Interviews

The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

A fantastic topography of fabulously executed artworks by street artists from around the world has found its way onto the rooftop of Mexico City’s Antique Toy Museum, or MUJAM. I stumbled upon this hidden space while visiting the city’s Colonia Doctores neighborhood. Soon afterwards, I had the chance to speak with the man behind the project, Roberto Shimizu, Creative Director of MUJAM.

How and when did you first become interested in street art?

It all started when I was ten years old. My father took my family on a trip to New York City.  And every time we were in NYC, we went to bookstores. My brother and I had an unlimited budget for books. It was the only place my father would let us spend money as children. The first book I ever bought was Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. I was just looking for graphic stuff, but it ended up changing my life. I still have it on my desk at the museum today.

How did you become involved in the scene here in Mexico City?

I went to Japan for one and a half years after receiving my degree in Architecture in Mexico City. I moved to Tokyo to work at a high-end architecture firm, but I quickly realized that I didn’t identify with Japanese culture. I came back to Mexico City, and my father asked me to assist him with his business. He had a 5000 square foot warehouse in the Doctores neighborhood with bare walls. He gave me full access to, and it became my playground! I started by doing open calls for street artists through Facebook. I also reached out to music and theatre groups. Many noted Mexican street artists – such as Saner — first started painting here.  Other renowned artists who’ve painted here include: Ripo from Barcelona; Jaz from Argentina; Jeremy Fish from San Francisco; Pixel Pancho from Italy and Roa from Belgium. In 2007, it was dubbed the 5 Pointz of Mexico City.

And can you tell us a bit about what has happened since – in the past decade?

Once the warehouse took off, I realized I wanted to do something bigger. I invited Roa to paint an official mural on the wall of MUJAM. And in 2010, I organized the first big mural show in Mexico City with eight artists painting in different neighborhoods. That we sought permission from building owners, used cranes, and officially invited artists was very new at the time.

What triggered the start of the rooftop project Azotea Mujam. It is fascinating!

The warehouse was prime real estate, and so we had to rent it out. I couldn’t convince the new renters to keep the existing murals. Those walls were part of Mexico City’s street art history, but they wouldn’t hear it. We had to whitewash all the murals. But my intention was, and still is, to keep working with emerging artists. My father had founded MUJAM in 2006 as a showcase for his personal collection of antique toys. Today the museum houses over 40,000 pieces. Above the museum was an empty rooftop, so I decided to start Azotea Mujam and invite artists to paint up there.

Who was the first person to paint there?

Scarlett Bailey was the first artist to paint on the MUJAM rooftop in 2015. A talented Mexican illustrator living in New York City, she was a cartoonist for The New Yorker for many years. On the rooftop she painted icons of New York City’s fashion and media worlds with the Mexico City ‘hood’ as a backdrop. It was the sole work up on the roof for four months.

It seems like the entire rooftop has been painted since! How did it become so popular?

It was through word of mouth! Once the word spread, it became popular pretty quickly. I was fascinated by how much attention it received. I’ve had to whitewash some artworks to make room for others. Azotea Mujam is often the start of a collaboration between the artist and other painting projects, as well — including more prominent wall spaces in Mexico City that I organize.

How do artists react to this very unique context of a toy museum?

They love it! I think artists have a particular fascination with toys. Many famous musicians have also visited, and often when they enter the museum, they become like children. Perhaps, as artists, they are always playing.

How do you select the artists that paint on the rooftop?

I receive emails daily. I ask the artists for their portfolios. Some of them don’t have any, and that’s fine too. Like I said, I am interested in offering opportunities to emerging artists, and I’ve had very nice surprises. I am not focused on getting big names. That was never the intention of the project. What is most important to me is the relationship I develop with the artists and how they can go further from here. Regardless of how big the city projects that I organize are, Azotea Mujam is what’s most rewarding to me.

Do you encourage the artists to focus on toys in terms of the content of their artwork?

I always suggest that the artists spend a couple of days in the museum, sketching the toys they like, as that is the main theme of the rooftop. Sometimes I ask for sketches, sometimes not; it depends on the artist.

There’s a surprising variety of surfaces available for artists to paint on. Did you purposely bring in these different elements?

Yes, I added those myself to the rooftop, so there would be different options of textures and surfaces for artists to experiment on.

What’s your main goal with Azotea Mujam

To create the new generation of Mexican street artists, of both men and women. I see the rooftop as a place where seeds are planted for the future.

