do you feel about the street art vs. graffiti divide?
I don’t see them in conflict with one another. I see them simply as two separate genres. But I have difficulty understanding, for example, the Banksy phenomenon.
More traveling, more black book videos, more tutorial videos and more walls. I’m planning to paint next in Brooklyn and I’m starting something new at 5Pointz. Next month I will be heading down to Miami for Art Basel.
Good luck! ‘sounds great!
Photos of Cortes at 5Pointz by Dani Mozeson; in the Bronx by Lois Stavsky and painting in the Bronx by Lenny Collado