At The Bushwick Collective Block Party
Sarah Cahlan | Photography By Michael Marquand
This weekend at the Bushwick Collective Block Party we spoke with graffiti artists about their work, their color schemes, the Bushwick scene and the changes they’ve seen in street art and graffiti.
What are you painting?
Eric Inkala: Just a big weird character (laughs).
Poem One: I’m in the process of painting my name, which for graffiti artists is the most important part of the project, you know all the other stuff is basically to make graffiti more acceptable to the public, which is where it’s gone today. You know, when I first started, we’d only paint our name.
Mr. Hydde: There’s somebody in my life who is really sick and I’ve been thinking a lot about hope and how to hold on to hope, what that means. It’s very difficult thing to do it and I was thinking about the idea of hope fluttering so that’s what this is...It’s a mixture of automatic writing, naive kind of influences, rough responses, I kind of let myself go creatively and it’s about conveying the emotional content. It plays an awful lot on purple and yellow as complementaries. I also like intense color power, I always think of color as emotion...Yes, it’s a positive thing but it’s also there’s a lot of turmoil, there’s pull back and forth.
Ruben Ubiera: This is one of my central experiments...I noticed galleries were not allowing graffiti art inside the galleries. It sounds ridiculous now but that’s how it was back then. Ten years ago, eleven. I noticed that discrepancy and I said, ‘You know what? Graffiti here, it’s there, it’s raw, it’s like the big elephant in the room.’ But I said gorilla because I wanted to make that comparison to the strength of graffiti and how wild people think it is but in reality, just like gorillas, it’s not so...I did this mural in Wynwood. That was my first mural. It got me best street artist in Miami for some magazines, people and opinions...stuff like that so it kind of forced me to do this gorilla, over and over again because that’s what people wanted to see. And so the gorilla that I do all the time doesn’t represent me but it represents the art movement, you know, that is happening in the United States and in the world for that matter. And in order for me not to look like a one trick pony, because everybody just does one thing, I was like you know what I don’t like drawing just one thing but my collectors, “Oh, I want a gorilla!” “Oh, can you make me a gorilla?” so I was like, you know what, I’m going to make my gorillas feel with the stuff of that location that I’m in. So I freestyle stuff. So I started doing this gorilla thing and man do people like them. Especially when they can relate to something that I find interesting because at the beginning it was just an ape. It was kind of racist but whatever but as soon as I put things that had to do with your neighborhood and the things that you understand, they were like, “Wow, that’s awesome.”
Tragek: Just a piece, ‘Burner.’ This is more like traditional graffiti. Very legible, with some style, very New York influence in a way. It’s more traditional. More letters, instead of wild style that you can’t really read. It is what it is, it’s graffiti. Freestyling a bunch of colors, putting it together, vibrant colors, that’s what I like to do, that’s what I like to focus on cause I like more colors.
Nelson Rivas Cekas: It’s a collaboration between my work and my friend’s work, Dasic Fernandez. We try to blend our styles together...I work a lot with the fences, separation and distance, that’s kind of my main subject...I try to make something more abstract in a way and Dasic is more figurative. He works more with the persons, figures, characters and here, what we tried to do this guy is kind of behind all these parts, separation or division, and he’s trying to kind of break out in a way...We play with a lot of colors, our work is in common that way, it’s very multi-color.
Do you live in the area?
Inkala: Yeah, my studio is right there (motions to a couple block away) and my apartments right there (motions to the other side of the street). I’ve been in the same studio six years now, in the neighborhood about eight and a half.
Poem One: I’m actually from College Point.
Mr. Hydde: I’m from Toronto. It’s pretty cool. It’s got a really strong graffiti culture...We have Start Program which is a street art program paid for by the city and they come and you can collaborate with business owners and do murals and stuff like that and it doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do. It’s pretty supportive. There’s probably less of it than there is here.
Ubiera: I am from Wynwood (Florida).
Tragek: I’m from Miami, Florida, visiting out here.
Cekis: I’m from Chile, I moved here like 12 years ago.
Can you describe Bushwick?
Inkala: Color explosion. It’s crazy, people come from all over the world to see this stuff which is insane.
Poem One: It’s definitely changed a lot. I have never lived here. Back in the 80s and the 90s, you didn’t really want to come here because of all the stories but now it’s more family oriented and the fact that Joe from Bushwick Collective is bringing all of the artists here...basically it’s picked up the neighborhood a lot so that people want to live here.
Poem One: Well, to me, graffiti has always been lettering. Which is my main focus whenever I come to do something...Now, you know, you have graffiti and then you have street art but to me graffiti since it’s being done in the street, I consider street art as well, you know, anything that’s done on the street is street art.
Mr. Hydde: The best descriptions, I kind of hated the guy when he said it but it fit. He said, “It looked like Basquiat painted an episode of Rugrats.” And to be honest, I can see the comparison. It’s intense colors. It’s very flat, it’s layers of one on top of the other. It’s a free-flow of automatic writing, connected to my theme, my idea, there’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of force to it. It’s meant to push. I don’t want you to walk past my piece and not see it. You have to look at it even if you don’t like it.
