RJ: How do your indoor and outdoor works relate to one another?
2501: My whole body of work is connected. That’s also one of the subjects of my first solo in USA “see you on the other side”. I see my work as a full circle where I’m trying to bring what I learn from muralism into the video or into the sculptures and vice versa. The connection from the inside and the outside is the way I approach problems. Art is definitely also problem solving. I think that art is all a matter of experimenting with new ways of saying things, new languages, research.
RJ: Why do you paint outside?
2501: I don’t know why I paint outside, it just happens and now it is too late. I can’t stop anymore. I come from scientific school and then film school so I learned to paint by doing graffiti outside. My mother use always to say that graffiti is a kind of sport and painting together… plus adventures I will say.. so the perfect mix body and mind.
RJ: How important is documentation for you? Would you be happy to just paint something and leave it, or is documentation part of your artistic process?
2501: Documentation is important. As a collector (I collect zines, comics, old strange stuff, etc) I was always involved in collecting pictures of what we did from film to digital. A lot of my friends ask me for picture from 10 years ago because they know I have them.
2501: Dynamic Influence is a wall that change with the light. The all concept is about transformation. All the things that we look at are not the same twice. I’m preparing other work with the same or similar concept of changing.
RJ: Where does the number 2501 come from?
2501: 2501 is the number of my rebirth as an artist and also the date of founding of Sao Paulo in Brasil, my second hometown.
RJ: Until recently, I was sure that one of the best shows I’d ever seen was the Charles Krafft and Mike Leavitt show at your gallery Stolenspace in 2010. Now, it’s come up that Krafft’s supposedly ironic work confronting white supremacy and Nazism is not so ironic after all, and that Krafft himself is a Holocaust denier and white nationalist. What’s your take on Krafft’s work in light of these revelations?
D*Face: I’ve thought long and hard about this topic and we’ve been asked by many to speak about his Holocaust denial statement. In truth, it is something that can only be answered by Charles himself, and I’m not even sure if the context of what he said has been altered and misreported. In my experience, I never felt any sense of him being a white nationalist in the conversations we’ve shared over for his shows, so if that is truly the case, he kept this extreme view very quiet for a long time.
What I will say is my father fought in WW2 and my grandfather WW1 and WW2 where they saw many atrocities that had been carried out under the banner of the Swastika and Hitlers Nazi rule, of which there’s no denying. I always found Charles Krafft a deeply interesting character, he has led an incredible life, often well off the grid, with people from very varied and extreme backgrounds and cultures. He has an air about him of being an antagonist, even anarchist, in the true sense of the word, which when combined with his life experience and amazing knowledge makes for a very complex character. I enjoyed talking to him in depth about the numerous, often bizarre, subjects he’d researched… you could even call ‘lived.’ It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s spun all this to garner attention to his work, maybe not the best of ideas, but the saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad press’ could perhaps apply here… For me, his work is deeply challenging, uncomfortable and often disturbing, even when viewed prior to his recent statements. Do these recent statement make his work more or less powerful and provocative? Do you as the viewer have to share his alleged beliefs to appreciate his art and the challenging narrative? Maybe a more interesting debate would be ‘are we more interested in the artist than their art?’
RJ: The trend in recent years seems to be that artists who can get legal walls are going bigger and bigger, often leaving the small interventions behind, but you keep mixing things up outdoors with a combination of large, legal projects and tiny, simple interventions and everything in between. Why?
D*Face: That’s a really good question, and ironically I was pondering this recently while painting my biggest mural on a 60ft x 50ft wall in Puerto Rico. I spent 7 days up a cherry picker without a harness on unstable ground with the unsafe warning going off… I really thought LONG AND HARD about the ‘bigger is better’ legal murals that have become de rigueur. The answer to those big murals is the end result, the sheer volume of paint and impact, but there is a certain something lost. For me, it had always been about the ‘lurking’ round the corner intervention, the turning a corner and making that discovery that felt special, like you’re the only one that has found or seen it. The pieces that maybe only last a day or even less, but are able to change a passer byes day, put a smile on their face, or a frown… It’s those thoughts and ideas, the small interventions that still get me excited, as well as the big walls… I don’t think it can only be about scale, there’s always someone prepared to go bigger, more complex, paint faster, do more… but for me that’s not what it’s all about, so I’ll continue to try and mix it up.
