interview

Underhill Walls — a  model grassroots project in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights —  has once again morphed. This time it is a canvas for 17 diversely enchanting murals reflecting the theme Urban Jungle. While visiting it last week, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions about Underhill Walls— its origins and more — to its indefatigable curator, Jeff Beler.

Underhill Walls continues to bring so much intrigue and beauty to this neighborhood. When did this project first begin?

The first set of murals surfaced here — at St. Johns Pl. and Underhill Avenue — back in the fall of 2015.

How were you able to access these walls? The concept is brilliant. It reminds me of the Centre-fuge Public Art Project that for years transformed an East Village eyesore — a neglected DOT trailer — into a rotating open-air street art gallery.

I live nearby, and I had been eyeing those walls for 10 years. They’d been ravaged by a fire, and they’d been neglected. I eventually contacted the owner of the three-floor abandoned building who was open to the concept of beautifying the property.

And then what? How did the actual transformation take place?

I started to put a team together. The first step was to build panels. And the first artists to participate in the project back in 2015 were: UR New York, Fumero, Badder Israel, Raquel Echanique, Col Wallnuts and Sienide.

Did you collaborate with any organizations at the time?

For our first project, we coordinated with the non-profit Love Heals. Titled “What’s Your Sign? Mural Project,” our first project’s mission was to raise public awareness for the HIV/AIDS crisis among  Black and Latino youth.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in seeing this project through these past few years?

Selecting artists with the right chemistry to work together. When that happens, everything flows smoothly and beautifully. And this is exasctly how “Urban Jungle” played out.

How often do the murals change?

Twice a year. Every May and October. Since 2015, we’ve had nine rotations.

What’s ahead?

So long as the panels are here, we will be here! And each project will continue to reflect a distinct theme.

Fabulous!

Images

1  Oscar Lett

2  Justin Winslow

Ralph Serrano (L) and Giannina Gutierrez (R) 

4  Jaima and Marco Santini collaboration

5  Nassart

6  Jeff Beler

7  Android and Miishab collaboration

8  Majo

Interview with Jeff conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos by Lois Stavsky

Keep posted to StreetArtNYC Instagram for more recent images from Underhill Walls.

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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Comprised of interviews with 17 American and European artists who use the stencil technique as their principal means of expression, STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES, by art and culture enthusiast Serge Louis, has arrived in New York City! Featuring 444 pages and 273 illustrations, along with an introduction by stencil art connoisseur Samantha Longhi, it is Serge Louis’s second book devoted exclusively to stencil art. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Serge:

What spurred your interest in stencil art?

I’ve always been passionate about alternative forms of expression and how and why they surface. Why do folks create stencils? And how do they go about sharing them with others? And stencil art particularly appeals to me because it’s an ideal way to translate and share a message.

Yes. Stencils are quite an accessible means of communication. When did you begin working on this book?

I’ve been interested in stencil art for over a decade, and I had already published one book on the theme. Pochoirs et Pochoiristes à Bruxelles specifically focuses on Brussels’ rich stencil art scene. Three years ago, I began this book of interviews and images produced by artists in both America and in Europe.

Have you any early memories related to stencil art? Or any that stand out?

My earliest memory is of a very simple black and white one. Every stencil stands out in some way. Each one is something new. Each one is a surprise. Since I started paying attention to stencils, the way I view my environment has changed. Each city is distinct. And when I visit someplace new, I feel as though I’m on a “hunt.”

I can certainly relate to that! What were some of the challenges you encountered in producing this book?

The main challenge was convincing the artists to give me the time I needed to interview them in depth. Their time is precious, and they had to feel that taking the time to share their experiences was worthwhile and would interest others.

How can folks get a copy of STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES?

Along with several of the artists, I will be at 212 Arts — 523 East 12th Street — on Saturday afternoon, June 1, and I will be signing copies of the book. You can also order the book through the publisher.

What’s ahead?

I’ve begun sorting through photos for my next book, and I have already interviewed six artists.

