Walls

Speaking with Mor

March 26, 2015

For the past several years, Mor‘s exquisitely-fashioned stencils have been surfacing on the streets of NYC and beyond. I had the opportunity to speak to Mor earlier this week at Con Artist, where she was preparing for tomorrow’s opening at City Bird Gallery.

Mor with stencil con artist Speaking with Mor

When did you first get up on the streets? What was your medium at the time?

I started almost five years ago with hand-made stickers. And the following year, I pasted up my first one-layer stencil – a face looking upward — in Williamsburg.

What inspired you to work with stencils?

When I was in middle school, I was living in Bushwick — in its early stages of gentrification. I remember passing Swoon’s work on my way to school. Its beauty astounded me. She is my greatest inspiration. And C215’s amazing work – that surfaced in Brooklyn back then — also moved me to experiment with stencils.

What about the streets? What was the appeal of the streets to you?

I love the notion of creating something beautiful and just giving it to others.

mor stencil art Lower East Side NYC Speaking with Mor

Were you ever arrested back then?

I was once caught tagging with a black marker, and I ended up spending the night in jail. It is a risk that all street artists take.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

They were positive, encouraging me to do what makes me happy

Do you have a formal arts education?

I am, for the most part, self-taught.  But my art teachers always encouraged me.

Mor street art nyc Speaking with Mor

Any thoughts on the graffiti street art divide?

There definitely is a divide, and there will always be some kind of beef between graffiti writers and street artists. It’s not cool when a street artist goes over graffiti. Nor is it cool when a writer tags over street art.  But I think the media – particularly the Internet – is partly responsible for the beef.

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

It has definitely changed the playing field!  It’s great that it gives permanence to a transient art form. But — on the negative side — it boosts a type of showmanship, while giving exposure to mediocre artwork.

What inspires you these days?

Much of my inspiration comes from my dreams. I’m also into mysticism.

Mor stencil street art in Bushwick NYC Speaking with Mor

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Tribal ones have the most influence.

Have you collaborated with other artists? 

I haven’t in the past, but I will be painting with Ian Bertram at City Bird in preparation for our joint exhibit.

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

As my father is an artist, I grew up around galleries. I do think, though, that there is something sterile about galleries as compared to public spaces.  Showing in a gallery is very different from getting up on the streets.  And I don’t feel that the art world understands art — not just street art, any art!

Mor stencil art Centre fuge East Village NYC Speaking with Mor

How has your work evolved in the past few years? 

The streets have energized me to keep pushing myself. I feel that I’ve grown so much in just finding my process.

Have you any preferred surfaces when you are out on the streets?

I love brick walls — the way art ages on brick walls. And I like smooth doors because they’re easy to use.

How would you describe your ideal working space?

At the moment I have my ideal working space — here at Con Artist.  I love my Con Artist family. But I can imagine some day sharing a huge space with the extraordinarily talented Ian Bertram, a constant source of inspiration!

Ian Bertram art Speaking with Mor

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

As much time as I possibly can — when I’m not dealing with family responsibilities or bartending, my main source of income.

Any thoughts about the marketing of graffiti by the corporate world?

We all know that the corporate world is filled with scoundrels and pirates, but we also know that as artists, we need its financial support.

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

It is the artist’s role to channel deeply seated emotions and creativity in a positive way. It is an essential role.

Mor stencil art skate boards Speaking with Mor

What do you see as the future of street art?

I have no idea where it’s going. There’s been too much hype around street art.  But graffiti will always sustain. Someone will always be writing his or her name on a wall.

What’s ahead for you?

I just want to continue to channel my creativity into living a productive life as an artist, while engaging and, hopefully, enriching others.  Tomorrow night I will be showing my newest pieces, alongside Ian Bertram, at City Bird Gallery.

Ian Bertram and Mor City Bird Gallery Speaking with Mor

 Congratulations! That sounds great!

Photos: 1 and 7 City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud; 2, 4 and 5 Lois Stavsky; 3  Sara C. Mozeson & 6 Ian Bertram

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Living and working as a full-time artist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Milan native Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz first visited NYC in 2008. He has since moved here, enhancing NYC and beyond with his strikingly stylish aesthetic. This post is the first in a new series of interviews with artists born abroad who have decided to make NYC home.

iena cruz painting miami auction Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

When did you first visit NYC?

