Tim Hans shoots… Dan Witz


Dan Witz is one of the original New York street artists, with almost 35 years of experience getting up. He’s also one of my favorite realist painters and pranksters. If you want to see some of Dan’s work in person, he’s got a solo show opening this week at Jonathan Levine Gallery‘s 529 West 20th Street space in New York City. Tim Hans met Dan at his studio for the latest in our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim. I asked Dan a few questions over email.

RJ: What’s the best prank (involving art or not) that you’ve ever pulled?

Dan Witz: Hmm-best? Hard to say: I mean most of my street stuff over the past 35 years could be described as pranks. I wouldn’t want to single out a winner, but probably the one that consistently gets the most ‘likes’ out of all my one-off pieces would be the clown face house in Brooklyn.

RJ: How did your work with Amnesty International come about and what keeps you working with them?

DW: They got in touch with me. Or, actually, an ad agency that was handling them in Germany reached out to me. Like most street artists I get a lot of e-mail probes from marketing types eager to link their product or cause with urban art. It’s been pretty easy for me to avoid this because my stuff works much better if I keep my identity, or “brand” as much under the radar as possible. When Amnesty International got in touch though, I was so honored and such a long-time supporter of theirs that I was willing to consider it. And I’d already been working with figures trapped behind grates in my WHAT THE %$#@? (WTF) series, so advocating for illegally detained prisoners was an easy fit.

I am so incredibly glad I opened up to this. The 20 or so Wailing Wall pieces in Frankfurt became one of the peak experiences of my career. Oddly, even with all the media frenzy (and the accompanying police attention) there was no pressure on me to compromise my normally aggressive installation tactics (these days, to avoid easy theft I anchor my grate pieces into the wall, which involves serious industrial adhesives and a hammer drill). It turns out that Amnesty international, despite its mainstream respectability, is a surprisingly bad-ass organization. They recognized that my methods, although illegal, were the most effective way to galvanize public attention. If anything they even pushed me to go larger and bolder than I usually do. I date a huge growth in my street practice to that first Amnesty project.


RJ: Whose artwork hangs in your home and why?

DW: There’s a rotating selection of friends’ work, a few copies of old master paintings I’ve done, (in gold frames, which really class the place up), and the usual magnetized refrigerator masterpieces from our two year old. I have to say, I’ve really been enjoying fooling around with the non-toxic kiddie art supplies. Don’t look for a new Crayola series from me or anything, but it’s reminded me how great it is to draw just for the fun of it

RJ: The kitschy artist Thomas Kinkade called himself a “painter of light,” but that description is probably more appropriate for you. What fascinates you about light in paintings?

DW: Didn’t that guy copyright or trademark the “Painter of Light” thing? And isn’t he like the best selling artist, ever? I’ve never seen one in real life but I bet they have a nice heartwarming glow. To be honest, not to put him down, but simulating light with oil paint isn’t really that hard to do. And yeah, like him (I’m guessing) I’ve never gotten over what a miracle it is. It’s magic. And addictive. Same for me with creating trompe l’oeil illusions of space. I never get sick of it. I guess I should be grateful to artists like Kinkade: if it wasn’t for them I might forget how easily these effects can turn into clichés.

RJ: What are you working on at the moment?

DW: As usual I’ve got a few projects simultaneously dead-lining in my studio. Right now, on easel one I’m preparing this summer’s street art; and easel two has my ongoing Mosh pit painting series. Most days I bounce back and forth—I get sick of one and take refuge in the other. But in a few weeks  I’ve got a show, NY Hardcore, opening at Jonathan Levine Gallery so we’re frantically varnishing and framing and e-mailing and packing. Fortunately my studio has a separate ‘dirty’ room in the garage downstairs so I can spray and do woodwork without endangering the artworks and my family’s health. But it’s out of control over here. Which used to be an unbearably stressful way to live, but I’ve gotten used to it, and sometimes (like now, answering these questions) I even get a brief moment to step back and appreciate how lucky I am to be so busy and have all this crazy shit going on.


Photos by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Mike Ballard aka Cept

Photo by Tim Hans
Photo by Tim Hans

Mike Ballard, perhaps better known to graffiti and street art fans as Cept, is one of the UK’s most fascinating artists or graffiti writers. His artistic output includes oil paintings, video art, sculptures, screenprints, graffiti, murals and highly conceptual installation projects. Tim Hans met Ballard at his London studio earlier this year for our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, and I asked Mike a few questions over email.

RJ: What are you working on at the moment?

Ballard: I’m working on a new series of paintings in oil, a new future primitive series, darkly psychedelic baroque hip hop with cosmic nomad overtones. They will form part of a new installation with video and sound, hoping to show it next year, as there is a lot of work to do.

RJ: What is the separation between Mike Ballard and Cept?

