Interviews

Dain collage with clock DAIN on His Women, Beauty and His New Exhibit Opening Tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, at Dumbos Folioleaf

Whether seen on gritty city streets or in formal gallery settings, DAIN’s masterfully conceived artworks always intrigue. And those in his upcoming exhibit at Dumbo’s Folioleaf are among his most dazzling to date. While previewing a few of his new collaged portraits at the Folioleaf gallery space at 111 Front Street, we had the chance to ask him a few questions:

What is it about these particular women’s faces that you find so alluring?

I’m drawn to their eyes. The way they stare at us. And like the women in the old Hollywood movies that I love, these women are naturally beautiful.

Dain collage DAIN on His Women, Beauty and His New Exhibit Opening Tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, at Dumbos Folioleaf

We are wondering why so many of these women’s faces are attached to men’s bodies. What is the significance of this? Is there a message here?

There is beauty beyond the physical. Everything doesn’t have to hang out. Women need to leave something to the imagination.

dain found object collage DAIN on His Women, Beauty and His New Exhibit Opening Tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, at Dumbos Folioleaf

This is quite an impressive body of work. Your distinct aesthetic continues to evolve. Have you any thoughts on this?

I hope it’s getting better. I actually think this is my best work so far.  I’m just starting to scratch the surface.

Dain collage with tags DAIN on His Women, Beauty and His New Exhibit Opening Tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, at Dumbos Folioleaf

How long did it take you to prepare for this exhibit?

I began working on it in my head many months ago. The final pieces came together in the last few weeks.

Dain art collage DAIN on His Women, Beauty and His New Exhibit Opening Tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, at Dumbos Folioleaf

 Are you satisfied with the results?

So far, yes! If I am not satisfied with a piece, you will not see it in this show.

The public opening of DAIN’s new work will take place tomorrow, Thursday, April 3, 6-9pm, at Folioleaf, 111 Front Street, #226,  in Dumbo. The exhibit continues through Saturday, May 17.

Questions for DAIN by City-as-School intern Anna Louka; photos of DAIN’s works by Lois Stavsky and City-as-School intern Dea Sumrall.

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Rebel Natalia Rak NYC Art Battles Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

We discovered the wonderfully talented Natalia Rak a number of months back at NYC Art Battles at 5 Bryant Park, where she was painting alongside Chor Boogie, Max Bode and Don Rimx. We instantly fell in love with her vibrant, realistic aesthetic.

When and where did you first get up in a public space?

The first time was four years ago in the small city of Turek, Poland. I only had a few cans of paint, and the walls were small. Some artists start with letters, and some begin with characters. I started with female faces. I just painted one-sided faces. I struggled with the lines!

What inspired you to start painting on walls?

My boyfriend, Bezt, inspired me. I was watching him while he was working with his Etam group in an abandoned place, and he persuaded me to try. It was a frustrating lesson in humility!

The Legend of Giants Natalia Rak street art Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My parents do worry when I paint way up high, but they are supportive. They display all my canvases on their walls, even when they don’t understand them. They are proud of my successes, but they are also concerned about my living “the life of an artist.” Their image of the artist is of this struggling person who spends all his money on art supplies, and then when he’s not painting, drinks or uses drugs. And they have a point! There is little money for art in Poland.

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

Coming from a small town in Poland, I didn’t grow up with graffiti. And I didn’t think much of it. But now that I’m painting on walls, I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s quite different, though, from street art.  Street artists get invited to paint legal murals, while graffiti artists generally work independently. And with graffiti, quantity is as important – if not more so – than quality. Street art is more acceptable.

Natalia Rak street art let there be light  Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

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

It’s great. Street art is on the streets, of course, but the artists can also bring their styles and energy to canvases and other media to make their artwork available to people who would love to own it. Galleries are also a way for artists to gain recognition. In Poland there’s hardly any art market. It’s difficult to sell anything here. I’ve had more success selling art outside of my country.

Do you prefer working alone or with others?

I prefer working alone with music. Painting collaboratively seems difficult to me, but I want to have that experience.

Pathfinder Natalia Rak urban art Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

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

The Internet invites me to see other cultures. I particularly like Asian cultures. I also enjoy seeing the impact my art has on others – people I don’t even know. I recently saw a photo of a man in Mexico with one of my images tattooed onto his arm. That made me feel so good! Fans push me to create. It’s good to hear opinions about my art too. I have, or try to have, conversations with other artists online.

Are there any particular cultures that influence your aesthetics?

Not a culture but period of art. When I paint, I think of the Secesja, or the Secession period, in Barcelona. The buildings look like plants or nature. When I first started studying the history of art, I was inspired by Jacek Malczewski. Later when I became familiar with Fauvism, I became interested in the combination of colors. Recently, I’ve become interested in Norman Rockwell’s paintings, the way he showed emotion in different situational scenes.

Natalia Rak street art Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

Do you have a formal arts education?

Yes, I have a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Lodz. I also studied illustration, comic art, package design and silk screening.

Have you any other any other passions or interests?

Playing computer games. I like playing Battlefield 3. I plan to get Battlefield 4 and League of Legends. My black guitar is still waiting for me in my room. I also like cooking in my free time for friends and trying new dishes.

Do you work with a sketch in your hand?

I work with photos using Photoshop. I enjoy realistic works. I have many ideas in my head. And computers make it easier for me to change colors and composition. Normally, I don’t have a sketch.

NATALIA RAK street art Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

Hard to say.  When I look at a finished piece, I often find some detail that — I feel — can be changed. But I might be out of energy or already thinking about my next wall. And I always think about how I can do better! I can say, though, that I’m more satisfied now than I was a few years ago. I can see my progress.

