Interview with OverUnder

I found out about OverUnder last year during the Living Walls conference here in Atlanta, Ga. Hellbent, who was participating in the event, had brought with him a bunch of OverUnder’s wheatpastes for me to put up as part of the event. After that, I took a trip to NYC and on almost every street I would find an OverUnder tag. I saw so many that I started to count them and play games with friends to see who could find the most. Later that year I went to Miami for Art Basel, and the first thing I saw was an OverUnder tag on a huge plastic pink snail, and then all over Miami. I knew it then, I needed to meet him, and find out who was this OverUnder guy I kept seeing all over (in Atlanta, in NYC and in Miami). The best thing about finding an OverUnder tag  is the fact that they all come with a personalized phrase to go with it, and they all are so fun and clever, it is really a true joy to find one!

I sent him some questions through the wonderful world of the internet, and OverUnder as awesome as he is, was very quick to reply, so here you have it: my OverUnder interview, Enjoy!

To see more of his work you can visit his Flickr or website.

What is the meaning behind the name OverUnder?

Well the name has several meanings to me but I guess Over Under is the message of graffiti. It’s a reminder of what you gotta do to get up and what will inevitably happen to your work in the end. Writers, toys, the buff, weather, all of it are constantly erasing your work and you have to always come back to the fundamentals of writing, or “getting over”. When ESPO’s book came out it must have struck a chord because around that time I made my first movie called ‘Overunder, The Art of Getting Over’. It documented the guy who buffs graffiti in Reno and then I mimicked his work but made buff marks that looked like cartoon-stylized explosions. You know, like, Batman style POW and KABOOM marks. I started expressing the term but never used it as a handle till more recently.

How and why did you come up with the OverUnder tag (floating paper planes tag)?

I’ve been trying to look back in the archives and figure that one out myself, and as far as I can tell, it originated from the back of an envelope flap. There are two things I love: Traveling and mail! I used to mail my friends all the time. Eventually my mail art world collided with my street art world and I began painting flying envelopes. Some 7 years later and they now resemble flying pieces of paper, birds, and sting rays. But to me they are a movement, a tumbleweed, a reminder to see what is at the top of a fire escape or behind a fence. I like that they are evolving. And I can see that they are still changing.

Do you usually come up with a phrase to do with the tag before hand or do you come with them on the spot? Would you tell me your favorite phrase so far?

I usually come up with them on the spot based off the conversations around me. I try to make mental notes of OVER UNDER phrases but lately it’s been much more exciting to abandon the O.U. ball and chain and write loosely about life. My most favorite recent phrase was, ‘A man who walked in front of bullets never felt so at home until it knocked on his door.’ And my favorite PG-13 one is, ‘Highway to the blow job zone’.

What inspires OverUnder?

Does FourLoko count? Semi just kidding. I’m inspired by long walks and short thoughts. My brother inspires me. My family inspires me. My family by other blood inspires me. Knowing that I’m more temporary than my art inspires me.

Why do you choose to put your work on the streets, what and why are you trying to communicate to the vast audience you have on the streets?

I don’t choose to put my work on the streets, I just put it outside because that is where it is supposed to go. On the other hand, I do ask myself why I should put work on the inside of spots. This is contradictory since I have shown work in galleries but I strive to make work that is crafted and knowledgeable of its environment, whether it’s inside or outside. I think growing up in a place like Reno that is surrounded by either huge mountains or vast desert really affected my perception of space. The environment rewired my concept of scale and as I learned about graffiti from the older generation of local writers it just made sense. It didn’t make sense to be cooped up in a studio working on a master piece when the trainyard was down the block. Now artists like Cai Guo Qiang inspire me to look at open space even grander.

I lurked around and I found something about a cabin, would you tell me more about it?

Good hunting. Yes, I moved back to NY, homeless and with limited funds after biking across Europe with OTHER. A friend in Williamsburg had a lean-to in their backyard and offered it to me for $150/mo. I moved in and scavenged wood, windows, and hardware to seal it up and make a home. White Cocoa moved in with me a few months later and together we framed out the front, added a wood burning stove, layed wood flooring, and built a patio out of barricades. It’s a small 110-sq foot space but we’ve made it our home and already withstood some crazy weather this year. In a way, it’s our protest to the ridiculous price of New York real estate and a return to Walden Pond. An urban Walden Pond.

I saw you all over Art Basel last year 2010. Did you like Miami? Any awesome stories from that trip?

I got to swim and walk around in shorts. How could I not like going from Brooklyn to Miami in December! It was my first time to ArtBasel and I loved it! Since I was only there for 3 days, I tried to make the most of it and I’ve got the blisters to prove it! White Cocoa and I walked two laps of Miami Beach one day (15+ miles); the first lap finding spots and the second lap putting in work. The story that made the headlines was the one about those ridiculous pink snails but aside from that the best moment was racking a box of paint from Mr. Brainwash while he and his 3-dozen assistants were deciding which way to position his awful paintings. I figured he was going to waste it on something silly anyways.

Favorite place to do street art? Favorite place in the world?

It’s kind of situational. I joke with my friends about how certain places tell me to do it. As if I have no self-control. Then again, maybe I don’t. But I suppose I love ruins. Contemporary ruins. New York has its fair share although they are becoming few and far between. Berlin has great alleys. Paris has great vans. Portland has great trainyards. Cuba has great texture. New York has great roll up gates. Everywhere has its reason. And if not, you’ve always got your imagination.

Favorite street artists?

Matthias Wermke, Mischa Leinkauf, OTHER, Jan Danebod, ADAMS, E.B. ITSO, AKAYISM, Felice Varini, MOMO, BLU…

Any words of encouragement/tips to new aspiring street artists out there?

Don’t ask, don’t look, don’t think about it too long. Just make it your way.

BONUS: (this is one only for cool points): draw a picture of yourself or how you see yourself (this might require scanning, but gives you total creative freedom) or tell me a joke.

Sorry, don’t have a scanner. But I heard a good joke recently from my man PET: What is Snoop Dogg’s favorite weather? Drizzle.

Photos by OverUnder