Ubiera: I mean this is what I call the very first true American visual art...Graffiti started in the Bronx. People in despair, they just had to say, ‘I was here. They forgot me but I was here.’ And I didn’t know anything about graffiti...I knew about neo-classical art, modern art and all of that stuff...One day in New York, I saw this guy jump on top of a wall and my god, in a minute, he did this huge thing in chrome and there was a dead rat on the windowsill and I was like, ‘Watch the rat!’ and he just kept on going over the rat, like nothing and I was just like, my skin crawled, I was like, ‘That’s amazing!’ because I’ve been trained neo-classically and this guy, not only doesn’t care about staying in the lines, he doesn’t care about law. He doesn’t care about windows. He doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t care about a dead rat decaying. He did his thing, put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, left. And based on all of the things that I saw, the speed and how certain effects are done just with the quick flick of the wrist, I like graffiti because, also because, with the flick of a wrist, we can turn something that was completely graphic into photographic or two dimensional, or just keep it sharp lines or very bold or do tons of different things.
How has the street art & graffiti scene changed?
Inkala: Massively. In the eight years I’ve been here there’s always, always been graffiti in Bushwick because it’s New York and it’s Bushwick but over the last five six years, it’s changed into this crazy street art movement, which is insane.
Poem One: I’ve seen it change drastically, like I said, like from when I first started originally, basically started out with someone just scribbling their name on their wall and from scribbling their name they go into more elaborate artwork like this (motions to his work) doing more calligraphy style lettering, you know, each artist has their own little twist to it.
Mr. Hydde: It certainly became way more acceptable. It went through this faze where, you know, it wasn’t acceptable at all and now it’s respected even by people at higher ends of things and high-brow art. It’s at least acknowledged and graffiti artists are starting to, graffiti artists and writers are starting to be in the larger galleries, we’ve got the Jonathan Levine gallery, that’s an amazing gallery, and her represents low-brow pop culture artists and street artists and he makes an incredibly healthy living doing so, so the fact that that can happen says something about where we are.
Ubiera: It’s amazing. It’s amazing... I repeat it's the first American, pure American visual movement and it’s changing the world. It’s put the world upside down and galleries upside down because, Who’s the best? Who teaches it? What are the laws? There’s no laws. There’s a kid in Taiwan with three cans that next year is a pro and nobody taught him techniques. A lot of the stuff, is do it yourself kind of thing and that’s what I love. I love to come to cities like this where the artists are very raw, people are experimenting with things...I’m more excited to see the underground people, the artists that are doing just completely different, whacky, weird stuff out of anger or whatever, you see it, you feel it.
Tragek: I’ve been painting for 12 years. So much has changed...There’s no rules now. Everybody just does amazing work.
How has the recent attention impacted the art?
Mr. Hydde: Well, a lot of people get into it, they’re trying to make a buck, right? I was drawn to it, to be honest, because I think this is, it’s got a lot of the things that I want in showing my work. Everybody is forced to see my work and I have a real respect for people, it’s expensive to put all this paint on a wall and all these guys do this and they do this because they love to do it, they love to make and I don’t know any artist who does that. I hear an artist say, “oh, that paints expensive” or “oh, I can’t sell” But these guys never sell. This doesn’t sell. This is done purely for people and it’s done to infect an environment and for me, that’s really what it’s about. It’s about communicating my understanding of something onto a wall and you know, people who love graffiti see it, people who hate graffiti see it. People who are indifferent see it. It comes through everybody's day as they move through their day then it disappears, it fades, you know, someone paints something else on top of it. I really like that idea. The transitory nature.
Tragek: It’s commercialized a lot, you know? It’s taken a lot away from the essence of it, of vandalism...It’s more accepted more...It’s kind of watered it down, you’ve got to balance it out, you know? Do a little bit of both.
Your color scheme?
Inkala: Pink, bright green and baby blue.
Poem One: My favorite colors have always been like light blues and things like that. I guess you could say, pastel-y colors.
Mr. Hydde: Probably something with bright fusio to start with. I don’t know. I like bright colors but I also like really subtle gradations between colors. If you see the blue of the nails there (motions to his work), that to me is one of my favorite colors because when you put that color next to another color, it sings. It activates other color.
Ubiera: I don’t. That’s like a favorite movie, a favorite song...I feed off the city I’m in. I was in Brooklyn, I did it in purple. If I was in Salem, Massachusetts, I don’t know, if it’s a cold town, the mystery, purple is always mysterious, you know, mystical. Aladdin, wizards, it’s just, that’s what brings to mind...I’m in Florida and I’m usually pinks, fuchsias, teals, it’s just nice. I feed off the city in every way. I like to arrive to a place, find something, I like that. Then fit something to it...so I mean, it really depends on where I’m at and that’s how the color manifests.
Tragek: Tropical, I would say. Very Miami influenced, very bright colors.
Cekis: It depends...Right now, it’s a lot of like purples, and this kind of happy bright colors, but at the same time I’m painting something that has like a hard meaning. The fences is kind of negative in a way, you know, it’s something to divide or to protect or to punish someone. But I’m trying to play with the opposite the meaning of the element, the fence and also like the vegetation is starting to come out lately, that’s more recent. Because I was like only doing fences and layers and intertwined them so creating something like very tense, a hard place. So fences start getting more hope something that is possible to grow among this division and sometime you can break it down.