Books

Louie-KR.ONE-Gasparro-kolorstorm-book

Born in East Harlem and raised in Astoria, Queens, Louie “KR.One” Gasparro has been sharing his vast creative talents — both as an artist and as musician — with us for decades.  “Louie was an original,” Sacha Jenkins writes in the introduction to the recently-released KOLORSTORM: The Art of Louie “KR.One” Gasparro. “KR was a master of paint at a time in graffiti when there were more court jesters than kings, more tags and throw ups than masterpieces.”  Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to catch up with the impassioned artist while visiting his studio.

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It’s been almost three years now since your first book Don1: The King from Queens was launched with a panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York. How has the response to that book been?

The response has been overwhelming. I put a light on a NYC graffiti master who had been forgotten.  He had influenced so many of us, but was living in obscurity. I was determined to uncover his story and share it with others. I spent nine years doing that. But my persistence paid off.  I had folks from Italy writing to me after the book was released.

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And what about your current book? It’s quite impressive! How did that come about?

While working on Don1: The King from QueensI developed a relationship with its publisher, Schiffer Books. And when I proposed a book of my own works, I was encouraged to see it through.

I love the way your new book is organized into distinct chapters on different themes — such as The Early Days, Black Books, Model Trains, Abstracts, Walls and more. There is such an amazing variety of works and styles represented here, as well as a documentation of your journey as an artist — from subway graffiti pieces dating back to the early 80’s to contemporary urban art. How long did it take you to get it all together?

I spent two years working on it.  The greatest challenge was deciding which works to include. Originally, I had 600 images. I then had to cut that down to 400.

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Kolorstorm is also an amazing foray into your inspirations and passions.  Can you tell us something about your influences?

There are many. Comic books, cartoons, graffiti art, rock & roll, heavy metal…

Who were some of your favorite musicians back then?

Among them are: Jimi Hendrix, Rush, Yes… For me — and for many of us — graffiti was never related to hip-hop. The connection was largely an illusion that was accepted by many as “fact.” Graffiti transcends all concepts of race, religion, culture and class. That’s what makes it so great.

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In what ways has your work evolved through the past few years?

The entire process has become easier. My artwork is more detailed, and my line works are better.

Your Abstrakts are on a whole different level! What inspired them?

I was just experimenting with colors and shapes. The Abstrakts evolved from the experimentation. I’ve been told that they are “informed by graffiti.” And so they may be!

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What’s ahead?

More art, of course! And opening Saturday (tomorrow) night is Art As An Answer, a one night only pop-up show with new works, presented by The Astoria Boyz and The Urban Foundation Gallery, at 208 East 73rd Street in Manhattan.

Congratulations!  It’s certain to be wonderful!

Images:

1. Cover of KOLORSTORM: The Art of Louie “KR.One” Gasparro, published by Schiffer Books

2. Louie “KR.One” Gasparro in his studio

3Louie “KR.One” Gasparro, The Lost Art of the Tag, True York

4. KR.One and Fome 1, IRT #2 Line, Bronx, 1982, Photo © Martha Cooper

5. Louie “KR.One” Gasparro, Abstract, Greyburst3

6Louie “KR.One” Gasparro, Band Member, Keyboardist

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; images 1, 4, 5 & 7 courtesy of the artist; 2, 3 & 6 photographed by Lois Stavsky in Louie’s studio

Note: Hailed in a range of media from Wide Walls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Penned by photographer, writer, neuroscientist and street art aficionado, Yoav Litvin, 2Create: Art Collaborations in New York City is a distinctly elegant ode to the art of collaboration. Recently released by Schiffer Publishing, it was formally launched last month at the Bronx Museum of the Arts alongside a collaborative photography exhibit, 2gether: Portraits of Duos in Harlem and the South Bronx by Litvin and Tau Battice. A textual and visual documentation of the creative and collaborative process among nine pairs of artists, 2Create also presents first-hand accounts of each one’s early life and work.

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Featuring such duos from NYC-based Al Diaz and Jilly Ballistic to the Iranian brothers Icy and Sot, 2Create: Art Collaborations in New York City showcases a broad range of styles, sensibilities and processes. It also introduces us to the specific locale — from Manhattan’s Union Square Subway Station to a Greenpoint, Brooklyn rooftop — of each of the collaborative works featured. With its astute insights and superb design, it stands out among the dozens of street art-related books published last year.

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After reading the book, I posed a few questions to Yoav:

Your first book, the highly acclaimed Outdoor Gallery: New York City, focused largely on individual artists. Why did you decide to focus on duos in this book? 

In contrast to other art forms, such as music or dance, the visual arts involve a more solitary practice. Painters are famous for being hermits: closing themselves off from the world in their studios where they paint their masterpieces. At least, that’s the popular narrative. I feel that because the visual arts are easily commodified and objectified, they have evolved in such a way.  While I was working on Outdoor Gallery, which focuses on 46 individual artists, I noticed several duos of street and graffiti artists who produced incredible works, and I was fascinated by their practices. In 2Create I seek to investigate the art and practice of collaboration in different mediums — collage work, screen printing, stenciling, graffiti and mural making. My goal with 2Create is twofold: to present the behind-the-scenes processes of these artists and to investigate the secrets of collaboration, with the ultimate aim of encouraging others to create together. Just like any skill, collaboration needs to be practiced!