Good luck with it all! And Saturday’s book signing at 212 Arts is certainly a cause for celebration!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos courtesy of Serge Louis

  1. Cover of book featuring stencil art by those artists interviewed for STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES:  Ben Spizz, Billi Kid, Crisp, Dave Lowell, Dipo, Docteur Bergman, ENX, Jaune, Jinks Kunst, Logan Hicks, Nice Art, Niz, Praxis, Raf Urban, Spencer, Stew and Tripel
  2. Austin, Texas-based Peruvian native Niz
  3. Brooklyn-based Colombian native Praxis
  4. New York-based Colombian native Billi Kid
  5. Austin, Texas-based Dave Lowell
  6. Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised Logan Hicks

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I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jason Mamarella, as he readies for today’s print release and his upcoming exhibition at the Living Gallery Outpost.

When I first started exploring NYC’s streets in pursuit of street art —  well over a decade ago — I saw your now-iconic character, dint wooer krsna, everywhere! He was one of the most prolific images around town. He has since been featured in over two dozen books and has made his way onto a range of media including the opening scene of Exit Through the Gift Shop. You’d once told me that dint wooer krsna was conceived as your online identity at about the same time that MySpace was born.

Yes! It was online before it was on the streets. I did not want to reveal who I was. It was critical that my identity remain hidden at that time.  Someone had threatened to shoot me over a woman, and I had reason to believe he was quite serious.

What about the name krsna?  I’ve always wondered about it.

It’s a reference to Hare Krishna. I used to hang out in Hare Krishna temples. The Hindu God Krishna was a vegetarian — as I am. He was a friend of the cow.

What motivated you to hit the streets with dint wooer krsna

I was newly divorced, and I needed to get out of the house. I’d been tagging for years — since I was a teen — but I wanted my character to stand out. krsna was my first wheatpaste.

Have you ever been arrested?

I’ve been arrested three times for vandalism. The first was in 1993 at an after-party at Ferry Point Park. Together with Aones WTO, Kech & James “V.E.” Conte, R.I.P,  I was caught tagging the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. The penalty was  community service and five years ACD. Then in 2008, I was caught and identified online for getting stencils up in Hoboken. After nine summonses, a judge yelled at me for 20 minutes. Nothing more. But I had to pay $3,000 to have a lawyer stand next to me in court. And in 2010, an undercover grabbed me on 2nd Avenue in the East Village for two stickers I’d put up. The cop told me that I was responsible for bringing kids into this “degenerate lifestyle,” and he called the Vandal Squad.

Had you any particular influences? 

James “V.E.” Conte, R.I.P. He got up everywhere. He was obsessive compulsive. I modeled myself on him — trying to get up as much and as often as I possibly could.

For several years you were largely absent from the streets.

Yes, in 2013, I began focusing, almost exclusively, on my studio work.

So what brought you back?

I guess it was always in me. It was just dormant for awhile.

How has the street art scene changed since you first hit the streets with dint wooer krsna?

Just about everything after 2010 is irrelevant; it’s all about legal permission spots. Much of it is devoid of any originality or intellectual merit.

What — do you suppose — is responsible for this change?

Projects like The Bowery Wall and the film Exit Through the Gift Shop have pushed street art so much into the mainstream that it has become trendy. People just want to hop onto the bandwagon.

Yes. It’s certainly lost its subversive appeal to those of us who were initially drawn to that aspect of it. How has your art evolved over time?

I’m leaning more towards abstraction.

You have a new hand-embellished print, Jibb Wibbles, about to be released. I know that your first three prints sold out quickly. How can folks get hold of this new one?

It’s available from House of Roulx at this link. All proceeds will go to benefit Little Wanderers, a non-profit that rescues needy cats.

And can you tell us something about your upcoming exhibit at the Living Gallery Outpost?

I will be showing my new paintings from noon to 9pm on the weekend of June 15th and 16th. They’re dark.

That should be interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing them all!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Katherine Zavartkay; 2 Lois Stavsky, 2011, East Village; 3-5 courtesy of the artist

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The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

While in Vienna, I had the chance to meet and talk with Jakob Kattner, founder of Calle Libre, the impressive mural festival that has been enlivening Vienna’s 6th and 7th district walls since 2014.

