Interviews

The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

Earlier this year on a frisky afternoon, I met up with Noémi Nádudvari at a lively café in the 7th district of Budapest. A Budapest native and street art lover, Noémi, with the help of several like-minded individuals now known as the Colorful City Group, founded the Színes Város Festival (Color City Festival), the premiere large-scale public wall painting project in the country. Inspired by Hungarian painter Victor Vasarely’s vision that colors should play a vital role in city planning to make the world a more livable place, Noémi and her team have added over 70 murals to the facades of the Budapest City Center. I asked her a few questions about this project before she took me on a walking tour of the neighborhood.

It is a pleasure to meet you, Noémi. If I understand correctly, you work here at Café Dobrumba?

I do! I am the manager of Café Dobrumba. My team and I collaborate to create a rotating menu inspired from our travels abroad. Sadly, these are my last few weeks working here. I will be focusing my time and energy on the Színes Város Festival. It is impossible to have a full time job and, also, curate an expanding street art festival!

Yes, the Color City Festival! Tell us about this great initiative and how it all started.

The start of the festival was in 2014 with myself, my collaborator, Peter, and a super small group of people who were on board with the idea of creating an arts and culture initiative with murals by street artists at its center. We are now in our fifth edition. It is a little hard to believe sometimes. If six years ago someone had told me that I would be the curator of a city-wide street art festival, I would have laughed in their face! Today we produce around 8-10 murals each year, trying to find new wall spaces every cycle.

It sounds like you’ve come a long way. Was this festival your first experience curating? 

It was my first time curating a large-scale event. I studied aesthetics, philosophy of art and Latin in college, and then I worked in contemporary art galleries, auction houses, and was involved in the organization of festivals promoting young designers in Budapest. In 2011, I organized Urban Tactics, a one-day live painting event. It was the first-ever legal live painting in a public space in Hungary. We set up a series of panels on the street and presented an exhibition of work by six graffiti artists. That was my first real curating experience. At the time, we were struggling with money and permissions and did not think that something bigger would be possible.

Can you elaborate on the particular model of the festival in regards to the rotating themes and sponsors?

Because street art is so new in Hungary, we decided to collaborate with the city council and government to launch the project, along with sponsors who are keen on increasing the appreciation of street art in Budapest. Each year, we invite a sponsor to select a theme for the festival. It forces us to work within a certain framework. I then create a brief and reach out to local and international artists who may be interested in producing work around the topic. The mural painting then happens.

Can you tell us a bit about the topics that have been the focus of the festival?

In 2014, the topic was Let’s Start to Talk; in 2015, Hungaricum — a phenomenon that is unique to Hungary and represents great value for Hungarians; in 2016, Water and City / River and the City, focused on the Danube River which separates the city into the Buda and Pest sides; and in 2017, the theme was The Gastronomy of Art – The Art of Gastronomy.

Where are the murals located?

Mostly around here, the 7th District, but we started to do some walls in the Buda side of the city as well. Ruben Sanchez finished a piece there this past winter. The challenge on the Buda side is that we have to create murals that are more classical — in the vein of a 19th century-style aesthetic — to fit the context of traditional Hungarian architecture.

How have neighborhood residents reacted to the festival?

Good, actually. At first, there was some suspicion. But now, a few years later, we get more favorable reactions. Older generations have actually embraced it the most. They come with their grandkids to watch the artists paint, and a few have told us “We’d love to have this everywhere.”

What — would you say — were, or are, your biggest challenges?

Putting the festival together is pretty challenging, but as a curator/organizer, I would say the most difficult part is obtaining painting permissions. The city of Budapest does not easily give them. It’s a long process. We have to ask five different entities for permission before we can even begin painting.

It’s also difficult to find available walls. We’ve come up with a couple of strategies. The first is that we offer to renovate the building façade. It improves the state of the building and benefits the residents. Residents are then a lot more willing to give permission for a mural. As you can imagine, though, it then becomes very expensive for us. The second strategy is finding walls in parking lots. Since the walls are not immediately on the street, the permissions are easier to get. But, this means the mural will be erased when the parking lots are transformed into real estate developments. It could happen after one year or a few years, but in the meantime, the murals are there. Sadly, construction has started in a parking lot where we have some of our favorite walls by two members of Berlin’s The Weird Crew, HRVB and Vidam, who is half Hungarian.

The other challenge is dealing with sponsors who wanted to control the art aspect of the festival. I always insist that we need artistic freedom as soon as we start working with a sponsor. Each year this gets easier as sponsors develop a better understanding of street art and the goal of Színes Város.

How has the festival evolved?