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How did you decide which duos to feature in 2Create?

My process with 2Create was mostly democratic. I was looking to present a diversity of styles, messages, mediums and locales. I am cognizant and weary of the politics involved in the arts and attempted to focus on artists that I felt were doing radical, innovative work and were constantly challenging themselves. Throughout my research on collaborations, I discovered there were two major categories that lie on a continuum — from complementary collaborations – individual works presented side by side – to integrative, a single piece that seamlessly integrates the work of two artists. I chose nine duos that present the full spectrum.

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What insights did you, yourself, gain into the collaborative process, particularly among visual artists?

Collaboration is a skill that should be practiced by any visual artist as part of his/her development. Collaboration is an exciting and stimulating process that can produce immense growth if approached correctly, but can be very challenging at times. An artist needs to respect and trust his or her collaborator and be willing to be adaptable and open to critique. The collaborative process can open new doors for an artist  — in techniques, messages, ideas and human connections that can be useful moving forward.

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The book, itself, is masterfully designed. Can you tell us something about that? 

For the design I worked with the designer Dan Michman, who is also an excellent childhood friend. It was important for me that every aspect of this project be collaborative. Dan is the best designer I know, plus I like him a lot and knew from experience that we’d collaborate well. Our process was incredible. Dan took my materials — images and texts — along with my notions on the artistic process and on collaboration, and created a stunning design “language” for the book. It was a truly integrative collaborative process. I could not be happier with the way it turned out. Plus, the cover design is simply stunning. Lastly, Schiffer Publishing did a great job in the book’s production.

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How has the response been to 2Create?  Is there any particular readership you’d like to reach?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to appealing to the street art and graffiti fan crowd, my hope is that 2Create will integrate as a text book for art schools, colleges and universities. I believe the behind-the-scenes process shots, the revealing interviews and the insight into the art of collaboration make it a unique resource for artists in general, and visual artists in particular. But 2Create is more than a book on art. It is a document that presents the collaborative duo as the basic unit of a collective humanity in which empathy and collaboration trump disregard and domination. In an era of the cult of celebrity, war and climate change, collective action is not only beneficial, it is necessary. 2Create expresses these radical notions and I hope it will serve to inspire activists fighting for the greater good.

For more listen to Yoav speak on Counterpunch Radio here.

Images

1 & 2 Rubin and Dasic 

3 & 4 Bunny M and Square 

5  Stikki Peaches and Dain

6 & 7 Icy & Sot

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All images © Yoav Litvin

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Penned by Ulrich Blanché, Banksy: Urban Art in a Material World focuses primarily on Banksy’s relationship with consumer culture.  With its thoroughly-researched appendix documenting everything from Banksy record album covers to his exhibition catalogs, it is the first comprehensive academic study of Banksy’s art.  An interview with the author follows:

Your book, Banksy: Urban Art in a Material World, began as a dissertational thesis.  Why did you choose to focus your studies on Banksy? What is it specifically about him that so intrigued you?

I was first introduced to street art and stencils in 2006 on a trip to Melbourne, Australia. And while visiting a museum bookshop there, I discovered Banksy’s book Wall and Piece. I was instantly fascinated and found myself going through it page by page. I liked the way each of his pieces has a distinct message or lesson that is transmitted in a humorous way.  I knew then that I would like to research and write about his work.

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You draw parallels between Banksy and the contemporary British artist Damien Hirst. You discuss their collaborations, as well. Can you tell us something about that?  What are some of the essential similarities between the two? What did each have to gain by collaborating?

It might still shock some people that Hirst, the personification of capitalism, and Banksy, the art guerilla, collaborated. They knew each other since about 2000, and Hirst supported Banksy early on. It was kind of like Warhol and Basquiat.  The established artist gains coolness and the newer artist gains credibility.  The two artists admired each other’s works – and both Banksy and Hirst shared a morbid and humorous sensibility. 

Among Banksy’s subjects are both capitalism and religion – often merged in a particular image.  Do any particular images stand out to you? And why do they?

Banksy does not really focus on religion except in relation to consumption. Shopping/ Money is the god of today. No particular work stands out for me. Some are weaker; some are better.

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To what do you attribute Banksy’s extraordinary commercial success?

I suspect that Banksy actually earns much less than people think he does. His income comes from the sale of prints, books, DVDs… The people who bought a Banksy for 50 quid 15 years ago or received a Banksy as a present have profited  tremendously.

As Banksy rails against consumerism, he — himself — is a master at manipulating consumers.  Why might we have become such a society of consumers? Any thoughts?

We are easily manipulated, even when we know we are being manipulated.

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How essential are the streets to Banksy’s success?

The street is his canvas – it is the means he uses to communicate. To remove the street from Banksy’s work is like removing a figure from a Rembrandt. If you manage to keep the context with photos, videos, background info, the work may survive indoors – once it’s no longer on the street. In Banksy’s words: “’I don’t know if street art ever really works indoors. If you domesticate an animal, it goes from being wild and free to sterile, fat and sleepy. So maybe the art should stay outside. Then again, some old people get a lot of comfort from having a pet around the house.”

