Interviews

Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

September 18, 2014

Meres graffiti on canvas Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

It’s been almost a year now since we awoke to the horrific news that our beloved 5Pointz had been whitewashed overnight. What has life been like since for Meres, its founder and director, who had devoted just about every waking hour to this world-renowned aerosol art Mecca?  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to Meres.

We miss 5Pointz so much. I’m eagerly awaiting its rebirth! Is that likely to happen?

Time will tell. It’s an open option.

Meres street art graffiti NYC Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

What do you miss most about it?

I loved having a space where I could bring all the elements of hip-hop together. And I loved having so many opportunities to educate others.

Were there to be a rebirth of 5Pointz, how would you approach it differently?

I would want to work with a landlord who embraces what 5Pointz represents and is committed to collaborating with me in assuring its long-term success and survival.  I would, also, want to establish enduring relationships with art-friendly politicians.

Meres graffiti NYC Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

Is there any specific neighborhood or borough that you would prefer as a potential site for a new venture?

Some place that is accessible to folks from all boroughs. I’m open. Anywhere but Long Island City!

In what ways has your life been different since the demolition of 5Pointz?

I never used to have time for myself.  Lately I’ve had.

Meres street art Bushwick Collective 2 Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

What’s that like?

Very weird! At first I just felt very angry, and I was trying to come to terms with my anger. Now I’m looking forward to painting in my new Brooklyn studio in the months ahead.

Anything specific in mind in terms of your own work?

Yes, I’m interested in recreating the Old New York, the New York I once knew that has disappeared.

Meres painting street scape Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

Although you may not feel all that busy, your last few months certainly seem to have been quite productive! We’ve seen your work both on the streets and in galleries. What have you been up to?

I participated in WALL WORKS: The Art of Graffiti at Great Neck’s Gold Coast Arts Center and in W H I T E W A S H: A Requiem to 5Pointz , curated by Marie Cecile Flageul, at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery and several other exhibits both here and abroad. At the Galerie Rue de l’art in Lyon, France, I exhibited — along with ShiroAuksPoemSee TF Cortes and Just One — in NYC Subway Map – 5Pointz, I’ve also painted in several festivals and events including: Living Walls in Atlanta, Georgia; the Jersey Fresh Jam in Trenton, NJ and this past weekend at the Allentown ArtsFest. I’ve had numerous commissions, including a gym in Long Island  and a new restaurant opening in Brooklyn.

Meres graffiti crown heights NYC Meres One on Life after 5Pointz

It sounds like you’ve been quite busy! What’s ahead?

In addition to preparing work for an upcoming solo show focusing on the NYC in which I grew up, I’m working on involving 5Pointz artists in a number of events — including a festival in West Africa.  On November 3, Marie and I will be the recipients of the Arts & Activism Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gala 2014. And one of my artworks is featured in STRADA VELOCE, an exhibit featuring Italian automotive-inspired art and furniture, opening tonight at the Dorian Grey Gallery in the East Village.

Wow! Good luck with this all!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos 1, 5 and 6 by Lois Stavsky; 2, 3, and 4 by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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With a strong presence on the streets throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, Joseph Meloy’s distinctive aesthetic has also made its way into a range of galleries and alternative spaces.  Opening this evening at Galerie Protégé at 197 Ninth Avenue in Chelsea is The Playground of the Fantastical!, an intriguing selection of Meloy’s recent works on an array of surfaces. I stopped by the exhibit yesterday and also had the opportunity to speak to Joseph.

Joseph Meloy street art Manhattan nyc Joseph Meloy on Street Art, Vandal Expressionism, The Playground of the Fantastical! and more

You have quite a presence on the streets. What inspired you to get your vision up on public spaces?

As a kid, I was obsessed with Cost and Revs.  Their presence on the streets fascinated me. I used to stay up until two in the morning to watch their public access show. Undoubtedly, they were an inspiration.

When did you first get up and where?

When I was a student at the Bronx High School of Science, I was into drawing squirrels – and I began hanging posters of them all over my school. But 2006 is when I started getting wheat pastes up on the streets. They were largely random digital creations at the time.

What about galleries? The Playground of the Fantastical is your second exhibit at Galerie Protégé.  When did you first begin showing in galleries?

My first exhibit was in a pop-up space back in 2011. Since, I’ve shown in quite a few spaces – from alternative ones to more traditional gallery settings. Among these are — in addition to Galerie Protégé – Le Salon d’ Art,  Succulent Studios, and the Fountain Art Fair.

