That’s what I hear on my way to 2nd Ave in Wynwood. It is Saturday December 6th around 9pm, and this is the last big night during Art Basel. A group of guys are tagging this building and praising each other’s tags based on the quality of the drips. I am hungry, tired, and annoyed because it took an hour to get to Wynwood and another hour to park. Not to worry though, soon I’ll reach my destination: 2nd Ave with 23rd St, the heart of Wynwood. Soon at least one of my big problems, my hunger, would be taken care of by one of the 30+ food trucks parked nearby. I just had to navigate through a sea of people, cars, paint cans, beer cans, art tents, music speakers, police in horseback, and of course more people.
Oh dear Wynwood, you have once again left me feeling sad, hopeless, and discouraged. What is it that you’re doing? How did you let yourself get so bad?
In the 70’s, only a few artists were using the streets as way to reach out to people, communicate and ultimately make art. Accompanied by Don Leicht, his long time collaborator, John Fekner brought art and help to areas in New York that were in need at the time. “Decay/Abandoned” , “Wheels Over Indian Trails”,”Post no bills, Post no dreams”, etc were only some of the hundreds of messages John spray painted all over New York. What some might have called vandalism, some others saw as a welcoming statement, and some others saw as a sign that things needed to get fixed in the city.
To find out more about John Fekner, please visit his website (lots of cool stuff in there).
I know you have lived in New York your whole life, and started to do public art back in 1968. What drove you to make art in public areas?
I was a city kid, as soon as I stepped outside it was hard: concrete, asphalt, jackhammers, traffic lights. Long Island City factories were a few blocks away. Summer was handball, winter was roller hockey, and so on. Always in the street-Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights. The first outdoor text was in the Heights, where I hung out as a teenager in 60s. At seventeen, with few friends I hung over the roof of the park house and on the front we painted the phrase Itchycoo Park in two-foot letters.
What about living in New York influenced your work?
The soot belching out of apartment rooftops, chimneys, diesel engines and the smell of jet fuel near La Guardia—a love/hate with industry and technology.
You and Don Leicht have been collaborating for years. How and When did you and Don meet?
We met in graduate school in the Bronx in 1973. The first crit class we had we both showed up with invisible work-mine were portraits and his were abstract narratives. Everyone in the class was stunned- they couldn’t see anything…so we really hit it off…fellow Libras-born in October.
When did you both decide to start collaborating in art?
When we shared a studio at P.S. 1. In 76. We were both placing hidden artwork and drawing on the walls in and around the building.
What is it about collaborative work that you enjoy the most?
Collaboration is the closest I get to working in a band setting. With Don, ideas are exchanged, the visual journey take twists and turns and ultimately you make a combined image that works. Sometimes he plays lead, sometimes I take over at some point. The finish painting is a blend of both of us…it isn’t about he painted this and I said that. Sometimes it completely opposite from what it appears to be. It’s like a lyricist and a piano player. Sometimes the words comes first, sometimes the music or vice-versa. You play off each other’s input.
The Warning Signs project brought attention to areas and communities in need of help at the time. Could you tell me a little about this project and how it helped you develop into the artist that you are now?
I was paying a lot of attention to my immediate environment and questioning why something was broken and not being repaired. I tried to emphasis the problem that other people blocked out of their vision-I made it more visible. Issues pertaining to the human condition and the environmental are still as important to address and are in newer works, whether it’s a video or a series of paintings.
When researching about your work I found out that you studied poetry as a teenager. How does poetry influence your work?
Poetry is like life- you are in moment and then it’s gone. A brief reflection on life-one instantaneous boom-and you move on..a few seconds of a lifetime captured in a few words.
What inspires John Fekner?
Discovering or unearthing something that strikes an immediate chord and compels me enough to immediately react and create something new in the appropriate media.
Your favorite place in NYC?
Listening for that eternal echo under the Sunnyside viaduct: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41101207@N00/2195426639 And any street in NY that still has cobblestones; reminds me of family and friends who are no longer here. And walk those streets on a holiday morning very early when no one is around…it feels like Edward Hopper will walk right by you..
You usually work with stencils and metal, why stencils? And why metal?
Stencils have that official proclamation thing going on… Don’t Touch – Don’t Enter built into it. Metal has an industrial aura and is a reflection of our environmental destruction filled with the other culprits: plastic and rubber. It’s so unnatural but is natural to us city dwellers.
And then there is music and multimedia.How did you ended up working with computer generated work and video?