Where is it all going? Will Banksy’s popularity and commercial success continue to rise? Will Banksy continue to use the streets as a canvas? Or will he become less dependent on them? What are your thoughts?

Street Art is over.  Most works on the street today are authorized murals or pieces in areas where the artist wants to be seen and photographed by the “right” people — whoever that might be.  Street art has become urban art for Instagram. Banksy will last. He will put a few works on the street every year and pull off a big event every few years. I hope he will publish another huge book of his works or lead a little revolution somewhere. That would be fun.

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Originally written in German and published by TectumBanksy: Urban Art in a Material World has been translated into English and is available here.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; images 2, 4 & 5 Creative Commons & 3 captured by Lenny Collado in NYC

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An in-depth analysis of graffiti and street art, the Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art presents a strong sampling of the current scholarship in the field. Edited by University of Baltimore Professor Jeffrey Ian Ross, it is appended by a glossary of graffiti terms and a chronology of graffiti beginning with early cave paintings.

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Published earlier this year by Routledge — the world’s leading academic publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences — it is divided into four sections, offering a range of theories by thirty-seven contributors on the:

  • History, Types, and Writers/Artists of Graffiti and Street Art
  • Theoretical Explanations of Graffiti and Street Art/Causes of Graffiti and Street Art
  • Regional/Municipal Variations/Differences of Graffiti and Street Art, and
  • Effects of Graffiti and Street Art.

With its mix of aesthetic, cultural, sociological and political perspectives across a richly diverse spectrum of topics – from the history of freight train graffiti in North America to the value of street and graffiti in the current art market – it is a fascinating foray into one of the most significant global movements of our time.  Among the many essays of particular interest to those of us immersed in the current scene are: Rafael Schacter‘s thesis of graffiti and street art as “ornamental forms;” Jessica N. Pabon‘s examination of gender in contemporary street art; Jeffrey Ian Ross‘s discussion of London’s contemporary graffiti and street art scene; Mona Abaza‘s analysis of the graffiti and street art that surfaced in post-January 11 Egypt, and Peter Bengtsen‘s discussion of the value of street art removed from the street.

An interview with Professor Jeffrey Ian Ross follows:

What initially spurred your interest in graffiti?

Beginning in childhood and continuing during my high school years, I spent a considerable amount of time creating visual art – graphic design, painting, photography and sculpture. Frustrated and/or disappointed with the quality of instruction in my public high schools, I enrolled in and completed courses at the Ontario College of Art–now Ontario College of Art and Design — in Toronto. Later, I was accepted to the Central Technical School Commercial Art program, as well as the Photographic Arts program at Ryerson College — now University–, but I chose not to attend. In many respects, my study of graffiti and street art, and the content of this book represent a way of coming full circle. The scholarly study of graffiti and street art deals with many subjects close to my personal interest areas, including codes, control, crime, criminal justice, deviance, gentrification, harms, illegalities, identity, state responses, power imbalances, protest, punishment, resistance, subjectivity, subterranean processes and networks, surveillance, urban incivility and vandalism.

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What inspired you to edit a book of this nature?

In 2012 I decided to teach an undergraduate class on “Graffiti and Street Art” at the University of Baltimore.  Over time, as I started to read the body of work on graffiti and street art, I noticed that it was short on empirical scholarly analysis, was of uneven quality, and was distributed through a diverse number of scholarly venues. What was missing was a reference book that presented and analyzed the important research, theories, and ideas related to the field of graffiti and street art. I was determined to assemble a collection of original, well researched and written pieces created by experts on this subject under one literary roof. This handbook is the result of this effort.

How do you account for the increased interest among academics in graffiti and street art?

Graffiti and street art are pervasive in cities around the world. You cannot ignore it. Because the amount of graffiti and street art has increased since the 1960s and has changed in form and content, it is something to be examined by an interdisciplinary cadre of scholars.

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How did you decide what topics to include?

Through an intense reading of the scholarship of graffiti and street art, and by consulting with some of my contributors, I was able to disentangle what are/were the most important topics to include in the book.

And how did you decide which academics/scholars/authors to include?

Again through a careful read of the scholarship and by engaging with my contributors with respect to who might be the most appropriate scholar/author to write on a particular topic, I was able to narrow down which academic to invite to write a chapter.

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Are there any particular theories presented here that particularly surprised or enlightened you?

I am a big fan of subcultural theories of crime, but recognize that there are numerous other theories embedded in other social sciences and the humanities that are relevant here, including different kinds of literature that play into the study of graffiti and street crime, like gentrification, space, etc.

Who is the audience for your book?

The Handbook is easy to read and designed to answer common questions asked by undergraduate and graduate students, as well as by experts on graffiti and street art. This book is also accessible to practitioners — individuals working, or aspiring to work, in the fields of criminal justice, law enforcement, art history, museum studies, tourism studies, urban studies, etc., as well as policy- makers in these fields. In addition, it is of interest to members of the news media covering stories on graffiti and street art. The analysis and writing are accessible to upper-level university students — typically referred to as juniors and seniors at American universities — and graduate students. This volume will also be useful for scholars and libraries, and can easily be utilized in the classroom context. A reference book of this nature will be of interest not only in the previously mentioned scholarly fields, but it will also be specifically relevant to those institutions that have programs in cultural studies, visual arts, tourism, and museum studies. Last but certainly not least, the Handbook will appeal to a wide international audience.