Ballard: The work I make under Mike is more patient and considered, it’s the opposite end of the scale from the work as Cept. The work on the street is instant, mostly made up on the spot and executed within a couple of hours, I’ve painted so many pieces, it’s like I’m on auto pilot most of the time, I rarely think about what colours i’m using, unless doing characters, I let the letter pieces flow and see what happens, I rarely draw outlines these days and have started to go straight in with the final outline first. Cept is very impatient, get it done, let’s go to the pub and look at the photos, whereas with my studio work I’m in for the long haul, using brushes and oils, mixing colours, it’s a world away from graffiti, the work on canvas is a lot more considered, it’s a new world to me  painting with oils, so I’m learning all the time, new techniques, different pigments, it’s like getting into graffiti again, I’m super buzzing about it, want to know everything. The studio work allows me to expand my artistic ideas beyond graffiti, but maintaining a sensibility that comes from my years of painting on the street.

Photo by Tim Hans
Photo by Tim Hans

RJ: In mainstream contemporary art, there seems to be this idea that the writers who get into highly conceptual art leave graffiti behind and “graduate” from writing, but artists like Barry McGee and yourself keep a foot in both worlds. What continues to appeal to you about your work as Cept that you don’t get from your work as Mike Ballard and vice versa? Is it a false dichotomy to position writing and conceptual painting, video, sculpture and installation art as different things?

Ballard: Once you’re really into graffiti, I feel there is no stopping, serious writers don’t give up, it goes in waves, sometimes I’m painting a lot outside and sometimes not, but never falling out the game, I’ve been painting for too long to ever stop or turn away from graffiti, what I’ve seen of late in London is a lot of people claiming to be street, coz they done a couple of roller pieces in the wick, painted on the street for 2 minutes then claim to be making some big transition from street to gallery, these are just people who make money not art, and have no integrity in what they do, it’s simply to be famous and get some money, they don’t graduate from writing, they use it as some kind of badge to make them seem cool, and have no presence on the street anymore.

Graffiti is a massive part of me, it is who I am , how I grew up and the friends I have made, I get a lot of satisfaction painting graffiti, it’s instant, in your face, burners all over the place, the whole action of painting a huge piece, it can’t be beat, it’s a feeling like nothing else, where as completing a painting on canvas is a different feeling, it’s again one of satisfaction and challenge, but more personal, a bit more shy and reserved, a whole different context of making stuff, bipolar.

I think it’s how you pull these things together and again in what context you experience them, I incorporate all these elements into my installations, it’s not that they are different things, divisions but whether they have the artist’s style and ideas running throughout the different mediums, to form one big piece of work from many elements.

Photo courtesy of Cept
Photo courtesy of Mike Ballard

RJ: What is the riskiest artwork you’ve ever made?

Ballard: Riskiest in terms of shocking? or riskiest as in most crapping myself? If it’s the latter, probably doing a back jump on the New York subway.

Photo courtesy of Cept
Photo courtesy of Mike Ballard

RJ: What’s the strangest dream you’ve had recently?

Ballard: I always have strange dreams, but telling them to people is like looking through someone else’s holiday photos, a bit boring, you can’t convey the feeling of the experience…

Photo courtesy of Mike Ballard
Photo courtesy of Mike Ballard

Photos by Tim Hans and courtesy of Mike Ballard

Tim Hans shoots… Logan Hicks


Logan Hicks is a forefather of the stenciling medium. With a background in printmaking, Hicks helped pioneer the use of multi-layer stencils to create strikingly complex portraits of urban environments. While many artists are satisfied with two or three stencil-layers to create images, Hicks has used up to 15 in a given piece. He is also known for his documentation of his adventures through the labyrinth of tunnels and pipelines in various cities around the world. Recently, he began incorporating figures into his pieces; contrasting hard architectural details with the softness of female figures floating through water. Hicks continues to explore the creative potential of stencils and the content they are able to illustrate. Tim Hans met up with Hicks last summer for our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, and I interviewed him in anticipation of his upcoming solo show “Love Never Saved Anything” at 154 Stanton Street in New York City, opening March 7th at 6:30pm and running through March 19th (open 11:00am-6:30pm daily).

Caroline Caldwell: How did you get started exploring the tunnels and sewer systems in cities around the world? What interests you about it? What are some of the dangers? Any good stories?

Logan Hicks: Moving to NY is what really initiated the push the notion of going places that are ‘off limits’.

I grew up in the country, so I can remember checking out abandoned houses and stuff like that, but never really thought much about it. it was curiosity to see what was beyond the facade. When I moved to Baltimore, I poked around more and that’s when I came across the book ‘The Mole People’ which started me focusing on the city under me. Later I moved to San Diego, Los Angeles, and ultimately New York which is what firmly entrenched me in the idea of exploring places. Especially New York. To me NY has always been the quintessential city. It’s hard not to become amazed by the layers of the city.

I didn’t really know that there were communities of like minded me before moving, but I just ended up becoming friends with few people who shared my sensibilities. I suppose the default title is ‘urban explorer’ but I cringe at that title sometimes. To say you’re an ‘explorer’ sort of oversells it, but I guess saying that you’re a ‘really curious guy’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue. I just like checking out places and I like hanging out with the people that I explore with.

