What is the history of the BBOY ABSTRACTS?
The History of the Bboy Abstracts lies in my formative years as a kid when I was involved with the world famous Bboy (Break Dance) Rock Steady Crew, this was around 1980, many of the members lived in my neighborhood, Doze Green, Ken Swift, Frosty Freeze, Kippy Dee, and others, Crazy Legs the President, lived in Upper Manhattan at the time but was always present. We all used to congregate at what we then called Rock Steady Park where they would practice new dance moves and routines on the bare concrete or on cardboard boxes, linoleum and playground mats. Being a visual artist I was always on the outside looking in because I didn't have the dance skills, I did, however, learn how to critique the dancers and analyze their effectiveness in battle. I developed a keen eye and sensitivity to this because of my intimate relationship with the crew. In later years I also spent a lot of time with Mr. Wiggles and Pop Master Fabel, both pioneers of the Electric Boogaloo style who had a great effect on me creatively and critically.
Well informed I had yet to explore these ideas fully for some time. The passion for the dance would persist over many years and one day while at Socrates Sculpture Park around 2005 I found the answer in a Mark di Suvero sculpture, it was a huge I beam sculpture with very simple lines with a circular shape attached, it moved me and connected me back to the concepts of the modernists I admired. Its elegance and simplicity made the shapes so human to me.
I then began making the Bboys with a very rudimentary line and arc technique, I didn't have the precise language yet but I was close, it was in these formative works that I was able to distill the physical form and movement implied by the dancers. Soon after the first series I made a concrete breakthrough in that, I would employ several identifiable traits to the work, a Circle or open Circle for the head, the hands would be one line, the feet 2 lines and an arc to represent the back and or movement.
Years later I would come across a book on Kandinsky's work with dancer Gret Paluca it was exactly what I was trying to achieve, it had everything I was implying, simplicity, tension, geometry, and movement, this assured me that both creatively and intellectually I was on point with my Boy Abstracts, that these were not merely stuck figures that they were fully realized abstractions of real dancers.
In 2000 I made a Bboy sculpture in response to Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space sculpture which I visited and studied at the Metropolitan Museum since I was a kid. It is a Masterpiece! My response was to make a dynamic sculpture of Prince Ken Swift, a work that was as dynamic and aggressive in space as he was. This work would prove to be an important milestone for me. While Prince Ken Swift was an ambitious sculpture I would not return to that style for the Bboys. It was when Crazy Legs commissioned the Spy Award in 2007 that I was able to make the signature sculpture work we see today.
How did they recently bring you to Pittsburgh and Montreal?
The series for Breaking/Abstraction couldn't be possible without the support and tutelage of sculptor Micheal Walsh, a friend, and former graffiti writer who is a sculptor out of Pittsburgh. It was our intent to collaborate before the exhibition so it all lined up perfectly. His deep ties to the writing community and street culture as well interest in contemporary art and sculpture bonded us through the process. As a former skateboarder, he understood the dynamic movement in my work which he would connect back to skateboarding days. This connection to street culture and metal fabrication made it a good fit for us to explore casting at the Carrie Furnace Steel Mill in Pittsburgh, Walsh was able to teach me mold making and introduced me to various casting processes and how I could consider making Bboys through other mediums and techniques. Having this space to explore alongside him helped me develop the series in cast iron, a first, and important provenance for my work and history. The backdrop of the steel mill speaks to the rugged labored look of the works, they are born from fire and molten iron.
What does Style Wars mean to you now?
Style Wars has always been important to me, my life long friendship with Tony Silver (RIP) and Henry Chalfant underscores this. The film will forever remain an important moment in American and Global art history. After the filming I stayed on to usher the project into the millennium, I became its first long term online web developer and eventually won a Webby Award for it as well I helped bring it to DVD and continued to present it and lecture around it globally. I'm always amazed by it longevity and importance to so many artists. I'm humbled by it and glad I was in it.
What would you wish to share with young artists?
To young artist, I will share something heartfelt. There are 2 realities tied to your craft, art making and the business of your art making. If you are a full-time artist learn that the #1rule of the Game is that it is a Game, leave your emotions out of it. Know you will have moments of great acclaim and great moments of doubt and depressions
Understand the singularity of your task but seek your community of peers to support and sustain you. Trust that your struggle is rife with emotional and financial challenges, this is fuel for the soul in order to continue. Don't step on toes or ride on coattails, don't steal another mans well-developed ideas, borrow them and reinterpret them. Don't confuse the Art Market with the World of Art making. Travel far and wide and build those narratives into your work you'll be happy I suggested this.
Teach and donate to younger artists, even your peers, build a legacy of goodwill and enduring ideas.
Go to school if your skills are limited or use your school money to educate yourself in the real world, go study or paint in other countries, museums and studios are the best places for education. Build a library around art and art criticism.
Save your early and most formative works for yourself and your family. Do this now.
Lastly, make art of your time, use all the modern tools you can, embrace all the varying disciplines, never stop learning and combine traditional and all technological tools available to you
Does experience necessarily translate into depth?
Experience is your teacher if you should make it so.
How is graffiti unique?
It's not, but Style Writing is. Graffiti perse has been around for millennia and so the act is not unique as much as the art that came out of the NYC train era.
What's your take on academism?
Its critical for self-development moreover important to define, defend and promote good ideas and weed out bad ones. The failure of Graffiti and Street Art is the lack of informed critique and historical accuracy to the degree that can be had. This is why it is important because in writing culture Academia has been seen as a negative thing, something that is for the formalized art markets and art schools, but I found it essential in my development as a person, artist, and advocate for art. Moreover, for me it is a form of self-defense, it is an informed defense that allows me to hold court with my community, curators, Art Historians, and others.
What do you look for in contemporary art?
I look at art in several ways, emotively, artistically and technically. I have a personal criterion which is flexible enough so that I give what I see a chance to make an impression. I also look contemporary art in context to our time, does it resonate, is it contrived or honest. My artistic interests today are too broad to be specific about any one type of art, I'm very democratic about it all and understand that not all art carries the virtues that matter most to me. Moreover, I’m firm in my belief that its better to have more art makers than not in the world, its healthier for us.