The space and the building itself are very interesting. Can you tell us more about its history? How it was acquired? And what have you and your family done with it since acquiring it?

MUJAM’s building was one of the most important buildings for Japanese migrants back in the mid 1900s. Many of them arrived to Mexico City with just a suitcase in hand. My father and grandfather built this building for that Japanese community to have a starting point. After that, my grandfather had the idea of importing Japanese toys; that became his business.  And it, eventually, became the building housing my father’s toy collection.

When I was up on the roof, one of the neighbors was doing laundry. So the roof is still used for practical purposes! How do these folks respond to artists painting here and sharing their work with visitors?

They love it! It was somewhat abandoned before. The artists gave it a new life. I receive many requests to host commercial events there: photo shoots, video shoots, branding events, launches… Perrier even offered to rent out the space. I always turn them down out of respect for our neighbors. I’ve only lent it to very small organizations who are themselves just starting off. I want to keep it pure.

Who are some of the other artists who have painted on the rooftop?

Poni, Paola Delfin, Atentamente una Fresa, Birdy Kids, Alaniz, Los Dos, Alegria del Prado, Gangsby, Daniel Buchsbaum, Spencer Keeton Cunningham, Nabs D, Mr. Lemonade

Have you anyone special on your wish list to paint here? 

I would love to collaborate with Os Gemeos. I like their social and political works.

The rooftop is not open to the public. How do you get people to visit it?

I don’t really try to. I want to keep it like a speakeasy. People will find it if they come into the museum and mention they like street art. We will guide them upstairs and open the door to the rooftop. Just like we did for you!

Can you tell us a bit about this neighborhood – Colonia Doctores?

Back in the 30’s and 40’s – when my grandparents moved here – it was the city’s most flourishing, residential area. With buildings designed by a French urban planner, all of the streets were named for doctors. I consider it the city’s most important district  because the government’s offices are located here. Anyone who wants to register their newborns or report a death must visit Doctores. It is home to: the biggest morgue of the city, the biggest police precinct and the first public hospital, along with the first running water. The first residential zone created by the government, there are three metro lines cutting across it. In the 1980s-90s, people started leaving. But they are coming back now! Doctores is projected to grow in the next ten years, as it is right next to the Roma neighborhood, which is now booming. The cycle of the district is very interesting.

Images

1 Alegria del Prado

2 Senkoe

Scarlett Bailey

Los Dos & Azer

Los Dos

6 Paola Delfin

7 Vale Stencil

Photos and interview by Houda Lazrak

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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When Don Rimx began painting his portrait of Nuyorican poet Jesús “Tato” Laviera last month, I had the opportunity to speak to the poet’s sister, Ruth Sanchez Laviera. “Don Rimx represents my spirit and my brother’s spirit,” she said. “As soon as I met him, I knew he was the one to paint a mural honoring my brother.” And last Saturday, Oct. 28th, after the mural was officially unveiled at Taino Towers and 123rd Street was renamed for Jesús “Tato” Laviera, I posed a few questions to Rimx:

Your mural depicting Jesús “Tato” Laviera is wonderful. When were you first offered the opportunity to paint his portrait?

I was contacted about a year ago.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? What steps did you take to make this happen?

I began by reading or watching every interview I could find that had been conducted with Jesús “Tato” Laviera. I spent time at Hunter College’s Centro: The Center for Puerto Rican Studies reading Jesús “Tato” Laviera‘s poetry and whatever literature and criticism I could find by him and about him. I came to understand and appreciate just how important a voice he was in the Nuyorican movement. I even had the opportunity to  live in the same apartment in Taino Towers that Jesús “Tato” Laviera lived in and to speak to many folks who knew him.

How about the painting itself? How long did it take you?

I worked 12 hours a day for five days.

And the mural unveiling, along with the renaming of this corner? What was the experience like for you?

It was wonderful! I feel so blessed to have experienced it all. Among the speakers were City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Maria Cruz, executive director of Taino Towers. There was also a poetry reading, along with reminiscences by family and friends.

Congratulations!  We are so happy that this opportunity came your way. It’s great to have your vision and talents shared with us — once again — here in NYC.