Better artists, better walls. And more artists from abroad. Foreign artists love Budapest! Which is great because we really need a new image of the city… We want to invite international artists to show more street art styles to Hungarian audiences, as well. We were very happy to have artists like Adno, Dan Ferrer, SPOK ÉS KORSE, BreakOne, Ruben Sanchez and others painting walls in Budapest.

What is your main goal with Színes Város ?

At first, the goal was to expose Hungarians to street art and get them to understand what it is; I wanted to educate the public about this art form. Now that this goal has somewhat been met and people are starting to appreciate art that is less mainstream, I am trying to push the limit and include more adventurous, interesting, challenging pieces every year.

I always say in the press conferences that one of the main goals of the festival is to show the great variety of styles that exist. People should be more open and even excited about styles that are new to then, because there isn’t one common taste. No one has to like all the murals. but everyone will have their favourites. For me that’s an important message. You don’t have to love all of them, but try to understand them; try to speak about them; explain why you like a mural or not. Diversity is so important. It is even more important nowadays when the world is moving in a direction that doesn’t encourage inclusiveness…Trump being a prime example of that.

Do you feature other types of installations besides murals?

Not at the moment. There was a boom in the early 2000 of small street art pieces. Artists were trying to do small works. But there were too many risks involved because, unfortunately, you could go to prison if you get caught just doing a paste up. Graffiti and street artists mostly tried to paint outside the city, finding hidden lonely places where they can work easily without anyone bothering them. So that is why we are missing small pieces in the city. In cities like Berlin and London, you feel like something more is going on aside from the murals – you get that feeling because of the paste ups, stickers, stencils etc. That is a project for the future, focusing on smaller works as well.

Any other future projects or plans?

For the festival’s fifth year, I want to publish a catalog with images of all the walls. Maybe an exhibition, as well. In the longer term, I want to start an artist exchange program to allow Hungarian artists to go abroad, gain recognition in the international scene and collaborate with other artists. Fat Heat paints everywhere in Europe and Russia, which is great, but I would like to see more Hungarian artists represented around the world.

Sounds exciting! We wish you the best for what’s next!

Images

1 Lisbon-based AkaCorleone

2 Budapest-based Márton Hegedűs

3 Spanish artist Dan Ferrer

4 Portuguese artist BreakOne

5  Russian artist Adno (right) and collaborative mural by Spain’s Spok Brillor  and French artist KORSE 

6 Vidam (left) and  HRVB

7 Hungarian artist Péter Szabó-Lencz aka Petyka

8 Budapest-based TransOne and Fat Heat

All photos and interview by Houda Lazrak

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Located in what was once an abandoned 19th Century building, the cultural center known as HaMiffal now hosts an extraordinary range of cultural activities, while providing studio space to artists working in different media. And towards the end of 2017, its production department became engaged in building an entire hospitality infrastructure, the ART BNB INN, that hosts international and Israeli artists from a range of disciplines.

While visiting the space, I had the opportunity to speak to Jerusalem-based artist Meydad Eliyahu, who has been involved with HaMiffal since its inception.

What a remarkable space for artists and for art lovers! When did HaMiffal host its first event?

At the end of 2015, we opened it to the public, inviting artists to create site-specific work in a range of media.

Can you tell us a bit about your engagement with HaMiffal?

I was the first artist-in-residence. That was almost a year ago. For three months, I worked on a series of paper drawings that reflect this building and one in India that I had been researching. I’ve also participated in most of HaMiffal‘s exhibitions, and I was among the first artists to curate here.

How does the process of working here differ from working in your studio?

Working in front of other people, and — at times —  in collaboration with them, is far different than working alone in one’s studio. It is almost performance art! And there is always dialog. It is challenging in a positive sense.

Who are some of the other core artists involved with HaMiffal’s development?

Among them are: Noa Arad Yairi, Neta Meisels, Michal Harada, Shavit Yaron, Tal Harada, Tal Ben Hamo, Yuval Yairi, Itamar Hammerman, Shaul Zofef, Ann Deych, Deborah Fischer, Gilli Levi, Kobi Vogman, Michal Chevion, Michael Cohen, Jonathan Ofrat and Elad Yaron.

Several months ago, HaMiffal began hosting artists from around the world who conduct workshops that are open to the public. Can you tell us something about that?

Yes. In late December, eight artists — of diverse backgrounds from throughout the globe — conducted workshops, engaged in public dialogs and created site-specific art related to the 100 meter radius around HaMiffal. Among them were the Brazilian street artist Manoel Quiterio, who works extensively with drug addicts and homeless people in his native country and the German musician, DJ and music researcher Nicolas Sheikholeslami.

What’s ahead for HaMiffal?

We envision it as a cultural center that continues to provide workspace and opportunities for artists working – both individually and collaboratively — in an all kinds of art forms. A few months ago, we published an open call for artists to create new works in HaMiffal‘s varied spaces. We received over 60 proposals and we chose ten artists.

