The Underbelly Project: Art underground and what I saw

This summer, I sat in a massive pitch-black room and muttered “Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit…” over and over again. I couldn’t stop repeating “Holy shit” for maybe for five minutes. I’d been anticipating this moment for nearly a year. I was somewhere underneath New York City. I was waiting to be shown The Underbelly Project. Technically, I was there to take photos, but really I didn’t care at all if images came out or not. Really, I just wanted to see firsthand what was going on 4-stories below the streets of New York City.

Revok and Ceaze. That light comes from the lights that were set up temporarily for an artist who was painting that night.

Imagine Cans Festival, FAME Festival or Primary Flight: Some of street art and graffiti’s best artists all painting one spot. That’s kind of like The Underbelly Project. Except that The Underbelly Project took place in complete secrecy, in a mysterious location and without any authorization. Over the past year, The Underbelly Project has brought more than 100 artists to an abandoned and half-finished New York City subway station. Each artist was given one night to paint something.

Know Hope had this entire room to himself. What was this room meant to be? An elevator shaft? An office? I have no idea.

Workhorse and PAC, the project’s organizers, have put countless hours into their ghost subway station, and now they’re finally ready to unveil it to the world, sort of (more on that later). So I guess that’s why I was in that dark room, sitting in silence, waiting for them to give me a flashlight. I’m still not sure why I’d been extended the invitation to see the station firsthand, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. The Underbelly Project is going to be part of street art history.

Surge, Stormie Mills, Remi/Rough and Gaia

Eventually, Workhorse and PAC came over to where I was sitting and lent me a flashlight. I stood up, already coated in dust and probably dirtier than I’ve ever been, and got a full tour of the station. I’m not somebody who is good at estimating the size of a space, but The Underbelly Project took place in a space that was meant to be a subway station, so I guess it was the size of a subway station with a few tracks. The station is like a concrete cavern: random holes who-knows how deep into the ground, dust thick like a layer of dirt, leaky ceilings and hidden rooms. Except the whole station is covered in art. Think of FAME Festival’s abandoned monastery transplanted to beneath New York City. I’m not an urban explorer, so I had no idea that there are abandoned subway stations throughout New York, but The Underbelly Project seems like just about the best possible use of one.

Of course, having been down there myself, I’m going to be prone to hyperbole. Even at it’s simplest, even if The Underbelly Project is “just another mural project,” it’s a story that the artists can tell for years, and it may even be evidence that street art isn’t so far gone and corporate as some people have suggested.

Swoon and Imminent Disaster. Disaster's piece is stunning beyond belief and fits the space so perfectly.

The list of artists who painted for The Underbelly Project goes on and on, but here are just a few:



Know Hope



Dan Witz

Jeff Soto


Mark Jenkins



Mark Jenkins and Con. This is at the end of a long and dark tunnel that, at the time, was not otherwise painted.

On my visit, The Underbelly Project wasn’t finished. In fact, somebody was painting there that night. Nonetheless, the space was already substantially painted and postered. I spent that night wandering around the tunnels, taking photos and getting lost (and also scared – Damn you Mark Jenkins! You can’t put a sculpture like that at the end of a darkened hall. I thought it was a person!).


And what now? The walls have all been painted and the artists have moved on to new projects. When the last artist finished painting the last wall, Workhorse and PAC made access to The Underbelly Project nearly impossible by removing the entrance. Even if any of us wanted to go back (and I do), even if we could remember how to get there (and I don’t), we can’t. Nobody can. For now, The Underbelly Project has become a time capsule of street art, somewhere in the depths of New York City.


Brad Downey once explained to me why he thought Damien Hirst’s diamond skull is interesting. It had something to do with what people would think of the skull in 1000 years, when its original meaning has been lost to time. That’s when the skull is going to become a true icon and object with immense power. In some ways, The Underbelly Project is like Hirst’s skull, without the price tag. One day, decades from now hopefully, somebody may rediscover that old subway station and have no idea what they’re looking at. Hopefully, they’ll just feel that it’s something incredibly special.

Dan Witz. This was the first time I'd seen his street art in person. It's the perfect setting for Dan's Dark Doings series.

Here are some more images from The Underbelly Project, and expect more over the coming days on Vandalog and around the blogosphere… Or you can pay £1 to read an in-depth article about it in today’s Sunday Times.