Photos: 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky; 3 & 4 courtesy of the artist; featured in the third photo are: Ruth Sanchez Laviera to the left of  Don Rimx and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to his right

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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Conceived by Dusty Rebel, Street Cuts is an ingenious street art-based digital sticker app featuring images by some of our favorite street artists. Eager to find out more about it, I posed a few questions to Dusty:

I just downloaded your newly released Street Cuts app. It’s wonderfully engaging!  Can you tell us something about the concept behind it?

I’ve always loved stickers and their role within the street art community…the way they are collected, traded, and often well-placed on the street — especially on other images like ads. It seemed only natural to bring street art to digital stickers, especially with iMessage, which allows you to drop stickers into your conversations or onto your photos. It felt like a fun way to explore “digital vandalism.” Also, I liked the idea of building a collective of street artists who weren’t being asked to simply “work for exposure,” but would be paid for their work. This Street Cuts app makes that possible.

What about its name — Street Cuts?

When we started developing packs — like Hiss’s and City Kitty’s — made from my photos of their work on the street, we began calling them Street Cuts. We soon realized it would be a cool name for the app, itself.

Who are some of the artists involved in Street Cuts?

It is a growing collective with more artists to come. But for the past few months I’ve been working closely with HISS, Abe Lincoln, Jr., City Kitty, KNOR, Belowkey and the Primate, as they developed digital sticker packs.

How can artists become involved in your project? I’m sure there are many who would like to be included?

While our collective is by invitation-only, I’m open to artists pitching their ideas for a pack to me. They can email me at dusty@streetcuts.co 

How can we find out more about it?

You can come and celebrate the launch of Street Cuts this coming Monday, October 23, from 6-10pm at Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton Street on the Lower East Side. The launch party will include a scavenger hunt, give-aways, and original work by the app’s featured artists, who will also be in attendance. Be sure to download the Street Cuts app first and follow us on Instagram for Scavenger Hunt details.

It sounds great! Congratulations!

All images/photos courtesy Dusty Rebel; the second image features Abe Lincoln, Jr., HISS & KNOR; the third KNOR; the fourth the Primate and the fifth City Kitty; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; the app​ ​is produced​ ​by​ ​​Itsy​ ​Bitsy​ ​Media​​ ​and​ ​developed​ ​by​ ​​Tanooki​ ​Labs​.

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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A veteran French graffiti writer, designer and illustrator, Jaek el Diablo shared his talents with us in Jersey City earlier this year, painting several walls in coordination with Green Villain, along with independent commissions.  At the time, street and travel photographer Karin du Maire had the opportunity to interview him:

When did you begin doing graffiti?

It’s been about 25 years now since I first started doing graffiti. I began in the early 90’s.

What inspired you at the time?

I was into the skateboard culture back then, and I met many other skaters who were tagging the streets. They exposed me to graffiti, street art, comics and pop culture, in general.

What, would you say, has had the largest impact upon your particular style — both as a graffiti artist and a designer?

Comics! I was always drawing, and the comics I was reading inspired my characters. I think that was the beginning of my story!

How would you define your style? What differentiates it from others?

If I had to define my style, I would describe it as cartoon. I was influenced early on by the Kermits, Disney, Hanna–Barbera… In my work, I try not to reproduce the same thing that I see. I put my own stamp on it! It’s kind of like sampling in hip-hop – a remix of sorts! I see my work as a tribute to some of my favorite characters. It’s always a tribute.

Can you tell us a bit about the difference between French graffiti and the graffiti you’ve seen here while painting in NYC or Jersey City?

I think that back in Europe, we’ve had other influences — such as Mode 2 and the cartoon styles that inspired him. And we have the German graffiti writers whose letters are always evolving. Here in NYC, the writers are very academic; they are Old School academic. Not all  — there is Rime MSK and a few guys who are next level. But most NY writers maintain the classic graffiti style. To me, the two books, Spraycan Art and Subway Art, are the Bible, the base. I love being here and discovering the origin of my religion!

What about the future of graffiti? Where do you see it going?

I see more and more big murals, especially tribute murals, and more illustrators doing street art. I see lots and lots of styles, but there will always be a return to the roots of it all – which is graffiti. I see it  going in a variety of directions. But, I think, in the future there is no museum. It is only in the streets!

Many walls in NYC are now curated. How do you feel about this trend?

On a positive note, the walls are better and better, because the artists are carefully selected. But it’s also a negative thing. Graffiti was meant to be open to all. If you had a can, the wall was free! But, yes, these curated walls help break down the negative stereotypes of graffiti. And that is good for my art! So maybe that is the future!