Joseph Meloy abstract Joseph Meloy on Street Art, Vandal Expressionism, The Playground of the Fantastical! and more

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?

It’s a natural and inevitable progression.  What’s happening now is a resurgence of what was going down 30 years ago.

Do you have a formal arts education?

No. I majored in Spanish in college. I’m self-taught.

What inspires you these days?

Introspection. My inspiration is internal.

Joseph Meloy at Galerie Protege Joseph Meloy on Street Art, Vandal Expressionism, The Playground of the Fantastical! and more

Has your aesthetic been influenced by any particular cultures?

No one particular culture. But there are obvious influences from ancient hieroglyphics and palaeographics.

What is your ideal working environment?

Any place with enough room for me to create without having to worry about messing it up.

Are there any particular artists whose aesthetics have inspired or influenced you?

Michael Alan – a friend who is a wonderful artist and inspiration. And I suppose that — like so many others — I’ve been inspired and influenced by Keith Haring and Basquiat.

Joseph Meloy art close up Joseph Meloy on Street Art, Vandal Expressionism, The Playground of the Fantastical! and more

Would you rather work alone or collaborate with other artists?

I like the concept of collaboration, but it’s easier for me to work alone. I’ve successfully collaborated with Michael Alan and Fumero, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with Col, Wallnuts.

We identify you with the term Vandal Expressionism – that you coined. Can you tell us something about that?  When did it originate? What does it mean?

I came up with it in the summer of 2010. It seemed to best represent what I do and who I am. It signifies how I repurposed the visual language of graffiti and street art. And it’s quite universal, as it translates well into other languages.

What about the title of this show – the Playground of the Fantastical?

It was actually coined by the gallery’s director, Robert Dimin, as it reflects both my work and that of the Brazilian artist, Maria Lynch, who is exhibiting alongside me. The title is perfect as it suggests both a childlike innocence and a whimsical sense of adventure.

Meloy street art NYC Joseph Meloy on Street Art, Vandal Expressionism, The Playground of the Fantastical! and more

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

The artist has many roles – to reflect on society, to inspire…to amuse…and to make people think.

I can certainly see that in your work!

Note: The Playground of the Fantastical opens tonight, Thursday, from 6-8pm at 197 Ninth Avenue and 22nd Street and continues through October 3rd. Tomorrow evening Joseph Meloy will be exhibiting along with City Kitty and others in Downtown Denim at the City Life Gallery in Jersey City.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos 1 and 4 by Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2 and 3 by Lois Stavsky and 5 by Tara Murray.

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Speaking with Sean Lugo

September 3, 2014

Based in Weehawken, New Jersey, Sean Lugo has been sharing his distinct vision and talents with us not only on the streets of nearby Jersey City, but here in NYC, as well. I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to him.

sean lugo self portrait Speaking with Sean Lugo

When did you first get up? And where?

It was back in 1998; I was 17. I tagged up around my neighborhood in Union City, NJ.

Had you any preferred surfaces back then?

Nope! Any open space was fine.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

I was living with my sister at the time. She thought I was an idiot!

Sean Lugo artwork Speaking with Sean Lugo

Have you any early graffiti-related memories that stand out?

I remember going to a Mets game with my father and seeing graffiti on the trains and at 5Pointz as we rode by on the 7 line. I was amazed! It was the most graffiti I’d ever seen anywhere. I was about 12 at the time.

What percentage of your day is devoted to art?

Just about all of it! I work as an art handler during the day, and then I spend about five hours each day working on my own art.

Any other interests?

Sports. I love football!

Sean Lugogreenpoint 2 Speaking with Sean Lugo

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

I don’t personally feel the divide. They are both outlets for us to express ourselves.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries

I like it! I’d like to see even more gallery owners open their spaces to us. Folks who run galleries need to be more aware of what’s going on in the streets.

How you feel about the role of the Internet in this scene?

I think it’s beautiful.  It’s connected me to so many others.

Sean Lugo street art NYC Speaking with Sean Lugo

Do you have a formal arts education?

No. I’m self-taught.

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done?

Well, definitely the stupidest was bombing with Werds off the High Line. We climbed up via a truck, and after spending over eight hours up there, we had to jump down to reach the ground.

What inspires you these days?

Concepts. I’m inspired by the masks that people wear as they try to project a false illusion of themselves. Most people are fake. And it is the incongruity between who people appear to be and who they really are that drives my art these days.

sean lugo artist Jersey City Speaking with Sean Lugo

Has your aesthetic been influenced by any particular cultures?

