Graffiti Taxonomy by Evan Roth. Photo by Lisa Boughter.

As regular readers probably know, I recently curated an exhibition about the tools and strategies of graffiti for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College. ALL BIG LETTERS closed on Friday. The exhibition featured work from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Before ALL BIG LETTERS fades into our rear view, I wanted to highlight two more bits of press about the show.

First, I spoke with Brooklyn Street Art’s Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington for an interview on The Huffington Post. We spoke about curating an exhibition about graffiti for a general audience (and a gallery with an educational mission), the graffiti community’s skill at hacking tools and cityscapes, graffiti as a performance, and more.

And Very Nearly Almost published a short video from ALL BIG LETTERS:

Photo by Lisa Boughter

ALL BIG LETTERS Opens in Haverford, PA

Photo by Caleb Eckert

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, head out on to the burbs for ALL BIG LETTERS at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, probably my most ambitious curatorial project to date. The exhibition features specially-commissioned work from CURVE, FAUST, EKG, Egg Shell Stickers, and Evan Roth, plus contributions from dozens more artists and photographers.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

ALL BIG LETTERS investigates the tools and strategies of graffiti writers. My hope is that visitors can walk into the show with next to zero knowledge of graffiti, and leave with the ability to see a tag on the street and roughly understand how it came be there and why it looks the way it does. Was it made with spray or a marker or something else? Is the style something city-specific, like a wicked? Why did the writer choose that spot? How did they get there? How long did it take to paint? Curve’s installation in particular functions as both an artwork and a teaching tool. A similar thread runs throughout the exhibit, like in Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy series, which highlights 140 S’s from each many different tags, all written with a variety of different styles and tools.

Photo by Caleb Eckert

For people already immersed in the culture of writing, ALL BIG LETTERS is a different take than your typical graffiti group show. This is not tags or throw-ups on canvas. Rather, it’s a show for the graffiti nerds who understand that style is an important part of writing, but it is just one element, and it serves a particular purpose. A collection of homemade tools from MOMO, stikman, Fumakaka Crew, Biancoshock (yes, I know that a handful of the artists in the show fall more towards the street art spectrum, but I swear they fit in), plus commercial graffiti products, is paired with a series of photos by Martha Cooper of writers and street artists that highlight their tools.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

From a new diagram by EKG to photos by Luna Park and Steve Weinik (among others) to an investigation into the development of BLADE’s style over time to never-before-scene work by Adam VOID, ALL BIG LETTERS covers a lot of ground that is all-too-often ignored in more commercial settings, and I would like to think that it’s a pretty unique exhibition. On opening night, a handful of Philly writers all told me a similar story: I came out to support a friend in another group exhibition, but this is unlike any graffiti show I’ve ever seen.

So, if you want to see an exhibition about graffiti that’s truly different, an exhibition where the whole of graffiti is acknowledged (the repetition, the drive for fame, the performance, the risk, the competition, the hacking…), I hope you’ll stop by ALL BIG LETTERS. It’s open through March 3rd.

ALL BIG LETTERS is open at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery through March 3rd. Contributors include Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Learn more, and read essays related to the exhibition by RJ Rushmore and Carlo McCormick, here.

Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

Photos by Caleb Eckert and Kendall Whitehouse

ALL BIG LETTERS: Exhibiting graffiti tools and strategy

Philadelphia graffiti. Photo by Steve Weinik/@steveweinik.

On January 20th, I hope you’ll join me in Haverford, PA for ALL BIG LETTERS, an exhibition I’ve curated at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, just a few minutes outside of Philadelphia.

ALL BIG LETTERS includes art, photos, tools, and ephemera from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMONTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more.

Generally speaking, when galleries try to bring graffiti indoors, the focus is on style. Those shows portray graffiti writers as designers, illustrators, the new pop-artists and calligraphers… Headlines along the lines of “Can you believe what he does with a spray can? Now you can buy it on canvas!” still seem all too common. But style is just one component of graffiti. Or maybe the shows focus on writers who have gotten up a lot, trying to capitalize on their fame. Or, as in the case of someone like Barry McGee or Boris Tellegen, the art is (largely) removed from graffiti, a separate practice.

For ALL BIG LETTERS, I took a different approach. To write graffiti is, at its most pure, the performance of an illegal act; the performance is as important as the product. The best graffiti is also strategic. It relies on a combination of repetition, longevity, visibility, degree of difficulty, novelty, and style. ALL BIG LETTERS explores all of those strategies, and the tools writers use to realize them.

Because of the show’s angle and some deep digging over the last year, it’s full of surprises. New work from FAUST, Curve, NTEL, and EKG, never-before-seen photos of two Philadelphia graffiti legends at work (you’ll have to come to the show to find out who), homemade graffiti tools dating back as early as the 1960’s, and more.

