Live a little on Coney Island

eL Seed. Photo by RJ Rushmore.
eL Seed. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Last Sunday, I visited Coney Island for the first time. I was there to see The Coney Island Art Walls, Jeffrey Deitch‘s latest mural project. Deitch is a master of fun, and he has a habit of causing controversy. The Coney Island Art Walls are no exception. The murals are a great addition to Coney Island’s myriad of attractions, but artnet in particular has been treating Deitch like their personal punching bag, in large part because of the project’s ties to Joseph J. Sitt of Thor Equities, a real estate developer whose company owns the lot where the murals are being installed.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's Instagram.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Instagram.

People were mad at Sitt for attempting to destroy the history of Coney Island and leaving lots his lots vacant. Those are completely legitimate concerns. Now, they’re mad that Sitts has put something in one of his lots: A bar, some concession stands, and murals by an amazing array of artists, many of which explicitly celebrate the history of Coney Island. Or rather, it’s arts journalists who are attacking Deitch, on the basis of those complaints, for helping Sitts DO THE VERY THING THAT PEOPLE WERE CALLING ON HIM TO DO. Their anger makes no sense, unless those journalists are just desperately searching for one more reason to hate on Deitch.

Ron English. Photo from Ron English's Instagram.
Ron English. Photo from Ron English’s Instagram.

That said, The Coney Island Art Walls are entertaining, which makes the project easy to dismiss as unimportant. But the murals are literally across the street from an amusement park, so of course they’re entertaining! Are the murals tools for gentrification and mindless amusement more than social justice and disrupting the everyday? Probably. And most days I’d prefer to see a piece of illegal street art or graffiti or a “socially engaged” public art project than a wall where the art functions primarily as decoration. Most days, I’d also rather eat a salad than a hot dog. But on that rare occasion when I visit an amusement park, I am there to be amused and I definitely don’t want a salad for lunch.

Lady Aiko. Photo by RJ Rushmore.
Lady Aiko. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

The key to the project’s success really is the setting. These are not murals that you’ll just stumble across randomly. It’s a project that you travel to the end of the subway line to see. It’s its own Coney Island attraction, and a good one at that.

Jane Dickson at work on her mural. Photo by RJ Rushmore.
Jane Dickson at work on her mural. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Artnet’s Brian Boucher suggested that organizing murals for Coney Island was a new low for Deitch. That’s such a closed-minded view of what and where art can be. The bulk of the murals celebrate the history of Coney Island or at least fit in perfectly among the area’s existing cacophony of iconic rides, amusements, and signage. Aiko‘s piece looks like it belongs on the side of a carnival game, and Jane Dickson captured spirit of wonder in the air. I’m not sure I’d enjoy AVAF’s mural if I had to live across the street from it and see it every day, but it’s fantastic as a contemporary take on an crazy Coney Island signage. The Coney Island Art Walls are an opportunity to install a series of murals that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else.

Shepard Fairey. Photo by RJ Rushmore.
Shepard Fairey. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Artnet’s Christian Viveros-Fauné was also flat wrong when he dismissed the project for its “Uniformly colorful murals that individually deploy some of street art’s standard motifs—bright hues, stencils, and graphic punch—but engage in neither activism nor neighborhood politics.” Amongst the color and revelry, there is in fact some politically-charged worked: Shepard Fairey‘s fitting tribute to classic seaside advertising features a call for environmental responsibility, Mr. Cartoon‘s painted a young person of color being chased by a white police officer while the grim reaper lurks in the background, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s portraits of neighborhood residents are accompanied by this statement: “The day before Easter and the day after Labor Day – People still live here. People die here. People love here.” Politics and activism are far from the focus of the project, but they’re not absent.

Mr. Cartoon. Photo by Martha Cooper.
Mr. Cartoon. Photo by Martha Cooper.

So, go to Coney Island. Check out The Coney Island Art Walls. But go with the right mindset. It’s an attraction to be enjoyed. Take a selfie with Ron English‘s sideshow characters. Snag the perfect photograph of eL Seed‘s mural with a roller coaster in the background. Climb onto Skewville’s oversized boombox and do a little dance. Go home with a smile on your face. It’s good for you.

