Speaking with Frank Malt aka Steam 156

December 16, 2013

Frank-Malt-aka-Steam156

Brighton native Frank Malt aka Steam 156 has been active in the global graffiti scene for over 30 years – first as a graffiti writer in the UK, and then as a passionate documentarian of graffiti and street art around the world.  Within the past two years he has published two highly acclaimed books, 100 UK Graffiti Artists and Street Art London.  I recently met up with him in NYC.

When did it all begin?

I started in 1984 in Brighton as a b-boy. NYC’s Rock Steady Crew — that visited London in 1983 — and the hip-hop videos I saw on British TV turned me on to the break-dance culture. And from that I moved on to graffiti.

What surfaces did you hit back then?

Mostly train lines. My first hit was an electrical box off the train tracks.

Were you ever arrested?

I was chased lots, but I’m a good runner. And I like the adrenalin rush.

Steam-graffiti-Icons-show Croydon-1992

Have you ever shown your work in a gallery setting?

I only got involved with producing artwork for a few gallery shows. It was not really something I enjoyed doing that much. One of the shows I put together with a friend was called Icons. It was around 17 of the best British graffiti artists and I also managed to get two legendary New York artists to come over: Iz the Wiz RIP and Sar — both leading figures in the crew the Master Blasters. The show was back in 1992.

Do you have a formal art education of any kind?

No. I hated school. I was always a rebel. I got kicked out when I was 15, and I never went back.

Any particularly memorable experiences from back in the day?

The experience that always stays in my mind happened on one of my first visits to NYC back in around ‘88/’89. I had a guy show me around the Bronx. And when we reached the 238th Street Bridge, we jumped over the fence and got onto the Amtrak lines. I immediately started taking photos of all the graffiti there. Before I knew it, a whole gangs of guys came out from behind the wall throwing rocks and bats at us. I took off running down the tracks, while a huge Amtrak train was tooting its horn for me to get off the tracks. I ran as fast as I could to the next bridge and managed to get over the fence to find a subway station to get me back downtown.  I survived.

Frank-Malt-Steam156-sticker-NYC

We’re glad you did! Is there much of a graffiti/street art divide back in London?

Absolutely.  Unlike graffiti, street art gets lots of positive exposure and gets picked up by galleries.  Banksy kicked it off and pulled others into the scene. Street art has taken over London. It speaks to many more people than graffiti does. And most graffiti writers dislike street artists, and this gets acted out on the streets.

How do you feel about NYC’s current graffiti scene?

I guess it has changed a lot from the early days when I was coming to document the scene here. I remember I found a guy who was willing to drive me around every street in the Bronx for two days so I could take photos. It was pretty incredible back then.  I found so many walls, handball courts by Seen, Cope, TKid and all those amazing FX walls. I know they had a big clean-up, but no doubt New York is still the place to be. It’s incredible how much goes on here.

Any thoughts about the role of the Internet in all this?

For me the Internet was good and bad.  It was good, because I did not have to queue at the post office to send photos overseas. Everything became so much easier.  I used to spend a fortune on postage costs, because I was trading photos with so many writers around the world back then. The bad thing was — I guess — it took the excitement away from hunting to find graffiti. To me part of the buzz and excitement was to see the wall fresh —  to hunt it down without seeing it on every media site before the paint had even dried. I love seeing new graffiti before I have seen it online.

Steam-and Mear-graffiti-1993

How do you feel about the current crop of bloggers and photographers?

There are too many jumping on the bandwagon. Many don’t bring any information. And far too many people who know nothing are putting out books. There’s the potential for exploitation.

Who are some of your favorite artists who work on the streets?

Revok. He’s brilliant. Other favorites include: Risk, Vulcan, Aroe, Smug, Roa, Cope2, TKid, TATS Cru. Too many people to name — so many talented people out there in the scene.

What do you see as the future of graffiti?

Who knows? I just think it will become more and more technically advanced. It will always keep evolving.

Frank-Malt-Steam-156-5Pointz

What’s ahead for you?

I just want to continue to pursue my passion and share it with others. I have a new book due out next year with an amazing line-up of European artists. I can’t say too much about it at this point, so stay tuned!

It all sounds great! Good luck and keep doing what you’re doing!

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photos courtesy of Frank Malt.


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