Robots Will Kill

Patrick-Verel-Graffiti-Murals

In his highly acclaimed book Graffiti Murals: Exploring the Impacts of Street Art, free-lance writer and photographer Patrick Verel presents six case studies, along with dozens of photographs, exploring the role of sanctioned graffiti murals and street art in the urban environment. I recently met up with him and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions:

What spurred your interest in this topic?

I was always into graffiti.  I have a short attention span, and I love being surprised! Cities stimulate me and graffiti is part of that stimulation.

How did this initial interest evolve into a book?

I never thought I’d actually write a book. It developed from the thesis that I wrote when I was enrolled in Fordam University’s Urban Studies Master’s Program.

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You focus on six cases from the South Bronx to Trenton, New Jersey. How did you connect to all of the folks whom you interviewed?

I sent out lots of emails after poking around the Internet.  And I made some of the connections via my Flickr contacts — like the photographer Luna Park, who hooked me up with Robots Will Kill.

What were some of the obstacles you encountered while doing your research?

Getting people to talk to me and synthesizing all of the information.

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You seem to have accomplished that quite well! What — would you say – was the mission of your book?

To change the way so many people think about graffiti. To introduce them to the positive benefits of graffiti murals in enhancing the urban environment.

Are there any particular factors that assure the success of these interventions?

So much depends upon the owner of the space and his relationship with the artists. That owner must be able to trust the artists to do what they want.  And a successful collaboration demands money, effort and time.

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Were there any unexpected outcomes following the publication of the book?

Yes! I received a positive response from City Government, and I connected to Natalie Raben of the Lower East Side BID and the 100 GATES Program.

Have you noticed any changes in the graffiti/street art since you wrote your book?

There seem to be more projects, like the Bushwick Collective and the Welling Court Mural Project, that give artists legal opportunities to paint outdoors.

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Published by Schiffer Publishing, Graffiti Murals: Exploring the Impacts of Street Art, is available online and in most bookstores.

Interview by Lois Stavsky

Photos of murals by Patrick Verel

1. Book cover, Lank completes mural he painted with Delve, Luv1 and Casso in Jersey City

2. Wallnuts mural in Gowanus with Dos, Chester, Muse, Been3 and Werc

3. 5Pointz in LIC with Meres, Zimad and more

4. Robots Will Kill in Bushwick with Chris, Veng, Peeta, Never & ECB

5. Taste, Mek, Evak, Sno Reo & Zoe at TerraCycle in Trenton, NJ

Note: Our highly acclaimed Street Art NYC App is now available here at Google Play for Android devices.

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ChrisRWK

Founder of the much-loved Robots Will Kill, Staten Island-based artist Chris Rwk Chillemi’s creates delightful character-driven artworks that find a home on the streets, in galleries and — most recently — on WAT-AAH!‘s premium bottled drinking water.  I was delighted to interview him.

When did it all begin? When did you first get into graffiti?

It was back in 1988 in Huguenot, Staten Island. I was 11. My brother and his friends started doing graffiti back then, and I would tag along and photograph it. About two years later, I began doodling on public surfaces.

We associate you with your hugely lovable, iconic characters. What was the inspiration behind them?

Letters didn’t hold my attention for all that long, as I’d always been so interested in cartoons and comics. I loved Gary Larson, Jim Davis and Disney stuff. Their styles were all different, but they all had really strong imagery and messages. My first illegal piece, in fact, was the wizard from Hagar the Horrible with a spray can doing a throw up! I can still remember the colors!

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What about Robots Will Kill? Can you tell us something about its origin?

Back in 1999, while on a fellowship in Vermont, I came upon a friend, Chris Rini, painting a giant cellphone holding a man! That’s when I came up with the notion that “robots will kill.”  If you do something too much and too often, it becomes robotic, and you lose your love for it.

Robots Will Kill – that began with you – has evolved into an informal global collective. Who are some of its members?

At first it was just me. Then Kevin and a bit later Veng joined. Since, we’ve collaborated with such artists as Peeta, ECB, Flying Fortress, JesseR. OverUnder and Mike Die.

