On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey

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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