Photos for this post by Jeffrey Ian Ross: 1. Baltimore (Graffiti Alley); 2 NYC & 3. Santiago, Chile; interview by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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To celebrate the launch of the new book from Wooster CollectiveELEVEN SPRING: A CELEBRATION OF STREET ART, artist ELBOW-TOE remembers the historic event and its impact on the world of street art.

I was talking to a younger artist the other day about street art that I was involved in as opposed to murals — which she considers street art — and she said, “Oh, you mean vandalism.”

How did we get here?

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I recall the moment that I knew I wanted to be a street artist – I was at work, and one afternoon, my friend pointed me to this post on a blog I had never heard of called Wooster Collective. It was an image by an artist who had photoshopped street signs, so that they looked transparent from the correct angle. It was absolutely magical. How did it get there? Who was the artist? I had seen some street art around over the years: WK Interact when I was in school in the early 90’s and around the early 2000’s quite a bit of NECKFACE around the corner from a print shop I was using.

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As I began to explore the archives of Wooster Collective, I saw that there was in fact a community that had built up around these random acts of art that I had paid little heed beyond the internal “huh, that’s interesting.” What was truly fascinating about the work was that, aside from a moniker, the work was anonymous. In that anonymity there existed a mystery. It elevated even the most banal work, purely by the act of risk that was involved. And for the first time in over a decade in the city, it pulled me out of my tunnel vision and got me looking at the walls as spaces to be activated.

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The Wooster Collective site was such an impeccably curated space that it got people outside of the movement to give it their attention. Having known the Schillers over those early years, I, of course, was head over heels when I was asked not only to be involved in their secret project but to be given a coveted space on the main floor. At the time I don’t think any of us realized that this exhibition would have the impact that it did.

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11 Spring was truly a transformative exhibition; it reflected the very transition that would occur wholeheartedly in this movement just by walking from the outside of the building to the inside. The exterior of the building still had the raw power of getting your work up. The work was often messy and might last only a few hours before being covered by a new piece. Contrast the organic energy of the ever-changing composition on the shell with an impeccably curated show inside the five floors of a gutted building, where all these artists were able to truly flex their technical and creative muscles without concern of the work being damaged or transformed by others.

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It was this mercurial quality of traveling from the outside to the inside and then back out again that gave this show such power in my opinion. I am not sure that there is a direct correlation of this show to the mural program that followed, but it certainly opened a larger audience up to the possibilities of their public spaces’ potential.

I will always cherish the experience.

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Note: With its outstanding documentation, along with an introduction by Shepard Fairey and an afterword by JR,  ELEVEN SPRING: A CELEBRATION OF STREET ART captures an important moment in the history of the movement. Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 29 — from 6:30 to 8:00 PM — Marc and Sara Schiller, along with FAILE, Lady Pink, Michael DeFeo, and WK Interact, will be at the Strand for a special signing and celebration of the book’s launch. You can buy tickets to the event here

Images 

1.  COVER, ELEVEN SPRING: A CELEBRATION OF STREET ART

2.  ELBOW-TOE  (BRIAN ADAM DOUGLAS), EVERYBODY’S GOT ONE, MADE WITH WOOD BURNER, YARN, AND PAINT. PHOTO ELBOW-TOE

3.  WK INTERACT, THE FIRST ARTIST INVITED INSIDE THE BUILDING. PHOTO JAKE DOBKIN 

4.  11 SPRING STREET, THE DAY OF THE OPENING. PHOTO JAKE DOBKIN 

5.  SHEPARD FAIREY, HARD AT WORK, MAKING IT LOOK EASY. PHOTO WOOSTER COLLECTIVE 

6.  BARNSTORMERS’ COLLABORATION WITH PAINTINGS BY Z¥$, DOZE GREEN AND KENJI HIRATA. PHOTO JAKE DOBKIN

7  JUDITH SUPINE AND DAVIDE ZUCCO (R3KAL), THERE IS HELL IN HELLO. PHOTO DONALD DIETZ 

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Conceived and curated by Native Californian Neely ShearerIn Heroes We Trust: Street Artists and Their Heroes features the musings and artworks of 60 international artists on the theme of heroism. After reading the elegantly engaging book — with its foreword by Ron English and preface by Jef Aerosol — I posed a few questions to Neely.

What inspired this book/project?

One of my clients happens to be the CEO of a publishing company, Knock Knock. After purchasing some artwork, she suggested that I do a book based on the concept of my shop, In Heroes We Trust

Why did you choose to focus on street artists?

I had already been working on projects with artists and decided to make my new shop a mash-up of fashion and street art. Street artists have always had my respect, and they quite amuse me. They are a certain type of character  – bold, independent, determined. That’s inspiring to me. The walls of my shop have been painted, stenciled and wheat-pasted by street artist friends. I had asked them to do their own personal heroes, keeping their own original style.

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What inspired the particular title — In Heroes We Trust— of both the shop and the book?