It was the summer of 2008. I stayed here for a month.  At the time, I didn’t know anyone in NYC.

What brought you here? Why NYC?

I was on vacation, and I was interested in exploring other cities. I had begun to feel that Milan is too small for me.  NYC seemed like a logical place to visit.

Iena Cruz in studio Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

What was your first impression of NYC?

I fell in love with it at once.  I didn’t understand it, but I loved it. I felt inspired by the chance to be connected to so many different cultures. I thought everything about NYC is great!

What was your image of NYC back in Milan?

It was out of focus. The only image I had of it came from what I saw in movies and music videos. I really had no idea what to expect.

Iena Cruz street art williamsburg NYC Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

When did you decide to return here? 

I knew soon after my first visit that I needed to come back.

How did your family feel about you leaving Milan for NYC?

They were supportive. They know how difficult life is for an artist in Milan. Back home no artist is taken seriously until after he is past 50.

iena cruz puerto rico street art Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

What were some of the challenges you faced once you decided to make NYC home?

I had to learn a new language. I had to find work to meet basic living expenses. I constantly had to concern myself with visa requirements and paper work. And in order to do all this, I had to put aside my painting. There was a general sense of instability.

Your current living situation is ideal – as your home is also your studio. How did you get so lucky?

I discovered this place on craigslist. When I contacted the owner, he asked me to show him a sample of my artwork! As soon as he saw it, he took me on as a tenant. At the time there were two other artists living here, both Mexican.

Iena Cruz bushwick street art Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

What was that like – sharing the space with these other artists?

It was wonderful at the time! And they’ve had a tremendous influence on my aesthetic. Through them, I discovered Mexican culture, and I’ve since adapted elements of it into my artworks.

Now that the space is all yours, how do you meet all your expenses?

Largely through a variety of commissioned projects. I also sell artworks and do set design.

iena cruz street art NYC Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

Do any particular projects stand out?

The huge mural I did for the Williamsburg Cinemas on the corner of Grand and Driggs was an experience! It was unlike anything I had done before – both aesthetically and in terms of the people with whom I interacted while painting it.  And last month, I had the opportunity to participate in FAAM, Fine Art Auction Miami in Wynwood.

How has your artwork evolved or changed since you came here?

My current works feature and fuse elements of Italy, Mexico and NYC.  And as I’m inspired to push myself here, my art is certain to continue to evolve and develop.

Cruz close up street art Williamsburg nyc Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz: From Milan, Italy to Williamsburg, Bklyn

How receptive have New Yorkers been to your artwork? To you?

It’s been so positive. My sense is that folks here admire my work, and they’ve been so welcoming.

What’s ahead?

Now that I have my green card, I just want to keep painting murals and exhibiting my artwork.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud  

Photos: 1. In Miami for the FAAM MAJOR STREET ART AUCTION and 4. In Puerto Rico, courtesy of the artist; 2. In the artist’s studio, Lois Stavsky; and 3, 5-7, In NYC, Dani Reyes Mozeson

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The first day of spring 2015 brought wintry snow to NYC. Here are a few images I captured while in Greenpoint for the day:

 Phetus

phetus greenpoint Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

Matthew Denton Burrows

matthew denton burrows street art nyc Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

Cern

Cern street art greenpoint Brooklyn NYC Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

Tone

tone greenpoint Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

 Faring Purth

Farin Purth greenpoint NYC Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

ShiroYes One and Tone MST

shiro yes1 tone graffiti greenpoint nyc Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

To be identified

greenpoint graffiti nyc Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more

 Miro RIS (& Shiro, top right)

Miro graffiti Greenpoint nyc Back to Greenpoint on a Snowy First Day of Spring with Phetus, Matthew Denton Burrows, Cern, Faring Purth, Shiro, Yes One, Tone. Miro & more 

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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While in L.A. earlier this week to celebrate the expansion of the Google Cultural Institute’s Street Art Project, Houda Lazrak  – co-curator of the Bushwick Collective online exhibit and the earlier 5Pointz one – had the opportunity to check out the neighboring streets. Here’s a sampling of what she found:

Beau Stanton

beau stanton street art LA Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Pixel Pancho

Pixel Pancho street art LA Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Fin DAC and Christina Angelina

Fin DAC Angelina Christina street art LA Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Lady Aiko

Lady Aiko street art LA Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Hueman

Hueman close up LA Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Roa

Roa street art LA  Street Art NYC in L.A. with: Beau Stanton, Pixel Pancho, Fin DAC & Christina Angelina, Lady Aiko, Hueman and Roa

Photos by Houda Lazrak

Note: Houda Lazrak, a graduate student in Museum Studies at New York University, is a frequent contributor to StreetArtNYC and co-curator of the Bushwick Collective and 5Pointz on-line exhibits for the Google Cultural Institute’s Street Art Project.

