Your last exhibit, The Left Hand Path (Jonathan LeVine Gallery) in New York focused on your roots in graffiti as well as metaphysical and ethereal ideologies. Tell me a little about your exhibition and the pieces included.

These were basically all new paintings, all new works that have not been previously exhibited except for one, and they were based on, and enveloped from previous studies and sketches of metaphysical theories that I have been studying over the years, about chaos magic theories. H.P. Lovecraft was an inspiration, people who have theories about time and space, and I’ve just been really inspired by that recently so I just wanted to touch on darkness and shadows and refracted light and spirits more than usual.

You represent dimensions and material planes in your paintings through unfinished, incomplete characters. How does this relate to your stream-of-consciousness method of painting?

Incomplete characters who are fragmented, who look like they’re kind of ascending and descending are basically just a metaphor for my life and experiences I’ve gone through, people in my life I’ve engaged with, people who have been fractured or basically have holes in their characters - they’re windows to the soul. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul but I wanted to show their frame, their essence exuding from their insides, from their shell. I want to show the different modes. They’re incomplete because they’re still evolving.

My characters represent the past, present, and future, and they kind of come into existence by themselves. When I draw, and when I paint, I don’t dictate to the characters. I don’t do many studies. I kind of like basically let them come through the painting, through little nuances and little things that come, that peek out through the paint little anomalies in the paint and it could be something as subtle as that. At any given moment my eye might catch something and I’ll say I’ve had enough of this character. That’s where he is in his evolution, I’ve got to move on to the next thing. So when I do a painting I look in all directions It’s kind of like I have a mental picture of the painting as a whole and things pop into the void of the canvas or the void of the wall or whatever I’m working, or whatever medium I’m working on. They kind of come into existence through these little portals or windows in my head, or through sight, or just through feeling. So that’s the stream of consciousness in the painting. It’s definitely free flow and it definitely develops on its own. It’s like I’m the vehicle, I’m not the essence of it. I don’t dictate to the painting, the painting pretty much drives me through it.

This leads me into a quote written by Ryan Licht Sang. “It’s like one of those deep philosophical thoughts that are so profound and beautiful that they eventually become obsolete, like the “soul” or how when we die, we move on into some other realm.”

He pretty much pegged it there. That’s pretty much on point. The paintings relate the fact that nothing is permanent, everything is always changing and transforming from water to gas. Everything transforms and the elements, the same applies to the painting and to the graduation, or the acceleration, or the ascension of the beings on the painting, whether they be anomic, kinetic, they all are on a journey or a path to an ultimate end or beginning - a build, destroy, build kind of thing. It’s always interchangeable, too, and merging as well. There’s a lot of things in the painting that merge to create a new understanding or a new creation of the direction I’m going in. I’ll merge two different characters. I’ll create a symbol, a sigil, that is like a super sigil, something that’s an icon that’s injected magically with luminosity, and it becomes its own intellect - when metaphors merge with figurative work, and where layers and dimensions and thought and mood, all of those things. I take into account all of those little variables because, like your man said, certain things become obsolete and things are reborn through the paintings.

Tell me a little bit about the described avant-garde “fusionist” art movement? Does this include live painting, 3-D art, and sculpture?

That’s just an extension of what Rammelzee, my studies with Rammelzee, and an artist named Carl Knapp from California. I don’t know how avant-garde it is, but it’s definitely a rag tag, gypsy kind of folk art and we’re just kind of rebels, too. We get together and do these performances and we’ll work with a professional fireworks engineer, mixed with mud sculpture, soap sculpting, and parade float sculpture, you know. We just work with these insane artists and it was kind of like fusing our talents and our abilities in a very spontaneous way. We didn’t really have any plans. We just kind of went out and did stuff. It was a lot of fun, we just coined the phrase “fusionism” because it fused all the elements, the different mediums and personas together into this one big hob glob of just morphic art, you know? It was based more on the performing arts arena than anything.

Are contemporary graffiti artists living up to their responsibility of challenging commercialized society?

I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of really innovative and wonderful mural work in South America. I’m really inspired by a lot of artists down there. I see them pushing it to another level. A lot of graffiti purists, I love graffiti purists because they’re down for the culture, but a lot of times it becomes a stagnating element in graffiti and the evolution of it. The purists are not really pushing the format and they’re kind of like, ‘this is how you do a letter, and this is the science behind that letter,’ and that’s absolutely true. Rammelzee schooled me on that. But at the same time, it should be able to fly, and curl under the ground. If you’re gonna get that deep with the letter than you should really take it that way, and they do, but now I think it’s time, it’s essential that we morph it, and we configure or purify what we know as the letter form and come out new - new born and fresh ideas, and the lines have been skewed from ‘these are the absolute graffiti artists and this is not.’ There are so many variables now. There’s so many people that are doing graphic graffiti, and wheat pasting graphic graffiti artists, and there’s so many categories. Yeah, I think the evolution is definitely going down. It effects the media in so many different ways. Right now, I’m dealing with that, like the commerciality of it. Corporations now, to me, represent the church of the 1500s, artist and sponsorship of the great church, the Catholic church, or now the corporations that really just chew you up. They fund you and they spit you out. It’s kind of funny. It’s like this giant art-mulching machine.