RJ: For me, your collaboration with Smirnoff is the quintessential example of an artist working with a brand in the right way, because you were able to make something that looked like your work rather than their vision of your work, but you got to use the massive resources of Smirfnoff to pull the project off. How did you pull that off?
D*Face: I really appreciate those words, thank you. Believe me, what wasn’t seen on the night was the years of discussions that went before it. It started off nearly 3 years ago with the ‘we’d like a bottle wrap, neck label’ email, which turned into an apprehensive meeting… at which point I said ‘thank you, but no thank you.’ But with all fairness to Smirnoff and Nude, the design agency who set the meeting up, they asked me back to present an open concept of what I would do as an ‘artist collaboration’… So I threw them some seriously full tilt ideas- the one that went ahead was probably about middle ground, so you can just imagine some of the concepts… but instead of running away scared, they fully embraced my idea and we set about making it actually happen. The problem of working with such a large corporation is that it takes a long time for the head to make the tail turn, and several times it was called off and then resurrected. Unfortunately, when you say with ‘the massive resources of Smirnoff’ it simply wasn’t the case. For what we achieved, we had a really tight, small budget and it was only by pulling in a huge favour from my friend, Ben Wilson, to help build and fabricate. By our resourcefulness, we managed to achieve that one night event to the level I aspired. I must say though, that at all times, Smirnoff kept with me on the concept and didn’t try and steer it back down the bottle wrap route, which seeing as thats the most obvious and well trodden route it would have been so easy for them to try and do.
RJ: What’s on the horizon? Anything you can hint at?
D*Face: Ok, you get the scoop. I have a new London solo show that is set to open in June this year… ‘New World Disorder.’ So, I’m in the thick of works and plans for that…It’s going to be really special– certainly a unique venue and event!
I’ve also just signed off the proofs for my long-in-the-works book that I’ve been working on in the background for well over a year. It is being published in September and I’m extremely pleased with how it looks. There’s a few other pretty exciting things in the mix, but I’m superstitious so until they’re 100% confirmed I’m keeping quiet!
RJ: How did changing the Pro/Anti walls in Shoreditch to the Extortionist/Protagonist walls come about?
Eine: Basically I have just moved my studio from Hastings, the courier company wouldn’t allow me to ship the spray paint, I had a few thousand cans. so I thought I would use as much of it as I could. LondoNewcastle who own the building with anti anti anti on it had contacted me around the time of Shepard paintings down the road to see if I was up for repainting it. Yes was the answer, I then spoke with Mother who own the propropro wall, they were up for it as well but no one had any budget for paint or anything, wankers. The old paintings had been there for nearly 3 years and were looking shabby, plus I never liked the way antiantianti photographed, the contours of the wall made it look weird, the challenge there was to paint something that photographed better than the old anti.
RJ: Why the move to SF? What’s that been like?
Eine: I fell in love with San Francisco and a lady called Carrie, plus London is easy for me. I wanted to paint somewhere where walls are harder to get and not everyone is on your side. The move has been fucking slow and expensive, my new studio is 4 times as expensive as my old one in Hastings.
RJ: How do you think the recent harsh prison sentences for graffiti in London have affected the work that is going up or not?
Eine: It’s bollocks, Oker had almost stopped, he has kids and a job, nothing violent in what he does, I don’t think he was that much of a menace that he needed to be sent to prison especially for 2 years, we just did an art auction for his wife at pure evil gallery, so at least she doesn’t have to worry about loosing the house while her man is inside. I’m not sure if these crazy jail sentences really stop people from painting trains and bombing. Getting caught is part of being a vandal.
RJ: What’s a dream location for you to paint?
Eine: More cities in America, big walls in New York, SF, LA and some other cities I can’t think of.
RJ: What upcoming projects can we expect to see from you?
Eine: I got a show in Paris, Galerie LE FEUVRE (164, Faubourg St. Honoré 75008 Paris) which closes April 21st. It’s a group show with Sickboy, and Shoe from Amsterdam. Then a solo show with Corey Helford opens June 15th, and then a few big walls around.
Graffiti geek (and we mean that in the best way) and fine artist James Jessop met with Tim Hans earlier this year for our “Tim Hans shoots…” series. Tom Pearson interviewed Jessop.
Tom: Hi James, I wanted to start by going back to school and your trained painting roots. You attended Coventry University and the Royal College of Art, and now have BA Hons and MA degrees to your name, how do you believe this teaching developed you as an artist?
