interview

Active on both the streets and in his studio, Will Power fashions stylishly seductive images, often fusing elements of  graffiti, street art and fine art. His talents can now be viewed not only on the streets of his native New Jersey and throughout NYC, but in  the group exhibition, On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey, that continues through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. While selecting studio works to feature in the exhibition, I had the opportunity to interview Will.

When and where did you first get up?

I first got up in 1983. And about a year later I did my first character, a devil. In 1985, I hit the White Castle on Journal Square. No one had ever hit that wall before. I was 14 at the time.

Had you any preferred surface back then?

Any place visible.

Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you at the time?

The movie Style Wars. It came out in 1983.

Do any early graffiti-related memories come to mind?

Racking up cans and bombing the bathrooms in Dickinson High School. The entire building was covered with graffiti.

Were you ever arrested?

Never! I knew what I was doing. I knew when and where to do it.

Did you belong to any crews back then?

A few. TFK (The Fresh Kingdom); KOC (Kings of Cremation) and MOB (Masters of Bombing).

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I’d rather work alone. Often when I collaborate, I feel as though I’m carrying the other person. The exception is Albertus Joseph. We began collaborating in 2018, and we’ve developed our distinct aesthetic that we call “Gritty City Styles.”

Is there anyone, in particular, with whom you’d like to collaborate?

The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo. I’d like to paint graffiti-style over his Sistine Chapel.

Have you any thoughts about the street art/graffiti divide? You certainly bridge the two.

The line is getting thinner and thinner. The problem is that street artists and graffiti writers don’t really get to talk to each other. The writers feel that the street artists are doing it for the money. But our motivation is really the same. We love what we do, and we have fun doing it!

What about the street art scene here in New Jersey? Any thoughts about it?

We need a “scene!” There are not enough legal walls and it’s all too cliquish. And I’d like to see the state do more to promote local artists.

Street artists are increasingly collaborating with the corporate world. Have you any feelings about that partnership?

That depends on the circumstances, the particular product and the way it’s being represented.

And how do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries and museums? 

I feel good about it. Graffiti and street art should be moving into galleries and museums. It’s the logical progression.

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

It’s in my home. I find a space to paint in my house, and it becomes my studio and my sanctuary.

Have you a formal art education?

No. I’m self-taught. Graffiti was my teacher.

What inspires you these days?

My main sources of inspiration are: hip-hop, iconography, God and the Bible.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

I lived with my mother’s family in Thailand for three years from about 4-7. I vividly remember the detailed, decorative repetitive patterns and the classic spiritual beauty of the Buddhist temples. And I spent six months with my stepfather’s family in Egypt after I graduated from high school. There was gold everywhere! That’s what stands out. But the hip-hop culture has always been my main influence.

Is there a central theme that ties your work together?

Hip-hop and spirituality.

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

Mostly, I don’t. But for commissions, I sometimes have to.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece? And how do you know when it’s finished?

I am satisfied with it. I know it’s finished when it feels balanced.

How important are other’s reactions to you?

On my studio work, they’re not important. But when I paint outside, it’s for the people. And then it matters.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It began with tagging and bombing the streets, and now it’s working on canvas fusing elements of graffiti, urban art and fine art.

How has the work you’ve done on the streets impacted your studio work?

The media I use are largely the same ones I use on the streets: spray paint, wheatpastes, stencils and charcoal. But I’ve also begun working more and more with oil paint and oil sticks in the studio.

How has your studio work evolved in the past several years?

I’m definitely taking more chances, and my tones are often more subtle. And working with oil paint adds a classical element to it.

How long do you generally spend on a studio piece? On a street art work?

I spend, on the average, of about three months on a studio piece, and anywhere from 4-6 hours on a work on the streets.

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

My role is to share my God-given talents with others.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I’d have to say all of it, because even at my day job – my main source of income – I paint in my head.

Note: Will Power‘s work remains on view through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ and for the next several weeks, you may even find him collaborating with the legendary Al Diaz at First Street Green Art Park.

Interview by Lois Stavsky

Photos feature Will Power‘s studio and street art in various indoor and outdoor venues. Images 3 & 8 in collaboration with fellow Ex-Vandals member, Albertus Joseph

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While exploring the streets of Valencia, Spain awhile back, I met up with the wonderfully talented, self-taught, pioneering Spanish urban artist Germán Bel aka Fasim. We began an ongoing conversation at the time:

Where and when did you start getting up?

It was around 1984-85 in the Barcelona neighborhood of La Trinidad. I was 12-13 years old. I started with hair color sprays, colored waxes, paint brushes and any paint sprays that we found at the workers’ construction sites. Spray paint cans were very expensive back then. It was difficult to afford to buy any, although soon we learned to “lift” them without problems!

Who or what first inspired you to get up?

Back in the 80’s, we had very little information about the graffiti movement, and we were lucky that the Style Wars documentary was broadcast on television. It was very instructive; we learned a lot in one night just from watching it. The writer whose style most inspired me was Ricardo Mirando aka Seen. He was undoubtedly the graffiti king!

Have you any favorite surfaces?

All of them have their charm. Painting on large walls is very rewarding, but it is also very exhausting. I prefer painting in open places like public parks. I like the way the art in the public sphere interacts with the citizens and with the urban environment.

My current favorite surface is the canvas; I love its touch and its smell when it’s cut. It can withstand any onslaught! I also like paper. It’s the surface I use most often. It’s lightweight and allows me to generate many works in a short space of time.

