graffiti

After viewing ONe Rad Latina‘s solo exhibition at Village Works, I was eager to find out more about the self-taught multidisciplinary artist. And on Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit her Bushwick studio and speak to her about her exhibition that remains on view at Village Works through December 2.

I first came upon your infectious aesthetic last fall on the streets of Soho. I then encountered it on the exterior of the New York Public Library, on the walls of Bushwick and in East Harlem’s Grandscale Mural Project. And this past Friday, I visited your solo exhibition One Rad Latina at Village Works in the East Village. What an amazing range of studio art on view!  How did you decide which works to include in this current exhibition?

Most important are my faceless portraits. It is how I express my identity. As a first generation American, I almost always felt invisible. The faceless portraits also reflect my Dominican heritage, as handcrafted faceless dolls made out of terra cotta are unique to it. Another important representation of my culture that I wanted to include in this exhibition are my Skeletrex, the skulls that I draw. When my dear friend Kev RWK saw them several months ago, he urged me to continue to develop them.

And what about your designs? I love their flow.

They’re a reflection of my brain — the distinct way it works. When I was five years old, I learned that particular technique of drawing loosely and freely from my kindergarten teacher. And I love the patterns that emerge when I just let it flow!

Your works range in style from whimsical abstract graffiti to serious meditative portraiture. Is there a particular mode, medium or style that you prefer? That you feel most comfortable working with?

I love each of the styles. I can’t say that I have a preference. As far as the tools I employ, I like working with a palette knife and heavy acrylic medium.

Have you any personal favorites among the artworks on exhibit?

Among my favorites are: Primo Hermanos (First Cousins) — inspired by a 1987 family photo — and People Are Strange that I designed last year with acrylic, oil marker and ink. In both images, the figures are faceless.

Village Works is such a handsome space, and your artwork looks so wonderful there. How did you hook up with this East Village venue?

It was through Kurt Boone, a huge fan and documentarian of NYC culture. I’d known of him for years because he’s part of the bike messenger culture that I follow, but it wasn’t until last year that I met him. I was painting a mural at the New York Public Library in Midtown, and he was in the neighborhood photographing a protest at the time. Kurt noticed what I was doing, stopped by, and became interested in my work. He knew Joe Sheridan, the creative director of Village Works, and approached him about curating an exhibition of my studio work.

How did opening the opening reception go? How did folks respond to your works on exhibit?

It was awesome! And I was thrilled that so many old school writers attended. Among these pioneers were Mike 171, Butch 2 and SJK171 — guys who have contributed so much to the culture, but have yet to receive the recognition they deserve.

How can folks still see your exhibition?

It remains on view through December 2 at the Village Works Art Gallery, located at 90 East 3rd Street. Check here for opening hours. A q&a with curator Kurt Boone and me will be held on Tuesday (tonight) evening from 8 to 9:30. And there will be a closing event on Thursday, December 2, 7 to 10PM. A limited edition signed catalog is also available in the gallery.

Images of artwoks

1 “Untitled,”  Mixed media

2 “Primo Hermanos,” Acrylic on canvas

3 “El Sueño de la Carbonera,” Acrylic and ink on cotton stretched canvas

4  “Untitled,” Mixed

5 “People Are Strange,” Acrylic, oil marker and ink

Photos and interview by Lois Stavsky

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A huge fan of Mr. Mustart‘s mesmerizing aesthetic since I discovered it on the streets of Jersey City a decade ago, I was delighted to feature his talents in the Morris Museum‘s current group exhibition, On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New JerseyWhat follows is an interview with the artist:

When and where did you first get up?

Back in Russia. I was about 11-12 when I first got up on a wall. I remember using a navy blue spray can from a local auto shop. At that time the paint only came in two colors.

Had you a preferred surface?  

No! Everything goes, and as long as there is room for creativity, it’s all a blank canvas.

What inspired you to hit the streets? 

A desire to be heard and also seen now that I think about it. Also, I was inspired by the music that I listened to at the time. At first, it was punk rock and heavy metal. Then when I was about 13 or 14, back in 97-98, it was a wave of hip-hop and rap music – groups like Public Enemy, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang, Gangstarr, of course 2Pac and Notorious BIG, BIG Pun, Big-L, Jay-Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, Snoop, KRS One, MC Hammer, Kool G Rap, Coolio, … whosever bootleg tapes and VHS videos made it to my small town.

There was no internet at that time, mind you. I remember watching music videos with b-boys in them rocking on linoleum mats with graffiti pieces and characters in the background. I was already drawing, sculpting and making my own play-weapons like wood gun replicas, ninja darts, bows and arrows. and more. The music and the videos opened me up to an entire new world of self-expression.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others? 

