Interviews

The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

Omar Victorious and I grew up together on the Lower East Side, but 20 years had passed since we’d been in touch. And then street art reunited us – first with the Street Art  Photography Show that Omar had curated back in August at Mikey Likes It Ice Cream in the East Village and then with his hugely successful roving Shooters Street Art Scavenger Hunt. Curious about the direction his life had taken, I asked him several questions:

Before launching Shooters Street Art, what had you been up to? 

I’d started a brand called End of The Weak, which has become the longest running open mic in New York City and has had huge global impact with chapters in Belgium, Africa, China, London and Paris. We just celebrated our 19th anniversary! Eventually, though, I had to shift my focus to my education, so that I could do more for my family. I attended  a vocational technical school and obtained my certification in Network Engineering, Administration and Hardware Support. I’m also a certified Project Manager Professional.

How has your Project Manager skill set impacted your current work related to street art? 

It carries over in terms of organizational skills. I have a goal. What must I do to execute that goal? A lot of people have ideas but don’t know how to go about executing them. I’ve gained many skills — including website design, photography and video production — that enable me to accomplish my goals. I can negotiate contracts, and I understand the role finance plays in business.

How did street art come to play such a huge role in your life?

I’m from the Lower East Side, East Village, Alphabet City. I’m downtown. I woke up to tags, graffiti, murals and spots that are bombed to shit. It was the landscape of my childhood. Around ten years ago, I started taking pictures with my Blackberry, and I started a blog. I, also, came up with two hashtags: #crackimagecrew and  #cracknificent. Over a four-year period, those hashtags have gained 1400 posts on Instagram from 10-12 photographers from all around the world. That’s how I came up with the idea for the Shooters Street Art Photography Show. I reached out to everyone who was using those hashtags and asked them if they’d be interested in participating in a street art photography show. I really wanted to meet them in person and expose their talents. I wanted to recreate the vibe of my childhood. We weren’t on the Internet back in the day. We were connecting with humans. These days I’m trying to build community —  an ecosystem of people who support one another and value creativity My good friend, Mikey, has a venue downtown called Mikey Likes It, and it all fell into place.

And how did the idea of the Shooter’s Scavenger Hunt come about?

I was talking to a few artists — including SacSix and Sara Lynne Leo — at the Shooters Photography Show. I was thinking, “How can we take this further?  Let’s get out on the street and do a scavenger hunt.” And everybody was like YES!  From there everything just started clicking. And, all of a sudden, we go from 10 to 30 people. Here we are seven hunts later: SacSix, Sara Lynne Leo, Dee Dee, Raddington Falls, Praxis and Jilly Ballistic. The response has been overwhelming. People are out there having a great time — street art hunting and winning original artwork. And all they have to do is pay $5.00 and put in some hard laps on the streets. The artists are creating original one-of-a-kind pieces as prizes. That’s exciting! The kids come out; the dogs come out and everyone has fun.

What’s ahead?

The road map is already written. The idea behind Shooters is to showcase the eye behind the lens. It’s about the photographer who is capturing and delivering the content. There are so many different avenues to take and so many different genres to explore. You have photographers who shoot everything from nature to extreme sports. Just think about the potential of showcasing all of those shooters and giving them a platform? You have to respect the Shooter! Respect the Shooter! It’s not just limited to street art; it’s about photography; it’s about the eye.

Anything specifically related to street art that we can look forward to?

We are planning a Shooters app. We also plan to digitize the hunt and take it to another level. We’d like to take the hunt to new cities and get more artists involved. We’re just getting started, so if you’re a street art enthusiast who’s hungry and ready to shoot, Holla!

Interview conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited for brevity and clarity by Ana and Lois Stavsky

Photo 1 courtesy of Ana; 2 photo of Omar Victorious by Katie Godowski; photos 3-5 by Ana Candelariathe final photo features Hady Mendezwinner of artwork by SacSix and Shooters Street Art  founder Omar Victorious

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Focusing on street art, graffiti and creative urban culture, UP is a provocative cutting-edge NYC-based quarterly magazine.  Launched in spring 2019, each issue spotlights a specific theme. Its first (sold-out) issue features several articles on money-related issues, and its second highlights matters of travel and place, as they relate to urban culture.