What was it like back in the day in Spain?

When we started in the mid 80’s in Barcelona, there were very few tags on the street. But there were other types of writings — mostly alluding to the civil war, Franco’s dictatorship, social injustices, the nuclear threat, the armed group ETA and varied political party propaganda. It was referred to as “pintadas o las pintadas.”

A few years later, murals began to emerge from the punk scene — many related to underground comics and psychedelia. Major European influences included Miss Tic, Blek le Rat and Jef Aerosol.

Can you tell us something about the pioneers of the Barcelona urban art scene?

The pioneers of urban art in Barcelona were called ‘Los Rinos.’ They painted giant fried eggs, yogurt containers, paellas, French fries, roasted chickens, dripping spirals – all on train tracks. We found it very funny, and we spent hours sitting on the tracks, smoking and laughing, as we watched them.

Among the many crews in Barcelona were the Kukufruts, an all-girl, all-punk group. Today one of them, Pi Piquer, is a celebrated painter. The Trepax were stencil pioneers and made fascinating stencils of two and three meters. They are wonderfully impressive and, unfortunately, still not documented.

Do you prefer to paint in the street “with permission,” or would you rather do it illegally?

I come from a generation where painting with permission was frowned upon. I painted a wall in a public area in Valencia in 2010 dedicated to war victims. I had grown tired of seeing the horrible deaths and terrible atrocities on television for years. When I arrived with my ladder and paint and started to work, a police car stopped me. But with the help of some neighbors who defended me, I was able to continue. When I finished the wall a few weeks later, I prepared a series of reports that were published in many different cities around the world.

I was proud of what I had accomplished. I had painted a wall with a theme of political and social criticism in the center of Valencia, with no budget and without any permission and with some personal risk. And I was able to promote it around the world. Today the wall is a classic – without the support of any institution.

How did your family feel about what you are doing?

Well, I come from a family that had disintegrated. My life has been somewhat like Huckleberry Finn’s! I ended up living with my maternal grandparents, who lived in a suburb infested with heroin addicts. Its main inhabitants were Andalusian immigrants, with huge social problems.

Although my grandparents liked to see what I painted, they did not perceive it as something positive. They looked favorably on such workers as laborers, receptionists, mechanics… But to be a poet or painter in such an environment was almost a disgrace and a possible death sentence! They believed that one did not earn money with painting — that it was something for troubadours, bohemians or misfits.

They did come to accept it with resignation. Today it is different. Many people come to see my work in exhibitions or on the street. And I am sure that my grandparents, somewhere in the cosmos, would be very happy with my achievements.

What percentage of your time is dedicated to art?

From the time I get up to the time I go to bed. It’s not my job; it’s my life.

What are some of your other interests?

Literature is another great passion. I am a member of INDAGUE (the Spanish Association of Researchers and Disseminators of Graffiti and Urban Art) and I participated in a conference with Fernando Figueroa. More recently, I’ve been preparing some very funny, pictorial literary cut-ups, fusing elements of crime novels, poetry and surreal stories. It’s about the jungle, snake men, talking tigers…. It’s my first foray into literature and I like its subversive, fantastical style. I also love cooking. I love to cook when I have time. It relaxes me and I can disconnect from everything. I love to prepare new dishes.

In New York, there is often a divide between graffiti writers and street artists. Have you any thoughts about that?

I am an artist who has come to painting through tagging. Graffiti helped me to free myself from a very distressing situation of living in a very difficult neighborhood. It was the escape valve. The streets can teach you a vandal-like creative discipline that can move you in the direction of fine art. Tagging is a first contact with artistic creativity.

A few years after I started getting up on the streets, I began to paint. A turning point was my visit to JonOne‘s studio in Paris in the legendary Hôpital éphémère. Jon had original paintings by artists from all over the world including many from New York — like Rammellzee, A-One, Lady Pink, Crash, Futura2000… He showed me books by Basquiat and Miquel Barceló. Walking around his house was like visiting museum. I came to understand the relationship between tagging, graffiti, street art, urban art and fine art.

Nowadays, anyone can buy spray paint, paint a bunch of hearts in an alley, take a picture, upload it to social networks and say he is a street artist. He does this without any threat of arrest — just to be cool, to be trendy. But what he is doing is trivializing the entire movement. He is not a “street artist.” He is just a tool of capitalism.

What about cultural influences?

I am very interested in different cultures, and I have many cultural influences. Art is what survives as a testimony to fallen tyrants, kings, empires, dictatorships, dogmas and religions. What remains is the work of artists, of visionaries and poets, of craftsmen who shaped the ideas of their time. I study art every day, and even when I am studying history or archeology, I always encounter art. Among my many interests is Deir-el Medina, the royal artisan village of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. These humble artisans who lived in adobe houses crafted many of the incredible works that fill today’s museums.

Today I am more influenced and inspired by my culture — the millenary culture of the Mediterranean — than by all the other modern or contemporary western influences. It is the source of all the elements that make up civilization: architecture, music, painting and sculpture, poetry, philosophy, astronomy and more.

Do you have a formal art education?

I am what others label as “self-taught,” as I study on my own every day — away from the influences of the art establishment. For several months in the early 90’s, I studied painting at the Cucurulla Academy in Barcelona, where we copied natural models and fashioned boring plaster sculptures. My most distinct memory is of a very young, thin model — a heroin addict whose body was filled with bruises. She would fall asleep between poses, and then she would wake up and apologize.

