hip-hop

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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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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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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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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Featuring a superlative documentation of NYC’s golden age of graffitiHenry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987 remains on view at the Bronx Museum through March 8With his remarkable eye, vision and passion, the award-winning visual anthropologist Henry Chalfant captured a culture that has since evolved into a global phenomenon impacting the entire art establishment. Featured above is Henry Chalfant, as seen at the Bronx Museum several days after the exhibit’s official opening. What follows are several more photos — some captured at the September 25 2019 opening by travel and street photographer Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad — and others as seen on subsequent visits.

 Documentation of graffiti on NYC subway trains

Re-creation of Futura graffiti on subway train, 1980

Henry Chalfant — with Bio, Tats Cru to his right — as captured on opening night

Recreation of Henry Chalfant,‘s early studio featuring Tats Cru, Tracy 168 and more

John “Crash” Matos with noted graffiti documentarian and author Jim Prigoff  to his right — as captured on opening night

Martha Cooper — with camera in hand on opening night — turns her lens on Bgirl Rokafella, Jose Parla, Jerry MazeJorge Fabel Pabon and DJ KaySlay 

More photos of trains with quote by Carlos Mare aka Mare 139 to their left: “We may have lost the trains, but we’ve gained the whole world.”

The Bronx Museum is located at 1040 Grand Concourse and is easily accessible by the B, D and 4 trains. Visiting hours for this “must see” exhibit are: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm and Friday, 11:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7 Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad;  3, 5 & 8 Lois Stavsky

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A lover of words — both spoken and written — I’ve been a huge fan of Jay Shells’ (Jason Shelowitz’s) ambitious rap project from my first glimpse of his site-specific mural on Myrtle and Broadway several years ago. The recently released The Rap Quotes Coast to Coast — published by Dokument Press — is a photographic foray into Jay Shells’ brilliant urban interventions installed in several key cities from 2013-2018.  Accompanied with maps of site-specific rap lyrics, it is an homage to hip-hop, the spirit of the streets and to street art.

Traveling with photographer and award-winning videographer Aymann Ismail, Jay installed over 400 site-specific interventions. Largely displayed as street signs, the rap lyrics sometimes surfaced on billboards, bus stops, phone booth advertising takeovers and painted murals.

While the first segment of the book focuses on NYC — the birthplace of hip-hop in the early 80’s –The Rap Quotes Coast to Coast  also transports us to neighboring Philly, across the country to LA and then to Atlanta and Houston.

Providing a window into the psychology and cultural differences among the varied sites, the playfully poetic lyrics are witty and sly and— in the vein of rap — often hyperbolic. And offering further insights into it all, each city documented in The Rap Quotes Coast to Coast is introduced by a hip-hop journalist. 

The Rap Quotes Coast to Coast is widely available in bookstores and online and can be purchased here.

All photos courtesy Dokument Press; book review by Lois Stavsky

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A visual ode to the early days of hip-hop and the city that birthed it, Will Power‘s first solo exhibition, wRAPped N BLACK, features 10 large-scale, hugely impressive artworks — each fashioned with white charcoal on black wood panel. Curated by Anthony Bowman, the exhibit continues through Sunday, April 7, at Lichtundfire, 175 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. Featured above is King of Funk, a  beautifully executed portrait of Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton.  Several more images from wRAPped N BLACK follow:

Hoop Dreams, White charcoal on black wood panel, 60″ x 48″

Da Original BBoy, White charcoal on black wood panel, 60″ x 48″

Child at Play, White charcoal on black wood panel, 60″ x 48″

On Da 1&2, White charcoal on black wood panel, 60″ x 48″

Concrete Summer, White charcoal on black wood panel, 60″ x 48″

The gallery will be open today and tomorrow, Saturday, from 12-6pm and on Sunday, from 1-6pm. For further information, contact gallery director Priska Juschka at info@lichtundfire.com.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky

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Celebrating the launch of the Ngozy Art collective, along with the Point’s 25 years of community service and outreach in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, 20 legendary Bronx writers painted live this past Saturday on the Point Campus for the Arts and Environment. Produced by the Ngozy Art collective and curated by Sade TCM, the event, A Cultural Happening in Da’ Bronx, was an ode to the borough that forged a culture that has since impacted the entire world. Beginning next week, the masterfully crafted works — brimming with infectious energy, dazzling colors and expressive creativity — can be viewed on the website of the Ngozy Art collective that will offer local artists a platform to share and sell their artwork.