Lower East Side-based photographer Anna Candelaria introduced me to UP, and I was impressed by its in-depth coverage of the contemporary global urban art scene. Last week, Ana joined me as I met up with its chief editor, T.K. Mills.

Can you tell us a bit about UP Magazine‘s mission?

Our mission is to provide the art community with provocative writing that reflects the critical issues of our generation. We strive to present to our readers high-quality articles that investigate, inform, and entertain. Like good art, UP Magazine is made to make you think and make you feel.

What attracted you to urban culture? Particularly street art and graffiti?

After I had received my Masters Degree in Global Affairs from NYU, I wasn’t quite sure what direction my life would take. Shortly after Trump was elected President, I decided to visit Cuba. That’s where I first discovered my love for graffiti. I kept seeing 2+2=5. It seemed to be written everywhere. At first I couldn’t figure it out, and then I realized it was a reference to George Orwell’s 1984  — which certainly seemed relevant at the time. I even got to meet the artist. From that point on, I began paying close attention to the writing on the wall!

Before launching UP Magazine, had you any experience writing on this topic for other publications?

Yes, I wrote for several platforms including Sold Magazine, Open Letter and Art Fuse. I was also hired by a company, Saga, to interview West Coast-based street artists. When the company ended up not publishing my interviews after taking a different direction, a few of us began thinking about starting a new publication that would focus on urban culture.

How did you assemble such a dedicated and talented staff? 

Awhile back, I met Vittoria Benzine, a Brooklyn-based street art journalist and personal essayist, outside McNally Jackson Bookstore in Soho. As we began talking, we discovered our common interest in urban art. She then introduced me to Christina Elia, a freelance writer with a BA in Art History Communications. From there the crew grew to close to a dozen people, including street photographer Lonnie Richards, our Director of  Videography.

You have produced two excellent issues, each over 100 pages. What were some of your challenges in seeing this through?

The biggest and main challenge is finding sponsors and raising money to make this magazine happen.

Where is Up headed?

The only direction is up. We plan to further develop and expand our print and online presence. And we are looking forward to the launch of our third edition — with its focus on community — this spring.

That sounds great! I’m certainly looking forward to your next issue. And good luck with it all!

Note: Be sure to check out Up Magazine’s website and online shop. And with the promo code streetartnyc you can purchase issue II of Up Magazine at 25% off.

Interview conducted and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky with Anna Candelaria

Images

1 Illustration of T.K. Mills by Vanessa Kreytak

2 Cover of Issue #1 featuring artwork by Fumero

3 Spread from Issue #2,”The Banksy Tunnel,” written by Candelaria Barandiaran with photos by Sabrina Ortolani

UP pop-up in Miami

5 Photo of T.K. Mills by Gabriel Ortiz, Jr

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Featured yesterday morning on NY1, Of Women, By Women, a group exhibition on view through this Sunday, December 22, presents original artwork by 18 contemporary women artists who have also made their presence on our streets. While visiting the exhibit this past Sunday at the Storefront Project on the Lower East Side, we had the opportunity to pose a few questions to its curator, Wendy Horwitz aka Love From NYC.

The word is that this is your first curatorial experience. How did this exhibition come about? 

I never planned on curating an exhibit. This wasn’t my idea. A male friend, in fact, suggested last summer that it would be a good idea to present an all-women street art show. He said, “If anyone could do it, you could do it!” And I decided to do it.

What was the greatest challenge you faced in seeing this through?

Finding a venue. And then when I heard that the owner of the Storefront Project is a woman, Gina Pagano, I approached her.

Yes! This space is ideal. How did you decide which artists to include?

I researched as many female street artists as I could. I was interested in featuring artists with a strong local presence who could work together cohesively.

How have folks responded to the exhibition?

They’ve been really enthusiastic. I’ve received very positive feedback from visitors, as well as the artists themselves. They were very excited to come together and meet one another.

What’s ahead?