But I didn’t stay in school. I preferred visiting galleries and museums. My favorite gallery was the Joan Gaspar Gallery. It was almost always empty, and there I found original and serial works of great quality by the hands of: Picasso, Braque, Miró, Masson, Clavé, Tàpies, Calder, Viladecans, Mitoraj…. For me it was as exciting as entering the Cave of Altamira or Lascaux. Silently facing the works of great, internationally-recognized modern and contemporary creators was my first and my best school. For a young painter, there is no better school than to witness and face these works close-up in museums and galleries. I also read extensively at the time. They were very intense years.

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

It depends on what I want to do. In general, I’m always well-organized. When I paint a large-scale mural, I come prepared with a gridded sketch and all of the paint that I’ve chosen carefully with a color chart. When I am going to make illegal pieces on walls, I come prepared to execute them quickly. When I was younger, I used to almost always improvise, but with age I have become more disciplined. Wherever I work, though, I also let the unexpected happen, as that is part of the creative process — even when we think we have lost control.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished work?

With the works I show, I am either half-satisfied or quite satisfied. As a general rule, I don’t show on social media or exhibit something I don’t like. I am quite critical of my painting, and I can repeat the painting process on the same canvas many times until it takes on an unexpected meaning. Life is a mystery, and painting reflects that mystery to us, just as the water reflects the image of Narcissus. While painting, I often become very fond of a piece — falling in love with it or maintaining a deep and ephemeral romance with it during the process.

How has the Covid pandemic affected you and how has it affected your work as an artist?

As you know, it has been a very strong, transformative experience on a planetary level. All our lives have changed radically, and together we are now experiencing a post-traumatic stress, unlike anything we’ve known. I have had to adapt to many changes – some very deep – quickly. I stopped spray painting on the streets in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. I am more concerned now about the harm that sprays can cause the environment. I could do without sprays, but I could not do without painting or drawing. I am horrified by the idea of a world destroyed by selfishness, so I have decided to stop and wait a bit.

I’ve also perceived changes in the direction of my work. I’m now working on themes that a few years ago I would not have imagined. My current series of paintings is tentatively titled “Erased Landscapes.” It has many meanings. It is a metaphor expressing nature’s outrage at us for disregarding our environment, but it also a reference to the mania or obsession to erase all urban graphic signs in big cities, leaving in its wake a trail of strange erased landscapes. It is also a nod to the idea that a canvas or a painting is a window to another reality, the window within the window.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3, 5, & 6 Courtesy of Fasim; 3 Jordi Arques; 4 Lois Stavsky  

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Working with yarn, Carmen Paulino aka Carmen Community Artist has been busily bringing intriguing images and timely messages to the streets of East Harlem and beyond. I was delighted to recently meet her and find out a bit about her:

When did you first share your artwork in a public space?

Back in 2015, I did live painting outdoors with members of my East Harlem community. And then in 2018, I began yarn-bombing. I’d been working with yarn for years, but only then did I get it out in public.

What inspired you to do so at the time?

I had participated in an exhibition of fiber art at El Barrio Art Space. And I was suddenly inspired to take my art outside. I saw it as a way to beautify my community. I love East Harlem, and I wanted to add color to my neighborhood.

Were there any particular artists who inspired you to get your vision out on the streets?

Yes! Two particular artists who stand out are: Naomi Lawrence aka Naomi Rag – who’s been active in East Harlem now for several years – and the Philadelphia-based yarn bomber Nicole Nikolich aka Lace in the Moon.

Do you generally have permission to install your artwork?

Yes! I always know someone who has some connection to the site.

What is the attitude of your friends and family to what you are doing?

They are all proud of me!

What is your main source of income?

In 2014, I began working as a teaching artist in community centers, hospitals and senior centers. But for the past three years, I’ve worked mostly with seniors – and I love it! They are a constant source of inspiration.

Besides crafting with yarn and teaching art, have you any other particular interests?

I love to paint. I had a phenomenal teacher — when I was a student at Richard Green High School — who encouraged me, and I’ve been painting ever since.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I enjoy doing both. I’ve recently collaborated with Alisha aka Little Nugget Workshop, Viviana Rambay and Glenys Rivas.

Have you a formal art education?

No. I’m essentially self-taught. I learned my craft from my grandmother and mother.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Spanish culture – Indigenous, Latin American, Colombian.

Have you exhibited your work in a gallery setting?

Yes. I’m actively involved with the El Barrio Art Space.

Early in the pandemic many of your pieces expressed gratitude to the essential workers and urged folks to stay home. More recently your artworks have been focusing on the importance of voting in the upcoming election. What inspires your pieces?

I’m inspired by the people I meet and what is happening around me. In early spring my pieces were largely inspired by my husband, FDNY EMS Paramedic Michael Paulino — who has been working in the front line — and by all of the essential workers out there who put so much at risk. Current affairs have triggered my newer works.

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

No. I don’t work with a sketch. My work evolves as I create it.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Always!

What do you see as the role of the artist in society? And your role – in particular?

I see the artist as an agent of change. And my role is to bring a sense of peace and safety to my community, while beautifying it.

What’s ahead?

A collaborative memorial for East Harlem victims of Covid-19.