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Andre downtown Manhattan NYC street art Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

This is the sixth in a series of occasional posts featuring the range of curious characters that have made their way onto NYC open spaces:

French artist André in Downtown Manhattan

andre. street art nyc Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

Bradley Theodore in SoHo

Bradley theodore street art nyc Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

French artist Kashink in Bushwick 

Kashink street art nyc Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

Dasic and Spanish artist Spok Briller at the Bushwick Collective

Dasic spok brillor street art Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

 Nick Kuszyk aka RRobots in Williamsburg

RRobot street art nyc Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

See One at the Bushwick Collective

see one street art NYC Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

Robert Plater for JMZ Walls

Robert plater Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

Puerto Rican artists Nepo and Son in Bushwick for this past summer’s Juicy Art Fest

Nepo son street art Curious Characters on NYC Streets, Part VI: André, Bradley Theodore, Kashink, Dasic & Spok Briller, RRobots, See One, Rob Plater, Nepo & Son

Photos: 1, 2, 5-7 & 9  Lois Stavsky; 3 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 4 & 8 Tara Murray

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Damien Mitchell street art Bushwick NYC1 Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

Australian native Damien Mitchell has been gracing NYC walls with his wonderful talents since moving here two years ago. We visited him at his studio while he was readying for his solo exhibit — Tools of the Trade — opening tomorrow Friday, the 13th, at Low Brow Artique.

Damien Mitchell Inwood street art Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

When and where did you first share your artwork on a public space?

My first experience with graffiti was at age 8. I wrote ‘fuk’ on the underside of our family’s coffee table. I then blamed it on my two-year old niece, Alice.

What or who inspired you to do so?

I can’t remember — though it must have been important, as I still do it now and then. Alice is getting really sick of my shit.

Do you have a formal art education? 

No.

Damien Mitchell street art nyc Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

How do you feel about the movement of works by street artists and graffiti writers into galleries? Have you exhibited your work in a gallery setting? If so, where and when?

It is what it is. When you take a work off a truck or wall and stick it in a gallery, it no longer moves like it does outside. It can’t sneak up on you or take you by surprise. That said, I am showing paintings at Low Brow Artique tomorrow, Friday the 13th, from 6-9pm.

When did you come to NYC? What brought you here?

I first arrived five years ago to visit my wife’s family. I was only here for a few weeks,  but I got a few walls up including one at 5Pointz – R.I.P.  We moved over here for a longer term on Independence Day two years ago.

What are some of the specific challenges of working/living here in NYC as an artist?

Like anywhere, when you give your work away for free on walls — often times against the will of the building owner — things can get a little weird. Luckily, there are lots of walls to go around, and sometimes they even pay you for it.

Damien Mitchell paints NYC1 Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

 Where else have you painted? Have you a favorite city?

When I was 18, I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. I lived there for eight years painting everything I could. Say what you will about the hangover from the Soviet era but it sure left a lot of bare concrete walls. Also, I once painted my butthole blue just to see if it would change the color of my poop. It didn’t.

Any thoughts about the street art/graffiti divide?

Personally, I wear two hats. I think it’s nice to be able to drink beer in the summer time, while painting a wall at a block party somewhere, but it’s also fun as hell to run around writing shit on walls on the sly. Graffiti heads get all pissy because their work is illegitimatized by street art’s aesthetics and message.

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

When I was growing up in rural Australia, the Internet was the only way to see any of this stuff. If it wasn’t for sites like Stencil Revolution, I probably would have become a plumber or something.

Damien Mitchell stencil art graffiti tools Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

Do you prefer working alone or painting with others? With whom have you collaborated? Is there anyone in particular with whom you’d like to collaborate?

For legal walls, I’m up for collaboration. There are things you learn and tips — you don’t realize you are giving — that make artists better when they work together. This last year I was lucky enough to work with Edob Love and Heesco painting a couple of walls here in NYC. Who knows what will pop up in 2015?