I came up with it some years ago driving solitary along an ocean road listening to the David Bowie song ‘Heroes’. It really speaks to me at core level – the idea of being a Hero. Not in a grand gesture way, but in terms of living life daily as a Hero to oneself, and ultimately to others. Being human isn’t always easy, but if we can do our best to be the best versions of ourselves and share that with others, perhaps we can all get along better, live fuller.

How did you decide which artists to include? 

I had my favorites, of course, and I did a lot of research. I looked for the talent, the message behind the work and the artist’s integrity.

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Did this project pose any particular challenges to you?   

I had to keep my nose to the wheel to track many of them down, as their contact info wasn’t always easily accessible.

How did the artists respond — as it’s not the usual question posed to them?

Most artists seemed excited about the project right away. In a few cases, an artist had said No at first; however, with more communication between us, we came to understand one another and what this was about. The artists get hit up a lot by various projects and surely it’s not always clear what’s what and who’s who. They need to protect themselves. It was definitely a wonderful learning experience in communication. And I had such a great team at  Knock Knock – my editors Jamie Stern and Erin Conley, who were of great support and positivity behind the scenes. They really trusted me to do my thing, and that meant a lot.

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Did any artist responses particularly surprise you?

Yes, one in particular. One artist’s manager wrote back quite a strict reply saying that the artist would never do such a book for the benefit of promoting my shop. I explained that this was a real gift for all of us that the publisher had offered us. Basically — a book showcasing them and their work on another, more personal, level. Sure, the book will shine light on what my shop is doing – which is to promote artists. And I am thrilled about that! I’m similar to them in that I’m a one-person show… getting by on what I love to do. Collaborating and supporting one another is really IT. It’s how we move forward, follow our passions and live what we are here to do.

What was the outcome? Did you successfully convince this particular artist’s manager?

Yes! That artist did join the project and is featured in the book.

In Heroes We Trust

How has the response been to the book? All of us here who have seen it love it.

From what I’ve seen firsthand, people think it is a beautiful little book of inspiration. And the artists who have seen it have said they are honored to be included with so many other artists whom they admire. For me, that was surely my hope. I wanted to present the best of the best and for all the artists to feel proud of their work in the company of their peers.

Who are some of your personal heroes?

In high school, I kept a photo of Joan Rivers with Boy George on my locker door. I loved that they both caused such controversy by being outrageous. I know Joan got pretty crazy into the insults later in her career.  However, she opened up so many doors for women in the entertainment industry and beyond; in her generation women held back, but she didn’t.  And Boy George just rocked his style and sexuality like no one. He let freaks be freaks! The two of them were good friends and that was also pretty cool – kind of two people you wouldn’t expect together. I’m interested in these kinds of people who don’t give a f*#k about normality. They break barriers for the rest of us. Today we have Martha Stewart and Snoop together – and I love it. It’s a great example of people connecting beyond age, race, upbringing and past lives.

Images

1. The London Police, All Hail Sir David Bowie. From In Heroes We Trust, published by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

2. Jef Aerosol, The Sitting Kid. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

3. Pichiavo, Trojan Heroes. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

4. HulaKahu. From In Heroes We Trustpublished by Knock Knock LLC © 2016

Interview by Lois Stavsky 

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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We’ve been huge fans of Stik and his distinctively singular — now iconic — character since he first visited NYC several years ago. We are delighted that his first book that was released in the UK last year is now available here throughout the US.

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Featured in STIK are dozens of artworks ranging from unsanctioned pieces on the streets of East London — painted when the artist was homeless — to huge international murals across the globe. All are fashioned from six lines and two dots, the style Stik began when he had to paint quickly to evade the authorities.

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Described by the artist as “a journal of the progression of the Stik Project,”  STIK is a fascinating journey into the artist’s consciousness and aesthetic. Stik’s strong social mindfulness and acute political awareness are evident in this first collection of his works, as he increasingly devotes his talents and energies to a range of causes, often working in collaboration with children and members of vulnerable communities.

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With over 200 heavy gloss pages and an exclusive, limited edition print, the book — published by Penguin — has now made its way into bookstores across the globe.

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You can meet Stik and purchase a signed copy of his book with an orange or teal print — exclusive to the first US edition of the book — tomorrow, Thursday evening from 6-8pm at Strand Books, 828 Broadway on the corner of 12th Street.

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Anyone who buys a copy of STIK or brings in a pre-purchased copy of the book for Stik to sign at Strand Books is eligible to enter a lottery to win a pair of artist’s unfolded, card stock Stik posters, signed by Stik himself. The posters, one orange and one blue, are number one of only five artist’s proofs and depict the same image seen on the book’s cover.

All photos courtesy Stik and Penguin Press

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Recently released by Dokument PressRUBIN NEW YORK SCANDINAVIA is a stunning survey of Rubin‘s distinct abstract and geometrical artworks that are rooted in traditional graffiti. With dozens of images documenting Rubin‘s journey — from Sweden, where he grew up, to NYC, where he is now based — Rubin New York/Scandinavia  offers an overview of the works of an exceptional artist, who has brought a singular beauty to our NYC landscape.

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The book’s succinct text by Björn Almqvist introduces us to Rubin’s experiences as a child of Finnish immigrants who made their way to Sweden in search of work. The alienation that Rubin felt among Swedes, along with the stark grey concrete walls of the housing complex that enveloped him, were calls to pick up a can and make a mark.