Stash (well, part of his piece). This is another room like Know Hope's area.
Swoon and Lister
L'Atlas, Mr Di Maggio, 1010, Paper Twins, Bigfoot, Control/Jice. Photo by Workhorse
Faile. Photo by PAC
Skewville, PAC, SheOne, Revok/Ceaze. Photo by PAC

Photos by RJ Rushmore, Workhorse and PAC

Dozens of artists in Beacon, NY for Electric Windows

Last weekend, residents of Beacon, NY were treated to live painting by a couple of dozen artists, including some of street art’s finest. The artists were their for Electric Windows. Steph mentioned the event last month, but here’s the short version: artists paint panels which then go on display in the windows of a former electric blanket factory. An interesting idea, but I still think the best part of this event was the chance for members of the public to wait such talented artists work. Papermonster has over 100 photos from Electric Windows on his blog. Here are some of my favorite pieces from the event:

Chris Stain, one of a few artists at the event who worked directly on walls
Ron English

Photos by Papermonster’s friend Ren, except Elbowt-toe’s piece which was photographed by the artist

Vandalog Interviews – Elbow-Toe/Brian Adam Douglas (Part 2)

Photo by Luna Park

Earlier this week we gave you the first installment of our two part interview with world renowned street artist Elbow-Toe/Brian Adam Douglas. You can read Part 1 here. You’ll be pleased to know that the wait is finally over folks, so without further ado here is Part 2! Enjoy!

Portrait of Isaac, Mike Snelle of Black Rat Projects' son

In my opinion your art work best suites the dirty brick walls and cracking pavements, simply because they seem to breathe life into the otherwise deteriorating side streets. How have you found the experience of putting your art work into modern galleries etc. Do you think your art work creates the same effect that it has out on the streets?

I believe it is a different effect entirely, and I wholly embrace it. I like being able to really play the game of making an interesting composition and crafting a piece of artwork that is intended to stand the test of time.  I am really excited about my solo shows this year because I feel very strongly that my gallery work has achieved a very unique voice.

I am quite certain that it does not create the same effect it has on the streets, because it is operating in a very controlled environment. What I like about splitting my processes is that each process is enriched by it’s difference.

Photo by Sabeth718

What does the term “Street Art” mean to you?

It means big public works. It means small intimate stickers. It means tags, sculptures, marks. It means an attack against corporate identity by making yourself into a corporate identity. It means a very public, interactive art form that has really come of age at the dawn of social networking. It means visual artists elevated to rock god status. It means community. But mostly to me it means a way to change my environment if even only briefly.

Portrait of RJ

Do you find being able to produce work in the comfort of your own studio as a welcome break from the risks you take putting work up on the street, or do you prefer the adrenaline that street work provides?

I am not sure I would say it is a welcome break. As I am preparing for my show, instead of the short-lived adrenaline rush, I must deal with the months-long stress of postulating whether I can achieve all that I want in the pieces I am working on. I find myself often waking up at 5 in the morning, having gotten to bed at 1am or 2am, thinking about all I need to do.

I definitely have moments where I wish I had the free time to make street works right now. But I am just filling up sketchbooks with ideas of things to execute once my schedule opens up.

What is the key to keeping your work fresh and not getting mentally/physically burnt out by what you do?

I do my best to keep the ideas I am working with at arms length, so that I let my unconscious have as much free reign with the imagery as it can. Once I am in the process of executing the work, actually applying charcoal to surface,  it becomes my job to infuse as much life into every object that I include in my pieces. Since I only use my photo reference as reference, as opposed to making “photo realistic work”, I am constantly solving problems visually and it really keeps me on my toes. In general, my favorite moments on any of the works of art, are the moment that I start the process and the moments leading up to the finish. Everything in between is work.

In terms of keeping from burning out physically, I exercise quite a bit. I also meditate and work with an Alexander specialist, to prevent any repetitive stress disorders.

And finally, what does the future hold for Elbow-Toe? In regards to your work, new projects and any other personal aspirations you have in life. Is there anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?

I would very much like to be able to make more time – at this point any time – to introduce a steady street art practice back into my schedule. I am very vested in the collage work, and now that I am making quasi-narrative images, I feel like I have quite a bit of artistic space I would like to explore.  Fortunately I have a great opportunity to explore that right now with a solo show at The Warrington Museum of Art in December and a solo show at Black Rat Projects in March.