I’m influenced by all cultures – but particularly my own, the Spanish culture.

Do you work with a sketch in your hand, or do you let it flow?

I draw everything out, and I like to choose a spot before I draw.

What is your ideal working environment?

A quiet room with any kind of music in the background.

sean lugo pig street art Speaking with Sean Lugo

Are you generally satisfied with your finished product?

Yes.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s become more dramatic, and I engage with it more seriously.

How’s that?

I look at life differently than I used to. On August 1, 2011, I was in a car accident in Jersey City. The guy who hit me died, and I almost did. As a result of this trauma, I’ve come to understand just how brief and fragile life is.

And can you tell us something about wheat pastes – your preferred medium?

Yes, I love using wheat pastes because they perfectly mirror life’s temporality.

Sean Lugo street art character Speaking with Sean Lugo

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To spur others to become more creative.

And what about how society views the artist? Any thoughts as to how others view you?

Too many folks view art as a business.

Any favorite artists who share their work on the streets?

So many! But to name a few: LNY, Ekundayo, Vinz, NoseGo

What’s ahead?

I want to continue doing art on the streets and interacting more with public space. I’d love to create an entire, interactive scene just using wheatpastes!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos 3, 5 and 6 by Lois Stavsky; others courtesy of Sean Lugo.

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Groundswell public art community NYC  Groundswell Youth Muralists    with Esteban del Valle and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez    Address Mass Incarceration on Brownsville Mural

We were introduced to Esteban del Valle’s remarkable talents a number of years back at 5Pointz. We’ve since seen his deftly crafted artwork in Bushwick, the Lower East Side, Red Hook, Welling Court and recently at the 21st Precinct Art Exhibit.  And in addition to forging his own artwork, Esteban has been sharing his skills and vision with youth this past summer in Brownsville, Brooklyn.  Last week, the mural created by 17 young men in Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute, along with Esteban and his assistant artist, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez, was officially unveiled.  Located at 417 Junius Street on the wall of the Food Bazaar Supermaket, it represents the best possible model for public art. At the mural’s dedication ceremony, I had the opportunity to find out from Esteban a bit more about this particular project, P. I. C. T. U. R. E. S Prison Industrial Complex: Tyranny Undermining Rights, Education and Society.

Esteban del valle public mural NYC  Groundswell Youth Muralists    with Esteban del Valle and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez    Address Mass Incarceration on Brownsville Mural

This mural is quite amazing. When did you begin working on it?

We began on July 2nd.

Can you tell us something about the process?

We spent the first two weeks researching the issue, discussing the justice system and designing our representation of it. The final four weeks were devoted to painting the mural.

Groundswell Public Art  Groundswell Youth Muralists    with Esteban del Valle and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez    Address Mass Incarceration on Brownsville Mural

Why this topic?

It’s of particular relevance to this community. We see this mural as a way to raise awareness and provoke discussion about the subject of the prison industrial complex. Some of the youth involved in this all-male Making His’tory mural team have had first-hand experience with the way the justice system functions.

Esteban del valle public mural  Groundswell Youth Muralists    with Esteban del Valle and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez    Address Mass Incarceration on Brownsville Mural

How have the young muralists responded to this project?

The response has been great. We’ve had many intense discussions and we can all walk away with a sense of accomplishment.

What has this experience been like for you, personally?

It was very exciting. And it was great for all of us to see an idea executed into a reality.

Esteban del valle and Groundswell youth street art mural close up  Groundswell Youth Muralists    with Esteban del Valle and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez    Address Mass Incarceration on Brownsville Mural

Have you any personal message?

With these tools (pen and paint brush in hand), you can change your life and your community.

Elijah Barrington, one of the project’s participants, added the following to our conversation:  We sweated every day to get this wall to look the way we wanted it to. I felt focused and happy, and I learned so much. I’m already looking forward to the next project.

Brief interview and photos by Lois Stavsky

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Speaking with Sienide

August 13, 2014

sienide portraits rooftop Bronx NYC Speaking with Sienide

Bronx-based Sienide aka Sien is one of NYC’s most versatile artists. His delightful compositions — in a range of styles from masterful graffiti writing to soulful portraits — continue to grace public spaces throughout the boroughs. I recently had the opportunity to interview him:

When did you first get up?

