Interviews

Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Sara Erenthal has been busy! Sharing her personal musings on found objects, enhancing windows of local businesses and interacting with passersby, she has been making a huge mark on NYC’s public spaces throughout the pandemic. I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions to her:

Of all the NYC artists I know who also use the street as a canvas, you may have been the only one out there almost daily at the height of the pandemic. What spurred you to hit the streets at a time when so many folks remained indoors or only went out for essential items?

At the very beginning of the pandemic, I was out only for errands. I wasn’t making any art. I actually isolated myself for about two weeks, as I wasn’t feeling well. But on the first walk I took, after self-isolating, I ran into two little pieces of wood. I couldn’t resist. Why do I do it? I live alone. The only view I have is of my alleyway. I need to get out and stretch my legs. I need to create art for my sanity. The street is a place where I can scream and be heard.

How have folks responded to seeing you out there?

The response has been amazing. People stop me and thank me for creating work. I’ve even been receiving donations, along with all kinds of support. People are so grateful that I am out there creating art in these times.

Do any particularly memorable experiences stand out?

There are many!  Early on, I came across a coffee table near my apartment that had been discarded. I wrote on it, “Hey, neighbor, let’s connect.” A month later, I discovered that a homeless guy who lives near my local train station had adopted this piece. I would love to meet him.  Particularly memorable is the day I sat myself down in Prospect Park with a sign that read: “I live alone. Please talk to me from 6 feet away.” The response I got was incredible. People lined up to speak to me. It was the interaction that I so crave.

You’ve been featured in at least a half dozen publications – from the Gothamist to the Brooklyn Rail – within the past few weeks. Has that publicity impacted your career as an artist?

It has. But equally, as people see my work on the streets and on Instagram, my audience expands. It’s a mix of both.

Both pieces that you did in my Upper West Side neighborhood — one on a discarded mirror and the other one, an ad-takeover on a phone both — disappeared within two days. How does that make you feel?

I was not surprised that the mirror was taken. I’d rather it land in someone’s house than in a landfill. But I was disappointed that my piece was stolen from the phone booth. Someone obviously broke into it. I went out of my way to bring art into a neighborhood that misses it. I wanted it to stay for other people to see it. Whoever took it was not considerate.

Yes! I miss seeing it on my daily strolls. Hopefully, you can return to Manhattan sometime soon. And thank you for bringing art into the lives of so many during this surreal time.

Interview conducted and and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Lois Stavsky; 2, 3, 5 & 6 Sara Erenthal, and 4 Meremundo

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The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

I fell in love with Phoebe New York the moment I saw her on the streets of my city, and I’ve since become obsessed with her!  I love everything about her – from her trendy, doll-like figure and her gorgeous outfits to her empowering messages. Recently, I had the honor to speak to her creator, Libby Schoettle.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and raised on a nearby farm. My father was working as an English teacher at the Church Farm School, a boys’ boarding school. And so that’s where I grew up.  I was always surrounded by nature. It was amazing… and totally the opposite of New York City!

Do any childhood memories stand out –- particularly those that inform your art?

I remember setting up easels with my brother in our backyard. And my grandfather, an artist who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, would teach us how to look at something and draw it. I wasn’t particularly good, but I loved the feeling of being outside with markers, easels, pens and colors. My loneliness, along with any sadness that I may have felt at the time, would go away when I had paper and pen in my hand.

My grandfather also took us to his studio on occasion. It was a very special place to him.  I still remember the smell and the room. It was very spiritual. I remember thinking, “I could see myself doing this.” I don’t know if I would have the same connection to art if it weren’t for him.

Are there any particular themes in your art that can be traced back to your childhood?

Yes, I was a fearful child. I was petrified of Philadelphia, and I would do anything to avoid going to a city. It’s ironic how I ended up in New York City! Messages in my work like “Fear Nothing” and “Never Quit” stem from my childhood emotions.

At what point did you break through your fear? 

It happened gradually between elementary school and high school. I was constantly bullied in elementary school. It was traumatic. I was afraid of everybody. But I had so much to say, and I began telling myself, “I can get through this. It isn’t forever.” And I remember suddenly becoming outgoing!

And when I moved to New York City, I immediately connected with the city. I fell in love with it! It was the relationship I’d been looking for my whole life. I’d lived in a couple of other places, but I’d always felt depressed — and couldn’t figure out why. New York City changed my life. I started to study acting after college, where I’d majored in film production. I wanted to confront my fears through acting. I didn’t really want to become an actress, but that helped me a lot — as did waitressing! I constantly challenged myself.

Did you ever study art in a formal setting? 

No. I studied film production and fashion in college. I started doing art on my own. I never thought about it. Had I studied art formally, I don’t think any of this would have happened!

What inspired you to create Phoebe? And when was she born?

It took years for Phoebe to evolve. It started in 2001 from a photograph I took while I was in Paris. I don’t know exactly when Phoebe was born, but I do remember how her profile came about. I had a square from a pink record album, and I drew a line for a mouth and an eye on the side. It was subtle, but I saw a face. I thought, “OMG, I could use this instead of making Americana-inspired heads.” I was immersed and obsessed with Phoebe’s side profile for years, and I drew hundreds of them. I placed her on top of line drawings and cut clothing out to dress her. She didn’t have a full face until 2016. Watching her over the years is like watching your child grow.