One you’ve managed to check various tunnels and buildings around the world though, it fuels the desire to see even more. Once you see what one subway system is like, you want to see the others. You want to see how it was made. Where it runs too. what is past that dark curtain at the end of the platform. Once you stand on top of a building crane 50 stories up, you can’t help but look up and want to get onto another. Part of it is that you just want to experience the rush. Part of it is that i just like to get away. As social as i am at times, i’m still an introvert at heart. I like to get away. To be unseen. To find quiet pockets of the city to go to. it helps keep me sane.

Stories? I’m sure there are a few, but the most memorable one was when I was exploring a tunnel out in Los Angeles with my good friend Jordan. We started walking into this round tunnel. It was maybe 8 feet wide. We walked in about 25 feet when I think I see something up ahead. Jordan was behind me so he didn’t see it, but I said ‘hang on’ and i yelled out ‘is anybody there’. After a second or two of silence a voice cracks the darkness with ‘yeah’. We were a bit startled cause it was just pitch black ahead and here this voice was up ahead out of our field of view, even with the flashlights on. I ask ‘you mind if we pass?’. “no” he says then follows up with ‘you ain’t got no camera do you?’. I’m a bit nervous at the question wondering if he’s going to mug us but I realize that it’s probably just some homeless guy who doesn’t want to be photographed during his lowest time. I say ‘yeah, but we aren’t taking pictures of people, just tunnels”. he gives a quick ‘ok, come through’ and we start walking. As we get closer we start to make out his silhouette, then as we get even closer we realize that there are actually two people. One standing, one sitting. The guy we talked too was butt ass naked, standing in the middle of this tunnel smoking crack not giving a fuck. There is no tunnel large enough to feel comfortable in as you walk past a naked man smoking crack. I had my hand on my knife the whole time and he ended up being fine. his friend was sitting down in the drainage tunnel letting the water pour over him as he smoked crack. I couldn’t help but think to myself, what is more crazy – us seeing two grown naked men smoking crack in a random tunnel – or the fact that they saw these two guys walk into a tunnel with a camera and never come back? That was probably the most odd experience I’ve had.

Caldwell: Your upcoming show will have a much stronger focus on the narratives of each piece and exploring themes such as old sailor’s superstitions. Can you talk a bit about this?

Hicks: Yes, the new work has evolved away from the architectural works that I’m known for. In the past I’ve worked from a more passive standpoint in my work. the architecture in my work was often contemplative, still, reflective. It was more of an internal thought. But last year though ended up being a fairly turbulent year for me. I had a string of bad luck that just tainted my daily life. Everything from finances, relationships, legal issues, personal happiness – everything. I was trying to salvage a few things in my life when I had a conversation with a friend of mine who said “at least you’re doing what you love”. I replied “Love never saved anything though”. That is the title for the show I am having in March – “Love Never Saved Anything” I started working from a more emotional point instead of intellectual. That is what led me to underwater photography. A good friend of mine in Long Beach offered a pool and herself as a model, so I took the opportunity to explore the medium. I fell in love with it. The drifting, weightlessness, floating model was sort of how I felt internally. It just felt like it was the perfect way to capture what I was going through – adrift in a sea of uncertainty. From there things just came together. I was connected with a great fashion designer out of Chicago who made dresses specifically for the next series of underwater shoots and I kept down that path. Along the way I came across various sailor traditions and superstitions and I was intrigued. There are so many obscure and odd traditions like ‘don’t cut your nails or hair on a ship’, or don’t talk to a redhead or you should shed a few drops of blood before boarding a ship for the season. There are hundreds of them, and some of them are more vivid than others, but I started to realize that these superstitions dealt with the same exact thing that every human in the world worries about – life, love, fortune, happiness, death. It’s the circle of life. It was the same thing that I was going through. So it just felt right to use these nautical traditions as a jumping off point to illustrate my own struggles. It has more of a narrative with these sailor traditions sort of providing the framework for the imagery for the work.

Caldwell: You’ve used the internet in conjunction with your art making for a number of years. You were active on some of the first internet forums and online dialogues about stenciling. Today, you make yourself a presence on social media so that people are able to observe a good deal of your artistic process. Would you say this has had any affect on the work you put out?

Hicks: It does. I think that especially when you have a technically demanding medium such as stenciling, the more you can educate the viewer on how you create the work, the stronger you make it. The aim is to help the viewer see the process and evolution of the work, from idea to execution. Ultimately it’s the work that needs to stand on it’s own, but it’s helpful if people understand how you arrived at the final result. So in that sense I find the communication critical to seeing the big picture. Ideally you hope that people can connect with every aspect of your work – the idea, the process, the execution, the medium, the story behind it, etc. For me it’s important to show people that the results of my work are not happy mistakes. It’s important that people see that you’re striving for something and that I’m working and working towards that vision. Seeing an obscure idea in your head morph into a physical painting is an interesting process.

Caldwell: To what degree do you allow your work to be left up to interpretation?

Hicks: If you’re making work that is so narrow in it’s scope then I just don’t think it’s very successful. I try my best to stay away from specific definitions. I might use a specific story, metaphor, experience, or tradition as a starting point for a painting, but it’s never the backbone of appreciation. It’s the inspiration for it.

