Luckily I’ve never been arrested. I’ve had many run-ins with the cops but they’ve always let me go. More than once they’ve even let me finish my piece. Some things I’ve learned: Be honest. Cops hate getting hustled. And never be angry or defensive—or unctuous. Having a pretty girl along also seems to help.
Avoid doormen. These palace guard lackeys have no soul. I’ve never run into a sane doorman. They’re not even worthy adversaries.
Cultivate ninja like invisibility. I’m not sure how you acquire this except over time. It becomes an instinct—like being a successful shop-lifter (I imagine).
Be wary of self promotion. In my experience, if this isn’t done carefully-mindfully—it can be corrupting. For me, the work will suck if it doesn’t come from a deeper place than wanting attention.
Never go over someone else’s work—unless it’s expired posters or bygone territorial tagging. This is the cardinal sin of street art. It’s as bad as sleeping with your friend’s ex. You’ll immediately go into extreme mojo arrears.
Wooster: How did you get started in creating art for the street?
I started in art school. At Cooper Union on the Lower East Side in the late 70’s. I did it out of typical art student rebellion really. Drunk one night, appalled at the cold elitist atmosphere of the school—the post modern architecture, the chilly art snob students—I went and painted fires up and down the back stairway of the school. I got expelled and after much debate and furor (and attention), was re-instated . Amazed at the power to reach all sorts of people I’d stumbled over, I’ve never looked back.
Wooster: What originally inspired you to do WTC, Hoodie, and Birds?
The WTC piece is a series of votive shrines—my version of the offerings that all those people put up in the days after 9/11. This was my way of mourning, processing the tragedy. Strangely, it was the most trouble free full series piece I’ve ever done. Complete Grace.
The Hoodys came from a dark period in the early nineties. Drugs, HIV, poverty/despair/danger were like a pall of doom over the lower east side (my neighborhood). The grim reaper hoody posters were inspired by plague attitudes from the middle ages and deer x-ing signs—the way the hi way dept. puts up those yellow diamond with black deer silhouettes as warning signs.
The hummingbirds were pure street art. Pure ‘what the fuck is this?’ and my version of a tag. I do remember having a concept that I’d put them everywhere below 14th street except Soho. Cause back then Soho was for the gallery types who I didn’t like (probably cause they didn’t like me).
Wooster: What other street artists do you most admire and why?
Back when I got started, Gordon Matta Clark, Charles Simonds, Jenny Holzer, and all the kids bombing trains really opened my eyes and got me thinking. A guy I’ve always admired a lot, although he’s not technically a street artist, is Andy Goldsworthy. Those pictures you had up on your site this week—the posters made from the snapshots of everyday people in Baghdad, that really kicked my legs out. It’s straightforward and subtle—it used all the power, every level; those pieces do brilliantly every thing I admire about good art on the street.
I’d like to see other works by this artist.
Wooster: What’s your favorite city, neighborhood, or block, to post and/or to see street art?
I’ve just moved to Greenpoint/East Williamsburg. This neighborhood’s got it coming. Big time. Best energy in the city now. By far. Some extraordinary graffiti pieces over on Morgan. State of the art. I’ve worked this zone before, and I will again.
Wooster: What inspires you now?
At this moment it’s got to be the war. The war criminals running this country. There’s nothing else.