The Art of Never Growing Up: An interview with Hanksy

Hanksy at Freeman’s Alley. Photo by Rhiannon Platt.

Often working alone, this past year Hanksy has remained the mysterious comedian of New York’s streets. Without a typical striking pattern, the artist’s pieces can surprise you in desolate alleys and corners throughout the Lower East Side, always there with a quick quip to brighten your day. When we met for this interview in an equally-hilarious tiki-themed bar, what ensued was a discussion that was as illuminating as it was entertaining. Surrounded by top forty tunes and the kitschiest of decor, I sat down to talk with Hanksy about the million punny events the artist has coming up this month. From a show at Krause Gallery, walls for the New York Comic Festival and Bushwick 5 Points, a new shirt, and a scavenger hunt, Hanksy is prepared to demonstrate how to stay young at heart, one cheap punch line at a time.

Rhiannon Platt: You mentioned that you had written graffiti before you moved to New York. What made you want to start creating new work after you relocated?

Hanksy: After a good few years doing fun little street scribbles, stickers, and minimal stencils throughout the midwest, I took a break. Nothing was really coming of it. Maybe I got bored, maybe I tried to grow up. I went to law school but ended up dropping out. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I got inspired again. I guess it must be something with the city’s pulse. The vibrancy, the visual stimulation. The thousand or so 30-year-old semi-adults with Peter Pan Syndrome. I mean to hell with growing up, right?

R: And what keeps you going back for more?

H: It’s everything really. The public response both good and bad, the little adrenaline rush one gets from doing something moderately illegal. The fact that something I made and created gets viewed on a daily basis whether you like it or not.

Plus, everything I put out and up makes me laugh. That’s the bottom line. If I didn’t find amusement in my work, I’d stop creating it.

Photo Courtesy of Hanksy

R: You’ve since expanded your work to other pop culture icons of your childhood. What determines who will be the next punch line?

H: I’ll never send up a celebrity or pop culture figure that I’m not a fan of or don’t admire. I grew up on The Cosby Show, so I worked Bill into a piece. Same with Vanilla Ice. As silly as Rob Van Winkle is, he was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “Go ninja go ninja go?” As far as I’m concerned, that dude gets a life pass.

But in the future that might change. I might do a riff on some celebrity that I despise. Maybe a Kardashian or some shit. But if I do, don’t be mistaken. It won’t be out of love or adoration, it’ll be out of loathing. Because being famous for a blow job or a grainy pre-iPhone sex vid is nonsense. I don’t care how many perfume bottles you sell or reality shows you’re on. A horse is a horse is a whorse.

R: Were you the class clown growing up?

H: When I’m comfortable and familiar with my surroundings, I’m fairly gregarious. Cracking jokes and whatnot. But I was never the class clown. That honor was bestowed upon someone else. His name was Gary. He was kinda chubby and dirty, came from a somewhat poor family, but was a fucking professional at physical comedy. Very roly poly and animated. Think of a young Chris Farley. As I switched elementary schools during my fifth grade year, I’ve always wondered what happened to him.

Hanksy on an Abandoned Church in Bushwick. Photo by Rhiannon Platt.

R: What made you decide to parody art, rather than the more serious path most street artists take?

H: I’m not a serious guy. I’ll laugh before I cry. Forever and always. Besides, life is so goddamn serious. All that political or solemn stuff? I’ll leave that to someone else.

But if you boil it down, you have to be reasonably talented to make the somber stuff believable. And I’m anything but talented. I’d probably get washed away in a sea of mediocrity as the cream always rises to the top. So I’d rather exist on my own or next to a few lighthearted painters than be lumped in with the other bunch.

R: What is your favorite joke?

H: It’s a knock knock joke. And a childish one at that. Read it out loud –

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

I eat mop.
I eat mop, who?

Say it one more time. Get it?

Work put up near Krause Gallery for Hanksy’s last solo show. Photo by Rhiannon Platt.

R: Speaking of jokes, you are creating work for The New York Comedy Festival this month and a solo show to boot. What can we expect to see from you in these next few weeks?

H: Yeah! The solo show will be a blast. The guys at Krause Gallery have all been champs when it comes to working with me. They put on my first show back in January and were incredibly accommodating to my schedule this time around. The show, which opens on November 1st, is also being coordinated with the NY Comedy Festival. I’m doing a bunch of legal walls in Little Italy, as well as a large piece in Times Square. There’s also a scavenger hunt being planned for the Lower East Side. Lots of free art and crap. Should be fun.

Young Puns 2: Now with More Pun flyer

R: If you had to create a pre-wheatpasting psych up playlist, what would be on it?

H: Alan Silvestri, Operation Ivy,  and Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” There’s also a band from Chicago called Yawn that I really dig. They get me all pumped up.

R: Anything else you want to say that never comes up in repetitive interview questions?

H: Despite the undying flame that burns in my very crowded heart, my love of all things Haribo have turned my teeth against me. Crumbling like shale, those fierce little gummi bears have dug various holes and tunnels and passage ways in my otherwise perfect smile.

I’ve required two root canals over the past three weeks. Not the most convenient pastime to partake in for a poor kid prepping a solo show with no dental plan. See, beyond my pearly white storm door incisors, it’s a fucking cavity party. Maybe I should just waterboard myself with wheatpaste.

Photo Courtesy of Hanksy

“Young Puns 2: Now with More Pun” opens Thursday, November 1st, at Krause Gallery with an opening from 6pm-10pm, which will feature new Ice Ice Babies t-shirts as well as a metric ton of puns. Following the opening, you can be sure to see his new pieces on walls and doors in previously untouched parts of the city. For The Art of Comedy with the New York Comedy Festival and Vandalog, Hanksy will have work inside of Carolines on Broadway November 7-11th and murals up on Mulberry street between Canal and Grand.

Photos by Rhiannon Platt and courtesy of Hanksy