The image featured above was painted by BIO Tats Cru.  Several more paintings that surfaced last Saturday follow:

John “Crash” Matos

Stash

Chris “Daze” Ellis

Totem TC5

Sienide

Pase BT

Nicer Tats Cru

Saturday’s event also featured a gallery-style exhibition designed by the Point artist-in-residence Eric Orr.  And the legendary hip hop DJ and producer Jazzy Jay, presented by Christie Z, added the musical element to the day.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

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Continuing through this weekend at Red Bull Arts New York is RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder, the historic solo exhibition focusing on the extraordinary, idiosyncratic talents of the late multi-media artist, graff writer, hip-hop pioneer and Gothic Futurist theoretician RAMMΣLLZΣΣ. A diverse selection of the artist’s visual works, music and writings, along with rare archival documentation and ephemera, presents an intimate portrait of the visionary New York cult icon. The mixed-media image above features one of the artist’s wildly imaginative Garbage Gods.  Several more images from the remarkable  RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder follow:

Letter Races, Mixed media

Monster models, Mixed media

Letter M Explosion, Mixed media

Luxturnomere Hammer Bar Hammerclef Force Field One, Spray paint on cardboard

Jams, Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

The man, himself

The exhibit continues through Sunday at 220 West 18th Street in Chelsea, Manhattan. Red Bull Arts New York is open from 12-7pm.

Photo credits: 1, 4-7 Lois Stavsky; 2-3 Karin du Maire

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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Brilliantly countering any claims that feminism is dead and that the Hip-Hop culture “is detrimental to women and girls,” Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón has written an impeccably researched study of the grrls who have paved their way into the predominantly male graffiti culture, claiming their own space.

Based on interviews conducted with over 100 graffiti grrls across the globe over the span of 15 years, the author, now an Assistant Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at SUNY New Paltz, provides us with a window into the minds, practices and experiences of a wide range of female writers crossing cultures and generations.

Among the many assumptions and false claims female writers often have to contend with are that they are writing graffiti to get noticed by guys or doing it to make their boyfriends happy. Or that they aren’t writing at all; it’s their boyfriends who are doing it for them. Rumors, too, regarding their sexual promiscuity are rife.

And yet, for various reasons, many are reluctant to identify as “feminists,” a term too often associated with man-haters. Pabón-Colón relates how when she first asked the famed bomber, Miss 17, if she was a feminist, her immediate response was a brusque, “No.” Five years later – in 2009 – Miss 17  had tempered her views, largely due to the friendships that she had developed with the likes of Claw Money and the author, herself.

Throughout Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora, the author convincingly advances both feminism and graffiti as positive and vital social and political forces. Australian artist Ivey, for example, recounts the pride she feels on seeing her tag up and credits the graffiti culture with helping her get through difficult times and motivating her to pursue her education after graduating from high school.

Whether of not graffiti grrls identify themselves as feminists or perceive themselves as political, Pabon-Colon compellingly affirms that their “performances of feminist masculinity” merge the fundamental social, cultural and aesthetic aspects of Hip-Hop culture with the feminist movement

Published by New York University Press, Graffiti Grrlz is the first academic study on women’s participation within the graffiti subculture. Appended with examples of black book pages, comprehensive notes and an extensive bibliography. Pabón-Colón’s work is a rich tribute to the grrls whose voices are too often silenced and a gift to all of us who love graffiti, perhaps the most significant art movement of our time.

You can order the book directly from the author with a special discount here. And follow news of her readings and signings here.

Note: The third image features NYC native Abby and the final one features London-based Chock painting in the Bronx.

Images courtesy of the author; book review by Lois Stavsky

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