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Inspired by Scandinavian design, Rubin has developed a unique aesthetic that uses geometrical, symbols in lieu of letters. With his splendid craftsmanship and unique aesthetic, he transforms the gritty language of graffiti into his own distinct expression that is as effective on the streets of the South Bronx, as it is inside a church yard or on the outside of a Manhattan boutique.

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Rubin New York/Scandinavia also provides us with a handsomely curated survey of Rubin’s studio work that has been increasingly making its way into galleries.

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Rubin New York/Scandinavia is a splendid ode to a distinctly wonderful artist. Its NYC release took place last month at WallWorks, where the artist’s  works remain on exhibit through June 29th.

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Images

1. & 2. Brooklyn, 2014

3. Brooklyn, 2014

4. Gothenburg, 1989 

5. Brooklyn, 2015

6. Gallery nine5, 2014

Photo credits: Tony “Rubin” Sjöman and Mika Tuomivuo; all photos courtesy of Dokument Press; book review by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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A huge fan of zines and independent publications of all kinds, I was delighted to discover Never Blue, featuring artworks by some of my favorite artists — who make their mark both on and off the streets. Curious about it all, I posed some questions to its curator, Mr. Green aka A Color Green.

Never-Blue-Zine

Just who/what is A Color Green? And when was it born?

At the easiest level, A Color Green aka ACG, Mr. Green or Coloure Greene is an independent, NYC-based artist and curator. Mr. Green was born roughly six years ago, about the same time I began to concoct a haphazard entrance into the film industry. And playing off its founder’s last name,  A Color Green was conceived as a film production company title. Today, A Color Green is both an individual artist and his alter ego, as well as a tight-knit production and publishing team – (though always looking to expand into something new!)

Can you tell us something about its logo?

As I began to search for what would be a company “logo,” an immediate connection with the cartoonish face you’ve become familiar with on NYC streets in sticker or tag form was born. Upon realizing the breadth of possibilities or absurdities in this face, ACG expanded into an alter-ego reminiscent of some of my favorite artists or musicians — graffiti legends like Snake 1, contemporaries like Chris RWK and Frank Ape and pop-culture icons like MF Doom, Quasimoto or Big L, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Dupieux, Roger Ebert and more.

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What spurred you to take Green to the streets?

When I moved back to NYC a few years ago, I didn’t have the resources to pursue my own filmmaking. And inspired by those contemporary artists, I decided to try taking Green to the street, tying in film references. A big inspiration was my intent to develop a curatorial channel to feature these very artists.  And as that “channel” continues to grow, so do the partnerships and connections that have allowed me to branch back into some of my original inspirations in filmmaking and publishing which, of course, leads right back to this interview, Never Blue and some upcoming projects.

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Never Blue is Volume 2 of the zines produced by A Color Green. Can you tell us something about Volume 1? Is it still available? What spurred you to produce Never Blue?  What is the concept behind it?

A Color Green Zine was conceived as a trilogy, each installment correlating to a different side of my character, inspiration, aesthetic and — I suppose — humor. As an artist, I’ve always identified with those masterful creators like Picasso or Kubrick who understood the importance of change and redefining one’s self throughout a career. This trilogy is a direct nod to something like Picasso’s Blue Period or Kubrick’s ability to produce Barry Lyndon directly after A Clockwork Orange. The styles are so radically different, but through the change you still catch a similar glimpse of what drew you there in the first piece — whether a feeling, face or something else entirely. 

Our first edition, Black and White was also a limited edition risograph print co-published by Endless Editions  — as the entire trilogy will be — and featured roughly thirty artists, a number of whom are also featured in Never BlueWhile Black and White was meant to adhere to that gritty, DIY style — which I’d strictly adhered to for two years — Never Blue, was meant to be a sad or celebratory, soulful or seductive step away from the simple shades of B&W. If you missed out on the sold-out first edition, you can download a free copy of the A Color Green Zine Vol. 1 Black & White now on BitTorrent.

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Works by dozens of artists representing a wide range of styles, sensibilities and cultures are featured in Never Blue? That’s quite impressive. How did you decide which artists to include? How did you reach out to them?

While Never Blue is the second official zine I’ve created with A Color Green, it’s actually our third publication following a small print we released over the summer called the Green Carpet Zine. Like I said, we had always intended to make A Color Green Zine an official trilogy, and receiving the proper submissions took some time — so much so that we took a break and created the entirely random Green Carpet Zine.

What differentiates the Green Carpet Zine from the official ACG trilogy is an emphasis on street art and representing that style in an illustrative or photographic form on the page. There were a number of artists I knew who had to be in it – starting with several highly talented friends including: HausRiot, Kristy Elena, Seth Laupus, Zero Productivity, Leaf8k and JCorp TM who were in the first edition. Next, I needed to reach out to some of my favorite contemporaries like Brolga, CEEZ, Chris RWK, City Kitty, Murrz, Abe Lincoln Jr. and Frank Ape who’d inspired me to get back into street art. And as I often find with that community, everyone was wonderfully supportive. I also opened up submissions to artists via the Con Artist Collective where I received dozens of illustrations that were incredibly difficult to choose from. The remaining slots were announced via social media where another couple of dozen artists responded.

