Interviews

The x spot East Harlem graffiti The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

Topaz – one of the most active members of the hip-hop and 5Pointz communities – began customizing T-shirts when he was in junior high school. His most recent venture is the X-Spot, a unique space at 2 East 116th Street in East Harlem. We recently visited him and had the opportunity to speak to both Topaz and Jay, the manager of Production X.

topaz graffiti The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

How did you guys come up with the idea to open such a space?

We grew up together in Rego Park, Queens, and we’ve been working together for years. We’ve actually had two stores before – one in Paterson, New Jersey and the other in South Carolina. We wanted to do something different from what we’d done in the past.

Jerms graffiti map The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

In what ways is this venture different?

Our emphasis here is on providing services and maintaining a gallery.  It is production-based. Although we sell graffiti art on canvases, select magazines — like the latest issue of Flashbacks — and CD’s, our space here is not primarily a store or shop.

Jerms Topaz and Blone graffiti on canvas The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

What are some of the services that you provide?

We provide clients with all forms of graphic design — customized murals, logos, portraits, canvases, T-shirts and more.

Jay ProductionX with street treat graffiti The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

It sounds – and looks – great! Whom do you see as your principal clientele?

At this point, it is largely the hip-hop community – rappers and entertainers. But, ideally, the general public, especially as graffiti continues to gain respect and recognition as an art form.

Treat Street graffiti on canvas The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

This is such a great location! It’s right off 5th Avenue in East Harlem and down the block from the 2 and 5 subway lines. How did you guys come up with such a great locale?

A lucky set of circumstances – as Jay’s cousin had previously worked at this location.

Poet Pace Jerms Sav Ice graffiti on canvas gallery The X Spot Arrives in East Harlem with Custom Graffiti Art and more by Topaz, Jerms, Treat Street...

The artwork on display here is primarily by you, TopazJerms and Treat Street NY. Are you open to other artists participating in your projects?

Absolutely.  Talented and committed artists can stop by our space or drop us an email at ProductionX@aol.com or LordRoccolypse@aol.com.

Photo credits: 1. and 2. Topaz by City-as-School intern Tyler Dean Flores; 3. Jerms by Lois Stavsky; 4. Jerms, Topaz & Blone by Lois Stavsky; 5. Treat Street with Jay (X-Productions) by Lois Stavsky; 6. Treat Street, as commissioned by Derek Jeter’s nephew, by Lois Stavsky and 7. PoetPaceJermsSav, Ice and more by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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Matthew denton burrows art Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

A wonderfully talented fine artist and illustrator, Matthew Denton Burrows began sharing his distinct vision with us on public spaces in January 2013. We recently had the opportunity to interview Matthew whose first solo exhibit opens tomorrow at 8pm at Greenpoint Gallery.

We first discovered you over at East First Street when you were painting for the Centre-fuge Public Art Project. Can you tell us something about that? How did it come about?

When I was in grad school at SVA, I was the only one in my program who was into street art. I loved the concept of sharing one’s art in a public space. And one of my professors who knew about Centre-fuge suggested I contact the folks running it. And so I applied, and in February 2013, I painted my first public piece on a huge trailer off First Street.

What was that experience like?

It was nerve-wracking! I generally work with pen and ink and colored pencils on paper in my studio. It was a new experience, and strangers were observing me at work over the course of five days. But I was instantly hooked!  The interaction with the community was addictive!

Matthew Denton Burrows art for Centre fuge in NYC Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

We’ve since seen your artwork elsewhere.

Yes, I’ve painted in Bushwick, at the Northside Festival in Williamsburg and in Miami.

Your artworks on paper are quite different from what we’ve seen on the streets. They’re intricately detailed and extraordinarily complex, both visually and conceptually. When did you first begin drawing?

I’ve always been drawing!  When I was in elementary school, I used to get into trouble for drawing so many people with guns!

You work just about full-time as an artist these days. At what point did you decide that you wanted art as a profession? And are you happy with that decision?

At the end of my sophomore year at Lehigh University, I decided to major in art.  And, yes, I’m definitely happy with that decision. I love what I do, and I’ve sold a substantial amount of work.

