calligraffiti

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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doseart-steff-bow-mural-art-dubai

An urban celebration of art, music and food, Street Nights features some of Dubai’s most active muralists painting live. The following images were captured last week while visiting the Walk At JBR, an inviting outdoor promenade along the beach.

Ramy Elzaghawy at work

t.ra.my-mural-art-Dubai

Edge Nation crew member at work

edge-nation-dubai

Jonny Revs, work in progress

"Jonny Revs"

Has One

Has-One-calligraffiti-Dubai

First image features Steffi Bow and Dose Art

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Ayad-Alkadhi-I-Am-Baghdad

Continuing through October 3 at Chelsea’s Azart Gallery is More than Words, co-curated by Melissa McCaig-Welles and Latifa Metheny. Presenting a range of artworks fusing text and images, the exhibit features a wonderfully eclectic mix of styles, sensibilities and cultures.  Here is a sampling of the works:

Brooklyn-based Canadian painter Tim Okamura

Tim-Okamura-art-ID

Brooklyn-based Moroccan artist Rocko, close-up

rocko-calligrapffiti

Queens native Greg Lamarche aka SP.ONE

greg-la-Marche-art

Vitry sur-Seine-based French artist C215  

C215-stencil-art-azart

Azart Gallery is located at 617 West 27 Street in Chelsea and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm.

Note: The first image, I Am Baghdad, is by New York-based Iraqi artist Ayad Alkadhi.

Photo credits: 1-3 & 5 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 4 Lois Stavsky

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Speaking with Rocko

February 26, 2015

"Rocko calligraffiti"

Fusing ancient Arabic scripts with modern Western strokes, Moroccan native Rocko has fashioned a distinct aesthetic that has been increasingly making its way onto NYC walls. We were delighted to have the chance to meet up with him this past weekend.

When did you first get up?

Back in Morocco in 1997. I was the first one to bomb in Meknès.  It was something that I had always wanted to do. I was a b-boy, and graffiti was always an essential aspect of that culture. I’d also painted for the pioneering hip-hop crew, Dogs, known these days as H-Kayne.

What about here in NYC?

Here in NYC I only work on legal spaces. There’s too much at risk here!

zimer-rocko-with-passerby-720

What was your first piece here?

Three years ago I did my first piece for the Pita Palace on Montrose and Bushwick.

What was the experience like?

I loved it. I particularly love the interaction with the passersby as I’m painting.

What kinds of surfaces do you prefer?

As I generally paint with brushes, I need smooth surfaces. I also look for spots with no trees of cars blocking the view.

How have folks responded to your particular aesthetic – a fusion of Arabic calligraphy and graffiti?

The response was been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I am constantly asked to design tattoos featuring my particular calligraffiti.

Rocko

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

They love it. Everyone is supportive.

What percentage of your day is devoted to your art?

About 40%.

What is your main source of income?

I work as a director of a senior center in Bushwick.

What are some of your other interests?

Cycling. I race for the Brooklyn Arches.

rocko-calligraffiti-on-canvas

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

I feel that it’s reached a turning point in recent weeks. I expect there will be less of a division from now on.

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

I’m fine with it. It’s just a different context. Yes, I’ve shown my work in a number of spaces in Brooklyn.

What about the corporate world? Any thoughts about that?

I don’t mess with it!

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I often work alone, but I’ve collaborated with a number of artists including Zimer, Eelco and N Carlos J.

eelco-and-Rocko-and-Vera-Times-street-art-dodworth-NYC

Is there anyone in particular you would like to collaborate with?

I love what Sek3 is doing. I would like to collaborate with him.

When I first saw your work, I confused you with Retna. Does that happen often?

Yes! But I’ve been doing it for 34 years. It’s my culture!

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

I think it’s very important. It introduces us to so much.

Do you have a formal arts education?

No, I never went to art school. I’m self-taught. I began doing Arabic calligraphy when I was four years old with a wooden pencil!

rocko-and-n-carlos-j-street-art-bushwick-nyc

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Just me in my studio. But working on public walls is more fun!

What inspires you these days?

Everything I see around me!

Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?

Arabic.

Rocko-and Eelco-street-art-nyc

Do you work with a sketch in your hand or do you let it flow?

Never!  I freestyle.

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

It’s gotten better. Sharing my work in public spaces pushes me to work harder at my craft.

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

The artist has a huge responsibility to his or her community – to enhance it in a respectful manner.

Rocko-calligraffiti-Brooklyn-NYC copy

How do you feel about the photographers and bloggers in this scene?

They are very important!

What do you see as the future of street art?

It will just keep on growing and evolving.

And what about you? What’s ahead?

More walls, more collabs and more exhibits. I will also continue to curate the Dodworth Mural Project that I launched last year.

That sounds wonderful! We are looking forward! 

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Houda Lazrak; first photo courtesy of the artist; all others by Lois Stavsky; photo 2 is a collaborative with Zimer; 5 with Eelco and Vera Times; 6 with N Carlos J and 7 with Eelco

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East meets West, and calligraphy meets graffiti at the Leila Heller Gallery in Calligraffiti: 1984-2013. And this past Thursday’s panel discussion, moderated by Leila Heller, provided an intimate glimpse into the disparate worlds that initially converged in a gallery setting in the exhibit that Ms. Heller and Jeffrey Deitch curated 30 years ago. After Leila Heller began the talk by sharing her personal and professional history, the five participants — Ayad Alkadhi, eL SeedFab Five FreddyLA2 and Rostarr presented their distinct experiences and observations.  Following are a selection of images from the exhibit and from Thursday’s panel discussion.