And we are interested, of course, in engaging more people from the local community. In addition to running a gallery and workshops and hosting a range of cultural events, HaMiffal offers a café bar. It is quite unusual to have such a space in Jerusalem, and we are doing our best to maintain it.

And you are about to travel!

Several months ago, we were invited to participate in the 28th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland to create a site-specific project in a historic building owned by the Bosak family. This is the first time HaMiffal artists’ collective will create a project abroad. It is a huge challenge and an amazing opportunity. The project, Sambation, will continue for ten days and will involve more than 16 artists from the HaMiffal collective.

That is so exciting, And what a wonderful model HaMiffal is for other cities!

Note: Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow began last week and continues through this Sunday.

Photos:

1 & 3 Artwork by Meydad Eliyahu

2 Artwork by Kobi Vogman

4 Artwork by Brazilian artist Manoel Quiterio

Photo credit:  1, 2, & 4 Lois Stavsky; 3 Yelena Kvetny

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Support for HaMiffal is provided by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation.

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Growing up in the Bronx in the 70’s  Osvaldo Cruz — under different aliases — began early on tagging and piecing wherever and whenever he could. His subway train art is featured, in fact, in Martha Cooper‘s and Henry Chalfant‘s landmark book, Subway Art. These days, with occasional stints painting legal walls over at Tuff City in the Bronx, Cruz focuses primarily on fashioning abstract — graffiti-inspired — images on canvases and is represented by Fountain House Gallery. An interview with the artist follows:

When and where did you first get up?

It was around 1978. I was eight years old. I lived near Yankee Stadium at the time, and I remember getting my initials, TC –Tito Cruz — up in the yard of P.S. 156, my local elementary school.

Did you have any preferred surfaces?

Anything was fine! I, especially, liked mail trucks.

Who were some of the writers that inspired you back in the day?

I was inspired by the local writers: FDT 56, Hoy 56, Kid 56, Hazzy Haz from the D yard, Blade from the 5 layup, T-Kid from the 1 layup and Flame.

Have you any early memories that stand out?

Meeting Blade in the CC layup on Fordham Road in 1979 and soon after meeting Iz the Wiz up there. They both were already established writers by the time I had hit the subways.

But many memories that are not positive also stand out. One of my favorite graffiti names was GINSU, and that caused a log of turmoil in Chinatown, as all of the the school kids assumed that the tagger was Chinese. There were endless wars and fights back then over everything from copying one’s letters to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was too much disrespect. Enough to make some of us stop painting burners – knowing that someone was going to write inside or around our pieces.

Did you get up alone or did you paint together with any crews?

I didn’t paint with any crews, but I did have a sidekick, OHenry. He was my link to many different subway layups and yards. OHenry, though, has lost all interest in spray-painting and in graffiti. He doesn’t even want to talk about it. So when I see him these days, I don’t even bring it up.

Had you ever been arrested back in the day for graffiti?

I was once falsely accused up at the 183rd Street Subway Station. I connected with a Legal Aid lawyer, and the case was dismissed.

What was the riskiest thing you’ve done?

Climbing into a yard up in the North Bronx off the 2 train. The fence was really high, and it was too easy to get tangled up in barbed wire. And I didn’t know who would be there once I made it in.

Do you have a formal art education?

I graduated from Art & Design High School in 1987.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

About 75% — whenever I’m not attending to my personal needs, I paint.

Do you make money from your art?

Yes! Through commissions and selling canvases.

At what point did you begin working on canvases?

I actually started to experiment with graffiti art on canvas in the early 80’s, but it wasn’t until 2000 that I began to focus almost exclusively on painting on canvases.

Which mode do you prefer?

I like them both, and I’ve been commissioned to do both.

How do you feel about the engagement of the corporate world with graffiti writers and street artists? 

I have no problem with it. I’m happy for the artists.

Have you shown your work in galleries?

Yes. I’ve shown my work at Fountain House Gallery and at Pace University via Community Access.

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

No. I don’t work from sketches.

What inspires you these days?

My imagination!

Are you generally satisfied with your finished work?

 Yes!

Are there any particular cultures that influence you at present?

I don’t feel influenced by cultures other than my own, but I like what the European writers are doing. I especially like the Swedish graffiti crew WUFC.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It’s more complex — more sophisticated, and I use more colors.

What’s ahead?

I just want to keep on painting.

Good luck!

All photos courtesy of the artist; interview by Lois Stavsky

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

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With her deep passion for street art and remarkable knowledge of the Israeli street art scene, Dina Segev is the quintessential street art tour guide. Whether conducting workshops for school-age children, or lecturing adults about graffiti and street art or simply guiding groups of visitors through the streets of Tel Aviv, her enthusiasm is contagious. While in Tel Aviv earlier this year, I had the opportunity to observe Dina as she conducted a tour for school-age children and, then, speak to her.