Thank you, Carmen, for all that you do!  I am looking forward to what’s ahead.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos: 1 & 4, courtesy of the artist; 2, 3, 5 & 6 Lois Stavsky

Note: Photo 3 features a collaboration with Alisha S aka Little Nugget Workshop, and the fourth photo features a collaboration with Alisha S aka Little Nugget Workshop, Viviana Rambay and Glenys Rivas.

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Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Sara Erenthal has been busy! Sharing her personal musings on found objects, enhancing windows of local businesses and interacting with passersby, she has been making a huge mark on NYC’s public spaces throughout the pandemic. I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions to her:

Of all the NYC artists I know who also use the street as a canvas, you may have been the only one out there almost daily at the height of the pandemic. What spurred you to hit the streets at a time when so many folks remained indoors or only went out for essential items?

At the very beginning of the pandemic, I was out only for errands. I wasn’t making any art. I actually isolated myself for about two weeks, as I wasn’t feeling well. But on the first walk I took, after self-isolating, I ran into two little pieces of wood. I couldn’t resist. Why do I do it? I live alone. The only view I have is of my alleyway. I need to get out and stretch my legs. I need to create art for my sanity. The street is a place where I can scream and be heard.

How have folks responded to seeing you out there?

The response has been amazing. People stop me and thank me for creating work. I’ve even been receiving donations, along with all kinds of support. People are so grateful that I am out there creating art in these times.

Do any particularly memorable experiences stand out?

There are many!  Early on, I came across a coffee table near my apartment that had been discarded. I wrote on it, “Hey, neighbor, let’s connect.” A month later, I discovered that a homeless guy who lives near my local train station had adopted this piece. I would love to meet him.  Particularly memorable is the day I sat myself down in Prospect Park with a sign that read: “I live alone. Please talk to me from 6 feet away.” The response I got was incredible. People lined up to speak to me. It was the interaction that I so crave.

You’ve been featured in at least a half dozen publications – from the Gothamist to the Brooklyn Rail – within the past few weeks. Has that publicity impacted your career as an artist?

It has. But equally, as people see my work on the streets and on Instagram, my audience expands. It’s a mix of both.

Both pieces that you did in my Upper West Side neighborhood — one on a discarded mirror and the other one, an ad-takeover on a phone both — disappeared within two days. How does that make you feel?

I was not surprised that the mirror was taken. I’d rather it land in someone’s house than in a landfill. But I was disappointed that my piece was stolen from the phone booth. Someone obviously broke into it. I went out of my way to bring art into a neighborhood that misses it. I wanted it to stay for other people to see it. Whoever took it was not considerate.

Yes! I miss seeing it on my daily strolls. Hopefully, you can return to Manhattan sometime soon. And thank you for bringing art into the lives of so many during this surreal time.

Interview conducted and and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Lois Stavsky; 2, 3, 5 & 6 Sara Erenthal, and 4 Meremundo

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The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

I fell in love with Phoebe New York the moment I saw her on the streets of my city, and I’ve since become obsessed with her!  I love everything about her – from her trendy, doll-like figure and her gorgeous outfits to her empowering messages. Recently, I had the honor to speak to her creator, Libby Schoettle.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and raised on a nearby farm. My father was working as an English teacher at the Church Farm School, a boys’ boarding school. And so that’s where I grew up.  I was always surrounded by nature. It was amazing… and totally the opposite of New York City!

Do any childhood memories stand out –- particularly those that inform your art?

I remember setting up easels with my brother in our backyard. And my grandfather, an artist who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, would teach us how to look at something and draw it. I wasn’t particularly good, but I loved the feeling of being outside with markers, easels, pens and colors. My loneliness, along with any sadness that I may have felt at the time, would go away when I had paper and pen in my hand.

My grandfather also took us to his studio on occasion. It was a very special place to him.  I still remember the smell and the room. It was very spiritual. I remember thinking, “I could see myself doing this.” I don’t know if I would have the same connection to art if it weren’t for him.

Are there any particular themes in your art that can be traced back to your childhood?

Yes, I was a fearful child. I was petrified of Philadelphia, and I would do anything to avoid going to a city. It’s ironic how I ended up in New York City! Messages in my work like “Fear Nothing” and “Never Quit” stem from my childhood emotions.

At what point did you break through your fear? 

It happened gradually between elementary school and high school. I was constantly bullied in elementary school. It was traumatic. I was afraid of everybody. But I had so much to say, and I began telling myself, “I can get through this. It isn’t forever.” And I remember suddenly becoming outgoing!

And when I moved to New York City, I immediately connected with the city. I fell in love with it! It was the relationship I’d been looking for my whole life. I’d lived in a couple of other places, but I’d always felt depressed — and couldn’t figure out why. New York City changed my life. I started to study acting after college, where I’d majored in film production. I wanted to confront my fears through acting. I didn’t really want to become an actress, but that helped me a lot — as did waitressing! I constantly challenged myself.

Did you ever study art in a formal setting? 

No. I studied film production and fashion in college. I started doing art on my own. I never thought about it. Had I studied art formally, I don’t think any of this would have happened!

What inspired you to create Phoebe? And when was she born?

It took years for Phoebe to evolve. It started in 2001 from a photograph I took while I was in Paris. I don’t know exactly when Phoebe was born, but I do remember how her profile came about. I had a square from a pink record album, and I drew a line for a mouth and an eye on the side. It was subtle, but I saw a face. I thought, “OMG, I could use this instead of making Americana-inspired heads.” I was immersed and obsessed with Phoebe’s side profile for years, and I drew hundreds of them. I placed her on top of line drawings and cut clothing out to dress her. She didn’t have a full face until 2016. Watching her over the years is like watching your child grow.