ALL BIG LETTERS opens January 20th (4:30-7:30pm) at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Haverford, PA. The exhibition runs through March 3rd.

On a personal note, I worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery for just about my entire time as a student at Haverford College. It’s humbling to be invited back to exhibit at the space where I learned so much, and where we exhibited the work of so many amazing artists and curators (Hank Willis Thomas, Natasha Logan, the Dufala Brothers, Sam Durant, Pete Brook, Raymond Pettibon, Christine Sun Kim…). I can’t say thank you enough to everyone at Haverford for this opportunity.

Photo by Steve Weinik

From New Yawk City Walls to virtual reality

Concrete to Data

This weekend, a particularly forward-thinking yet historically mindful street and graffiti exhibition opens at Long Island University. CONCRETE To DATA, curated by Ryan Seslow, explores the history of street art and graffiti from golden age of NYC subway graffiti through to the emerging potential for digital public art in forms such as virtual reality environments and animated GIFs.

CONCRETE To DATA includes work by many Vandalog contributors and friends including Caroline Caldwell, Gaia, ekg, and Yoav Litvin. Seslow also included my book Viral Art and our collaborative project Encrypted Fills in the exhibition. On some level, CONCRETE To DATA feels like vindication and the physical manifestation of Viral Art, albeit through the eyes of another curator. Seslow and I both have a deep love for early street art and graffiti, as well as a belief that some contemporary digital art is created and disseminated in that same spirit.

In a fitting coincidence, the exhibition takes place at the Steinberg Museum of Art at Long Island University in Brookville, NY and will run during the 10-year anniversary of Tawkin’ New Yawk City Walls, an exhibition curated by John Fekner that took place in the same space in 2005. Tawkin’ New Yawk City Walls was actually conceptually similar to CONCRETE To DATA, not just another street art exhibition in the same space. Ahead of his time as always, Fekner included digital works in Tawkin’ New Yawk City Walls and arguably even hints at the possibility of viral art in the exhibition’s curatorial essay. A decade later and the world predicted in Tawkin’ New Yawk City Walls has come to fruition, and artists are creating new works for a new world, as seen in CONCRETE To DATA. In this way, Seslow provides an important and expansive update to his friend Fekner’s exhibition.

But CONCRETE to DATA is more than an exhibition to promote digital media as a route for contemporary street art and graffiti. It’s also an exhibition that attempts to capture, again much like Tawkin’ New Yawk City Walls, the most interesting elements of the contemporary streetscape in NYC and place those in a historical context alongside the best of previous generations. There’s work from Adam VOID, Swoon, Gaia, Fekner, Cash4, and many others. So, there are visuals to enjoy too.

Adam VOID's installation at CONCRETE to DATA
Adam VOID’s installation at CONCRETE to DATA

CONCRETE to DATA opens on Friday, February 6th from 6-9pm and runs through March 21st. Learn more here. I’ll be missing the opening because I’ll be at Sam Heimer‘s Why Are You Here?, opening that same night at LMNL Gallery in Philadelphia, but I’m really looking forwarding to checking out CONCRETE to DATA in person soon.

Photos by Ryan Seslow

From mark-making to video art with Adam Void, ekg and Swampy

AVOID pi, ekg and Swampy
Outdoor work by AVOID pi, ekg and Swampy

This month, Swampy and ekg both released quite unexpected video pieces on YouTube, and I happened see a relatively new piece by Adam Void aka AVOID pi for the first time (even though it was uploaded in June). What I find so interesting about these three artists making these videos is that all three come from a sort of alternative mark-making tradition that doesn’t fall neatly into street art, hip hop graffiti or that grey area in between street art and graffiti where artists paint logos instead of letters. Although Swampy, ekg and AVOID pi’s outdoor may at first glance appear to fit in with grey area, I think there’s something different about what these three are doing (as well as artists like DROID 907 or stikman) and what artists like Pez or ChrisRWK or members of the now-defunct Burning Candy crew do. There’s nothing wrong with Burning Candy or Pez or ChrisRWK, but this is different. With Swampy, AVOID pi and ekg, there’s a sense that they are drawing from a larger tradition of public mark-making like Situationist graffiti, zine culture, art theory and freight train monikers. And of course, all three have made zines.

These three new videos seem to have been influenced by zines rather than the endless stream of timelapse and interview videos that most street artists and graffiti writers either make themselves or contribute to. The rough cuts remind me of the collages in zines and if the videos were cut into a series of stills, they would seem right at home in a zine (or in ekg’s case, a flipbook/zine).