When did you first become interested in street art?

As an artist, I’d always been interested in art, and I had been giving private lessons to students in my studio for over 20 years. But I wasn’t aware — for quite awhile — what was happening on the streets. One day, a friend gave me a tour of Florentin, along with a spray can, as a birthday present. I instantly fell in love with what I saw. That was back in 2013. I loved it so much, in fact, that I wanted to take my friends on a tour. And so I took 16 friends on a street art tour of Florentin. It was so interesting that my husband asked me to do it for his company’s clients. And soon afterwards, I took my mother – along with her grandchildren – on a steet art tour for her 75th birthday. Two years later, I closed my studio. Now the streets are my studio.

Among those artists whose works you’ve encountered on the streets, do any stand out?

There are many. Among the first generation artists who come to mind are: Klone, Know Hope, Zero Cents, Adi Sened, Latzi, Foma and Ame 72. Second generation artists include: DedeNitzan Mintz, Dioz, Signor GiUntay, Pesh, Minks, Imaginary DuckB.T.W BinskyLord of Lords and ARC D.L.P.  Among the more recent ones are: Solomon Souza, MR, FrenemyMonkey Rmg, Didi, TAG, Murielle, The MisSK and Damian Tab. And Mati Ale who has brought amazing street art projects to Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station.

And you, yourself, began painting in the streets? When did you start and why?

I began about a year and a half ago. Why? Because I love the idea of connecting with others — even if I never meet them face to face — through my words on the walls.  It is one heart touching another. And — as a result — the anonymous city becomes less anonymous and, maybe, even a bit intimate!

What about the folks — from school children to retirees — who have participated in your tours and workshops? How have they responded to the street art you introduce them to?

They’ve been really appreciative and express great interest in what they see in the streets. Many begin to look at the streets as they never had before.

And what about the artists, themselves? How have they responded to what you are doing?

I’ve developed friendships with many of the artists, and they’ve been supportive of what I do. The artists are not comfortable, though, with those tour guides who lack the knowledge that a street art tour guide should have.

How has the street art scene in Tel Aviv changed since you first started observing it?

While some artists are no longer as active as they used to be, there are many new ones using the streets as their canvas, including more women. There is definitely more of a balance between males and females.

Can you tell us something more about what you offer?

I offer tours for all occasions and all ages. In addition to street art tours in Tel Aviv, Netanya and Jerusalem, I conduct tours of the graffiti exhibitions inside Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. I also present graffiti workshops and conduct lectures on the topic in a range of settings.

How can folks join your tours or participate in your workshops?

If you live abroad, you can contact me by email: Disegev@gmail.com. I can also be reached at this phone number: 052-3869500. And if you read and understand Hebrew, you can contact me via my website.

What’s ahead for you? Any long-term plans or goals?

More tours, more workshops and more lectures. And I’d like to travel to share my knowledge of Tel Aviv street art with others in cities throughout the globe. That is my ultimate goal! I’d, also, like to publish a children’s book about graffiti and maybe one for adults, too!

It all sounds great! Good luck!

Photo credits: 1 (with artwork by MR), 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 2, 3, 6 & 7 courtesy Dina Segev; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

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

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Recently released by Schiffer is Tokyo Graffiti, a delightfully intriguing and wonderfully informative survey of  Tokyo’s current street art and graffiti scene documented by London-born photographer David Sharabani aka Lord K2. After reading the book, I posed a few questions to Lord K2:

You’ve documented urban art in several cities and have previously published a book on Santiago’s rich street art scene.  What drew you to Tokyo?

Tokyo’s street art scene has never been documented and published before in a book of this format, and its urban art is relatively overlooked by locals and tourists alike. The walls and streets are so pristine and well-organized — many with an abundance of logos and commercials – that you may get the impression that street art is not needed. But when well-placed and in the right context, it enhances Tokyo’s well-planned and maintained architectural surroundings.

Also, I saw this book as a challenge. I was in Tokyo photographing the Sumo wrestling culture. The majority of my time was spent handling bureaucratic paperwork, and out of frustration and impatience, I decided to hit the streets. Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure there would be enough art out there to justify a book. But the more I dug in, the more hidden gems I discovered. Since Tokyo’s graffiti is not so apparent, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a book of some of the most significant pieces in one format to be viewed easily.

How does Tokyo’s street art and graffiti scene differ from other cities you’ve visited?

Regarding graffiti and art that is often regarded as vandalism, it’s not in the nature of Japanese to vandalize, rebel or speak up. Their economy functions well; there is virtually no street crime, and the education system is excellent. It seems that there is not too much to protest about. Also, conformism is an integral part of the Japanese way. Going against the flow of polite dignified behavior is considered a far more extreme form of misconduct than it is in most other countries.