Skewville. Photo by RJ Rushmore.
Skewville. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Photos by RJ Rushmore and Martha Cooper, and from the Instagrams of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Ron English

How many street artists can Hyundai rip off in 30 seconds?

Screenshot from the Hyundai ad

Major hat tip to Ian Cox for coming across this one, as well as Caroline Caldwell for alerting me to Ian’s find and for research help.

A car commercial currently airing on UK television for the Hyundai i20 appears to steal the work of at least half a dozen street artists in just 30 seconds. Here’s the ad:

I guess this just goes to show you what advertising executives mean by “inspiration”.

How many stolen pieces can you spot? Spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading “How many street artists can Hyundai rip off in 30 seconds?”

The story behind this crazy Tod Seelie photograph


Tod Seelie is one of my favorite photographers, and his recent book is something that I seem to take off the shelf and show to just about anyone who stops by my place. You might be familiar with his work for any of a dozen reasons, but Vandalog readers are probably most likely to know his photographs of Swoon’s rafts, or his documentation of Bike Kill. His most recent body of work is Outland Empire, shot earlier this year in Southern California during a residency with Superchief Gallery.

In Outland Empire, Seelie explores the eccentricities and underground of Southern California, from the streets of LA to the characters in Slab City to crazy to the literal underground of storm drains. Seelie’s photographs oscillate from depicting the forgotten vestiges of humanity to wild moments full of energy, always with his unique eye and penchant for exploration. Outland Empire is a reminder that the world is more than just carefully manicured people and places. There’s still a bit of dirt and magic out there, for now.

In May, we’ll be exhibiting an expanded version of Seelie’s Outland Empire series at LMNL Gallery, a space I help run in Philadelphia. The show opens this Friday from 6-9pm.

There are a bunch of photos in Outland Empire that I’d love to get the back story on, but the above photo in particular seemed relevant to Vandalog, so I asked Seelie about it. Here’s what he had to say:

I shot this image while with some friends deep in the storm drain tunnels of LA. There is a spot, over a mile deep, where the floor is slanted so the water is more concentrated to one side leaving a “beach” area for hanging out. I have been down here with friends a few times for various things, dinner parties, live music, (there was flaming tall bike jousting, but I wasn’t there for that) and painting graffiti. It’s a very chill spot and worth the wet feet.

For more stories and photos from Outland Empire, check out this post on Hopes&Fears.

Outland Empire is also being exhibited this week at Tender Trap with Superchief NYC.


Photo by Tod Seelie

A bucket of black paint in the heart of Mexico

Censored mural by Ericailcane. Photo by RexisteMX.
Censored mural by Ericailcane. Photo by RexisteMX.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from the anonymous artist/activist collective RexisteMX. I want to thank RexisteMX for drawing attention to and providing this local perspective on a recent case of censorship in Mexico City. – RJ Rushmore

Everything started on a February evening when a bucket of black paint and a roller met a wall in Mexico City, a wall that had just been painted by a well-known artist as part of a local gallery’s street art festival. That evening, the festival succumbed to fear, a deep fear that runs through the veins of this country, permeating citizens’ hearts and souls.

#ManifiestoMX is a street art festival organized by FIFTY24MX, a gallery of “young art”. For the festival, they invited artists such as Blu, Swoon, Ericailcane, JAZ, Bastardilla and Saner to create murals around Mexico City. The goal, in their own words, was to create murals that “pointed out themes about the protest and the awareness of the contemporary situation in Mexico. Using art as a social tool to complain, debate and propose.” The artists were there “to express, through murals, their opinion.”

Mural by Blu. Photo from FIFTY24MX.
Mural by Blu. Photo from FIFTY24MX.
Mural by Bastardilla. Photo from FIFTY24MX.
Mural by Bastardilla. Photo from FIFTY24MX.

At first, this project awakened a great interest among local artists and fans of street art. For the first time, we would be able to see international icons of critical art and resistance creating murals in our neighborhoods.

One of the #ManifiestoMX artists best known for critical and politically charged muralism, as well as the resistance to the commercialization of art, is Ericailcane. It was his mural that sparked a controversy at #ManifiestoMX and brought the deep-seed fears of so many Mexican citizens to light.

Ericailcane's original mural in progress, photo from FIFTY24MX, and President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto wearing the Mexican Presidential sash.
Ericailcane’s original mural in progress, photo from FIFTY24MX, and President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto wearing the Mexican Presidential sash.

Ericailcane’s mural was a critique of Enrique Peña Nieto, “President” of Mexico, pictured as a circus monkey who dances to the tune of applause and clanging pesos. Powerful, right? Perhaps because that’s the truth about a man who found his way into government thanks to the applause of television and the power of the money, buying the votes of the poor; maybe because it is the reality of a Mexico governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has worked hard to dismantle the country’s democracy and kill indigenous people to steal their natural resources, all the while feigning a war against drugs that leaves thousands of civilians dead while the drugs are still running and reaching the United States. It was an honest mural. Too honest for a Mexico where the government has made its people fear that anyone who thinks differently from the PRI might be silenced or disappeared, just like the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.

Ericailcane's mural post-censorship. Photo by RexisteMX.
Ericailcane’s mural post-censorship. Photo by RexisteMX.

On the morning of February 22nd, we went to photograph Ericailcane’s mural, but we were surprised that instead of the tricolor band shown in FIFTY24MX’s photo, which was how the mural made clear reference to Enrique Peña Nieto, there was a thin black line around the monkey’s neck. We tweeted at the organizers and asked why there had been censorship, but the only thing we got was silence. Silence and more censorship. Later, we noticed that the comments addressing the mural’s censorship were being deleted from FIFTY24MX’s Facebook page. The pressure on the gallery intensified as the question echoed across social networks: Why was there censorship at ManifiestoMX?

Only after continued pressure on social media did the organizers of ManifiestoMX at FIFTY24MX respond briefly to say, “The owners of the building asked for the colors of the strip to be changed so the piece would not be taken down,” and “they are people of another generation who are accustomed to living in fear, and you have to respect that.”

Screenshot from FIFTY24MX's Facebook page. Click to view large.
Screenshot from FIFTY24MX’s Facebook page. Click to view large.

Case solved, right? As long as the government didn’t paint out the mural, what does it matter? But PRI has been in power forever. This censorship only proves that the PRI are not a political party; they are now a way of life. It’s a daily terror, so why worry?

That fearful February evening, the owner of a wall, the gallery, and the artist accepted self-censorship. With a bucket of black paint and the fear to question or be critical, an artwork was painted out. Why? Because fear is natural and respectable; because urban art is cool; because it’s “in”; because being critical is good so long as it keeps selling, so long as it doesn’t cross the imaginary lines drawn by the state; because in Mexico art is only supposed to be a hollow shell without content, something pretty that doesn’t say anything.

Contradictory to his gallery’s practice of deleting comments reacting to the censorship on FIFTY24MX’s social media pages, Emilio Ocampo from FIFTY24MX told the Huffington Post, “They wanted us to change the colors to black. But you know what? We like that censorship, and the reactions it produced. That also means that the message bothered someone. We love both images: with the tricolored ribbon and now with black.”

And what about us, the spectators? Do we like censorship? Is censorship good now? Do we reproduce it? Do we accept it? In the face of censorship, do we protest, or we do remain silent? Is it that censorship is not so bad? Is it just part of our daily lives now, so we have to accept it? And what if we, like FIFTY24MX, like censorship? How do we express our “Manifesto”? Do we self-censor and paint nothing? Do we paint something controversial and then censor it? Or is that anti-censorship? We’re lost now.

“We think this incident is a reflection of the self-censorship that we decide to live in,” FIFTY24MX’s co-director Liliana Carpinteyro told the Huffington Post. But others, like us, believe that the normalization of censorship is a reflection of a country that we do not choose to live in. We cannot produce art that reveals or pushes boundaries at the same time that we follow the rules of a government that is keeping us silent, disappearing us, killing us. To start making critical art in Mexico, we must expel the tendency towards self-censorship that the PRI has instilled in all of us.

We should paint in a country where we do not accept silence about censorship, whether imposed directly by the government or self censorship out of fear. We can’t let another bucket of black paint cover another mural that we all know speaks the truth and points towards our shared dream of freedom. Ericailcane’s mural cannot stand as a monument to self-censorship. It has to be a starting point for discussion and debate. Its desecration will not silence us from further reflection or action. We must continue using critical art to transform our reality.

Ericailcane's mural. Click to view large. Photo by RexisteMX.
Ericailcane’s mural. Click to view large. Photo by RexisteMX.

Photos by RexisteMX and from FIFTY24MX

Tinder as a platform for art

Screenshots from Swipe Left

So you’re swiping right and swiping left, swiping left and swiping right, swiping right and swiping left… Tinder is a practically mindless activity, at least anytime I’ve ever seen someone use it. But what are you swiping right and left, yes and no, to? Sometimes, it’s people’s lives.

This isn’t actually a new project, but last summer artist and hacker Matthew Rothenberg was inserting imagery of drone strikes and drone strike victims into Tinder for an artwork he calls Swipe Left. That bearded young man gazing off into the distance wasn’t another Williamsburg hipster. It was Hakimullah Mehsud, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike in 2013. Which way did you swipe? And what about that odd black and white photo that you liked on “Haki’s” profile? Blurry abstract art? No. Footage from a drone about to unleash hell on a target.

Since Rothenberg has already written so well about the social and political meaning of Swipe Left, I just want to make a note about its meaning within the art world. Rothenberg considers the piece to be performance art, and yes it is, but what I think is most fascinating about Swipe Left is its relationship with street art. It’s a great example of what I’ve called invasive viral art, art that treats digital public space like street art and graffiti treat physical public space. While Tinder users are expecting one thing, Rothenberg gave them another, and he used the app for something it isn’t intended for.

Swipe Left may not immediately appear as art to viewers, but that’s okay. Plenty of street art doesn’t either: John Fekner’s random dates series, Dan Witz’ Broadway Poem, Jenny Holzer‘s Inflammatory Essays when they first appeared on the street as posters, and of course Shepard Fairey‘s early work could all appear as something other than art to someone seeing it for the first time, but it could still reach them. And as Rothenberg points out, “Tinder members who encounter the images are forced to make a decision.” Unlike street art, which can be ignored, Rothenberg’s project can be swiped away or not understood by the view, but it can’t be ignored entirely, and any reaction to Swipe Left‘s content is a valid and interesting data point.

But even if Swipe Left is a bit hidden within Tinder, arguably really meant to be be considered by observers reading about the work later on, not the Tinder users participating in the performance/experiment, the piece shows the potential for a new venue for performance art and invasive viral art.

What if someone like Shepard Fairey joined Tinder and used it to put his art in front of a new and unsuspecting audience? Every day, he could upload a different poster as a profile picture. Suddenly, his work would be reaching people in a relatively random way, like a sticker or a poster on the street does. And if people are playing with their phones and browsing Tinder as they ride the bus to work rather than looking out the window where they might see some street art, why not place that art on Tinder instead of, or in addition to, the street? Reach people where their eyeballs already are. I’d swipe right to that.

Screenshots swiped from Matthew Rothenberg

“Bob-omb,” an all-GIF augmented reality exhibition in NO AD

A screenshot from Bob-omb, featuring stills of art by James Kerr (Scorpion Dagger) and Dave Whyte.
A screenshot from Bob-omb, featuring stills of art by James Kerr (Scorpion Dagger) and Dave Whyte.

Wow. That headline is full of some jargon and gibberish… Sorry. Let me explain…

Today marks the launch of the latest exhibition in NO AD, a new evolution for the smartphone app that simulates a world in which New York City’s subway station advertisements are replaced with public art. NO AD, which I’ve written about before, uses augmented reality to digitally replace the ads on your phone’s screen. Here’s how it works.

NO AD has become a really interesting exhibition space, somewhere between a digital exhibition and a guerrilla street art exhibition. The very platform is an artwork, so NO AD’s art exhibitions exist within another work of art, and the platform gets you thinking as much as the art it displays.

I’m honored that the NO AD creators (between PublicAdCampaign, The Heavy Projects, and The Subway Art Blog under the umbrella of Re+Public) asked me to curate the first exhibition NO AD made up entirely of animated GIF art. That exhibition, titled Bob-omb, launched today and includes artwork from by The Barkers, Caitlin Burns, Dave Whyte, Hrag Vartanian, James Kerr – Scorpion Dagger, Jeremyville, Maori Sakai, Molly Soda, Paolo Čerić aka Patakk, Ryan Seslow, The Current Sea, YoMeryl, and Zack Dougherty.

In the past, the vast majority of content in NO AD has been static images, but Bob-omb takes full advantage of the platform by focusing exclusively on animated pieces, transforming static advertisements into dynamic artworks.

Bob-omb is an effort to weaponize GIF art as a tool for reimaging public space while simultaneously highlighting the variety and depth possible with the medium. The artists range from filmmakers to illustrators to journalists, and their work varies from hyper-short documentary videos to abstract digital illustration.

To view Bob-omb, simply download NO AD for your iPhone or Android device (or update it if you’ve already got the app on your phone), find a New York City subway station, open the app, and start pointing your phone at the ads. Or download/update the app and try the test image below.

I want to give a big thank you to all of the artists in Bob-omb and the team behind NO AD for this opportunity.

test image
Test image: Download NO AD and use this image to see how it works.

Images courtesy of NO AD

So we interviewed the host of Street Art Throwdown…

An illegal wildposted advertisement for Street Art Throwdown in Philadelphia, torn down and thrown in the trash.
An illegal wildposted advertisement for Street Art Throwdown in Philadelphia, torn down and thrown in the trash.

Today we’re posting an interview that RJ and I conducted, but which we’re conflicted about. It’s an interview with Justin BUA, host of the upcoming tv show Street Art Throwdown, which premieres tonight on Oxygen.

Frankly, the show makes us a bit sick. It’s a contest/reality show like Project Runway or Work of Art, but with a focus on street art. Commenting on the show, some of the most respected people in the street art community have said “Don’t know whether to laugh or cry” (Martyn Reed), “Can we call it over now?” (Raymond Salvatore Harmon), and “Fuck this fame hungry ‘like me’ mainstream culture desperate for peer acceptance. … Any person who thinks this is art – fuck you too- it’s not. … Do not confuse fame with talent. Shame on The Street Art Throwdown, Justin Bua and Lauren Manganaro for selling out this culture” (Artist asked to remain anonymous). Okay, so we haven’t actually seen the show yet, but from the casting call, online video teasers, and common sense about reality tv, that all sounds about right.

Our negative visceral reaction left us wondering: What the hell does BUA think he’s doing? So we asked, and it seems like he came back with some honest answers.

RJ and Caroline: How do you respond to prominent members of the global street art community who suspect that Street Art Throwdown will be an exploitative dumbing-down of the contestants and the culture?

It would be nice to know who those “prominent members” that you are referring to are? Because there are many “prominent members” who are actually appearing on the show like Ron English, Mear One, OG Slick, Lady Pink, Claw Money, Jules Muck and others who thought this was a great idea and not an exploitative one.  This is TV, a collaborative medium, so there are always concessions.  That being said, the good of making this into a TV show out weighs the bad for me.  The good is that this show gives a platform for a beautiful art form that the majority of the world views as vandalism.   Most of America thinks the average street artist is a hooded vandal lurking in the shadows tagging on public property with no artistic veracity.  This show is a good educational tool to showcase not only the skill sets of the contestants but their unyielding necessity to paint.  Also the captive TV audience, who might never get a glimpse at a true master artist like Mear One  will get the opportunity to see how powerful his craft and other judges and competitors artists skills are.

There are many artists, who I consider prominent, who have done various commercial projects that many would consider “exploitative” like Shephard Fairey’s Nike campaigns—Nike is considered by some an exploitative corporate conglomerate monster. Futura 2000’s collaboration with the alcohol company Hennessy, and the list goes on… Most artists I know, including myself, have done work for “the man” whose companies’ integrity is suspect.  Artists need recognition and there is no bigger and mightier podium than Television.  There is a difference between “selling out” and having an actual say in the discussion. I respect debate more than I respect shutting people down when you don’t agree. This show furthers a debate and let’s people in instead of locking them out.

Does Street Art Throwdown maintain the illegality that is practically inseparable from graffiti and street art? Is that important to you?

There is clear distinction between Street Art and Graffiti.  Street Art was birthed from Graff… So is this show illegal?  No.  This show is called Street Art Throwdown not Graffiti Art Throwdown.  This is not a Graff-centric show.  There is Graff repped, but this is Street Art in the context of a television reality show. There are realistic aspects of the culture like the physicality of the high-octane challenges that mimic life as an artist on the street as well as the time constraints that represent what it’s like to paint fast and furious.  This is not a documentary about street artists painting illegally.  But it is the first of its kind as a competition reality show that is just one part of a sometimes trangressive practice. What an artist does on this show does not affect a street artist or graffiti writer painting a wall and making their mark or co-opting or interacting with public space. This show highlights one aspect of those complex realities and personalities that people posses as they move back and forth between criminal acts and law abiding and creative forms of expression… like we all do. We are too complex to be reduced to just one aspect of what it means to be a street artist, and I am showing the most visually stunning side of this world.

What is your own relationship with the law and law enforcement?

Used to be not the best ever, but I have learned that there are good cops and there are bad cops, but I have been unlucky with respect to my personal interactions with the law.  I hope this show will ask people to realize that street artists and what they do are just as complex and diverse as cops’ lives and actions. We need to take a step back and let individual action and expression tell its own story. When we do that we may actually get along a lot better as a society based on experience and respect instead of generalization one way or another.

You’re a well-known commercial and fine artist and you wrote graffiti at one point, but Oxygen describes you as a street artist. What is your connection to street art?

I started on the walls and in Black-Books back in NYC, but these days I paint on my easel.  I did a 20-foot mural the other day in Los Angeles but for the most part I keep my painting in my atelier and paint with either acrylics or oils.  That being said I am a documentarian because of my understanding and appreciation of graff, street art and art.  I was the first artist to ever paint a narrative of a Graffiti artist prowling in the Ghost Yard.  (The Ghost Yard also known as the 207th street Repair overlooking the Harlem River.)  I made this image, entitled, BUA 420, into a poster, massed produced, for the world to see, experience and appreciate.  In my painting entitled  “The Artist” I document those nascent moments of the historically significant graff artist. This painting represents an era when we had to paint.  When there were no advertising companies recruiting street art, where it was a pure culture.  By naming my painting “The Artist” I am I circumventing any pre-conceived notions of calling him anything other thanan artist.  Thereby giving him more significance.  By naming him the Artist it challenges the naïve idea that graff writers can’t be artists.  So am I being recognized for bringing the narrative of the street to the traditional art space of the canvas? I hope so, and I am humbled by my role in the “street art” movement on what ever level I am being recognized for it.

When the casting call for this show was announced and agents began reaching out to well-regarded artists to apply, the general response that we heard was along the lines of “No way in hell am I applying for that.” What was the applicant pool like? What qualifications were you looking for?

Whatever you heard sounds… 23% true.  It’s funny how everyone comes out of the woodwork to hate and throw shade and pretend like they’re noble artisans that would never do anything commercial.  They say stuff like “I would never audition for Street Art Throwdown” but in reality those same people will do a fast food commercial in a heartbeat because they don’t care that animals are killed, the food is poisonous and the workers are treated like shit…They just wanna get paid.  The reality is that people came out in record numbers.  I was actually shocked how many people came forward for an unproven season 1.  Now it is also true that some artists, some of whom are very good friends of mine, sidestepped away from the opportunity, mostly in fear that they would be shunned by their peers.  Culture is complex and this street art culture is no exception, so I respect the dialogue but not the wholesale criticisms that lack any sort of self-reflection.

Now what qualifications were we looking for is a great question.  The honest truth is we were looking not for the best artist in the history of the world.  We were looking for raw talent that could be forged into steel.  A diamond in the rough. These kids are good, some could be great one day with hard work and dedication, but there was an undeniable shine to some of them that was unadulterated. Some exceeded my expectations and some fell short of them, but all of them were hard workers and that’s the most important thing.  People love to criticize and call some of these kids “Toys” but this was a painting military boot camp of sorts that made these kids face their fears and take on new challenges as artists.  They became better artists because of it.  It’s like my training at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.  It was nasty, intense and full on. Painting with some of the best figure painters in the world.  Training with high level perspective teachers and getting deep into light logic and color theory while being über competitive with some of the best painters in the world.  Did this make me a better artist? Fuck ya, and it was worth it.