James: That’s a good first question, and answering it will make a huge interview just by itself, as history, obsession and dedication to a subculture all mean a lot to me.
My actual trained painting roots began, not in art school as a student, but back in the old school, by English standards use of that word, in the first UK wave of the Hip Hop era. Way back in 1985 I was hearing Chuck Chill out live giving the New York City latest live on Capital FM and this is where it all began.
Then on Friday 18th April 1986 I was given Subway Art for my 12th birthday. From that point, every day, I would make at least one A4 transcription drawing, paper pieces or outlines whatever you want to call them, coloured in felt tips taken directly from its pages. I still have most of the drawings. For the whole of 1987 as a thirteen year old I continued this practice, during school lunch break and all evening whilst at home listening to Eric B and KRS 1.
In the summer of ’87 Henry Chafant and James Prigoff’s Spray Can Art came out. This was like the new testament. From then I drew from that to the sounds of Public Enemy. That same year I met Robbo, Dozez WRH, Set3, Fura and Up2, and got their hits in my black book and these tags became my tag style blue prints.
When I turned 14 I was still on it, drawing every day, shaping letters and forming pieces spelling different words in different styles with mixed mediums. I also did my first solo trackside in racked car paint. Before that, I’d only worked as an apprentice for my older friend Mark Cheesman, filling in, and looking out. In the summer of 1988 I got obsessed with street skateboarding and slowed down with the graffiti daily paper pieces.
But a year later, in 1989 I would tag up whenever I got the opportunity whilst skating, in Milton Keynes, Harrow in London, and places like that, it was Jessop on tour. I know for a fact I was the first tagger in Milton Keynes. I’d be rolling then pull out my Posca, Pentel or my 30mm with meltonium shoe dye, I’d hit those marble subways then skate off again. Pure rebellious energy to the max. I remember some skaters telling me not to tag but they then later became taggers themselves. Back then in the late 1980’s we called it tagging and would say ‘have you seen my new tag’ or my ‘tag style’. Back then we never said ‘hand style’.
In 1990, when I turned 16, I was accepted on a full-time two year B-Tec general art and design course in Luton. I had to take two buses to college, and two home. I hit them all. Art all day, bombing on the way home, street skating every evening, living the life. It was then I read Keith Haring’s authorised biography and saw how he used the street art to inspire his gallery shows, and from then I specialised in painting on canvas.
During my B-Tec in 1992 I was accepted to and study at Coventry University BA in Fine Art. I started by degree at the age of 18 at which point I’d already been developing as an artist for 6 years. Going to Coventry was amazing as I no longer had to live with my parents, who wouldn’t let me keep spray paint in the house or go out all hours. Now it was on, any time any hour. Being an art student was great cover for being a full-time graffiti writer outside of college hours. I was the new Coventry King bombing prolifically and street skateboarding most nights, simply jamming out .
In my the first year at Coventry I finally saw Style Wars, which I’d never managed to catch before. The library also had the 1983 catalogue Graffiti Kings from Rotterdam, so I took all this in, I carefully cut out the full page advert for a show at Kladfled Perry Gallery, New York, from Art Forum. The show featured New York subway masters; Lee, Futura 2000, Daze, Lady Pink and Crash doing paintings on canvas and this gave me my biggest inspiration and hope.
In the second year of my degree I started to keep a closer eye on current painters in the UK gallery scene, such as Fiona Rae and Peter Doig, whose work I saw when the college took us all up to Liverpool and to London when Doig was up for the Turner prize. Being at art school was starting to have a big influence in my direction by exposing my eyes to these artists, who otherwise I would have over looked. Fiona Rae had the boogie down Bronx energy in her paintings back then, even though she was a London Gold Smiths college graduate. I was very influenced by her early 90’s abstracts and this inspired me to paint my own on a large scale. In my third year I applied to the Royal College of Art but didn’t get an interview. My degree final show was 5 large bright abstract canvases, very bold and bright with tagging rhythms in areas.
After graduating in 1995 I moved straight in to a open plan studio in Coventry City Centre and carried on painting. My goal and dream was to get into the Royal College of Art to study an MA in Painting. In 1997, after a second interview, they offered me a place and I moved to York Way in London. I would get the tube in from Caledonian Road daily, on the Piccadilly line to Gloucester Road, then skateboard up to the College. At this time Zonk DDS was the most prolific all city train and street writer with great style as well.
