Interviews

the London police street art in heroes we trust Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

Conceived and curated by Native Californian Neely ShearerIn Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes features the musings and artworks of 60 international artists on the theme of heroism. After reading the elegantly engaging book — with its foreword by Ron English and preface by Jef Aerosol – I posed a few questions to Neely.

What inspired this book/project?

One of my clients happens to be the CEO of a publishing company, Knock Knock. After purchasing some artwork, she suggested that I do a book based on the concept of my shop, In Heroes We Trust

Why did you choose to focus on street artists?

I had already been working on projects with artists and decided to make my new shop a mash-up of fashion and street art. Street artists have always had my respect, and they quite amuse me. They are a certain type of character  – bold, independent, determined. That’s inspiring to me. The walls of my shop have been painted, stenciled and wheat-pasted by street artist friends. I had asked them to do their own personal heroes, keeping their own original style.

Jef Aerosol street art In Heroes We Trust Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

What inspired the particular title — In Heroes We Trust— of both the shop and the book?

I came up with it some years ago driving solitary along an ocean road listening to the David Bowie song ‘Heroes’. It really speaks to me at core level – the idea of being a Hero. Not in a grand gesture way, but in terms of living life daily as a Hero to oneself, and ultimately to others. Being human isn’t always easy, but if we can do our best to be the best versions of ourselves and share that with others, perhaps we can all get along better, live fuller.

How did you decide which artists to include? 

I had my favorites, of course, and I did a lot of research. I looked for the talent, the message behind the work and the artist’s integrity.

Pichiavo street art in heroes we trust1 Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

Did this project pose any particular challenges to you?   

I had to keep my nose to the wheel to track many of them down, as their contact info wasn’t always easily accessible.

How did the artists respond — as it’s not the usual question posed to them?

Most artists seemed excited about the project right away. In a few cases, an artist had said No at first; however, with more communication between us, we came to understand one another and what this was about. The artists get hit up a lot by various projects and surely it’s not always clear what’s what and who’s who. They need to protect themselves. It was definitely a wonderful learning experience in communication. And I had such a great team at  Knock Knock - my editors Jamie Stern and Erin Conley, who were of great support and positivity behind the scenes. They really trusted me to do my thing, and that meant a lot.

Hula In Heroes We Trust Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

Did any artist responses particularly surprise you?

Yes, one in particular. One artist’s manager wrote back quite a strict reply saying that the artist would never do such a book for the benefit of promoting my shop. I explained that this was a real gift for all of us that the publisher had offered us. Basically — a book showcasing them and their work on another, more personal, level. Sure, the book will shine light on what my shop is doing – which is to promote artists. And I am thrilled about that! I’m similar to them in that I’m a one-person show… getting by on what I love to do. Collaborating and supporting one another is really IT. It’s how we move forward, follow our passions and live what we are here to do.

What was the outcome? Did you successfully convince this particular artist’s manager?

Yes! That artist did join the project and is featured in the book.

In Heroes We Trust Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

How has the response been to the book? All of us here who have seen it love it.

From what I’ve seen firsthand, people think it is a beautiful little book of inspiration. And the artists who have seen it have said they are honored to be included with so many other artists whom they admire. For me, that was surely my hope. I wanted to present the best of the best and for all the artists to feel proud of their work in the company of their peers.

Who are some of your personal heroes?

In high school, I kept a photo of Joan Rivers with Boy George on my locker door. I loved that they both caused such controversy by being outrageous. I know Joan got pretty crazy into the insults later in her career.  However, she opened up so many doors for women in the entertainment industry and beyond; in her generation women held back, but she didn’t.  And Boy George just rocked his style and sexuality like no one. He let freaks be freaks! The two of them were good friends and that was also pretty cool – kind of two people you wouldn’t expect together. I’m interested in these kinds of people who don’t give a f*#k about normality. They break barriers for the rest of us. Today we have Martha Stewart and Snoop together – and I love it. It’s a great example of people connecting beyond age, race, upbringing and past lives.

Images

1. The London Police, All Hail Sir David Bowie. From In Heroes We Trust, published by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

2. Jef Aerosol, The Sitting Kid. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

3. Pichiavo, Trojan Heroes. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

4. HulaKahu. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

Interview by Lois Stavsky 

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 Neely Shearer on <em>In Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes</em>

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Recognized for his folksy outsider aesthetic, Brooklyn native Steven Cogle has shared his talents on public spaces for the past few years at the Welling Court Mural Project.  I recently met up with him.

steve cogle and al ortiz street art welling court Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

When did you first begin drawing?