If you need a story to go along with a picture, then I kind of feel like you’re more of an illustrator or story teller, but not a fine artist. Artwork is most successful work is when the viewer can connect with. If you’re telling the viewer what to believe, then what’s the point of making work in the first place? Successful art is nothing more than a mirror that allows the viewer to see themselves in. It’s a language that allows you to speak from your point of view that can convey the emotions that you’re feeling. So when I approach my work I try my best not to be so literal with the meanings. If you’re feeling a bit depressed, there are ways to imply that in the work. The colors you use, the strokes of color, the composition, the expressions of the models, even the title of the piece etc But if you have an artist who says “this piece of art is about when my dog Squeaks died and i was super sad, so i made this piece of art to remember squeaks” you just feel like their using art as therapy and you’re the unwitting ear that has to listen to them drone on about their life. I try to make work that speaks to the human condition. the cycle of life. Life, death, happiness, love and fortune. That is the pinnacle that drives most every decision we make.

I try to think as little as possible when I paint. Sometimes you need to think with your hands if that makes any sense. You just need to feel your way around the canvas.

Caldwell: Do you think the street art scene is becoming formulaic, what with the seemingly abundant amount of legal walls, festivals and group shows, or is this still an authentic progression?

Hicks: Street Art is dead. The corpse of street art has wandered the streets trying to find a new label to wear without any success. The original actions, motivations and effectiveness of street art died long ago.There is some phenomenal work that is still produced that could be classified as street art in the fact that it’s art that is on the street, but I think that people trying to still claim that ‘street art’ is revolutionary or subverting the gallery model on it’s head is idiotic. Originally street art evolved because there was this in-between group of kids who didn’t do graffiti, but they didn’t fit into the gallery system. So they found a gallery – the street.

However, when a subculture or movement becomes self aware you can’t claim that it’s pushing the boundaries really. Once you’re self aware, then people start trying to define it. They start to impose these imaginary rules, protocols, and ideas. So now you can say that ‘this’ is street art, but ‘that’ isn’t. These days you have kids paying 40k a year going to art school trying to emulate what evolved in street art decades earlier. You have real estate developers that use street art as a handshake to the surrounding community to ease the transition of gentrification. You have street artists claiming that they’re raging against the machine while wearing Louboutin shoes at the opening. Street art has become a parody of itself. I’m not saying that the work isn’t good, but the definition of street art as an overall movement is antiquated.

If you look at artists like Aryz, C215, or Swoon, and you just think ‘that’s great art’. You don’t think ‘they are good for a street artist’. Good art should be timeless. But you look at some artists and you try to imagine them 50 years from now and the work doesn’t hold up without the street art label to carry it.

The definitions and classification of artists is something that artists shouldn’t concern themselves with. Artists should just make art. Labeling yourself limits how people perceive you. It limits the potential that you have. I’ve been included as a street artist over the years – and maybe I am – but I’ve never embraced it because I never want to feel limited. I just want to make art and I don’t really care if the tight jean fix wheel hipster likes it, or the 80 year old trust fund manager likes it. My focus is just making art that conveys the ideas and vision that I have. Labels and it’s definition is best left to others.

Caldwell: If you weren’t an artist what might you be doing with your time?

Hicks: Crime or drugs or laying in a grave rotting. There has never been a plan B.


Photos by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Mon Iker

Mon Iker_TimHans

I met Mon Iker at Living Walls in 2012, when she was a muralist for the conference’s all-female year. Since then Mon has relocated to New York. Last summer, Tim Hans photographed her on a Brooklyn rooftop for his continuing series of photo-portraits of artists. I took the opportunity to reconnect with Mon and ask her a few questions over email (although I should have edited them first, note the error in question 4).

RJ: What brought you to New York?

Mon Iker: Although I’ve been in NYC off and on since 2011, last spring I received a scholarship to participate in an artist residency program at the Hemispheric Institute of Performing Arts & Politics (EMERGENYC) where I was able to study and create with world-renowned artists/activists such as the YesLabERRO GRUPO, and Peggy Shaw. It was extraordinary, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity, but living expenses weren’t paid so I had to find a means to make it work.  Happenstance – in particular, a facebook post by the Yes Men – led me to apply for a paid internship at what appeared to be a cryptic sounding but politically minded arts studio called Not An Alternative. The residency only lasted three months, and I hadn’t planned my life that far in advance to know what I was going to do after it ended. Not An Alternative winded up being exactly what I was looking for, so I’ve decided to settle in the city to continue to work with them while also working on my own stuff.

RJ: Your mural from Living Walls 2012 is one of my favorite murals in Atlanta, but I don’t think of you as a prolific street artist. How did you end up painting on the rooftop where this photo was taken, painting with a bunch of street artists?