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

I really like it when a photographer focuses on the work. I don’t like having my face shown in photographs. And I think it’s great that the images are out there and that so many young people are getting into this modern art movement.

What’s ahead?

I’ve been very busy these past few months working on my first solo exhibit, Through the Looking Glass. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It opens Friday, April 11, at Pretty Portal in Dusseldorf, Germany. I finished six new canvases and I’ve prepared three prints. I hope everyone can find something that they like. I am also planning to paint three walls in the months ahead – but we shall see!

Natalia Rak Through the Looking Glass Speaking to Polands Natalia Rak in New York City

Good luck! It sounds great and we hope you make it back to New York City soon.

Interview conducted by Lenny Collado and edited by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of the artist. 

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Belin and King Bee street art in Bronx Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

We’ve been huge fans of the Spanish artist Belin since we came upon his collaborative venture with Kingbee up in the Bronx awhile back. More recently, Belin was back in NYC painting in midtown Manhattan. That’s where we caught up with him.

When and where did you start getting up?

I started bombing the southern part of Linares, a small town in Andalusia, Spain in 1995. I was 15 at the time. I first went by the name Slam.

Who or what inspired you at the time?

I was always drawing. But then I discovered a black and white magazine produced at the time called Explicit Graff. It changed my whole mentality. I just wanted to get up in my city!

Belin street art in NYC Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

What was your first graffiti crew?

My first crew was LR—Linares Rompe. There were about three or four of us.

Do you have any particularly memorable graffiti memories from back then?

Yes. I remember getting a call from Lechu, a graffiti writer from Ubeda, Spain. Someone had told him I did graffiti. We talked, and he then rode on his motorcycle to Linares to paint with me. That was the first of many trips that he took! There was also Frejo, who tagged “Rasta.” He was from my same hood. He introduced me to rap and basketball. That was around 1997.

Belin street art Luisiana Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

What did your family and friends think about what you were doing?

My family thought nothing of it. And the preppie kids I hung out with in my neighborhood took no interest in what I was doing. My friend was Frejo.

How much time of your time is devoted to art these days?

I work on my art all the time. If I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it.

Belin Mücke32 street art Germany Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

What are your thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

Graffiti is freehand spray-painted letters. It is a form of street art, but street art is not graffiti. Street artists, like Banksy, often have a political or social agenda. Graffiti is primarily one’s name.

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

It works for me. It’s art either way. The artist needs to eat, too. Gallerists make money for the artists, as well as for themselves. They know how to talk and sell art. And it’s a lot about knowing how to talk. Unfortunately there are weak artists who sell because someone knows how to talk them up, while others, who are quite good, can’t even get into galleries.

Belin street art mural close up NYC Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

What inspires you these days?

The urban environment inspires me. New York inspires me.  There is a lot of energy here. And people are always awake.

How do you feel about collaborations?

It depends. I like to work with other writers on murals. But when I’m in the studio, I like to work alone.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

No. Everything influences me. I watch documentaries.  I listen to music. I read the news. I observe people on the streets. It all comes together in my work. My daily life is my inspiration.

Belin street art Boton Rouge Louisiana EEUU Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

Do you have a formal arts education?

No. I failed school. I liked painting and hanging with my friends more. And I was quite athletic. I played a lot of basketball and even got my black belt in karate. I think that’s why I enjoy graffiti so much. It’s about physical movement and creation and beauty. It’s like dancing.

Do you work with a sketch in hand?

I never used to. My work was mostly freestyle. But these days, I like to plan my work in advance.

Belin street art Mexico Speaking with Spains Belin in NYC

And you generally satisfied with your work?

Yes!

Have you any thoughts on the role of the Internet in all this?

I feel good about it. It helps my art reach people and it’s a great resource.

How do you feel about the bloggers and photographers of this whole movement?

They are important. They help the artists get places.

Interview conducted by Lenny Collado and edited by Lois Stavsky. Photo credits 1.  Lois Stavsky;  2. & 5.  Dani Reyes Mozeson; all others courtesy of the artist

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BackgroundNoise1 Roycer  Bomarr Presents the Background Noise Podcast Series with Roycer, RAE, Enzo & Nio, OverUnder, Tony Depew, Futura and more

Do you ever wonder what music your favorite street artists listen to?   Well, Bomarr has the answer!  And in addition to presenting first-rate podcasts that share this music with us, the Bomarr Blog also features brief interviews with these artists and selections from their artworks. We love what Matt is doing and recently posed some questions to him:

Tell us something about yourself – your background.  

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire.  When I was 21, I moved to Oakland to put out records and tour with my friends on a label called Anticon.  We were a very art-focused group of creative and inspiring people. After spending 10 years in the Bay Area, I moved with my now-wife back to the East Coast and have been in NYC ever since.

What spurred this project?

The Background Noise project grew out of my interest in the New York art world. Initially, it was going to solely focus on NYC-based street artists. The NYC art scene in particular has a completely different energy and feel than the Bay Area one, and I sensed it as soon as I landed here. Don’t get me wrong!  There’s some great art out there in galleries and on the streets, but again, just a completely different feel.  I had seen a few ASVP wheatpastes in San Francisco before I moved, but when I got here, I saw them all over the place, and they seemed to make more sense here. Soon after, I discovered Jim Joe and started, with two friends, a Jim Joe-dedicated site called Cult of Joe, which is now just an Instagram account that I maintain (@cultofjoe) .  It was this general interest in what was going on, and a curiosity I had about what sort of music gets the creative juices flowing for artists whose work I enjoy that really started the project.