I’m not sure. This has been a “passion project.” I don’t know if I will curate another show, but people are encouraging me to do a series of shows featuring women artists.

Congratulations on this! We do look forward to more! And how wonderful to be featured on NY1!

Note: A panel discussion will be held tomorrow, Thursday, December 19, from 7-8pm. Moderated by Vittoria Benzine of UP Magazine, it will feature Butterflymush, Lexi Bella and LOVEMKM. Located at 70 Orchard Street, the Storefront Project is open today through Sunday, 1-7pm and and tomorrow, Thursday, until 8pm.

Photos:

1 LMNOPI

2 Isabelle Ewing with Wendy Horwitz aka Love From NYC to her left

3 Swoon

4 Surface of Beauty

5 Dee Dee 

6 Alice Mizrachi

Also featured in Of Women, By Women are: Butterflymush, Chinon Maria, Jilly Ballistic, La Femme Cheri, Lexi BellaLOVEMKM., Magda Love, My Life in Yellow, Nora Breen, Sara Erenthal, Shiro and Toofly.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky and edited by Lois with Ana Candelaria

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6 Ana Candelaria; 4 Lois Stavsky

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The following guest poet is by Lower East Side-based photographer Ana Candelaria:

Born in Rochester, New York and currently based in Queens, City Kitty makes his presence wherever he happens to be. And each piece that he creates is distinctly intriguing. 

When did you first discover your love for art?

I’ve always loved art, and it’s always been a part of my life. I come from a very artistic family. My grandparents were both painters. They met when they were students at Pratt. My mother was a singer. I, myself, was a musician for many years, and my brother is a musician. It’s just something that has always been encouraged.

Do you have a formal art education?

Yes. My undergraduate degree is in Art Education from Nazareth College in Rochester. I worked as a substitute teacher for a bit, but I did not end up pursuing teaching as a career. I then went back to school and earned an MFA in Painting from the University of Albany, where I taught undergraduate courses in drawing for two years. I have an entirely different career in the Fine Arts. That work looks nothing like my street art.

On the streets we identify you with your City Kitty character. When was your City Kitty character born? And how did you come up with its design?

I moved to NYC in January 2010. And two months later, I met a couple of friends who were working at the Fountain Art Fair. They ran a collective that I ended up joining, and I started meeting more and more street artists. I used to do graffiti as a kid, and I saw that if I were to do street art, I’d have to make up a character.

So I thought, “All right I’ll come up with a character!” I grew up in a house with five cats. And when I lived in Bushwick, there were two gangs of cats on either side of the adjacent factory, and they were always having kittens.

Do you remember your first City Kitty piece?

Yes, the first thing I did was make a silkscreen. The style of work that I do now is similar to what I did back when I was in a band. When I moved down here, I was still making band posters. But since hanging posters here is illegal, I decided that if I’m going to get into trouble, it might as well be for my own work! That’s when I started burning silk screens. I would make all of my work by hand for the posters, but then I would print them out. I would make one cut paper piece, scan it and print multiple copies and put them out. All the other poster artists that I knew and fell in love with were silkscreen artists, so if I’m going to change gears, I’m going to want to start with silkscreen.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

There are poster artists and fine artists. Jeff Soto is kind of a crossover, as are Michael Motorcycle and Tara McPhearson. Jeff is a great painter, but he also does murals. Tara designs toys that she shows at Comic Con and she’s, also, represented by galleries. I like that balance. I do a lot of posters between working on fine art paintings.

I have seen some of your sketches on MTA service announcement posters on the New York City subway platforms.

Yes! I usually grab the posters on my way to work. I’ll draw them on my lunch break, and I’ll put them up on the way back home. And they get around — as I work in different parts of the city from the Lower East Side to Harlem. And when I have to get to New Jersey, I travel through Midtown.

When did you start putting up these MTA service announcement sketches? And why?

About a year and a half ago, I put up 113 of them. Sometimes they’re up for a few days, and other times they stay up for as long as a month. After 10 years of doing street art, I felt like I was making work for the same audience. On the subways I can reach a different audience and, perhaps, make some people smile. And I don’t sign my subway sketches. I like that feeling. And since I’ve begun doing this, I’ve only been yelled at by a couple of transit workers.