Even ekg’s video, the most “normal” of the bunch, is not your straight-up animation or timelapse. ekg’s video is a promotional video for his show at Pandemic Gallery (opening in about 1 hour) and a timelapse of sorts, but it still has a video art feel rather than the feel of a slick and perfectly produced promo video developed by someone in charge of PR for the show. And it fits somewhere between animation and timelapse, since it’s a timelapse of a massive artwork coming together, but it’s an animation in that the piece is never really in-progress in the way that a normal timelapse video clearly shows work “half-done” at some point. With ekg, the work is just progressing and each frame of the animation/timelapse could be considered a piece. The video is more an exploration of the format and an artwork than a promotional video for his show. Interestingly, Adam Void’s video has a similar shot to what ekg has done at about the 30-second mark.

Adam Void and Swampy’s videos are surprisingly similar: Both consisting of intentionally low-fi video-diary-like series of clips shot with handheld cameras. Yes, the videos show some graffiti, but they show a lot more than that too. These videos give context to the graffiti that the artists make. They give us a little bit more of a sense of their lives. It’s easy to say “Those guys write graffiti and make zines” and put them in a box, but videos like these complicate their perceived identities.

What is it about these artists that they have all turned to experimenting with video art after becoming known for a particular style of drawn, painted and printed work? Is it just a coincidence, or is there something about ekg, Swampy, Adam Void and possibly other artists doing similar things that draws them to video art? Are YouTube videos like these a logical transition from zines, graffiti or street art? I’m curious what people think. Let me know in the comments.

Photos by RJ Rushmore

Questioning ekg


Editor’s note: Today we have a guest post from Yoav Litvin, a photographer and documenter of street art and graffiti in NYC. I’m really excited for Yoav’s upcoming book which profiles 46 of New York City’s most prolific street artists. In the mean time, for more on Yoav you can follow him on Instagram or check out these interviews. – RJ Rushmore

Knowingly, but most likely unknowingly, ekg is a part of every New Yorker’s life. ekg’s iconic orange symbol can be found on any surface in almost any neighborhood throughout the boroughs. ekg recently presented alongside Rubin, Hellbent, See One and Col at “Spectrum: Abstraction Through Aerosol”, a group show at Gallery Brooklyn curated by Royce Bannon. Luckily, I was able to catch up with ekg and ask some questions.

Yoav: What does the EKG symbol mean to you?

ekg: it is an illegal aesthetic manifestation first and foremost, but also contains other layers as a poetic symbol packed with a plurality of meanings: manifestations, transmissions, heartbeats, apparitions, illuminations, emanations, palpitations, resonance, signals, chimeras, missives, wraiths, pulses, blips…

i actually started doing it on the street before i was sure what to call it. at first i was thinking about it as a metaphor for visual communication on the streets, about the idea of a signal, a communicative mark, a transmission, a blip on The System’s radar, embedding Coordinates of Dissension in the matrix, occupying mental and physical space, connecting people and creating community on an alternative anti-status quo wavelength of rebellion and revolution. but when a friend hash tagged it “ekg” on her feed, it struck me that it gave the symbol another layer of meaning that was more personal and emotional. something people could connect to because it’s just a simple sign spread across the city becoming in essence a vast visual representation of the heartbeat of the city, a voice of the people, a pulse of the populace.

the following paragraph is the most precise statement i have crafted so far about illegal public marks, so i want to throw it in here. it is the intro to an essay that was published on graffuturism.com:

illegal aesthetic manifestations create connection, communication and community as they splice, transmit and mutate through the aetherial circulatory system ad infinitum. go all-city, all-universe, all-time-and-space. bomb the semiotosphere! revel in the power of the tag, the human mark, the identity avatar, the monitored action, the new millennium painterly gesture. david flinging pebbles at goliath.

it’s important to have rebellious signs present in the semiotosphere for the future of our urban environments, otherwise everything is perceived as under control, free of dissent, sedated. quantity and dispersion are crucial for the power of a tag, so I’m just constantly walking for days at a time. at one point, i started feeling like johnny appleseed sprinkling tags all over the place like seeds, hoping they take root and grow (attract other tags) not only in their physical spots but also in the consciousness of those that see them. tags are small but powerful in quantity. so if people actually notice, they start wondering what it means. especially if it’s just a simple symbol, it retains some mystery. what does it mean? why is it so important to this person to do all this work to make a public visual statement with it? any illegal public mark is an anti-status quo irruption, which is always appreciated, but if you do it enough, it can become an insurrection. One symbol can become an army. One word a manifesto.