I had no idea what I was doing, but it feels like it’s what I was supposed to be doing. I think that’s what art is. You can’t really make sense of it; you just trust it.

Once Phoebe changed from side to full profile, she became more expressive. Was that your intent?

Yes, it was a major shift in my work. With her full face, I was able to communicate many more emotions and messages. I don’t do her side profile anymore. Rarely do you see it. I now put different colors on top of her eyes and vary the colors of her hair. I’ve become far more experimental. Phoebe has become so much more to me than I could’ve ever imagined.

Have you ever been told that your character resembles you?

Yes, all the time! It’s so funny. It even happens at the post office when I’m delivering packages. I put stickers on the packages that people order and the postal workers say “OMG is that you?” She’s the exact definition of an alter ego. I think that if I had set out with an intention to make one, it never would have happened!

Can you tell us something about your creative process? What is it like?

My process is full-time because I’m constantly looking for inspiration. I’m either at my desk or looking through magazines for things to cut out. The first thing I do in the morning is write. I then walk over to my desk which is my happiest place in the world. Sometimes my creation comes together in seconds, and sometimes it doesn’t. It can get frustrating at times because I can be there for hours and nothing happens. I’ve learned — as a writer and an artist  — that you have to put yourself there. You have to show up at your desk and go through the pain to get the good stuff. It’s not going to just happen magically. I dedicate 100% of my time to Phoebe. Sometimes it’s haunting! I could be half asleep at 4:00 am, and I would say, “I have to do this now.”

Are there any particular artists who inspire you?  Any favorite artists?

When I firstI created Phoebe, people would compare her to other artists’ works. They would say things like “Oh, you must’ve studied this artist,” or “Surely you’ve been inspired by that artist.” And I would say, “No. I’ve  never seen that artist’s work.” Phoebe truly came out of my head.

There are a few artists, though, whose art inspires me personally. Photographers, in particular,  inspire me. Among my favorite images are Cindy Sherman’s older works from the 1970’s. Francesca Woodman is, also, one of my favorites. In addition to producing self-portraits, Francesca did a lot of journaling.  I’m into reading artists’ journals. I’m interested in their thoughts and how they lived. I also love Tracey Emin, Edvard Munch, Keith Haring, Basquiat and Andy Warhol. And the poet Sylvia Plath is a favorite.

Are there any particularly memorable moments that stand out since the birth of Phoebe?

Maybe the fact that she is here. The memory of bringing her into my life and being able to share her with other people. Getting her out on the streets was particularly special. My first solo show is also distinctly memorable.  It was held in 2007 at an Upper East Side gallery, but it was mostly family and friends who attended. Even though it was an amazing experience, I was disappointed that not enough strangers had popped in to check out the work. I still didn’t know back then if a stranger could understand or relate to my work. I didn’t get a sense of what anybody thought about my artwork until I started to put it out on the street. Then I started to receive messages from people across the world who understand and appreciate it. 

Of all the Phoebe’s that you’ve created, have you a favorite one? 

I have so many from different time periods! There is one I made in 2008 that I will never forget. It’s one that I don’t think I could ever part with. It’s very special because I was in love with this person, and it was the first piece of art that made me realize that I could communicate an exact feeling. Phoebe was sitting on steps looking down with a heart tucked under her arm. It somehow helped me get over that person, as it was something I did for myself and something I could show others.  

Is there anyone — in particular — with whom you’d like to collaborate?

I don’t really think about collaborations too much. The collaboration that I did with Victoria Beckham was amazing. It felt organic. The characters really spoke to each other. That’s what I look for in a collaboration. Does it make sense in terms of a relationship with Phoebe? I would experiment and try to collaborate again, but it has to be with the right person — someone who is in line with my audience and with me. 

Phoebe has also surfaced in recent gallery settings. What has that experience been like? 

It’s exciting! It’s a dream to be able to share with others my original art — what I create on paper behind the scenes. It’s so nice to have people come together to celebrate hard work and dedication. That is what art is all about!  I love communicating both on and off the streets. Anything on the streets may suddenly vanish, but work shown indoors continues to live.

What’s ahead?

I just presented the Off The Walls Bon Voyage installation show with Wallplay Network at the South Street Seaport. This was to be followed by my first solo museum show in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had been working on it for the past year, and it was scheduled to open on May 16th. As it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now scheduled to open in the fall. All of my original work since 2001 has already been shipped, and I am very excited to be showing in a museum.

There is also a documentary in the works, in which the director, Jyll Johnstone of Canobie Films, animates Phoebe. She has been working on the film for five years —  following me around everywhere I go and documenting just about everything I do. She is hoping to have the first segment of the series — one of five — completed later this year or in early 2021. 

That’s very exciting. Can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming film?

Yes. It explores my life as an artist. The film begins before I had a presence on the streets. I wasn’t a street artist at the time. I was a writer and a collage artist. I didn’t have a cell phone or instagram. It’s amazing how everything has since evolved organically — including this documentation! The film will offer viewers insights into my many different sides.

I’m certainly looking forward to it. Have you anything else in the works?

Yes! I am also working on a book of my collages now.

How exciting! Good luck with it all! And thank you for inspiring me in so many ways.