On other fronts I am extremely excited to be in the early phases of a book to be published by Drago, which will be coming out down the road.

I have a horrible addiction to plants so I am constantly building up my garden, and I am hoping to become a beekeeper next year with a hive on my roof, if the tests come back negative in allergies to bees.

Lastly I would love to give a shout out to my wife of going on 10 years, the wonderful folks at Black Rat Projects for their endless support and encouragement, and all the usual suspects in the New York Street Art Scene.

Be sure to check out more from Elbow-Toe by visiting his official website here

Photos by Elbow-toe, Luna Park and Sabeth718

Definitely go see: Shred at Perry Rubenstein Gallery


Among the street and low-brow art communities, the Shred show on now at Perry Rubenstein Gallery is probably the most-talked-about exhibition currently on in New York. Shred is a show of collaged-based artwork which has been curated by Carlo McCormick. While Shred is by no means intended as a show about “street artists,” there are works by a number of street artists hanging alongside classic collage artists like Gee Vaucher. Perry Rubenstein Gallery is a major New York City gallery, and to my knowledge, this is the first time they have exhibited work in their gallery by the current generation of street artists (although there is a Faile solo show at the gallery later this year).

Gee Vaucher

After speaking with a few people about this show, but not yet having seen it in the flesh myself, I was disappointed. Most of the people that I spoke with were of the general opinion that although the show might have one or two solid pieces, it wasn’t really worth stopping by and it was generally not as good as anyone had expected. Luckily, I didn’t listen to those friends and stopped by the gallery anyway while I was recently in New York. I can’t figure out what people were complaining about. The show has plenty of solid pieces along with some of the best work I have seen from Judith Supine and Shepard Fairey.

This piece by Judith Supine is one of my favorites that he has ever done (I always seem to say that when I see his work in the flesh, but he just keeps getting better). Unfortunately, this photo just doesn’t do the work justice. The varnish that Supine often coats his paintings with has been lapped on extra thick and reflective here and the green specks throughout the piece are actually fake nails embedded into the varnish. I’ve heard complaints that the work is too reflective, but I have to disagree. Besides, most any frame that the work’s owner might put on the piece would be reflective as well unless they decided to spend extra money on non-reflective glass. New Yorkers really need to go see this one in person. It’s a real beauty.

Judith Supine

And Shepard Fairey’s piece is a retired stencil; in fact, it’s one of the best retired stencils I’ve seen from Fairey.

Shepard Fairey

Shred marks the start of something new for Brian Adam Douglas (did you know that Vandalog recently interviewed Brian?), with his collages moving from portraits to a new narrative subject matter:

Brian Adam Douglas

Finally, there is Swoon’s contribution to Shred. While I’m not really liking this new image that she’s been using recently (the man’s head looks like more of a caricature than her typical portraits which bring out the inner beauty of her subjects), the collaged details are what makes this piece so interesting. It’s definitely not a typical Swoon. For this work, Swoon has taken to doing Fairey-like collages of newspaper artists and tiny screenprints in the background of the work. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image that really shows these off well, but the small screenprinted designs towards the bottom of the work are stunning.


Shred runs at Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York City through August 27th, and I urge you to go have a look in person.

Photos courtesy of the artists and Perry Rubenstein Gallery

Vandalog Interviews – Elbow-Toe/Brian Adam Douglas (Part 1)

Elbow-Toe/Brian Adam Douglas is a Brooklyn-based artist who has been creating introspective urban art for several years. His street art is grounded in myth, symbolism and poetry and is primarily executed in woodcut, stencil or large-scale charcoal drawings. By studying the act of human gesture as communication, Elbow-Toe utilizes public spaces as stages to house these private moments. His highly acclaimed gallery work focuses on portraiture and abstract narrative and is now primarily executed in collage. At first glance, these intricate collages might be mistaken for paintings as that they have a fluidity rarely seen in collages.

Elbow-Toe recently took some time out to talk to us here at Vandalog for this exclusive interview.

This is Part 1 in our two part interview with Elbow-Toe. Part 2 will be published later this week.

Why do you think you became an artist? Can you remember any defining moment in your life that ultimately shaped your career today?