RAE Background Noise  Bomarr Presents the Background Noise Podcast Series with Roycer, RAE, Enzo & Nio, OverUnder, Tony Depew, Futura and more

How do you decide which artists to interview? 

It pretty much comes down to people whose work I personally am drawn to and have some sort of respect for. Whether it’s a legend like Futura or the guy who writes Spring Break everywhere, it’s all stuff that I like. It can be mindblowing art, political, or humor-based. It’s all art to me, and if it’s something that sparks my curiousity, I will try to reach out to them to see if they’re interested.

How have the artists responded to this project?

Everyone has responded with great enthusiasm so far. I think what helps is that I’m providing yet another way for these artists to express themselves, which is what artists do.  So when given another avenue to do this, they often jump on it right away.  Some take longer than others, but they always come through. It’s also great for the artists who have maintained anonymity for quite some time. This still allows them to remain anonymous. I’m not meeting up with them in person, talking to them on the phone, or anything like that. It stays strictly through email, so I think the feeling of safety has really allowed people to be willing to participate. I’ve met quite a few of these people since starting the project because I think it’s built a bit of trust, which is great.  But if I never meet some of these people, I’m completely fine with that.

Enzo Nio Background Noise1  Bomarr Presents the Background Noise Podcast Series with Roycer, RAE, Enzo & Nio, OverUnder, Tony Depew, Futura and more

 Have any particular responses to your questions surprised you?

I think the only response that has surprised me so far is one from last week’s Futura episode, where I asked him how important he thinks music is to his creative process.  I was surprised when he, a legend — who has appeared on a Clash song, recorded music himself, and worked with musical artists such as UNKLE — replied, “Not that important.”  But, we all get inspiration in different ways. He has great taste in music, regardless.

Who are some of the other artists you’d like to interview?

I have a laundry list. There are a few I’m actively trying to get, to the point where I might be annoying them. And some of them are long shots, but my wishlist in no particular order: Judith Supine, Jim Joe, ASVP, Paul Insect, Ron English, Neckface, Erik Yahnker, How & Nosm, Icy and Sot,  Sheryo + The Yok, Adam Wallacavage, Skullphone, Raymond Pettibon, Cameron Gray, Asger Carlsen, ElSol25, Douglas Kolk, Swampy, David Shrigley, Stinkfish, Theo Rosenblum, Maurizio Cattelan, Trustocorp, Olek, Jean-Paul Malozzi, Faile.  If anyone can help me out with any of these, please message me!

OverUnder Background Noise  Bomarr Presents the Background Noise Podcast Series with Roycer, RAE, Enzo & Nio, OverUnder, Tony Depew, Futura and more

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

I literally listen to it all. I’m a bit fan of 80’s synths, whether it’s synth pop or obscure minimal synth music — Gary Numan/Tubeway Army, all that stuff.  I love 60s psych rock, hip hop, metal, John Fahey, Fennesz….I’m all over the map.

What do you think of New York City’s current street art scene? 

I think it’s great! It’s really starting to gain some momentum too lately. Maybe I wasn’t as in tune with it a couple of years ago, but it seems like there’s a lot going on right now. It’s great seeing things like Hanksy’s Surplus Candy show, another Jim Joe solo show at the Hole, all these shows that Royce Bannon is curating, the Yoav Litvin Outdoor Gallery book. The New York City current street art scene is really bustling, and I think people are going to start to notice even more very soon.

Tony Depew Background Noise1  Bomarr Presents the Background Noise Podcast Series with Roycer, RAE, Enzo & Nio, OverUnder, Tony Depew, Futura and more

What’s ahead for you?

I’m having a baby girl in a few weeks, so that’s first and foremost on my mind right now.  But outside that, I just want to keep this project going for as long as I can. I have a lot of great artists lined up: Jilly Ballistic, Elle, Left Handed Wave, Don Pablo Pedro, C215, Beau, Cash 4, Hellbent, Joseph Meloy, Hanksy, N’DA….all very exciting. Stay tuned!

Congratulations! It all sounds great!

Images with links to their podcasts

1. Roycer  2. RAE  3. Enzo & Nio  4. OverUnder & 5. Tony Depew

Questions for Bomarr by City-as-School intern, Annie Loucka; interview edited by Lois Stavsky. 

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Born in Canada, Lady K-Fever is a NYC-based interdisciplinary artist, art educator and curator. A recipient of numerous grants, she currently works with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx River Arts Center and the Laundromat Project.

Lady K Fever graffiti NYC Speaking with Lady K Fever

When and where did you start getting up?

I started bombing in Vancouver, Canada in the early 90’s. I got all over the city. No block was safe.

What inspired you back then?

In 1992, I found The Faith of Graffiti at a thrift shop and bought a bootleg copy of Wild Style. I immediately fell in love with graffiti.  I was also into skateboarding at the time, and I was a member of the Riot Grrlzs: The Vancouver Chapter.  We were invited to create an installation for an exhibition “Artropolis 1993.” We collaborated to create a graffiti-inspired tag wall about human rights.

What spurred your interest and engagement in social issues?

I was inspired by activism of the Black Panthers and counter culture of the 1960’s & 70’s.

What about graffiti crews? Did you belong to any?

My first crew was the one I created with some of my friends in Vancouver, the ILC crew: The Independent Ladies Crew. I have since put down with lots of other crews: CAC, TLV (the Latin Vandals), IBM, and WOTS.  Right now I am down with KD-TDS-INDS.

Lady K Fever and Cern Speaking with Lady K Fever

Any early graffiti memories?