I had no idea what I was doing, but it feels like it’s what I was supposed to be doing. I think that’s what art is. You can’t really make sense of it; you just trust it.

Once Phoebe changed from side to full profile, she became more expressive. Was that your intent?

Yes, it was a major shift in my work. With her full face, I was able to communicate many more emotions and messages. I don’t do her side profile anymore. Rarely do you see it. I now put different colors on top of her eyes and vary the colors of her hair. I’ve become far more experimental. Phoebe has become so much more to me than I could’ve ever imagined.

Have you ever been told that your character resembles you?

Yes, all the time! It’s so funny. It even happens at the post office when I’m delivering packages. I put stickers on the packages that people order and the postal workers say “OMG is that you?” She’s the exact definition of an alter ego. I think that if I had set out with an intention to make one, it never would have happened!

Can you tell us something about your creative process? What is it like?

My process is full-time because I’m constantly looking for inspiration. I’m either at my desk or looking through magazines for things to cut out. The first thing I do in the morning is write. I then walk over to my desk which is my happiest place in the world. Sometimes my creation comes together in seconds, and sometimes it doesn’t. It can get frustrating at times because I can be there for hours and nothing happens. I’ve learned — as a writer and an artist  — that you have to put yourself there. You have to show up at your desk and go through the pain to get the good stuff. It’s not going to just happen magically. I dedicate 100% of my time to Phoebe. Sometimes it’s haunting! I could be half asleep at 4:00 am, and I would say, “I have to do this now.”

Are there any particular artists who inspire you?  Any favorite artists?

When I firstI created Phoebe, people would compare her to other artists’ works. They would say things like “Oh, you must’ve studied this artist,” or “Surely you’ve been inspired by that artist.” And I would say, “No. I’ve  never seen that artist’s work.” Phoebe truly came out of my head.

There are a few artists, though, whose art inspires me personally. Photographers, in particular,  inspire me. Among my favorite images are Cindy Sherman’s older works from the 1970’s. Francesca Woodman is, also, one of my favorites. In addition to producing self-portraits, Francesca did a lot of journaling.  I’m into reading artists’ journals. I’m interested in their thoughts and how they lived. I also love Tracey Emin, Edvard Munch, Keith Haring, Basquiat and Andy Warhol. And the poet Sylvia Plath is a favorite.

Are there any particularly memorable moments that stand out since the birth of Phoebe?

Maybe the fact that she is here. The memory of bringing her into my life and being able to share her with other people. Getting her out on the streets was particularly special. My first solo show is also distinctly memorable.  It was held in 2007 at an Upper East Side gallery, but it was mostly family and friends who attended. Even though it was an amazing experience, I was disappointed that not enough strangers had popped in to check out the work. I still didn’t know back then if a stranger could understand or relate to my work. I didn’t get a sense of what anybody thought about my artwork until I started to put it out on the street. Then I started to receive messages from people across the world who understand and appreciate it. 

Of all the Phoebe’s that you’ve created, have you a favorite one? 

I have so many from different time periods! There is one I made in 2008 that I will never forget. It’s one that I don’t think I could ever part with. It’s very special because I was in love with this person, and it was the first piece of art that made me realize that I could communicate an exact feeling. Phoebe was sitting on steps looking down with a heart tucked under her arm. It somehow helped me get over that person, as it was something I did for myself and something I could show others.  

Is there anyone — in particular — with whom you’d like to collaborate?

I don’t really think about collaborations too much. The collaboration that I did with Victoria Beckham was amazing. It felt organic. The characters really spoke to each other. That’s what I look for in a collaboration. Does it make sense in terms of a relationship with Phoebe? I would experiment and try to collaborate again, but it has to be with the right person — someone who is in line with my audience and with me. 

Phoebe has also surfaced in recent gallery settings. What has that experience been like? 

It’s exciting! It’s a dream to be able to share with others my original art — what I create on paper behind the scenes. It’s so nice to have people come together to celebrate hard work and dedication. That is what art is all about!  I love communicating both on and off the streets. Anything on the streets may suddenly vanish, but work shown indoors continues to live.

What’s ahead?

I just presented the Off The Walls Bon Voyage installation show with Wallplay Network at the South Street Seaport. This was to be followed by my first solo museum show in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had been working on it for the past year, and it was scheduled to open on May 16th. As it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now scheduled to open in the fall. All of my original work since 2001 has already been shipped, and I am very excited to be showing in a museum.

There is also a documentary in the works, in which the director, Jyll Johnstone of Canobie Films, animates Phoebe. She has been working on the film for five years —  following me around everywhere I go and documenting just about everything I do. She is hoping to have the first segment of the series — one of five — completed later this year or in early 2021. 

That’s very exciting. Can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming film?

Yes. It explores my life as an artist. The film begins before I had a presence on the streets. I wasn’t a street artist at the time. I was a writer and a collage artist. I didn’t have a cell phone or instagram. It’s amazing how everything has since evolved organically — including this documentation! The film will offer viewers insights into my many different sides.

I’m certainly looking forward to it. Have you anything else in the works?

Yes! I am also working on a book of my collages now.

How exciting! Good luck with it all! And thank you for inspiring me in so many ways.

Interview conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos: Ana Candelaria 

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On March 26, 2020 the #ArtClinicNYC opened its front window on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Eager to find out more about this essential art resource, I posed several questions to SacSix, the artist who had conceived and launched it.

What is the mission of the Art Clinic? What motivated you to launch it?

At the beginning of the global quarantine — as businesses, schools and restaurants were required to shut down — I began to think about what makes something “essential.” Liquor stores, gun shops, marijuana dispensaries and even golf courses in some states are deemed “essential.” But what about art resources for kids? Art is essential to life. We need art to survive. And the Art Clinic’s mission is to provide necessary materials to kids to create art. The Art Clinic provides FREE coloring packs and crayons to each family member.

How were you able to access the storefront? 

The storefront is actually my studio. I gained access to it in mid-January.

It’s great that you had the space. And what about some of the challenges in seeing this project through?

The initial challenge was finding a place to print 1000 pages. All of the local print shops were closed. Through a connection at the Cheese Grille, I found a printer in Queens that was still open.

How did you source the materials — from crayons to coloring pages?

Over 75 global artists contributed to the project. I first started reaching out to my NYC street artist friends for the coloring page designs. Then I began expanding my network to artists throughout the country. After seeing my posts on Instagram in reference to this project, many more artists reached out, eager to be part of it.

And what about the crayons?

I personally funded the 500 packs of crayons and the cost of printing. Six-page packs are taped to the front window of the #ArtClinicNYC. Instructions prompt passersby to just pull the items off the window.

How has the response been to your venture?

The response has been great. I see it in people’s smiles — people of every age, sex and race. That’s why I do it. I try to snag photos of people, from the inside, as they pull off the coloring packs and crayons. Their smiles and excitement are so genuine.

Congratulations on this venture! It is wonderful!

Featured pages:

Image 2: Fumero, JPO, Con$umr, Pure Genius, Chris RWK, BK Foxx, Savior ElmundoSacSix, Crash, Al Diaz and Sandra Chevrier

Image 3: RX Skulls

Image 4: Danielle Mastrion

Image 5: Dirt Cobain

Image 6: Dr Scott

Photo credits: 1, 3, 5, 7 & 8 Ana Candelaria; 2, 4 & 6 courtesy SacSix 

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The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

An artist, curator, dancer and filmmaker, NYC native Savior Elmundo has long been a huge force in the urban art scene. Recently, I had the opportunity to find out a bit more about him.

When and where did you start tagging?

I was fifteen years old when I started. I grew up on the Upper West Side. My tag was REIN. It stands for Ruler – Equality – I – Now. My partner and I tagged and bombed everywhere — Harlem, the Heights, Queens and Brooklyn.

Were you down with any crews?

Yes. My mother moved us to Woodside, Queens. She thought a change of environment would be good for me. But it actually made things worse. I joined a graffiti crew in Queens, and I’d sneak down the fire escape at three o’clock in the morning just to go bombing. Everyone at that time was pretty much down with a click or a group, and there were lots of them.

And then what happened? Did you stay in Queens?

No. I couldn’t take Queens for long. I traveled to Manhattan and hit the club scene. Downtown — Soho and the Village — became my new home as I began working as a professional dancer. Hip Hop was — and still is — a big part of my life. I wouldn’t have become a street artist or filmmaker if it wasn’t for dancing.

What led you into filmmaking?

I wanted to tap into something else. I didn’t want to be a dancer for the rest of my life. A friend convinced me to do a short film based on a story I had shared with him. Reflection was my first short film. It was accepted into several festivals including the NY Film Festival. I directed and produced five short films in total. Life was going great until one day, in the midst of preparing for my first feature film documentary, I received word that a family member had passed away. I picked up the brush and began to paint as a form of therapy. That’s when art took over my life.

When did you first come up with your particular logo “MAKE ART?”

Ten years ago — when I first stepped into the art scene. I wanted to get a message out there that would make people think. “MAKE ART” incorporates art, film, and dance. It also serves as a reminder for people to make art. It’s simple, and I write it in a distinct way so people know that it’s me. I sign all of my pieces with my name Savior Elmundo, “MAKE ART,”  and the year.

Did any particular artists influenced you?

Icons such as Andy Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Frida and Matisse. Studying their work has helped me come up with my own style and ideas. For example, in one of my designs Dali and Picasso face each other wearing boxing gloves with my tag “MAKE ART” in the middle. Another one of my creations was inspired by an image of the boxer Muhammed Ali holding a draft notice from the army. I inserted a graphic design image of my tag “MAKE ART” on the document.

I consider myself a mixed-media artist. I like working with different things and I love texture. I do a lot of message work, but, lately, I find myself gravitating more towards my 3D art work. I’m also working on a couple of other styles that I will be releasing some time in the near future.

Are you generally satisfied with your work when you’re finished? 

I’ve destroyed so many pieces, but I’ve learned not to do that anymore. One day, I painted a canvas and uploaded a picture of it onto my website. Two days later, a client contacted me to buy it, but I didn’t have it anymore. I had gone over it and created a different painting. That’s when I learned that my work is not for me; it’s for them.

Your work has been showcased in dozens of exhibitions in a range of spaces. Do any particular ones stand out?

The 21st Precinct, curated by Robert Aloia, was one memorable show! Each artist was given one room in the 21st Precinct building on East 22nd Street to showcase their work. The building,  had three floors with about sixty rooms. I used an image from Rene Magritte’s, Son of Man, one of my favorite paintings, and turned it into one of my own images. I designed a man with a Goya can — instead of an apple — on his face standing in front of a stack of Goya cans. I covered the entire wall with a black and white wheatpaste of this design. As a Latino, Goya is a big part of my culture.

Another particularly memorable exhibit was at the World Trace Center. For that I  did an installation using a door that I had found on the curb side as a tribute for 9/11  The door read “Always In Our Hearts 9/11” in 3D letters.

And my first solo show was in 2019. All of my work was displayed in 3D. The show was a reflection of the past thirty years of my life. The words displayed were key elements of my past. Since 2010, I’ve been in a total of 70 group shows.  So many that are memorable!

How did you come up with the concept for Collage NYC, the hugely popular weekly live art event at The Delancey?  

As soon as I started to make some money from selling art. I wanted to do something to give back.  I wanted to build a home where artists could come together to create freely and inspire each other. I imagined a place where people could have a good time after a long, stressful day. I also wanted to bring back the paint parties that Basquait and Keith Haring used to participate in back in the 80s. The vibes are super chill! You can watch the artists paint; you can dance, or you can just lounge at the bar and have a drink. This year marked our 10th anniversary.

Have you words of wisdom that you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists?

Pay your dues and know the rules. Learn the process and put in the work. Don’t be late! Get your name out there. Learn how to talk about your art and how to sell yourself. Get out to every gallery in Soho and Chelsea on a Thursday night and just introduce yourself!  You have to hustle to get what you want. Also, it’s very important to understand the history of art and respect it. Don’t be afraid to take things to the next level. That’s how I got my start as a curator.

What’s ahead?

A two-man show with my brother A.J. LaVilla. I’m really excited about it. I’m also working on a project with a corporate company that people will hear about. There are more solo shows in the pipeline and other creative ideas are brewing.

Good luck!

Interview conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited for conciseness by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Ana Candelaria; 2 & 3 Courtesy of the artist; 4 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 5 Tara Murray & 6 Lois Stavsky

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Curious about the face behind the poetic, bright yellow stickers that have increasingly become part of NYC’s visual landscape, I was delighted to meet and speak to the beguiling My Life in Yellow.

We street art aficionados know you as My Life In Yellow. When was My Life in Yellow  born?

It was born ten years ago as the name of my blog when I first moved to New York.

Why Yellow?

I was always drawn to the color yellow. It was my grandmother’s favorite color. And when I was in college, my room was blue, while the room next to mine was yellow. The girl who dormed there was always happy, had yellow accessories and always wore the color yellow. The yellow room was so much more inviting and cheerful than mine that I soon began to surround myself with the color yellow.

When did you start slapping your stickers up on the street and why?

Several years ago, I met Thomas OKOK Gunnarsson aka TagsAndThrows. He introduced me to the street art/graffiti world. We walked around the city together as he photographed graffiti. One year later his friend, AllYouSeeIsCrimeInTheCity, a street art photographer based in Sweden, came on a visit to New York City. She gave me my first sticker and encouraged me to write on it. I was going through a difficult break-up at the time, so I wrote “Tell Him How You Feel” on a postal sticker. She slapped it for me in Soho.

What inspired you to keep making stickers and getting them up?

I started getting really positive feedback. And it was a kind of therapy for me as I was going through difficult times.  People started to reach out and say things like, “Now I know I’m not alone” and “Me too, omg — I feel this way.” I started to realize how similar we all are in our dark thoughts, what we don’t say out loud. That was the moment I felt, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Have you any particularly memorable street art experiences?

I spontaneously slapped a sticker on a bridge in Berlin. The sticker read. “Tell Him How You Feel.” A girl nearby noticed it and commented, “A lot of people jump off that bridge.” I hadn’t thought of that! Another time I slapped a sticker on the Manhattan Bridge that said, “It’ll Be Ok.”  I did not realize until afterwards that I had slapped it on a suicide/help call box!

Who are some of your favorite sticker artists?

MQ and Token. I appreciate how consistent they are. I see their stickers everywhere!

 

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

Yes, I slap and I walk. And then when I revisit it, I feel like I’m visiting my child.

How has your street art evolved in the course of these these past five years?

Its intent and tone have stayed the same, but I also wheatpaste now. And I’ve painted directly onto walls–by myself and in collaboration with other artists.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve created?

That’s a tough one! “Once my lover, now my poem.” I find myself writing it a lot.

How long do you usually spend on each sticker?

It comes in spurts. I often write a whole bunch at one time. Sometimes it’s just spontaneous.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

Don’t tell my boss, but I think about it all the time.

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes! I’ve exhibited in several local spaces. When I first met Sac Six a few years back. he encouraged me get up on canvas.  I still make little canvases — that look like my stickers — that I show and sell in exhibitions. I’ve also created works that don’t resemble my stickers at all. I was recently featured in the Phoenix Rising exhibit at the Gala on 129 Allen Street, where one of my pieces sold.

Where else have your stickers traveled, besides the streets here in NYC?

London, Paris, Trinidad, Sweden, Berlin, LA, Miami. All placers I’ve been to. I prefer to slap stickers myself. There’s something special about it. It’s nice when people offer to slap my stickers up in other places, but I don’t give them out.

You’ve also painted in sanctioned public projects. Do you prefer working legally or illegally?

There’s something magical about pasting stickers up. I like its randomness, but I also enjoy working legally.

How has your family responded to your work on the streets?

They’re entertained by it. My father exhibits his photography. My grandfather was an artist.

Did you ever study art in a formal setting?

No, I’m self taught. I have a BA in business and a degree in Fashion Design from Parsons.

What are some of your other interests?

Spoken word poetry. I’ve performed in various venues. And I recently curated an event to help raise money for the JED Foundation.

Where are you headed? Any recent projects?

I recently collaborated with street art photographer Ana Candelaria. Ana’s photos always make me so happy. I love how she captures my stickers out in the wild: weather-faded, slapped-over and scratched-off. I love her documentation of their deterioration. Her photos really speak to me and I’m looking forward to many more collaborations with Ana. I‘ve also just released a chapbook of my poetry, Despite it all.  Where am I headed? I’d like to travel the world, get on stages with my poetry, paint more murals and conduct workshops on the power of words.

That all sounds great! What do you see as the artist’s role in society?

To help people feel something.

Note: You can purchase My Life In Yellow‘s recently-released poetry book together with Ana Candelaria‘s photograph of her iconic sticker as a PHOTO PRINT & CHAPBOOK BUNDLE PRE-SALE here.

Interview conducted and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky with Ana Candelaria

Photo credits: 1 (featuring Ana’s photograph) – 3, 6, (featuring My Life In Yellow‘ s collaboration with Androi 0i for Underhill Walls 7 & 9 Lois Stavsky; 4, 5, 8, 10 & 11 Ana Candelaria 

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Eight walls and three loading docks on the exterior of Yoho Studios have a brand-new look. Described by the artist as New Earth Hieroglyphs, the art brings Michael Cuomo’s distinctly abstract, black and white spiritual aesthetic into the public sphere. Upon viewing it, I had a few questions for Michael:

How did this wonderful opportunity to share your particular aesthetic in a public space come your way?

I was granted permission by Heights Real Estate and Yonkers Arts, an organization that has been promoting and encouraging artistic ventures in the City of Yonkers.

You are a master of many different styles and techniques. How did you decide on this particular composition?

I wanted to share the power of high vibrational frequency that these designs offer. I am honored to be able to present my artwork to the community on a main street, 578-540 Nepperhan Avenue, where thousands pass daily.

How have folks responded to it?

They love it. While I was painting, many stopped by to chat. Others honked their horns from their cars, and gave me a thumbs up! The response has been thoroughly positive.

You work mostly in your studio. What has it been like to change your working environment to an outdoor one?

I love working in both settings. But I love the interaction with others that best happens in public spaces.

How do you feel about the final product?

I’m enthralled!

What’s ahead?

In addition to my studio work, I’d love to find more opportunities to paint outdoors.

How can folks best contact you?

They can drop me an email at michaelcuomoart@gmail.com. Or they can send a direct message to my Instagram account.

Great! And we’re looking forward to seeing more of your work on the streets!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photos 1, 2 & 3 courtesy of the artist; 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky

Note: An earlier version of this interview — with additional photos by Fawn Phillips — first appeared here.

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The following post is by Street Art NYC contributor Ana Candelaria

This past Friday, I had the honor of interviewing the legendary Ron English at the release party of Big Poppa classic colorway, a designer toy created by Ron English in partnership with Beacon-based Clutter. Limited to just 75 pieces worldwide, this historic drop featured a limited edition run of 10 Crystal Big Poppa classic sweater designer toys, hand embellished with 4,130 Swarovski crystals. Fans had the opportunity to meet Ron English, view and purchase Big Poppa, and pick up an exclusive collectible can from Kings County Brewers Collective.

Can you tell us something about the birth of Big Poppa?

Here’s a little secret! My character MC Supersized was a bit based of him! Biggie was still around at the time. It was in the late 80’s.

How long did it take to create Big Poppa? 

It took about two years from starting to sculpt to this final product. And that’s good for these things!

What inspired you to create Big Poppa?

Awhile back during a screening of my movie POPaganda, one guy in the audience got up and said, “We watch this movie and we know everything you hate. What do you like?” And I thought I should shout out a few things that I actually like — like puppies and Big Poppa!

What does your new character represent?

For me, he just represents inner joy and happiness. Being at ease with yourself, enough so that you can create without even trying, or at least seeming that you are not even trying. That effortless kind of thing!