South Korean native Rostarr

Rostarr

Rostarr shares a bit of his history

Rostarr

Paris-based eL Seed

eL-Seed

eL Seed to the left of Fab Five Freddy who spoke of his early determination to get graffiti the recognition it deserved

El Seed and Fab Five Freddy

NYC-based LA2, whose tag has been part of the Lower East Side’s visual landscape for over 35 years

LA2

And an early collaboration with Keith Haring

Keith Haring and LA2

The exhibit continues through October 5th at the Leila Heller Gallery, 568 West 25th Street.

Photos and reportage by Dani Reyes Mozeson

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As part of the fifth edition of the World Nomads festival, Tunisian artist eL Seed brought his soulful, lyrical calligraffiti to NYC last month.   With its synthesis of Arabic writing, calligraphy and graffiti, eL Seed’s distinct style made its way to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and to 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens.  While he was here, we had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

eL-Seed

When and where did you first get up?

I started in the late 90’s in the suburbs of Paris. I was 16.

What inspired you to do it?

As a B-Boy, I was into the whole hip-hop culture. And I always liked art.

Have you any early graffiti memories?

A standout is when Zefa from the GAP Crew painted me doing a head-spin.

Any favorite spots?

I especially like abandoned places.

el-Seed

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

I do everything freestyle.

Do you prefer working alone or would you rather collaborate with others?

I tend to work by myself, but I also love collaborating with others.

What is the attitude of your family towards what you are doing?

I studied business at the university, and then I worked as a business consultant. My parents were somewhat concerned when I left that world. But now, when they see how happy I am, they’re fine about it.

Any thoughts on the graffiti/street art divide?

I don’t like the definitions. I don’t like the terms.

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

On one level, it’s cool because it gives us opportunity to share our vision with other people. But, on the other hand, artwork loses its context when it’s online

eL-Seed

What is the riskiest thing you ever did?

Painting on top of a mosque 47 meters high in Tunisia.

Why were you willing to take that risk?

It was a way of returning to my roots.

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

I do everything freestyle.

What inspires you to paint in public?

It’s a quest for identity. I was born and raised in France, but French people tell me that I’m not French – that I’m Arabic. And I want to maintain pride in my native culture. I do not want to lose it. That’s a reason why I write in Arabic.

eL Seed, Meres and Jaye

Do you have a message to convey?

Despite our differences, we are all the same. We’re all human and we all have the same struggle.

How has your work evolved through the years?

I’ve learned to adapt to any surface, and the flow and shapes of my letters keep on evolving.

You’ve travelled to many cities. Have you any favorites?

My favorite city is Gabes in Tunisia. I have a strong emotional connection because it’s my family’s native land.

eL Seed and Jaye

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street-art into galleries?

I’d rather paint on walls, but to sustain myself, I’ve shown in galleries.

What are some of your other interests?

I love to cook. I cook everything for my family. And I love to read, especially about history.

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

To give visual expression to what people think. The artist is the ambassador of our society.

Photos by Dani Mozeson, Tara Murray and Lois Stavsky; the fourth photo also features Meres and Jaye, along with eL Seed, and the fifth features a collaboration between eL Seed and Jaye

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Speaking with Saber

May 2, 2013

Saber

Back in 1997, Saber achieved legendary status as a writer when he completed the largest graffiti piece ever created.  On the bank of the Los Angeles River, it was almost the size of a professional football field. Since, he has achieved great acclaim for the works that he has also created indoors – his mesmeric paintings that fuse his extraordinary calligraffiti techniques with his fine art painting skills. While visiting his current exhibit at Opera Gallery the day after it opened, we had the opportunity to speak to Saber.

When did you first get up in a public space?

I was around ten years old when I tagged a bench in Glendale, my home town. I got scared and I wiped it off. I did this about ten times.

What inspired you at the time?

The first time I saw Belmont tunnel, I was blown away by its complex wild styles.

Saber art

What about shows? When did you first exhibit your work?

Back in the late 90’s in a terrible t-shirt store.

You’ve sure have come a long way. How did you hook up with Opera Gallery?

Through Ron English. We’ve been good friends for about ten years.

Saber

Do you have a formal art education?

I tried art school briefly and soon realized what a waste of time, money and energy it was. It’s a scam. I got a crash course in art doing graffiti. Graffiti informed me. And my parents are artists. I was always painting.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/ street art divide?

I love it all. Street art is more accessible and graffiti is about style and getting up. Your signature is the essence of your life, as it lives on long after you do. Wild style is the true heart of street art. “Street art” is just a general term.

What is the riskiest thing you ever did?

Having a child. She’s two years old.

Saber

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

Street art is going far more mainstream. Graffiti goes in cycles; that’s what makes it graffiti.

What do you see as the role of artist?

To reflect back on society.

The exhibit continues until May 11 at 115 Spring Street in SoHo.

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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