Another distinct difference between Tokyo and many other cities is that in Tokyo it is a nightmare-of-a-process to obtain permissions, limiting the quantity of “decorative art,” even though the quality is generally high.

There are, though, a fair amount of stickers mounted in the highly populated central neighborhoods of Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku, since these are quick and easy to put up with a minimal chance of being caught. Many of these stickers have been put up by foreigners.

What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in documenting it?

A big challenge was getting the artists to talk. They were happy to be interviewed, but cautious as to what they would reveal. It was hard to extract any juicy or emotive information. Fortunately, I was introduced to Little Pink Pills, who was already well-informed on the scene. She ended up writing the book’s text that accompanies my photos.

The other challenge was sourcing the graffiti. Even though artists would pinpoint locations, this didn’t suffice. I had to scout the streets for hours on end on my bicycle. I was inevitably much fitter for it.

Do any particular images or styles stand out to you? Any that are distinctly Japanese?

The mural that stands out most to me is one that was painted by German artist Case Maclaim. It’s a gigantic mural on the back of a building in Tennozu Isle painted for Pow! Wow! Japan depicting Sumo video game fighter E .Honda. It’s striking to see it in the distant urban scape.

Half the street art in Tokyo is painted by Westerners. They often incorporate images from popular Japanese culture such as Samurai, Geishas, Sumo, as well as comics that portray social issues. Japanese artists do not have a collective style of painting, as each individual/crew has its own distinctive style. Many of them incorporate less commercial elements of Japanese culture. For example, Usugrow blends Japanese calligraphy with pointillism and Los Angeles Cholo culture. Shizentomotel paints Namahage, a traditional Japanese folklore demon. Dragon‘s style is a fusion of graffiti, manga and ukiyo-e. Tamura Yoshiyasu, a manga artist, painter and illustrator, mixes modern manga with traditional Japanese art.

I’m so glad that you and Little Pink Pills made this book happen! Congratulations!

Photos 1 Book cover 2 Fin DAC 3 Unidentified 4 Kami and Sasu aka Hitotzuki 5 Assorted stickers 6 Little Pink Pills 7 Case Maclaim  & 8 Makoto; interview by Lois Stavsky

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

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Best-known for his interactive performance art and visual art that have been featured in a range of galleries, art fairs and museums, Miami-based artist David Rohn has recently taken his vision to the streets. In his new series, Street Peeps, he focuses on raising awareness of the issue of homelessness. While in Miami, I had the opportunity to speak to him:

When did you begin this project– with its focus on wheatpasting images of  yourself in various disguises representing street peeps?

I started three months ago.

Had you ever gotten up on the streets before you began working on this project?

Back in the 90’s, I did a series of boys’ heads based on an image that I had seen. I got them up in Miami – mostly on lampposts – Downtown and on the beach. One even made it into the bathroom of the Perez Art Musem, back when it was the Miami Art Museum. I painted the heads in different colors mixing guache paint with wallpaper paste.

What inspired you to do so back then?

I’d seen graffiti and wheatpastes up in NY, and I wanted to be out there.

What spurred you to hit the streets this time around? 

Between 2008 and 2014, I was represented by a gallery in Miami. After that ended, I wanted a way to share my vision — and concerns — with others. Things had tapered off. Getting up in the public sphere seemed like the most sensible way to accomplish this.

And why this particular project?

I feel very strongly about homelessness. I’ve seen it explode in recent years. It is appalling! And the income disparity is continually increasing. I’ve been interested in these two issues for awhile.

Each of your portraits is another rendition of you as someone who is homeless!

Yes! I’ve been doing portraits of myself since 2008 as part of my performance art.

Who exactly are these characters you are portraying?

They are inspired by homeless folks and street people I see when I’m out on the streets. The ones who are the casualties of gentrification. This city is changing so rapidly.

And what about the characters with the masks? Who are they?

They represents the power structure. The eilite – those who control our economic assets. The developers who can easily evolve into a monsters.

What about your relationship with the homeless?

For awhile, I was bringing them sleeping bags and cots. But these days, I bring loaves of day-old bread and bottles of water. And socks – white socks and gray socks. They choose which ones they want. These items are what they seem to need and want the most.

And how has this project – getting your portraits out there in public space — impacted you?

It’s been very liberating! It’s fun! And I like the idea of short circuiting the gallery system.

What’s ahead?

Creating and getting up more images suggestive of the homelessness crisis.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky with photos by Lois Stavsky.

Special thanks to Andrew Ringler for introducing me to David.