How much of your art, would you say, is political? 

Probably — in some way or another — all of it; and — in other ways — really none of it. Most political things kind of come and go very quickly, or they become irrelevant. I actually try to create things that will have a relevance in a thousand years. If anyone will want to know what it actually felt like to live right now, I’m your guy!

Do you want your viewers to walk away with a message of any kind? 

I really want to create a feeling or a vibe that will infect your spirit and hopefully you go away a bit happier. You know…being able to enjoy life a little bit more.

What’s next? 

We just left a recording studio, where we were finishing up our new record called, We Are The New They.

Awesome! What kind of music is it?

The vibe is very modern.  I’m influenced by The Beatles and early rap, so I just put it all in there.  I’m working with some of the most talented people out there. And the great thing is because they’re all playing different characters, they embody all different styles!

Do you, yourself, listen to music when you’re creating? Does it inspire you?

Actually, no! When I create, I’m in a very deep state of concentration. Music could be playing, and somebody could be shooting a puppy, and I would be totally unaware!

Interview withRon English conducted by Ana Candelaria and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4-6 Ana Candelaria; 3 courtesy Clutter

Note: Photo two features UK-based toy designer and street artist Czee 13 to the right of Ron English

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I first encountered JoDo’s now-iconic bee on a wall in Bushwick several years ago. And this past week, I had the opportunity to visit it in all its glory in JoDo’s first retrospective exhibition on view at The Yard on 85 Delancey Street. We, also, had a chance to speak:

When and where did your now-iconic bee first surface in the public sphere? 

In November, 2015 here in NYC.

What inspired you to hit the streets with it?

Once I moved to NYC, I started noticing all that was happening on the streets here. And so I decided to take my bee – that first appeared indoors in a group exhibition – outside.

Can you tell us something about your bee? What does it represent? 

It is a divine creature that represents the communication between the Gods and us humans. Each bee is distinct.

And what about its name — JoDo?

It’s a reference to my parents. Jo from my father’s name; and Do from my mom’s.

I’ve seen your bee on a wide range of surfaces. Have you any preferred ones?

I love stone and brick, but any kind of surface is fine.

Do you prefer to paint on the streets “with permission?” Or would you rather do it illegally?

I like both. Generally what I do is unsanctioned, but there are advantages to painting legally. For example, when I paint with Paint for Pink in Newark, I am given not only a wall, but paint and all the time I need!

What is your first graffiti memory?

The writing I noticed while growing up in Mexico City. I didn’t get involved with it because I assumed it was associated with gangs. But I loved trying to decipher its letters. 

What about cultural influences? What are your principal ones?

Definitely NYC graffiti, and I’ve been influenced by the time I spent working within Mayan communities in the jungles of Mexico.

What is your most memorable graffiti experience?

My time in St. Petersburg, Russia. I met up there with the graffiti writer AKA6. It was the first time I bombed with spray paint, rather than with mops.

And the riskiest thing you’ve done?

Also in Russia. Painting by myself inside the ruins of buildings. I didn’t know what could happen to me.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Yes, I kiss and hug all of my pieces after I finish them and whenever I pass them by

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes. Among the spaces I’ve shown in are: the Living Gallery, 17 Frost and here at the Yard.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My family is very supportive. They both hugely appreciate art.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

When I’m not working at marketing or art curation, I’m doing art. And when I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it.

What are some of your other interests?

Discovering other people’s talents. 

Have you any feelings — positive or negative — regarding the engagement of graffiti artists with the corporate world?

I love the idea of infiltrating the corporate world. That’s how we artists can have more influence and reach people who otherwise might not see our work. It’s like playing with the system to get our message out.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

They include: the late British painter JM William Turner; the late Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara; the late Italian-Argentine artist Lucio Fontana Rubens; the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan; the late Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida, and the late American sculptor Robert Smitson.

Do you prefer painting alone or with others?  

I’m very independent, but I also like painting with others. Among those I’ve gotten up with are: Easy, Sev TDT, the ACK Crew, Blitz, Rambo, Pork, Glazer, Token, ZB-Bunny, Myster, TCOB, Slae, AKA6, Lansky, Sohr, Freaky, Uncle Robert, Hank, Trice, Regalos Margot, ET, Avocado, CaseEx-Vandals, Delay, DB, Umii, Pariah, Dwel, Hiss, El Sol, Chupa and the O’s, Image, Jel, Nic 707, the TDT Crew, KRR, Masters of Massacre, Extremely Humble  and Optimo.

Have you any thoughts on the graffiti/street art divide? 

Graffiti and street art are both art, but they’re totally different categories of expression. Most street artists just bring their fine art sensibilities outdoors. Most writers are driven to make their mark and be part of graffiti history.

Have you a formal art education?

No. I studied art curation. My father taught me how to draw. He took me to museums just about every week. And then when I lived in Europe, I visited museums all the time.

How has your iconic bee evolved through the years?

It used to be very stiff. Now it flows. It’s definitely improved!

Where else besides NYC and St. Petersburg has it surfaced?

It’s made its way to Moscow, Asilah, Malaga, Cadiz, Ek Balam, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen and Miami.