Unfortunately, not all of the artwork could make it in, and that’s where we needed to put on the curatorial hat and figure out which submissions not only fit the theme, but worked together in a layout as well. Emphasizing the different styles is very important to us, and when you flip through the zine, you’ll find we pair similar styles together and contrast different looks. The result is a blend of hand-style, graphic design, illustration, wheat-paste and whatever else.

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What was your greatest challenge in getting this zine out? How did you promote it once it was published?

Time is always the greatest challenge. The balancing act of juggling work, life and responsibility. Every artist who submitted to the zine — whether anonymous or not — has a life outside of their alter-ego, and so do I. We couldn’t dictate a strict delivery for some submissions, because we desperately wanted some artists to partake, and I would have pushed the printing back for some people if need be.  But after receiving over fifty submissions, we knew we had to cut it off and set a release date. That release date, after two years gave ACG and Endless Editions the much needed fire under our asses, and within two months we had two hundred fresh risograph copies and an opening set at Con Artist NYC where another 25 artists donated work to hang on the walls.

Promoting after such a long build up was the easy part and it took place mostly via social media — across 30 somewhat artist pages on different platforms — in addition to a couple of NYC art listings and press releases. Con Artist also has been a major champion of our work and promoted it heavily across their channels.

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What’s ahead for A Color Green?

Up next for ACG is a long-awaited rest from zine curation and my official directorial debut in MUTE which will have its hometown world premiere with the BK Horror Club and Brooklyn Horror Fest tomorrow, April 21. The short film features Danish star Albert Bendix as a tongue-chopping madman and is followed in double-feature form by a screening of the modern-classic You’re Next, sponsored by Throne Watches and Narragansett Beer. Tickets can be purchased here. And If you’re yet to check out Never Blue, you can buy a copy at Con Artist while supplies last or head over to Printed Matter, Inc where the zine will go on sale later this month. More on www.acolorgreen.com.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy Mr. Green

Images: 

1. Mr. Green with Never Blue

2. Mr. Green

3. Chris RWK

4. Ceez

5. Abe Lincoln Jr.

6. Murrz

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Currently based in Sweden, Peter Bengtsen is an art historian and sociologist who has been researching street art for the past nine years. The Street Art World, a 248 page book, is the result of his research based on studies of everyday interaction among artists, gallerists, collectors, bloggers and street art enthusiasts.  I recently had the opportunity to read Peter’s engaging book and pose some questions to him.

When and how did you first become aware of street art?

I grew up in a small town in the Danish countryside, with virtually no exposure to graffiti or street art. As a kid I would sometimes see throw-ups by Tower and Carn in the underpasses when driving with my parents on the freeway, and those names have been stuck in my head ever since. It wasn’t until I moved to Copenhagen in 2000 that I really became aware of street art and graffiti, though.

You write that when you first discovered street art, you did not deem it “worth documenting and preserving.”  What changed your mind?

When I say that street art wasn’t worth documenting, what I really mean is that for a while the immediate and brief encounters with the work on the street were enough for me. However, over time I started getting attached to some of the artworks I passed regularly, and I also began recognizing the work of certain artists like HuskMitNavn and later Armsrock and Faile. I found myself feeling a bit sad when the artworks eventually disappeared, and I felt an urge to somehow keep them. Photography was one way of doing that. The technological developments around that time had a lot to do with making this form of documentation possible. Back in the early years of the 2000s I was using a film camera and I couldn’t afford to photograph graffiti and street art, but that changed when I got my first digital camera in early 2005.

Faile- Copenhagen-2004

When it comes to preserving street art, I am still conflicted. As an art historian, I see a value in keeping material examples of street artworks for posterity. However, a key part of street art for me is that artworks are transformed over time, because the street is open to change and dialogue. When street artworks are placed under glass or cut out of walls to be preserved in a more controlled environment that openness is taken away. In preserving street artworks, I think one of the essential things that set street art apart from other art may be lost.

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As an academic, what are some of the challenges you face when researching and writing about street art?

Even before I started my research, I found expressions of a rather strong anti-intellectual and anti-institutional mindset in the street art world. These public expressions have become less dominant in recent years as street art gets more integrated in the mainstream art world. However, academics that are seen to attempt “investigating” street art – rather than actually engaging with the art and the social environment that surrounds it – are sometimes still looked upon as a species of “culture vulture,” swooping in to pick the bones of a social and cultural environment they know little about. Over the years I have seen researchers fail in their work because they lacked a fundamental understanding of the social rules of the field they were trying to study.

To mitigate the critical attitude towards academic researchers, and the institutional art world they are seen to represent, I think first impressions are very important. In my own case, because my interest in street art was not academic to begin with, I had already been socializing with other street art fans for some time when I started doing formal research in 2006. While I have still met some skepticism and received derisive comments regarding my role as a researcher and my attempts to intellectualize street art, I think the connections I already had with other enthusiasts made it a lot easier to move forward with my project. If I had come from the outside with a research agenda, things might have been different.

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How have other street art enthusiasts – from bloggers and collectors to the artists themselves – responded to your academic approach to the subject?