How would you describe Calle Libre? And why the Spanish name?

I would describe Calle Libre as a festival of urban aesthetics. My doctoral thesis focused on urban art in South America. I researched it there for 14 months, and this festival is my way to give back to the artists who helped me — who let me live with them and document their lives.

Where in South America did you do your street art research?

Colombia was the first country I visited. Stinkfish became a friend. He introduced me to the local scene, which really paved the way for me to explore further. I then went to Brazil, where I found a unique urban art style whose history is unfamiliar to most people. And, finally, Argentina. There I could feel how the weight of dictatorial history had impacted the street art scene but, also, how artists finally found their freedom.

How has Calle Libre evolved since 2014?

 We have broadened the programing every year. It started with live painting at the Danube Canal, along with an exhibition. We then added workshops at mumok. And the following year, we hosted film screenings, organized performances and presented artist talks. We also started doing annual signed screen print editions in collaboration with Limited Edition Art Prints aka LEAP. Among the artists we work with are Millo, Alfalfa, Inkman, Rodrigo Branco and Stinkfish. And in 2017, we launched guided tours.

What would you say is your main mission?

Intercultural exchange through art. We always include South American and local artists.

Is this your full time job?

I run a creative advertising agency called Warda Network. We produce creative, video and digital content. Actually, the agency does the documentation for Calle Libre, but the festival is its own separate nonprofit entity.

That’s why your online documentation is so great! Can you tell us something about your background?

I studied fine art and cultural theory. I am also a rapper. I’ve always wanted to work with moving images. I directed my own music video and that’s how I met my current partner at Warda Network.

Who is your team? Who helps you produce Calle Libre?

We are a team of seven. My fiancé, Laura, and I are the curators. When we started, it was just the two of us — and we still can’t believe how we managed to create an entire festival! Today, we rely on our team.

How many murals have you produced so far? 

 More than 35 but I am not sure how many are still up.

How have people reacted to Calle Libre?

It has been all positive feedback, especially from people who live near the walls that are painted during the festival. There is always a person from the team at each wall, and we have heard great things. We’ve also had funny incidents.

Such as?

When Mantra painted his 3D butterflies, someone asked us how he was able to put glass over such a big wall. And when Nychos painted a naked woman with a parrot on her shoulder in his signature Jugendstil-inspired style, a woman — whose house window faced the mural — asked why he was drawing her.

Do you focus on specific neighborhoods?

Each year we try to include new districts, but the 6th and 7th are where we have the most walls. It’s also where most of us live. These districts like the impact we’ve had, so we have good relationships with them. We try to pair artists with walls in relevant contexts. For example, the mural by Stinkfish — featuring a father carrying his child — is located on a kindergarten school property.

Have you collaborated with any museums in Vienna aside from mumok.?

The Albertina Museum contacted us about a possible collaboration on a Keith Haring exhibition. When we received the news, it was like we were knighted!

How do you get the funding to produce such a significant festival?

We get public funding from the city. We also received money from the European Union our first year. We apply for project grants, and we collaborate with local partners, based on where the walls are. It’s like playing the lottery! We never know how the next festival will be funded. We work for free and we love what we do, but it’s nice when the city and citizens give back. Every time we walk past the walls, we feel a sense of gratification.

Who are some of your favorite local artists?

Perk Up, Skirl, Frau Isa

What has been your biggest challenge since you first launched Calle Libre?

Convincing building owners to let us paint the walls! That’s definitely the hardest part.

Are there any artists on your wish list?

Inti, Pixel Pancho, Herakut, Os Gemeos. I also want to bring talented artists from South America who are not yet well-known in Europe.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next!

Images

1 Stinkfish

2 Kashink

3 Mr Woodland

4 HNRX

Mantra

6 Millo

7 Koz Dos

Interview and images 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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If you haven’t yet had your portrait drawn with one line in under one minute by the wonderfully passionate, nomadic Brooklyn-based 0H10 M1ke, tomorrow is your chance. From 6 – 10pm, Mike promises to do that and lots more at 198 Allen Street. Last week, we met up and caught up a bit.