What’s ahead?

I want to create more art – some with the bee and some without it. I want to work on a larger scale, and I want to continue to make my parents proud of me.

How can folks see JoDo Was Here — your current show on the 2nd and 3rd floors of The Yard on the Lower East Side?

Viewing hours are Monday – Friday 10-5 and weekends by appointment. They can direct message me via my Instagram or drop a note to Lee Wells of the International Fine Arts Consortium (IFAC) at Lee@ifac-arts.com. The exhibit  continues through March 22.

Great! And congratulations on this exhibit! 

Interview conducted and edited for clarity and brevity by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Ana Candelaria; 2, 5 & 8 Courtesy of the artist, and 3, 4, 6, 7 & 9 Lois Stavsky

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We were delighted to recently meet up with the nomadic Ecuadorian artist Lasak, view her artwork — on and off the streets — and find out a bit about her.

When and where did you first paint in a public space?

It was back in 2010 in my hometown, Guayaquil, on the Ecuadorian coastline. I was 21 at the time.

Have you any early graffiti-related memories?

No. I didn’t grow up with graffiti. My hometown, at the time, was very conservative. No one would dare leave a mark on private or public property. There were police everywhere. And when I first started, I’d often get into trouble. Now Guayaquil is much more open, and there is street art everywhere.

Who/what, then, inspired you to get up?

Damián Vásquez aka Disaikner, a friend of mine who’s an amazing designer, illustrator and tattoo artist.

Have you any favorite surface?

I like everything, but I especially like metal doors.

Do you prefer to paint on the streets “with permission?” Or do you prefer doing it illegally?

I like both. I like the thrill of painting illegally, but I also like to be able to take my time, which I can only do on legal walls.

What was the riskiest thing you ever did on the streets?

While I was up on a ladder painting, I saw a man trying to rob a lady. I stopped what I was doing to get down to help her. And the next thing I noticed was a gun pointed at me!

Do you prefer painting alone or with others?

I like both. When I paint with other artists, I get to learn from them and we get to share our knowledge.

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes, throughout Ecuador, and in many other places including Necoche, Iguazu, Sao Paulo , Berlin, Barcelona, Berlin, Indonesia, Hawaii and NYC. But the streets are my main canvas.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

It took them awhile to understand my lifestyle. My mother was upset, at first, that I didn’t finish university, where I’d been studying architecture.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I spend about 6-7 hours a day on art. I’d love to devote the entire day to art, but I also work at assorted jobs to earn necessary income.

What are some of your other interests?

I’m interested in working with community-based projects and helping people. That’s my primary interest and mission. My first experience teaching art was to adult cancer patients in Ecuador. It was super amazing! When I help others, I’m also helping myself, because I don’t get depressed. I’m, also, interested in music, especially electronic music. And I love to dive. When I do, I feel like I’m in another world.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Apitatán, Inti, and Lauren YS aka Squid Licker immediately come to mind!

What about cultural influences? What are your principal ones?

My main cultural influences are indigenous and Hindu.

Have you a formal art education?

None. My friends – including all those I’ve met in my travels — have been my teachers.

What are some of the countries you’ve traveled to and painted in?

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Indonesia, Korea and the US.

Do you work with a sketch-in-hand or just let it flow?

I only work with a sketch when I’m commissioned to paint a piece. Otherwise I just let it flow.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I’m happy, but I also feel confused. How does one judge artwork?

What inspires you?

Nature…the ocean…my travels around the world…learning about other cultures and sharing my knowledge with others.

How has your work evolved through the years?

My composition has improved. My work is more balanced and more interesting.

How do you feel about the role of social media in this scene?

It helps me get my work out there to people who otherwise wouldn’t see it , but it takes up too much time.

What do you see as the artist’s role in society?

To offer people an entry to another world.

What’s ahead?

I’d like to move to Hawaii and study art there in a formal setting. I’d, also, like to teach scuba diving, and so I need to earn a certificate that allows me to do that. I’m interested, too, in working with organizations engaged with saving sharks. And, of course, creating more art that engages the community.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with  City-as-School interns Basil Lyons and Alyssa Torres and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3, 5, 6 & 8 courtesy of the artist; 4 & 7 Lois Stavsky

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The following post is by Houda Lazrak:

While visiting Santiago, Chile in late December, I sat down with Santiago-based architect and street art/graffiti expert Sebastián Cuevas Vergara. We met a few blocks from one of Santiago’s main urban landmarks, Plaza Baquedano, now known as Plaza de la Dignidad or Dignity Square — the main site of Chile’s protests against social inequality that erupted last October following a hike in subway fares. 

Every Friday afternoon, thousands gather in Plaza de la Dignidad to express their frustration with the high cost of living, rising rents, government corruption and an unsustainable social welfare system. The walls in the vicinity are plastered with protest posters, tags, graffiti, wheatpastes and other varied urban interventions.

Sebastián shared some of his thoughts and observations about the current state of public space in Santiago:

So much has changed here since I last visited Chile in 2013. What are you up to at the moment?

I am currently teaching a street art class at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Chile. This a particularly pertinent moment to be talking about people’s relation to public space in view of all the street art that has surfaced since the social crisis started.

