The word sideshow comes up several times in conversation when discussing the traveling installation centered on Andrew H. Shirley’s Wastedland 2 film. The touring exhibition is as much of a whirlwind as the artist himself, connecting collaborators from across the country in an ever-evolving project.
While the upcoming screening of Wastedland 2 this Friday at Superchief Gallery is the first screening with an emphasis on audience participation through costumes, the film had previously shown in New York City at the Knockdown Center. At this venue, from the moment I stepped into the installation it felt like a family reunion, a theme that is echoed throughout the film. It was a feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and decided it was probably all the personal connections I had with the people and left it at that. However, when I went to interview Andrew, I had to ask if he could illuminate why even people I knew who were not personally familiar with the crews involved still came away with this sense of kinship. Shirley explained, “In many ways Wastedland 2 created not only a new platform of film exhibition, but perhaps exemplified the idea of collaborative action and support from a community that is sometimes over looked as far as how genuinely loyal and generous they are. The graffiti community not only looks out for each other, but they are a family that looks out for people in need- in many ways.” From assisting in the entry of buildings to a floor to call a safe home for the night, the filmmaker was quick to name all of the people and places who helped him out. It may not have been a direct connection, but maybe a friend of a friend, because as he stated they are the family that always looks out for one another.
NTEL is one of my favorite Philly graffiti writers. From stickers to throw-ups and extinguisher tags to beautiful pieces, plus sculpture and other methods of getting up, is one of the most versatile and unique writers in the city. That’s why I’m so excited to include his work in ALL BIG LETTERS, which opens today at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Haverford, PA. NTEL also has a solo show coming up next week at the Deep Space gallery in Jersey City, NJ. With these two shows approaching, NTEL and I thought that it would be the perfect time to chat about art, politics, philosophy, and his unique approach to graffiti. Enjoy!
RJ: Does the title WORLD WAR FREE, or the upside-down flag on the flyer, have anything to do with the fact that the show opens just one week after Trump’s inauguration?
NTEL: Unfortunately, it was not a conscious pre-conceived link to Trump’s inauguration, specifically. It was just a perfect little accident, which sadly would have been just as relevant regardless of who ‘won’ the election. The title, upside-down flag, the color palette of the works, and the Philosophies behind them reflect a variety of issues, locally and globally, that add up to the senseless actions like, electing a racist, ignorant, short-tempered, bully/pussy, sexist, greedy, scared, Narcissist into one of the most powerful positions in the World. The absolute worst part of it is that we as a People, are the ones who hold the most blame. Americans should feel even more responsible, because Amerikkka is often the original engineer of the lifestyle trends, violence, and legislatures that become so popular, World-wide. We let them get away with their Black Coffee Briefings, and never hold them accountable when they breach the laws of Man, Morals, or ‘God’. We allow them to frighten, confuse, exhaust, and overwhelm us into accepting The Christie’s and The Trump’s of our Society. We literally and figuratively buy into what they’re selling from the Capital to Corporations, which only encourages their behavior. It’s all of our faults.
The title, WORLD WAR FREE, is an evolution of WORLD WAR THREE. It is the next stage. WWIII has been going on for years, ‘informally’ through globalization and exploitation of the World’s peoples and resources from biased, mis-used politics, greed, ‘smaller’ wars, injustices, and disregard for Culture. Even though there have been no declarations, or structured movements, or open references to a WWIII – proper, the actions of our policy and product makers over the past few decades have had the same effect. Global Alliances. Social and Economic Abnormalities. Destruction. Hatred.
Schacter has captured a feeling about street art and contemporary muralism, a nagging fear really, that seems to have been bubbling just beneath the surface for a while now. Basically, Schacter argues that street art isn’t rebellious anymore. Rather, that it’s most notable form is as a tool used by corporations to spur gentrification. Agree or disagree, the article is a must-read.
Melbourne has always had a healthy and organic sticker culture, whether it be writers with their slap tags, or the little street art characters and slogans adorning the backs of street signs, rubbish bins; actually anything with a surface that takes to a sticker.
I think stickers are an awesome and important element of graffiti and street art, giving artists a way to quickly and less incriminating way of sharing their work. Stickers, slaps, slap tags – whatever you call them are a worldwide culture, pretty much every city in the world I’ve been to – there are stickers everywhere (I’m currently writing this article while in Tokyo – which has been well and truly slapped, so to speak).
I’ve enjoyed watching new stickers appear over the years as existing artists evolve and new ones appear. Although, I can’t recall anyone that’s caught my eye as much Goon Hugs. Goon’s stickers are not only unique, they’re also prolific and often cover entire shopfronts, abandoned spaces and objects, even a drunk person passed out in a shopfront in one instance haha. This guy is out of control. His stickers are mesmerising and somehow beautiful.
I also love tags and mad hand styles. As I always tell the non beleivers (generally the “I love that street art, but i hate those tags” type people, tags are beautiful. They represent some major dedication to an art form, they are an individual’s own font, typeface, style. I’d much prefer to see a full window of tags rather than a dull, drab abandoned and unused space, or horrible generic advertising.
Not only is Goon Hugs a sticker machine, he also has a massive interest in all things stickers, tags and throwies, which he continues to document in his zine “Goon Pizza”.
Check out some photos of his work below and also make sure you follow him on Instagram to keep up with his latest escapades.
I caught up and had a good chat with the Goon himself, and this is what we talked about.
LM: Generic question, I know, but what does your name mean? It fascinates me, considering goon is one of my most used words haha.
GH: I got my name from when I used to drink goon and do bongs as a filthy teenager and when ya mix that with emotions you just wanna hug everyone. Simple as that. It’s a fun name with good and bad references that people can relate to.
Note from Luke – Goon is an Aussie colloquialism for cheap wine.
LM: How did you get into what you do?
GH: I first got attracted to stickers back in 2007 when I did graphic arts in the city everyday. I was turned on by seeing tags & little characters on stickers on signs in alleyways, that I lost my shit. I just wanted to be part of this very underrated scene. Took me a while though to become as consistent as I am now.
LM: Your tag looks (to some) like an alien text. Where does it come from? I love it!
GH: I’ve always been into tags that have a really clean, fast flow. So I tried for years to perfect this. I got inspiration from the Thai language as they have a lot of loops in their letters. I don’t think there’s ever a time when your tag stops evolving. Mine is always evolving as the flow gets faster and I start to add organic lines and curves to create the ‘interest factor’. Which I think is something you gotta have in a tag. Some line to make it go POW!
LM: You clearly are one of the most prolific slap taggers in Melbourne I’ve seen for a long time. How many slaps do you reckon you’ve put up?
GH: Wouldn’t know to be honest. I’m a gentleman. It would be arrogant of me if I knew though. But every now and then I see an old sticker and I have no recollection of when I put that there. To be honest, I feel like I haven’t done enough.
LM: Are all your slaps hand done, or do you photocopy some of them? Doing so many tags looks therapeutic, is it like that for you?
GH: When I bomb windows, I usually print them off ‘cus its fast ,easy & for me free and then I use wheat paste to put ‘em up. But for general get-up most are hand done stickers/duck tape. I can tag stickers at my desk all day long, listening to mad beats with no breaks, so it definitely is therapeutic. You could call it my day job. Unfortunately it doesn’t pay too well.
LM: You don’t just put your slaps up, you completely take over spaces, which I love. Is this just a sign of your prolificness/obsession or do you do this for another reason?
GH: When I first started I just thought why stick one behind a sign or on a poll when you can stick a few hundred in one spot and get full impact from the pedestrian traffic. I don’t ever think for spots where the sticker will last. To me it’s about getting ‘ridiculous’. Literally a sticker bomb. Using up all my supplies so I go home empty handed and enjoy a nice goon sac or two. Someone’s gonna notice something that’s over saturated no matter what. Most of my true fans are Real-estate agents and the Yarra & Darebin councils.
LM: How do you feel about advertising? I’m guessing you’re not a big fan?
GH: To me everything is advertising and we’re all advertising ourselves to an extent. But for some who got the big dollars they can put their shit on anything for as long as they want. Sometimes I paste on advertising spots like bus/tram shelters. To take the focus away from the one light box ad they have, I paste my fluoro tags over all the glass panels. I’ve had hundreds of stickers on a ‘for lease’ shop front window for over a year. I mean that’s basically the same as a billboard except it’s free. The average Joe won’t have a clue as to what it means, but the name ‘Goonhugs’ already has quite a cult following.
LM: What’s with the Japanese references in many of your slaps? I can read it funnily enough, and it always gives me a good laugh.
GH: I just like how Japanese typography looks. Sometimes I camouflage my tag onto flyers in Japanese to paste on polls/walls. Also the translation doesn’t always work and it gets random and funny.
LM: AS.250? Is this your crew name? Are there any other members, or just the Goon?
GH: AS.250 stands for ‘Adhesive supasta’ and 250 is the bus route outta the ghetto. Not part of any clan, just me the wondering goonsman, although if I did have a wing person shit would be a lot easier to do and Melbourne would have one of its biggest litterers on a rampage.
LM: When do you do your work?
GH: Depends on certain spots I got planned out. Sometimes in peak hour traffic, sometimes from 3am to 8am. I sometimes only bomb shop fronts during peak hour as people just wanna get the fuck home and have their dinner so not many people will hastle me plus there is not many cops on patrol. Also, Rainey evenings are a good easy cover. Summer is the worst. People will not go home.
LM: How do you procure your materials?
GH: If I told you my main source I’d be out of the job. But usually, most shops that sell adhesive products will let you take a free sample guaranteed, as long as the product can fit down your pants or in a green bag.
LM: Have you done any collabs?
GH: I’ve done some off the mill quick collabs with a few mates but nothing really spesh.
LM: Tell us about your Zines. How many have you done what are they all about?
GH: My zines(GoonPizza) are up to its 5th issue. They’re just a quick documentation of graffiti bombing around the northern areas of Melbourne. I find there’s a lot of stuff on instagram but eventually it all gets lost and forgotten. But having a homemade publication that you can produce and distribute online and through mates is a good way of preserving that time when that person got up or remember when this crew was fuckin shit up. My most popular zine was a super thick sticker zine of stickers all over Melbourne that got sold very well and had to make a second edition.
LM: You’re clearly a massive fan of slaps, tags and throwies; so who inspires you and why?
GH: The crazy Japanese bombing scene, it is off its rocket. Absolutely nuts! The Melbourne locals getting around and getting up hard inspire me too. Can’t go wrong with BTM, AC, PAA, TGF, ID, CI, CME, RPG crews. The list goes on I love ‘em all really. Also, a little cute shout out to Mio and FELON!
LM: I’ve been loving your little dioramas you’ve been doing of mini shop fronts etc, how do you make these?
GH: I just make these out of foam and cardboard just as an off the clock thing to do. Trying to capture local buildings but in a grimy, abandoned, graffiti bombed kind of way.
LM: What else do you have planned for 2015 and into the future?
GH: I’m not into talking myself up, but I hope to be the longest serving sticker bomber in the universe. Definitely gotta put the CBD on goonhugs lockdown at some point. The streets are too clean. Otherwise, keep doing what I do best. It makes me happy and I’ve met a lot of fans when I am out and about which totally bamboozles me as for me it’s just simply putting up a piece of paper. How can people like this? Shits real cray!
Check out more of Goon Hugs’ photos on his Instagram page here.
As the leading American street artist and one of the country’s most recognizable graphic designers, Shepard Fairey himself needs no introduction. But these are strange times for Fairey, and a refresher might be in order. His latest exhibition, On Our Hands at New York City’s Jacob Lewis Gallery, is set to open on Thursday evening. The show tackles the influence of money on politics, the way that legalized bribery has corrupted our democratic system. His new book, Covert to Overt, is due out later this month. The book tackles the influence of money on Fairey’s art, the way he’s fed his ever-growing fame and commercial success back into the work he’s always been doing. He’s on top of the world, or at least the art world. Except that Fairey also standing trial in Detroit for some wheatpastes that the city calls “malicious destruction of a building,” and he could wind up going to prison. So the next few months could really go either way.
Fairey has left an indelible mark on American politics and culture. No matter what happens next, I suspect he’ll continue on that path in one way or another. As he prepares for the opening of On Our Hands, we had the opportunity to ask Fairey a few questions about his career, his place in the art world, and his politics.
RJ Rushmore: As your own fame has grown, as you’ve gone from covert to overt, how have you learned to strike a balance between using your fame for positive change and simply enjoying it?
Shepard Fairey: There are pros and cons to being known whether you call it famous or infamous, but I definitely try to leverage my higher profile to push socially conscious and sometimes provocative ideas. I have a large audience now, which I view as a tremendous resource but also a group to be considerate of and responsible toward. It may sound trite but I take my situation seriously as, for lack of a better word, a role model. I try to provide strong justification for my actions and my viewpoints and I think one of the reasons many of the doors have opened for me that have, is because I’m community and socially minded, not only with my work but with the organizations I support and the activism I engage in.
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.
Last month, New Jersey-based artist NDA arrived back in his city from an extensive trip across four countries: Norway, England, Spain, and Portugal. This was is first time painting in Europe. With as many memorable encounters as walls, he shared these recent adventures through a series of anecdotes and photographs.
Initially he was invited by artist Nipper to paint at a local high school in Halsnoy, Norway. During the trip, a few requisite big cities were painted, including London and Barcelona, however it was painting in the smaller cities where he found the biggest rewards. Here his work was able to breathe, unencumbered by looming buildings. In Norway, a lush landscapes surrounded the loosely painted characters.
“When painting in smaller towns you begin to realize that the work can be a huge contrast to its surroundings. I felt like some of the murals and street art that I saw in these areas had a greater impact than perhaps some of the work in NY because it wasn’t over saturated. In parts of Brooklyn you can’t turn around with out seeing a mural, wheatpaste or what-have-you. Some times the work can get a little lost in the shuffle. But when you turn the corner of a small town and see a large mural standing alone against beautiful scenery, it can really smack you upside the head! The context is so dramatically different that your impression of it has to change as well.” said NDA of his time in Halsnoy. I was curious to ask NDA how the police reaction in these suburban areas stacked up against our ever-paranoid NYPD and Vandal Squad. The artist said, “Everywhere I went to, the cops were just waaaayyyy more relaxed! I think it’s no secret that NY cops are often turned up to 10. Even when you’re painting legal walls here, you’re likely to get some hassle. It was nice to not feel that stress.”
After staying with Nipper and a stop to check out famed festival Nuart, the artist hopped a plane to London, where the NDA’s one negative experience on his excursion took place. He recollects, “The one wall I had a problem with on the trip was a legal spot in London. I was given permission to paint a wall of a canal. 10 minutes into sketching it out a woman in the houseboat facing the wall came out and said that it would be too much for her to see this everyday. Instead of going on I agreed to stop and she power washed it of the wall. This was a first for me. I was pretty frustrated at first but it was a good lesson to have: Not everyone wants your shit!” However, not all of NDA’s experiences in London were so fraught with difficulties. Nearly all the passersby NDA heard from enjoyed the 30-foot long wall on Hanbury Street that he painted thanks to Ben Slow.
The finale of his trek came while visiting Vulpes Vulpes in Leiria, Portugal, where they collaborated on several pieces. The artist recounts, “Vulpes Vulpes and I were doing an unauthorized piece on an abandoned building in Leiria. We turned around to see all the students from the beauty school next door laughing and waving at us from the window. A few of them came out to chat and it was all so nice and casual. At the end they gave us a round of applause. The whole thing was incredibly positive and I don’t think the topic of legality came up once.” Now back in the metro-area after his extensive travels, viewers should watch to see how the natural landscape affects the artist’s imagery going forward. I, for one, look forward to some Halsnoy-inspired flora to liven up the cold winter ahead.
A little over a year ago, I interviewed Droid 907 for the release of his first SOS zine, Sex or Suicide. This summer, through Carnage, he is sharing his past year of adventures riding through the United States. As with the previous volume, Sick of Society exists on the fringes of the mainstream where Droid 907 finds comfort from a society he abhors. As much as the title gives a negative connotation, the pages of the zine are instead filled with intimate portraits of those the writer cares for, including friends both here and departed. Using typewriter gifted by Amanda Wong, the author redacts locations, crosses out spelling errors while leaving in others, adding characterization to himself while continuing his narration. His continued fascination with analog technologies can be seen not only in the text, but through the production of the zine itself. Unlike the Internet, print production contains a finite means of dissemination (albeit large editions of 400). Within the hand silkscreened pages and closed-edition volumes, Droid completely placed himself on the fringes of society in which he exists and documents. Fittingly, when sent interview questions, the Sick of Society author returned with pages fresh from his typewriter rather than a Word Document.
Rhiannon: So, the last typewriter for S.O.S. was found by the train tracks. What did you write Sick of Society on?
R: With equally a pessimistic title as the first zine, what makes you Sick of Society?
A note from RJ: I want to thank Dont Fret and Anna Cerniglia for putting this interview together. I’ve been a fan of Dont Fret’s work for a while, but since since latest show was really about a Chicago neighborhood that I’ve only very briefly visited, I asked him to find a local friend who might be able to have a conversation with about the project. Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects stepped up. Dont Fret has shown at Johalla Projects, and they helped put on his latest show, which is largely the subject of this conversation. A big thank you to both of them for letting me just step back on this one and do little to no work to read something really interesting. – RJ
Earlier this year, Dont Fret was given the opportunity to paint the walls of a building in Chicago’s Fulton Market. The building had previously housed a wholesale fish Market and a hardware Store, and with both businesses moving or closing, the building had been sold and was set for demolition in late August. Over the summer, Dont Fret painted the walls of the building and mounted a show inside the now-defunct hardware store entitled There Are Only Two Seasons In Chicago: Winter And Construction. The show featured a body of new work from Dont Fret, much of it made using materials found at the hardware store. The show was open for one week and then the hardware store was demolished on August 29th, 2014.
Anna Cerniglia: How have you been feeling after de-install of the show?
Dont Fret: I’m feeling pretty alright. People keep asking me if I’m bummed that the building is being torn down, but I am mostly just kind of in shock that we actually pulled off the show without anyone shutting us down. It kind of feels like the show hasn’t happened yet because we were in limbo for some time, there were just so many opportunities for something to go wrong.
AC: GOD RIGHT.
DF: How did you feel when I first showed you the inside of the hardware store? It was kind of a shit show.
AC: Well after helping produce an event in a similar space earlier this summer for Soho House, I wasn’t intimidated by the build-out. I was more intrigued with what we had to work with. The space earlier this summer I worked on was filled with refrigerators and ovens and all kinds of crap. It was storage. The hardware store was just a space frozen in time. I was afraid to touch it. It was amazing.
How about you?
DF: And what the show ended up being was really far removed from what we had originally planned. Originally I didn’t want to touch anything, I wanted all of the original shelves and storage to stay, I wanted almost a precise time capsule, and none of that ended up staying because of scrappers and other people who were salvaging things from the space.
AC: Yeah I think it was even better though. The amount of space was perfect for the time allotted. And even though we lost those shelves the space felt exactly the same. I had so many people say “this is the best show I have seen this year.” I think that says a lot. The space wasn’t a white cube and the artwork fit into this timeless space.
DF: I think so too. The first moment I set foot in the hardware store 4 months ago I knew I wanted to do a show in it. I haven’t done a solo show in a year and I knew that whatever my next show was, I didn’t want it to be in a traditional gallery space. I wanted to really create a moment and let the space live it’s life. Get closer to “real life” and maybe blur the line of what most people call a “pop-up art show.”