Have you ever done a wall?

Yes, I have done several. My first wall was in Ithaca at a bar where I used to play with my old band.

What about collaborations? I’ve seen your collaboration with Turtle Caps. Do any others stand out?

I‘ve collaborated with a lot of people. For years, I did a lot of work together with my street art friend Bludog. I also collaborated with Grey Egg from New Jersey, and I worked with some people from Europe.

What gives you the biggest thrill in this street art scene?

Traveling to new cities and putting my work up in them — especially since it’s such a worldwide thing. It’s a global community. I love seeing what other people are doing and I love contributing to it.

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

I’m satisfied when I finish, and then a few days later, I hate it!

How has it evolved over the years?

I use more colors and my characters have evolved over time.

Running into your pieces always makes me feel happy! And I’m looking forward to seeing more of them…especially on my way to work! What’s ahead?

I’m now working on the wall at Second Avenue and Houston. A solo exhibition of my hand-embellished MTA posters will open this Friday evening from 6-10 pm and continue through Saturday, 12-8 PM, at the Living Gallery Outpost, 246 East 4th Street.

Collaborations:

3. City Kitty with London-based  Neon Savage

5. City Kitty with Queens-based Turtle Caps

6. City Kitty with Toronto-based Urban Ninja

Interview conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Lois Stavsky 2-7 Ana Candelaria

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An art lover and dear friend to so many street artists, East Village–based Steve Stoppert is a local legend. True to his motto, “Just Paint,” he is the force behind one of NYC’s most visible public spaces – the wall facing the Second Avenue subway station. Dozens of artists have painted there, and dozens more wait their turn. Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Steve in his Second Avenue apartment that brims with art — from floor to ceiling — in just about every media and style.

We are fortunate that you have made New York City your home. Where were you born? And what brought you here?

I was born in Pontiac, Michigan — a northern suburb of Detroit. I came here in 1992 for two weeks to remodel my sister’s bathroom. And I never left. She was living on East 6th Street at the time.

What was it about NYC that so drew you in?

The music scene. It was magic!  Seeing the Pavement at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side. Hanging out at CBGB on the Bowery…

And what about NYC’s art scene?

I used to go on my own to the Met. But it wasn’t until an artist friend took me on a tour of the museum and introduced me to Cézanne that something clicked!

What is your first street art/graffiti-related memory?

Definitely Shepard Fairey. Seeing Andre the Giant everywhere!

And how did you become so deeply involved with the current scene?

I started going out with Fumero late at night. I was his “look-out.” I remember thinking, “If only I’d had an aerosol can in my hand when I was 15!”

How has the street art scene changed since you first began paying attention to it? 

It’s different. These days, there are lots of fluffy paste-ups, and just about everyone is documenting it. But I still love it.

What is your favorite aspect of the scene?

I love the hunt. When I first began in 2010, I was obsessed with Jim Joe. I used to hunt for him daily. I chased him everywhere between the Lower East Side and Tribeca competing with folks on Tumblr for the most Jim Joe sightings.

For the past several years you’ve been curating a hugely visible wall right on your block. How do you decide which artists to feature?

I have a list of about 80-100 artists who’ve approached me. We simply select a name at random from a hat. Each month the wall changes.

What has the experience been like?

I love it. I love working with artists. I don’t even mind when they’re flakey or late. I just go with it.

How do you deal with the ever-present politics in this scene?

I ignore it completely.

Do any memorable experiences stand out? 

Fun times! When City Kitty got up on the wall and changed it 6-8 times within three months. And, of course, riding on my bike at 3am to 4am with flashlight and bike light – not knowing what I will see that I haven’t seen before.

What do you see as the future of this scene?

It seems to be at an all-time high with its increasing appeal to commercial buildings and high-end hotels.

Yes! It certainly has changed since I first fell in love with it! And we are thrilled that you are doing what you are doing. The wall that you curate is one of our faves.

