While down in Miami, I met up with Bronx native Mastro whose masterful graffiti designs and styles can be found on walls, hats and a range of surfaces throughout NYC, Miami and beyond.
Can you recall any early graffiti memories?
My earliest memory is riding the 6 train to Pre-K. Everything around me was bombed. I remember thinking, “What is this magic?” Growing up in the Bronx, I saw classic NYC graffiti everywhere. Seen, Mad and Pjay were among the writers I saw on my day-to-day commute.
When and where did you first hit the streets?
When I was in 5th grade, I started with stupid, little tags – like Shadow and Ace – all along Zerega Avenue. I was also getting up in my school. I thought I was “King!” But I was a toy.
What inspired you to get up?
Graffiti was everywhere. How could I not?
When and how did you come up with the name Mastro?
I was in my mid-teens. It was actually part of my name, and none of the aliases made any sense.
Did you paint with a crew back then or were you largely alone?
I generally liked to keep it solo and quiet.
And thse days?
I paint both solo and with others. But I don’t think the crew should define the writer. Rather, the writer should define the crew.
Do you have a formal art education?
Yes. I have a BA in Architecture from Pratt.
Did you go on to work as an architect?
After I graduated, I worked as an architect for a while. But at the same time I began customizing hats. And that business took off almost immediately – and was a lot more fun! I thought, “Why should I work for someone else when I can do better on my own?”
And just how are you doing on your own?
I’m doing great. I never expected my business to go this far. Besides customizing hats, I get paid to do body painting and lettering. And I’m also commissioned to produce graffiti murals and installations.
What would you say is the key to your success?
It’s a matter of my being in the right place at the right time. And that is something I work on doing.
Although you are based in NYC, you seem to spend more time on the road then you do back home.
Yes, I’ve been traveling just about full-time across the U.S. I try to cover as many music/art festivals and fairs that I possibly can. I tend to hang out where there are lots of people all the time.
What are some of the challenges of leading such a nomadic life?
The biggest challenge is having to do my own laundry.
As you didn’t forge a career as an architect, would you way that your Pratt education was worthwhile?
Yes! It definitely taught me how to become a better artist. But it did not teach me how to sell my technique.
How does your family feel about what you are doing?
My parents get a kick out of it!
What percentage of your time is devoted to art?
Technically – all of it. I create non-stop both on and off the wall. My art is my “work.” The only aspect of it that actually feels like work is when I’m moving and lifting materials.
What advice would you offer young artists who would like to build a successful art business?
Always have access to your presentation portfolio. Be prepared to share it with anyone at any time. Know how to write a proposal, a contract and a rider sheet. And be ready to easily accept all types of payment from credit cards to PayPal.
How do you feel about the role of the Internet and social media in this scene?
I don’t like the Internet. I don’t like having to use technology to promote myself. But I can’t deny that it does increase recognition, awareness and sales.
That would seem to be a good thing.
But social media can easily turn you into a techno-slut. Too many people seem to depend on social media to increase their value. It’s your work that should be valued, not your number of “likes” or followers. Back when I first started, we did it for the love of it; now folks do it for the “likes.” And back in the day, you had no idea what a writer in Australia was doing unless you saw it in a magazine. These days, it is just far too easy to borrow and regurgitate styles from half way around the world.
Are there any particular cultures – or artists — that have influenced your aesthetic?
Growing up in the Morris Park section of the Bronx, I was influenced, of course, by everything that was happening around me – graffiti, hip-hop, breakdancing. The artist who had the hugest influence on my aesthetic was Wane COD, a master of intricate simplicity.
What are your favorite places to paint?
Abandoned places that are withering away, and those places that have stood the test of time where nature is flourishing
How has your artwork evolved in the past few years?
I’m trying to make it crisper and smoother. I would like all demographics to be able to understand my writing.
What do you see as the role of the artist in society?
I’m here to create. I don’t think about it.
Building and creating wherever life takes me. Living my life as a “permanent vacation,” earning money doing what I love.
Note: Photos are of artworks seen in NYC and in Miami. Pictured in the third photo are: Mastro, Eskae and Disem – with Mastro and Eskae trading names.
Photo credits: 1-3, 7 & 8 Lois Stavsky; 4 & 5 Tara Murray; and 6 Mastro; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky