Becki and I poked around Fort Tilden a week ago… although it’s not what it used to be, there’s still plenty of graffiti to be found.
If you have been paying attention to graffiti in New York City over the last decade and a half, you will have noticed the UFO: on lamp posts and rooftops, scratched into the mirror at your favorite dive bar, whizzing by on the back of a truck, tentacles all up in the mix trackside. This past April, UFO and his 907 cohorts collaborated on an installation for the Pantheon: A history of art from the streets of NYC show. After Becki posted her interview with Freedom for the Pantheon exhibition catalog yesterday, I’m happy to share with you excerpts from my interview with UFO. For the full interview (and ones with 30+ NYC street and graffiti artists), pick up a copy of the limited edition exhibition catalog from Pantheon Projects. Scroll down for purchase details and information on this weekend’s special exhibition catalog signing at the NY Art Book Fair.
LP: Where are you from?
UFO: New York, with the city at my toes and the mountains at my heels.
And in what kind of neighborhood did you grow up?
Suburbia… rolled with a tight knit group of kids, had a pretty wicked block. Whatever it was – big wheels, BMX, to skateboards – we rolled, bugged out and explored.
What is your first recollection of graffiti?
Spraying up a Powell & Peralta Rat Bones symbol in abandoned buildings and drawing on my grip tape with paint markers. Trooping into the city and hanging at the Brooklyn Banks, skating all day. I remember noticing that with each returning visit the walls would morph, pieces, tags, throw ups constantly layering and rotating. Definitely fond memories of 15 JA throw ups in a row down both the East and West Side highways. Big fat can tags by POKE and NOSE.
How did you become actively involved?
My boy PANDA started getting up… plenty of memories of him sitting there, writing the alphabet over and over and over again in a black book, learning hand styles… and eventually myself (CEXI) and WELLO finding our own books and trying to emulate… which eventually lead to myself getting totally bagged by the school narc. For retarded CEXI wanted to be graffiti king of the school hallways… (even though I was the only graffiti writer in school).
Anyway, guess round ’92 PANDA was staying with me and my homie NIMZ in Hoboken. I remember listening, half-fascinated-half-terrified by his stories of trooping through the Freedom tunnel, climbing up roll gates in lower Manhattan, racking paint, running from cops.
How long have you been writing?
18 years with varying intensities (fucking with the UFO for about more or less 16 years).
What is the origin of the UFO character?
Was living with my boy MADSAKI down on Rivington Street … ‘93?? ‘94??? Anyway we were bugging out, painting these crazy ass paintings with acrylics and markers on these big fat canvases. Around that time I was also running around the hood tagging up my own name … and came to terms that that was a bad idea and needed to come up with something else to vandalize peoples shit with.
At that time we were listening to a lot of BOREDOMS (Japanese noise rock band) … they had a sub-group call UFO (Unlimited Freak Out) …I fucking loved that tape!!!!
So I think, without much thought, I decided to write UFO and quickly adopted a small classic ufo spaceship icon.
You put up several variations – how has the icon evolved over the years?
Dude has definitely evolved over the years. Evolution is definitely the way I feel about it.
Guess he was born of sounds from Japan … became a small simple spaceship … developed thrust, simple lines under the ship … the head/glass grew long and tall (looked a lot like a flying dick) … the window bubbled, becoming some kinda light bulb head shape and the ship began to spit fire … then lo and behold, eyes (holy shit!!!!! eyes!!!!!!).
Years later took a trip down to Chile … took an epic road trip with a sweet girl and a car loaded to the gills with bucket and spray paint … painted Chile up and down, all spots beside the ocean … dude began to grow tentacles.
To this day, don’t completely know what the fuck dude is … definitely some kinda flesh and blood, definitely has a life of his own, he’s definitely related to the octopus, he’s definitely related to the squid, definitely a fucking alien.
All I’m sure about is … dude’s alive and he’s watching you. I’ve given birth to a monster and y’all just have to deal with him … SORRY.
What is the significance of multiple eyes?
Eyes Eyes Eyes Eyes … I love eyes … window to the soul … the third Eye, 4th Eye, 5th Eye, 6th Eye, and on and on … don’t really know what to say, eyes are incredible.
I love ‘em, they are fun to draw, they are beautiful, and express so much.
When and how did you get into sculpting characters out of wood?
Since the first launch ramp, I’ve always liked the idea of building shit.
13 years ago, decided I was going to be a carpenter … I wanted to know how to make shit … found a master and started working with him and have learned a lot over the years … I now keep a shop of my own and make furniture and alotta other wacky shit.
As far as making the UFO dude out of wood … just kinda makes sense to me … always felt limited in 2D … can remember through the years, saying over and over, “I just wanna see my painting walk around.” (So there you go – stuff like painting on trucks or crossing into the 3rd dimension with wood and such … just makes sense.)
And of course I have a love for the slow, tactile, meditative process of working with wood … very satisfying … I’m a true craftsman and an artist … love being the master of my material.
Funny how it is, I still have no idea how to use a spray can, most of the time half my tag or fill in ends up on my face and hands. My graffiti looks like a blind, retarded 3rd grader painted it … I don’t mind it, and sometimes it actually looks fresh … deep inside, I know I’m doing something right.
Is traditional graffiti too conservative?
Traditional graffiti has its place, for sure. Never really understood – if I’m labeling it right – the wild style type stuff … looks kinda cool, but still can’t read the shit, kinda bores me and looks all the same.
As far as big fat tags, throw ups, smackdowns – TRUE NYC styleee!!! That’s the shit for me, that’s always where it’s been at.
As far as all the rules and the tuff guy crap … whatever … all I know is, it’s fun to break rules and watch people get pissed off. I do what I want!!!!
What are your thoughts on non-traditional (that is, not strictly letter-based) graffiti?
Hmmmm … this has always been a weird place for me … as far as myself and if I’m correct, most of the kids I roll with, I feel we all identify strongly with traditional graffiti. Which in my case gets pretty funny, cause I draw this flying dick thing all over the place? I guess alotta people think that equals street art.
I’ve always considered myself a bare bones graffiti writer, a vandal … guess because that’s where my roots are from in the game … it was always about walking around, smoking blunts, drinking 40’s and banging out. Getting up and getting over.
It’s about markers and cans. I was never one for gluing paper cups to the wall, or hanging art school paintings off sign posts … some of that shits really fresh … plenty of it is wack as fuck … kinda get it, but that’s just not my head.
And of course times are a changing and graffiti will evolve whether I like it or not … I’ll try and not complain too much … I’ll do my thing and you do yours.
Regarding spots to paint, are there certain places that speak to you more than others?
As far as getting up, I’ve always liked climbing and going high or keeping it sneaky and small … I’m a fan of weird, small, cutty spots that blow your mind, catch you off guard, make you think …
As far as bucket paint and spray paint …Ya gotta give it up to that grassy lot, that boarded up building, that burnt up truck in the woods, that quiet railroad track … quiet, forgotten, neglected space … leaving a treasure of some markings for other like-minded people to discover.
And painting on trucks just makes so much sense – of course the UFO needs to be barreling through the city amongst all the other urban monsters.
Do you feel yourself part of a larger graffiti community?
As far as the UFO himself, of course he is part of the larger graffiti community, sure … No choice, right? He’s on the wall, hanging out with all the other graffiti out there, he’s been around for quite some time and you probably know him, you probably spent some time hanging out on a wall or maybe you bumped into each other in a bar bathroom, shared a ride crosstown on the side of a truck, or met in a dark, overgrown lot.
As far as myself, I’ve always been kinda people shy and socially uncomfortable, pretty sure that’s a big part of why I chose graffiti as an outlet. I leave my mark while you’re not looking and don’t have to be around for your opinion or critique.
I don’t really go out of my way to meet other writers, I tend not to frequent the street art/graffiti shows, I don’t post my own crap on the internet or spend time in graffiti chat rooms.
Too many times I’ve met the man behind the myth and been disappointed.
So to me, it kinda makes sense to keep my distance and just know my favorites through their energy and work on the streets.
What motivates you to paint? Has this changed over time?
Guess at first, as with most writers, it’s that impulse of being sneaky, the thrill of getting over and being bad. Then you start seeing yourself up around town, maybe someone tells you they saw your name written on a trashcan on 3rd Ave. That feels cool, reaching out to others in some fucked up kinda communication … so you do it more and more … next thing you know you’re FUCKING UP!!!!! EVERYWHERE!!!!! WOW!!!! Fame!!!!! That’s cool, I guess graffiti works and it’s kinda powerful … By then, it’s too late and you’re most likely a full blown addict. So it takes over your life … you get good at it, and it feels good to become a part of this community, this new world. Every day meeting new tags, finding a new favorite. You’re running on mischievous energy, fueled by thrill and fame. And you even start to make friends and enemies with people you may never meet. Definitely something fascinating and magical about that.