Mon Iker: Thanks; that means a lot to me. I enjoy what you do. Trek had come to the city and we were hanging out when he told me about a rooftop that a bunch of folks were going to paint later. Art in reclaimed space always gets me excited, so I hopped on board. I ran into LNY, whom I’ve known since Living Walls, and met Icy & Sot, ND’A, Kyle Hughes Rodgers, and Vexta – all incredibly friendly people.  I actually didn’t have any tools on me, so freeloaded some primer white and a leftover paintbrush to make a quick doodle. Hearing about the tragedy that occurred later on that same rooftop really devastated me. My heart goes out to Icy & Sot and all those affected.

RJ: What attracts you to muralism?

Mon Iker: The idea that advertising is the only large scale visual language sanctioned in public space is revolting to me. I feel like muralism and other forms of public art are the only media with the subversive potential to rupture a culture overstimulated by an alternate reality that consumerism creates. One of the things I like to focus on in my work (as well as at NAA) is the repurposing of authoritative language; something that is exploiting all of us is especially ripe for exploitation in itself. Also, did I mention I love to paint? And, to be honest, my piece at the conference in 2012 was the first time I’d ever used spray. I feel like there’s no going back. Absolutely addicted.

RJ: What are the essential tools in your studios?

Mon Iker: I work in a variety of media, ranging from street art, paintings, and photography to performance, animation, and film. So, if I had to narrow it down: my camera, my journal, some microns, spray, and any cheap house paints I can find. I’ll still always love my oils, though. Its funny you mention “studios”, because I’ve actually been homeless for a little more than 2 years. Deciding to stay in NYC was a huge decision; one I’m glad I made because I’m finally able to set up a studio again. I’m also currently in the process of setting up a new site, publishing new work, etc.

RJ: How does New York compare to Atlanta?

Mon Iker: Although I’m not originally from ATL, it’s easy to find the arts community there. Everyone knows each other. Even so, I still never quite felt like I fit in. The support base for artists who are interested in activist/political expression doesn’t really exist there as it does in the city, and my work leans strongly in that direction. Regardless, not having my feet planted firmly in either place yet still makes me feel like a drifter. But perhaps I’ll always feel that way.

Photo by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Vexta


We’ve interviewed Vexta, now a New Yorker by way of Australia, twice before, so why not a third time? Last summer, she invited Tim Hans and I to rooftop in Brooklyn to meet up as part of his continuing series of photo-portraits of artists. What we found there was not just Vexta, but a semi-secret gathering of street artists taking over this random rooftop and just having a fun time together. Thanks to Vexta, Tim ended up photographing a bunch of artists whose photos we have been posting over the last few months. Rhiannon Platt recently included Vexta on a list of “15 Women Who Are Killing It in Street Art Right Now,” so of course Rhiannon was the perfect person to interview Vexta for this post. – RJ

Rhiannon Platt: Tell us a little about yourself.

Vexta: I’m from Sydney, Australia… though I came up in the street art scene in Melbourne where I live for a long time. I moved to Brooklyn about a year and half ago… since then though I’ve been traveling a lot painting walls, making art for music festivals and other exhibitions, commissions and projects in India, Mexico, Australia and across Europe. My artwork is pretty psychedelic and I guess I’m most interested in ideologies surrounding ultimate freedom and the interconnectedness of all matter and how that can relate to us in a real world way.

Rhiannon: Why did you choose this image in particular?

Vexta: It was a while back when I painted this… it wasn’t too long after Pussy Riot had been put in jail in Russia and in general there just felt like this global oppression of human rights and women’s rights… I start thinking about protesting and the connection to graffiti culture and started painting a series of people in bandanas and ski masks… the bandana part of that painting is made up of these diamond stencil shapes. I’ve been using these in my work for a while and they signify transformation and the atomic particles that make up all matter… so they create another layer of meaning too… like a physical representation of communication and the need for it. I like to leave a certain ambiguity in my work though so there’s space for people to bring their own meanings.


Rhiannon: You paint abandoned or repurposed spaces a lot. How was painting this space in Brooklyn different?

Vexta: I haven’t painted that many rooftops because in Australia we don’t have that many locations like that… It kinda felt like painting an empty warehouse only in the sunshine with a view of Brooklyn.

Rhiannon: What was particularly important about painting on this roof?

Vexta: So it was a rooftop accessed by my friends Icy & Sot’s place. We had been talking for a while about getting a group of us together and painting it. So one day we had a bbq up there, spent the day hanging out and painting. I think there was maybe 8 or 10 of us up there painting that day. It’s those moments when street artists come together as a community and inspire each other and make new connections. That part of our world is important – Making art for ourselves and each other, making an empty space beautiful together.

Rhiannon: What did you take away from this experience?

Vexta: Some new friends & happy memories and I left behind a small piece of beauty with some ideas and feelings imbedded in it…


Photos by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Icy & Sot

Icy - Sot_TImHans

Last summer, Tim Hans and I visited a rooftop in Brooklyn. Tim was there to photograph (if I’m remember correctly) Vexta for his continuing series of photo-portraits of artists. But what we found there was a gathering of street artists all painting and having fun in this very unexpected location. The rooftop project was organized by Iranian stencil artists and brothers Icy & Sot, who have called New York City home for a couple of years now. Regular Vandalog readers will remember the fantastic new mural of theirs that I posted about in late December. I recently asked the brothers a few questions…

RJ: How are you both doing?