Images:

1. Steve Stoppert in front or wall painted last Sunday by Key Detail

2, Noted California-born artist and musician Paul Kostabi

3. The itinerant Sirus Fountain aka Pyramid Oracle

4. Bronx-based Zimad

5. Brooklyn-based Argentine artists Magda Love and Sonni

6. The prolific Optimo NYC aka Optimo Primo, Werds and No Sleep

7. Brooklyn-based Argentine artist Ramiro Davaro-Comas

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky and Ana Candelaria and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 4, 6 & 7 Ana Candelaria

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Currently living between Paris and Los Angeles, Belgium-born filmmaker Cedric Godin was recently in New York City for the US premiere of his award-winning film, “X art,” at the Chelsea Film Festival. After viewing the insightful film and panel discussion featuring Patty Astor, Henry Chalfant, Enrique Torres aka Part One and Nick Walker — moderated by Marie Cecile Flageul — we  posed a few questions to Cedric.

What inspired you to produce this film?

I had just completed my first film, PTSD, and had returned from California to Paris. I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible, and as I was seeing street art exhibitions and events everywhere, I decided to do a documentary about the street art movement and culture. Even though I had followed the movement since 2012, I never really thought of doing something on it until I returned to Paris from California.

What is the significance/meaning of your film’s title, “X art?”

After I decided to do a documentary, I started to research the street art culture. Rapidly, I realized how complex the world of street art is. So many artists, techniques, movements, markets… It appeared to me that as street art is such a huge subject, it would be an interesting challenge to get people to better understand it. I had a working title but after a few months “X art” came, as the X suggested “the unknown,” “the transgression,” “the X factor” and more.

So I chose the letter X to start  from “the unknown” —  in order to learn and digress to a point where it would become clearer for an audience and hopefully awaken within viewers the curiosity to investigate the culture on their own after seeing the film.

How did you go about choosing/deciding which artists to focus on?

They had to have a career, a real social or political message in their work, a continuity in their journey and an artistic goal. It was important for me that the artists had enough experience on every level to be able to transmit their passion, techniques and journey to as large an audience as possible.

When did you begin filming “X art”

I started to meet with artists in 2016.

In the film there is a focus not only on the artists and their artwork, but also on the art market. Why did you choose to turn your lens on this aspect of the scene?

Simply because these days, you can’t avoid the financial aspects of things. Fortunately or unfortunately, the market has a big influence on how artists develop their careers. Of course, there are pros and cons, but I wanted to give the audience an idea of what’s happening. From there they could visit galleries, events and auction houses and form their own opinions on the subject.

Did anything in your findings particularly surprise you? In what ways may have making this film personally impacted you? Do you find yourself paying more attention to street art and graffiti?

Of course, I do pay more attention. It is funny to see how my eye, three years later, is more “educated.” When I see a painting or a wall, I can recoup more information to understand and form an opinion on that particular piece. I have also learned how to be a good collector.

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing this project through?

The usual challenge of being an “indie” filmmaker… time and money. Fortunately, the world of street art is a very generous world for the most part. 99% of the artists were just amazingly helpful. My friend and partner Olivier Le Quellec, a street art fan, financed the project with me. Dotmaster and Ben Eine, two famous UK-based artists, offered to design the poster. Eric Brugier, the French gallerist, connected me to several artists who themselves connected me to more. I think you can’t get into this world if you are not well-connected, but once you are in, you feel like a family member.

How have viewers responded to it?

Amazingly! The most touching thing is when people come up to me and say they have learned something; some are even motivated to further research artists or elements they weren’t aware of.  To me, if filmmaking has a purpose. It is to learn and to transmit.

What would you like your viewers to walk away with?

The will to go deeper into the subject  —  to read, to research, to see events, to meet artists. And we have an incredible chance to be able to do it.

What’s next?

Ideally to secure distribution for “X art,” as I humbly think that this little film has its cultural role to play. I’m currently working on a TV show and a feature film. I work in so many directions these days that I couldn’t tell you what is going to happen next…I will let you know very soon!

Congratulations on “X art.  We certainly hope it is widely distributed and, yes, we are looking forward to what’s next!