Basquiat used street symbols in his work, and it even goes back further to hobo graffiti on railroad cars, and you’ve incorporated them also. Could you explain the use of street symbols in your art?

As far as the first symbols I started working with was the pentacle of my crew, the five star, and that represented so many things. The five original members, then there’s a sub-star that shoots down, the new generation, which was us. The original TC5 from the early 70s. So I mean we wrote our fraternity into that symbol of the star of Isis. That was a big influence for me initially and we started putting that in our pieces on the trains and kind of stamping that as our icon into our letterforms and stuff. Then I started studying ancient symbols and pop symbols and merging them together to make your own kind of language. At this point I am still developing new symbols all the time but I’m merging them. I’m kind of taking it to the level where I’m trying to do studies as Leonardo did, geometrically so, or how artists wrote their compositions down geometrically. In the composition itself it’s actually a sacred geometry shape, or it has it’s integrity. The character is based upon that those shapes. A six-pointed star would be a male power. The eight-pointed star would represent the goddess Isis. Obviously, in sacred geometry shapes are very important because they translate to numbers, which translate to parts of the body. It’s all a belief system based on alchemy and the occult. Everything is done with thought and without thought. When I create the composition I say, ‘ok, I want this power. I want to inject the power of this into the painting.’ So that creates this persona. That is the foundation. That’s like the gesso. That’s chaos magic through painting. There’s a beauty in chaos. We think there’s order, but even in order there’s always that one anomaly that throws things off to create a new branch or a new tree out of itself - or bad fruit, or good fruit. I like to change things up and stick a wrench in the game every once in awhile.

You started tagging in 1974 and moved on to subway trains in 1976. What was it about this time in New York City that was so conducive to creativity?

I think it was a culmination of cultures coming together, being in close proximity of graffiti, and hip hop basically merged because it was the inner city, the Bronx. It was inevitable that they were gonna rub elbows. Most of the cats that were into hip hop, which it wasn’t called hip hop then, or dancing, were usually graffiti artists as well. Their big brothers were doing that in the early 70s and they kind of passed it down, a passage of right kind of thing. Basically at that time, it wasn’t unusual for somebody to be a B-boy, like a bomber, an all-city bomber, or a DJ, or an MC, as well. Punk rock, that definitely came. I wouldn’t say that merged that early. There’s all the other cultures that merged later, like skateboarding with hip hop. But punk rock merged with hip hop around 1980, 1981 when Rock Steady and Zulu started coming to venues downtown. That was the first indication I saw of them merging together, at places like CBGBs, Peppermint Lounge, Mudd Club, those places, started rubbing elbows with those types. We definitely both inspired each other. If you remember Bambaataa and Melly Mel back in those days were rocking like spikes and they’re just all punked out. So it definitely merged in that respect. But now it’s a whole new level. It’s crazy what’s happening now. Nothing is as defined as it was. Now you can be a B-boy and listen to fucking Flaming Lips. I like that, though. I like the fact that there’s no defined thing that makes you a B-boy now because that whole Hyph thing, like in LA now, that’s really huge now. I see a lot of punk rock in that, like spazzing, like dance. It’s really interesting to see how they keep it African but make it like Flock of Seagulls. It’s kind of funny to see the pink Afro-Mohawks and gold glitter, like some Jamaican hooker on some B-boy shit. (With Clowning and Hyphing) the kids are really into that whole ornate painting on their clothes. It’s reminiscent of how B-boys used to be in the early 80s, just painting on their clothes and making their own clothes and creating their own style. Originality seems to be key with the kids, which is cool, so it’s come full circle.

What are you working on now? Do you have any live painting coming up?

I haven’t been doing live painting much nowadays. My palette is pretty full. I’ve just been doing a lot of shows and group shows and other projects. I’m getting into sculpture and ceramics. I’m working on this project right now in LA. I’m doing some animations, trying to explore the animated realm. I have a click called GM5 - Gray Matter Five. TC5 was initially the graffiti crew, and it was the fraternal order. It was a good 25 years for us but now, as I got interns and kids who are coming to learn and just hang out, learn the theories and learn the science of being a freak. (They) actually come and I’d teach them, drop jewels, and just send them on their way. Years pass, and these kids would come back and be like, ‘Yo, I’m an animator now,’ and ‘Yo, I’m doing this now because you sparked that.’ So I created GM5 for the younger generation, cats who are wheat painting, or cats doing animation or just cats reaching in five different, new directions. So this is flowering out of the old star, the new star is rising. There’s one guy, Cory Shaw, who is really an amazing animator, so we’re just collaborating under the umbrella ‘Build Destroy’ and GM5. I’m doing a mural with David Ellis. I don’t know if (street artist) Swoon is down, but that’s when I get back to New York. I’m really interested in animating now, too. All over the media there’s this inundation of hip hop-influenced animation. I’m like, fuck this, I’m really tired of seeing my characters on someone else’s animation, or hip hop-influenced shit where nobody knows the map. They’re just putting shit that’s almost like clip art, and it’s kind of cool and shiny, but there’s no meat to it. So I’d like to animate my paintings and throw some crazy science in there.


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