When we last spoke in 2014, you said that your goal was to create 100,000 one-line matchbox portraits? Mine was 11,206! How close are you to your goal?

My most recent was #13,021! I’ve done quite a few at 17 Frost, at 198 Allen, on the trains, on the streets — anywhere I can!

How do you approach folks? And how do they respond?

I simply say, “Give me a New York moment; I’ll draw your portrait in one line on a matchbox in one minute.” They generally respond with skepticism. But once they see the portrait I’ve created, they like it.

In addition to your ongoing matchbox project, what other projects have engaged you as of late?

I’ve been preparing for my upcoming solo show and performance If Basquiat and Keith Haring had a baby…reimagining the works of Basquiat and Haring in one-line drawings. I’ve, also, been working on creating sculptures inspired by Warhol; instead of using Brillo boxes, I use Nike boxes. And I’ve been staging wrestling as dance, which will be projected –along with large portraits — onto a huge screen outside 198 Allen.

What inspires you to keep creating?

I’m compulsive. I have to. And people, the street art community in particular, have been welcoming and supportive.

Are there any particular artists out there who continue to influenc your aesthetic?

Obviously Haring and Basquiat. But other main influences include UFO and Neckface.

Anything else new — in terms of your art-making?

I’ve been getting my original drawings into hand-made books. I recently constructed a 3o-pocket rotating magazine rack, and I’ve filled it with all hand-made original artbooks and magazines. I also create on a larger variety of surfaces.

What’s ahead?

Murals, prints and reproducibles.

Good luck with it all!

Note: You can keep up with 0H10 M1ke here — now that he’s posting on Instagram!

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

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A master of style and ingenuity, the wonderfully talented and resourceful Sade TCM has been making his mark in the writing culture and beyond for over three decades. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit and interview the Mount Vernon-based modern legend.

When did you first get up?

I was in 7th grade when I hit the doors of Clark Junior High School in the South Bronx. I was hanging out in school with Rush M.P.C. who was tagging at the time with fat black markers. He suggested I try it. I did!

What inspired you to keep at it?

Graffiti was all around me. On ceilings. In hallways. Daze and Crash were doing gates that I passed every day while walking around my neighborhood.

And what about trains? When did you first hit the trains?

I was in 10th grade. It was the winter of 1982.

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

There are many, but the one that stands out is the day I arrived. The previous evening, I was over at the Esplanade lay-up in the Bronx at the Morris Park/Esplanade stop. I had written SADEISM across three quarters of a  blue and silver car — a beige interior, cherry red outline, sky blue flame cloud with a regal blue outline and white highlights. The next day — as I was sitting on the Writers Bench at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, along with Dez, G-man PGA, Sob and Cose — the train rolled by and and stopped directly in front of us. What a thrill that was! I knew then that I had arrived!

Did you generally hit the trains alone? 

I was often with my partner, Dune.

What was the riskiest thing you had done back in the day? And why were you willing to take those risks?

Running around in subways tunnels with live third rails and riding on tops of trains when they’re moving –- train surfing — were all risky. Why did I take those risks?  Youthful ignorance of consequences.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

They mostly didn’t know about it. But my mother definitely didn’t like it. She thought it was stupid, and she warned me that if I got arrested, she wouldn’t be coming to pick me up.

Would you rather paint legally or illegally?

Back then, it was all illegal. But these days I’d rather paint legally. I like the leisure of legal.

You are a master of styles — over 1,000, in fact!. Is there anyone in particular with whom you’d like to paint with or battle?

Yes! I’d like to paint with Baby 168. And I’d like to battle Skeme, because he called me a toy!

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

It’s a natural evolution. It legitimizes the value of the art. I’ve shown at Wall Works, at More Points and at the galleries of Westchester Community College and SUNY/Purchase University.

What is the main source of your income?

