Yesterday Banksy announced his Better Out Than In piece quite late in the day. That, combined with some WordPress issues that we’ve been facing, and today’s Banksy + 5 is a day late. Sorry. Anyway, the piece was announced in the evening because it’s another performance and this one starts at dusk. As you can see in the video below (originally posted to Banksy’s site), the grim reaper in a bumper-car character drives all this little stage Banksy has set up at Houston and Elizabeth streets (right next to where Swoon and Groundswell are working on a piece at the Bowery and Houston mural location). The piece will be active from dusk to midnight today and Sunday if you want to go check it out. Me, I’m not too bothered. Also, there’s an audio description for the piece on Banksy’s site. Interesting side note: Banksy previously used the grim-reaper-riding-a-bumper-car image in this painting that he gave to the band Brace Yourself for changing their name from Exit Through the Gift Shop.
If there weren’t pictures to go along with this story, I’m not sure I’d believe it. But there are pictures, and here’s the story of what was probably the first graffiti production in Alaska. I hope you enjoy this anecdote from PMER/CATELLOVISION as much as I have… – RJ
Back in 1995 Myself, REVS & FUEL drove up to Alaska just for the mission of going. When we got to Fairbanks, the place was corrupt, full of drugs, boarded businesses, hookers, depression… it was great. It was July so we had 24 hours of daylight.
We saw this wall in the center of the city and asked the owner for permission. He told us we had to ask the Chief of police because he was in charge of beautifying the community. So we meet Chief Woolley and he gives us a thumbs up and tells us how to paint, what he wants to see: Alaskan pioneers, animals, mountains, all that good stuff. We agreed and got to work…
By the time we were done it was 4am… We had the sun on one side, the moon on the other. We looked at the wall, looked at eachother and said… Let’s get the fuck out of here!!!
We painted a pipeline that started with a shiesty character holding a fist full of money, the pipeline going down the wall, finally opening up with oil spelling our names. We threw in a bloody cross that said “Valdez” and gave him a mountain.
Two days later we found that we were wanted and on the cover of the newspaper for being a “Fast talking band of NYC graffiti artists that duped the Chief….”
Excited to announce that Paper Monster is releasing of a new COST/REVS print based on an old image. “Fuck You” -1993 is an oddly refreshing image from the legendary duo and will be available online starting sometime today. Each print is signed by COST. Merry Christmas, dad! (He doesn’t read this, it’s fine.)
COST could sit next to you on a train, or brush by you on the street and you’d likely think nothing of it. I walked by him three times before I finally asked, “Are you Adam?” He is a regular guy. He just happens to have been one of New York City’s most wanted. In Part Two of our interview, COST discusses a number of things including graffiti as a form of rebellion, his relationship with REVS, and, to put it simply, Madonna.
V: How do you see the face of the graffiti writer changing?
COST: Hipsters, like they’re hip! They call them hipsters around here. My friends and I aren’t hip. We’re just like dudes. The older graffiti writers don’t look like the newer graffiti guys. Like REVS looks very working class; he’s very filthy. He’s a welder so he always looks filthy, like he climbed out of a manhole. Me, I try to keep myself clean. I like to present myself that way for aesthetic reasons, like what I do with my life, where I live and how people perceive me. Some of my friends look like nerds, and some of the newer guys we hang out with are real cool, hip-looking guys and fit right in in this area. The newer guys are all like that.
V: But weren’t you guys part of the fashion of the time in the 80’s? Wasn’t graffiti was a cool scene?
COST: I don’t know if we were so fashionable. Our attitude was more like “Fuck you and fuck the system.” We were angry, rebellious guys. There was a definite punk attitude to what we were doing. It was a “Fuck the whole system. Fuck the government. Fuck socialization.” We just revolted against the whole system. Fuck politics and all the politicians. Rudy Giuliani. Stuff like that. We were anti. The best way to describe what we did was like “We’re anti. We’re not artists, we’re anti-artists”. I consider myself an anti-artist if I’m an artist at all. That would be the best way to describe my art. It’s against the system. That’s why I want to show you the Bushwick Five Points wall I just did. At the bottom of the wall, the title, it’s says “You can’t turn rebellion into money.”
