Morristown

A huge fan of Mr. Mustart‘s mesmerizing aesthetic since I discovered it on the streets of Jersey City a decade ago, I was delighted to feature his talents in the Morris Museum‘s current group exhibition, On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New JerseyWhat follows is an interview with the artist:

When and where did you first get up?

Back in Russia. I was about 11-12 when I first got up on a wall. I remember using a navy blue spray can from a local auto shop. At that time the paint only came in two colors.

Had you a preferred surface?  

No! Everything goes, and as long as there is room for creativity, it’s all a blank canvas.

What inspired you to hit the streets? 

A desire to be heard and also seen now that I think about it. Also, I was inspired by the music that I listened to at the time. At first, it was punk rock and heavy metal. Then when I was about 13 or 14, back in 97-98, it was a wave of hip-hop and rap music – groups like Public Enemy, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang, Gangstarr, of course 2Pac and Notorious BIG, BIG Pun, Big-L, Jay-Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, Snoop, KRS One, MC Hammer, Kool G Rap, Coolio, … whosever bootleg tapes and VHS videos made it to my small town.

There was no internet at that time, mind you. I remember watching music videos with b-boys in them rocking on linoleum mats with graffiti pieces and characters in the background. I was already drawing, sculpting and making my own play-weapons like wood gun replicas, ninja darts, bows and arrows. and more. The music and the videos opened me up to an entire new world of self-expression.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others? 

I like doing both. Some of my finest memories are from the times I painted with my friends. And sometimes it’s more therapeutic for me to work alone. Depends on what it is that I’m doing.

Do you belong to any crews?

I’m an honorable member of BAMC, a huge and very talented international crew based out of California and the A-Team aka the AIDS Crew, a collective of some of the dopest local street and graffiti artists based out of Jersey.

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

Before we get into any type of logomachy about this hot topic, let’s agree that there is no solid definition of either one. and the lines between have been crossed numerous times throughout its brief history and continue to till this day.  I don’t think it’s that much of a divide, rather a continuous interaction and coexistence/collision of ideas, concepts, social commentary, techniques and more. Don’t believe the hype.

I think it’s more of a territorial issue. Most graffiti writers have been doing their thing on the streets for years and even decades without serious recognition from the art world, mostly because  graffiti has been classified as a crime rather than an urban form of expression. It’s the label “street art” that took graffiti places it has never been. So I think the divide is more personal and not as systematic as people like to think.

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

I think it’s great. It’s Art and that’s where the Art belongs. It’s a window of opportunity for many talented artists and a positive outlet for those who come from harsh environments with many self-destructive vices.  It gives many people hope and a way to earn some sort of a living.

And what about the role of social media? How do you feel about that?

Its role is to connect people and that’s what it does best. It’s been great for me personally. It gives me a free platform with a global outreach. It’s a way for me to expand my network and come across great opportunities.

Have you a formal art education?

I graduated from New Jersey City University in 2009 with a BFA Degree in Painting and Drawing, but even before and throughout middle and high school, I’d always attended some sort of art classes and artists’ workshops.

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Lots of daylight, a peaceful space without too many distractions – with some kind of instrumental music in the background and lots of blank canvases and paint. And hunger to search within.

What inspires you these days?

Good music, interactions with people. Everything really. Life.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Growing up in Russia and moving to New Jersey at the age of 14 pretty much sum up my background of influences. The hip-hop culture and music from all parts of the world, especially the music from Russia, Poland, France, Brazil and of course USA.

Is there a central theme that ties your work together?

It’s my organic and free-flowing style. I rarely work with a sketch in hand. My themes change as I do.

What about colors? Have you any favorite ones?

I especially like working with yellow. It’s energetic and exciting, but colors are nothing in isolation. I love the nuance that exists among the colors rather than individual hues.

And media? Which do you prefer working with?

Spray paint is mostly my go-to, but I would draw with a stick on sand if I have to.

How important to you are others’ responses to your work? Is it important that they like it?

When the reaction is positive, that’s great! I feel like that’s the greatest reward for any artist, whether you’re a painter, a sculptor, a chef, or a dancer! If someone doesn’t like something, that is fine too; it simply is not for them.

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

They impact each other. It’s a back and forth thing.

Where would you rather be? On the streets or in a studio setting?

Probably on the streets. Just because I like being outdoors. But I see myself  spending quality time in a studio with some canvases. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

How long do you generally spend on a studio piece?

All depends on its nature. Sometimes a few hours, and sometimes months. I also work on many pieces simultaneously.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It’s always evolving, and I’m always experimenting. It’s a continuous journey with no end in sight.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My parents always encouraged me. They are both creative and always valued and supported my niche for creativity. They are thrilled that I can earn a living as an artist.