It has always been related to art. After I graduated from high school, I started my own business painting murals. But then after I was involved in a serious accident in 2000, I  switched to graphic design.

Have you a formal art education?

I earned an associates degree in visual arts from Westchester Community College and a BFA from SUNY/Purchase University. But when it came to graffiti, my primary educators were those writers I admired. I’d watch their work on lines as I was coming up.

Was your formal education worthwhile?

Carla Rae Johnson challenged me to use a pencil when I was a student at Westchester Community College. And at Purchase, I learned the most from my anthropology teacher regarding understanding cultures. A formal education did open my mind to broader possibilities.

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

95% of the time I work from a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Am I satisfied with it? Yes! Am I happy with it? No!

What is your ideal work environment?

My living room and my courtyard, here in Mount Vernon.

What inspires you these days? I’m a visual junkie. Sometimes sculpture. It could be anything! I draw every single day, and I always attempt to do something I haven’t done before.

How has your art evolved through the years?

It’s evolved in both subject matter and technique. I now draw beyond graffiti letters, and draw with pencils, crayons, and charcoal brushes.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Edgar Degas, I like the way he captured light…Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Frazetta. Among graffiti writers: Crash, Daze, Baby 168, Dondi, Tac, Spade, Dez, Part and Kel.

What are some of your other interests?

Writing and cooking. I used to be into motorcycle drag racing.

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

I feel that the divide exists because of titles. Graffiti writers and street artists can inspire one another. An evolution took place. Many of the early street artists like Keith Haring, Hektad, A. Charles and Richard Hambleton bombed the streets in the spirit of graffiti. Problems arise when street artists scoff at graffiti. Graffiti has not yet gotten the legitimacy it deserves.

What about the role of social media in all of this? How do you feel about that?

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great for gaining more documentation, knowledge  and exposure. But as the evolution of styles continues to grow at an alarming rate, the Internet has also ushered in an age of mediocrity.

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

A documentarian of the imagination, and the imagination is unlimited.

You recently curated an amazing event in the South Bronx celebrating the launch of the art collective, Ngozy. You were its principal founder.  What prompted you to launch it?

As an artist growing up in NYC, I know firsthand the struggles that artists face — particularly graffiti artists. Our culture is not given the value — nor the serious documentation — that it merits. We know that we have to start somewhere, and collectively we are stronger. Conversations with Ngozy partners John”Crash” Matos and Robert Kantor led to the birth of Ngozy

What is Ngozy‘s mission?

Among its many missions is to reach and educate the broad community about our culture.  We aim to facilitate the artists’ ability to sell and promote their art, as we make the art experience financially accessible to a wide public.

How can folks find out what artworks are available through Ngozy?

They can visit our site or download our free app for iOS or Android.

And what about artists? How can they become involved?

Anyone can register, set up an account, and submit work on the site or on the app. Blog posts and notices of events are also welcome!

I’ve recently registered, and it looks wonderful! I was delighted to discover the works of some of my favorite artists on the Ngozy site. What are some of the challenges you face in promoting the Ngozy collective?

The legitimacy of our art form remains a challenge. We need to shift the understanding of our culture on all levels. Getting exposure is essential, so that we can introduce Ngozy to new people. And we need sponsorship to accomplish our goals.

What’s ahead for Ngozy?

We are working on an all female live-painting event for October 27th, and we are currently seeking sponsorship. Among the many artists scheduled to participate are: Lady Pink, Shiro, Erotica and Steph Burr. Specific details and information will soon follow.

Note: Sade can be contacted at gfantauzzi22@gmail.com.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Tara Murray and edited by Lois Stavsky; all photos courtesy of Sade.

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Intent on empowering women and raising awareness on social justice, diversity and gender equality, Daniela ZOE Croci has been busy!  I recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and find out a bit more about Women to the Front, a project she has launched.– its  mission and its needs.

Can you tell us something about Women to the Front? You were its principal founder. What spurred you to launch it?  What is its mission?