I’ll always remember the first three-color piece/bomb I did on my own.  It was all about timing.  It was in 1996 in downtown Vancouver, and I had hidden behind a car. I started to paint in the shadow of the car and hide when traffic was coming by. It was a thrill, and I wanted to do more.

When did you first get up in NYC?

My first time painting here was in 2001 at The Phun Phactory before it became 5Pointz. While there, I met so many people and artists who have helped me along my path. I am so grateful that there was a place like that – a place for the global graffiti movement to connect and blossom in New York City.

Have you ever been arrested?

Pleading the 5th and the 4th. 

Have you exhibited your works?

I began exhibiting my work in galleries in 1993 in Vancouver.  In NYC, I have exhibited at  the Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, Longwood Art Gallery, The Corridor Gallery, Andrew Freedman Home and MoMA.

HOWIEGARCIA LADYKFEVER Kathleena 12 op 640x356 Speaking with Lady K Fever

What percentage of your time is devoted to your artwork?

100 percent. All day. Every day. It’s my life. Life is my art. My art is the facilitation of my experiences as a creative human on this planet. I am inspired and find inspiration all day long.

Have you made money from your work?

I sell pieces, do commissions, apply for grants and residencies, teach and consult with museums and arts organizations, speak at schools and conduct workshops. Hustle is hustle.

Any thoughts about the so-called graffiti/street art divide?

The boundaries continue to blur.  I thought we all fought hard for graffiti to be considered “art”. A writer is a writer; an artist is an artist. Both are valid and beautiful and all artists have the right to decide how they want to be identified. What I do not like is the dogma and the prejudices that arise. If graffiti and street art are ultimately forms of freedom of expression, then what really is going on?

Do you prefer working alone or working with others?

Both. I like working alone, and I like the interaction that happens when artists work together. I go through phases.

Lady Fever students Speaking with Lady K Fever

Do you have a formal arts education?

Yes and no. I studied fine art in high school and in college, but I formally went on to major in Theatre.  I worked as a studio assistant with a Canadian pottery artist and as a scenic painter on film/TV sets to gain art trade skills.

What is the riskiest thing you’ve done?

I have done a lot of risky things. On my last day in Toronto, I did a bridge piece along a highway in downtown Toronto.  I wrote the name Lady K Fever in huge letters on the whole bridge.  As I was finishing, I saw a set of police lights flash across the highway. I ran and hid all the way home. That was my exit from Toronto.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

I’m influenced by all cultures. I go through inspirational phases. I love texture and color. I like to work with Indian, African and Mexican fabrics and designs.  Music is also an influence – its sounds, beats and lyrics.

Are you generally satisfied with a finished piece?

Yes and no.  Sometimes, I just have to walk away and move on to the next.

Fever graffiti South Bronx Husky Speaking with Lady K Fever

How has your work evolved throughout the years?

I continue to refine my style and explore concepts.

How would you describe the role of the artist in society?

The artist’s role is to tell stories through personal and collective reflections and responses and to raise questions. The artist is a messenger of universal truth who challenges others to see and acknowledge what they might not want to

Interview with Lady K-Fever conducted by Lenny Collado and edited by Lois Stavsky; photo credits 1. Lenny Collado; 2. Tara Murray; 3 – 5. courtesy of the artist

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Old School New York City writer George Colon aka AIM SSB credits graffiti with having saved his life in the early 70′s. Decades later, he is back in the game — this time with a message beyond his name.

George Colon AIM SSB 5Pointz Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

When and where did you first get up?

I was living in Williamsburg, on South 3rd Street off Bedford. It was in 1970. I was 10 years old. I remember looking at a clean wall in my hallway building and thinking. “My name would look good there!” I started off using shoe polish.

What other surfaces did you hit up back then?

Other hallways, mailboxes and telephone booths. The city became my playground. Soon I was hitting trains and station walls.

What inspired you to keep tagging?

I saw how much it was embraced at Art and Design, the high school I attended at the time. And it gave me something to do.

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

Seeing phenomenal handstyles — such as those of Super Strut, Stay High and Super Kool 223.

NYC global Make Peace Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

Did you generally go out alone or did you get up with crews back then?

Two of my classmates at Art and Design took me up to the yards up at Baychester and Parkchester. Once I discovered them, I was on my own! But then in 1972, I went on to form SSB, one of the largest crews in NYC. We SSB members saved each other’s lives. And graffiti saved us all, by giving us a voice and offering us an alternative to the drugs, gangs and violence that were everywhere around us.

How were you known at the time?

I gained popularity as AIM-SSB, but I was also known as OH-222 SSB to confuse the cops.

What did AIM stand for? How about SSB?

AIM was an acronym for Artist in Motion and SSB for Soul Stoned Brothers.

Who were some of the other SSB members?

There were many: Lee QuinonesShadow, CAM, Do, Rise, Bang 2, Taxi, Fear, Toke, Bomb-One, Jazz, Jazz 2, Pace, Don1, Dime 139 and more.

George Colon AIM graffiti on wall Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

What is the riskiest thing you did? And why did you do it?

Laying on top of a train while it was running from the Bowery to Essex Street.  I was with Chino 13 at the time, and we did it to escape the TA rats.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

When I first started drawing, my mother encouraged me. She would buy crayons and pastels for me. But when I got into graffiti, my mom was concerned. She’d say things like, “Why are you getting paint on your sneakers?” But they didn’t pay all that much attention to what I was doing.

Have you ever been arrested?

About a dozen times. Mostly for tagging and stealing. I would run fast, but not fast enough.

These days, about what percentage of your time is devoted to art?