Yoav: When, where and why did you start getting up?

ekg: i grew up in nyc surrounded by graff. i tagged in high school like any other rebellious artist kid just for fun and attention. but i wasn’t really cut out for it at that time due to being a somewhat reclusive introverted anxious paranoid high-strung personality type. but after gaining more life experience, becoming more comfortable in the world, and exploring some other forms of art, i returned to it in 2003 after i watched the twentieth anniversary release of Style Wars. seeing all the interviews with my heroes all grown up and just living their lives, took some of the mythological gauze off my eyes, and i realized that i could do it too at this point. this time i’ve become obsessed and driven by the movement becoming committed to it as the most powerful means of expression at the turn of the twenty-first century.


Yoav: How does your work interact with the diverse setting that is New York City? How does it feel tagging in other locales?

ekg: for me, going all-city is a crucial aesthetic element of being a graffiti writer or street artist. if someone sees your tag in every neighborhood, the geographic expansiveness creates a sense of omnipresence that is crucial to the power of the mark. going all-city could also be read as making the statement that you are all inclusive, not just trying to reach one kind of person or audience. going to different neighborhoods and cities is also just part of the fun. surfaces can be very different from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city. since i don’t do any kind of public speaking or interviews, i feel like it’s one of my ways of connecting and communicating. although, i have also gotten pretty obsessed with instagram lately too lol.


Yoav: Your tag is all over! How do you decide where to tag?

ekg: placement is crucial. because the pulse is so simple, an important part of the aesthetic is to paint it somewhere so it fits with the spot. i started out doing the pulse very low at first just because those spots are always free. but the more I did them the more i liked the placement as a metaphor for “downlow” or “underground,” which is what i consider this whole movement to be about: an anti-status quo collective of individuals who en masse speak for the alternative-minded citizens of a city. also another important aesthetic element is that the transmission lines which extend out on the left and right of the pulse imply continuation ad infinitum, hopefully giving the impression that they all connect together across the urban environment.


Yoav: What inspires you?

ekg: friends, family, graffiti, street art, heavy metal, punk, science, semiotics, philosophy, sit-coms, sci-fi, technical manuals, text books, laboratory experiments, comic books, abstract expressionism, experimental writing, visual poetry, clean simple foods, swimming. also see my fav artist list below.


Yoav: How does it feel to present your work in a gallery? What were some of the challenges you faced? Any thoughts about the movement of street art and graffiti into galleries?

ekg: street has become the heart and pulse of what I do. when looked at from that vantage point, the gallery becomes merely a place for embellishment. but a gallery does offer a different kind of space for reflection and depth if used to it’s advantages. otherwise, it just becomes a store to sell product, which is important too for making a living, but a gallery can be so much more, an experience, a library, a museum. as i refine theoretical ideas about key causes, impetuses and effects of graffiti and street art, i am starting to think about different ways to apply the ideas to a gallery exhibition, rather than just hanging paintings. what are the algorithms behind the creation of graffiti? what are the core truths within the machinations of art placed on the street? how they can they be expressed in a white box environment?


Yoav: Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

ekg: in every community there are sub-cultures of like-minds that band together over ideals, protocols and procedures. in the late sixties, “graffiti” kicked it all off; in the late seventies, “street art” tried to be all inclusive. but for a lot of writers it was seen as gentrification and piggybacking, so for many people the two remain exclusive. yet there are more and more crossover artists and hybridizations as time goes on. i don’t do letterforms and have no style, so that falls into the street art category. but then i mainly operate like a graffiti writer because i like to tag and spray paint more than do wheat paste or stickers. maybe there will be another term someday that can sum up the whole movement while leaving the subcultures in tact and unoffended.


Yoav: Do you have a formal art education?

ekg: i was a terrible high school student. always distracted, drawing, and running around the city or just depressed and hiding out. but then did well in college. i first studied writing and literature, then painting and cartooning. i have taken a random class here and there after college, but tend to challenge myself a lot anyway without the need for outside impetus. silly things like setting a 2-hour time limit to read gary panter’s jimbo in purgatory a second time. but also just in my own expectations in terms of the depth and originality i would like to achieve in my body of work over the years. i probably would’ve loved to be a teacher of some sort, but due to pathological stage fright, i just didn’t see it as an option. unless i wanted to feel like i was being ambushed and tortured everyday.


Yoav: Any favorite artists?

ekg: futura, rammellzee, phase2, ee cummings, aesop rock, david lynch, gary panter, mark beyer, arshile gorky, matta, de kooning, basquiat, joel-peter witkin, jean baudrillard, tony oursler, harmony korine, harvey kurtzman, art spiegelman, david foster wallace, howard finster, melvin milky way, adolf wolfli, 907 crew, matt siren, cash4, aa crew, krt crew, ngc crew, lava 1&2, amrl, lsd-om, riff170, comet, blade, rime, os gemeos, faust, raven, sonik, freedom, zephyr, ket, ghost, noxer, espo, twist, reas, neckface, smart crew, btm crew, dick mama, choice royce, el celso, abe lincoln jr, skewville, overunder, michael alan alien, cosby, wisher, krasty, tonetank, poesia, mare139, part2, jurne, gorey, pal crew, sen4, zaone, hound, club clout, decoy, ur, stor, chef pants, atak, hert, snoeman, enrico letter, and so many more…


Yoav: How do you see your role as a street artist within society?

ekg: basically, i just want to continue to consistently do work on the streets and spread the word. i’m just another responsible citizen performing my role and doing my duty. the transgression of illegal aesthetic manifestations is a kind of civil disobedience, not just a misdiagnosed adolescent megalomania. we all don’t communicate in the same ways from individual to individual, but also from generation to generation. obviously this is the way we are wired in this day and age, or else it wouldn’t be the biggest movement at the turn of the new millennium.


Photos by Yoav Litvin

Parallel interviews with Droid 907 and Stikman

Stikman. Photo by Stikman.

Stikman and Droid: On the Importance of Illegality in Their Work, an introduction by ekg

a few weeks ago, i was asked by RJ to do an interview with Stikman, which would be published on Vandalog during the month of august, 2013. first and foremost, i was thrilled to be interviewing Stikman, a long-time friend, and longer-time Street Art hero of mine. of secondary interest, over the past year, i’ve been working on an epic essay called Anti-Legal Art: On the Importance of Illegal Aesthetic Manifestations in the Twenty-First Century, so i thought this might be a good opportunity to collect some first-hand data on that topic from one of the lifetime-dedicated, constantly up and consistently innovative street artists today. no matter what else is going on, he is always up with new series and new materials, which has cemented in my mind his dedication to the medium, embodied in his consistent efforts for the past twenty plus years to disseminate his sign, spread the word, and challenge the law.

with a weird subtle quiet alien language, Stikman has been leaving a cosmic trail of lo-res multimedia crumbs throughout the urban semiotosphere for us to discover and decipher. his main icon is an alien form rendered with primitive materials in an infinity of mutations and environments. in a sense, Stikman operates much like a tagger in terms of his obsession with constantly being up, the wide dissemination of his mark, and the large quantity of his small-to-tiny pieces. but instead of markers and spray paint, Stikman utilizes alternative materials to disseminate his character, such as wood, metal, glass, and other sculptural elements recovered from the trash, as well as wheat pastes, printed and hand-made stickers, computer-manipulated mutations in all mediums, photographic and illustration fictional environments, and other interesting series as well. unlike a graffiti writer, Stikman does not utilize letterforms, but his primitive alien could be defined as a “character,” which quickly became an important element in the writer’s palette during the seventies as the movement grew in size and diversity of talents.

more often than not Stikman chooses small humble spots for his offspring: the alcove of a steel girder; floating almost unnoticeable in the middle of a peeling sticker mess; forgotten rusty metal boxes; underneath staircases in the dark; inside a missing-brick nook; yet all right under our noses in highly congested urban display hubs. sometimes as large as life, but more often as an invasion of miniatures, totemic and other worldly, charismatic and resonant, significant. does the primitive expression of a futuristic character inspire paradoxical feelings of nostalgia for a simpler earth bound time but at the same time create a yearning for an alien saviour to save us from ourselves? or does it emote a sensation of elation as in the moments of a visionary scientific discovery through alien contact? or is it simply a sign that encapsulates a relief that the alien isn’t a member of the slimy bloodthirsty hordes like a majority of our movies promote as the dominant dystopic mythology? whatever theoretical narrative can be applied to our attraction to these graphic alien insurgents, they have landed, been building underground support, attracting a large vocal segment of our population that is excited about it.

in my recent paris travelogue, i wrote that i feel like Johnny Appleseed as i disseminate marks. this concept of a writer or street artist sprinkling tags or stickers around a city like the iconic Johnny Appleseed flinging his seeds from his sack in an anarchistic, unsanctioned trail behind him across the rural landscape, first occurred to me during a conversation about Stikman’s series of municipal street adhesives. he literally walks around dropping those thick adhesive aliens onto the asphalt in crossing walks and parking spots as if it was a fertile bed of dirt in which his alien flowers will pollinate, mutate and grow, due to the constant motion and weight of traffic passing over them. like a twenty-first century Johnny Appleseed, Stikman releases his beings into cultural consciousness on the anarchistic and rebellious broadcast channel of Street Art; and yet still transmits a quiet message of poetic transgression, positive cultural mutation, and personal vision, a calm voice of beauty and reason in the aetherial semiotosphere, a contrasting environment of hyper texts and semiotic wars, missives and missiles, data patterns and pigment irruption, agents of the matrix and guerrilla aesthetic actions.

Droid and Amanda Wong. Photo by Amanda Wong.
Droid 907 and Amanda Wong in the Catskills. Photo by Amanda Wong.

in the past couple years, i have also been in contact with Droid 907, a graffiti writer who continues to blow me away as he expands his repertoire, exploring a wide-range of hardcore graffiti tools; collaborating constantly with other artists and crews on missions, painting  larger and larger outdoor pieces while developing unique roller letterforms, as either clean-and-bright two-tone pieces, or wacky and crude expressionistic letterforms; expanding his already-wide geographic perimeter through a network of bike maniacs, van nomads and freight hoppers, poetry in motion, all dedicated to an off-the-grid DIY lifestyle making music and art, publishing zines and encrypted web pages, curating shows and running galleries, while also managing exposure on the internet through a network of friends, fans, and a sympathetic media community.

in the previously mentioned paris travelogue, i was snarky at one point about the overuse and meaninglessness of the term “Punk” forty years after it’s inception; but here i am just a week later reading statements by and looking at photos of Droid’s work, which have, in total for me (including other interactions with him over the past three years), imbued the term once again with its original anti-status quo meaning, a symbolic power derived from IRL transgressive action, off-the-grid DIY work ethic and alternative lifestyle, and blunt radical political statements. to sum up: Droid gives Punk meaning again. this may even be a sign of something else brewing, the crest of some building resonance, the immediate unseen and unrecognized now pregnant with singularity and tumescence, rearing itself up from a minority to a majority, no longer a whisper but a shout. from a third-person vantage point, reading the accruing signs, Droid’s memoires and photo essays, as well as his friend’s zines and other media, such as Avoid’s Vagrant Space website and the novel Train To Pokipse by Rami Shamir, are a bold collective attempt at creating a transom-window visionary-view statement about the growing youth underground in America that in another ten years, as the chasm between rich and poor continues to grow unacceptably wider and future opportunities are proactively hoarded by the one percent, may well become the angry fist of a job-less, cash-less, CPU-less, homeless, transient mass culture with no where to go but off-the-grid onto unregulated topology, creating a new kind of culture that will not be based in anaesthetization in front of a computer screen or by an American Dream that is unattainable for 99% of the population.

so, having Droid on my mind while i was thinking about what to ask Stikman, i was struck by how differently these two artists express themselves with their work on the street, and wondered how two such distinct personalities ended up choosing the same illegal alternative channel to broadcast their message. Graffiti and Street Art can be defined abstractly as a channel, a broadcast media, an alternative wavelength that also imbues the signs transmitted through it with an aura of rebellion under a Halo of Illegality. therefore, since the Medium is the Mess, this particular media manifests an inherently anti-status quo, anarchistic and revolutionary signal and sign. this added layer of outlaw semiotic definition is embedded in the remnants of the art on the street and in the photographs of the art on the internet by the indications of the transgressive action that took place in the placement of the symbols illegally on an unsanctioned display surface. this is the heart of art placed on the streets, the human pulse of the populace, the urge to take back our surveillance reality, re-manifest ourselves through coordinates of insurrection, and visual civil disobedience.

the Illegality of graffiti and street art is a crucial formal aesthetic category at the root of the movement’s cultural power, strategic operations, aesthetic forms and choice of materials. the choices an artist makes from this selection of options defines their personal vocabulary with which they symbolically define themselves and express their message. etch tags or wheat paste? spray paint or rollers? fame spots or cutty hideaways? freights or walls? quantity or detail? stickers or extinguishers? construction sites or high end retail? some materials are contentious, but can be offset by other elements in play. each makes a statement about the artist, their temperament, their strengths and their intentions. so why and how do artists as different as Stikman and Droid express themselves on the same illegal broadcast channel?

Stikman. Photo by Stikman.
Stikman. Photo by Stikman.

i sent Stikman and Droid the same twenty questions, each consisting of three-to-four more increasingly specific sub-questions on a similar theme; so in essence i sent them about sixty questions total. as i was crafting them, i did not really think about how much i was asking of them, so i want to emphasize that i appreciate their time and effort. it meant a lot to me that they wrote so much detailed, thoughtful and inspiring text. as well as RJ for the suggestion to combine the answers underneath each question. i’m sure it took a lot of time to format, and was well appreciated. thank you.