Interview conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos: Ana Candelaria 

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The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

An artist, curator, dancer and filmmaker, NYC native Savior Elmundo has long been a huge force in the urban art scene. Recently, I had the opportunity to find out a bit more about him.

When and where did you start tagging?

I was fifteen years old when I started. I grew up on the Upper West Side. My tag was REIN. It stands for Ruler – Equality – I – Now. My partner and I tagged and bombed everywhere — Harlem, the Heights, Queens and Brooklyn.

Were you down with any crews?

Yes. My mother moved us to Woodside, Queens. She thought a change of environment would be good for me. But it actually made things worse. I joined a graffiti crew in Queens, and I’d sneak down the fire escape at three o’clock in the morning just to go bombing. Everyone at that time was pretty much down with a click or a group, and there were lots of them.

And then what happened? Did you stay in Queens?

No. I couldn’t take Queens for long. I traveled to Manhattan and hit the club scene. Downtown — Soho and the Village — became my new home as I began working as a professional dancer. Hip Hop was — and still is — a big part of my life. I wouldn’t have become a street artist or filmmaker if it wasn’t for dancing.

What led you into filmmaking?

I wanted to tap into something else. I didn’t want to be a dancer for the rest of my life. A friend convinced me to do a short film based on a story I had shared with him. Reflection was my first short film. It was accepted into several festivals including the NY Film Festival. I directed and produced five short films in total. Life was going great until one day, in the midst of preparing for my first feature film documentary, I received word that a family member had passed away. I picked up the brush and began to paint as a form of therapy. That’s when art took over my life.

When did you first come up with your particular logo “MAKE ART?”

Ten years ago — when I first stepped into the art scene. I wanted to get a message out there that would make people think. “MAKE ART” incorporates art, film, and dance. It also serves as a reminder for people to make art. It’s simple, and I write it in a distinct way so people know that it’s me. I sign all of my pieces with my name Savior Elmundo, “MAKE ART,”  and the year.

Did any particular artists influenced you?

Icons such as Andy Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Frida and Matisse. Studying their work has helped me come up with my own style and ideas. For example, in one of my designs Dali and Picasso face each other wearing boxing gloves with my tag “MAKE ART” in the middle. Another one of my creations was inspired by an image of the boxer Muhammed Ali holding a draft notice from the army. I inserted a graphic design image of my tag “MAKE ART” on the document.

I consider myself a mixed-media artist. I like working with different things and I love texture. I do a lot of message work, but, lately, I find myself gravitating more towards my 3D art work. I’m also working on a couple of other styles that I will be releasing some time in the near future.

Are you generally satisfied with your work when you’re finished? 

I’ve destroyed so many pieces, but I’ve learned not to do that anymore. One day, I painted a canvas and uploaded a picture of it onto my website. Two days later, a client contacted me to buy it, but I didn’t have it anymore. I had gone over it and created a different painting. That’s when I learned that my work is not for me; it’s for them.

Your work has been showcased in dozens of exhibitions in a range of spaces. Do any particular ones stand out?

The 21st Precinct, curated by Robert Aloia, was one memorable show! Each artist was given one room in the 21st Precinct building on East 22nd Street to showcase their work. The building,  had three floors with about sixty rooms. I used an image from Rene Magritte’s, Son of Man, one of my favorite paintings, and turned it into one of my own images. I designed a man with a Goya can — instead of an apple — on his face standing in front of a stack of Goya cans. I covered the entire wall with a black and white wheatpaste of this design. As a Latino, Goya is a big part of my culture.

Another particularly memorable exhibit was at the World Trace Center. For that I  did an installation using a door that I had found on the curb side as a tribute for 9/11  The door read “Always In Our Hearts 9/11” in 3D letters.

And my first solo show was in 2019. All of my work was displayed in 3D. The show was a reflection of the past thirty years of my life. The words displayed were key elements of my past. Since 2010, I’ve been in a total of 70 group shows.  So many that are memorable!

How did you come up with the concept for Collage NYC, the hugely popular weekly live art event at The Delancey?  

As soon as I started to make some money from selling art. I wanted to do something to give back.  I wanted to build a home where artists could come together to create freely and inspire each other. I imagined a place where people could have a good time after a long, stressful day. I also wanted to bring back the paint parties that Basquait and Keith Haring used to participate in back in the 80s. The vibes are super chill! You can watch the artists paint; you can dance, or you can just lounge at the bar and have a drink. This year marked our 10th anniversary.

Have you words of wisdom that you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists?

Pay your dues and know the rules. Learn the process and put in the work. Don’t be late! Get your name out there. Learn how to talk about your art and how to sell yourself. Get out to every gallery in Soho and Chelsea on a Thursday night and just introduce yourself!  You have to hustle to get what you want. Also, it’s very important to understand the history of art and respect it. Don’t be afraid to take things to the next level. That’s how I got my start as a curator.

What’s ahead?

A two-man show with my brother A.J. LaVilla. I’m really excited about it. I’m also working on a project with a corporate company that people will hear about. There are more solo shows in the pipeline and other creative ideas are brewing.

Good luck!

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

Photo credits: 1 Ana Candelaria; 2 & 3 Courtesy of the artist; 4 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 5 Tara Murray & 6 Lois Stavsky

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Curious about the face behind the poetic, bright yellow stickers that have increasingly become part of NYC’s visual landscape, I was delighted to meet and speak to the beguiling My Life in Yellow.

