Have you ever seen a street piece that, for whatever reason, made you really wonder “What kind of person does this?” Not everything I walk by captures me like that, but on rare occasions, something will be so provocative, unusual, outstanding, or even awkward, that I’m lured deeper than just what I’m looking at, toward piecing together the person behind it and what they’re all about. It’s pretty rare that I actually get to ask.
LNY is one of these artists where the back-story is as enticing as the art. While I cannot promise that this interview makes him any less of a curiosity, I can say that this is one guy worth checking out.
1. Describe one of your first experiences with street art.
I fondly remember getting buffed for the first time because It made the whole experience of working in public space come to life. Having someone buff your work is like a pat in the back begging you to keep going, like “try again man, try again”… that buff is still running to this day in Weehawken, New Jersey.
2. One reason you do it.
Easy; because I believe art is a powerful vehicle for change and a practice that can positively impact the world, myself, and those I work with. There is nothing else I would rather do with my life than this, there were never other options just random distractions. In the end I don’t really define what I do as street art or inside art or what not because the work sometimes doesn’t fit those categories so I don’t bother, and defining something does more to constrict than expand. Anyway, I’m just doing me.
3. Current muse.
4. Many of your images feature people and animals combined. Any meaning?
Oh yes of course! When making work I don’t question or criticize the reasons that drive me to make an image because getting lost in the process is more important to me. There’s more risk and more a reward when you leave critique for later. All I’m about to tell you came after months and months of making these images and then asking myself: yes but why?
So for a while I have been on this steady eagle-drawing trip, not only because they are beautiful animals to draw but because of the almost universal use of the eagle as a political symbol. When a country or group of people brands itself with an eagle they are really saying “we are the most badass killers and survival predators that you have to watch out for”… the USA is a perfect example with the bald eagle, Egypt with the golden eagle or the Colombian paramilitary subgroup Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), they all take that symbolism and run with it. But in reality, like in nature, you can’t have all these predators share the same habitat because they will fight and kill each other for alpha status and survival. So the work is also about conflict, animal instincts, survival, and this constant struggle we are all part of inwardly and outwardly as humans or extensions of humanity like countries or organized communities.
I also draw a lot of regular folk. When you are constantly meeting people on the road it takes effort to connect, even briefly, and good or bad it is always worth it. The people I tend to draw are usually victims or heroes, or people that have made a huge impact on my life. The victims and heroes are the results of that constant struggle I’m alluding to by drawing birds of prey; they are war refugees, displaced immigrants, kids born to poverty, farmers turned mercenaries, veterans turned restaurant owners, young lost rich kids, protesters, mothers, activists, minorities, freaks, the homeless, children, friends.
I quit painting all together and then for a couple of years denied my ability to render anything at all, didn’t even pick up a pencil because making this canvas object meant nothing to me. I was so lost because what I didn’t have then was a purpose to go along with the image that wasn’t purely aesthetic. One day in Seoul I drew a portrait again, then another one and that has led me to where I am today. What I found that day was this connection you make with a depiction of another person and what it can communicate about that person, but I also just love portraits, period. Then there is the joy of giving those drawings back to the space they came from, public space. Attached to walls where they can communicate or decay and die just as easily. It’s almost like a sacrificial ritual or a form of public worship.
5. Something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t.
6. Most interesting experience dealing with authority figures.
One time when I was a kid my friend and I were hanging out and had to get back home so we decided to take a bus but didn’t have enough cash for the both of us so I took some bottle caps, flattened and wrapped them in aluminum foil plus tape then paid the bus driver with the real and fake coin mix then dipped to the back of the bus.
We got home alright.
7. Secret project coming out soon… Can you drop any details?
This one is not a secret so I want it out there: I’m super excited about working with the Brooklyn based group Young New Yorkers, which is an art focused social justice project that will work as creative mentorship and a series of workshops offered to 15, 16 and 17 year old teenagers who come out of the NYC criminal justice system. The thing is that in New York, if you are jailed this young you will most likely get processed as an adult. So imagine being a kid and getting wrapped up then chewed out by the criminal justice machine then thrown into community service or another really underfunded, undermanned and ill managed program that feels more like detention than an actual helping hand. What happens to these kids, do they really learn something? Well it’s at this junction that the Young New Yorkers program would intervene and offer a constructive experience guided by a group of amazing people including public lawyers, architects, photographers, new media artists and yeah me too.
The workshops are going to be amazing and you have to wait for more info on that side of the project because right now we are putting a silent auction together to raise funds that will make all of this possible. The show drops on Monday May 29th at WhiteBox projects in Manhattan, so all of you reading this should come down and show some love, plus the artists donating are insanely good!
After that I’m working on a very long traveling project about the global south, sustainable agriculture and borderlines… which sounds like I’m saying a whole lot of nothing but that’s only because this is an idea being born… Check back with me six months from now and I’ll tell you all about it.
8. What do you listen to while you work?
People usually hate my jams but I made this mix for my friend Jacki recently so I’ll just leave it here.
9. Favorite city you’ve gotten up in.
It’s a tie between Beijing and Berlin. Beijing because it’s amazing on so many levels. From the way the city grows out in a circular configuration having the Forbidden City as its center, to the amazing food, to seeing this one guy take all his clothes off in the middle of a hot ass day and just walk around like a bawse, people yelling at him trying to talk him out of it or just worried but he keeps on walking…
Beijing was just virginal with little to no activity on walls except in the most liberal art district. The day after putting this one piece up someone graffitied a death threat on it, basically a sketch up of me and some characters that translate to “dead guy”…
Berlin because it opened my eyes to a different type of work that can be done on streets, a mix of more interactive, self-aware and primal tendencies plus seeing BLU’s work for the first time blew me away. I also love the way the city is this ghost of WWII trauma and how you can see and feel it physically in the architecture and people’s lifestyles. For example a three-day-long rave in Berlin would take place at an old reclaimed army bunker that still has bullet holes all over the walls or your friend’s flat will be this old 1930’s apartment with a wood stove in the corner and giant beautiful windows. Everybody I met there had this intense lust for immediate life that you can sort of feel in the air… so dope.
10. Foodwise, what could you go for right this second?
A burrito from that awesome taco truck outside to Morgan stop in Bushwick or anything from Dos Amigos.
11. Artists you dig.
Shout out to my boys of Mad Fertile!, to ND’A, Never, Ever, Nanook, GAIA, shaman Doodles, JAZ the man, swizz army knife OverUnder and so many more that inspire me on the daily… Shout out to Ai Wei Wei for being so OG, shout out to Kehinde Wiley for telling art history to fuck itself, to Thomas Hirschhorn for being real with me, to Dr. Lakra and Julie Mehretu for being themselves and to BLU, Jorge Rodriguez Gerada and Neo Rauch for changing my life completely and for the better.
12. Something you wish you could have told yourself 5 years ago.
You go boy!
13. Something you’d like to say to the world.
I lie during interviews and only the work is real.
Photos by LNYLNYLNY