I was five or six when I started drawing cartoons.

Any inspirations back then?

I was a big fan of Charles Schultz.’s Peanuts comic strip, and I also loved Bugs Bunny.

Steve cogle artwork close up Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

Did your family have any response to your early drawings? Did they encourage you?

Not really! But my classmates did. I was always drawing characters for them.

What about your teachers?

I took an art class when I was a student at George Gershwin Junior High School in East New York.  I couldn’t say, though, that my teacher encouraged me.  But when I discovered Lee J. Ames’ How to Draw books in the library, I used them to teach myself how to draw.

Did you go on to study art in a formal setting?

No. I’m self-taught.

Steve Cogle outsider art Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

How would you describe your particular aesthetic? It’s been referred to as Neo-Expressionism.

My artwork reflects me – tribal Africa crossed with urban blight. Growing up in East New York, I witnessed a lot of tragedy and loss, along with hope and survival. As I layer the painting on the canvas, I am also layering the experiences that I saw.

Have any specific artists influenced you?

Eric Orr became a mentor to me, and explained the business side of art to me.  And I was influenced by Picasso’s versatility, Basquiat’s palette and Clemente’s spirituality. 

steve dogle and art work Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

What about galleries? When did you first show your work in a gallery setting?

In 2004 my work made its way into two Brooklyn spaces and into an exhibit at the Chelsea Center for the Arts in Manhattan. I’ve since exhibited in several galleries in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, and my work is in collections across the globe. My dream is to see my work in a museum setting.

I first discovered your artwork in Astoria, Queens, where you painted with the Welling Court Mural Project. This year, in fact, you collaborated with Al Diaz.  You don’t generally paint in public spaces. What brought you to Welling Court?

I’m fond of Garrison Buxton, the project’s organizer, and I love the make-up of the neighborhood. I’ve painted there for the past four years.

Steve cogle welling court mural art nyc Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

Have you any favorite artists among those active on our streets?

I like the way Chris RWK and Joe Iurato bring me back to my childhood. And there are several Staten-Island based artists I especially like: ErinKelli, John Exit and Kwue Molly.

What’s ahead? 

I’ve been working on a film to be released in 2017. It tells my story, while showcasing a range of creative artists. I plan to move to Italy by the end of this summer, and I wanted to document my life here. And, of course, more painting is ahead.

Steve Cogle art Steven Cogle on His Distinct Outsider Aesthetic, His Influences, Welling Court Mural Project, His Upcoming Documentary Film and More

Why the move? 

It’s time for a change!

Yes, change is good! Good luck with it all! 

Photo credits: 1 Lidia Santana; 3, 4-6 courtesy of the artist; 2 Lois Stavsky; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

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Currently on view at Chelsea’s Porchlight is New York State of Mind, a group show featuring a diverse range of artworks by eight of our all-time favorite artists. While visiting the space earlier this summer, I spoke to its curator, Joshua B. Geyer.

LNY Porchlight <em>New York State of Mind</em> at Porchlight with Lunar New Year, Icy and Sot, Sonni, Lady Aiko and more

This space is lovely, and the artworks are beautifully displayed.  How did you connect to such an ideal space?

My buddy, Michael Shain, is the general manager. We’d first met when we were students at the University of Hartford.  And after Michael saw my exhibit at the  World Trace Gallery, he invited me to curate a show here.

Can you tell us something about the title of the show – New York State of Mind?

Yes. All eight of the artists on exhibit have been active on the streets of NYC and have created artworks on a range of media while living in NYC.  And with the exception of Hellbent, all were born outside of the US. This is why there is such a diversity of styles.

icy and sot hunger stencil art <em>New York State of Mind</em> at Porchlight with Lunar New Year, Icy and Sot, Sonni, Lady Aiko and more

Every one of these artists has exhibited in a traditional gallery setting. How did they respond to your invite to show in an alternative setting such as this one?

They were all open to it. Here they can reach people who may not regularly visit galleries. And on our opening night we sold two pieces.

Yes, a reception was held here earlier this summer. How did that go?

It was great! All of the artists who were in town came, and I was told that it was the venue’s busiest evening.

Sonni rise and grind <em>New York State of Mind</em> at Porchlight with Lunar New Year, Icy and Sot, Sonni, Lady Aiko and more

Did this exhibit present any particular challenges to you?