Not enough. I do about two pieces a week, but my day job as a recovery coach and a motivational speaker takes up much of my time.

George Colon Aim on canvas Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

When you do work, do you sketch first or do you just let it flow?

Both. About 70% of the time I work with a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Absolutely!

Do you have a formal art education?

Just the year and a half I spent at the High School of Art & Design. I’m largely self-taught.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

There are Greek and Italian influences. My father is Italian, and I’m inspired by Greek graffiti.

What inspires you these days to engage with the graffiti culture?

The eagerness of young people to learn about it. I love their innocence and ability to explore. My organizations, Imagine Ink and United We Paint, promote graffiti and urban arts events for folks across the generations.

AIM SSB graffiti on paper Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

Do you prefer working with others? Or would you rather paint alone?

When I was younger, I preferred to work alone. But I’ve recently enjoyed collaborating with Orlando Rine Torres and Sexer.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

I really can’t answer that. I’d like to learn more.

Why do you suppose the “art world” has been so reluctant to embrace graffiti?

Graffiti was originally seen as a threat. The defacing and destruction of property was perceived as an “uprising.”

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

I’ve diversified my styles and am more open, in general.

George Colon and Jean Paul Ogrodnik graffiti Speaking with George Colon aka AIM SSB

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

It’s an asset to the movement; it gets our work out there.

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

I feel positive about them. They give us exposure.

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

To awaken awareness within others.

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

My hope is that it can be taught on many levels and used in a positive way.

What about you? What’s ahead for you?

Continuing to create art and educating others about graffiti.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of George Colon; the final image is a collaboration between George Colon and John Paul O’Grodnick

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Speaking with LA2

February 3, 2014

Keith Haring and LA2 Speaking with LA2

Based on the Lower East Side, LA2 creates bold, brightly-colored energetic works on a range of surfaces. Befriended by the legendary Keith Haring as a young teen, LA2 is best-known for his distinct tag that has earned him accolades both on the streets and in galleries and museums world-wide.  I recently had the opportunity to interview him:

When and where did you first start tagging up?

I was 10 when I first started tagging. The street was my canvas.  I lived on the Lower East Side, and so those were the streets that I hit.

Who or what inspired you at the time?

I noticed kids at the Boys Club and in school tagging up. And I was inspired by Lee Quinones’s work that I saw on subway cars and on walls in my neighborhood.

LA2 tag 1983 Speaking with LA2

Did you tag alone or did you work with crews back in the day?

It didn’t matter.  I just wanted to tag up.  I worked mostly alone, but I did get up with TNS (The Non Stoppers) and El 3 (RIP), who later died when he was electrocuted by the 3rd rail.

You went on to collaborate with Keith Haring.  How did you first meet Keith?

Keith was looking for me.  He had seen my tag and wanted to find me.  When Keith was working on a mural at Junior High School 22, Richie SOE came to my house and told me that Keith wants to meet me, and so I went over there.

How did Keith Haring’s work change after meeting you?

Before he met me, he was doing mostly simple characters. After we began working together, his work became more energetic. And soon after Rock Hudson announced that he had AIDS, Keith came out of the closet, and his artwork took on a more sexual tone.

LA2 art on canvas Speaking with LA2

What was it like collaborating with Keith?

It was great.  I’ve always been fond of Keith as a person and as an artist.  We travelled to Europe together, and Keith made sure that I was paid what was due me.  I feel grateful to Keith, but not to the Keith Haring Foundation. But that’s another story.

Your artwork has been exhibited in galleries worldwide. How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?

I think it’s great.  It’s a win-win for both galleries and artists. We artists have to make money to keep doing what we’re doing.

Any thoughts about the graffiti-street art divide?

There’s less and less of a divide.  After Keith Haring collaborated with me, the museums had no choice but to accept graffiti.  This past year, I became the first writer to paint in the Children’s Museum of the East End in the Hamptons.

LA2 art character. Speaking with LA2

Who are some of your favorite artists?

They’re all dead.  Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Basquiat were my favorites.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I generally work alone.  But in addition to Keith Haring, I’ve collaborated with quite a few artists including Richard Hambleton, Kenny Scharf and my girlfriend’s daughter, Jasmin.  And when Stik was in from London this past fall, I collaborated with him.

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

I think it’s great.  Since my girlfriend, Ramona, created the website, we’ve received invitations from galleries overseas in such countries as Italy and Germany.

LA2 graffiti on shirts Speaking with LA2

Do you have a formal art education?

No, I’m self-taught. I dropped out of Seward Park High School to travel with Keith Haring and help him establish his career. 

What is the riskiest thing you ever did?

Just getting my tag up is risky.  I’ve spent time in jail for that.  Whenever I take my dog, Nico, for a walk, I tag when he pees. And I’ve gotten locked up for that, along with Nico. He’s gotten locked up, too! 

What inspires your art?

It’s inspired by my emotions…the things I go through… my thoughts and feelings.  Creating art is how I express myself.

LA2 graffiti NYC Speaking with LA2

Do you work with a sketch in hand?

Never, it’s all straight out of my head.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I’m always happy.  I love them all.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It has gotten more detailed.  There’s more line work and people tell me that it’s tighter.

What do you see as your role  – as an artist — in society?

My particular role is to educate kids on how to express their creativity in a healthy way.  They need to use the right materials and to cover their faces.  I developed health problems (COPD) by not protecting myself when painting.  I love lecturing kids and working with them. I will be doing a workshop with children this spring at the Angel Orensanz Center in conjunction with the Fridge Art Fair.

LA2 street art close up Speaking with LA2

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

It’s going to become more and more valued as an art form.