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With a BFA in Photography and Sculpture from the Massachusetts College of Art, multidisciplinary artist Alessandra Mondolfi describes herself as a “Jill of all Trades.”  A recipient of multiple grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant to Barcelona, Spain, she has exhibited throughout the globe with works ranging from altered photographs to elaborate large scale multimedia installations. These days, Alessandra Mondolfi  perceives herself  primarily as an artist/activist, whose political artworks surface on the streets of Miami and beyond. I recently had the opportunity to speak to her.

When did you begin to direct your creative talents to the political sphere?

It happened right after the 2017 Women’s March. That was a huge turning point. I took to the streets then using art props as tools of protest. I haven’t stopped, and I’m not stopping. I’m a proud member of the middle-age resistance.

What prompted you to do so? To become so active?

The 2016 Presidential election. It’s a gut reaction to our current state of affairs. These times call for drastic action. Having come of age in Venezuela, I saw first-hand attacks on democracy and on people’s basic values as Chavez ran on a populist front — socialist, but populist. No one took him seriously. They thought of him as a joke. They didn’t think he could win. And when he did, he  destroyed his country. The similarities between him and Trump are staggering. My strongest weapon against this kind of  fascism is my creativity.

How has your in involvement in this movement impacted you?

It’s been therapeutic. Creating art is a way for us to release our anxieties and give us a sense of purpose, especially in times like these.

And what about others? How has your work impacted others? What kinds of responses has it elicited?

The props that I’ve used at various protests have been shown around the world in a range of media — in print, online and on television. I feel as though I am creating the visual message of the resistance for the media to transmit. Much of what I’ve created has gone viral.  Getty and AP images have surfaced in newspapers throughout the world, including Turkey, Bulgaria and India.

What’s ahead?

I’m now working on new props for the March 24th, March for Our Lives in Parkland. These will be followed by wheatpastes that I will post wherever I can.

I’m so glad you’re doing this! Thank you!

Photos: 1 & 3 Lois Stavsky; 2, 4 & 5 courtesy the artist; Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky

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Maya Gelfman & Roie Avidan have been working in public spaces, museums and galleries for more than a decade. Maya’s works have been featured in international art books in Germany and France, and in 2015 Paper Magazine named Maya among the top ten street artists in Israel. Roie has produced documentaries and music videos and published photographs in dozens of newspapers and magazines, print and online. Their collaborative worldwide public-art project Mind the Heart! is entering its tenth year. This past fall, their project brought them to New York City, where I had a chance to meet up with the inspiring, talented couple.

Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?

Maya: I’ve always been doing art. I graduated from the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in 2006. My main mediums are installation, painting and street art.

Roie: I am self-taught. I’ve been engaged with visual art for the past 14 years, and nine years ago, I began doing art on the streets. Our work is collaborative, as I generally choose the materials, the concept and the location.

What about your current project Mind the Heart!? What is its mission?

Its principal aim is to promote mindfulness – to ourselves, to our surroundings and to the moment. Many of us – especially those of us who live in the same place for a long time — no longer see the beauty and tend to ignore the ugliness. Too often we become disconnected from one another and miss out on the present.

A little red heart has been surfacing in cities you’ve visited. What does it represent?

This tangled red heart – crooked and messy with dripping ends — is the core of our project. We began by using it on the streets of Tel Aviv to mark the beauty in decay and neglect, the order in chaos, the magic in the ordinary, the soul in things. We’ve since handed out thousands of red yarn hearts along with a simple mission: to go and put it out there, to mark your own spots of significance and share them with the world.

Why did you both choose to use the streets as your principal gallery?

We had both shown in galleries, and we wanted to exhibit in a different way. In 2009, we printed hundreds of posters and placed them on the streets. Within 12 hours, everything was gone. We immediately fell in love with the connection we made with those who viewed our art. We love that street art is completely free.

You are now visiting cities throughout the US. Which cities have you previously visited to share your artwork and to engage people in your project?

We’ve visited various cities throughout Israel. Among the 40 cities we’ve collaborated in are: Florence, London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Bangkok. We were also invited to orphanages in Kenya and Uganda.

What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done in the course of executing your project? And why were you willing to take that risk?

Standing on a wobbly 15 foot ladder at a hotel in Florence. The ladder could have fallen at any moment. There was no sense of security. Why did we do it? We just didn’t think about it. It was something that we had to do…something that we needed to do at this time and place.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic, particularly this project?

The culture of the American Beat Generation; the notion of “the open road,” and its sense of freedom; Japanese motifs; texts inspired by Taoism; major Russian literature; rock & roll; Kurt Cobain and Leonard Cohen.

What inspires you these days?

Anything and everything!

Have you ever been arrested for your public work?

When we are caught in the act, it becomes a conversation.

What is the attitude of your families and friends towards what you are doing?

They are supportive.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

100%

In addition to your tangled red heart, what other media do you use in Mind the Heart!