AC: Yeah – I have been hearing that term used so much recently. Where people take the white gallery cube and throw some wallpaper on it and call it a “pop-up.” But this was different.
DF: For me one of the best moments was when we re-painted and re-hung the “Chicago Wholesale Hardware” signage outside the shop and people started coming in asking if we could make keys for them or if we had Paint & Primer. We also set up a voicemail for the hardware store that people could call in and leave messages to. I think people were legit disappointed and confused that they couldn’t get keys made or order paint.
A slight clarification on the headline: UK wordsmith Mobstr is making his debut indoors with his upcoming solo show “Sex, Drugs & Painting Walls”, opening May 15th. He may be working legally, but you can expect the same cheeky subversiveness that we love him for on the streets. Mobstr was nice enough share some of his thoughts with Vandalog. Though he did not divulge any details of his sex life or drug experimentation here, Mobstr did assure us that he tries to answer all (sensible) emails from fans, if that’s what piques your curiosity.
Caroline Caldwell: In your ideal world, would painting walls be legal? If so, would you continue to do so or would you need to find a new method of being subversive?
Mobstr: I think so long as advertising visually dominates our urban environments something has got to be said for the importance of graffiti competing with it. If I am truly honest I am not sure if I would carry on doing what I do if it was legal as, for me, it would lose its edge. Now that street art has gained credentials a lot of legal work is possible and the big mural stuff seems to be dominating the scene. However, these large mural pieces you see popping up around the world aren’t street art for me. It’s the little subversions which interact and play with its surroundings that I define as street art. An analogy would be calling taggers street artists; they don’t play the same game. That is not to say I don’t like the large mural stuff, they are the obvious and needed realisation of the urban environment. The area of Shoreditch, London is filled up with art on walls. It is fantastic but it’s the stuff which was done in the dead of night that captures my attention.
Caroline: What’s your relationship with the street art community beyond the people who see your work on the street? Do you communicate with fans or participate in any dialogues online? Are you interested in other work that’s going up around the world?
Mobstr: I look at pictures online but beyond that and what I see out and about I have no interaction with the street art community.
I make a point of answering every sensible email I get. If you are appreciated for what you do, then you owe something to the people who appreciate you. Unless you have no desire for the world to see your creations then that audience is part of the reason you continue on.
Caroline: Why did you choose now to have your first solo show? Also, why did you choose to have a pop up show when you probably could have worked with any number of galleries?
Mobstr: I actually started to put this show together a few years ago however I realised I was far more interested in painting out on the street so stopped work on it completely… I had an outdoor addiction to feed. The decision to start work on it again was very fluid. I wanted to see this body of work amassed under one roof and it felt like the right time. I decided to do the show independently simply because I like to be independent. It also means you have 100% control over how it goes down which is something that is important to me.
Caroline: Do you feel that you’re addressing a different audience with your indoor work?
Mobstr: That depends on who comes down to the show.
Caroline: If you were allowed a free full-page ad in the newspaper, what would you do?
Caroline: How important is documentation to you?
Mobstr: Very. It is almost as important as painting the actual piece. Depending on the efficiency of the graffiti removal team sometimes the only proof a piece existed is in the memory of mine and that of the graffiti removal team but most importantly in the documentation.
Caroline: One of the interesting things about the art in this show is the frames you’ve chosen for your canvases. Why did you choose elaborate frames for work which even describes itself as minimal?
Mobstr: I am glad you picked up on that as there is a little bit of structure behind the framing. In general any work that is a critique of the art world comes in an ornate frame. I also used ornate frames to exaggerate the message or absurdity of certain pieces.
Caroline: What can people expect from Sex, Drugs and Painting Walls?
Mobstr: I see it as a direct translation of my street stuff into an indoor environment. I think the body of work can be generalised as a critique of art, attitude and culture, punctuated by some general musings. I called it sex, drugs and painting walls not because it contained any of those three things but simply that it has a good ring to it. Also it summarises nicely what I’ve been up to for the last 12 years.