i’d also like to mention that both Stikman and Droid expressed mutual admiration for each other’s work when i first raised the idea to them. if forced to make this kind of comparison, each of them fall onto opposite ends of the Graffiti and Street Art spectrum, but, at the same time, because of their unique aesthetic paths, they are also outsiders within their designated categories. so mutual awareness makes sense: in the presence of Art, categories collapse and unique minds recognize each other. for instance, when it comes to street operations, Stikman is basically a solo agent on the streets and a ghost on the internet with no self-directed presence except through fan photography and gallery representation; where as droid is constantly painting with different partners, as well as utilizing methods to stay off the grid that involve multiple subcultural supports and many layers of socially-engineered encryption when utilizing the internet. for Stikman, who is celebrated more often in Street Art contexts, he is still a complete enigma in that subculture, because of his refusal to show his face in public or do legal walls, even during his own solo shows; similarly, Droid could be considered a Graffiti outsider from a traditionalist’s viewpoint because of his dedication to the raw power of rollers, an underground comix aerosol aesthetic, and a strong political voice in a movement that usually counts on the aesthetic transgressions to speak for themselves.

important to note is that any truly singular voices, such as Stikman’s or Droid’s, frequently are quarantined in a marginalized cultural space until enough mass-market interest makes it economically feasible for the mass media to broadcast it; but on the other hand, this gives culture-at-large some time to assimilate difficult artist’s visions from the ground up. ironically, this is usually due to a significant portion of the mass population already being altered by, or at least familiar with the artist’s message through the artist’s personal subcultural osmotic-homeopathic resonance which eventually vibrates up to the mass cultural level. an attempt at a flow chart illustrating such relationships between artist’s fame and cultural demand would be fascinating: it is impossible to hold back a resonant aesthetic form when it speaks using the pertinent vocabulary of an era. due to their own particular aesthetic voices, or simply because of their utilization of and dedication to the Graffiti and Street Art broadcast mediums, Stikman and Droid may be recognized as artists historically at ground zero, relevant to cultural discourse, symbolic expressions of a time period, ideal examples of new technologies manifesting aesthetic forms, visual metaphors that summarize the feelings of the majority of the populace, but above and beyond all that: i see Stikman and Droid at their cores as enduring flames in a flat-lining world.

Droid 907 and Wolftits in Boston. Photo by Danika2
Droid 907 and Wolftits in Boston. Photo by Danika2.

egk: when and where did you first get up?

Stikman: When I was 15, I wrote my name in black paint with a paintbrush all over town like everyone else I grew up with. It was in an older inner ring suburb of a large city in the Northeast US.

Droid 907: the first writer i got up with was DESIGN NFO from brooklyn in the mid 90’s. i was broke and new to the city. the subway was still free and one could venture all over town with no money. he put me down on $35 ounce weed spots in harlem, basically showing me how to make a buck and keep my head above water. he’d write his name whenever he felt like it, regardless of who was around, and pass the marker or can to me and expect me to do the same. it was a different time in new york city for sure. i wrote a different name then and met a number of city kids who all wrote tags. i kept scrawling and scribbling for a few years, as more of an aimless act than one with a mission or purpose. it was more like graffiti found me and it took me awhile to understand it. it wasn’t until 2003 that i did my first roller with FIYAH EMP that i got deeper into the organism.

Continue reading “Parallel interviews with Droid 907 and Stikman”

L’Imagination Prend Le Pouvoir!


Editor’s note: I am so glad to publish this essay by the prolific ekg. This piece of writing explores some of ekg’s ideas about street art and graffiti while chronicling his time getting up in Paris earlier this year. ekg’s work may at first appear to be quite simple, but upon closer inspection it’s clear that there’s a lot going on behind his tag. Hopefully this essay provides a bit of insight the mind of ekg. – RJ Rushmore

L’Imagination Prend Le Pouvoir! (Imagination Usurps Power!), or what i was thinking while getting up in Paris for three weeks.

by ekg


the above Situationist slogan was one of many revolutionary statements painted across the walls of Paris during the 1968 youth rebellion. the idea that imagination is revolutionary was a revelation to me. the inner personal vision becomes political; the political becomes fantastical. this internal reversal stokes passion and inspires external action, resulting in even more commitment to the illegal public mark, the residue and resonance of such revolutionary aesthetic actions. beautifully symmetrical in equivalency and explosive force, external actions that initiate change become a reflection of the internal universal. at this point in the grand evolution of our species, having created an electronic topological reality of coordinates, data, and patterns, Graffiti and Street Art are the uncontrolled voice, the instinctual blurt, the collective convulsive id of the cultural unconscious, a channel for aggressive alternative frequencies, the visually vociferous, ghost images of mutated mass-media, writhing wraiths of the imagination, irruptions into the matrix. in terms of these ideals, Paris is still a city vibrating with aesthetic rebellion and living up to its past as a hot bed of experimentation, philosophy and art, especially, graffiti and street art.