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

Both. When I’m painting a large portrait, I usually have some kind of sketch with me to start with, and then I let it go. Showing up to a wall with a big bag of paints and just emptying them all as it goes makes for some of my favorite work, though.

How has your artwork evolved during the past few years? Has living in NYC affected your aesthetic?

Since living in NYC, I’ve been offered larger walls, so I’ve had to significantly change how I work. For years I was painting primarily with stencils, but once the walls got big enough, I ditched them. As for aesthetic, I paint what’s around me, so the city and its residents constantly pop up in my work.

DM exhibit Damien Mitchell on Graffiti, Street Art, Prague, NYC, His Upcoming Exhibit at Low Brow Artique and more

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

I don’t know what the role of the fine artist is, though the role of the graffiti artist — in my opinion — is to be the voice of social change. When there is nowhere to raise your voice, grab some paint and write it on the wall.

Can you tell us something about your exhibit that opens tomorrow at Low Brow Artique?

It’s called Tools of the Trade. A homage to graffiti, it celebrates the tools used by graffiti artists.

What’s ahead for you?

After spending some more time here in NYC, my wife and I are heading to Brazil. The more I look, the more I like!

Photo credits: 1. & 4. Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2. & 3. Lois Stavsky & 5. City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud

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jared Levy Cern Updating Philosophies Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

Brooklyn-based director and cinematographer Jared Levy has traveled the world pursuing his distinct docu-journalism.  Among his projects is Graffiti Fine Art, an award-winning documentation of artists who participated in the 1st International Graffiti Biennial in São Paulo, Brazil. More recently, NYC’s Cern was the subject of a short film called Updating Philosophies. Eager to find out more, I met up with him last week in Williamsburg.

Your award-winning film Graffiti Fine Art is a wondrous ode to graffiti. What drew you to graffiti? Any early memories?

I grew up in a small town on Long Island, where there was no graffiti. And I was indifferent to it on my trips into the city. It was when I visited São Paulo in 2009 that I first discovered it on another level and appreciated it.

Ces graffiti fine art Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

What brought you to São Paulo?

I had recently graduated from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and I was interested in developing a portfolio. After spending two weeks on vacation in Brazil during Carnaval, I was eager to return to the country. I arrived without any preconceived notion about what topics I would cover. At the time I felt like it was better to explore what was there than to conjure up ideas about a place I didn’t know. It didn’t take long for São Paulo’s graffiti to grab my attention. The city is completely covered in paint.

How were you able to meet and connect to so many street artists in a relatively short period of time?

Lots of serendipity!  I was at a bar in São Paulo when I mentioned to one of the few English-speakers there, Nathalie Stahelin, that I was interested in the art I’d seen on the walls of the city. She introduced me to Melton Magidson, the former owner of Magidson Fine Art on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Melton then introduced me to Ethos, who became the subject of my first graf video. Up until that point it had been three relatively frustrating months of dead ends. These encounters, which all happened within a crazy two-day span, dramatically changed my entire situation in Brazil.

Suiko graffiti fine art Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

How did you then go on to film Graffiti Fine Art?

Through the Ethos video, I started meeting more writers by offering to take photos of them painting. It was a great way to meet people, exchange art and become friends. Eventually I met Binho. His friendship, along with a few other artists, really helped set the stage for my time in São Paulo. Graffiti Fine Art developed when Binho invited me to film an event he was curating — the 1st International Graffiti Biennial featuring works by 65 street artists from 13 countries at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo.

What was the experience like?

For eight days the museum stayed open 24/7. Most artists came to work on their murals after hours. I never wanted to miss a mural so during those eight days and nights, I took naps on a bench in a janitor’s closet when I wasn’t filming. I never left the grounds of the museum. It was a blast hanging out and meeting artists from all over the world. A priceless experience. 

jaz graffiti fine art Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

Belin Graffiti fine art Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

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

On one level it thrills me, as it gives these artists the respect and recognition they deserve. But it’s no longer graffiti. The definition of that is pretty cut and dry – letters in the public domain. But at the time this was a new question for me to explore, being relatively new to the scene. For the artists however, this conversation was old news. I think that actually helped the film in that it brought fresh eyes to the topic. I hope it made the film more accessible for people not familiar with graffiti/street art. But to answer your question, it’s a game of semantics and I’m just glad these incredibly talented artists are reaching new audiences.

In addition to being visually mesmerizing, your film touches on so many key issues about the movement that speak to us. Were you satisfied with your final work?