Sooner or later you discover the art of finding nice, quiet, cutty spots.
Hanging with your homies and painting all day … assuming you didn’t have to hide in a pile of trash or abandon your newborn piece hopping a fence and breaking out… Nothing better than the feeling at the end of the day, sittin’ back with the crew and admiring what you have created up on that wall, together. Really gratifying.
And of course as I mentioned before, something feels right about leaving these treasures for other like-minded or unexpecting persons to discover in the future.
That aspect of painting is motivated by just plain Dum Fun, Friendship, Adventure, and some kind of generosity towards the outside world.
I also enjoy the selfless aspect of graffiti … you put in all this work, time and life energy (it really does consume your life) and sometimes make these cool looking pieces … you might never see them again, and it’s funny how you can’t even take credit for them, ‘cause you’re breaking the law. But in the wind you start hearing back how so-and-so was so stoked to find that old GEN2 MUK OZE108 collabo in the back of that overgrown lot or how floored so-and-so was to find your tag drawn in pencil on the back seat of a bus in India … you realize you really are making others happy, and that’s gratifying.
As far as the Down To Bomb Shit and wilding in the streets goes, these days I’m getting older, more meditative, and new things are becoming important in my life. And shit … running from the cops, hiding on the roof of a building all night, the ever constant smell of shitty paint, getting hurt, constant paranoia … that has begun to feel less and less appealing to me.
So more and more these days I’m opting out of the king of the streets game. It’s just a simple change in values … Of course I still can’t say no to a nice, chill spot on a sunny day. As well truth is, yes, I made a deal with the devil and I am an addict. So pour four drinks down my throat and place a spray can in my hand and I will relapse, running down the street writing on walls, cars, trees … you name it … LOOK OUT.
And I smile knowing that until the day I die, as long as I walk upon this earth, I will make my mark, small or big … that’s just human … right? It’s all about KILGORE TROUT WAS HERE.
Where does 907 fit in the pantheon of NYC graffiti? Does 907 get the respect it deserves?
Not sure … we are one of the many crews out there doing our thing … we definitely have our own flavor, been around for a hot minute.
As far as getting respect, I don’t really give a fuck. Fact is 907 exists and it’s up in your face, and we have fun doing our thing, and if ya don’t know, ya just don’t know.
Is the respect of your peers important to you?
For the most part, I don’t really give a fuck … as I mentioned before, I feel it’s kinda funny how the whole street art movement loves to include me at their table, but I’ve always considered myself just a down and dirty, straight up graffiti vandal. So I guess I’d have to admit that when a writer I respect gives me the whole “art fag toy” thing, I can get a little bummed. But as far as the straight up haters, your shit don’t bother me at all. I’ve always considered the hate as a compliment. If you’re getting that worked up by what I do, then it seems I’m affecting you deeply, mission accomplished, I consider you my biggest fan, so FUCK YOU.
Of which accomplishments or achievements are you the most proud?
I do like that there is a posse of kids out there rolling under one name “907” and do believe I had a part in making that happen.
And somehow, people seem to take notice and enjoy my graffiti. Most of the time I feel others give me more credit than I give myself. If I’m doing something right, I think a big part is my energy and honesty.
Any thoughts on the current state of NYC graffiti?
Seems O.K. to me – kids are still out there, doing their thing and, as always, there are an exceptional few that are just killing shit!!!!
Props, shout-outs or anything you want to get off your chest?
Wello, T, Hallo, Trainer … All my other homies, you know who you are and know I got nothin’ but love for ya!!!!! Over and Out 907
What: Pantheon Projects exhibiting at The NY Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter, Inc.
Where: PS1/MoMA, in the schoolyard, Section SY, Table 15. FREE Admission.
When: September 30-October 2, 2011
Preview: Thursday, September 29th, 6-9PM
Hours: Friday-Sunday, 11AM-7PM
Who: Catalog Signing on Sunday, October 2nd, 3-3:45PM featuring Charlie Ahearn, Chris Pape aka Freedom, KET1 RIS and Toofly.
Buy: Catalog pre-order for pickup & signing. Promo price for signing only: $44.50 (including tax + fees)
The first batch of Showpaper boxes from this summer’s Community Serviced Too show have hit the streets. Given the, ahem, “great interest” with which the first round of boxes from last year’s inaugural newspaper box show were met, I’ll be curious to see how this round fares…
I caught the UFO box, my personal favorite, in transit on its way from Brooklyn into Manhattan.