My interest in art became solidified by my parents’ divorce. My parents divorced when I was 13 and I eventually moved from a community where I was very social and well respected in my school to a new town with very competitive schools.  I had always had an interest in art, and it became an outlet in which to pour all my teenage angst. My junior year of high school I got accepted into a commercial art class that lasted 4 hours a day. I really think that this was the defining moment in my artistic pursuit. I was so determined to excell that I would pull at least 2 all night work sessions per week on my projects for the class. I gave as little as I could to all my other classes.  This is where I developed a work ethic that I still carry to this day. It served to help me carry my art with me through several years of full time work. All the while I maintained a healthy art production of at least 40 hours a week on the side.

Photo by Sabeth718

What is your opinion on graffiti art?

I am fascinated by the act of traditional graffiti.  Artistically I believe that there is a HUGE amount of technical brilliance going on in a lot of that type of work, and that definitely grabs my attention. I am also very interested in the way that traditional graffiti imposes itself on its environment.  I am constantly floored by writers that get up high. I have a horrid fear of heights and it just blows my mind that not only do they go out on that limb by climbing, and then leave their mark to boot.

If we are talking about graffiti art that is predicated on a concept or carries some sort of message, more often than not in a figuratively, then I feel the way I do about any other art form. There is good work, and there is bad work. I personally am attracted to work that asks more of me than to be impressed by technical brilliance. In particular I like work that causes me to have an emotional response or to really think. I like work that transforms the space. I am not talking about dominating the space by making it big. That’s impressive but it doesn’t do much for me personally in most cases. Rather I am interested in work that makes the environment richer for it being there. I would here point to someone like Dan Witz and his skateboarders.

I am also all in favor of illegal works over legal murals. I just find the act more interesting when there is some sort of deviance involved.

How do you intend or expect for people to react to your work?

My goal with the work is for it to resonate beyond the moment the viewer sees it on the street. I would hope that there is at least a glimmer of humanity that they can hold on to, and preferably at some point down the road it still means something to them. I hope that it defines the spaces that it inhabits so that they can’t think of the space without the piece, and can’t remember the environment before the piece was there. I try to interject a lot of wit into the work that may not be right in your face. I hope that it makes them smile and then think.

Like most street artists, you’ve decided to work under an alias. But you also work under your real name to. What are the pro’s and con’s of putting your work out there under both your real name and alias?

Who says it’s my real name?

When I started working as a street artist, I never really believed that I would make any money from it. It was a purely artistic outlet, sans commerce. My goal in using one name for the streets, and one for the gallery is an attempt to separate the two practices. I would like to have the ability to pursue my life long goal of earning a living from my art, while at the same time having the freedom to create work that is meant to be experience outside of a marketplace. Same creativity, different goals.

You’ve also created some very intricate and detailed collage and mixed media pieces. Can you summarize the process you go through when making one of these?

The technical process has many of the same roots that all the other work I do has. I take very detailed reference, or in the case of some animal work I do a lot of research trying to get as many views of the same actions as possible. With the animals in the pieces I research their anatomy, and with the flora I try to fully understand the geometry of the flowers. I translate all of this on to panels and more recently paper using vine charcoal. The drawings are rather detailed, and tend to serve as a roadmap. I have several boxes of paper that are separated in to major color motifs. I will comb through them to get a basic palette of paper to work with. I then just attack the image as if I was painting, but I get my colored marks from the magazines. I try to translate each mark as a description of form, as a distinct idea, so that the marks curve and twist around the objects I am working on. I then glue it down with acrylic gel medium. As soon as I glue on the first piece of paper, every other mark becomes a reaction to it.

Move It On Over, a collage enlarged by a photocopier

Be sure to check out more from Elbow-Toe by visiting his official website here.

Photos by Elbow-toe and Sabeth718

Electric Windows Public Art Project

On Saturday July 31, Electric Windows will take place in Beacon, NY. Sponsored by Open Space Gallery and Burlock Home, 30 artists well venture to the town to participate in live painting on an abandoned factory building. This year’s event will include two other installation sites in addition to the factory.