Yes, absolutely. I learned a lot through every part of the process. It’s interesting, four years removed from it and my relationship to the film is still evolving. My thoughts on the piece both technically and conceptually continue to change as I improve as a filmmaker. But, honestly, I just grow fonder of it really, as it reminds me of a specific time in my life. A really fun and exciting time.

Cern graffiti fine art Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

What – would you say – were your greatest challenges in working on this project in São Paulo?

Certainly language.  Even after I learned basic Portuguese, idioms and slang terms – specific to the city —  confounded me. And São Paulo’s infrastructure is particularly challenging. Filming all of the São Paulo exterior timelapses was a 3-4 week battle, but now that it’s over, I definitely cherish the unique relationship I feel I have with the city itself. Also, it is always delicate filming and representing process. Building trust and creating authentic capture is a challenge I continually face. Even more so in this case when you’re a foreigner asking for an artist’s trust. I respect the artists greatly for opening up to me.

Your company Navigate recently produced a short film which you directed called, Updating Philosophies, featuring NYC artist Cern.  Can you tell us something about that process?

Justin Hamilton, the film’s cinematographer/co-owner of Navigate, and I filmed Cern for seven days – at work on a mural, on a truck and with his balloon structures. Each day we got up before sunrise to assure the best light. The final video is about 5 minutes. Its focus is on the creative process. 

cern with balloons updating philosophies Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

cern paints updating philosophies Speaking with Brooklyn Based Director and Cinematographer Jared Levy

Why did you decide to make Cern the subject of a video?

I originally met Cern, who is a New Yorker, in São Paulo for Graffiti Fine Art. So it’s come full circle in a way. Once I moved back to NYC in 2011, I developed a personal relationship with him. I’ve always found him to be thoughtful, kind and talented. I knew a short film taking a deeper look at his ideas would yield great results. He’s a smart, philosophical dude. It’s also my first crack at a graffiti/street art related piece since Graffiti Fine Art. My relationship with Cern felt like a great opportunity to dive back into the genre with a — hopefully — sharper cinematic eye.

What’s ahead?

I’m interested in pursuing and telling different types of stories that connect us all. I find process to be far more interesting than the end result. Through process you can learn so much about the creator — where often the connection to the audience exists. Telling these types of thoughtful and authentic stories is what we hope to continue at Navigate.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of Jared Levy and Julian Walter

Photos: 1. On the set of Updating Philosophies with Cern; 2  Ces, close-up from Graffiti Fine Art still; 3. Suiko, close-up from Graffiti Fine Art still; 4. Jaz, close-up from Graffiti Fine Art still; 5. Shockclose-up from Graffiti Fine Art still; 6. Cern, still from Graffiti Fine Art; 7-8. On the set of Updating Philosophies with Cern

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Speaking with Scratch

March 5, 2015

An impassioned graffiti artist, Stockholm native Scratch is the only female to have painted at the legendary Graffiti Hall of Fame for four consecutive years.  Last year, together with her writing partner, Lady K Fever, she founded The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery an outdoor public art space featuring several internationally acclaimed graffiti artists. Scratch‘s public works can be seen in the Bronx, East Harlem and in Upper Manhattan.

scratch 720 nyc Speaking with Scratch

When and where did you first get up?

I was 14 when I first painted in my native city of Stockholm.  But I was a toy back then!

What were the circumstances?

The Swedish town I was living in at the time had become concerned about its “graffiti problem.” And so the government decided to establish a “graffiti school,” where we would be taught to paint in legal venues. I just wanted a space and free paint.

What was that experience like?

There were no formal classes, so we were free to learn from each other. And of course just about everyone who attended improved their skills and continued to painting illegally! I was the only girl who showed up.

Were there any artists who inspired you back then?

Yes! There was Brain – who taught at the  “graffiti school.” He was a major inspiration. And others who inspired me were Circle, Ward, Ziggy & Dizzy and Zappo.

scratch graffiti graffiti universe Bronx NYC Speaking with Scratch

Did you do anything risky back then?  

One Christmas morning – when all the shutters were down – I went out and bombed just about every store on my town’s main street.

That does sound risky! Why were you willing to take that kind of risk?

I was only 14; I didn’t really think about the consequences of my actions.

You moved to NYC in 1998 to work as a graphic designer. When did you begin painting graffiti here? And what got you back into it?

