If you go off the beaten path enough times, you’re likely to come across a GIPSY. In Pittsburgh, finding one of their pieces among our many train tracks and rusted out abandons is like coming across a mythical beast with hella tight letters and dream-inducing fills. But like their namesake, they are reclusive and leave behind no trace. They enter the scene quietly and are never in one place for too long. But sometimes those in know (like friends from middle school, for example) can keep track of the caravan and report back to the outside world & I recently caught up with the GIPSY to do exactly that. Check it out:
What’s the GIPSY origin story?
Making family trips into the center city as a child, I was always fascinated by all aspects of an urban environment, as it was significantly different from where I was born and raised. Getting into my early teens, I started making trips on my own or with friends to cruise around on our BMX bikes. Frequenting more and more, friendships with riders that lived in the city developed, some who were also writing.
I first heard the word “Gypsy” at the age of 5 while visiting family in Eastern Europe when relatives were referring to a group of people living in shanties at the edge of the village. It was spoken as some what of a derogatory term and I didn’t really understand why. I still don’t for that matter. We all need to do what we find necessary (And in the case of these individuals, necessary as a means of survival)
Gypsies are also known for gaming the system to survive and maintaining an aura of mystery– another way it relates to graffiti in a way. You definitely seem to shirk social media as a platform for sharing your work. Is this because you characterize yourself as a graffiti “Luddite”? Do you also rack paint and keep libraries of black books/photo caches buried in your backyard?
I think I fall into that category, and am maybe even “falling behind” as a human or an artist, as I’m not really educating myself on the advancements of technology by engaging in them. All these social medias that are utilized by writers, I don’t know. I’m conflicted about it. Heavily involved in photography since my early teenage years, I can appreciate this vast online archive, as well as maintaining the stream of communication/sharing with friends and family. At the same time, after I do not speak with or see an individual for an extended period of time, when the encounter takes place, there is a higher level of intimacy and gratitude. Same with graffiti. Your experience first hand is always going to have a greater, more meaningful impact.
In regards to racking. I merely try to seize opportunities when I see them.
I’ve never been good about keeping books unfortunately. Recently, I’ve been organizing/editing my photographs, aiming towards making some hardcopies and a book of some kind for myself. Hanging out at Necs’s (NSF) home before going to paint trains, there were always binders of hardcopies lying around, that no one would ever see unless they were there. Again, I enjoy this detail of having to physically go somewhere to acquire something, whether it be for information, a feeling, inspiration, whatever.
Describe your process when you get up.
I think location is always going to be the most interesting aspect for me. Placement is always going to be important whether you’re doing a tag, fillin, piece, whatever.
A piece will typically start off when discovering a wall while wandering aimlessly. If there are surrounding elements that speak to me, I will take note of them and try to integrate them into a sketch to use as a rough reference when returning to execute the piece. But I will typically pull inspiration from my surroundings in that moment of painting. I get excited about biological research, analyzing textures and colors within nature. So sometimes I will get initial inspiration from something and then track down a wall. It just depends.
Bombing is defiantly a time to decompress. I have not really been producing too many pieces lately as my tasks at work require a lot of focus, and I don’t necessarily want to stand infront of a wall for an extended period of time, concentrating even more. When bombing, I’ll just stay on the move, stumble upon preferred surfaces, paint, keep moving, repeat. But I definitely take note of places of interest when being out during the day.
Do you give more points for ground covered or for style?
I think quantity and quality are of equal importance. I don’t particularly want to see an abundance of poor craftsmanship, as I think there is always improvement to be made. But at the same time, if someone is having fun running amok, so be it. As long as they acknowledge someone can burn it, and feel alright about it when they get gone over.
What crew’s do you rep? What do you like about being part of a crew vs. writing solo? Why do crews even exist?
I represent NSF and TSU, both of which I am happy to be apart of. NSF has been a long running crew based out of Pittsburgh that I have always admired, with members that I have known before I even got put down in the crew, or even before I began writing.
Based out of Philadelphia, TSU is also a large crew that has been around for a good number of years. The relationship that developed with RADEO and ROSKOE lead me to be put down. With the three of us having a shared enthusiasm about exploring, the partnership formed very naturally.
I think crews exist out of respect. Writers are recruited into crews for a variety of reasons. But at the core, there is some form of appreciation, admiration, or camaraderie.
What have been some of your most intense moments writing?
Painting a daytime piece in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic. A man sprinted past me clenching a rag over his face, looking at me wild eyed, screaming, “ Can’t you feel it?!” Confused for a moment, I involuntarily dropped to my knees, unable to see with a burning sensation pulsating in my skin. As the noise of gun shots and shouting escalated blocks away, a “Huelga” (Strike/Riot) was taking place, and tear gas made its way to where I was. Grabbing my things as quickly as possible, I booked it back to where I was staying, as these riots would typically migrate through the city and would pan out to be quite violent. The next day would be as if nothing happened. Police hanging out with the same people they were shooting at.