Yes, it does seem extremely relevant.

I have a thesis: Santiago is the city with the most diverse graffiti in the world at the moment. There is poetic graffiti, urban graffiti, feminist graffiti, political graffiti…

And so many posters too!

The languages of the streets are changing. When the protests started, designers started making posters: a simple, straightforward, immediate response. Posters and graphics have been part of Chilean identity since the 1970s, so this was quickly picked up again.

Is this happening mainly in the city center?

It is concentrated in the center of the city. This is where it has the most significance, near ‘zona cero’ where the protests surface every Friday.

How have the graffiti and street art changed in Santiago since the social revolution erupted?

There are several changes. First, many artists are no longer signing their works. The personal nature of graffiti is not of essence now. Artists are, instead, giving their art to the movement. This is particularly interesting, because the graffiti scene in Santiago is very competitive. Second, works are much larger in scale because artists are collaborating. Third, performance art is integrated into the protests and with the graffiti and street art. Finally, feminist street art is now at the forefront. The work of groups like the Chilean feminist collective LASTESIS has gone viral.

How might what is happening now affect the future of public space in Chile?

The significance of the writing on the walls is now taken more seriously. The city is now asking,” Do we erase the graffiti or maintain it?”

People in Chile didn’t really understand that public space belongs to them — rather than to the police and to the politicians. Now it has been returned, and they are occupying it. There were more than one million people protesting. One way to occupy this space is through graffiti. On the first two days of the revolution, everyone was doing graffiti everywhere. And many building owners were saying, “We want to maintain the graffiti to show our support to this social movement.” Owners now have the choice of whether to keep the graffiti or not. In the past, the municipality would have automatically erased it. It’s a huge change. 

Since the military dictatorship that emerged in the 1970’s, public space has been restricted and surveilled. This is now changing. All these expressions are now happening in Chilean public spaces, even if the police tries to stop them.

Has what is happening here impacted the mainstream art establishment?

There is less trust in art institutions, because change is happening outdoors. The art that people want to see is now happening outside of museums.

Are there some works that have surfaced on the streets that are particularly prevalent?

Matapaco, the dog who became a symbol of Chilean revolutions. He was a stray dog that marched with protestors and defended them against police forces. Lots of images of him are appearing in the street. People in Santiago are also putting bandanas on their dogs in solidarity. There is also Museo de la Dignidad, a group that is installing golden frames around what they think are there best street art works made in direct response to the social situation.

Did you participate in the protests?

I created an intervention, LibreCircular, in Plaza Italia, where the main protests occurred. I collaborated with artists to paint a large circle on the ground that represents the right to circulate in the city.

To me, the most important value of public place is free circulation and people’s right to it. The Chilean government took this away from us when they imposed a curfew in Santiago last October. This intervention was a response to it.

How did people react to this particular intervention?

People’s interaction with the piece was super interesting. Some sat down to take photographs right in its center; cyclists held a night protest where they rode on the circumference of the circle over and over again; and protestors also started a fire in it.

What are some of your thoughts on the current state of affairs?

Well, there are a lot of social issues in Chile. There is no affordable healthcare or education, and things blew up.

This moment is political, but also cultural. People are trying to appropriate cultural powers. With new generations and new ideas, Chile has woken up. And artists are now playing a political role.

Sources like television and newspapers are no longer trusted, because they represent the state’s agenda. The agenda of the streets, the public’s agenda, is written on the city’s walls, and on Instagram. Hopefully, a new constitution will be written in the next months. I believe that the ideas that appear in the graffiti of Chile’s streets should be considered in the writing of  the constitution. Values are created in the streets, and graffiti is a participatory process that reflects these values. One of the most important values that came out of these protests is dignity.

Have you any ideas on what the impact of this social revolution may be?

It is hard to tell what the dimension will be, or if real change will happen.  But it is definitely the start of a historical process.

Thanks for speaking with us, Sebastian. We’ll be following Chilean news in the next months from New York!

Images

1 Photographer Bastián Cifuentes Araya‘s documentation of Chilean protestors’ head gear for the project: “Por qué nos encapuchamos” / “Why we get hooded.” The gear protects them from tear gas, and makes a political and artistic statement. 

2 Valparaiso-based stencil artist Mauro Goblin

3 Varied political graffiti in the historical, artsy Lastarria neighborhood in central Santiago

4 Varied political graffiti

5 Multidisciplinary artist Miguel Ángel Kastro, Chile, Octubre 2019

Varied political graffiti — featuring Matapacoa stray dog that accompanied Chilean activists during protests, and is now a symbol of the current social revolution

Serigrafía Instantáneaportrait of Camilo Catrillanca, the grandson of a Mapuche indigenous leader, shot in the back of the head by government armed forces in November 2018. Catrillanca’s image became emblematic of police brutality and crimes against Chilean civilians.

 Ricardo Pues, Homage to the ‘primera linea’ protestors featuring “Thank you” in several languages to those who have been at the front lines of protests since the 2019 manifestations started

Interview with Sebastián Cuevas Vergara and photos by Houda Lazrak

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