I didn’t go to the yard at 13 and say, “You know what? I’m gonna go write on these trains because I want to make money.” You know what I mean? So that’s what inspired the title of the wall. I went to the yard because I was rebelling, and my family situation was not a good one. Looking back, my family was splitting up, like my parents. The whole family was a mess and I was at that age where you get rebellious and I went into graffiti. Guys nowadays are doing graffiti and street art to make money. I don’t do art to make money.
V: Speaking of the fucking of systems, fucking of establishments, and fucking the man….. Did you fuck Madonna?
COST: [Pause] I’m a little younger than Madonna, but I’ll tell ya, she used to hang out at a club called Danceteria. I knew her boyfriend, RP3, who’s dead now. If you look at her old videos, she used to wear a belt buckle tag around her waist that said “BOY TOY.” Boy Toy was that guy RP3. He used to write Boy Toy and RP3, and that was her boyfriend at that time. He ODed and he’s been dead for a long time, but Boy Toy was her tag that he gave her and that’s why she used to wear that in those early videos. I’m not exactly sure when he died. It’s been awhile since the posters, but I think yeah, he probably did see the posters. That poster was like the pop-poster of our campaign. It’s not like I planned it out that way though.
V: Okay, but you have avoided my question.
COST: Have I really? I tried to be as-
V: It’s a yes or no.
COST: Oh, Madonna? You don’t kiss and tell, right? Let’s just leave it at that.
V: Did Madonna ever say anything about it?
COST: I’m sure she knows it exists because she has a publicist. So everything like that is getting plopped on their table and I don’t think she has a problem with it because she was into graffiti and stuff back then.
V: Why did you do it?
COST: I don’t know if there was an exact reason. At the time it was just one of our obscure posters. We were producing a lot of just random stuff, and that one seemed hit the nail on the head for your ham-and-eggers, your average Joe’s. Everyone loved that one. We did many versions of posters and people always say that poster is probably the most recognized of the batches and batches we put out. That was the most accepted. And again, she’s an icon. Madonna is an international icon. She’s like a Michael Jackson or something. So I was using an icon as a prop, I guess.
V: That poster was extremely popular. Supreme turned it into a shirt in 2010.
COST: Yeah, certain posters like “COST Fucked Madonna” were very accepted by society. There’s a lot of knock-offs. There are stickers and posters out there like “ELVIS FUCKED MARILYN.” I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t think it was going to bring such an acceptance with the public, but the public really absorbed that poster.
V: After years of turning down other offers, why did you choose to collaborate with Supreme?
COST: They put Johnny Rotten from The Sex Pistols on the cover of the magazine and that kind of appealed to me, as opposed to Lady Gaga on the cover. It was a little more my speed. More raw, less pop. They understood the direction that I wanted to go and what I wanted my work to represent, in a sense. They were good to catering to me as an artist, in the sense that they just let me be who I wanted to be within their repertoire and it worked, I guess. It was okay.
V: Now that you’re starting to go heavy with wheatpasting again, what’s different this time around?
COST: I’m definitely using new fonts and new slogans. At this point it’s like I’m kind of in phase 1 of probably a 15 or 20 phase period, and phase 1 is really just getting my name back out on the streets and letting people know that I’m here, I’m there, I’m everywhere. It’s just phase 1 of a slow steady process of probably a 20 phase period I call “moving forward towards death.” Continue reading “Vandalog interviewed COST – Part two”
You know him. Rudy Giuliani knows him. At one point, half of the city thought Madonna knew him biblically (for more on that subject, hold your breath for Part two). COST has been ubiquitous in New York City since the late 80’s. He and his counterpart REVS are two of the most widely recognized characters in graffiti and have produced some of the longest running pieces in New York. Nothing captured COST and REVS’ domination of New York in the 90’s better than this Videograff video which asks “Is this art or dangerous propaganda?”