The biggest challenge was getting the word out about the exhibit. And then, of course, letting people know that the art is actually for sale!

How can folks see the exhibit?

Porchlight is open Monday through Wednesday from 12 pm until 12 am; from 12 pm until 2 am on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturdays from 4pm to 2am. It is located at 271 11th Avenue at the corner of 28th Street. The exhibit continues through the fall.

A New York State of Mind <em>New York State of Mind</em> at Porchlight with Lunar New Year, Icy and Sot, Sonni, Lady Aiko and more

 Images

1. Luna New Year, Ccollanan Pachacamac

2. Sonni, Rise and Grind

3. Icy and Sot, Hunger

Note: Final image with list of artists features Lady Aiko

Photo credits: 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky; 3 Tara Murray; interview by Lois Stavsky

Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 <em>New York State of Mind</em> at Porchlight with Lunar New Year, Icy and Sot, Sonni, Lady Aiko and more

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James Kusel at work graffiti ar Speaking with Graffiti Artist James Kusel at Creedmoor’s Living Museum

While visiting the incredible Living Museum housed at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village earlier this week, I unexpectedly came upon a graffiti artist at work.  He introduced himself as James Kusel, and when I shared my passion for graffiti with him, he spoke about his experiences back in the day and his current mission to give back.

When did you first get up?  

It was during my sophomore year of high school. I was 16 years old.

What inspired you back then?

I was working in a luncheonette in Woodhaven, and I saw the black books of the kids who were also working there. It was love at first sight! And getting up was a great outlet for me. I was a troubled kid – almost always alone – and graffiti gave me something to live for at the time…and a sense of belonging. I was passionate about it.

james kusel name graffiti Speaking with Graffiti Artist James Kusel at Creedmoor’s Living Museum

What were your main spots?

I started hitting the trains immediately. Among the lines that I hit were: the M, J, 7, the E and F and the 2 line. My favorites were the BMT flats. I bombed the outsides of the trains with Krylon and Rust-Oleum, and the insides with Pilots, Unis and Flow Markers. I also hit yards and rooftops. I wrote Aero.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did back then?

Everything I did was risky. Here I was a white kid – piecing at 3 in the morning in the M and J yards while ducking from the cops. It’s not where I should have been. But the riskiest thing I ever did was bombing while I was high on angel dust.

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

My mother hated it. When she couldn’t take any more of me, she shipped me away to High Point Hospital.  I spent 2 ½ years there, and since 1988, I’ve been coming here. I’ve been sober now – free of drugs and alcohol – for 28 years. If I hadn’t been locked up during the height of the crack epidemic, I’d be dead now – like so many of my friends from back in the day.

james kusel its a beautiful life graffii art Speaking with Graffiti Artist James Kusel at Creedmoor’s Living Museum

Have you ever shown your work in galleries or museums – besides the Living Museum?

Yes. I painted a gigantic mural at the Queens Museum in 2002 for its exhibit In the Flow: Artists From the Living Museum. By then I had changed my name to Insane. And I’ve painted and shown murals in alternative spaces when I worked as a DJ.

Have you ever studied art in a formal setting?

No. Why should I? I like to do things my way. I’m too cool for art school!

Did any particular cultures influence you?

Black culture. Most of my friends have been Black. I’ve been raised by that culture.

James Kusel New York graffiti art Speaking with Graffiti Artist James Kusel at Creedmoor’s Living Museum

What’s your favorite place to create art these days?

Right here! I love the Living Museum. The people are wonderful, and I feel as though I am a part of a community of artists. There’s a great sense of camaraderie.

Have you any other particular interests and passions?

Yes! I love music, all music. And I am also a culinary artist and ex-surfer.

Are there any graffiti artists whose works have inspired you?

Yes! Among the artists who’ve inspired me are: Dondi, Zephyr, Duster and Lee.

James Kusel Help graffiti art Speaking with Graffiti Artist James Kusel at Creedmoor’s Living Museum

Any shout-outs?

T-Kid! I identify with him and all that he’s overcome.

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

To keep his talent, the artist must give it away. That is his role. To share it with others.

What’s ahead for you?