I hadn’t painted for many years. And then one day, as I was riding the 7 train into Flushing, I passed 5Pointz.  I couldn’t believe my eyes! A few days later, I went back to check it out, and that was it! I was hooked again. That was back in 2008.

What was it like for you at 5Pointz?

It was great. Meres is an amazing teacher, and just about all the writers I met there were kind and helpful.

scratch tats cru train small Speaking with Scratch

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

Graffiti and street art are very different. There may be some crossover, but they will remain distinct art forms. Graffiti is still identified with vandalism, and street artists get far more respect and recognition than do graffiti writers. But graffiti – to me – is stronger. It is more honest and direct.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti into galleries? Have you shown your work in galleries?

Graffiti wasn’t intended to be painted on a canvas. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t. But I have no problem with it. Yes, I’ve shown in a number of galleries.

What about the corporate world? Any thoughts about that?

I’m used to it. My background is in advertising.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I often work alone, but I’ve collaborated with Lady K Fever, and I assisted Kingbee and Vase at the Graffiti Hall of Fame.  I like both! I look forward to collaborating more with other artists.

scratch graffiti train Speaking with Scratch

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

I feel positive about it. I get to see artworks I would never, otherwise, get to see

Do you have a formal arts education?

No, my background is in advertising and marketing. I studied at Pace University.

What inspires you these days?

Fantasy. I’m a huge fan of Lord of the Rings.

Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?

I’d have to say the early graffiti writers in Sweden. But there they are referred to as graffiti painters – not writers!

scratch graffiti hall of fame Speaking with Scratch

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

Yes. I always have some kind of sketch with me when I paint.

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

No! I always want to change it.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s gotten better. It’s more detailed.

Pop up show Speaking with Scratch

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

To share his or her story with others.

What’s ahead for you?

More walls and huge productions. And also more opportunities to show my work.

Note: You can meet Scratch, along with other members of the The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery, tomorrow from 6 – 8pm at the spray can art show at Scrap Yard at 300 West Broadway between Grand and Canal Streets.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photos 1, 3 & 4 courtesy of Scratch 2. Lois Stavsky, and 5, Dani Reyes Mozeson

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Speaking with Rocko

February 26, 2015

Rocko street art NYC Speaking with Rocko

Fusing ancient Arabic scripts with modern Western strokes, Moroccan native Rocko has fashioned a distinct aesthetic that has been increasingly making its way onto NYC walls. We were delighted to have the chance to meet up with him this past weekend.

When did you first get up?

Back in Morocco in 1997. I was the first one to bomb in Meknès.  It was something that I had always wanted to do. I was a b-boy, and graffiti was always an essential aspect of that culture. I’d also painted for the pioneering hip-hop crew, Dogs, known these days as H-Kayne.

What about here in NYC?

Here in NYC I only work on legal spaces. There’s too much at risk here!

zimer rocko with passerby 720 Speaking with Rocko

What was your first piece here?

Three years ago I did my first piece for the Pita Palace on Montrose and Bushwick.

What was the experience like?

I loved it. I particularly love the interaction with the passersby as I’m painting.

What kinds of surfaces do you prefer?

As I generally paint with brushes, I need smooth surfaces. I also look for spots with no trees of cars blocking the view.

How have folks responded to your particular aesthetic – a fusion of Arabic calligraphy and graffiti?

The response was been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I am constantly asked to design tattoos featuring my particular calligraffiti.

rocko street dodworth Speaking with Rocko

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

They love it. Everyone is supportive.

What percentage of your day is devoted to your art?

About 40%.

What is your main source of income?

I work as a director of a senior center in Bushwick.

What are some of your other interests?

Cycling. I race for the Brooklyn Arches.

rocko calligraffiti on canvas Speaking with Rocko

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

I feel that it’s reached a turning point in recent weeks. I expect there will be less of a division from now on.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries? Have you shown your work in galleries?

I’m fine with it. It’s just a different context. Yes, I’ve shown my work in a number of spaces in Brooklyn.

What about the corporate world? Any thoughts about that?

I don’t mess with it!

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I often work alone, but I’ve collaborated with a number of artists including Zimer, Eelco and N Carlos J.

eelco and Rocko and Vera Times street art dodworth NYC Speaking with Rocko

Is there anyone in particular you would like to collaborate with?

I love what Sek3 is doing. I would like to collaborate with him.