Images:

  1. Film poster designed by UK-based artists Dotmaster and Ben Eine
  2. Cedric Godin
  3. Film clip featuring Ben Eine and Pure Evil
  4. Parisian graffiti artist Nasty
  5. Patti Astor, co-founder of the legendary FUN Gallery
  6. Henry Chalfant, noted American photographer and videographer, whose current exhibit, Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987, at the Bronx Museum is a must-see!
  7. The famed UK-born street artist Nick Walker at “X art” Chelsea screening

Photo credits 1, 2, 4 – 6 courtesy Cedric Godin; 7 Ana Candelaria 

Interview questions: Houda Lazrak, Ana Candelaria and Lois Stavsky

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The following guest poet is by Lower East Side-based photographer Ana Candelaria

This past Saturday, I joined a group of 21 Shooters Street Art hunters, scouring the streets of SoHo and Tribeca. On a mission, organized by Shooters Street Art founder Omar Lopez aka Omar Victorious, we competed to be the first to locate 17 wheatpastes featuring works by one of my favorite street artists, Dee Dee Was Here. After our two-hour search had ended, and the winner, John Domine, was presented with an exclusive original print, Dee Dee, who remained undisclosed throughout the hunt, offered me her feedback:

How do you feel about the concept behind the Shooters Street Art Scavenger Hunt?

I love the concept. I love walking in the city myself, just wandering. It reminds me of back when I came upon art that I loved…like Bäst  and Aiko. It was a great surprise to run into one. The idea of bringing a group of people together for a fun day in October outside to find art was too good to pass up!

This hunt seemed to motivate you to put up even more work on the streets.

Honestly, it only motivated me more THIS week. I did look around SoHo with a new eye to put a few more out, as I wanted it to be really fun for everyone. Not everything was new. I brought some old favorites out, since I know that some people may be new to me and not know them. It was a nice overview of pieces from the past few years.

What inspires your works?

All of mine are inspired differently. Each has a story and a mood I am trying to convey. A lot starts with songs; then a story begins from there.

How does it feel to have so many people hunting for you?

It’s a little overwhelming, really! I am very lucky. I am told over and over how many people deeply connect with my work  — on a very personal level. One gallery owner once told me, “Your fans don’t love you; they LOVE you!” I feel that, and I feel very connected to them. I make my art for me. It’s the art that I want to see, so having everyone excitedly coming to find it is quite amazing. The fact that it makes them happy and they get to enjoy the day — while making new friends — is just icing on a pretty great cake.

What was it like to participate anonymously in this Shooters Street Art Scavenger Hunt?

I also got to enjoy it out there myself — as a few people ran right by me to find their next location. It’s Halloween, and I get to be a real-live ghost. What could be more fun that that?

Thank you so much, Dee Dee. We loved it. I greatly appreciate your feedback and kindness. I can’t get over how much fun I had on this hunt. It was filled to the brim with excitement. 

My pleasure. I wanted to do something fun for Halloween, and we had such a beautiful day for it. So many people told me what a great time they had…we may have to do it again sometime.

Interview and photos by Ana Candelaria

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I love when artists bring their talents to NYC public schools, not only beautifying them but also conveying positive messages that encourage dialog. And the best of these projects involve and reflect the members of the immediate community. Prospect Heights-based Jeff Beler has done it again! Following his wonderful transformation of PS 9, he has recently brought his passion and curatorial skills to PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. While there this past Thursday, as several artists were adding finishing touches to a huge wall in PS 321‘s school yard, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Jeff:

This looks great! I’m so glad you guys are bringing your talents to local schools. How did this come to happen? 

PS 321 PTA co-president Lauren Gropp Lowry had seen the STEAM Mural Project I had curated over at PS 9. She, along with other PS 321 parents liked what they saw and wanted to bring a similar project to their children’s school. And they, then, proposed the idea to their school’s principal.

When did this project, No Place for Hate, begin? 

We began talking about it in June, but we didn’t want to start it until the school year began. We wanted the members of the school community involved in every aspect of its planning.

And what about the theme of it? How was that chosen?

There was a general consensus that the emphasis would be on promoting tolerance and kindness and taking a strong stand against bullying. And the students at PS 321 came up with the specific concepts.