Photos by Karin du Maire; interview conducted by Karin du Maire  and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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Last week, Texas-based John Bramblitt, a professional artist who lost his vision in 2001, visited Bushwick, where he collaborated on a huge mural with Rubin 415 for JMZ Walls. While he was here, travel and street photographer Karin du Maire had the opportunity to interview him and capture him, along with Rubin 415, in action.

Can you tell us, John, a bit about how you got into art?

I think I could draw before I could walk! Art was always a big part of my life. And growing up, I was sick a lot. I had kidney problems. I had severe epilepsy that kept getting worse. All the way through high school, I was literally out of school half the time with something. And art made a bad day better, and it was a great way to celebrate a good day…and so I did art every day and I took every art class I could.

You are now creating art as a blind artist. When did you lose your eyesight?

I lost my eyesight in college, and I thought I lost art, as well. But I learned how to use my hands to do everything that a person’s eyes do. And so now I draw with lines I can touch and feel. When I was sighted, I used to feel excited if a drawing or painting that I did looked like someone. But now it’s more important that it feels like someone… that it is that person. And that’s where the colors and emotions come in.

You just painted your first mural. What was the experience like? How does it differ from working in your studio?

It’s been a great experience! As far as I know, I am the first blind painter to do a mural. It’s my first mural, and it’s been incredible. I’m a studio artist; I work with museums quite a bit. I do commissions all the time. But what I do is paint! Yet, this is so much different. You’re on a wall that’s so much bigger. I’m not going to roll it up and send it away when it’s done. It lives there on that wall.

Does anything in particular about the experience stand out?

One of the things that made this so special is that I love to meet other artists and be around people who are just as obsessed with art as I am. In this project I’ve been able to work with Tony — Rubin 415 – and the whole crew here has been so energetic. For me it’s a dream come true to be able to work with artists who are passionate about what they do. It’s been amazing!

And what about the community? Lots of people have been passing by. How have they reacted?

That’s been my favorite part of this entire experience. I’ve painted live before, but this is a completely different experience. During the whole time I was putting this up, people were coming over. This is where they live, and I feel as though I am painting it in their home! The feedback has been so positive! People seem grateful that you are making their community more beautiful and bringing energy to it. They come over and hug us! Today a little boy stopped by and added a bit to the mural – and so we have one more street artist in the making!

Now that you’ve painted your first mural, can you tell us a bit about what your plans are for the future? Do you plan to paint more murals?

I do. I expect to be painting a mural in Dallas to help a non-profit. And I will be working more with museums. October is National Disability Awareness Month, and I will be traveling all over the country. And I would definitely love to do more mural work. The impact it has on the community is incredible. You just can’t beat it!

Photos by Karin du Maire; interview conducted by Karin du Maire and edited by Lois Stavsky

Support for this inspiring project has been provided by See Now.

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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One of the highlights of my recent trip to Philly was my visit to the legendary TATTOOED MOM on South Street. Not only is it a first-rate restaurant and bar, but it is also an extraordinary oasis of creativity and street art. On this past trip, I discovered its overwhelmingly impressive second level.  An ever-evolving site that hosts a range of events, it was home — this time — to Characters Welcome 6, its sixth annual international sticker art exhibit. While there, I had the opportunity to speak to its visionary owner and director, Robert Perry.

What an amazing space this is! I was familiar with the downstairs. But this upstairs level is phenomenal! It is the perfect antidote to the — almost aseptic — direction so much of street art is taking. I’m so happy to have discovered it!

Yes! I tend to think of it as a hidden gem!

How long has TATTOOED MOM been around?

It was founded in 1997. This year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

And what about its name — TATTOOED MOM? What is its origin? Is it a reference to how welcoming it is to folks of all ages? 

It’s actually a reference to a specific person, Kathy “Mom” Hughes, who was a mother to so many — including band members who traveled through Philly.

I noticed downstairs works by Shepard Fairey, Wordsmith and other key street artists. And this upstairs has evolved into an authentic street art museum. 

Yes! I see it as an unofficial street art museum — anarchistic and ephemeral in its nature.

I assume, then, there are no official curators.

Yes, it’s all freestyle…uncurated. Everything that happens here is organic.

And I’ve noticed folks of all ages here today, including children.