The idea of using new tools such as audio and video began in the mid-70s with the advent of the Sony portapac camera which was not that portable! DIY was a big thing so having audio/film camera equipment to document the stencils was natural. In 1981, NYU invited Crash, Keith Haring, Warhol and myself to experiment with a new computer and that’s where I created Toxic Wastes From A to Z (coming after you and me).
Hip Hop seemed to be a big influence in your life and art. Would you tell me the role music plays in your life? any last recordings, and your feelings about music back then and now?
Artists like Laurie Anderson, Alan Suicide were all doing art/music at the same time in the 70s. I began recording in my friend’s basement in the late 70s and had audio components as part of my indoor installations. By the winter of 1979 I was spending a lot of time up at Fashion Moda and just picked up on the beats/raps and then made a few records with Bear 167 from the South Bronx. Still like to add musical components on the video pieces. Recently I’ve been listening to some different things like Lower Dens, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Woodsman, anything that sounds incomplete, like a backing track-I dig that!
How do you feel about the street art scene in New York nowadays?
Street art is the fastest visual conductor out there beating out advertising, guerilla marketing and social media. There is always something different to see somewhere around the world. It’s always the young that bring sometime new to the street, but unfortunately, they don’t stay young for very long. Careerism, branding, promotion-driven projects get in the way of who you really are. Then the next trap, like striving to become part of a gallery’s stable of artists; what am I…a horse? But that’s how the gallery system treats and controls you.
Favorite street artists?
There’s a young kid around the block who works with colored chalk. She absolutely never does the same thing twice. I don’t dare talk to her. I can’t wait for warmer weather to see what she’s up to next. That is the essence of a great street artist. There’s consistency, she will be at the same spot. I’m not a wall-trippin’ round the world guy. Offhand, Stephen Powers Love Letters was very cool. Great connection to the community.
Any new projects coming up?
New paintings with Don Leicht in the studio and there’s my STREAMDROPSTRASSE text work in photo streams http://blkriver.at/ and the ongoing Stanley Cup project plus some hidden projects around as well.
Its easy to recognize a piece by Jade in Peru. His images have a very distinct shape and color that help you immediately recognize the work. His latest works are a series of mainly animal drawings called “Animalinando Lima” The drawings, all done in brown paper have a folk like feel that relates to old cultures and art from Peru.
I, again, felt connected to his art, and I loved it even more to see that Jade is creating a series of cohesive work on the street and taking advantage of his streets. Jade has been making graffiti for 13 years, and he is a very influential force in the street art scene in Peru. South America is thriving with street art and home to wonderful artists like Jade.
To see more of his work, please visit his website.
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!
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.
The more I research Latin American street art, the more I fall in love with it. This is Blast One from Monterrey, Mexico. Using a color palette of red, black, white and teal, He gives us beautiful murals to look at.
Tomas Guereña aka El Tornillo lives in Mexico where he creates beautiful art with patterns that remind me of sea creatures. The art is wonderful and the fact that he chooses to include people in his pictures makes it even better, giving the viewer a better sense of where he comes from,where he lives, and where he chooses to make art. The end result: just perfect!
If you live in the city of Atlanta you might have run into an EVEREMAN piece at some point, or maybe you found a little EVEREMAN wooden magnet on the street for you to take. I know I have. The first time I found one of his pieces was on my bike stuck to the frame.
EVEREMAN is a wood craftsman, who likes country music, hobo history, trains and gifting! Every EVEREMAN piece is for you to take, whether it is a flat square EVEREMAN magnet, big or small, an EVEREMAN cube, or an EVEREMAN tile attached to a rock. If you find it and if you like it, then it’s yours! “4 U ATL” , carved on the back of all of his pieces, if how he lets you know his art is a gift for you.
Back in the day he was throwing steel poles at billboards.
Nowadays he hangs his art up high.
or puts his art right in front of your face for you to find,
and sometimes he makes giant cubes to decorate parks.
Here’s an EVEREMAN studio tour- the first of 12 videos project I am working with STREETELA:
One of my new favorite ones lately has been White Cocoa. Her wheatpastes are beautifully detailed and all hand drawn in color pencils. The work, time and effort put on each drawing is really mind blowing.
I will admit I am a sucker for bright neon colors, but this is not just about that. The work Flix gives us is cleverly camouflage in the urban landscape in a very fun way, making even fire hydrants more interesting and attractive to everyone.
Feel free to check out his flickr account to see more of his work.