Speaking with Federico Massa aka Cruz

December 12, 2012

We discovered Federico Massa’s wondrous artwork this past fall on the streets of Bushwick, and we became instant fans. We recently had the chance to speak with him in his Brooklyn studio.

"Federico Massa"

 When did you first start hitting the streets?

Back in 1997. I was 16 years old and living in Milan.  But even earlier, I was writing my name, Fede, all over my house — to my mother’s dismay.

We’ve noticed that you sign your work “Cruz.”  Why “Cruz?”

It is derived from Santa Cruz, one of the most popular skateboard brands.  I was inspired by the skateboard culture back home in Milan. I grew up with it.

Do you have a formal art education?

I studied set design at Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan. I graduated in 2006.

When did you first come to New York City?  And why?

Three years ago. I wanted more of an international experience as an artist.

"Federico Massa"

We have seen your work in Bushwick. Where else have you gotten up here in NYC?

Two years ago, I painted a mural in Williamsburg on Hope and Marcy. I had an exhibit at the nearby Graphite Gallery at the time.

How does the experience of painting in the streets here compare to that in Milan?

It was much easier for me to paint in Milan. Here I need to get permission to paint, or I could face serious penalties.  It is much more casual in Milan.

Did you do anything particularly risky back in Milan?

The riskiest thing I ever did was painting on moving trains. I learned how to run fast!  I loved the adrenaline rush!

Any favorite surfaces?  

No. Nothing in particular. I look for a surface that inspires me. Back in Milan, I loved pasting huge painted papers onto plywood panels on the streets. It was my way of reinventing them.

"Federico Massa graffiti"

What inspires you to continue to work on the streets?

I like sharing my work with lots of different people, and it’s great when people stop and talk to me.

Great! We’ve loved watching you at work, and we’re so glad you’re sharing your art with us here in NYC.  Do you always paint alone? Have you worked with any crews?

I created canvases and installations with The Bag Art Factory collective – a group of artists, including painters, sculptors, and set designers — in Milan.  For eight years we collaborated on a variety of projects and constantly organized exhibitions of our works. I’ve also collaborated and exhibited with Biokip, a group that fuses visual art and electronic music.

What about branding? Any thoughts about it?

I have no problem with; it depends on the project. A number of years back, I customized bags, graffiti-style, for Mark Jacobs. I loved getting paid to do what I love most to do!

"Federico Massa graffiti"

What is your main source of income these days?

I do set design. It is the perfect job for me, because I like to work with all kinds of materials.  

How do you feel about the move of street art into galleries?

I think it’s fine. Just about every artist who works on the streets would like to show in a gallery.  

Any thoughts on the graffiti/street art divide?

Lettering is the art of graffiti. Street art was born from graffiti. Street art has simply taken graffiti to the next level. The graffiti writers feel they are the original ones to claim the streets. And they are.

"Federico Massa graffiti"

How have graffiti writers responded to your street art?

They like and respect it.

We’ve noticed Latin American influences in your art work. Tell us something about that.

The Mexican aesthetic has had a huge influence on my art. It continues to inspire me.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in all of this?

I think it is great. It is the best way for one to find artists and for artists to get noticed.

"Federico Massa" What’s ahead?

I’m open to all kinds of collaborations. I like to work with different materials and ideas. I’ve collaborated with poets and sculptors, and I look forward to more such collaborations.  I’m also always seeking huge walls. They inspire me!

Great! We are looking forward to seeing more of your murals on our streets here in New York City.

Photos by Dani Mozeson, Stefano Ortega (final image) and courtesy of the artist

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