Icy & Sot: We are doing better, keeping ourselves busy with work.

RJ: It was inspiring to see your recent mural on the LES. What does that wall mean for you?

Icy & Sot: It’s simple, we hate guns, obviously for personal reasons plus all the related crimes we see in the news all the time. It’s just frustrating to see how easy is to get a gun in the US.

RJ: Why do you use stencils?

Icy & Sot: We started using stencils back in Iran because it was quickest way to share our vision with the people in the streets, and now we are in love with stencils.

RJ: So Tim and I came up to your roof one day last summer to find probably a dozen artists painting and hanging out. What was this rooftop project about?

Icy & Sot: We had access to a very big rooftop (connecting an entire block) at our house. First we did a piece and then we decide to tell our friends to come and paint and hang out. We love our friends from the art community and was great to include the works of about 30 artists from different parts of the world.

RJ: What’s next for Icy and Sot?

Icy & Sot: We are planning to go to Europe in the summer to work on some walls and show our work there. And we are working on curating a group show, showing the works of NY artists in Iran and our friends from Iran’s work here in NY.

Photo by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Dennis McNett


Back in November, Tim Hans stopped by Known Gallery just as Dennis McNett was setting up for a show there. As part of our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, we’re finally publishing those photos and I emailed a few questions over to McNett. My bad on the delay, but I’m glad we finally have a chance to share these images and chat with one of my favorite block printers.

RJ: How has teaching printmaking at Pratt affected your own art?

Dennis McNett: I’m not teaching currently. When I have the last year or two, it’s usually only one class. I could go on a long tangent about the whole art school thing.

I wouldn’t say it has effected my own work. I’ve been making what I make and doing what I do since I was a kid. What I do walk away with from teaching would be passing on a medium, meeting some great students and being able to cheerlead for their ideas the way Richard Mock did for me. That makes it worth doing.


RJ: Your work seems to have such a focus on nature, or at least some version of nature. Do you get enough exposure to nature while living in the city?

McNett: Fortunately I get to leave the city quite often. My folks live in Virginia on a mountain and I’m able to go there at least 3 times a year. When I am able to be by the ocean (especially by the ocean), in the forest, in the desert, etc… I feel clarity, like my batteries are charged and truly inspired. I feel humbled by how perfect, beautiful, diverse, micro/macro and complex the whole damn place is. But, to answer you directly, No, I do not get to be in nature as much as I’d like to be and I’m planning to leave NYC for that and several other reasons.


RJ: Are you trying to do something largely different with your various static artworks and your performances, or are those two sets of work extensions of each other?

McNett: I feel like it’s all coming from the same place. The performance/happenings are a lot of fun. They are more about doing something anyone can participate in, contribute to and usually tell a story stemming from a “mythology” I started in 2006 about the Wolfbat. The 2D work I do alone in the studio, but sometimes that work pertains to the mythology. They could be artifacts like shields or characters from the stories. Sometimes the 2D stuff is just what ever comes to mind like a Leopardsnake (half Leo half snake) which I just daydreamed about and seemed fun to draw/create. Really I just do whatever I am feeling or thinking about at the moment and use what ever medium makes sense for the idea.


RJ: What is it about printmaking that appeals to you?

McNett: I’ve done sculptures, masks, performances, installations, graphics and woodcarvings. I think above all else, I just love the carved mark. I’ve been making carvings for over 20 years now. I can build and use a lot of other mediums but still just love that mark. I use prints of that mark on pretty much everything I make from 30ft ships, temples or just prints. With printmaking you can also make multiples and I use this to generate my own collage material/drawing material of my carved patterns and images. Once I have the drawing material I can cover large areas pretty quickly. It all just has the flavor I like to work with.


RJ: What have you got coming up next?

McNett: I’m working with the Philadelphia Mural Arts program in February. I’ll be building a sculpture, doing a mural and working with community kids the entire month. Then potentially Austin to do a project around SXSW, which may be another performative event. I a show in Houston in May. I’m considering moving out west after that.


Photos by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Zio Ziegler and Never

Zio and Never

One afternoon this past summer, Tim Hans went up to a Brooklyn rooftop and found a bunch of artists having fun and painting together. In November, that rooftop became associated with a horrible tragedy. While the murders that occurred nearby have nothing to do with the art that was painted there, it seems important to acknowledge how the space changed after these photos were taken. At the time, this rooftop was one of the most interesting and fun spaces for artists to paint in New York City, and Tim’s came way with some beautiful photos, so it seemed a shame let tragedy define that space and leave these images locked away. Two of the artists that Tim photographed on that rooftop were Never and Zio Ziegler, who were working on a collaborative piece. In our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, and I asked Zio and Never the same set of questions over email.

RJ: How did you end up collaborating that day?