Would you rather paint alone? Or do you prefer to collaborate with others?

I love both. In my studio, I’d rather work alone. But I love painting with others outdoors as it pushes me to another level.

Any thoughts about illegal vs. legal graffiti?

Ideally — what begins illegally evolves into something legal.

"Chris and Veng RWK"

You’ve exhibited your work in dozens of galleries. How do you feel about showing in formal settings?

It’s great. There are lots of folks who would never notice my work on the streets.  But when it’s in a gallery, they will have to pay attention to it.

What about the graffiti/street art divide? You seem to successfully straddle both.

Street artists need to respect graffiti writers. They don’t always do. They need to learn the history.

What about the corporate world? How do you feel about sharing your talents with private comporations?

Things aren’t black and white anymore. It’s not a matter of us vs. them. I don’t mind working for a corporation, so long as it’s an ethical one. The corporate world makes money. Why shouldn’t we artists benefit from it?

RWK

What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done?

I play it safe. I’m not a risk-taker. When I was in high school, my tag was ND – No Drugs…Never Drunk…Never Dull! I’ve been straight edge my whole life.

How does your family feel about what you were doing?

My family has always been supportive. When I was a kid, they built a wall in my backyard, so I could practice!

You have a 9-5 day job here in Manhattan and you live in Staten Island. How do you manage to find time to do so much great art?

My weekday schedule is tough.  I have to wake up at 6am to leave my house at 7, and I’m often not back home until 7 in the evening. I then have to help my son with his homework. I generally don’t begin working on my art until 10pm, and I don’t get to sleep until 2-3am.

RWK

Wow! That is a rough schedule. When you work, do you sketch first or do you just let it flow?

About 70% of the time, I work from a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Yes – but my satisfaction is increased when I get a positive response to it from others.

Have you any ideal work environment?

I need background noise, so that I don’t overly think about what I’m doing!

ChrisRWK

Do you have a formal art education?

I earned my Associate degree at FIT and a BFA in painting from Hunter College.

Do you feel that you benefited from it?

Definitely, as so many elements – from choice of colors to spatial design — are involved in creating a first-rate piece.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

The comic book culture, the sci-fi one and the graffiti culture. I’ve also been inspired by hot-rods and the urban culture, in general.

"ChrisRWK for Wat-aah"

What is the source of your inspiration these days?

I’d say my family, my friends and my personal experiences.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s become more personal. My use of layers and colors has become more important to me. And when I paint, I tend to take my audience into consideration more than I used to.

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

I think it’s amazing that something I do here can be seen minutes later by someone in Australia. But I also think we’ve been oversaturated with blogs and Instagram.

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

On the positive side, they help get artists known. But I don’t think much thought goes into much of what makes its way out there.

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

He’s a muse for the general public. Without art, there’d be a lot less for folks to see, feel, think about and talk about.

What do you see as the future of street art and graffiti?

There’s too much going on right now, and too many people trying to get into the game. And so it is likely to fizzle out. But those who are true will survive its fallout. And what will emerge will be even stronger.

What about you? What’s ahead for you?

I will continue to do what I do. Create, paint and get my stickers out there!

Note: Chris will be a featured artist of WAT-AAH!’s upcoming exhibit in Chicago on July 18-20 as part of WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art campaign, which connects today’s leading street artists with the brand’s mission to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy hydration among kids and teens. Joining the likes of Kenny Scharf, Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Haze and Chicago-based POSE, Chris has created a one-of-a kind WAT-AAH! label design featuring PHA’s “Drink Up” drop, as well as an original piece of art (shown above) that becomes featured in the brand’s traveling art campaign, which has been touring the country since its launch in NYC this past February. For more information, visit  wat-aahstreets.com  and follow @wataahstreets.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos: 1. and 8. Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2. Original artwork created for WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art Campaign. Chris RWK.  I Tried to Stop.  36″x48″. Mixed media. Image courtesy WAT-AAH! 3. With Veng, Tara Murray; 4. – 6. Lois Stavsky  7. Limited edition bottle design for WAT-AAH! Taking Back the Streets art campaign. Image courtesy WAT-AAH! 

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