How did you decide which artists to engage in seeing No Place for Hate through?

Through the projects I’ve curated in the past — particularly UnderHill Walls and the STEAM Mural Project at PS 9 — I’ve developed  many close relationships with artists. I have a strong sense of which artists I can trust to show up on schedule and which artists work well together. Among the artists who participated in this current project are: Subway Doodle, Justin Winslow, Jaima, Calicho Arevalo, Marco Santini, My Life in Yellow, Majo, Paulie Nassar, Raddington Falls, AJ Lavilla, Zero Productivity and Paolo Tolentino.

And I notice that you have students, parents and various members of the community involved today. You even have a local architect, @krassness, adding details to your buildings!

Yes, many members of the school community and folks who live in the neighborhood  have been involved, lending us their skills, since we began painting.

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing this through?

I can’t think of any. Everything has gone so smoothly. And we’ve had wonderful sponsors. Among them are: Blick Art Materials, Starbucks Art Program, The Corcoran Group, Tarzian Hardware and Hanson Place Orthodontics.

How have folks responded to No Place for Hate? They seem to love it!

Yes! The response has been great!

Congratulations!

Images:

1. My Life in YellowJustin WinslowJeff Beler and more

2. Majo (pictured standing), Zero Productivity and Jeff Beler (pictured standing)

3. Calicho Arevalo and more

4. Subway Doodle and Paolo Tolintino 

5. Justin Winslow and Zero Productivity

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3 Lois Stavsky; 4 City-as-School intern Sage Ironwood and 5 City-as-School intern Angelize Santiago 

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The wonderfully talented Menace Two and Resa Piece have merged their sensibilities and skills to fashion a captivatingly stunning array of murals that have made their way not only throughout NYC, but across the country. I was delighted to have the opportunity meet up with them in their Bushwick home that they’ve aptly titled “Street Art Sanctuary ” — a spacious  graffiti/street art haven that Menace and Resa also host as an Airbnb. 

When and where did you first get up? And what inspired you to do so?

Resa: I started in 2015. The first wall I ever did was in the Bronx, but I painted mostly in Brooklyn at the time – often in Bushwick. What inspired me to? While I was living in Flushing, I used to regularly ride past 5Pointz on the 7 train. I thought it was all so amazing. I remember thinking, “Why would someone do this?” But it was awhile before I actually did it!   The sense that I had something to prove – that a female could create artwork on the same level as any established male artist — also drove me.

Menace: I was in the 7th grade in a local Queens public school. I was always drawing on my desk — anime at the time. One of the kids sitting next to me said I’d be good at graffiti. He introduced me to graffiti, encouraged me and invited me to join his crew, BTC. That was the beginning. I was 12 years old.

You’ve both painted in both illegal and in sanctioned places. Which do you prefer?

Illegal. Painting “without permission” is far more validating!

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings?

The streets are our gallery.

What about the increasing engagement of street artists and graffiti writers with the corporate world? Would you consider such a collaboration?

It depends. No one can dictate to us what can or cannot do.

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

Our job is to bridge it! It’s all about respect.

What is your main source of income?

Painting commissions.

Did you have you a formal art education?

Resa: I did not attend a specialized art college, but at Binghamton, I majored in both Art History and Studio Art. I will always remain grateful to the late Professor George Dugan for his support and encouragement.

Menace: I studied Graphic Design in college, but I never graduated.

How does your family feel about your passion for art?

Resa: My mom initially fostered it. She enrolled me in art classes when I was eight years old. But then when I wanted to go to an art college, her response was, “You’re too smart to be an artist.” And so she encouraged me to go into the art business. But after interning at Christy’s and working for a collector, I came to understand that the art market is driven by billionaires. I know now that I want to focus on creating my own art and not marketing other artists to the richest 1 per cent. And at this point, my mom understands and respects what I’m doing.