I started tagging and bombing on the Grand Concourse in 1981 with my older brother. I was living at 176th street and Morris Ave. I did my first piece in 1985 with my then-bombing partner SEPH. Jean13 was also there, and he helped me shape up my letters. Ironically, my first piece was also a legal commission.

What was your preferred surface back then?

I really wanted to get into the yards. But I couldn’t, so I hit trailers instead. There was a great lot over in Castle Hill, where we painted and made a tree-house to store our supplies.

What inspired you to get up?

Everybody around me was writing.

sienide street art Bronx NYC Speaking with Sienide

Did you paint alone or with crews?

Both. In 1986 IZ the Wiz put me down with TMB after he saw my black book. Since, I’ve painted with the best of the best: OTB, FX, KD, GOD (Bronx) and GOD (Brooklyn), MTAInd’s,  Ex-VandalsXMEN, and TATS CRU

What about these days? Do you paint only legally?

Oh, yes! I’m too old to play around, and I want to get paid for what I do. I also want to paint in peace.

How did your family feel about what you were doing back in the day?

They weren’t happy. When I was arrested for motion tagging with my cousin on the 6 train, my uncle — who was my dad at the time —  told me that no one would ever hire me because I defaced public property.

Sienide paints Biggie Speaking with Sienide

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

At least 85% of it.

What is your main source of income these days?

It’s all art-related. I sell my work, earn commissions for painting murals and I also teach.

Have you any thoughts about the street art and graffiti divide?

I love them both. I have forever been trying to marry them.

sienide paints  Speaking with Sienide

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?

I think it’s cool. I love to see my stuff hanging on walls, and when someone asks me to be in a show, I feel honored.

What about the corporate world? How do you feel about its engagement with graffiti and street art?

I have no problem with it. If the corporate bank writes me a check, I’ll cash it.

Is there anyone in particular you would like to collaborate with?

I would like to collaborate more with Eric Orr.

sien paints graffiti 5Pointz NYC Speaking with Sienide

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in all of this?

The Internet is useful. It works for me.

Do you have a formal art education?

Yes I have a Masters Degree in Illustration from FIT.

Did this degree benefit you?

Yes, I now know my worth.

Sienide paints graffiti. NYC Speaking with Sienide

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Outdoors, Florida-type weather and a generous paint sponsor.

What inspires you these days?

I’m inspired by the life I live and by the students I teach.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced you?

The human culture.

sien b boy on canvas Speaking with Sienide

Do you work with a sketch in hand or just let it flow?

I work with a rough sketch, but I never have colors in it. This prevents me from becoming a slave to my reference, and it allows my creative mojo to experiment freely.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Never.

How has your work evolved through the years?

My work keeps evolving and changing because I allow myself to experiment.  I don’t like being stuck in one particular mode. That bores me.

sien and Kid Lew graffiti Bronx NYC Speaking with Sienide

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To give back… to share a gift that we artists have with others.

How do you feel about the photographers in the scene?

I think they’re helpful, but they should share any profits they make with the artists whose works they photograph.

What’s ahead?

I hope to be still doing what I’m doing while advancing my skills. I hope never to lose my passion.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photos 1, 2 and 8 (collaboration with Kid Lew) by Sienide; 3, 4 and 7 (on canvas) by Lois Stavsky; 5 (collaboration with Eric Orr) and 6 by Lenny Collado

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Born in Argentina and now based in Brooklyn, Lucia Reissig is a young photographer and artist with a deep passion for street art and documenting the streets. I met her in late spring in Bushwick when I was interviewing the Argentinian artist Cabaio, whom she had photographed at work earlier that day.  We met again last week at Exit Room, and I had the opportunity, this time, to find out a bit about her.

lucia reissig cabaio new york Lucia Reissig on Photography, Street Art, Community and more

When did you first become interested in photography?

I was 12 years old and living in Buenos Aires.  I had told my mother’s friend that I was interested in photography, and he gave me a camera. It was a 35 mm Canon.

And then what happened?

I didn’t know what to do with it. And so I took my new Canon to a camera store, and the shop owner installed film for me and set it on “Automatic.” He said, “Just shoot!” So that’s what I did! And I fell in love with the art form at once.

Did you ever study photography on a formal basis?

Early on, I began visiting photographers’ studios, and I started taking classes with them. The classes were informal – with no more than five students in a class.

cabaio street art NYC Lucia Reissig on Photography, Street Art, Community and more

What — would you say — is photography’s appeal to you? What is it about this art form that so engages you?