The Europeans have always seemed to value it more than we have. Why do you suppose they are so much more receptive to graffiti than we here in the States are?

It’s because they appreciate art more, in general.  It’s always been that way. And on a personal level, Paul Kostabi sold my art in Italy 20 years ago, gaining the attention and appreciation of Europeans.

What’s ahead for you?

Traveling, exhibiting both here and overseas, educating the youth and continuing to become healthier.

Editor’s note: A selection of LA2’s work in on exhibit at City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection at the Museum of the City of New York. Curated by Sean Corcoran, it opens tomorrow, February 4, and continues through August 24.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky;  first two photos — of LA2 collaborating with Keith Haring and of LA2 tagging — originally published in Keith Haring, Rizzoli — courtesy of LA2; all other photos by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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Flint and Tracy168 graffiti NYC Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

Back in the 1960’s, Flint Gennari was getting his name up, without even realizing that what he was doing was a precursor to modern graffiti.  It was wonderful to have an opportunity to meet up and speak with this graffiti pioneer.

When and where did you first get up?

It was back in 1966.  I was nine years old, and I was traveling and camping cross-country with my family during our summer vacation.  I  was already aware of the mindless scribing on the bathroom walls. I’d seen “John loves Mary,” “For a good time, call…”  Why not write something profound or, at least, interesting — since you have a captive audience? I started writing sayings and signing them FLINT.   Anything that caught my fancy would work — something from a fortune cookie, a great lyric from a song or a quote that offers advice.  It didn’t matter that people didn’t know what to make of it. I had a secret identify, and it kept me busy.

Gee! You must have been quite precocious! And what about your name? What inspired you to start writing your name in public spaces?

I had been learning about World War II in school, and I became obsessed with the phrase, “Kilroy was here.” Who was Kilroy? And why did he write his name everywhere? Like Kilroy, I liked the idea of advertising myself. I had hearing and speech problems, so I couldn’t understand much of what was happening in the classroom.  This made me me a loner, but I found something that could make me part of the world. I was sensitive to social change. It was the 60′s. Things were changing, and I wanted to be part of it.

Flint writes graffiti NYC train Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

Did any particular writers or artists inspire you?

There were no writers at the time. Graffiti – as we’ve come to know it – didn’t yet exist. I was influenced by Madison Avenue ads and slogans.  They would bombard you with whatever they were trying to sell.   The artist Peter Max was commissioned to make art to be placed on mass transportation.   He always made his name the centerpiece of the work and placed his art  – angels, butterflies, fairies etc — around his name. Was he smart?  I think so.

What about your name? How did you acquire the name “Flint?”

I spent lots of time – as a kid — with Marvel comic books and movies.   These characters were cool;  they would do what they wanted.  I became a real James Bond fan. And so I took the name of Flint, the master spy who spoofed James Bond.

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

They hated it. They hated the name “Flint,” but it was my given name.  I gave it to myself. Yes, I was the black sheep of the family and I was always in trouble.

Flint graffiti message NYC Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

What about crews? Did you join any crews?

As time went by, many more writers started in Brooklyn.   Scooter and Dino Nod lived in the same apartment building two blocks away.   And Flip One lived In the other direction — one block away.   Erasmus High School was nearby, along with Mico, Mani and Wicked Gary.  Dino Nod was the president of the ExVandals — the first-ever graffiti crew — and I ran with him. Then with my writing partner, LSD OM, I founded the Rebels.  Future Rebels members included writers such as Shadow and Zephyr.

Were you influenced by these other writers? Did meeting them affect your style?

It was when I met these other writers that my sayings changed. I started writing more for them, and messages like For Those Who Dare, For Ladies Only, Bad but Not Evil and The Time Will Come... started turning up.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did?

Every time a writer gets up, he is taking a risk. But probably the riskiest thing I did was climbing down from the el to avoid the cops.

Flint graffiti writing NYC Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

Do you have a formal art education?

I attended the High School of Art and Design, the greatest “writing” school out there. In the lunch room we all sat at the “Writers Table,”passing around our black books and refining our tags. In fact, Art and Design is where I met Al Diaz and influenced him and Basquiat to write messages.” On a more formal level, I took some classes at Pratt and at the International Center of Photography. But I’m largely self-taught.

You are an active photographer as well as an artist. At what point did your focus shift to photography?

I stopped hitting train stations and most public surfaces in 1976. And the following year, I began a 10-year project of photographing a drug addict. But even as a young child – before I could afford a camera – I loved photography, and I would borrow my father’s camera to photograph my friends.  There was a time when it became a choice between doing pieces or photographing my friends doing them.   This is how the video footage for my graffiti song came about.  I remember when my friends Flip One and Dime139 asked me to hit the yards.  I ended up doing more photography than hitting that day, but this was 1975 already.

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings?

Yes. I’ve exhibited both my graffiti and photography. Before I graduated from high school, my work had won a Scholastic Art Award and was exhibited nationally. Then in 1998, Hugo Martinez, the founder of the United Graffiti Artists (UGA), saw my tag behind me at B&H photo, where I was working at the time, and gave me an exhibit at his gallery in Chelsea. That opened my eyes to how big graf had become: I had no idea! Since, I’ve exhibited worldwide and was featured in Born in the Streets at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.

flint graffiti NYC Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

Why do you suppose the Europeans are more receptive to graffiti than we Americans?

Europeans have always understood and respected art, particularly art that’s a bit out of the mainstream. Just look at how receptive they were to jazz musicians!

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

All of it, though most of it is focused on my photography business. I’d like more time to focus on my own art. I do get orders for canvases and water colors all the time.