Matthew denton burrows paints street art miami1 Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

You’ve had a formal art education. Can you tell us something about it? And was it worthwhile?

I received a BFA from Lehigh University, where I had the school’s first-ever solo art show just a year into my degree. Back in New York City, I earned an MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts.  My formal education is worthwhile only because I was first self-taught.

How do your parents feel about what you are doing these days?

They’re very supportive. My mom is an artist and she loves street art!

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

All of it! When I’m not creating my own art, I work as project manager and assistant curator of the Centre-fuge Public Art Project. And I am also the CEO and co-founder of the recently launched company, Dripped on Productions.

matthew denton burrows art Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

Has your aesthetic been influenced by any particular cultures?

A multitude of cultures, particularly marginal ones.

What inspires you these days – both in the studio and on the streets?

I’m always inspired by the energy of my native city, NYC! But current events, my experiences, my travels, and alternative cultures also fuel my creativity. And I’m an avid reader. When I read that Rio had won the bid for the Olympics, and the World Cup, for example, I did extensive research that evolved into a body of artwork.

What are some of the particular issues that concern you?

I’m especially interested in matters related to the environment, social inequality and the impact of technology.

Matthew denton burrows street art Bushwick Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

How, then, do you feel about the increased link between art, particularly street art, and corporate or for-profit enterprises?

I think the link, which seems to be growing stronger, is a positive thing. I think it will help enhance the movement in terms of fans, but there is always a danger when a pure artistic expression — such as street art — binds with the corporate world. The corporate world has the ability to suck the creative purity out of things. But artists need to be paid like anyone else, and if an artist can find a link where they still feel integrity and creative freedom, I would support it.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

I feel that I’m influenced more and more by street art.

Have you ever collaborated with another artist?

No! But I’d really like to.

matthew burrows with camera Speaking with Matthew Denton Burrows

Do you work with a sketch in hand?

No. I have a general idea of what I want to do and my work evolves organically.

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

To expose others to a more interesting world. To remind people that something exists beyond their everyday lives.

What’s ahead?

My first solo exhibit, Are You Aware of The Ongoing Experiment will be held tomorrow, Friday, November 7, at Greenpoint Gallery from 8 -12 pm. I am headed to Art Basel next month. And in January I am participating in a group show in Aspen, Colorado.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with City As School intern Tyler Dean Flores; photos: 1 and 4, courtesy of the artist; 2, Tara Murray; 3, 5, and 6, Lois Stavsky

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Joel Bergner children Syrian Refugee Camp  Joel Bergner on Art and Life in the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp

We first met Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista two years ago when he was painting in Bushwick. We fell in love at once with his intensely vibrant images, reflecting a distinct global aesthetic. Since then, Joel — who refers to himself as a “nomadic artist, educator and advocate for social change” — has led community projects across the globe, including in the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. We recently had the chance to speak to him about his experience there.

Since we last saw you in NYC, you’ve worked with youth throughout the globe, including in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. What took you to this particular setting?

I like to work where I can do the most good.  I’m interested in using public art projects to engage young people in marginalized communities in exploring issues that are important to their lives — and in sharing their messages and visions with others. I had partnered with the organizations aptART and ACTED. And when a program funded by UNICEF offered me the opportunity to work with youngsters in the Za’atari refugee camp, I took it.

Joel Bergner Syrian refugee camp close up reema  Joel Bergner on Art and Life in the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp

Can you tell us something about the circumstances of the folks in this refugee camp?

The 100,000 Syrians in Za’atari were among the millions escaping the government forces of Assad’s regime. When they fled their homes in Syria, they left everything behind. When they arrived in Jordan, the Jordanian government allowed them to take refuge. But it also put many in sprawling camps in remote, harsh deserts where their lives have been on hold ever since. While they are legally prohibited from working or doing business, the informal market is booming. It’s inspiring to witness just how resilient the people are.

Joel Bergner and children syrian refugee camp  Joel Bergner on Art and Life in the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp

What is daily life like inside the camp? 