With a camera in hand, I feel that I am somewhat in control of my environment. And it allows me to create compelling narratives. I am obsessed with paradoxes – and recording them.

What brought you to New York City?

I felt a strong need to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.

How has living here affected you and your passion for photography?

I quickly found myself seeking other Spanish speakers and other immigrants. And the streets became even more important to me. I see public spaces as a reflection of society.

Lucia Reissig Rockaways Lucia Reissig on Photography, Street Art, Community and more

And what about street art?  You’ve documented hundreds of images. When first I met you, you had just finished photographing Cabaio at work over at the Bushwick Collective and you seem to be quite involved over here at Exit Room – one of my favorite spaces. What is the appeal of street art to you?

It serves as both a mirror of society and as a perfect expression of resistance. I love the way the artists take ownership of the streets, and their work on city streets looks amazing. Street art has the power to change a city – visually and psychically. It also makes art accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it. It’s an always-open free museum. And documenting the art I discovered on these streets – along with its people – saved my life!

Have you any favorite artists who work on the streets?

Among my favorite ones are: Cabaio, Iena Cruz, Werc and Ever.

Lucia Reissig Lucia Reissig on Photography, Street Art, Community and more

What’s ahead for you?

Since coming to NYC, I’ve become more aware – than ever – as to the importance of community. There is a lack of community here, and there is a need for more alternative spaces where people can come together to create and to share. I am beginning an informal series of workshops on photography – similar to the ones I attended back in Buenos Aires. They are on a pay- what-you-can basis. I can be contacted at lucia.reissig@gmail.com.  And on a personal level, I am continuing a series I began earlier focusing on immigrant life here in NYC.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky. Photos by Lucia Reissig.

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A multi-media artist who translates energy into mesmerizing artworks, Brooklyn-based Michael Alan is also the founder and director of Living Installations, where human beings are transformed into living art images. Michael Alan’s art has been featured in nine New York solo shows, over 200 group shows and in over 200 living installations. We were delighted to interview this gifted, prolific and passionate artist.

Michael Alan subway art Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

How did you first get into art? What inspired you?

I’ve been into art for as long as I can remember. My first inspirations were the Muppets and baseball. As a kid, I would draw cartoons.

Could you tell us something about the subject of your artwork these days? And the process?

My subjects are often people I observe while sitting here in McCarren Park.  I try to read their energy. I start by drawing a particular person’s body with a pen. And then when I’m back home, I often add watercolor or markers as I interpret the energy that I’ve felt.

What about your Living Installations? What was the initial idea behind them?

I wanted to create a space where people could come together in a positive way.  I wanted people to feel that they could accomplish whatever they set out to do. And I also wanted them to know that they don’t have to follow any pre-determined path.

Michael Alan public art installation Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

How has your family responded to your passions?

They’re proud of me. My mom actually participated in some of my performances.

What percentage of your waking hours is devoted to your art these days?

Including music, about 95%.

Can you tell us something about the role of music in your life?

When I’m working at home, I listen to music. And I always have music playing during my living installations. Music and art become one.

Michael Alan mixed media art Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

Have you collaborated with any other visual artists?

I’ve collaborated with my cousin Moody and with a few fine artists including Alex Katz.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in the art scene?

If it weren’t for the Internet, I don’t know if I’d have a career.

Do you have a formal arts education? And was it worthwhile?

I have a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. As an art student, I received lots of positive feedback and, yes, that did make a difference.

Micahel Alan Mixed media art Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? And Why?

After damaging my spine at the Dumbo Arts Center, I continued moving and dancing.  Why? Because I was ignorant.  Also – setting my hat on fire while performing in Spain was quite risky.

Were you ever arrested?

A few times. Once the cops assumed that I was going to use a mask I had made for an installation to rob someone. And assorted materials – like photocopies of living installation projects – that the cops have found in my car have also led to arrests.

What inspires you these days?

Different people I meet and the energy they give off. Things that happen and how they make me feel – like my grief over the death of my dear friend DG.

Michael alan fine art Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?

I’ve been influenced by indigenous cultures, punk, new wave, African art, growing up in NYC and everything I’ve seen at the Museum of Natural History.

Do you work with a sketch in your hand or do you let it flow?

I work from line drawings.

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

Making art — in general — satisfies me. And if a drawing doesn’t work for me, I will somehow reuse it.

Michael Alan Mixed media art Speaking with Multi Media Artist Michael Alan

How has your work evolved in the past few years? 