We use yarn, shoe-box lids, duct-tape and foam.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished product?

The vast majority of the time.

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

To evoke an emotion…to make someone feel something…to invite people to reflect…to make them mindful.

And how can folks become involved in your project?

They can contact us with ideas for places, people, collaborations, events, murals, and any creative or serendipitous idea they may have.

Locations of  featured images:

1 Bushwick, Brooklyn

2 East Village, Manhattan

3 & 4 Decatur, Georgia

5 Tel Aviv, Israel

6 Jekyll Island, Georgia

7 Easton, Pennsylvania 

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky.

Photo credits: 1 Lois Stavsky; 2-7 courtesy Maya Gelfman & Roie Avidan.

Note: You can follow the Mind the Heart! project here and on its Instagram account here; you can, also, support the project here.

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The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

A fantastic topography of fabulously executed artworks by street artists from around the world has found its way onto the rooftop of Mexico City’s Antique Toy Museum, or MUJAM. I stumbled upon this hidden space while visiting the city’s Colonia Doctores neighborhood. Soon afterwards, I had the chance to speak with the man behind the project, Roberto Shimizu, Creative Director of MUJAM.

How and when did you first become interested in street art?

It all started when I was ten years old. My father took my family on a trip to New York City.  And every time we were in NYC, we went to bookstores. My brother and I had an unlimited budget for books. It was the only place my father would let us spend money as children. The first book I ever bought was Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. I was just looking for graphic stuff, but it ended up changing my life. I still have it on my desk at the museum today.

How did you become involved in the scene here in Mexico City?

I went to Japan for one and a half years after receiving my degree in Architecture in Mexico City. I moved to Tokyo to work at a high-end architecture firm, but I quickly realized that I didn’t identify with Japanese culture. I came back to Mexico City, and my father asked me to assist him with his business. He had a 5000 square foot warehouse in the Doctores neighborhood with bare walls. He gave me full access to, and it became my playground! I started by doing open calls for street artists through Facebook. I also reached out to music and theatre groups. Many noted Mexican street artists – such as Saner — first started painting here.  Other renowned artists who’ve painted here include: Ripo from Barcelona; Jaz from Argentina; Jeremy Fish from San Francisco; Pixel Pancho from Italy and Roa from Belgium. In 2007, it was dubbed the 5 Pointz of Mexico City.

And can you tell us a bit about what has happened since – in the past decade?

Once the warehouse took off, I realized I wanted to do something bigger. I invited Roa to paint an official mural on the wall of MUJAM. And in 2010, I organized the first big mural show in Mexico City with eight artists painting in different neighborhoods. That we sought permission from building owners, used cranes, and officially invited artists was very new at the time.

What triggered the start of the rooftop project Azotea Mujam. It is fascinating!

The warehouse was prime real estate, and so we had to rent it out. I couldn’t convince the new renters to keep the existing murals. Those walls were part of Mexico City’s street art history, but they wouldn’t hear it. We had to whitewash all the murals. But my intention was, and still is, to keep working with emerging artists. My father had founded MUJAM in 2006 as a showcase for his personal collection of antique toys. Today the museum houses over 40,000 pieces. Above the museum was an empty rooftop, so I decided to start Azotea Mujam and invite artists to paint up there.

Who was the first person to paint there?

Scarlett Bailey was the first artist to paint on the MUJAM rooftop in 2015. A talented Mexican illustrator living in New York City, she was a cartoonist for The New Yorker for many years. On the rooftop she painted icons of New York City’s fashion and media worlds with the Mexico City ‘hood’ as a backdrop. It was the sole work up on the roof for four months.

It seems like the entire rooftop has been painted since! How did it become so popular?

It was through word of mouth! Once the word spread, it became popular pretty quickly. I was fascinated by how much attention it received. I’ve had to whitewash some artworks to make room for others. Azotea Mujam is often the start of a collaboration between the artist and other painting projects, as well — including more prominent wall spaces in Mexico City that I organize.

How do artists react to this very unique context of a toy museum?

They love it! I think artists have a particular fascination with toys. Many famous musicians have also visited, and often when they enter the museum, they become like children. Perhaps, as artists, they are always playing.

How do you select the artists that paint on the rooftop?

I receive emails daily. I ask the artists for their portfolios. Some of them don’t have any, and that’s fine too. Like I said, I am interested in offering opportunities to emerging artists, and I’ve had very nice surprises. I am not focused on getting big names. That was never the intention of the project. What is most important to me is the relationship I develop with the artists and how they can go further from here. Regardless of how big the city projects that I organize are, Azotea Mujam is what’s most rewarding to me.

Do you encourage the artists to focus on toys in terms of the content of their artwork?