Yes, children are invited to participate in several of our community-oriented activities. But in the evenings, this space is only open to adults.

I’m loving this sticker show. Philly has always been home to an amazing array of sticker artists.

Yes! It’s our sixth annual one — with contributions from many artists who aren’t local. And dozens of stickers from previous years’ shows remain on the walls.

What’s ahead?

We are constantly changing and evolving. We are always growing and expanding our activities and programs as we make new friends.

It sounds ideal! You’ve created quite a Utopia here!

Special thanks to Alberto of JMZ Walls for introducing me to Robert.

Photos by Lois Stavsky; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

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A multidisciplinary artist and stage designer based in Quito, Ecuador, Irving Ramó recently shared his talents with us on his recent visit — sponsored by Somos Fuana — to New York City  To the delight of us street art aficionados, he painted alongside Colombian artists Guache and Praxis on a wall curated by Spread Art NYC.  While he was here, I had the opportunity to speak to him.

What brought you to NYC?

I traveled from Ecuador for an exhibit featuring my recent work — an investigation into my ancestor’s writings.

What spurred your interest into conducting that kind of research?

Curiosity! I’m obsessed with ancient civilizations that have disappeared.

And while you were here in NYC, I was introduced to you through your mural art! When did you first start painting on public spaces?

I started in Quito about five years ago.

And where else have you done public art?

I’ve also painted in Spain and here in the US in Miami and now in NYC.

Do you work with a sketch-in-hand when you paint on a public surface? Or do you just let it flow?

I often use a photo as a reference, and I have a rough sketch with me.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I usually feel happy!

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with other artists?

I can adapt to any kind of situation. I’m happy to have a chance to collaborate with others.

You are amazingly versatile. Do you have a formal art education?

I studied graphic and industrial design. But I am mostly self-taught.

How has your aesthetic evolved through the years?

It changes every day – depending on what I need to express at the time.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

It’s to give visual expression to ideas. To show people that ideas can be real.

Images:

1 In Bushwick, Brooklyn with Spread Art NYC, 2017

2 Exhibit at Martillo in Barcelona, Spain, 2016

3 Gargar Festival in the of village of Penelles, Spain, 2016

4 With La Suerte and Apitatan in Quito, 2017

5 Close-up from collaborative wall with La Suerte and Apitatan in Quito, 2017

Photos: 1 Karin du Maire, 2-5 courtesy of the artist; interview Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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While visiting San Francisco earlier this summer, I discovered Max Ehrman‘s aka Eon75 mesmerizing public artworks. Eager to find out more about the talented artist, I posed a few questions to him:

Where and when did you first paint on a public space?

The first wall that I painted was a legal wall of fame in Gainesville, Florida. I was in my early 20’s.

What inspired you at the time?

I was inspired by a memorial wall that Daim and Seemso had painted on that spot. It was amazing! I had never seen anything like it before — in terms of design, color, layout and balance.

What keeps you doing it? Painting in public spaces — in addition to your studio work? You are quite prolific!

Passion! It is something I love doing.

You’ve traveled quite a bit. Have you any favorite cities or specific sites where you like to paint? 

Anywhere that I can paint and sit on a beach is top on my list. So Barcelona, Puerto Rico, Naples, Florida and Thailand for sure.

What is your favorite medium when you work outdoors? 

Spraypaint — definitely!

What about your name? Eon 75?

A friend in Europe gave it to me. Extermination.of.reality — and 75 is the year I was born.

Have any particular artists or cultures inspired your aesthetic?

Mostly Mother Nature and the cosmos.

Do you prefer working alone — or collaborating with others? 

I love working with other artists…some of my favorite people to paint with are San Francisco-based Ian Ross and Ratur from France.

Have you a formal art education?

No, I went to school for architecture. When It comes to art, I’m self taught.

How has your work evolved through the years — since you first started painting back in Gainesville, Florida?

I would say it’s gotten more complex, and I love working in lots of diverse mediums which leads to changes in styles.

What’s ahead?

More traveling and painting. I’d like to paint more characters and get into sculpture.

Good luck! And it would be great to see your work here in NYC!

Images

1  Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco

2 Collaboration with Vance DNA in Bangkok, Thailand, close-up

3 Cooks Valley Campground in Piercy, California

4 Abandoned train in California

5 Collaboration with Ian Ross in San Francisco, close-up

6 Collaboration with Ratur on San Francisco rooftop

All photos courtesy the artist

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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While visiting the Bay Area earlier this summer, I met up with photojournalist, Juxtapoz Magazine contributor and fellow graffiti/street art enthusiast Iqvinder Singh. I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him:

What is your first street art/graffiti-related memory?