It is more mature, smoother and freer. I’m always learning in art, just as I’m learning in life. Art is life.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To touch as many people as possible and to set people free.

What’s ahead?

I can’t even think about it. If I could, I’d be scared. But I know that I will keep going. More art and more struggle. And currently I’m at work on “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” a Living Installation for children.

Have you any message to others?

Whatever you do, push yourself and work hard at it. Working hard and creating art have kept me sane.

Interview conducted by City-as-School intern Travis Hicks with Lois Stavsky; images courtesy of the artist.

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Speaking with Tone MST

July 18, 2014

Characterized by bold strokes and a vigorous flow, Tone MST‘s graffiti surfaces mostly in Brooklyn.  Lenny Collado aka BK Lenny had the opportunity to interview him earlier this year:

Tone graffiti mural NYC Speaking with Tone MST

When and where did you start getting up?

I was in the sixth grade back in 1992. I was making my own markers at the time and practicing on 200-page packs of paper that I used to rack from the corner store. I had to make my own markers because I was dead broke.

How did you make your markers?

I took men’s Brute deodorants, popped off the balls and emptied the containers. I then filled the containers with ink.  I cut up my school’s black board erasers to serve as felt tips.  It was markers until ’94. That’s when I started street and train bombing.

Did you have any preferred surfaces back then?

I liked the train ads in the subway stations, because I would write on them smoothly with my home-made markers.

Tone graffiti art Speaking with Tone MST

Any major influence at the time?

My major influence at the time was Ski MST. He was rolling with writers and he got me acquainted. I was a loner for the most part. He got me to rack paint, and we would vibe off each other for style. We would rack cans on Steinway Street and go to the freight yards to empty out the cans.

Any particularly memorable events?

There was nine of us — Ski MST, Dope, Neke, Cloke, Vare, Pane and a couple of others. We all set out to do a lay-up in the tunnel between 36th street and Queens Plaza and video tape it. One of us hid the paint and a video camera in a sandbox where the tunnel workers kept their supplies. We scoped out the station for a while before setting out on the mission.

How did you guys get into the tunnel?

Some of us through the hatches on the streets above and some through the station.  We started catching wreck on the two trains that had parked between the stations. As everybody’s painting them, Pane, Cloke and me went to the other car and started on some bubble letters. Just as we started, one of the train’s lights turned on and began to move into the station. I saw too that the police had made their way down towards us.

Tone graffiti with character NYC Speaking with Tone MST

So what did you do?

We bounced. When I got out of that station, I must have run about a mile before my lungs gave in from the burn. It was a thrill like no other, and I enjoyed it. I loved bombin’!

Were you in any crews at the time?

I only push MST.

What was the attitude of your parents and your friends towards what you were doing?

My mother hated it, so I lied to her. I built a compartment in my closet to keep supplies. She would find my cans and throw them out. My friends would always point out how dirty I was.

Tone tag1 Speaking with Tone MST

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

It’s a thin line. Both project the same language and image, but they take different avenues. It’s like a GPS. All get to the same point, but through different avenues. The concept of graffiti needs to be explained to people who don’t understand it. Street art is a different entity. I like when the two are combined, like what Shepard Fairy and Cope do when they collaborate. I will say that street art is an extension of graffiti. It originated from graff.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?

I think it’s dope! It’s progress — a positive thing. My gallery, though, is the streets. But if a gallery asks, “Hey, Tone, can you put a show together?” I’m flattered and take it as a step forward.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

Both! When I started bombing early on, I would do so alone with my Walkman on. I would listen to WKCR with Bobbito Garcia and Stretch and Tag. At one point, I was a vandal. They called me a vandal. But I didn’t get up as much as I wanted to. I didn’t do it to get status. I didn’t go all city, but I love what I did. It was who I was.

tonegraffiti Brooklyn NYC Speaking with Tone MST

Did you have a formal arts education?

I never pursued art school.

What is the source of your inspiration?

I’m inspired by Hip-Hop – rhyming and making beats.

Any particular artists who inspired you?

My influences are Hush, Gaze, Sub 5 and Emit of Sports Crew, MQ and Frantic and Free5. Giz from Queens also made impact on me. And there was Teck BS, Smith & Pink, Ve, Slash and Web13.

ToneMST graffiti Speaking with Tone MST

Do you work with a sketch in hand or do you do free hand?

It’s fifty, fifty. It depends on the situation.