Its mission is to equalize the gender balance in the arts. During the years that I was active at Exit Room — curating exhibits, arranging performances, organizing presentations and reaching out to the media — I felt that most of the males I came in contact with were dismissive of me. They largely avoided me, and I sensed that they did not take me seriously. In addition, about 80% of the artists who exhibited were male. It was time for a change!

Women to the Front was founded to provide opportunities for women to get together, inspire one another and to collaborate. At our events, you can expect to meet deejays, filmmakers, visual artists, performers and vendors – all females. Panel discussions on a range of relevant topics also take place. We are all about diversity and inclusion. Our mission is to inspire women to just “do it!”

When did Women to the Front hold its first event? 

Its premier event was held at Superchief Gallery here in Brooklyn in November, 2017. I’ve since partnered with Terry Lovette, a singer, performer, dancer and graphic designer. And we are now working on Women to the Front‘s third edition.

How do you decide which women to showcase in your events?

Diversity is essential. The majority of women we showcase are women of color, Latinas and Natives. I reach out to females who create meaningful art, often in relation to trauma and patriarchy. Essential, too, is the individual’s engagement with issues of social justice.

How do you go about finding these women?

Since I moved here. I’ve developed strong connections with many diverse communities through my involvement with hip-hop and dance.

What are some of the challenges you face in seeing your mission through?

One of the biggest challenges is getting folks to know about us. So much is going on, and the amount of information we receive via social media can be overwhelming. Raising funds is another huge challenge. We need money to pay artists, performers, panel discussion participants and more. We would also need sponsorship to enable us to produce videos and publicize what we are doing. We’ve set up a Go Fund Me to help make this happen.

What’s ahead?

A huge event, our third edition of Women to the Front, will take place on Thursday, November 15th at Superchief Gallery. And on October 11th, and a small pre-event will be held at the New Women Space, a community organizing space near the Graham Avenue stop on the L train. We are also working on setting up a Women to the Front Instagram feed and a Facebook account.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photo credits: 1 Erika Dickstein, 2 & 3  Zack Nesmith and flyer image-painting Jasmin Charles

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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While visiting PS9’s STEAM Mural Project in Prospect Heights last month, I came upon a delightfully playful mural gracing the outside of the school building. STEAM Mural Project curator Jeff Beler told me a bit about the intriguing visionary artist behind it — Cuban native Myztico Campo. I was delighted to, soon afterwards, have the opportunity to interview the Brooklyn-based, self-taught shamanic artist.

When did you first begin to make art?

My earliest memory is of melting crayons on the radiator, so that I could watch the colors drip. When I was about five or six, I started to draw.

What inspired you at the time?

I used to watch my father draw caricatures. I was fascinated.

Are there any other early art-related memories that stand out?

Growing up in Hells Kitchen, I attended Catholic school for twelve years. When I was 7 years old, I drew an image of Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaurs eating nuns. My classmates loved it. But the nuns didn’t; they were horrified. They responded to it by slapping me across my knuckles.

How did your family respond to your early art-making?

Both my parents were encouraging. They loved what I did.

What about your particular visionary aesthetic? When and how did that evolve?

When I was sixteen, I started to explore psychedelics — such as mescaline and peyote — and I began to have visions. I started then to create art that reflected an alternate consciousness. I felt as though I was connecting to the Godhead of infinite love.

Are there any specific cultures that have inspired or influenced your visionary aesthetic?

Among those that have influenced me are indigenous cultures… aboriginal, prehistoric and African.

Are there artists out there who particularly inspire you? Who impact your visionary aesthetic — or whose aesthetic you relate to?

Yes! Among them are: Alex Grey, Amanda Sage, Olga Klimova, Android Jones and Juan Carlos Taminichi

What about other artists? Who are some of your favorite artists?

They include: the visionary artist and poet William Blake; the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch; the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali and the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Do you have a formal art education?

No. I never went to art school.

Your artwork can be amazingly detailed. Approximately how long does it take you to complete a piece?

Anywhere between 40-60 hours.

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

There is always room for improvement; I sometimes go back to a “finished” piece and tweak it.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I’d say somewhere between 5-7 hours a day are devoted to visual art.