I like doing both. Some of my finest memories are from the times I painted with my friends. And sometimes it’s more therapeutic for me to work alone. Depends on what it is that I’m doing.

Do you belong to any crews?

I’m an honorable member of BAMC, a huge and very talented international crew based out of California and the A-Team aka the AIDS Crew, a collective of some of the dopest local street and graffiti artists based out of Jersey.

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

Before we get into any type of logomachy about this hot topic, let’s agree that there is no solid definition of either one. and the lines between have been crossed numerous times throughout its brief history and continue to till this day.  I don’t think it’s that much of a divide, rather a continuous interaction and coexistence/collision of ideas, concepts, social commentary, techniques and more. Don’t believe the hype.

I think it’s more of a territorial issue. Most graffiti writers have been doing their thing on the streets for years and even decades without serious recognition from the art world, mostly because  graffiti has been classified as a crime rather than an urban form of expression. It’s the label “street art” that took graffiti places it has never been. So I think the divide is more personal and not as systematic as people like to think.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries and museums? 

I think it’s great. It’s Art and that’s where the Art belongs. It’s a window of opportunity for many talented artists and a positive outlet for those who come from harsh environments with many self-destructive vices.  It gives many people hope and a way to earn some sort of a living.

And what about the role of social media? How do you feel about that?

Its role is to connect people and that’s what it does best. It’s been great for me personally. It gives me a free platform with a global outreach. It’s a way for me to expand my network and come across great opportunities.

Have you a formal art education?

I graduated from New Jersey City University in 2009 with a BFA Degree in Painting and Drawing, but even before and throughout middle and high school, I’d always attended some sort of art classes and artists’ workshops.

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

Lots of daylight, a peaceful space without too many distractions – with some kind of instrumental music in the background and lots of blank canvases and paint. And hunger to search within.

What inspires you these days?

Good music, interactions with people. Everything really. Life.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Growing up in Russia and moving to New Jersey at the age of 14 pretty much sum up my background of influences. The hip-hop culture and music from all parts of the world, especially the music from Russia, Poland, France, Brazil and of course USA.

Is there a central theme that ties your work together?

It’s my organic and free-flowing style. I rarely work with a sketch in hand. My themes change as I do.

What about colors? Have you any favorite ones?

I especially like working with yellow. It’s energetic and exciting, but colors are nothing in isolation. I love the nuance that exists among the colors rather than individual hues.

And media? Which do you prefer working with?

Spray paint is mostly my go-to, but I would draw with a stick on sand if I have to.

How important to you are others’ responses to your work? Is it important that they like it?

When the reaction is positive, that’s great! I feel like that’s the greatest reward for any artist, whether you’re a painter, a sculptor, a chef, or a dancer! If someone doesn’t like something, that is fine too; it simply is not for them.

How has the work you’ve done on the streets impacted your studio work?

They impact each other. It’s a back and forth thing.

Where would you rather be? On the streets or in a studio setting?

Probably on the streets. Just because I like being outdoors. But I see myself  spending quality time in a studio with some canvases. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

How long do you generally spend on a studio piece?

All depends on its nature. Sometimes a few hours, and sometimes months. I also work on many pieces simultaneously.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It’s always evolving, and I’m always experimenting. It’s a continuous journey with no end in sight.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My parents always encouraged me. They are both creative and always valued and supported my niche for creativity. They are thrilled that I can earn a living as an artist.

Have you any favorite artists?

I feel like art is about self-expression, so anyone who has been doing it and has done it well and with love is a favorite.

 

What are some of your other interests?

Eating healthy and traveling. Breathing.

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

It’s to find their inner light and to share it with others.

Note: You can view a sampling of Mr. Mustart‘s abundant talents in On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey

Photo credits: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8: Lois Stavsky; 2 Sara Ching Mozeson and 6 Rachel Alban

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Active on both the streets and in his studio, Will Power fashions stylishly seductive images, often fusing elements of  graffiti, street art and fine art. His talents can now be viewed not only on the streets of his native New Jersey and throughout NYC, but in  the group exhibition, On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey, that continues through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. While selecting studio works to feature in the exhibition, I had the opportunity to interview Will.

When and where did you first get up?

I first got up in 1983. And about a year later I did my first character, a devil. In 1985, I hit the White Castle on Journal Square. No one had ever hit that wall before. I was 14 at the time.

Had you any preferred surface back then?

Any place visible.

Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you at the time?

The movie Style Wars. It came out in 1983.

Do any early graffiti-related memories come to mind?

Racking up cans and bombing the bathrooms in Dickinson High School. The entire building was covered with graffiti.