After working under the radar for a number of years after his 1994 arrest, COST has participated in a select few projects with brands such as Brooklynite, Showpaper and Supreme since the fall of 2010. Within the last few months, you may have seen the name COST appearing around New York City again. Despite this, he’s let the work speak for itself and shied away from the spotlight. Vandalog is pleased to publish the first major interview with this reclusive graffiti legend since his 1994 interview with Art Forum. In part one of this interview, COST discusses getting arrested, his hiatus that followed, doing graffiti against the grain and his resurgence among the latest generation of street artists.
V: Why haven’t you tried to make yourself a presence on the internet?
COST: I stay off the internet. The internet is like poison. It really is. I don’t want my face on the internet. There’s a lot of misinterpretation. Anyone can be anyone, say anything. On Facebook there are two people who are posing as me. Things like that make me, I guess, bitter toward the internet.
It’s a good way to connect, that’s true. But I think true graffiti artists have a disconnect with a lot of things in this world. At least I do. I stay disconnected- try to stay disconnected from a lot of stuff and that’s part of why I try to stay off the internet as much as I can. I mean, I’m on a little bit, but there are people out there creating a whole graffiti world on the internet; websites and storylines, bios, all that. They’re selling themselves on the internet and I don’t want to do that.
V: During your wheatpasting campaign the posters that had a phone number received a lot of attention. To be general, why did you do this? And do you think that was the 1993 version of putting, say, “www.COST.com” up like graffiti artists are frequently doing today?
COST: During that time period nobody was doing it. That was a way for the public to contact us. You know, get a little feedback on the shenanigans we pulled around the city. We were having fun, trying to keep it pure and doing what we wanted to do if it felt right at the time and hopefully – maybe not now, but then it was a different thing than what everybody was doing. We were speaking out to the public. So the phone number was kind of like an opportunity for the public to respond or reach back to us and say things. And they had a lot to say.
V: I mean, it is kind of intimidating to see a phone number on a wheatpaste. You don’t know why or why not to call it, or what to be ready for. I dialed it but got nothing. COST: Well it’s nothing now, but we used to change it up about once a week. Rudy Giuliani was the mayor and he was trying to clean up New York, and obviously if you look around New York now it’s a different town. He cleaned it up. But on the voicemail we went on political rants, spoke about art, philosophy, whatever was on our minds. We spit it out onto the voicemail and it was freedom of speech. That was the beauty of it. We were saying what we wanted, when we wanted and anyone could dial in – for what? ten cents? – Whatever a payphone cost at the time. You never knew what you were gonna hear on it. If I had a bitter day and I was a bitter guy that day and I had something to say about it, I would say it. We didn’t hold back. We said what we felt and what was true to us, REVS and myself. Initially a few people called and before you knew it, thousands of people were calling a day. It kind of got a little out of hand. Checking in on the voicemail, we got everything from death threats to marriage proposals to people telling us to just get a life.
V: What did you think of that?
COST: Some of it was inspiring. Some of it was… some of it would make us go out and do more, you know? It added fuel to the fire. We were young, in our mid twenties – a very rebellious age. I’m 43 now, you get older and mellow out a little bit. We were young and rebellious so we wanted to vent and to tell the city that we didn’t like how it was being run and wanted to switch it up a little bit. We wanted to mix things up, add a little flavor, switch things around. I’m glad people recognize that now.
The funny thing is that now that there’s an international street art boom, it’s like people are remembering it a little more, but at the time it was almost looked down upon. During that time period a lot of people didn’t like what we were doing. They didn’t consider it art because it was very um… neanderthal.
Graffiti at one point got so perfect where everybody was doing perfect lines and the art was so over-perfected. If somebody did a perfect line, we painted a drippy line that dripped everywhere.
COST: Yeah. We were doing everything against the grain. We just went against the grain of every graffiti and street art standard of the time. A lot of people were very angry that we were prolific. We were out there every night almost. I would say we were putting pressure on the graffiti scene and the street art scene to question what we were doing. And some of them were upset, you know? Because we were changing the rulebook. I don’t know if we were trying to, we were just doing what felt right. Now there’s a whole new rulebook and now people look back say (I’m not here to toot my own horn) but they say “Oh, you guys did good things and helped influence all the street artists now.” And I’ll take it as a compliment.