Menace: They intensely disliked my passion for graffiti. I was often getting into graffiti-related trouble in school, and any time my parents saw me writing graffiti, they’d scream at me.  They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just “draw something pretty.” My father and I fought just about every day. But my parents have since come to accept me. It helped that in honor of our mothers we painted a mural featuring a tiger mom embracing her cub for the Boogie Down event at the Bronx Zoo for Mothers Day, 2018.

When you paint in public spaces, do you work with a sketch-in-hand or just let it flow?

We generally work with Photoshop mock-ups.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece? 

Generally, we are.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

100 %.

Have you any other interests or passions?

Resa: Not many.

Menace: Video games.

Are there any particular cultures that have inspired your aesthetic?

Hip-hop and New York flavor, in general.

Who are some of your favorite artists? Artists who have inspired you?

Resa: There are so many – BK Foxx, Royyal Dog, El Mac, Meres, Jerms, Topaz, Seen, Skeme

Menace:Reach Eight, Glossblack, Revok, Saber, MSK

How has your work evolved in recent years?

It’s gotten much better. While touring the country, we felt we had to prove something at each stop!

In your cross-country venture — #paintloveacrossamerica — you hit several key cities from Philly to LA painting a range of spectacular murals — some with permission and others without. Does any particular memory stand out?

When we had reached LA, we asked an established street art organization to help us find a legal wall. When assistance didn’t come our way, we found — on our own — one of the largest walls in the heart of the LA  arts district. When the cops rolled up, we didn’t know what to expect, but they expressed appreciation for our work. And when the owner came by, we convinced him that we are in the process of beautifying his property. The final mural — one of our favorite ones — is a visual representation of our collective prayers.

No doubt that what hat you painted was a gift  — however ephemeral — to the city!  What’s ahead?

More painting, of course! And our ultimate goal is to create a community center that serves as a base for us to teach painting and mural-making skills to others.

That sounds wonderful! And thanks for sharing your talents and visions with so many of us.

Images:

1 “Madonna Menace” in Bushwick, JMZ Walls

2 Close-up of Resa and Menace captured at work in Bushwick, JMZ Walls

3 “What a Wonderful World,” portrait of Louis Armstrong, in Esst Harlem, GrandScale Mural Project

4 “When the whole world is silent/Even one voice becomes powerful,” portrait of Malala in Bushwick

5 “Believe in the Reality of Your Dreams,” in Bushwick

6 “Real Eyes Realize Real Lies,” portrait of Tupac in Wynwood

7 “Protect,” Unsanctioned mural in LA’s arts district

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3 Lois Stavsky; 4 & 5 Ana Candelaria; 6 & 7 Courtesy of  Menace and Resa

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I first met and interviewed Lily Luciole back in 2014 when she came to NYC to share her distinct vision on our streets . Active throughout the globe, but particularly in Montreal and Paris, Lily fashions alluring mixed media images — largely inspired by her African heritage and her quest to reclaim her identity. The artist was back here this past month for a brief visit, and we had a chance to catch up a bit.

The last time we met up you were living in Montreal. Where are you based these days?

I now consider Paris my home.

What motivated you to return to Paris?

My mother is not in good health. She needs my support, and I want to look after her. I, also, feel that seeing new art in a different setting inspires me and stimulates my creativity.

How has your vision changed or evolved within the past few years?

While living in Montreal, my main focus had been street art. But my most recent project, Sortir Les Femmes De L’Ombre (Taking Women Out of the Shadows), engages women in a range of artistic ventures from the visual arts to dance to poetry. Ten women are currently involved, and plans are now underway for a performance and discussion as to the particular challenges faced by Muslim women in the arts.

How would you, then, define the mission of Sortir Les Femmes De L’Ombre?

Its mission is to give underrepresented women opportunities to share their talent, as well as to discover other talented women out there.

What about your own art? In what ways may that have evolved?

My technique is more complex and time-consuming, as I incorporate more embroidery. But it always centers on the representation of women.

What’s ahead?

Raising more funds to further develop Sortir Les Femmes De L’Ombre and working on my own project. I’m, also, interested in becoming involved in exhibitions and events in the northern French city, Lille.

It sounds great. Be sure to keep us posted! 

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits:  1-3, Ana Candelaria; 4  Hervé Sarrazin

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