What are your thoughts on the Internet in all of this?

The Internet is a tool, a means to communicate. Someone in Australia can get a look at what you’re doing here in NYC. But I think that graffiti has also been exploited because of it. It wasn’t meant for the masses, and the Internet made it accessible to everyone.

How has your work evolved throughout the years?

I’ve improved and honed my techniques. My pieces have gotten better.

TONE MST graffiti Greenpoint NYC Speaking with Tone MST

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

I’ll say there’s always space for improvement.

Interview conducted by Lenny Collado and edited by Lois Stavsky. Photos 1 (collab w/KA), 3, and 4 (combo) courtesy of the artist;  2 (collab w/UR New York), 5 & 6 by Lois Stavsky; 7  (collab w/Shiro and Yes One) by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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Alice Pasquini New Journey close up street art  Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

In my meanderings around Jersey City this past year, I came upon a number of first-rate murals by a wonderful array of artists signed Savage Habbitalong with the artists’ signatures. Just who or what is Savage Habbit? I found out this weekend as Inez, its founder, gave me a tour of Savage Habbit’s walls and answered some questions about its mission:

Mr Mustart street art Jersey City Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

Just what is Savage Habbit?

It is foremost a blog that was founded in 2011.  It is dedicated to showcasing the best art that has made its way onto the streets across the globe.  Among Savage Habbit’s missions today is to bring more street art to our local community.

What motivated you to launch Savage Habbit?

I wanted a blog that represented the art that I love, and the only way I could do that was to start my own.

Li Hill paints street art Jersey City Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

And what about the murals?

I’m a New Jersey girl. I was born and raised here. I wanted to walk around my neighborhood and see art in my community. And I wanted to give back to my state. These murals benefit everyone!

When did your first mural surface?

Last year — in 2013.

Ekundayo street art nyc Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

What has been your greatest challenge?

Finding walls.

You seem to have facilitated quite a few murals. How do you find the artists?

Some contact me, and others I contact when I see that they are in town.

sean lugo street art jersey city Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

What’s ahead?

There are five confirmed walls.  Savage Habbit’s next wall will feature Nanook and Mata Ruda.

And what about the name “Savage Habbit?” What does it represent?

The name is derived from a Wu Tang quote:  Ricochet Rabbit had a habit, he was a savage. We are savagely passionate about our habit, art!

case maclaim street art mural jersey city Back to Jersey City with Alice Pasquini, Mr. Mustart, Li Hill, Ekundayo, Sean Lugo, and Case MaClaim

That sounds right!  We look forward to seeing more art on the streets of Jersey City.

Brief interview and photos by Lois Stavsky

1. Alice Pasquini, close-up

2. Mr. Mustart

3. Li-Hill at work yesterday

4. Ekundayo

5. Sean Lugo

6. Case, MA`CLAIM, close-up

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Chris RWK Woodward Gallery Project Space1 Speaking with Chris RWK

Founder of the much-loved Robots Will Kill, Staten Island-based artist Chris Rwk Chillemi’s creates delightful character-driven artworks that find a home on the streets, in galleries and — most recently — on WAT-AAH!‘s premium bottled drinking water.  I was delighted to interview him.

When did it all begin? When did you first get into graffiti?

It was back in 1988 in Huguenot, Staten Island. I was 11. My brother and his friends started doing graffiti back then, and I would tag along and photograph it. About two years later, I began doodling on public surfaces.

We associate you with your hugely lovable, iconic characters. What was the inspiration behind them?

Letters didn’t hold my attention for all that long, as I’d always been so interested in cartoons and comics. I loved Gary Larson, Jim Davis and Disney stuff. Their styles were all different, but they all had really strong imagery and messages. My first illegal piece, in fact, was the wizard from Hagar the Horrible with a spray can doing a throw up! I can still remember the colors!

Chris RWK Speaking with Chris RWK

What about Robots Will Kill? Can you tell us something about its origin?

Back in 1999, while on a fellowship in Vermont, I came upon a friend, Chris Rini, painting a giant cellphone holding a man! That’s when I came up with the notion that “robots will kill.”  If you do something too much and too often, it becomes robotic, and you lose your love for it.

Robots Will Kill – that began with you – has evolved into an informal global collective. Who are some of its members?

At first it was just me. Then Kevin and a bit later Veng joined. Since, we’ve collaborated with such artists as Peeta, ECB, Flying Fortress, JesseR. OverUnder and Mike Die.