Were you ever arrested?

Never! I knew what I was doing. I knew when and where to do it.

Did you belong to any crews back then?

A few. TFK (The Fresh Kingdom); KOC (Kings of Cremation) and MOB (Masters of Bombing).

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating with others?

I’d rather work alone. Often when I collaborate, I feel as though I’m carrying the other person. The exception is Albertus Joseph. We began collaborating in 2018, and we’ve developed our distinct aesthetic that we call “Gritty City Styles.”

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

The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo. I’d like to paint graffiti-style over his Sistine Chapel.

Have you any thoughts about the street art/graffiti divide? You certainly bridge the two.

The line is getting thinner and thinner. The problem is that street artists and graffiti writers don’t really get to talk to each other. The writers feel that the street artists are doing it for the money. But our motivation is really the same. We love what we do, and we have fun doing it!

What about the street art scene here in New Jersey? Any thoughts about it?

We need a “scene!” There are not enough legal walls and it’s all too cliquish. And I’d like to see the state do more to promote local artists.

Street artists are increasingly collaborating with the corporate world. Have you any feelings about that partnership?

That depends on the circumstances, the particular product and the way it’s being represented.

And how do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries and museums? 

I feel good about it. Graffiti and street art should be moving into galleries and museums. It’s the logical progression.

How would you describe your ideal working environment?

It’s in my home. I find a space to paint in my house, and it becomes my studio and my sanctuary.

Have you a formal art education?

No. I’m self-taught. Graffiti was my teacher.

What inspires you these days?

My main sources of inspiration are: hip-hop, iconography, God and the Bible.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

I lived with my mother’s family in Thailand for three years from about 4-7. I vividly remember the detailed, decorative repetitive patterns and the classic spiritual beauty of the Buddhist temples. And I spent six months with my stepfather’s family in Egypt after I graduated from high school. There was gold everywhere! That’s what stands out. But the hip-hop culture has always been my main influence.

Is there a central theme that ties your work together?

Hip-hop and spirituality.

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

Mostly, I don’t. But for commissions, I sometimes have to.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece? And how do you know when it’s finished?

I am satisfied with it. I know it’s finished when it feels balanced.

How important are other’s reactions to you?

On my studio work, they’re not important. But when I paint outside, it’s for the people. And then it matters.

How has your work evolved through the years?

It began with tagging and bombing the streets, and now it’s working on canvas fusing elements of graffiti, urban art and fine art.

How has the work you’ve done on the streets impacted your studio work?

The media I use are largely the same ones I use on the streets: spray paint, wheatpastes, stencils and charcoal. But I’ve also begun working more and more with oil paint and oil sticks in the studio.

How has your studio work evolved in the past several years?

I’m definitely taking more chances, and my tones are often more subtle. And working with oil paint adds a classical element to it.

How long do you generally spend on a studio piece? On a street art work?

I spend, on the average, of about three months on a studio piece, and anywhere from 4-6 hours on a work on the streets.

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

My role is to share my God-given talents with others.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I’d have to say all of it, because even at my day job – my main source of income – I paint in my head.

Note: Will Power‘s work remains on view through February 27 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ and for the next several weeks, you may even find him collaborating with the legendary Al Diaz at First Street Green Art Park.

Interview by Lois Stavsky

Photos feature Will Power‘s studio and street art in various indoor and outdoor venues. Images 3 & 8 in collaboration with fellow Ex-Vandals member, Albertus Joseph

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The murals that surface at First Street Green Art Park — under the curatorial direction of Jonathan Neville — continue to represent an intriguingly diverse range of artists with varied sensibilities and styles. The image featured above was recently painted by the wonderfully talented Colombian artist Toxicómano Callejero, whom I had first met in Bogota over a decade ago. What follows are several more murals that have made their way to First Street Green Art Park since this past spring:

Colombian artists Erre and Praxis

NYC-based Chris RWK in collaboration with Nite Owl

Fumero with an optimistic message

Miami-based Chilean artist Claudio Picasso aka CP WON

Mexican artist Victor “MARKA27” Quinonez

Ratchi in collaboration with Cram

First Street Green Art Park is located between Houston and First Street off the F train’s Second Avenue stop.