It is a tense atmosphere. Many of the folks have been traumatized — both emotionally and physically. Almost all have witnessed or experienced violence and the death of loved ones. One 11-year-old boy, for example, rolled back his long sleeve to show us his severely disfigured arm. He told us that government agents had electrocuted him because his father had been a soldier who had switched allegiances to the Free Syrian Army. In Za’atari, people are kept separate from Jordanian society. People are frustrated due to restrictions on their water, food and movement, and there are protests and violent incidents fairly often.

Joel Bergner and children river zaatari mural  Joel Bergner on Art and Life in the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp

How did the youngsters respond to your workshops?

The kids loved it.  They loved mixing colors, learning artistic techniques, painting and simply creating. They painted public murals, their wheelbarrows and they made kites. They also learned about hygiene, water conservation, and conflict resolution, which are important issues in the camp. My co-workers were Syrian refugee educators and artists who led the workshops with me. The goals of this project are: to give voice to refugee children through the arts; to connect them to positive role models, and to engage them in educational and creative activities so that they can play a role in rebuilding their communities. The art features positive messages and uplifting imagery intended to liven up their environment. Also, the project provides opportunities to local artists and educators, as some of them have been hired for similar projects after this one ended.

water conservation  Joel Bergner on Art and Life in the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp

What — would you say — was the greatest challenge facing you?

Maintaining order. The kids, most of whom went to school in Syria, now roam the refugee camp with few rules or structured activities. They are very rough and frequently get into fights.  Yet, at the same time, they are also really sweet and friendly. So while working with them is challenging, it is also very enjoyable!

What were some of the highlights of your residency in Za’atari?

There were many. Among them: forming relationships with the Syrian refugee adult workers; getting to know the kids; learning basic Arabic and bringing color to a place so desperately in need of it.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Dani Reyes Mozeson

All photos courtesy of Joel.

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Known for his socially conscious, often satirical, stencils that have surfaced throughout his native Bogotá and beyond, Praxis has lately been sharing his vision and talents with us here in NYC.

Praxis street art nyc Bogotá Native Praxis Brings His Vision to NYC

What inspires you to get your work out there on public space?

I love to paint anywhere, on any surface – but especially in places where I know that folks will appreciate it.  I also like to paint in neighborhoods where there isn’t much art. Those are the spaces that need it. I like bringing cheer to others!

Have you any messages that you wish to convey in your artwork?

There is always some concept or message behind what I do. I’m especially concerned with animal rights and human injustice.

Are there any specific cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Certainly the culture in which I grew up in Bogotá. I’ve also been influenced by African culture and from what I read. I read a lot!

Praxis on 6 train Bogotá Native Praxis Brings His Vision to NYC

You’ve been in NYC for a few months now. Any particularly striking differences between painting here and back home in Bogotá?

Back home, there is more of an appreciation for artists who paint on the streets.  The people love it.  They bring us drinks and food, and they always make us feel welcome.

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

I don’t feel it. Many of the writers I know work with or alongside street artists.

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

It’s a great opportunity for us to make money some money, although I often don’t like the attitude of some of the folks who run the galleries. And graffiti and street art really do belong on the streets!

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

Both; I enjoy the mix of different styles.

Praxis at welling court Bogotá Native Praxis Brings His Vision to NYC

Is there any one artist with whom you would especially like to collaborate?

C215.

Any thoughts about the role of the Internet in this scene?

It’s useful.

Do you have a formal arts education?

I did study art formally – but just about everything I learned was by painting with other artists.

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done?

Bombing in cities far from home – like Berlin.

Praxis stencil art Grove Alley NYC Bogotá Native Praxis Brings His Vision to NYC

Were you ever arrested?

Twice back home in Bogota. I ended up each time spending over 12 hours with drunks and thieves – but they all liked graffiti.

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Painting in La Candeleria in downtown Bogotá.

What percentage of your day is devoted to your art?

All of it!  When I’m not painting on the streets, I work as an illustrator.

Praxis artworK Bogotá Native Praxis Brings His Vision to NYC

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Of course!

How do you feel when you look back at the work you did a number of years back?

I feel that my skills have improved.

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

To bring happiness to others.

What’s ahead?

I will be showing in STREET MURALS: An Exhibition, curated by Kevin Michael, opening this evening, October 24th 6pm-11pm at Be Electric on 1298 Willoughby Avenue in Bushwick, BK.

What do you see yourself doing in five years from now?

I would just like to paint all day every day!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; images 1 and 5 courtesy of the artist; photo 2 by Lois Stavsky; photos 3 and 4 by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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FreshPaintNYC Bridgeportjpg Fresh Paint NYCs Billy Schon on Graffiti Hunting, Photography and His Newly Released Instagram Archives

Billy Schon, one of NYC’s most passionate and knowledgeable graffiti documentarians, regularly shares his expertise with us on his blog Fresh Paint NYC and on his Instagram.  His book Fresh Paint NYC (2010) is among the best resources out there for those of us who love graffiti — from unsanctioned tags to legal walls. And his recent project — The Instagram Archives – is a treasure of 96 photos shot by I-phone that Billy personally selected from his thousands of Instagram photos. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Billy about his recent project and more.

FreshPaintNYC Mike Giant Fresh Paint NYCs Billy Schon on Graffiti Hunting, Photography and His Newly Released Instagram Archives

When did it all start? When did you first become interested in graffiti?

Back in 1996 — when I was 16 — I spent a lot of time skating on the streets. That’s when and where I began to meet writers.

What about your incredible wealth of information? Had you any sources besides those writers that you, yourself, met and got to know?

I used to pick up graff magazines while visiting Tower Records. Magazines like Stress, On the Go and Skills.

FreshPaintNYC Fresh Paint NYCs Billy Schon on Graffiti Hunting, Photography and His Newly Released Instagram Archives

When did you first begin taking photos of graffiti?

I began after 9/11. At that time I had stopped skating – cold turkey.

Were there any photographers out there who particularly inspired you?

Definitely Jim and Karla Murray. They were actively documenting graffiti at the time and encouraged me to do so.

FreshPaintNYC Instagram Fresh Paint NYCs Billy Schon on Graffiti Hunting, Photography and His Newly Released Instagram Archives

Have you any personal favorites from among your photos?

Many!  Among them are: a Taki 183 tag found in Manhattan; the original Hostos building in the Bronx with its incredible history; Sane hidden under layers of poster advertisements.

You seem to enjoy exploring and uncovering graffiti history.

Yes! I particularly like photographing places that are difficult to access and spaces that no longer exist – where works are hidden.

Fresh Paint NYC Taki183 Fresh Paint NYCs Billy Schon on Graffiti Hunting, Photography and His Newly Released Instagram Archives

You can purchase The Instagram Archives here.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky. Photos from FreshPaintNYC’The Instagram Archives: 1. Bridgeport; 2. Mike Giant; 3. Daily Routine; 4. Era PFE & 5. Taki 183

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Rappin Max Robot cover Eric Orr on Graffiti, Keith Haring, Hip Hop, the South Bronx, Comic Art, the New York Comic Con and more

Legendary for his collaborative artwork with Keith Haring on the NYC subways, Bronx-based artist and designer Eric Orr also produced the first-ever hip-hop comic book.  I recently had the opportunity to find out more about this multi-faceted artist who will be participating tomorrow – Friday – evening at the New York Comic Con panel discussion Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining, presented by Depth of Field.

You were one of the first graff artists to develop a distinct icon. Your “robot head” has since appeared on a wide range of surfaces – from T-shirts to record labels to international fine art exhibits. It has even made its way into Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses and catalogues. Can you tell us something about it?

It was inspired by the space age and the robotics era. I grew up in the age of Star Wars, Space Odyssey and the Robot Dance. And as tagging on walls and traditional graff didn’t do that much for me, my robot actually made it to the streets of the South Bronx where I grew up.

Orr meets Keith Haring NYC subway graffiti character Eric Orr on Graffiti, Keith Haring, Hip Hop, the South Bronx, Comic Art, the New York Comic Con and more

You may well be best-known for your collabs with Keith Haring that surfaced on the 6 Pelham Bay and the 4 and 5 NYC subways lines 30 years ago. You are, in fact, the only artist who ever collaborated with Keith in the subway system. How did you two first meet up?