Never: The dialogue went something like this…
Zio: Ayo, I’m in Brooklyn with my homey Ian Ross. I like your SHIT, wanna hang out?
Never: Werd, I like your SHIT too. We should get a hotel, here’s my number…Sext me.  (We meet in person for the first time) Never: So what kind of SHIT brings you to NY?
Zio: I painted some SHIT on the side of a surf shop in Williamsburg.
Never: Werd, got any scrap cans? Some people are hanging out and painting some SHIT on a rooftop nearby right now. Wanna go?
Zio: SHIT yeah, Lets do it!

Zio: I’ve admired Nev’s work for a while, and we have a bunch of mutual friends, so I gave him a shout when I was in NY. I had painted the side of Pilgrim, and despite having food poisoning wanted to make the most of the NYC trip, and paint as many spots as possible. We met up in Bushwick, and started to look for walls, ended up on a rooftop and jammed out.

RJ: Do you usually like collaborating on murals?

Never: I do like collaborating on murals but I’m pretty selective of who I do that with. I don’t really consider what we did that day a collaboration as there wasn’t really any head-butting involved. I just did the same SHIT I always do and he put a skull under it. It was more of a quick little jam session than anything. At some point we intend to do a for real collabo. We’re both busy dudes, but we’ll make it happen at some point. And when we do, our highly acclaimed PR team will ensure that it’s picked up by every news outlet in existence. Just you fucking wait.

Zio: I don’t collab a lot, but when I do its because I really admire the other artists process and work. The piece and the conversation go in parallel and when that happens, it’s all good.

RJ: How does working with another artist change your own process?

Never: It forces you to try out different techniques than your own and helps you work outside of your usual comfort zone.

Zio: It allows me to expand my perspective, and see more possibilities in creating my pieces.

RJ: How have the events that took place so nearby your mural affected you or how you think of that piece?

Never: The work I did on that roof has nothing to do with the horrible event that happened up there several months after. I’m thankful I got to meet Icy and Sot and they were so kind to invite us to paint with them. More so, I’m thankful those two are still here with us today. It was a fun day with good company, that’s all there is to it.

Zio: The work has nothing at all to do with that terrible event, It’s awful and my heart goes out to everyone effected by that tragedy.

RJ: Which of you is cooler?

Never: Zio has more followers on Instagram than I do so he’s definitely cooler.

Zio: Never for sure, he’s got more friends on myspace.

Photo by Tim Hans

Tim Hans Shoots… Jordan Seiler


Note from RJ: It’s been a little while since we posted any of Tim Hans‘ photos, but his series of artist portraits is still ongoing. Today we have our latest photo from Tim, one he took of Jordan Seiler at the site of one of Jordan’s ad takeovers. Rhiannon Platt asked Jordan a few questions. – RJ

Under the moniker of PublicAdCampaign, artist and activist Jordan Seiler aims to help the public regain control of their visual atmosphere. His latest project, Public Access, aims to give artists the power to change their visual landscape. The artist has reproduced keys for bus shelters and phone booths for several countries, beginning first in New York and recently expanding to Brussels for an exhibition with Harlan B. Levy Projects. Today is also the launch of the app Re+Public, an augmented reality app for iPhone and Android created by Jordan and The Heavy Projects.

Rhiannon Platt: When did you first start combating commercialism with takeovers?

Jordan Seiler: I began ad takeovers in December of 2000 with an entire station takeover at the 18th street 1/9 stop. It took about 32 posters to cover both platforms. At that point, and somewhat still to this day, it isn’t about combating commercialism but rather deciding for ourselves what our collective visual landscape looks like.

Rhiannon: What made you want to start Public Ad Campaign? Was there a specific instance that you can point to?

Jordan: My first takeover was motivated purely by aesthetics. I thought the station would feel quite different with a new set of images. It was only once that feeling manifested, and I began to worry about being caught by the cops, that I began to see the differences between commercial and public media production.

Rhiannon: How does your passion for ad-busting manifest itself in your other work?

Jordan: I know this sounds trite but I prefer the word ad-takeover to ad-bust. An ad-bust suggests a play on meaning, a decrypting of the encoded media message to reveal its weaknesses or faults. My feeling is that we are already very good at reading between the lines and seeing most commercial messages for what they are. Despite this critical insight we sill cannot seem to resist their allure. Ad-takeovers on the other hand obliterate the initial media message and in doing so demand the space be used for other conversations. I think this is a very important distinction because if we are going to wrestle with the impact of media messages on our society, we need a critical distance from which to start. Ad takeovers demand an ad free public space and by extension ask the question of what we might fill that space with. I think with most of my other projects that aren’t directly ad-takeovers, I try to ask the question of how we might collectively take up the responsibility of public media production by encouraging other people’s participation, and exploring new tools for public media production.

Rhiannon: Are you currently working on any projects?

Jordan: I am currently working on a project called Public Access where I make tools that can be used to open advertising locations around the world so that people can engage their public media space directly. This is an ongoing project and I hope to continue to add more tools and more accessible cities in the coming years. I am also about to launch the Re+Public AR mobile app with my partner from The Heavy Projects. Our newest collaboration with MOMO was a wonderful experience and we are excited to finally make the app widely available through iOS and Android platforms.