Photo credits: Sara C Mozeson, 1, 2 & 7; Lois Stavsky, 3 – 6

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Since we had last visited Welling Court back in late spring, a number of new murals have surfaced in this hugely popular Astoria, Queens-based mural project. The image pictured above was painted by the legendary NYC-based artist Chris “Daze” Ellis, who had first made his mark on NYC subway trains in the mid-70’s. Other recent artworks follow:

Designer and co-creator of the You Are Not Alone mural project Annica Lydenberg aka Dirty Bandits,

Bronx-based graffiti pioneer John “Crash” Matos and NJ-based stencil master Joe Iurato

Ecuadorian multidisciplinary artist Toofly

Brooklyn-born and Dallas-based abstract artist James Rizzi aka JMR

NYC-based designer, typographer and muralist Queen Andrea

NYC-based painter and designer Dennis Bauser aka SINNED  with his partner Maria Bauser aka Ria

Photo credits: 1-4 & 6 Lois Stavsky; 5 & 7 Sara C. Mozeson

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The Grandscale Mural Project returned to East Harlem this summer bringing dozens of alluring new murals to East 125th Street.  Featuring a huge range of  themes and styles, the project showcases works by both established and emerging artists. The intriguing image pictured above, A Walk to Freedom, was painted by NYC-based Baltimore native Mark West as a visual ode to those slaves who risked their lives or died in their struggle to attain freedom. Several more images of newly surfaced walls follow:

Harlem-based Marthalicia Marthalicia

East Harlem-based Scratch

Brooklyn-based Jason Naylor

The legendary Bronx-based John Matos aka Crash One captured at work earlier this month

Luis F Perez and Fausto Manuel Ramos of Lost Breed Culture

Bronx-born, Yonkers-based Michael Cuomo

Keep posted to our Instagram page, as there are many more murals from the Grandscale Mural Project waiting to be captured!

Photo credits:  1, 2, 6 & 7 Lois Stavsky; 3, 4 & 5 Tara Murray

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While exploring the streets of Jersey City in the vicinity of the Grove Street station off the Path train, I found myself riveted by one particular block. Along Coles and First Street, an eclectic range of graffiti pieces and street art murals rotate regularly. I was struck by their authenticity and their inherent spirit of community. I soon found out that the person behind them is Jersey City-native Wyme Santos. A man with a mission, he is the founder and curator of the community-based organization, JC Hundreds Mural Co. While visiting on a Sunday earlier this summer — when artists were busily painting — I had the opportunity to meet Wyme and find out a bit about his ongoing project:

Can you tell us something about the name of your company, JC Hundreds? What is its significance?

It all starts with one mural. And with one wall at a time, we soon have 100 murals that beautify a neighborhood. A culture can then develop that encompasses hundreds of murals.

About how many murals have you facilitated since you began this project?

In the course of two years, I’ve curated about 400 murals throughout Jersey City.

It is this block that captured my attention. How did you get the space to do this?

I reclaimed it. Once a block that had hosted a range of art and a traditional art supply store, it had become largely neglected.

Several of these artists are from Jersey City.

Yes, most are from New Jersey, and many are local, as we try to represent Jersey City’s diversity.

It’s wonderful how this space is so inviting and open. 

Yes, I like providing artists with a place to practice, paint or just hang out. I see art as a therapeutic medium.

That is the ideal! The energy here reminds me somewhat of 5Pointz, the LIC graffiti Mecca that was destroyed to give way to soulless condominiums. 

Yes! It’s about having the right energy and embodying the true spirit of graffiti.

What are some of the challenges you face in seeing your mission through?

Obtaining permissions in a variety of  locales throughout Jersey City is one challenge. I want to provide more legal spaces for artists. Art saves lives.

Can you tell us more about what you are doing in addition to curating walls?

I recently started a children’s program for mural art. We teach kids, ages 6-12, the ground rules of graffiti. They learn how they can uphold the culture, engage with the community and use eco-friendly paint. Two of them, V¡V and KüP, aka toodope_grlz, were the only kids who painted in the Jersey City Mural Festival. There are still some openings in our ongoing Summer Spray Paint Camp.

Do any personal graffiti-related memories stand out? I love your style! It’s quite distinct.

I remember meeting Rime, Nace and Sek when I was about 14. I had just caught a tag when I overheard Nace telling Sek, “You gotta write like him. You need to flow like him,” pointing to my tag.

Wow! What’s ahead?

I am working towards acquiring 501(c) status as a nonprofit organization and establishing a year-long program that engages children. And, of course, finding more spaces outdoors and indoors for artists to practice and paint.

Good luck with it all!