The Royal college was amazing. In the first year you would have Chris Ofili and Peter Doig coming round hanging out, talking about your work and their own. In the second year Ofili won the 1998 Turner prize, the first painter since 1986, and I only saw him once after that, but Doig became my personal tutor and remained a huge influence throughout my career.
Caroline Caldwell: What influenced you to do street art? Do you remember your first time?
Sweet Toof: No one forgets the first time, its like sex, started in 1986, and still at it. I blame Beat Street and Style Wars.
C: Do you try to do different things with your work or do let it evolve naturally?
ST: It is always good to experiment, working on the street fuels the studio work. One feeds another, what ever it takes a fat roller to a fine brush. The work evolves from mission to mission.
C: Burning Candy represents like a graffiti crew however the work is almost entirely character based. When Burning Candy was coming together, was there discussion over whether you all identified as a “graffiti” or “street art” crew?
ST: I left BC 3 years ago…. Burning Candy is what you see is what you get. We are like minded people working with characters, letterforms, tags, pieces, throw ups. Canvas sculpture print etc.
C: What’s one of the most interesting experiences you’ve had painting alone?
ST: Sinking in Quicksand was a strange experience.
C: And what about when you were painting with someone else?
ST: New York with friends was killer.
C: Have you been working on anything or collaborating with anyone lately?
ST: Working on a new body of work at present, watch this space for the rest.
While on a recent visit to London, Tim Hans photographed with seven artists for our continuing series of photo-portraits by Tim. This week, we have Tim’s photographs of Word To Mother, along with an interview by Shower.
Also, Word To Mother has been as he puts it ‘analogue’ since we met him. In a small attempt to contribute to the digital world, he has got himself an instagram. Go follow him for regular updates on his work – @wordtomother.
Shower: I expect you have been asked this on numerous occasions but where did the name Word to Mother originate?
Word To Mother: It was never supposed to be a name. I started writing Word To Mother next to my pieces in about 2003…I like the expression, it’s affirmation of the Mother’s and classic Hip Hop phraseology, perfect! Illmatic is also one of my favourite albums so I guess that had a part to play in it all.
I started using Word To Mother as a name when I wanted to make a distinction between the fine art I was producing and everything else. I like the anonymity a pseudonym allows, it means the art is at the forefront and I am somewhere in the background.
S: Your style is very distinctive, your characters tend to be warm and welcoming with a strange complexity, and are usually found juxtaposed against stylised typography. What influences you and this style?
WTM: I have never knowingly tried to construct a style, it’s an ongoing process that is continually changing…I just try and do me, not look at what others are doing for inspiration, but to outside sources; architecture, sign writing, vintage cartoons, nature…
My strongest works are produced when I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, the images almost draw themselves. You can see by the weight of line in my sketches when a drawing is going to work. If the line is heavy then I’m not chilled and the drawing is forced. The best stuff is super fine and is like a subconscious wandering of thoughts.
S: On the subject of characters, Disney and other cartoon varieties feature regularly, which is your favourite and why?
WTM: I don’t have one favourite and the list is endless so let me just give you my starting five:
Early Mickey Mouse
Marvin The Martian
Big Bad Wolf (early Disney)
Ren and Stimpy
S: Do the influences differ between your gallery work and outdoors?
WTM: I have no interest in producing what I do indoors, outdoors. They are two separate things to me.
S: Which came first, indoors or out? Which do you prefer and what keeps you painting outside?
WTM: I’ve always drawn, so working inside came first. Working outside started with graffiti in the late 90’s. If I’m painting outside it has to be fun, and trying to replicate what I do in the gallery, outside, just stresses me out. If I’m painting outside it’s going to be letters but I don’t refer to myself as a writer or street artist, just an artist.
S: If I was describing your art I would say that much of it is illustrative. Would you agree? And have you ever had any professional training to achieve this style or are you self taught?
WTM: I love to draw so I would agree that my work is rooted in illustration. I studied illustration and animation 3 years full time, before then I was like every other small town youth that thinks they can draw…I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Those 3 years were imperative in deconstructing and rebuilding my drawing. I wouldn’t say that anyone taught me how to draw but that course guided me in the right direction.
S: The first thing that strikes me when I look at one of your pieces is the exceptional level of detail. How do you go about starting a painting to achieve this depth?
WTM: I’m always intimidated by a blank surface, so I begin with loose mark making and tags to create a base to work on. Then it is just a case of building layers and layers of tones, pattern, characters, text etc until the piece comes to life.
S: Your art tends to be found adorning weathered surfaces using a range of mediums – wood, brick, plaster, spray cans or paint brushes. Do you find each piece is dictated by the surface you paint onto or do you look for surfaces with the content in mind?
WTM: I love weathered objects, stuff that is decaying and has existed with another purpose for years, then adding your story to it. When I am painting on these types of surfaces, I try to retain as much of the existing qualities as possible. I’m always on the lookout for those little gems to hoard in my studio. Some stuff I get way too precious about, I have objects and panels that I have had for 6 years that are still yet to be worked on as they are so beautiful already…this is now becoming a problem as I am relocating to a much smaller studio and am going to have to let go of a lot of things. Also, the cost of shipping heavy objects overseas is crippling financially. As a result, my new works are going to be on canvas…you have to adapt with the times…this recession is bullshit.
S: In some of your pieces I have seen nods of appreciation to fellow artists; Sickboy, Ronzo and Roids come to mind, and you have also worked in collaboration with Sickboy on a few projects. Do you enjoy collaborative work and do you feel it brings anything additional to your solo pieces?
WTM: I know the painting you are talking about, it had a section of tags in it which shouted out a few of the homies…it was based on the gallery front on Redchurch street where they buff over all the tags in the same colour…
In terms of collaborating, I have to work with friends. I’m a perfectionist so it has to be a certain way….Sickboy and I moved to London at the same time and were introduced by our friend Stella Dore. We are complete opposites but somehow it works. I am a massive fan of what he does and we both love the same things visually. Whenever we work together it is a succession of sleepless nights and too many jazz woodbines but we always laugh ’til it hurts and end up with something we’re proud of.
S: I rather enjoyed your recent edition of ‘fuck you, pay me’ baseball bats? Is there a hidden story of personal experience?
WTM: A decade of self employment in the creative industry.
S: You seem to be a big fan of tattoos. Are any of yours self designed or influenced by other artists?
WTM: I love tattoos and am lucky enough to own work by Thomas Hooper, Saira Hunjan, Josh Sutterby and Frank Carter to name a few.
T: Do you tattoo others yourself? If not, then would you ever consider a change of career?
WTM: I have been known to tattoo friends but I am certainly not a tattooer. If I wasn’t painting I would consider it, I think it’s a great career for someone that loves to draw. If I were to do it I would stop making art and concentrate on it fully, it is an ancient craft that demands a huge amount of respect.
S: Finally, have you got any specific plans for the future?
As I mentioned I am in the process of moving from my enormous studio to a much smaller space. It’s a shame as I am having to part with a lot of things that I have accumulated over the years…Once that is done I am going to be concentrating all of my energies on making my largest paintings to date for my upcoming show in the incredible new White Walls Gallery space in San Francisco. I’m hoping to work with the incredible Angelino Milano again this year on a bespoke run of screen prints. I haven’t shown in London for a couple of years so 2014 will see another solo show with the StolenSpace family… Other than that I’ll be drawing as usual.
Tim Hans visited London recently, where he met up with seven artists for our continuing “Tim Hans shoots…” series, where Tim photographs some of the world’s most interesting street artists and graffiti writers. First up from Tim’s London trip is Ronzo, for which Laura Calle conducted this accompanying interview:
Laura Calle: Can you tell us a brief story of what inspired you to create materials for public urban spaces?
Ronzo: Sometimes you just get new ideas from walking through the streets and talking to people. Most inspiration comes through that and through other artists, what’s happening in world right now, music, film, popular culture and many other things. You see spots in the city and you see opportunities. You think: This would be a great spot to do something… It’s a great gift to have but also a bit of a curse. Ones you start – you can’t stop!
LC: What’s it like to set up a large scale sculpture in such a densely populated city like London?
Ronzo: It’s good fun. You need a truck with a big crane. Also pray that the roof doesn’t collapse and a massive monster crushes everyone walking by. But once it’s up, the sun rises and people on their way to work stop, thinking “WTF – Where did this come from?” It’s beautiful.
LC: What are the main differences you experience when making sculptures for the streets versus murals in public? Do you think the public interacts with those mediums differently? How so?
Ronzo: Sculptures are just a bit more of a niche. They take 1000 times more work to do. That’s why nobody does them I guess. But that’s great – It that makes them more special when you spot one. Also cool – You can walk around them. You can’t really do that with a painting. (But paintings are cool too)
LC: Does your audience influence your art or the approach you take to your pieces?
Ronzo: Tricky one. The feedback you get from an audience always filters back into new work of course. Although I want to do keep doing what I think is dope. And not the other way round. Of course your audience finds it interesting too in the end.
LC: What’s next for Ronzo?
Ronzo: Big tingz. New paintings, new sculptures, new installations. Details are classified top secret at the moment but will be revealed through the year. Please stay tuned…
RJ Rushmore: What was it like to have your artwork, voice, and likeness featured on The Simpsons?
Robbie Conal: It was like being Knighted by the Queen of England. (In case you were wondering, that’s where Great Britain used to be.)
RJ: Most street artists put up the majority of their work themselves, some are even quite protective about not allowing others to put up their work, like stickers, for them. Why do you reach out to volunteers to put up your posters?
I’m always looking for a communal experience: the posters are my little way of participating in the public dialogue about issues that are important (not just to me). You know, like that rumor called, “democracy.”
Likewise, getting a bunch of like-minded loonies together at, say, Canter’s Deli, in LA in the middle of the night, talking the talk, walking the perp walk—getting up a smack of counterinfotainment on the streets together—is a bonding experience. Those are the only moments in my life when anarchy actually works and I don’t feel so alone (you know, just me and my weird beliefs and my little pieces of paper)—ha! And, of course, we get more up for more peeps to see a minor surprise on their way to work or (these days) looking for it, in the morning.
RJ: Have many of your volunteers gone from putting up work with you to doing postering campaigns of their own?
Conal: There have been a few—plus some great graff writers have joined us, rather gleefully, I might add. MEARONE, MAN1, VYAL. KOFIE, AXIS, and Shepard Fairey to name a few.
Actually, MEARONE, Shep, and I did a guerrilla street poster national tour together in 2004. It was Mear’s, Shep’s and Elizabeth Ai’s idea, not mine.
You might vaguely remember that George Bush’s mafia stole the 2000 Presidential election. That pissed Mear, Shep, and Elizabeth (and a shitload of other people) off! Kind of politicized them— in the sense that it made them pay attention to “party politics.”
They decided that they’d each do an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War street poster —in their own styles—and take’em on tour around the U.S. before the 2004 election. Then one fine day they came and got me, as in, “Hey, kids! Let’s go get the old guy out of his rest home on the west side and make it a triptych!” And I’m very grateful they did. Called the tour, “Be The Revolution.”
We had a tour launch party at the Avalon in Hollywood, 1,200 peeps showed up, Ozomatli, Culture Clash, the great slam poet Jerry Quickley all performed. My offset-litho printer, Typecraft, Inc. in Pasadena printed up @ 15,000 full color street posters, 5,000 of each of ours—pro bono. We rocked around the country as best we could. It was verrrry interesting.
RJ: What do you think about the street art movement’s popularity over the last few years?
Conal: To be honest, I always thought it was inevitable. My idea of genuine indigenous American art forms is based on a “bubble up” theory of cultural creativity. The “American Dream,” of single family home ownership, keeping your kids “safe,” you know, away from the mean streets of, say, any “inner city” neighborhoods in any big city, pushes families into places like Pacoima, Simi Valley, Orange County, for Chrissakes! There’s nothing for young teens to do out there. “Safe”? A 14 year old red blooded American kid taken out to nowhere with nothing to do? Give me a break!
However well meaning, that’s some idiot’s idea of safe. But give a kid access to some markers and a U.S. Post Office with free mailing address label stickers and all that nowhere time . . . SHAZAM! You’ve got a budding graff/street artist! Likewise: Give a kid a skateboard (and nothing else)—what were they back in the day: a slab of wood and 4 fucked up, salvaged old clip-on roller skate wheels, right?—the kid will live on it 12 hours/day/7 days/week and be able to skate air on that thing. Stacy Peralta makes Tony Alva makes Shawn White makes that kid in Pacoima (or frickin Frozen Tundra, New Jersey, for that matter!) into a world-class creative athlete. Same goes for a kid and a bike—Simi Valley suddenly ain’t so bad. Cause there’s plenty of room for you get on your pony and work out new tricks—the contemporary equivalent of a cowboy/girl and his/her pony out on the range. Instead of becoming a rodeo champion, the kid invents The X Games!
Then there’s the fashion industry: how do you monetize a great graff piecer’s work? Put it on something a fan can walk away with. Like a T-shirt. Make bank at the same time you’re making the fine art world think it’s missing something, and you’re in it. Fine with me, pal.
RJ: The way you start with oil paintings and then turn those into poster is pretty atypical. It seems like the more typical process for activist street art would be to make something in a format that is quick to develop and quick to print (like Shepard Fairey or Emory Douglas). How did you develop your method of starting with oil paintings and turning those into posters?
Conal: I’m a painter. I went to art school all my life. When I was 8 years old—in NYC—my parents sent me to The Art Students’ League to (on 57th Street) by myself—to draw dead flowers and, you know, plants and vegetables. Some fruit—an apple, an orange—what they called “still life.” I wanted to draw naked ladies, but the administrators there told my parents I was too young. Theodoros Stamos, an excellent abstract expressionist painter who was teaching there at the time, would sneak me into the “life drawing” classes. He’d say, “OK kid, there’s your naked lady—just sit down, shut up, and draw.”
Actually, that was probably the only thing that could get me to shut up. Then and now.
When I was 13, I went to the High School of Music & Art—a public “specialty” school—pretty much just like LA High School for the Arts is now. They smell exactly the same.
From ’63-’69, I majored in art and psychedelic drugs at San Francisco State. I was an O.H., an “Original Hippie.”
M.F.A. at Stanford (’78) and blah-blah-blah…you get the idea.
So street art, postering, came after all that. But painting is still how I get my torque on the subjects I address. Like Lucien Freud said, for me, “paint is flesh.”
RJ: Although you’re an important figure in the street art movement, you don’t seem to be so pigeonholed as solely or mostly a street artist, unlike many of your contemporaries. Do you think that being an oil painter has helped you to avoid being pigeonholed in that way, or is it something else?
Conal: I’m not sure about that—it might have a little to do with it. Mainly because one of the many, many artificial hierarchical rankings in the history of the Western Art aesthetic is that oil painting is the highest form of art making. Ha! (And I start with paint, so I don’t have to prove to the art world that my choice of medium is “worthy.”)
But, to be honest, I think it’s my perspective on the world—outside of whatever specific venue my art might be inhabiting at any particular moment—street, art gallery, museum, private home, man cave, dungeon. My thought process is always political—and I’ve had both an academic and a full-on mean streets education.
Also, my parents were union organizers in NYC in the 1930’s and 40’s. My Dad was “blacklisted,” by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950’s. That was basically for having different ideas from its august members about systemic political and economic issues, like what government’s job is; what system of government and what economic system could best (and how much it should) provide for the health, education and welfare of its citizenry.
ART has always been my most receivable way of expressing myself about issues I care about. (Meaning, you really don’t want to hear me whining about what I think is wrong with the world, now do you? You’re way better off, if you just look at the nasty portrait of the ugly old white man in a suit and tie. Read the 2 or 3 punny words. Work it out for yourself.) Democracy, with a small “d” being my pet peeve. In the sense that I miss it, want it back (the small amount of it we ever had). I sincerely think the world desperately needs it for us to survive. And I’m a wise guy. So, as for ordnance—the instruments of mass destruction at my disposal—all I got is wise ass humor, sweat equity, and an evil eye.
Photos by Tim Hans; Shepard Fairey, Robbie Conal and MearOne posters courtesy of Robbie Conal
For the second artist in our Tim Hans shoots… series, where photographer Tim Hans takes photo-portraits of street artists and we pair them with interviews with those artists, Tim met up with artist and designer Tristan Eaton.
Caroline: At what point were you like ‘screw art school’?
Tristan: I dropped out of SVA after my Junior year because I couldn’t afford to enroll again. At that point I had no choice but to say fuck you, I’m gonna do it on my own. I started doing illustration work and showing in galleries when I was 17, before I started college anyway, so I had an inflated sense of confidence. The next 4 years of broke life humbled me, but I never stopped learning and making art no matter how poor I was.
C: When you told relatives or family friends that you were a “toy designer” how did you explain what that meant?
T: That never happened. I never set out to do toy design, nor have I ever fully identified as one. By freak chance, I designed some toys for Fisher Price when i was 18, then later helped start Kidrobot and designed a lot of toys. But it was never my profession or my main focus. Any commercial work, toy design work etc., I’ve ever done has been a distraction or separate from my work as an artist. I’m an artist first, everything else is second.
C: There are some incredible painted/modified Dunny’s and Munny’s out there, but I’m curious if you’ve ever seen ones that were so bizarre or bad that you were like “don’t put my name with that”.
T: Of course! But that doesn’t matter. The fact that we’ve given people inspiration to be creative is the whole point. I’ve met accountants, mail men and even cops who paint Dunnies and Munnies. All of them didn’t see themselves as artists until they started customizing toys. That’s amazing to me. On the collector side, a lot of toy collectors graduate into collecting prints and paintings by many of the Dunny / Munny artists. It’s become an amazing platform for discovering artists and even launching careers in some cases.
C: If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could only have one of the following things, which would you choose between a sketchbook with a marker, 3 buckets of house paint, or a large amount of play-dough?
T: Sketchbook & marker!
C: How was it celebrating KidRobot’s 10th anniversary?
T: Awesome. My time at Kidrobot feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s amazing to see how far it’s come. I’m very proud of it’s legacy.
C: What are you working on now?
T: Right now I’m just working on paintings and mural work. I do a few commercial projects here and there to pay bills, but I’m really trying to get better as a painter! It’s hard, but it’s the most rewarding thing in my life.
This is the first in what will hopefully be a long series of a posts where Tim Hans photographs artists and someone at Vandalog interviews them. I’ve known Tim since we were in high school together and been a fan of his photography for nearly that entire time, so I’m excited that Tim will be sharing his work with the Vandalog community.
To start off this series, Tim met up with the Australian duo Dabs and Myla. I interviewed Dabs and Myla last summer as part of the research on the book that I’m working on, and I’m now publishing some highlights from that interview for the first time.
Dabs on getting into graffiti in Melbourne:
I grew up in Melbourne. I didn’t even venture that far off my own train line. I lived on a trainline called the Belgrave Line. I lived way out on the end of the line, so most of my time was spent traveling in and out of the city on that line. So I didn’t really see much other than my local graffiti. I didn’t have that much money for magazines and books either, I had a handful of magazines, which were mostly an Australian magazine called Hype, but I didn’t really look beyond Melbourne even into other parts of Australia other than those few mags. The only graffiti I was paying attention to was what I was seeing in Melbourne at the time and what had come before me.
Dabs’ early views on street art:
When street art really started to boom, I was really against it for some reason. Graffiti writers didn’t like putting the two things in the same category: Like a skateboarder and a rollerblader. When people started putting those two things together, skateboarders started hating rollerbladers. I think it was a similar thing with graffiti and street art. But over time I guess I got a bit more tolerant and a bit wiser to what it is. Now, I don’t really have a problem with street art! But I do think the two things need to be segregated more because they really are so different.
On why their work has found an audience:
Myla: I think what people say continuously is that it makes them feel happy when they see our work. I think that’s why people like it. It’s because everything we do is so positive.
Dabs: The most common thing we hear is, ‘I really like your work. It just fucking makes me smile.’ Even from the hardest dudes. It’s cool when anyone says they appreciate or like our work, if its like an old lady, a little kid or a middle-aged girl or whatever, but I love it when super-hard dudes say that. I get a kick out of it.
Dabs on working both indoors and outdoors:
The transition from a street-based artist or a graffiti writer to fine art is notoriously hard. It’s a really difficult thing for people to make that transition. So many people I know have found it hard. They are so far away from each other, and finding a way to make that transition other than just reproducing it onto a canvas can be a super bitch. For us, it was pretty easy I think because we always went at it on a completely different path. That was one of the reasons why we never painted characters on walls was because we where trying to keep our graffiti and illustrations separate from each other, and I remember about 4 years ago Rime said to me ‘Why wouldn’t you paint characters on walls? That’s stupid. That’s what your paintings are. Why wouldn’t you do that? It helps tie things to your paintings.’ Originally, when we started working together, our graffiti was our graffiti and our paintings were something different. Even though they are under the same name and made by the same people, it was like we were attacking them as different people, just with the same name. We tried to push the two away from each other, and eventually the roads have kind of worked back into each other. I’m happy for it to be like this though!