How has your art evolved through the years? 

Originally creating art was a hobby; I didn’t take it seriously. But as I grew, I began to see myself as a vessel for the art to express itself. And it became very important to me. I’ve, also,  expanded my range of media to include sculpture, 3-D art and digital art.

Have you shown your work in galleries?

Mostly in alternative venues. My work has been exhibited abroad in England, Spain, Peru, and here in the US in New Orleans and in New York.

You do quite a bit of live painting. What is that like?

I see it as sacred form of communication with the people who are around me.

I discovered your particular aesthetic while visiting the STEAM Mural Project  at PS 9 in Prospect Heights. When did you first paint in a public space?

The first public mural that I painted was in 2005 in East Yorkshire, England.

And since then?

Among the places I’ve painted outdoor murals are North Bergen, New Jersey and Tarapoto, Peru. And last year, I painted New York’s first black light street art at Underhill Walls here in Brooklyn.

What are some of your other interests?

I also produce films, direct music videos, compose and play music and write poetry.

That’s quite impressive! What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To heal and to raise consciousness. I see myself as a conduit to a higher consciousness.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos of Myztico Campo‘s artwork — as seen in his Brooklyn studio/living space — and of his PS 9 mural by Lois Stavsky 

Directed by Myztico Campo, the featured video stars Dakota Day, co-founder and lead vocalist for the psychedelic soul band Brooklyn Bonez, performing Buddy Guy’s “Skin Deep.”

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet up with Poornima Sukumar. A muralist and community artist based in India, she is the founder and director of  the Aravani Art Project, a collective that creates spaces for people from the transgender community to connect with other communities and cultures in their local neighborhoods. In July 2016, Poornima was invited to present the Aravani Art Project at the Global Youth Forum, and she was hosted by the World Bank as a panellist for the LGBTQIA+ discussion in Washington DC. She is also a TEDx speaker.

What is the mission of the Aravani Art Project? Can you tell us a bit about it?

It aims to create a collective space for people from the transgender community by engaging them in public art and other interventions. We are interested in providing opportunities for members of the transgender community to collaborate with artists, photographers, filmmakers and general members of society to voice issues and engage in dialogues. We want to help society see people from the transgender community in a new light. We also make an effort to become invested in their personal lives. We look out for them just as we would look out for our own friends. The projects are completely built on trust and friendship, and friends always look out for each other! We are intent, in fact, on providing members of the transgender community with access to health care, as well as the skills they need to procure jobs.

When was it started? And why?

It began in January, 2016. After 3 ½ years of working on a film about the transgender community in India and making close friends among members of that community, I wanted to remain involved.  I was concerned about the violence and the prejudice that so many of them encounter. I felt the need to bridge the gap between  members of the their community and society, at large.

Who are some of the other folks who have worked with you in implementing your mission?

Among them are: Sadhna Prasad, who serves as the project’s art director; trans leaders Shanthi Sonu and Priyanka Divaakar and trans artists Chandri and Purushi.

About how many people has the Aravani Art Project engaged so far?

Since the project began in 2016, we’ve engaged over 1,000 folks in 25 projects.

How have you made these opportunities for collaboration and exchange happen? That’s quite an impressive number of projects.

As a muralist and illustrator, I know many artists. We’ve also received commisions. This past year, Facebook, in fact, invited us to their office in San Francisco.

How has the general community responded to the Aravani Art Project?

Very beautifully – folks open up to us slowly, and, organically, folks want to connect.

And what about the name Aravani? What is its significance?

The term Aravani means a person who worships Lord Aravan, the patron God of the transgenders.

What’s ahead?

We are looking to forge more collaborations internationally and reach out to more communities whose voices remain unheard. We are planning two projects abroad and five in India. We are always seeking visibility.

How can folks become engaged in your projects?

We are eager to engage all folks — straight, gay, transgender — in implementing our projects. And if you are interested in becoming involved, you can write to us here.

That sounds great! And we look forward to seeing you back in NYC with the Aravani Art Project!

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Bonnie Astor; all photos courtesy the Aravani Art Project

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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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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