Keith, it seems, had been eyeing my work for a while.  But we actually met, by chance, one day at a Swatch watch completion. I was wearing my hand-painted robot head shirt when Keith Haring approached me and invited me to collaborate with him on a series of artworks on the black panel spaces of the NYC subway system.

And these became a legendary part of NYC’s subway history! You also played a huge role in the hip-hop scene back in the day, producing work for Afrika Bambaataa and such hip-hop artists as Jazzy Jay, along with the brand logo for the Strong City Record label.  Can you tell us something about that? What exactly was the relationship between graffiti and hip-hop?  And was there one?

Yes! The same energy from the streets of the South Bronx that created the graffiti there in the late 70’s created hip-hop. Writers would go straight from getting up in the streets to hanging out at park jams and clubs. And it was largely the graffiti artists who designed the flyers for the hip-hop events.

Eric Orr hip hop character on comic Eric Orr on Graffiti, Keith Haring, Hip Hop, the South Bronx, Comic Art, the New York Comic Con and more

What about the relationship between hip-hop and comics? You produced the first-ever hip-hop comic and will be speaking about the two cultures at the  tomorrow – Friday.

From the beginning graffiti artists, MC’s and break-dancers adapted elements from the comic book culture. Just about everything — from our names to our fantastical identities to the flyers we designed — had comic elements in it. But only someone from the inside could have produced an authentic hip-hop comic.  My original “Maxwell Robot” strip ran in Rap Masters magazine.

Do you have a formal art education?

I studied art at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League.

Was it worthwhile?

Yes, it inspired me to take my work to a commercial level.

Cosmonaut Label Eric Orr on Graffiti, Keith Haring, Hip Hop, the South Bronx, Comic Art, the New York Comic Con and more

How do you feel about the interplay between graffiti/street art and the commercial world?

I have mixed feelings. It’s great for me and others to get paid to do the things we love. But it’s also easy for artists to be exploited — if their art is used to market a product and they are not getting paid for their artwork or sharing in the company’s profits.

You’ve done workshops with kids in New Zealand – to which you originally traveled to create a design for Serato — and recently here up in the Bronx. Can you tell us something about that?

Having grown up in the South Bronx, I understand just how important it is for kids to have positive experiences that nurture their creativity in productive ways. My most recent venture was with Sienide, working with youth to design a mural on 172nd Street and Southern Boulevard for the Children’s Aid Society’s.

erik Orr robot for childrens aid society Eric Orr on Graffiti, Keith Haring, Hip Hop, the South Bronx, Comic Art, the New York Comic Con and more

What’s ahead?

Cornell University recently approached me about purchasing the original source material for Rappin’ Max Robot for its hip-hop collection of rare books and manuscripts. I am currently working on an a piece for an upcoming train show at Grand Central, scheduled to open on November 22. And tomorrow evening, I will be participating in the New York Comic Con panel discussion Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining.

Congratulations! It all sounds great! 

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of Eric Orr; final photo by Lois Stavsky

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Harrison Love art at Scholastic Scholastic Hosts Art.Write.Now.POP UP! with Harrison Love Creating Live Art in Its SoHo Headquarters Window

Celebrating the launch of the 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Scholastic is hosting a pop-up art studio, titled Art.Write.Now.POP-UP!, in its Scholastic Headquarters Window at 557 Broadway in SoHo. Harrison Love, an award-winning artist, is creating live art daily from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. through Friday. We stopped by yesterday afternoon and had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Harrison.

How did you team up with Scholastic?

In 2004, when I was a senior in high school in Connecticut, some artwork that I had created was submitted to a contest sponsored by Scholastic. I then received an invitation to a Scholastic event where I received five awards.

Harrison Love artwork for Scholastic Scholastic Hosts Art.Write.Now.POP UP! with Harrison Love Creating Live Art in Its SoHo Headquarters Window

What was that like?