V: What kept bringing you back? Every night you kept doing this. What was attractive to you about it?
COST: I can speak for REVS on this as well: Neither of us did graffiti for the love of graffiti. It was more like we actually didn’t like it. We probably hated it. It was just self-expression and it was pure. We were just pouring our heart and soul into the streets, and people can take it or leave it. A lot of people didn’t appreciate it then. But now a lot of people look back and -you’re interviewing me so at least Vandalog, or somebody, recognizes that what we meant was true. I hope you can print that. What we did was true, was being true to ourselves. I’m not sure all the street artists are being true to themselves. They see one mural and someone does a mural just like it. I don’t mean to be critical, there are a lot of talented artists out there. Much more talented than me. But do they have something to say? And that’s really what I question. When I look at art, it has to speak to me. If it doesn’t speak to me than what is it? A beautiful portrait? If you said, “Paint me a portrait,” our waitress will paint a better portrait of you than I can. You know what I mean? It’s about the art. The art needs to speak to you, it needs to move you.
V: How did the release of your identity after you were arrested affect your personal life as well as your graffiti life, which had before been separate?
COST: It made me go deeper undercover I guess. I crawled into a shell and laid lower than the outlaw Jessie James. All of a sudden people who didn’t know that that was me put two and two together. You don’t want people knowing who you are. The idea was to do graffiti, and the idea behind graffiti was to get your name out there but for others to wonder who the heck was doing it. I never did it for a social purpose. Or a financial purpose. I did graffiti for myself and my cohorts and my crew and that was about it. And once my name got out there, it was exploitation in a sense. That’s how I looked at it. It was pretty harmful. But now that the street art/graffiti culture is so accepted, there’s been less hate and more embrace. So I’m not complaining.
V: There were plenty of ways to keep getting your work up legally. Why did you turn down so many of those opportunities?
COST: After I got caught it just derailed me, like a train. I just went right off track and I got into other things in my life. I was getting a little older, I was in my late twenties. I got into different ventures. I found some success in other areas of my life. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this properly.
It was like I was pushed out of graffiti and street art out by Giuliani and the city with this punishment. They put the cuffs on me and when I was free to roam, I still felt like I had the cuffs on me all the time. I had to make a living so I started a business and I guess I got somewhat successful and I realized that there’s no money in art anyway. There are a few people who make a lot of money off art and then there are the rest; it’s like a pool, a starving pool chasing that dollar. That’s what it seemed like to me. So I got successful in other areas of my life with business and the more successful I got, the more street art and graffiti got away from me. I have my regrets about that because everything I did was very unfulfilling, but I was earning a good living. It left a very empty feeling within because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do.
V: Had you done any painting at all during that time?
COST: For the first 5 years after being arrested, I was on hiatus. After that, I painted off and on but it subsided. It felt like I lost my way, like they pushed me out. It’s almost like you choose paths in this life and I wound up going down a different path, and now I really regret it. I feel like I only have about 20 or 25 years to live, I figure 65 years old, anything past that is a blessing. People live longer, but you know what I mean. So I figure with 25 years left to live, anything that I’ve done up to this point since my heavy street art days have been so unfulfilling that I’m going back to street art. I’m willing to sacrifice everything in my life otherwise, at this point. That’s why I’m going back to painting and producing work, because all the money in the world doesn’t give you uh…. what’s the word.. I forgot the word. Shit. You gotta do what feels right in this world and I gotta get back to my painting.
Tomorrow, the authors of The History of American Graffiti (Caleb Neelon and Roger Gastman) will be joining Taki183 at The Hole in NYC for a book signing. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but from what I hear it is one of, if not the, best graffiti histories told so far. The book signing will take place from 7-10pm on Thursday at The Hole’s new location (312 Bowery). SNAKE 1, SJK 171, MIKE 171 and ROCKY 184 will also be there.
Our friend Aric Kurzman just sent over these previously unpublished photos of work by graffiti legends Cost and Revs. The photos were taken in New York City around 1993. For me, few things can top these paste-ups, and I’m not sure what else there is to say.