I’d like to create more art expressing positive messages and I want to interact more with members of the community.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Bonnie Astor and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky

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gera luz essex street market mural nyc Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

Few Lower East Side spots are as tantalizing as the Essex Street Market. With its rich array of delicacies, it’s been one of our favorite haunts for years. And now with Gera Lozano‘s artwork gracing both its exterior and interior, it’s even more inviting!  I recently met up with Lauren Margolis of the Lower East Side Partnership who gave me a bit of an update.

We love the the Essex Street Market‘s new look! What inspired the makeover?

With the development of the nearby Essex Crossing, the Essex Street Market was experiencing less foot traffic. Many people, in fact, didn’t realize that the Market was still open and functioning. We wanted to boost its visibility.

gera luz abstract mural art nyc Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

You certainly seem to have accomplished that! We street art aficionados were introduced to Gera Lozano‘s aesthetic largely through the murals she has painted with WERC in Brooklyn and Queens.  We are delighted to see her work surface here. How did you decide which artist to commission for this project?

Natalie Raben, who oversaw the 100 GATES Project, was familiar with Gera’s work, and suggested that we bring her abroad for this project. And Gera was quite excited about this project when we approached her.

gera luz exterior essex street market nyc edited 1 Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

What about the design? How was that decided? What considerations went into it?

We were seeking an attractive, eye-catching design that represents the range of vendors at the Essex Street Market.

gera luz interior design essex street market nyc Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

How have folks reacted to this transformation?

They love it. The response has been so positive. People have been commenting on it, posing in front of it and posting images it on Instagram!

gera luz mural essex street Market Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

What’s ahead for the Essex Street Market?

In 2018, it will be moving into the ground floor of Essex Crossing. All of the existing vendors will have a new home, and there will be space for additional vendors. Delancey Street Associates, the developer of Essex Crossing, will cover the cost of the move.

I’m glad we have Gera’s artwork in the meantime! And we look forward to seeing the art that is certain to surface there!

Note: The Essex Street Market is open Monday through Saturday, 8:00am to 7:00pm, Sunday 10:00am to 6:00pm. The Market also houses Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space that is open Tuesday – Sunday from 12-6pm.

Photo credits: 1 & 5 Tara Murray; 2-4 Lois Stavskyinterview with Lauren Margolis conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 Gera Lozano Refashions the Essex Street Market with a Flavorful Feast of Luscious Colors and Abstract Shapes

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Tracy168 graffiti Bushwick Collective NYC Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

With his outstanding sense of color, style and design, Tracy 168 achieved legendary status early on in the most significant art movement of our time. The personification of wild style and the first writer to hit the subways with cartoon characters, the prolific artist wielded tremendous influence. On reviewing Tracy 168‘s work on exhibit back in 1999, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times art critic Holland Cotter had the following to say: “Tracy offers an astounding variety of styles, from 3-D to space-age spiky to Cubistic. He floats out words on cushions of colors, and ties them up in unreadable knots, festooned with tendril-like flourishes.”

When did you first get up?

I first got up with a crayon on a wall in my house when I was four years old. I remember drawing a tortoise and a hare. I lived across from the Bronx Zoo, and I always heard the sounds of animals from my window.

What about the streets? When did you first hit the streets? And the trains? When did you first hit them?

In 1969 when the Mets won the World Series, I first hit the streets. And I tagged my first train the same year. I was 11.

tracy 168 mets yankees graffiti train Bronx NYC Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

Tracy flint photo Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

What inspired you to do so?

I loved the sense of adventure…the adrenalin rush. I envisioned myself as a Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. And I loved seeing my name on the trains.

Had you any favorite spots?

I was all-city, and I loved painting anywhere with people whom I loved. But my favorite spots were New Lots Avenue and Utica Avenue on the IRT line in Brooklyn. Any train I painted there would run right away, and so I didn’t have to hang around too long to see my piece pass by.

tracy168 cartoon on subway train Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

What about crews? Did you get up with any crews?

I founded the Wanted crew. It was one of the largest crews ever, and just about anybody who was anybody of worth was in that crew. It represented Wild Style.

Had you any early role models or inspirations?

My mother, my grandfather, Jack StewartMichael Stewart… Michael Stewart gave his life so that others would live. After his death in 1983 — and the trials and investigations that ensued — the police were somewhat afraid of treating writers so brutally.  We are the true prophets…

Any particular risky ventures stand out?

I was always wild, always doing dangerous things.

tracy168 painting Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

How did you support yourself back in the day? What was your source of income?