It was amazing! It gave me the encouragement I needed to continue to be creative and to establish a career as a visual artist. Scholastic also continues to give me a sense of community. And as so many of us artists tend to be loners, this is something that we need.

What is it like for you — 10 years later — to be painting in such a public space as a window in SoHo on a street as busy as Broadway?

It is very interesting. I like it! It gives me an opportunity to communicate with people without talking!

Harrison Love close up at Scholastic Scholastic Hosts Art.Write.Now.POP UP! with Harrison Love Creating Live Art in Its SoHo Headquarters Window

Have you ever painted in public before?

Not quite like this! But I’ve done live painting in a few cities including San Francisco.

What inspired you to create these particular pieces that you are working on now?

They are prints for an upcoming book that is based on my travels to the Peruvian Amazon.

Harrison Love street art Scholastic Hosts Art.Write.Now.POP UP! with Harrison Love Creating Live Art in Its SoHo Headquarters Window

What’s ahead? 

One of my artworks was recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).  I’m looking forward to getting my art out in many more settings both here and in my travels abroad.

Note: Triangle mirrors, prisms, mylar and glass structures fabricated by Colin Bowring, the Art Science Wizard.

Interview conducted by City-as-School intern Tyler Dean Flores; photos 1 and 3 by Tyler Dean Flores, 2 and 4 courtesy of the artist. Educators and students interested in the 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards can register here.

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Speaking with Zeso

September 22, 2014

zeso graffiti burner NJ Speaking with Zeso

We first encountered Zeso’s spectacularly stylish murals at 5Pointz, where he often painted with other TD4 (The Deadly4Mula) crew members. We’ve since seen this talented French artist’s vibrant visuals in a range of both public and private spaces. I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to him:

When did you first become interested in graffiti?

I first became interested in it when I was about 12 or 13. And that’s when I started tagging. But I didn’t seriously start doing graffiti until I was 21.

What inspired you to become serious about it?

I loved what I was seeing on the streets, and I wanted to be a part of it. I also liked challenging myself to see what I could do. I am still doing that.

zeso graffiti at 5Pointz NYC Speaking with Zeso

Have you any preferred surfaces?

I prefer flat surfaces, but the environment is very important.

These days — do you work only on legal walls?

I think all walls are legal – if you paint fast enough.

Have you ever exhibited your artwork?

Yes, I’ve shown at 5Pointz in Long Island City, and I was part of the TD4 show at Low Brow Artique in Bushwick.

Zeso and meresgraffiti at 5Pointz Speaking with Zeso

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

I appreciate that museums and galleries are recognizing these art forms. There are some among us who can manage to adapt to this new setting.

Any thoughts about the graffiti and street art divide?

They both appear in the same environment  — the streets. While graffiti is focused on typography and painting techniques, street art is more about images and the message.  I don’t see any reason to compare or divide them.

What about corporations? Would you take on a corporate commission?

Like any project, if I feel good about it, I will do it.

Zeso close up 2 Speaking with Zeso

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I prefer to paint alone with headphones on.

Have you painted with any crews?

I’ve painted with OTM, WF, TD4 and NSA in France.

Have you had a formal art education?

No.  I’m self-taught.

zeso graffiti garden city NY Speaking with Zeso

What is your ideal working environment?

Outdoors in the sun.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

I love all mythology. All cultures with strong imagery influence my style. But the main ones are Japanese and Latino.

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

I almost always freestyle, but, on occasion, I have a sketch with me.

Zeso graffiti NYC Speaking with Zeso

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Rarely 100%.

How has your work evolved through the past few years?

It is more spontaneous, and I tend to use more colors. I have, also, begun developing themes and more characters.

How do you feel about the photographers in the scene?

They are important, because they help promote my work. But I’d rather they didn’t photograph my face.

Zeso graffiti truck1 Speaking with Zeso

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Gustav Klimt is my all-time favorite.  Among the current artists – there are too many to name.

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

For me it is to stay real and to create.

What’s ahead?

I plan to go big or go home.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky; photos 1 and 6 courtesy of Zeso; 2, 5 and 7 by Lois Stavsky; 3 (collaboration with Meres One) and 4 by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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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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