My earliest memory goes back to the late 70’s/early 80’s in Northern India. I grew up in Rajisthan and Punjab, where it was normal there for people to express their opinions and feelings on the walls. Print and broadcasted media were still considered a luxury for the rich, and the city walls reflected the voices of the unheard. I would see people painting the walls during the daytime without any fear of the police or shop owners. The messages were written in Hindi, English, Punjabi, Gujrati, Urdu and other local dialects. It was something expected and normal in my surroundings. It was odd to see blank walls with no messages. Smaller villages were less political, but they too decorated their walls, though with cultural and religious symbolism. Geometric patterns inspired by the muhgals, swastikas, flowers of life and Hindu dieties were very common. Some farmers even branded their cows with similar symbols. Colorful walls made the cities and villages livelier and more welcoming.

What was your initial impression of the streets here?

When my mom and I moved to Oakland in 1982, I was introduced to different types of markings and monikers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Suburbia meant clean walls, and any kind of wall markings were only found in the “bad areas” of the city. At an early age, I learned to appreciate the intricate hand styles of the local graffiti artists and witnessed what was to come in the 90’s and into the new century.

Did any particular artists stand out? Inspire you?

Among my earliest inspirations were East Bay graffiti artists: Plato, Fresh Kid, Echo and Rocs. In the early 90s, I met the late Mike Francisco a.k.a. Dream at the College of Alameda. He was one of my greatest inspirations, not only from a graffiti perspective, but also because of his views and stance on social/civil rights issues. He was very vocal about police brutality and other injustices that plagued our communities. Many of us aspired to reach Mike’s style status. I also admired Dizny from the TPC crew. Dizny was from Berkeley and painted beautiful murals touching on local and global topics. Where Dream had mastered the letter form, Dizny told stories with characters and broke down complex politics for an average kid from Oakland. San Francisco also blessed us with inspiring artists like: Twist, Margaret Kilgallen, Dug 1, KR, Revyon, Caryone and UB40.

You’ve been documenting the Bay Area graffiti and street are scene for awhile now.

Yes! So many different styles came out of the San Francisco Bay Area, and I thought it was important to keep a record of it all. In 1997, I started a zine called Suitable 4 Framin’ which focused on underrepresented artists. I don’t think there were any other graffiti publications in Northern California at that time. I printed about 1000 copies of each issue and sold them at cost or traded them for other zines and magazines.  I want to capture it all. The piece on the wall, the artist painting it, and whatever else is brewing the neighborhood. I try to post stuff that others may have missed or capture it from a different angle. I try to catch the artists in action, and I try to understand their influences and histories. Bay Area has churned out so many great artists, and those same artists influenced hundreds of others. From the 80’s to today, it’s been an amazing experience to live through so much good art. Graffiti is definitely here to stay, and I hope to tell the story from my perspective.

With easy access to social media, there are so many people documenting the graff/street art scene in the Bay Area these days. It’s always interesting to meet the photographers behind their Flickr or Instagram pages. They all started at different stages, and they all have a certain focus. Some are focused strictly on selected crews, hand styles, freights, throw-ups, burners, trucks… Some are good photographers but don’t know the artists or the history, and others are seasoned veterans.

You’ve photographed thousands of images. Do any particular pieces of graffiti and street art in the Bay Area stand out?  

There are many. Whenever I see a piece by Lango, it’s always a treat. He is doing some next level painting with spraypaints. Stuff by Nychos and Aryz is always on a grand scale and their pieces always run for a while.

How has the Bay Area scene changed since you first became involved with it?

When I was active, your alias was very sacred. The goal was to be everywhere without anyone knowing who you were. Nowadays, graffiti/street artists hand you their business cards, links to their website, flyers and more. That mystery element is gone expect for the selected few. Graffiti/street art in general is a lot more acceptable. I remember when I did one of my first legal graffiti pieces in North Oakland in the late 80’s; it was a big thing at the time. Nowadays, most of the big productions are sponsored, and they are popping up everywhere, so people don’t get that excited. In the 80’s into 90’s, it was all about lettering, and there were many unique styles. Now, kids bring in characters, vegetables, clouds, animals, and other monikers as their tags. Work by guys like Ras Terms, Plantrees, and Broke speaks volume without any lettering. I personally prefer lettering, but I can still appreciate different trends. Paints are better, and there are even classes in graffiti.  It’s, also, definitely more commercialized. And with the advent of Internet, artists have a lot more resources now. Artists use graff to sell merchandise or as a stepping stone for other business endeavors. Graffiti for the sake of graffiti is gone. There’s nothing wrong with earning money from something you love, but don’t exploit the art form.