while in Paris, i was on an all-city broadcast mission: solo guerrilla visual communication and direct neurological connection with the local populace, utilizing the physicality of the materials, tools, methods, and operations of Graffiti and Street Art to transmit illegal aesthetic manifestations. i had also visited a bunch of other cities over this past year, where i would simply walk and tag for eight-to-twelve hours a day until i would leave the city one-to-three weeks later. walking so much, just looking for the next spot, is mesmerizing, as distinguished from meditative, relaxed or unconscious, other descriptions i have read describing the experience of tagging. personally, i become energized and elevated, turned on and tuned in, an activated semiotic transmission tower, relay station, radar, satellite: during the day, one develops a heightened awareness of the empty spaces, the bubbles of silence, between the flow of people and traffic, finding that subtle spot of invisibility within the rhythm designated by the metronome of the traffic and pedestrian light system; whereas at night it is the opposite, turning up the antennae to eleven, hyper-aware of a single particular movement or noise, the glare of headlights, the rhythmic approach of pedestrian shoes, just one noise or movement. Lab Note: a look-out check list for any time of day: 1. pedestrians 2. cars (parked and moving) 3. police 4. surveillance cameras 5. windows (including second floors). as Rusk once said to me: Stay paranoid, stay safe.

Continue reading “L’Imagination Prend Le Pouvoir!”

Sunday link-o-rama

Jaz, drawing entirely with charcoal.
Jaz, drawing entirely with charcoal in Buenos Aires.

Had a quick holiday in New York City combined with a nasty cold to delay posting this link-o-rama, but I’m back so here we go…

  • Dave aka nolionsinengland has been a friend and also one of my favorite street art/graffiti photographers for many years now. I’m very excited to see that he’s now offering street art tours of London in addition to his street art photography workshops. There aren’t too many people who can take me on a graffiti or street art tour of London, but Dave has shown me around before and he still schools me every time we meet up. This guy knows his stuff, and regular reads of this site have seen his photos on here for years. I haven’t taken this tour of course, but from every experience I’ve had with Dave over the past 5 or so years, I cannot recommend him highly enough.
  • Another longtime friend whose work I’ve admired is Know Hope, so I’m overjoyed to see him getting some serious recognition in the UK with a solo show coming up at Lazarides Gallery’s Rathbone Place location. Like Os Gemeos, Know Hope make work that grabs me and sucks me in to his world, and that’s a rare and beautiful experience. The show opens August 2nd.
  • Banksy’s No Ball Games street piece in London has been removed from the wall and is due to be sold next year. The profits from the sale will be going to charity, but I’m curious if that means the profits for person who owns the wall, or if the group organizing the removal and sale are also forgoing any profits. The company that removed this wall is the same one that managed the sale of Banksy’s Slave Labour street piece earlier this year.
  • Very nice NSA-theme ad takeover.
  • Gold Peg and Malarky are showing together in Stoke on Trent in the UK on August 3rd. It’s not often that Gold Peg shows her work indoors, so this is a really special treat.
  • Faile are on the cover of the latest issue of Very Nearly Almost, so there will be launch events in both NYC and London. The NYC launch is July 31st at Reed Projects and the London launch will be 8th August at Lazarides.
  • This year’s Living Walls conference/festival line up has been announced. The festival (my personal favorite in the USA) will be August 14th-18th in Atlanta. Caroline and I will be there, as well Steve and Jaime of Brooklyn Street Art. I highly encourage you to make the trip out if at all possible. Artist painting this year include Jaz, Inti, Know Hope, Freddy Sam, Trek Matthews and many more. More info about the conference (including all the things planned besides the murals) here. Also, you can donate to the conference here.
  • Remi/Rough recently put together a book of sketches that you can read online. Most artists who have met me know that I’m always carrying around a blackbook, and that I love to collect sketches, so this project of Remi’s was a real joy for me. It’s really fascinating to see what’s going on behind the scenes with this work.
  • Caroline and I went to this show in Brooklyn on Saturday night. I was really impressed with EKG’s drawings. A few of them definitely reminded me of Rammellzee. Col’s screenprints on wood were also interesting as a change of pace for someone who I’ve always known as a master with spray can.
  • Have I missed something? These new Titifreak works for his upcoming show at Black Book Gallery look very different from the Titifreak I remember. Still great though. I hope I get a chance to see this show while I’m in Denver next month.
  • Surreal awesomeness from Dome.

Photo by Jaz

Weekend link-o-rama

Nemo in London
Nemo in London

Happy weekend. Are you on the east coast of the USA? If so, are you melting?

Photo by Unusualimage