Images:

1 Wyme Santos in front of segment of mural by enemthagreat

2 Wyme Santos

3 John Exit

4 Byas

5 Avery

6 Ray Arcadio (L) and Distort (R) memorial walls

7 enemthagreat

8 Mr Mustart

www.jchundredsmuralco.com

10 Ree Vilomar

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 5, 7 & 10 Tara Murray; 2-4, 6 & 8 Lois Stavsky

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Featuring dozens of works in a range of media by the late legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with artworks by several of his key contemporaries, “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” continues at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through July 25. The image featured above, “Hollywood Africans,” fashioned in 1983 by Basquiat with acrylic and oilstick on canvas, portrays the artist, Rammellzee and Toxic, as it documents the time the three artists spent together in Los Angeles.  Several more of the exhibition’s highlights — as seen on my recent visit –follow:

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anthony Clarke (aka A-One), 1985, Acrylic, oil and collage on wood

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ero, 1984, Acrylic, oilstick and Xerox collage on paper

The late multi-media artist and hip-hop pioneer Rammellzee, Super Robber, 1985, Mixed media on canvas

NYC graffiti pioneer and acclaimed fine artist Futura, Untitled, 1982, Spray paint and marker on paper

Keith Haring and LA2 collaboration, Suit for Madonna, 1984 Acrylic on leather

Legendary graffiti pioneer Lady Pink and neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer collaboration, Tear Ducts Seem to Be a Grief Provision, 1983-84, Spray paint on canvas

A tribute to those who “fueled new directions in fine art, design, and music, driving the now-global popularity of hip-hop culture,”  “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation”  is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications and edited by co-curators Liz Munsell, the MFA’s Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art, and Greg Tate.

Photos of artworks: Lois Stavsky

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Hosting a striking array of graffiti styles, the walls off the Broadway Junction subway station teem with sumptuous colors and seductive rhythms.  The image featured above is the work of Long Island-bred artist WERD. Several more images captured on our recent visit to “the juncyard” follow:

The masterful Noah TFP

The inimitable Ceos

The dexterous Rezor — who regularly brings his curatorial skills to these walls

Stylemaster Such

Veteran writer Doc TC5

Classic writer Wore One

Photo credits:  1 & 2 A. Candela; 3-7 Lois Stavsky

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Not only was the late legendary writer Fernando Miteff — known to most of us as Nic 707 — a master of multiple styles, but he was also the founder and curator of one of NYC’s most distinctly impressive public art projects, InstaFame Phantom Art.

Beginning in 2009 until his untimely death last year from Covid, Nic 707 regularly rode the MTA trains with the singular mission of transforming their interiors into a one-of-a-kind pop-up gallery in motion. Having accompanied him on many of these adventures, I witnessed first-hand not only his boundless passion for graffiti, but his deep love for all art, as he showcased contemporary artworks in styles ranging from figurative to abstract, along with his and other writers’ tags, throw-ups and pieces.

And the response of the train riders who viewed Nic’s pop-up shows was almost always overwhelmingly positive. Many posed questions to Nic as they photographed his installations, and in response, Nic would graciously school them on the history of graffiti, its impact on contemporary art, the personal histories of the varied artists and more.

InstaFame Phantom Art (Volume 1): The Nic 707 Collection (NYC Transit Exhibition Catalog) is the perfect tribute to Nic — a paean to his creative energy and vision — and a gift to us all. Penned by his brother, Karim Miteff, it not only features dozens of images of works by Nic and by several other artists that rode the trains between 2009-2013, but it tells the story of graffiti and of Nic’s particular circumstances, including his 27-year hiatus from the culture. Much, in fact, is presented in Nic’s own words, as told to Karim.

Among the key subjects the book covers — in addition to Nic 707’s story — are: the tools writers use, the evolution of their styles, their code of ethics and the development of crews. Nic 707 was, in fact, the founder and first President of the Bronx-based OTB Crew.

And featured, of course, are dozens of images of variations of Nic’s iconic Kilroy character, described by the artist as “a kind of an entity…a presence. Even though he has no eyes, he sees all…but he doesn’t judge. He promotes love and holds the key to a silent and ancient wisdom. He represents the potential for alien intervention to help save mankind.”

Nic 707 was one-of-a-kind. He was, as his brother accurately describes him, a “Style Master. Visionary. Time Traveler.”

Writing about InstaFame Phantom Art back in 2015 in The New York Times, David Gonzalez described the project as one “with hundreds of one-of-a-kind panels that would be the envy of any urban gallery.”

I am already looking forward to the second volume of InstaFame Phantom Art: The Nic 707 Collection (NYC Transit Exhibition Catalog). 

Images:

1 Book cover, 2021

2 Black Star Bumper Car on the IRT 4 train, 2013

3 Lollipop$, 2012

4 Souls in Transit, 2013

5 Choose Your Palette, 2012

Photos 1, 3-5 Courtesy Karim Miteff; Photo 2, Lois Stavsky

Book Review by Lois Stavsky

Note: The book is available here.

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