Apart from the skepticism I already mentioned, people have generally been very positive during the research project. When I was working on the book, I had a lot of help from people who provided me with viewpoints, information, and – very importantly – photographs of artworks I couldn’t get to myself. My research budget doesn’t allow for expenses related to image rights, so if people hadn’t been so generous and willing to let me use their images, the book would have ended up looking very differently.

In terms of the finished book, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I was confident I had created a solid piece of scholarly work, but it was also very important to me to write something that people outside the academic world would be interested in reading and could relate to. From the comments I have received, street art enthusiasts enjoy the book and recognize the world I am describing. This doesn’t mean they always agree with everything I write, but to me that is really great. My goal with the book was never to present the “truth” about what street art is – I actually don’t believe one such single truth exists. My hope was that the book could be part of an ongoing dialogue about street art, and critical engagement and disagreement are essential to that.

Erica-ilcane mural-Grottaglie-Italy-2012

What are some of the changes that you have observed in the street art “world” since you first began documenting it and writing about it?

One of the most significant changes is that the street art world has become increasingly professionalized. This can be seen in for example the establishing of commercial magazines dedicated to so-called urban art, the increasing number of print houses and galleries that produce and/or sell limited edition artworks, the companies around the world that arrange commercial street art tours, and the vast number of street art festivals that have popped up in the past decade. With a more professional system in place, I think it has become easier for some artists to make a living from their work. While this is a positive development in many ways, from a personal point of view I do find it tiresome that some artists now seem to consider doing street work simply as a way of promoting their commercial wares. This is for example reflected in the number of websites and social media handles that are now included in, or placed next to, work in the street.

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Along with the professionalization, street art enthusiasts seem to have become increasingly focused on the market value of commercial products. I see this very clearly on street art forums. Members have always discussed the value of their collections, but investment potential has gradually become the main focus since 2006, when urban art really started becoming a thing with galleries and auction houses. I think this development may partly represent a change in attitude among the people who were into street art when I first started out with my studies, but I strongly suspect it is also because a different demographic has taken an interest in street art and/or urban art as an investment object. Sadly, it seems to me that critical discussion about the art itself has largely been quashed by the market.

What are some of the key factors that have contributed to these changes?

Money obviously has a lot to do with the way the street art world has developed. With the increasing recognition and popularity of street art/urban art, it has become big business for some to provide a growing customer base with consumable products like limited edition screen prints. As a result, a growing number of print houses are constantly on the lookout for new artists, and it is not uncommon to see prints from artists who have done very little street work. This is in part possible because artists today make very conscious efforts to be “discovered” quickly, for instance by placing their street work in highly photographed areas and by leaving their contact details in or next to the work.

04 unknow artist, Copenhagen (2008)

Having witnessed the market success of some of the older generation of street artists, it is perhaps not surprising that members of a new generation see doing street work as a shortcut to a commercial career. Lack of experience and maturity on the part of these artists may be one reason a lot of the commercial work released today is very formulaic and/or blatantly rips off previous work by other artists. Despite this, much of the published work seems to sell out. It is hard to say whether this is because customers actually like the artwork, and perhaps are unaware of the source material, or because they don’t want to miss out on what is often deliberately presented to them as an investment opportunity. However, the number of prints on the secondary market is an indication that a lot of customers do see their purchases as investments.

Apart from money, technological developments have profoundly influenced the street art world. Digital photography and videography has made it simple for people to create visual material, and the internet in general – and social media in particular — enables people to share what they, and others, produce.

05 unknown artist, Malmö (2015)

I think the ease of sharing content has played a very important role in the developments seen in the street art world. It is to a large degree through the online sharing of visual material that the interest in street art is spread to new people. These new enthusiasts — and potential consumers — form a basis for the continued existence of the marketplace that now constitutes a central part of the street art world.

Is street art dead? Or is it just sleeping?

I would say that all depends on your definition of street art. The notion of the death of street art comes about when someone experiences a conflict between a specific, subjective ideal of what street art should be and what they think it has become. The statement “street art is dead” has been popping up at regular intervals for as long as I have followed the street art world, yet people are still making, documenting, discussing and trading what they call street art. Although the street art world has become more professional and commercially oriented, much to the frustration of some, I don’t think this implies that street art is dead or even dying. It simply means street art – like all things – is evolving.

06 Kissmama paste-up, Copenhagen (2013)

Note: If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book or if you want more information about it, you can contact Peter at peter.bengtsen@kultur.lu.se. You can also check out Joe Austin‘s review of the book here

Interview by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy Peter Bengtsen

1. Cover illustration:  Ericailcane

2.  Failepolaroid of paste-up, Copenhagen, 2004

3.  Armsrock, photos of the Danish artist in Copenhagen, taken in July and September 2008, illustrating how artworks are gradually transformed in the street context

4.  Banksy, stencil painting behind acrylic glass, London, 2015

5.  Ericailcane, mural Fame Festival, Grottaglie, 2012

6. Stencil, filling the street – a space already over saturated with commercial messages – with additional advertising

7. Stencil painting, unknown artist,  Copenhagen, 2008

8. Stencil, Malmo, Sweden, 2015

9. Kissmama, paste-up, Copenhagen, 2015

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available here for Android devices.

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