Would you rather paint alone? Or do you prefer to collaborate with others?

I love both. In my studio, I’d rather work alone. But I love painting with others outdoors as it pushes me to another level.

Any thoughts about illegal vs. legal graffiti?

Ideally — what begins illegally evolves into something legal.

Chris RWK Veng RWK street art NYC Speaking with Chris RWK

You’ve exhibited your work in dozens of galleries. How do you feel about showing in formal settings?

It’s great. There are lots of folks who would never notice my work on the streets.  But when it’s in a gallery, they will have to pay attention to it.

What about the graffiti/street art divide? You seem to successfully straddle both.

Street artists need to respect graffiti writers. They don’t always do. They need to learn the history.

What about the corporate world? How do you feel about sharing your talents with private comporations?

Things aren’t black and white anymore. It’s not a matter of us vs. them. I don’t mind working for a corporation, so long as it’s an ethical one. The corporate world makes money. Why shouldn’t we artists benefit from it?

Chris RWK and Veng RWK street art Bushwick NYC Speaking with Chris RWK

What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done?

I play it safe. I’m not a risk-taker. When I was in high school, my tag was ND – No Drugs…Never Drunk…Never Dull! I’ve been straight edge my whole life.

How does your family feel about what you were doing?

My family has always been supportive. When I was a kid, they built a wall in my backyard, so I could practice!

You have a 9-5 day job here in Manhattan and you live in Staten Island. How do you manage to find time to do so much great art?

My weekday schedule is tough.  I have to wake up at 6am to leave my house at 7, and I’m often not back home until 7 in the evening. I then have to help my son with his homework. I generally don’t begin working on my art until 10pm, and I don’t get to sleep until 2-3am.

Chris RWK and Veng and Gilf street art WilliamsburgNYC Speaking with Chris RWK

Wow! That is a rough schedule. When you work, do you sketch first or do you just let it flow?

About 70% of the time, I work from a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Yes – but my satisfaction is increased when I get a positive response to it from others.

Have you any ideal work environment?

I need background noise, so that I don’t overly think about what I’m doing!

Chris RWK stickers character on canvas Speaking with Chris RWK

Do you have a formal art education?

I earned my Associate degree at FIT and a BFA in painting from Hunter College.

Do you feel that you benefited from it?

Definitely, as so many elements – from choice of colors to spatial design — are involved in creating a first-rate piece.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

The comic book culture, the sci-fi one and the graffiti culture. I’ve also been inspired by hot-rods and the urban culture, in general.

Chris RWK wat aah Speaking with Chris RWK

What is the source of your inspiration these days?

I’d say my family, my friends and my personal experiences.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s become more personal. My use of layers and colors has become more important to me. And when I paint, I tend to take my audience into consideration more than I used to.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in all this?

I think it’s amazing that something I do here can be seen minutes later by someone in Australia. But I also think we’ve been oversaturated with blogs and Instagram.

Chris RWK street art character NYC Speaking with Chris RWK

Have you any feelings about the photographers/bloggers in the scene?

On the positive side, they help get artists known. But I don’t think much thought goes into much of what makes its way out there.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

He’s a muse for the general public. Without art, there’d be a lot less for folks to see, feel, think about and talk about.

What do you see as the future of street art and graffiti?

There’s too much going on right now, and too many people trying to get into the game. And so it is likely to fizzle out. But those who are true will survive its fallout. And what will emerge will be even stronger.

What about you? What’s ahead for you?

I will continue to do what I do. Create, paint and get my stickers out there!

Note: Chris will be a featured artist of WAT-AAH!’s upcoming exhibit in Chicago on July 18-20 as part of WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art campaign, which connects today’s leading street artists with the brand’s mission to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy hydration among kids and teens. Joining the likes of Kenny Scharf, Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Haze and Chicago-based POSE, Chris has created a one-of-a kind WAT-AAH! label design featuring PHA’s “Drink Up” drop, as well as an original piece of art (shown above) that becomes featured in the brand’s traveling art campaign, which has been touring the country since its launch in NYC this past February. For more information, visit  wat-aahstreets.com  and follow @wataahstreets.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos: 1. and 8. Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2. Original artwork created for WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art Campaign. Chris RWK.  I Tried to Stop.  36″x48″. Mixed media. Image courtesy WAT-AAH! 3. With Veng, Tara Murray; 4. – 6. Lois Stavsky  7. Limited edition bottle design for WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art campaign. Image courtesy WAT-AAH! 

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