Photo by Tim Hans

Tim Hans shoots… Carlos Mare


Carlos Mare aka Mare139 is one of hip hop’s living legends, and one of the pioneers when it comes to adapting what he learned in graffiti to settings other than walls and subway cars. Indoors, he is probably best-known for his sculptures, but of Mare’s recent work involves painting Bboys in action. This past spring, Tim Hans met Mare at his studio for the latest in our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim. I asked Mare a few questions over email.

RJ: Do you see yourself as bridging a divide between hip hop and other art movements with your artwork, or do you see art movements all as one thing?

Carlos Mare: I believe, though unintentional my works and words act as a bridge between histories and culture. Art movements are isolated events that are time and location specific, ultimately the ideas and aesthetics of that culture disseminate. Hip Hop was a great catalyst for global impact, it used to be very provincial in NYC during its hey day but once it breached local geography it was adopted and readapted by the world. This forced the hand of us pioneers to rethink it, I just happened to think of it in Modernist terms after I saw the 1980 Picasso retrospective at MoMa.

RJ: What have you done in your role as a cultural ambassador for the USA?

Carlos Mare: My role is not unlike any other traveling artist of the culture, we have been doing ambassadorships since day one. My role in part is supported by the State Dept., which does so for many American artists. I just happen to be an ‘Urban’ voice of the generation. Being able to have these opportunities allows me to speak in rooms with high level officials, artists and art advocates about the benefits and challenges of today’s urban artists. One of the most important things about traveling and speaking is that you get to educate others about the past and present contributions of the culture. This discourse is crucial and often overlooked in the relationship between governments and artists which is at best a side eyed acknowledgement.

Promoting American urban culture is much easier abroad then it is at home just so you know, in the US we have a tendency to marginalize the people of color who innovate culture until it is adapted by the mainstream. On the other hand the world youth took us on as their own and flipped the script by recognizing us as an artistic movement they too could embrace. Once it went pandemic it became hard to deny so it had to be in the best interests of Governments, Institutions and artists to bridge the gap in order to create more opportunities for personal and community change.


RJ: What do arrows mean to you?

Carlos Mare: Not much anymore actually. When I was more into Style Writing it had different meanings such as the direction in which the the construct of the letter would flow or to camouflage my name, perhaps use it as a weapon as my good friend Rammellzee used to imply. I learned that the greatest of Style Writers could do without it and can create sophisticated graffiti without it. At the end of the day it’s just another graphic element in the graphic design of graffiti.

RJ: Your Bboy pieces seem to capture so much energy and movement even while they are based on stick figures. Even moreso than many photographs. How do you go about capturing that movement in a static 2-dimensional image?

Carlos Mare: The Bboy works are not based on stick figures at all but rather geometry and movement. The line work implies the skeletal framework of the body and to a degree yes the stick figure is an easy analogy but it’s been so refined and so thought out that these shapes even in their simplest forms capture a reduced impression of the body, a familiarity that both Bboys and writers can identify with. It’s coded language, it’s rhythm, wild style and modernism all in one. One of the best interpretations came from my show in Berlin at Skalitzers Gallery when Robert Smith observed:

“Carlos Mare’s Bboy drawings and paintings, so refined and visually direct, become coded representations of the dancer’s repertoire of movements and poses. In much the same way that staffed symbols are used to represent the written form of musical notation, so too the simple, gestural icons come to express a visual codification, a defined scale of available movements.”

I had never considered an analogy like this even though it was already baked into the work, this observation was spot on and opened up a whole other dimension into my thought process. These works are in large part about physical intentions, what is implied by gesture and movement, so much of the genius of the dance is nuanced and can be found in the in between spaces of the action, a dancer begins at A and goes through his whole vocabulary to get to Z. What I am interested in is what happens in between and how to capture that. It’s a Futurist concept with a dope backbeat.


RJ: What’s next for you?

Carlos Mare: I am always stretching the boundaries in my works, I’m challenged by my own works and see my work changing radically in the coming year. I will continue painting the Bboy works which are more and more amazing and will turn these ideas into sculpture as well. That series will likely come to an end but not before I do a series with Ken Swift, this will be the pinnacle of this exploration I think, I could be wrong but I’ve been at it for many many years and feel I can bookend it with the legendary master as my subject.

As for sculpture, I haven’t begun to scratch the surface. I have lots of new works coming and older works that need closure before I move into the next phase of sculpting. It’s unfortunate that sculpture is not in the urban contemporary art conversation right now, painting is getting way too much light since it is easier to do and live with. I hope to change this with new public works that are larger, smarter and more ambitious.

Currently I am consulting with the Lemelson Center/Smithsonian Institute with an upcoming exhibition on Hip Hop culture which will highlight the Turntable as an American Innovation. Beyond that I can’t speak about what I have planned as it is probably the most ambitious and important work of my career.

“Don’t be an outsider looking in, be the Outsider they look into.” – Carlos Mare

Photos by Tim Hans