When I first saw your work, I confused you with Retna. Does that happen often?

Yes! But I’ve been doing it for 34 years. It’s my culture!

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

I think it’s very important. It introduces us to so much.

Do you have a formal arts education?

No, I never went to art school. I’m self-taught. I began doing Arabic calligraphy when I was four years old with a wooden pencil!

rocko and n carlos j street art bushwick nyc Speaking with Rocko

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Just me in my studio. But working on public walls is more fun!

What inspires you these days?

Everything I see around me!

Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?

Arabic.

Rocko and Eelco street art nyc Speaking with Rocko

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

Never!  I freestyle.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s gotten better. Sharing my work in public spaces pushes me to work harder at my craft.

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

The artist has a huge responsibility to his or her community – to enhance it in a respectful manner.

Rocko calligraffiti Brooklyn NYC copy Speaking with Rocko

How do you feel about the photographers and bloggers in this scene?

They are very important!

What do you see as the future of street art?

It will just keep on growing and evolving.

And what about you? What’s ahead?

More walls, more collabs and more exhibits. I will also continue to curate the Dodworth Mural Project that I launched last year.

That sounds wonderful! We are looking forward! 

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Houda Lazrak; first photo courtesy of the artist; all others by Lois Stavsky; photo 2 is a collaborative with Zimer; 5 with Eelco and Vera Times; 6 with N Carlos J and 7 with Eelco

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Rafael sliks street art Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

While in Miami this past week, I had the opportunity to visit the grounds of the Jose De Diego Middle School. On the edge of Wynwood, its students are among the city’s most economically disadvantaged.  Over 600 youngsters, who had been deprived of an arts education due to insufficient funding, now attend a school that is also a wondrous outdoor museum. Curious about it all, I spoke to Don Rimx, one of the many artists who had participated in the school’s amazing transformation.

Reka street art wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

How did you become involved in this extraordinary project?

Soon after I moved to Miami, I met Robert Skran of WynwoodMap.com, a site that documents the public art that surfaces in Wynwood. A few months later, he invited me to participate in this particular project, the RAW Project, in partnership with the Wynwood Arts District Association.

Bikismo street art Wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

What was the goal of this project? Did it have a particular mission?

One goal, of course, was to transform a drab, blank concrete canvas into a vibrant outdoor gallery. It was also conceived as a means to raise funds to enable the school to restore its arts program that had been lost to budget cuts.

MTO Paola Delfin street art wynwoood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

When did the actual painting begin?

We began in November and most of the murals were completed by early December.

martin whatson street art wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

How did the students respond to the entire process?

They loved it. They were fascinated. They loved watching us paint, and they kept on asking us questions.

mad steez axel void street art wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

What kinds of questions did they ask you? 

Questions like: Why are you painting this? Where did your idea come from? How do you do this? How long will it take you to finish it? Why are you painting sticks?

Don Rimx street art wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

Back in December when Art Basel was in town, the school’s makeover attracted so many street art aficionados and art lovers. What’s happening these days?

The entire community loves the murals. The art on these walls have brought us all closer together. When I pass by, I often see teachers taking students on tours of the murals. The kids are always interested in learning something new about them and about the artists. And because so many of the artists traveled to their school from across the globe, there is so much to learn!

diana contreras street art wynwood Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

This really is fabulous! It would be wonderful if the Jose De Diego Middle School could serve as a model to other schools — on all grade levels — everywhere!

Hox Jose De Diego Middle School street art Miami Jose De Diego Middle School as Outdoor Museum: Rafael Sliks, Reka, Bikismo, MTO, Paola Delfin, Martin Whatson, Madsteez, Axel Void, Don Rimx, Diana Contreras, the Hox & more

The murals pictured above are just a small sampling of what can be seen on the walls of the Jose De Diego Middle School:

1. Brazilian artist Rafael Sliks

2. Australian born, Berlin-based Reka

3. Puerto Rican artist Bikismo

4. French artist MTO (left) and Mexican artist Paola Delfín

5. Norwegian stencil artist Martin Whatson

6. West Coast-based Madsteez (left) and Miami-based Axel Void

7. Puerto Rican artist Don Rimx currently based in Miami  – with son, Kye, standing on bottom right. (I’d asked him to take me to his favorite mural!)

8. Miami-based Peruvian artist Diana Contreras

9. Miami-based the Hox

Photos and post by Lois Stavsky

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