In the late 70’s, I began to create all kinds of art-related jobs for myself — painting storefronts, memorial walls, murals… I was the first writer to do that kind of thing. I also worked in an advertising agency. Jack Stewart taught me about copyrights and trademarks. He was a true mentor. He told me real stories — not the ones from Fantasy Island.

Your work has been shown in all kinds of settings across the globe!

Yes!  I’ve been in museums and galleries all over the world. I was always breaking boundaries, Here in NYC my work has been exhibited in dozens of spaces including the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum and NYU.

I remember seeing your work at the Brooklyn Museum back in 2006.

Yeah! When I came by, I made some adjustments to my canvas with a paintbrush. That didn’t go over well with the security guards. They got the curator of the exhibit involved, who insisted that I couldn’t change anything, since it had already been photographed for their catalog.

tracy168 graffiti Bronx NYC Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

Did you have a formal art education?

My education is hands-on.

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

It can be used as a tool — if you know how to read the truth.

tracy sketch Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

What’s your ideal working environment?

Anywhere outdoors. Even when I paint canvases, I like to paint outside.

What inspires you these days?

My main inspiration is to express myself and grow as an artist in a world that is reluctant to see me as one.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Every culture. NYC is a melting pot, and I’m in the center of it painting.

tracy 168 abstract art in black book Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I’m not done until I’m happy. As long as I’m alive, I can improve on it. But it must have meaning and exude positivity. Otherwise, why bother?

A few years back you were reported dead. What was that all about?

If I hadn’t died then, I wouldn’t be alive now. It had to happen.  When I vanished, I saw the world going in the wrong direction. This art form can save it.

How has your work evolved in the last few years?

It’s constantly evolving.  This movement is to art like jazz is to music. It’s a fusion of styles and cultures that knows no boundaries. It is a universal language. And the message of Wild Style is “Be yourself. Find out what your talent is and get good at it.” I love everyone, but I will not surrender the truth and lose my integrity.

Photos: 1, 6-8 Lois Stavsky; 2, 4 & 5 courtesy of the artist; 3 Flint Gennariinterview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: Photos 7 & 8 were captured from Tracy’s current black book; special thanks to Flint for the introduction!

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Netism graffiti tag outdoor  NET on TAGSTRACTION, Tonights Unsanctioned Exhibit, the Art World and more

As NET was getting ready for TAGSTRACTION, tonight’s unsanctioned exhibition on the streets of NYC, I had the opportunity to speak to him and find out a bit about it all.

Just what is TAGSTRACTION?

It is a mix of tagging and abstraction, blurring the lines between graffiti tagging, abstract expressionism and stylized signatures.

And when was NET born?

NET was born in 1987, but I’ve been tagging since I was a child.

Netism in studio Brooklyn NYC  NET on TAGSTRACTION, Tonights Unsanctioned Exhibit, the Art World and more

Were you ever arrested? 

I was arrested about fifty times for graffiti since I was 14.

Who are some of your inspirations?

There are many: Barry McGee aka Twist, Adam Cost, Jon 156, Al Diaz, Easy, Phantom 13 aka P13, Old English, Enx, Phil Frost and multiple Brooklyn artists.

Netism on inside door nyc  NET on TAGSTRACTION, Tonights Unsanctioned Exhibit, the Art World and more

You define TAGSTRACTION as “too hood for the nerds and too weird for the thugs.”  Who is your audience?

Anyone and everyone who’s on the street with eyeballs.

How can folks see tonight’s exhibit?

The location will be announced one hour prior to the 7pm opening. Check out my Instagram for it.

tagstraction  NET on TAGSTRACTION, Tonights Unsanctioned Exhibit, the Art World and more

And why did you choose an unsanctioned outdoor location for an art exhibit?  Is there a message here? You seem to be on a mission of some kind.

My message is that you do not need the approval of the Art World to accomplish your goal.  It is time for us to take it into our own hands.

Yes!

All images courtesy NET; interview by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2  NET on TAGSTRACTION, Tonights Unsanctioned Exhibit, the Art World and more

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Directed by Queens-based filmmaker Raul Buitrago, the recently released GOUCH is a sensitive, gripping portrait of a Brooklyn graffiti bomber living a dual life. After viewing the short, insightful documentary — chosen as a Vimeo Staff Pick – I had the opportunity to speak to Raul.

What drew you to graffiti? You obviously have a deep understanding and appreciation of its culture.