Any other passions?

Music. I play the guitar and I write songs.  I was the rhythm guitarist for the Ex Vandals Band.   Stan 153 played bass; wicked Gary was on percussion and Bama/Amrl was the leader and on drums.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

It’s all a means of expression, and we influence each other.   It means something special, though, that we graffiti writers are a part of New York City’s history, and that we writers have invented a new American art form which is still evolving. But I’m not a purist. I think Banksy is terrific.

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

It’s great. I’m seeing and enjoying new things all the time.  And it goes without saying how easy it has become to showcase what you are doing to a much bigger audience.

Flint graffiti Speaking with Pioneering Graffiti Writer and Photographer FLINT

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

It’s all good.

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

At the beginning, graffiti was considered nothing more than vandalism. When you became a writer, you entered a brotherhood  with benefits.  You belonged to a family of like-thinkers who, along with you, were creating something — without knowing exactly what.  I’ve had life-long friendships with many of the pioneers such as Tracy 168, Stayhigh 149 (R.I.P) and Taki 183. Back in the day, we never would have imagined just how influential graffiti would become – that it would impact everything from fashion and marketing to the “art world.”  Graffiti will continue to evolve, and its influence is likely to increase.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Richard Alicea; all photos courtesy of the artist; first photo, Flint and Tracy 168.

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Speaking with Col Wallnuts

January 7, 2014

For over 20 years Col has been gracing our public spaces with his distinctly graceful aesthetic.  His street murals, along with his small works on various media, are among our favorites.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to recently interview him.

Col street art Bushwick Collective NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

When did you first get up?

I began tagging and doing some outlines in Staten Island/Brooklyn about 1993-94.

What inspired you at the time?

I was inspired by the tags and pieces I saw along highways. I always wondered who had done them.

Have you any early graffiti memories that stand out?

I loved seeing Cost and Revs in the Meatpacking District. The area has come a long way from the violence and corruption that once characterized it. But it’s great to see a piece of that time still around.

Col street art Hall of Fame NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

Do you paint with any crews?

I was active with CTO (Check This Out), as both Vers and Edge had taken me under their wings. I’m currently part of Wallnuts, MST, MTA and KD. Wallnuts is comprised of writers from both the States and Europe. Among them are: Muse, Chester, Been3, Ree2, Soco, Riot, Phyme, Met, MadC, Zest, Dos, Free5, Kern and Mad.

Do you prefer working alone or with others?

It depends on the project. Painting with good people motivates me, sets a fire under my ass and inspires me. Painting alone is good too. It’s like nothing else exists.

Do you generally paint with a sketch-in-hand?

Almost never.  A sketch prevents one from being organic. I want to see where my idea goes and to produce what I see in my head.

col wallnuts graffiti on Bushwick door Speaking with Col Wallnuts

Do you have any preferred surfaces?

I love to paint on anything. I prefer painting on surfaces and in areas where no one has painted before. I enjoy challenges. Obstacles are fun. And I love working large scale on buildings. I grew up working on walls, so the bigger the better.

What about neighborhoods? Have you any favorites?

I prefer working in bad neighborhoods. There are real people there. In good neighborhoods, you’re faced with bullshit. I’ll take Marcy Avenue over Park Avenue any day of the week! Painting in an impoverished neighborhood gives it life and positive energy.

What percentage of your time — would you say — is devoted to art?

I paint seven days a week. I work through holidays. I’m always working on paper, canvas or on my computer.

Col wallnuts graffiti in Brooklyn NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings?

Yes. I’ve exhibited at Art Basel (Miami), in NYC, LA, Chicago, DC, and in Europe.

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

As a painter, that’s progression. And it all begins with the tag. A tag is an art form. It’s a craft that not just anybody can do. Tags, then throw-ups and then you eventually evolve into doing pieces. And galleries have a responsibility to preserve them and share them.  Although I’m still not completely comfortable with gallery settings, it’s a good feeling to make money from my art when my work sells.

What are your thoughts on the street art/ graffiti divide?

Fifteen years ago, it was only graffiti. But we are no longer the only ones getting up. And that’s not a bad thing. I have a lot of respect for street artists. They are doing fresh stuff. Street art actually helped graffiti. Since the emergence of street art, graffiti writers have had more opportunities to exhibit their work in galleries. If you’re a wheat-paste artist keeping the movement alive…how can I hate that? There are rules, though, to graffiti and some street artists need to learn them.

Col and Muse wallnuts in Bed Stuy NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

Have you ever been arrested?

Never for graff. But I’ve been chased a lot. Back then, cops used to catch you with paint and write on you. Then they’d let you go with a warning. Those days are over.

How did your family and friends feel about what you were doing?

My family hated it. My family didn’t want the kids doing anything illegal. They saw it as a dead end…not doing anything with yourself, but putting up your name. I also lost some friends over graffiti. But your true family will never turn their backs. Ultimately, you learn, too, that you only have yourself at the end.

Do you have a formal arts education? 

I studied Fine Arts and Advertising at FIT and at the Academy of Art University. But all my spray painting training is self-taught. I learned the hard way with Krylon, Rustoleum, American Accent and Dutch Boy. The kids today have it easy using Montana and Belton.

Ree and Col graffiti NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

It’s fifty-fifty. Sometimes. Other times I want to just buff and start all over. If you care about what you do, you’re your own worst critic.

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done for your art and why were you willing to take that risk?

Painting in Israel by the Syrian border right in the line of fire. It’s the sort of thing we as artists live for. Art is stronger than war. And that’s why I did it.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetics?