Have you any favorite artists?

I feel like art is about self-expression, so anyone who has been doing it and has done it well and with love is a favorite.

 

What are some of your other interests?

Eating healthy and traveling. Breathing.

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

It’s to find their inner light and to share it with others.

Note: You can view a sampling of Mr. Mustart‘s abundant talents in On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey

Photo credits: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8: Lois Stavsky; 2 Sara Ching Mozeson and 6 Rachel Alban

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Opening tomorrow, Thursday, September 19, at the elegant Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ is “Aerosol: Graffiti | Street Art | New Jersey | Now,”  the first U.S. museum exhibition to showcase contemporary urban artwork painted directly from floor to ceiling onto a museum’s gallery walls. While visiting the exhibition as its installation was near completion, I had the opportunity to speak to the legendary artist, curator and educator, Will “Kasso” Condry, who, along with Morris Museum Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator Ronald T. Labaco, curated the landmark exhibition.

This is remarkable! It’s so great to see a museum as prestigious as the Morris Museum showcase aerosol art. In addition to its global impact, modern graffiti has had a huge influence on contemporary art that isn’t often acknowledged. How did you come to co-curate “Aerosol: Graffiti | Street Art | New Jersey | Now?”  It is looking wonderful — a perfect ode to my favorite art form!

The museum’s chief curator, Ronald T. Labaco, reached out to me earlier this year. He had been researching graffiti and street art in New Jersey and came upon my work in my native city, Trenton, and beyond. He also read about several of my projects in my current home, Middlebury, Vermont, where I’ve served as the Alexander Twilight Artist-in-Residence at Middlebury College. My wife, Jennifer Herrera Condry — an administrative genius — has been the perfect link between Ron and me.

Your artwork often reflects a strong social consciousness, particularly as it relates to community-building. Can you tell us something about the striking mural you chose to paint for “Aerosol: Graffiti | Street Art | New Jersey | Now?” 

Yes! It is a tribute to the late Jerry Gant, a beloved visual artist, poet, performance artist and educator, who strongly impacted his native city, Newark. Gant had worked on murals and sculptures throughout Newark and became identified with his spray-painted message, “Detox the Ghetto.” 

I love the way your mural, along with all the murals in this exhibition, seamlessly fuses into its surroundings. And the installation of tags and throw-ups further enhances the exhibition’s authentic flavor.

Painting directly onto the gallery walls was Ron’s concept, and we’ve all loved the experience.

There are so many talented artists in your native state, particularly in Trenton and Newark. How did you go about selecting which artists to feature in this exhibition?

I started with a list of 25 names. I consulted with Leon and then Demer. I was interested in featuring not just “names,” but those artists who have put in lots of work, even if they are not all that well-known. Most of the artists I selected I know personally. And I know that they are committed to their art form and are, also, accomplished and reliable.

You then narrowed your list down. Which artists are featured? While most are graffiti masters, there are several muralists, as well.

There is a total of 12 artists. In addition to me, the artists who participated in the exhibit are: 4sakn, Acet TM7, Dave “Mek One” Klama, Dean “Ras” Innocenzi, DemerockDistort, Elan, Felipe Prox One Rivas, Leon Rainbow, Jonathan Conner aka LANK and Maliq Griffin.

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

The biggest challenge was getting the artists to check their email accounts! And, of course, getting everyone scheduled to paint — between their jobs and other commitments — was quite a challenge. Luckily, Ron and the museum staff were very supportive.

How do you feel about it all — now that it’s close to completion? 

I’m satisfied! Very happy, in fact! The feedback I’ve gotten so far has been overwhelmingly positive. And I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase talented artists who are underrepresented and under-appreciated in the “art world.”

What’s ahead?

The exhibition opens to the public on Thursday, September 19, and we will be celebrating its opening on Thursday, October 3.

6:00PM – 7:00PM Aerosol viewing and reception for museum members
7:00PM – 8:00PM
A conversation with the Aerosol artists (FREE for Museum Members, FREE with Museum Admission for non-members)
8:00PM – 9:00PM Aerosol remains open

And what about you? What’s ahead for you?

I’m about to start a tattoo apprenticeship. I’m continuing to develop my studio practice, and I will be working on a huge label-design project.

That all sounds great and congratulations on “Aerosol: Graffiti | Street Art | New Jersey | Now.” 

Featured images:

1.  Will “Kasso” Condry

2. Demer, to the left of Kasso

3. Distort

4. Leon Rainbow

5. 4sakn

Interview conducted and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky; photos by Lois Stavsky.

Note: The Morris Museum is located at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morristown, NJ. Check here for travel directions and information regarding hours and admission.

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