We street art aficionados know you as My Life In Yellow. When was My Life in Yellow  born?

It was born ten years ago as the name of my blog when I first moved to New York.

Why Yellow?

I was always drawn to the color yellow. It was my grandmother’s favorite color. And when I was in college, my room was blue, while the room next to mine was yellow. The girl who dormed there was always happy, had yellow accessories and always wore the color yellow. The yellow room was so much more inviting and cheerful than mine that I soon began to surround myself with the color yellow.

When did you start slapping your stickers up on the street and why?

Several years ago, I met Thomas OKOK Gunnarsson aka TagsAndThrows. He introduced me to the street art/graffiti world. We walked around the city together as he photographed graffiti. One year later his friend, AllYouSeeIsCrimeInTheCity, a street art photographer based in Sweden, came on a visit to New York City. She gave me my first sticker and encouraged me to write on it. I was going through a difficult break-up at the time, so I wrote “Tell Him How You Feel” on a postal sticker. She slapped it for me in Soho.

What inspired you to keep making stickers and getting them up?

I started getting really positive feedback. And it was a kind of therapy for me as I was going through difficult times.  People started to reach out and say things like, “Now I know I’m not alone” and “Me too, omg — I feel this way.” I started to realize how similar we all are in our dark thoughts, what we don’t say out loud. That was the moment I felt, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Have you any particularly memorable street art experiences?

I spontaneously slapped a sticker on a bridge in Berlin. The sticker read. “Tell Him How You Feel.” A girl nearby noticed it and commented, “A lot of people jump off that bridge.” I hadn’t thought of that! Another time I slapped a sticker on the Manhattan Bridge that said, “It’ll Be Ok.”  I did not realize until afterwards that I had slapped it on a suicide/help call box!

Who are some of your favorite sticker artists?

MQ and Token. I appreciate how consistent they are. I see their stickers everywhere!

 

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

Yes, I slap and I walk. And then when I revisit it, I feel like I’m visiting my child.

How has your street art evolved in the course of these these past five years?

Its intent and tone have stayed the same, but I also wheatpaste now. And I’ve painted directly onto walls–by myself and in collaboration with other artists.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve created?

That’s a tough one! “Once my lover, now my poem.” I find myself writing it a lot.

How long do you usually spend on each sticker?

It comes in spurts. I often write a whole bunch at one time. Sometimes it’s just spontaneous.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

Don’t tell my boss, but I think about it all the time.

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes! I’ve exhibited in several local spaces. When I first met Sac Six a few years back. he encouraged me get up on canvas.  I still make little canvases — that look like my stickers — that I show and sell in exhibitions. I’ve also created works that don’t resemble my stickers at all. I was recently featured in the Phoenix Rising exhibit at the Gala on 129 Allen Street, where one of my pieces sold.

Where else have your stickers traveled, besides the streets here in NYC?

London, Paris, Trinidad, Sweden, Berlin, LA, Miami. All placers I’ve been to. I prefer to slap stickers myself. There’s something special about it. It’s nice when people offer to slap my stickers up in other places, but I don’t give them out.

You’ve also painted in sanctioned public projects. Do you prefer working legally or illegally?

There’s something magical about pasting stickers up. I like its randomness, but I also enjoy working legally.

How has your family responded to your work on the streets?

They’re entertained by it. My father exhibits his photography. My grandfather was an artist.

Did you ever study art in a formal setting?

No, I’m self taught. I have a BA in business and a degree in Fashion Design from Parsons.

What are some of your other interests?

Spoken word poetry. I’ve performed in various venues. And I recently curated an event to help raise money for the JED Foundation.

Where are you headed? Any recent projects?

I recently collaborated with street art photographer Ana Candelaria. Ana’s photos always make me so happy. I love how she captures my stickers out in the wild: weather-faded, slapped-over and scratched-off. I love her documentation of their deterioration. Her photos really speak to me and I’m looking forward to many more collaborations with Ana. I‘ve also just released a chapbook of my poetry, Despite it all.  Where am I headed? I’d like to travel the world, get on stages with my poetry, paint more murals and conduct workshops on the power of words.

That all sounds great! What do you see as the artist’s role in society?

To help people feel something.

Note: You can purchase My Life In Yellow‘s recently-released poetry book together with Ana Candelaria‘s photograph of her iconic sticker as a PHOTO PRINT & CHAPBOOK BUNDLE PRE-SALE here.

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

Photo credits: 1 (featuring Ana’s photograph) – 3, 6, (featuring My Life In Yellow‘ s collaboration with Androi 0i for Underhill Walls 7 & 9 Lois Stavsky; 4, 5, 8, 10 & 11 Ana Candelaria 

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Eight walls and three loading docks on the exterior of Yoho Studios have a brand-new look. Described by the artist as New Earth Hieroglyphs, the art brings Michael Cuomo’s distinctly abstract, black and white spiritual aesthetic into the public sphere. Upon viewing it, I had a few questions for Michael:

How did this wonderful opportunity to share your particular aesthetic in a public space come your way?

I was granted permission by Heights Real Estate and Yonkers Arts, an organization that has been promoting and encouraging artistic ventures in the City of Yonkers.

You are a master of many different styles and techniques. How did you decide on this particular composition?

I wanted to share the power of high vibrational frequency that these designs offer. I am honored to be able to present my artwork to the community on a main street, 578-540 Nepperhan Avenue, where thousands pass daily.