I love the abstract movement. I enjoy the works of Pollack, Rauschenberg, Fran Stella, Jasper Johns and de Kooning. The abstract movement went against the grain of what was popular in Europe.

Col street art in Tel Aviv Speaking with Col Wallnuts

How has your work evolved throughout the years? 

I’ll say it’s more deconstructed these days. Back then, the majority of my work was 3D, but that got old and boring to me. I went into breaking letters and transitioned from 3D to silhouette.

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

I’m happy with my progression and where I’m going. I’m glad I didn’t listen to people around me. I’m glad that the progression came naturally, and I can’t wait to see where it goes within the next few years.

What do you think the role of the artist in society?

It’s about being a role model and reaching the youth. You got to give something to them they can grasp. You have to make them feel excited about what you are doing. The artist has to inspire and lead by example. He has to teach others that being an artist is a positive thing.

COL abstract graffiti NYC Speaking with Col Wallnuts

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

It’s a part of you when you wake up; it’s a part of you when you go to sleep. It’s an outlet for everything we do. Before the Internet, guys were grinding…dealing with people first-hand. You had to present physical material. Today it’s digital, and it takes two minutes. There are tons of positives and negatives to the Internet. You have to use it in a way that it works for you.

Any thoughts on the photographers and bloggers out there?

I support them. They shoot my work, they are very supportive and their eye is important. I like that they provide an opportunity to others to see my work.

Any shoutouts?

Shoutout to my WALLNUTS and URNY family. The homies: Hellbent, SeeOne, Depoh, Phetus, KA, Werds, Touch, Rubin. Semz (Rest In Power) and my grandma. Semz did so much for the graffiti scene. His is a name everyone should remember. My grandma was my biggest supporter. She never understood my art, but always pushed. She was a self-taught traditionalist artist. She told me, “Never stop and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not an artist or that you’re not a painter.” She’s with me in everything I do.

Interview by Lenny Collado; photo 1 at the Bushwick Collective by Lois Stavsky; 2 at the East Harlem Hall of Fame by Lois Stavsky; 3 at the Bushwick Collective by Lois Stavsky; 4 in Prospect Heights by Tara Murray; 5 in Bed-Stuy with Muse by Lois Stavsky; 6 in Inwood with Ree by Lenny Collado; 7  in Tel Aviv by Lois Stavsky, and final photo courtesy of the artist.

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I first met Viajero this past summer while he was fashioning a mural on East 111 Street for Los Muros Hablan NYC. I became an instant fan of his distinct aesthetic. A few months later, I caught up with him at the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center for its Dia De Los Muertos 2013 art exhibit.

Viajero Los Muros Hablan NYC Speaking with Adrian Roman aka Viajero

When I came upon you at work on your mural for Los Muros Hablan, you mentioned that it was your first time painting in the streets. What was it like? Would you do it again?

It was a great experience. I loved working in a public space where I could interact with folks who passed by.  Some stopped simply to observe, and others asked questions. And it was wonderful to have the opportunity to bring my vision to the streets of East Harlem – where my grandparents lived when they came from Puerto Rico. And, yes, I would love to do it again.

Could you tell us something about the Diaspora Mural? Who does it depict? What does it represent?

The subject of the mural is a young boy from Puerto Rico.  The traditional mask that he is wearing symbolizes his cultural roots. Although I grew up here in NYC, I’m particularly interested in the immigrant experience and the notion of identity.

Viajero street art mural East Harlem NYC Speaking with Adrian Roman aka Viajero

Your work is quite amazing. Do you have a formal art education?

When I was 12, I began taking specialized lessons at the Pratt Institute. I attended the Arts Students League of New York at age 18.  I then earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the New World School of Art in Miami, Florida and a second BFA in Graphic Design from the New York Institute of Technology here in NYC.

Was all this formal training worthwhile?

I would say so.  I have my own distinct style, but the art education I received drew it out of me and helped me refine it. Yes, my formal training was worthwhile.

Have any particular folks inspired you?

My grandfather was a painter. I have great admiration for him. He taught himself how to read and write in three different languages.  My brother is a sculptor, and my uncle is an architect. I grew up among folks who inspired me.

Viajero mixed media artwork Speaking with Adrian Roman aka Viajero

What about cultures?  What are some of the cultures that have influenced you?

I’ve traveled extensively through Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. I feel most connected to culture when spending time in countries and cities that hold onto their indigenous traditions. It is these indigenous cultures that have been my primary influence. I acknowledge and honor my indigenous roots in my artwork.

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings?

Yes. I’ve shown my work in solo and group shows in the United States and in Puerto Rico.

How has the “art world” responded to you? Has it been receptive to your vision? 

It has been. I feel that I’ve been able to find my own corner.

Viajero skull Speaking with Adrian Roman aka Viajero

Any favorite artists?

My grandfather. He used to paint on coconuts falling from trees.  Swoon is a particular favorite among street artists. And I love Whittfield Lovell – his portraits and his installations.

How has your work evolved — particularly in the past few years?

I’ve become increasingly engaged with the community.

Have you any particular theme that you attempt to convey in your work?

I’m interested in memory — in preserving it — especially in relation to our struggles. I like giving new life to found objects that embody cultural memory.

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

For myself as an artist – it is to offer experiences to people that take them out of their comfort zone. I want folks to think and not blindly follow trends.

And we certainly look forward to seeing your vision on our streets again! 

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photo of Viajero on East 111 Street by Dani Reyes Mozeson; photo of completed Diaspora Mural courtesy of the artist; final two photos of artwork at the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center by Lois Stavsky

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