Growing up in Eastern Queens in the 90’s, I was exposed to graffiti early on. Graffiti was part of the punk and skateboard culture that was all around me. And I found myself gravitating to it.

Gouch graffiti bomb nyc Queens Based Filmmaker Raul Buitrago on GOUCH, Graffiti and More

And what about this particular writer? Why did you choose Gouch? And how did you connect with him?

Gouch was one of my personal favorite graffiti writers while growing up.  His style and flow are incredible.  I’d known about Gouch years before I reached out to him.  He was featured in the legendary State Your Name DVD, and it was in that video that I first saw him in action. The footage was raw, gritty and true NY graff to the max. I contacted him via his Instagram in 2014.

Are there any issues regarding graffiti that particularly engage you? Any messages you wish to convey to your viewers?

As a fan and student of graffiti culture, I’m interested in its power to lure seemingly ordinary people. Its sway is amazing – and the way it always seems to call you back. So often, it becomes an obsession. I also find it very interesting that it can be glorified and vilified at the same time.  Graffiti has made its way onto advertisements, clothing and other forms of branding while some of its practitioners end up doing time in Rikers Island.  Graffiti is used for commercial purposes because it has that edge that can’t be found in other artistic realms.  It’s unfortunate that big companies are profiting off something that’s created through the toils and risks of people who have such a deep appreciation, knowledge and ability in something so historically rich.

Gouch sprays graffiti nyc Queens Based Filmmaker Raul Buitrago on GOUCH, Graffiti and More

Yes, that is unfortunate, and it is something I’ve thought about quite a bit.  It is — obviously —  graffiti’s aspect of illegality that gives it that edge…You clearly won Gouch’s trust. I imagine that might have been your greatest challenge. What were some of the other challenges you faced in producing GOUCH?

As it was my first documentary, I was learning how to do it as I was doing it!  I’d previously focused on music videos.  That was my greatest challenge.  Gaining Gouch‘s trust was actually incredibly easy.  Upon first meeting, we spoke about graffiti at length.  Because of my knowledge about the culture and my previous video work, he knew he could trust me. Other challenges I faced included coordinating schedules and making sure that his family was comfortable throughout the filming process.  It was important to me that they be comfortable with the finished project since it’s so personal.

Have you a formal education in filmmaking?

I studied Photography at NYU, but I never studied filmmaking. I’m a self-taught filmmaker.

Gouch in NYC Queens Based Filmmaker Raul Buitrago on GOUCH, Graffiti and More

How long did it take you to produce GOUCH?

When I first met up with Gouch, I thought I would produce a two – three minute video. But it evolved into something far more, and I ended up working on it for one and a half years.

I’m so glad it worked out that way! Gouch – in all his complexity — is certainly worth knowing.  And the music by Jazzsoon that accompanies your film perfectly complements it. I find myself viewing it again and again!

gouch with child Queens Based Filmmaker Raul Buitrago on GOUCH, Graffiti and More

You can view the film in its entirety here.

All images courtesy Raul Buitrago; interview with Raul by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 Queens Based Filmmaker Raul Buitrago on GOUCH, Graffiti and More

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torch fuego in Newark sgk graffiti pit NJ In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

The most riveting graffiti spots are those we almost never discover on our own.  Located in tunnels, abandoned buildings, rooftops and hidden passageways, they tend to host some of the most creative, innovative writing — from tags to pieces — to be found anywhere. We recently had the opportunity to visit such a spot — the SGK Pit — in Newark, New Jersey and speak to Torch Fuego who has established an office there.

Can you tell us something about this spot! What an amazing oasis of creativity and escape from it all! 

It was founded over 25 years ago by several Old School writers, and it quickly became — largely under the direction of SGK crew founder Syko – a key spot for writers to practice and learn from one another.

And what does SGK stand for? 

Style, Gifted, Knowledge…and more!

Lesk and more graffiti at the SGK Pit Newark NJ In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

Who were some of the writers who frequented it? Were they all locals?

Among the NJ writers were: Syko, RimeCarmelo “Snow” SigonaTeck and Lesk – who made me an SGK member.  But folks also came from other places. Bom5 used to come down from the Bronx.

How and when did you discover the SGK Pit? And what was your first impression of it?

Baye took me there when I was about 15. I thought, “Wow!.” I couldn’t imagine that such a place existed.

torch fuego graffiti the SGK pit newark new jersey In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

Do any particular memories stand out?