More recently, in Paris, I was painting a ledge spot with “BIGLIPS – VAS Crew”, slipped off the third story, catching a railing under my armpit on the second story mid plummet. He ran over to the edge, peering down at me bugging out, hahaha. I climbed back up and we finished. I couldn’t believe I was walking, or alive for that matter.
What have been some of your most intense (but like, positive) moments writing?
Painting new cities in general, feeling out the way they operate and how you fit into the equation is always engaging.
While in Bucharest, Romania wandering along on a daytime tag route, I ended up coming across what I later found out to be Park Vacaresti. While under Communist rule, a lake was planned to be built, but once the revolution took place, it was all abandon leaving nature to take its course. Developing into a wetland, a variety of species of animals and plants have come to call this place home, as well as humans. Surveying the area, I walked among a couple of shacks where I was soon greeted by children and an elderly lady, none of whom I could verbally communicate with. Grabbing her children and smiling with pride, she pointed at my camera, posed for a photograph, and we went our separate ways.
It was a familiar event for me, as it made me recollect the memories of my confusion in Slovakia as a child, and the development of my appreciation for a humans willingness to survive by making use of what surrounds them.
What parts of the world have you gotten up in? how does there interaction differ from the US?
USA, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Equador, Peru, Spain, France.
I think I am definitely more ignorant while traveling (Internationally. Not knowing specifics on laws, etc.), as I have always felt less stressed. But I also believe that within other countries, applying paint onto a surface isn’t viewed with as harsh an eye as it is in the US.
Were any of the places totally naive towards the culture? Like the entire phenomena was alien as opposed to something they heard of but didn’t see often?
Santiago and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) had higher populations, and were more touristically driven cities. So there was a stronger presence of graffiti there, as opposed to San Francisco de Macoris. There wasn’t any reason for anyone (tourist) to visit there. It was very poverty stricken, small, and did not seem like anyone had been exposed to graffiti in the sense that people do it regularly.
Did any locals become interested after you roll through town?
Certainly. I could barely make it through pieces in SFM due to kids crowding me. Really, swarming at my side in excitement. It was moving to see that enthusiasm. Even in the following weeks, I saw tags (in similar colors that I used in my pieces) popping up around town.
Graffiti, in its own way, can be an extremely interactive art form. Open contribution to anyone so inclined…what is your sense of civilian interaction w/ graff culture from different folks on the street?
I feel most civilians are opposed to it. Everyone wants to see grand productions and can not recognize the correlative relationship amongst all aspects of graffiti. They’d just rather see it buffed. Though, it also depends on the city.
What about civilian graffiti? “JOE LOVES DIANE” and shit like that?
Initially I did not really pay that much attention to civilian graffiti in comparison to now. I get more hyped on it— seeing the honesty and spontaneity of it.
How do you feel about the ecosystem among writers? “Toys” to “kings” and all stations in between?
Its an interesting network that provides a lot of information. Whether you accept to absorb it is key. It’s necessary to get gone over, whether it be by another writer or the buff. It forces you to become more active in venturing into different environments (neighborhoods, cities, countries), and developing your own style.When you are initially uneducated and inexperienced, it’s natural to be toy.
You’re currently based in Miami, home of the streetart Coachella shitshow known as Art Basel. Do you think the emergence of “street art” as a dominant art movement has helped or hurt it’s classical graffiti roots, or maybe a little of both?
Both. I think the development and rise in popularity, of “street art”, has given people more incentive to criticize graffiti from a negative standpoint (predominantly tags and throw ups). At the same time, I’ve gotten away with painting illegal daytime pieces elaborating how its “an approved street art mural, etc. etc.” when approached by the concerned public.
Do you see a distinction between traditional graffiti and it’s subculture and the “street art” movement? is it copacetic or is the beef real?
There is an undoubted distinction between the two. I definitely don’t want to see work of mine, my friends, or an admired writer covered up by a mural. And I think the person painting that mural needs to acknowledge that someone painted that wall before them, that it has a history, and they run the risk of getting gone over.
So how do you keep capitalism out of graffiti?
I’m not sure if you can. Cities and business owners want to operate at their most effective level of productivity and yield the highest profit possible, and will always see graffiti as an attack to some degree. Individuals will suffer and flourish from graffiti through taxes, citations, lawyers, court fees, community service, jail, commissions, employment, unemployment etc. The list can go on. Its a strange realm.
In regards to business motives, there are always going to be individuals using graffiti as a kick-starter for an art career. I suppose they just need to get crossed consistently.
[Obligatory closing question] What’s your personal philosophy for getting up?
In order to keep something alive, you need to practice it. And as I enjoy seeing it, I feel a need to contribute to it. I don’t know if its necessarily a reasonable thing to do, but I do feel it is necessary.
Brian Gonnella is a street artist from PGH, PA. you can follow him on IG @briangonnellaisboring
as for GIPSY…good luck trying to follow him anywhere other than the streets, son.