Here is a video from Electric Windows 2008

The full list of artists include:
Big Foot
Chor Boogie
Chris Stain
Chris Yormick
Elbow Toe
Elia Gurna
Ellis G
Erik Otto
Eugene Good
Joe Iurato
Mr Kiji
Logan Hicks
Lotem & Aviv
Michael De Feo
Paper Monster
Peat Wollaeger
Rick Price
Ron English
Ryan Bubnis
Ryan Williams

For more information visit Electric Windows

SHRED at Perry Rubenstein Gallery

Bears by Brian Adam Douglas

Perry Rubenstein Gallery in NYC has was looks like an awesome show opening on July 1st. SHRED is a show of collage-based artworks curated by Carlo McCormick, an editor at Paper magazine. Traditionally not a gallery focused on street art, Perry Rubenstein Gallery seems to have gotten interested in the genre after starting to work with Faile last year (and I think Faile have a show there in the fall). For SHRED, McCormick has brought together classic works from well-known masters of collage like Rauschenberg, Gee Vaucher and Dash Snow, as well as brand new work from the likes of Brian Adam Douglas (aka Elbowtoe), Faile (including brand new imagery), Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Judith Supine and others.

This should be great show, not just for the impressive artwork, but also because this will expose a whole new group of people to artists like Judith Supine and Brian Adam Douglas.

SHRED is runs from July 1st through August 27th, with an opening reception on July 1st from 6-8pm.

Via my love for you is a stampede of horses

Photo courtesy of Brian Adam Douglas

Dead Letter Playground at Leo Kesting Gallery

By Head Hoods

Manhattan’s Leo Kesting Gallery has a group show opening next week with some of my favorite emerging artists. Dead Letter Playground: A Collection of Contemporary Street Art opens June 24th (from 7pm-10pm) and has artwork from Carolyn A’Hearn, Chris Stain, Clown Soldier, Dain, DickChicken, Doze Green, Elbowtoe, Elle, Ellis G, Faro, Gaia, Head Hoods, Imminent Disaster, Jen.Lu, Jordan Seiler, Know Hope, Laura Meyers, Lee Trice, Love Me, Matt Siren, Mister Never, Nicola Verlato, Peru Ana Ana Peru, Phil Lumbang, Shark Toof, Anthony Michael Sneed and Sweet Toof. Of course, the show also includes one of my least favorite artists, DickChicken, but nobody’s perfect (ps, because I know that somebody is going to give me shit for that comment, I’d like to clarify: I actually don’t mind DickChicken’s tag or find it offensive or anything. I just don’t think he makes anything remotely interesting indoors). The show runs through July 18th.

Here’s some of the work that will be at Dead Letter Playground:

By Jordan Seiler
By Faro

Eames Foundation In Urban Art Hot Seat

Elbow Toe

20 of today’s most celebrated street artists recently teamed up with the prolific Eames Foundation to create their very own personalized and re-imagined designs on the seat of the iconic and timeless Eames Molded Plywood Dining Chair. Artists such as Aakash Nihalani, Elbow-Toe, Skewville, Darkcloud, Cake and Peru Ana Ana Peru are a few of the names who were able to add their own urban aesthetic to what is often referred to as “the cornerstone of modern furniture design” by utilizing the chair as their canvas. But what exactly is all this for I hear you ask? Well, the creation of these one of a kind chairs is all part of an online charity auction in aid of Operation Design. Whilst these chairs do look very tempting they are definitely pieces not to be sat on! So get off your ass and take a look at a few of our favorite creations below!

Dark Cloud
Matt Siren

See more at Operation Design

The 41st Parallel from Drago and Wooster Collective

Drago (the wonderful Italians who published my book last year), Wooster Collective and Meet At The Apartment have a very cool sounding event going on next week in New York City. The 41st Parallel is a special Q&A event with some of street art’s biggest names. Some artists from The Thousands (Chris Stain, WK Interact, Elbow-toe and Swoon), other Drago-affiliated artists like Logan Hicks, Drago’s founder Paulo von
 Vacano and Marc and Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective will all be there. I spoke with Paulo today, and it sounds like the artists might be signing books as well. Unfortunately, I’ll be here in London, but I’m sure this is going to be the place to be in NYC next Wednesday evening. Check it out if you want to meet some artists, ask them questions and maybe pick up my book if you’re so inclined…

And yes I realize that I’ve been criticizing people recently for advertising stuff without really saying that they are advertising things. So, I guess this is an advert in the hopes that more people will buy my book, but if you’re flat broke or just don’t want to buy a book, this should still be a nice Q&A with some of the most influential people in street art.