museum exhibition

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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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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Featuring dozens of works in a range of media by the late legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with artworks by several of his key contemporaries, “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” continues at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through July 25. The image featured above, “Hollywood Africans,” fashioned in 1983 by Basquiat with acrylic and oilstick on canvas, portrays the artist, Rammellzee and Toxic, as it documents the time the three artists spent together in Los Angeles.  Several more of the exhibition’s highlights — as seen on my recent visit –follow:

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anthony Clarke (aka A-One), 1985, Acrylic, oil and collage on wood

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ero, 1984, Acrylic, oilstick and Xerox collage on paper

The late multi-media artist and hip-hop pioneer Rammellzee, Super Robber, 1985, Mixed media on canvas

NYC graffiti pioneer and acclaimed fine artist Futura, Untitled, 1982, Spray paint and marker on paper

Keith Haring and LA2 collaboration, Suit for Madonna, 1984 Acrylic on leather

Legendary graffiti pioneer Lady Pink and neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer collaboration, Tear Ducts Seem to Be a Grief Provision, 1983-84, Spray paint on canvas

A tribute to those who “fueled new directions in fine art, design, and music, driving the now-global popularity of hip-hop culture,”  “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation”  is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications and edited by co-curators Liz Munsell, the MFA’s Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art, and Greg Tate.

Photos of artworks: Lois Stavsky

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Featuring a superlative documentation of NYC’s golden age of graffitiHenry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987 remains on view at the Bronx Museum through March 8With his remarkable eye, vision and passion, the award-winning visual anthropologist Henry Chalfant captured a culture that has since evolved into a global phenomenon impacting the entire art establishment. Featured above is Henry Chalfant, as seen at the Bronx Museum several days after the exhibit’s official opening. What follows are several more photos — some captured at the September 25 2019 opening by travel and street photographer Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad — and others as seen on subsequent visits.

 Documentation of graffiti on NYC subway trains

Re-creation of Futura graffiti on subway train, 1980

Henry Chalfant — with Bio, Tats Cru to his right — as captured on opening night

Recreation of Henry Chalfant,‘s early studio featuring Tats Cru, Tracy 168 and more

John “Crash” Matos with noted graffiti documentarian and author Jim Prigoff  to his right — as captured on opening night

Martha Cooper — with camera in hand on opening night — turns her lens on Bgirl Rokafella, Jose Parla, Jerry MazeJorge Fabel Pabon and DJ KaySlay 

More photos of trains with quote by Carlos Mare aka Mare 139 to their left: “We may have lost the trains, but we’ve gained the whole world.”

The Bronx Museum is located at 1040 Grand Concourse and is easily accessible by the B, D and 4 trains. Visiting hours for this “must see” exhibit are: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm and Friday, 11:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7 Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad;  3, 5 & 8 Lois Stavsky

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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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