Interviews

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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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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