I would love to see some of these haters jump into some of these challenges, and to be honest I had some heavy hitting street artists that wanted to do it but freaked out at the eleventh hour because they got cold feet.  Some just straight up told me they needed way more time to paint than we were allotting for and they were terrified that they were going to be embarrassed on national TV.  This is an honest and respectable emotion, but some of those same people that were afraid are some of the people that are talking smack.  That’s unfortunate because I know that it doesn’t come from a place of authenticity but rather from a deep sense of fear.

The common assumption is that most street artists are men, but in Street Art Throwdown, 60% of the contestants are women. Why do you think that is? Was that a coincidence based on the applicant pool, or was a conscious decision, possibly related to the show being aired on Oxygen?

It’s a heavily female demographic network.  You can Google that in 5 seconds so that’s an obvious fact, but I think you guys will agree that there is not enough recognition for female artists out there, and we know some of the ones that are painting are seriously burner.  My good friend Mad C is one of my favorite artists out there.  In my opinion she’s one of the top street artists in the world.   So by putting so many women on the show I think more woman will get recognized for what they are all ready doing and will truly get more into the game.  My prediction is that Street Art Throwdown will single-handedly change the face of Street Art and there will be a massive shift of woman believing that they can do this as a career… Watch out guys! Truth be told, woman already have a better sense of color…

From the teaser, it appears that at least one of the challenges in the show is to create an advertisement for a globally-recognized brand, and ads for Street Art Throwdown have appeared on the New York City subway. How would you characterize the relationship between street artists, graffiti writers, and the advertising industry?

How layered and ironic is it that the MTA would buff all the old cars in the subways back in my day and I’m talking about historical pictorial masterpieces done by the likes of LEE, DONDI AND SEEN. Then the second iteration of change in the “war on graffiti” was adding the graffiti proof trains in the late 80’s, and now they are doing ads wrapped around the train in the same way. This is just so ironic. Yes it’s fitting for my show to be wrapped around the train, but I also really miss the days I was getting on the 1 train on 103rd St. and I would see a wildstyle TRACY 168 tag and a SKEME painting… The advertising companies “own” the space and the graff writers define the public realm and interact with space in ways that are more potent then advertisers. But we all know who learned what from whom. Advertisers would only know how to use subway spaces by watching graffiti artists do it first. So I am at both end of this history.

Why impose rules on an art form that, in promotional footage, your own contestants define as having no rules?

This is entertainment. In gymnastics should there be rules? It’s just kids doing flips and who should judge that? Why should they have rules at the UK Bboy Championships? Or Battle of the Year? They are all great B-boys with different styles… The answer is simply because you need a system to analyze and judge. I know every artist is great and no one should be judged and we should all love each other and listen to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but this is life and it’s harsh out there. Street Art Throwdown is in many ways no different than real life. It’s a metaphor for life. Besides ask a graffiti writer about rules and he or she will show you a list a mile long of do’s and don’t’s about everything from a proper letter to appropriate placement for a tag.

What would happen if the winner of Street Art Throwdown had to “throwdown” against Banksy?

Well would that really be fair? Doesn’t Banksy have like 12 artists painting for him?  The winner is only 1 person…  So they better bring a gun to that knife fight.


Thanks BUA. We took this as a fun/weird joke. On the one hand, we didn’t want to give airtime to a mainstream, commercial network to push their product, especially when that product is the sugar coated commercialization of an art form that we respected for challenging the consumer industry. On the other hand, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage in a critical discussion, and maybe have a laugh along the way. At the end of the day, we respect BUA for being serious and engaging us, even if we disagree.  Street Art Throwdown premieres February 3rd on Oxygen. We’ll still be hate-watching.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Debunking some “leaked” “Banksy photos”

Part of an installation from "Banksy vs the Bristol Museum." Photo by fingertrouble.
Part of an installation from “Banksy vs the Bristol Museum”

Ugh… Another day, another ridiculous article about Banksy about to go viral. On Friday evening, Whitehot Magazine sent out an email with the subject line “Banksy Unmasked: Real Photos of Banksy WORLD EXCLUSIVE.”

Basically, I suggest that you ignore Whitehot Magazine’s post and photos. They’re essentially nonsense. If you’re content to leave it at that, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. If you want to know why Whitehot Magazine’s post is verifiably hooey, read on…

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What and where are open walls?

Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.
Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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Community amongst excess in Wynwood

Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.
Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

“Dude, those drips look so sick!”

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?

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