Besides your documentation of graffiti, you’ve also photographed life in many ethnic communities across the country.  

Yes, for some of my previous corporate gigs, I had the opportunity to travel over the country. I started documenting immigrant communities in my travels. I photographed Indians, Japanese, Mexicans, Chinese, Hmongs, and many others. It was a cultural experience to discover their roots and learn about their struggles to achieve that American experience. And, yet, I was most intrigued by the Chinese.

Your solo exhibit, Everything’s Fine in Chinatown, was  recently on view at the historic Throckmorton Theatre Gallery in Mill Valley. Have you any impressions of the graffiti you’ve encountered in the Chinatowns that you’ve visited? And what spurs your intense interest in Chinatowns?

Graffiti was one of the main reasons I used to go to Chinatowns. Chinatowns had some of the best trucks. I think the businesses learned that there was no point in painting over this stuff, as it wasn’t hurting their business. I’m intrigued by how the Chinese, particularly the ones living and working in Chinatowns, hold on to their cultural identity like no other ethnic group. Regardless of what goes in the world, there never seems to be any politics in Chinatown. It’s always business as usual. There’s a blend of old, new and hints of the future in Chinatown. It’s a mashup of everything you want in one place: restaurants, art galleries, temples/churches, schools… My goal with these photographs is to not only capture life as it exists today but also to document the changes that are brewing in the background.

Images

1 Iqvinder Singh at the “Out of Order” art show, Bay Area 

2 Political poster in India

Barry McGee aka Twist

Barry McGee aka Twist at Oakland Art Museum

Baer

6 Nychos  

7 Ras Terms & Leaf Leaver

8  from Iqvinder Singh‘s solo exhibit “Everything’s Fine in Chinatown”

All photos courtesy Iqvinder Singh

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls 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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Home to a rotating range of vibrant murals by first-rate, often classic, graffiti writers, Hackensack’s Union Street Park is a treasure. While visiting on Wednesday, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to its founder and curator, Darrius-Jabbar Sollas also known as Nasty Neo.

When did you first begin curating this spot?  It’s a graffiti-lover’s paradise. We’ve been returning regularly to check it out since we first discovered it — by chance — several years ago.

It’s ten years now. I began curating it in 2007. We are celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Congratulations! How did you discover such an ideal spot?  And how did you come to manage its walls?

I used to pass it every day as I took my kid to school.  And it looked like the perfect spot to showcase graffiti. As I went about locating the owners of the adjacent building to secure permission to use the walls, I discovered that a friend of mine was one of the building’s owners. I was given one huge wall.

What was the initial response to your transformation of this space? How did the community react?

The response was wonderfully enthusiastic. The town’s officials couldn’t have been more positive. And soon I was invited to curate the entire space, not just one wall.

Among the many artists who’ve painted here, do any in particular stand out?

Among them: Serve, Bates, Hef, Med, Tats Cru, Poem, Sade, T-Kid, Wane

What have been some of your challenges in managing this space?

The artists themselves! They can be pompous and arrogant. All of the walls are buffed for them, and too many still need to be catered to.

I notice that you guys are buffing the walls now. What’s ahead? Are you getting ready for anything special?

Yes! We have a birthday barbecue coming up Saturday for Roz…our fifth annual one.

Who are some of the artists who will be painting at the birthday barbecue?

FliteServeWore, Jew, Pase, Python, Rocky 184, Gem 13

It sounds great! Have fun! And thanks for bringing so much vibrancy to Bergen County!

Images

1  Union Street Park curator and artist Darrius-Jabbar Sollas aka Nasty Neo

2  Staten Island-based Goal

3  Classic writer Sound7TC5

4  Graffiti legend Part One

5  The masterful Sade TCM

6  Doe of the RTH crew

Photo credits: 1, 4-6 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2-3 Lois Stavsky; interview conducted by Lois Stavsky

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