I always suggest that the artists spend a couple of days in the museum, sketching the toys they like, as that is the main theme of the rooftop. Sometimes I ask for sketches, sometimes not; it depends on the artist.

There’s a surprising variety of surfaces available for artists to paint on. Did you purposely bring in these different elements?

Yes, I added those myself to the rooftop, so there would be different options of textures and surfaces for artists to experiment on.

What’s your main goal with Azotea Mujam

To create the new generation of Mexican street artists, of both men and women. I see the rooftop as a place where seeds are planted for the future.

The space and the building itself are very interesting. Can you tell us more about its history? How it was acquired? And what have you and your family done with it since acquiring it?

MUJAM’s building was one of the most important buildings for Japanese migrants back in the mid 1900s. Many of them arrived to Mexico City with just a suitcase in hand. My father and grandfather built this building for that Japanese community to have a starting point. After that, my grandfather had the idea of importing Japanese toys; that became his business.  And it, eventually, became the building housing my father’s toy collection.

When I was up on the roof, one of the neighbors was doing laundry. So the roof is still used for practical purposes! How do these folks respond to artists painting here and sharing their work with visitors?

They love it! It was somewhat abandoned before. The artists gave it a new life. I receive many requests to host commercial events there: photo shoots, video shoots, branding events, launches… Perrier even offered to rent out the space. I always turn them down out of respect for our neighbors. I’ve only lent it to very small organizations who are themselves just starting off. I want to keep it pure.

Who are some of the other artists who have painted on the rooftop?

Poni, Paola Delfin, Atentamente una Fresa, Birdy Kids, Alaniz, Los Dos, Alegria del Prado, Gangsby, Daniel Buchsbaum, Spencer Keeton Cunningham, Nabs D, Mr. Lemonade

Have you anyone special on your wish list to paint here? 

I would love to collaborate with Os Gemeos. I like their social and political works.

The rooftop is not open to the public. How do you get people to visit it?

I don’t really try to. I want to keep it like a speakeasy. People will find it if they come into the museum and mention they like street art. We will guide them upstairs and open the door to the rooftop. Just like we did for you!

Can you tell us a bit about this neighborhood – Colonia Doctores?

Back in the 30’s and 40’s – when my grandparents moved here – it was the city’s most flourishing, residential area. With buildings designed by a French urban planner, all of the streets were named for doctors. I consider it the city’s most important district  because the government’s offices are located here. Anyone who wants to register their newborns or report a death must visit Doctores. It is home to: the biggest morgue of the city, the biggest police precinct and the first public hospital, along with the first running water. The first residential zone created by the government, there are three metro lines cutting across it. In the 1980s-90s, people started leaving. But they are coming back now! Doctores is projected to grow in the next ten years, as it is right next to the Roma neighborhood, which is now booming. The cycle of the district is very interesting.

Images

1 Alegria del Prado

2 Senkoe

Scarlett Bailey

Los Dos & Azer

Los Dos

6 Paola Delfin

7 Vale Stencil

Photos and interview by Houda Lazrak

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

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When Don Rimx began painting his portrait of Nuyorican poet Jesús “Tato” Laviera last month, I had the opportunity to speak to the poet’s sister, Ruth Sanchez Laviera. “Don Rimx represents my spirit and my brother’s spirit,” she said. “As soon as I met him, I knew he was the one to paint a mural honoring my brother.” And last Saturday, Oct. 28th, after the mural was officially unveiled at Taino Towers and 123rd Street was renamed for Jesús “Tato” Laviera, I posed a few questions to Rimx:

Your mural depicting Jesús “Tato” Laviera is wonderful. When were you first offered the opportunity to paint his portrait?

I was contacted about a year ago.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? What steps did you take to make this happen?

I began by reading or watching every interview I could find that had been conducted with Jesús “Tato” Laviera. I spent time at Hunter College’s Centro: The Center for Puerto Rican Studies reading Jesús “Tato” Laviera‘s poetry and whatever literature and criticism I could find by him and about him. I came to understand and appreciate just how important a voice he was in the Nuyorican movement. I even had the opportunity to  live in the same apartment in Taino Towers that Jesús “Tato” Laviera lived in and to speak to many folks who knew him.

How about the painting itself? How long did it take you?

I worked 12 hours a day for five days.

And the mural unveiling, along with the renaming of this corner? What was the experience like for you?

It was wonderful! I feel so blessed to have experienced it all. Among the speakers were City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Maria Cruz, executive director of Taino Towers. There was also a poetry reading, along with reminiscences by family and friends.

Congratulations!  We are so happy that this opportunity came your way. It’s great to have your vision and talents shared with us — once again — here in NYC.

Photos: 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky; 3 & 4 courtesy of the artist; featured in the third photo are: Ruth Sanchez Laviera to the left of  Don Rimx and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to his right

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

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