The few graffiti battles that turned into brawls…lots of parties…and the first time I saw the deer and red foxes that also call this spot home.

And just what is your role here now?

For several years it had been abandoned. But it has recently been revitalized.  And — together with Zew — I basically maintain it. I keep it tidy. I make sure the walls are clean. I introduce new members to old heads, who can pass down knowledge to them. Basically, I want to maintain it as a “practice sanctuary.” And as Syko handed down the torch to me, I feel a huge responsibility.

tara and torch in the graffiti pit newark new jersey In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

That seems like quite a responsibility and quite a bit of work!

Yes! I’ve sacrificed my day job for this.  But it’s worth it!

No doubt!

graffiti on ground sgk graffiti Pit Newark New Jersey In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

Note: You can meet Torch at a special event today — Saturday — from 1-6 pm at Shorty’s. And tonight — starting at 11pm — Clearport Events will host a graffiti after-party at Port-O-Lounge, 286 1st Street in Jersey City, to benefit The Artchitectz, a program that teaches youth creative skills. Check out Torch’s Instagram for additional info.

Photo credits: 1, 3 & 4 Lois Stavsky; 2 & 5 Tara Murray; photo two features work by Lesk, with Erizl to his left; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 In Newark, New Jersey with Torch Fuego at the SGK Graffiti Pit

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Dasic Fernandez and Rubin415 street art Greenpoint NYC Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

We recently had the opportunity to speak with writer and photographer Yoav Litvin about 2Create, his ongoing project and upcoming book on creative collaborations.

We love your recently launched 2Create Facebook Page and Group. Can you tell us something about the concept behind 2Create? What is its mission?

The aim of 2Create is to study and promote teamwork and fellowship as it showcases the art of collaboration. Folks tend to place far more emphasis on competition than on collaboration. But so much more can be accomplished if we work together.

Icy and Sot street art at Welling Court NYC Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

Yes! We tend to glorify individualism, particularly in the West.

And my point is that when two people create, it is greater than two. 1 + 1 is not 2, but something more. The duo is the basic unit of a collective.  And we need to look at forming collectives as a means to solve our societal problems.

Cekis and Cern. streeet art nycjpg Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

One of your initial projects, related to this larger one, is your upcoming book, 2Create: Art Collaborations in New York City.  Can you tell us something about it?

Yes. It will be released by Schiffer Publishing this fall. It showcases the works and processes of nine pairs of NYC graffiti and street artists. Each duo consists of two artists whose unique styles came together to create a larger-than-life work of street art in a NYC neighborhood. The book focuses on the backgrounds, techniques, and collaborative processes of the featured duos.

asvp at work in studio NYC Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

What spurred you to produce this particular book? What was your impetus behind it – in addition to promoting the concept of collaboration?

There were a number of factors. I was interested in expanding the documentation that I began in Outdoor Gallery New York City by getting to know more of my favorite artists – like Cekis and Rubin. But most of all, it was a project that enabled me to further develop myself as an artist by integrating my background in psychology, my passion for progressive politics and my respect and love for graffiti and street art in NYC.

jilly ballistic al diaz Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

What were some of the challenges that you faced in the process?

Identifying artists who could work well together and produce first-rate artwork was the initial challenge. I also had to gain their confidence and access to their relationship so that they would speak freely about the process.  And some of the artists were quite shy – which was an additional challenge. And, then, for some of the works I had to secure walls, materials and more.

Alice Mizrachi and TRAPIF truck art nyc Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

What’s ahead for 2Create?  Where are you going with it?

I want to continue documenting and interviewing duos that work together in a wide range of scenarios: visual arts, dance, music and more!

 2create 500 Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

How can we become engaged with your project? Can we contribute to it?

You can Like the project on Facebook and share your own collabs and connect with others here. You can also follow it on Instagram and on Twitter.

It sounds great! And what a wonderful concept!

Images

1. Dasic Fernandez with Rubin 415

2. Icy and Sot

3. Cekis with Cern

4. ASVP

5. Jilly Ballistic with Al Diaz

6. Alice Mizrachi with Trap IF

7. Logo design by Dan Michman

Photos © Yoav LitvinYoav in conversation with Lois StavskyTara Murray and City-as-School intern Sol Raxlen

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

en play badge 2 Yoav Litvin on <em>2Create</em>: His Ongoing Project and Upcoming Book on Creative Collaborations

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