How have folks responded to it?

They love it. While I was painting, many stopped by to chat. Others honked their horns from their cars, and gave me a thumbs up! The response has been thoroughly positive.

You work mostly in your studio. What has it been like to change your working environment to an outdoor one?

I love working in both settings. But I love the interaction with others that best happens in public spaces.

How do you feel about the final product?

I’m enthralled!

What’s ahead?

In addition to my studio work, I’d love to find more opportunities to paint outdoors.

How can folks best contact you?

They can drop me an email at michaelcuomoart@gmail.com. Or they can send a direct message to my Instagram account.

Great! And we’re looking forward to seeing more of your work on the streets!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos 1, 2 & 3 courtesy of the artist; 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky

Note: An earlier version of this interview — with additional photos by Fawn Phillips — first appeared here.

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I first encountered JoDo’s now-iconic bee on a wall in Bushwick several years ago. And this past week, I had the opportunity to visit it in all its glory in JoDo’s first retrospective exhibition on view at The Yard on 85 Delancey Street. We, also, had a chance to speak:

When and where did your now-iconic bee first surface in the public sphere? 

In November, 2015 here in NYC.

What inspired you to hit the streets with it?

Once I moved to NYC, I started noticing all that was happening on the streets here. And so I decided to take my bee – that first appeared indoors in a group exhibition – outside.

Can you tell us something about your bee? What does it represent? 

It is a divine creature that represents the communication between the Gods and us humans. Each bee is distinct.

And what about its name — JoDo?

It’s a reference to my parents. Jo from my father’s name; and Do from my mom’s.

I’ve seen your bee on a wide range of surfaces. Have you any preferred ones?

I love stone and brick, but any kind of surface is fine.

Do you prefer to paint on the streets “with permission?” Or would you rather do it illegally?

I like both. Generally what I do is unsanctioned, but there are advantages to painting legally. For example, when I paint with Paint for Pink in Newark, I am given not only a wall, but paint and all the time I need!

What is your first graffiti memory?

The writing I noticed while growing up in Mexico City. I didn’t get involved with it because I assumed it was associated with gangs. But I loved trying to decipher its letters. 

What about cultural influences? What are your principal ones?

Definitely NYC graffiti, and I’ve been influenced by the time I spent working within Mayan communities in the jungles of Mexico.

What is your most memorable graffiti experience?

My time in St. Petersburg, Russia. I met up there with the graffiti writer AKA6. It was the first time I bombed with spray paint, rather than with mops.

And the riskiest thing you’ve done?

Also in Russia. Painting by myself inside the ruins of buildings. I didn’t know what could happen to me.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Yes, I kiss and hug all of my pieces after I finish them and whenever I pass them by

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes. Among the spaces I’ve shown in are: the Living Gallery, 17 Frost and here at the Yard.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My family is very supportive. They both hugely appreciate art.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

When I’m not working at marketing or art curation, I’m doing art. And when I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it.

What are some of your other interests?

Discovering other people’s talents. 

Have you any feelings — positive or negative — regarding the engagement of graffiti artists with the corporate world?

I love the idea of infiltrating the corporate world. That’s how we artists can have more influence and reach people who otherwise might not see our work. It’s like playing with the system to get our message out.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

They include: the late British painter JM William Turner; the late Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara; the late Italian-Argentine artist Lucio Fontana Rubens; the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan; the late Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida, and the late American sculptor Robert Smitson.

Do you prefer painting alone or with others?  

I’m very independent, but I also like painting with others. Among those I’ve gotten up with are: Easy, Sev TDT, the ACK Crew, Blitz, Rambo, Pork, Glazer, Token, ZB-Bunny, Myster, TCOB, Slae, AKA6, Lansky, Sohr, Freaky, Uncle Robert, Hank, Trice, Regalos Margot, ET, Avocado, CaseEx-Vandals, Delay, DB, Umii, Pariah, Dwel, Hiss, El Sol, Chupa and the O’s, Image, Jel, Nic 707, the TDT Crew, KRR, Masters of Massacre, Extremely Humble  and Optimo.

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

Graffiti and street art are both art, but they’re totally different categories of expression. Most street artists just bring their fine art sensibilities outdoors. Most writers are driven to make their mark and be part of graffiti history.

Have you a formal art education?

No. I studied art curation. My father taught me how to draw. He took me to museums just about every week. And then when I lived in Europe, I visited museums all the time.

How has your iconic bee evolved through the years?

It used to be very stiff. Now it flows. It’s definitely improved!

Where else besides NYC and St. Petersburg has it surfaced?

It’s made its way to Moscow, Asilah, Malaga, Cadiz, Ek Balam, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen and Miami.

What’s ahead?

I want to create more art – some with the bee and some without it. I want to work on a larger scale, and I want to continue to make my parents proud of me.

How can folks see JoDo Was Here — your current show on the 2nd and 3rd floors of The Yard on the Lower East Side?

Viewing hours are Monday – Friday 10-5 and weekends by appointment. They can direct message me via my Instagram or drop a note to Lee Wells of the International Fine Arts Consortium (IFAC) at Lee@ifac-arts.com. The exhibit  continues through March 22.

Great! And congratulations on this exhibit! 

Interview conducted and edited for clarity and brevity by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Ana Candelaria; 2, 5 & 8 Courtesy of the artist, and 3, 4, 6, 7 & 9 Lois Stavsky

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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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