I first heard about Gouch when I came across the documentary linked below of the same name. Its an excellent documentary about a writer in Brooklyn, trying to stay connected to his life long love of graffiti and balancing this creative urge with raising a child and holding a normal 9 to 5 job. There is a lot that any creative person can relate to in this documentary as you hear how Gouch has had his own struggles and you see how his story connects to New York as we see New York changing around him as well. After checking out this video I had to reach out to Gouch to get some behind the scene details on the making of the documentary and how graffiti fits into his life today.
So first off thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. I really enjoyed watching your documentary collaboration with Raul Buitrago on your work and I thought it beautifully captured New York at night, some of the shots are really eerie and I love how it follows you as you tell your life story but at the same time it tells the story of New York as it changes as well when winter slowly takes over the city. Could you please start by introducing yourself and telling us how you and Raul came to collaborate on this documentary? Did all of the shots take place around where you grew up in Brooklyn?
I am GOUCH aka The Goucher. I’m a product of Brooklyn. East Flatbush Brooklyn to be specific. I was raised in an era before bike lanes and overpriced coffee. An era where 5 bucks would get you a 22 ounce of Heineken and a pack of Marlboro reds. A non-digital era. An era where you had to pay your dues and earn your stripes – to earn the right to claim Brooklyn as where you’re from.
I always say there are positives to negative in life. The way I met Raul is a perfect example of this theory. For the most part I’m anti social-media. In fact, I still don’t have a Facebook account. Pressured from my peers to join Instagram – I joined it. Made a little profile and posted a few pics. When creating the profile I thought the URL field was required. Not having a website at the time I quickly put my email address in there. Shortly after that, I received some emails inquiring about artwork and sticker packs. Sticker packs? I thought who would want to buy stickers? Didn’t we use to trade these things or just give them away as kids? Apparently they’re some serious collectors out there. Anyway, I sold some artwork and sticker packs.
But then an interesting email came in from a Raul Buitrago about wanting to do a photo shoot or a 1-2 minute video of me philosophizing about graffiti. I was a little caught off guard because I’ve always been in a closed circle and never really wanted to meet new people (non-writers). But the proposal sounded interesting. A photo shoot where my face would be hidden (not that I was active at the time – but I still never really wanted my face out there). I clicked on the link to his website which was in the email. I watched his videos and peeped his photography work. All the work was top quality and had that uniqueness that I like. So I met up with him one night to discuss the photo shoot idea. He’s actually from queens and knows the history of graffiti so that made is easy to communicate. The photo shoot concept turned into the 2 minute video concept which turned into starting with a sit down interview. I just started talking about where I came from, how I was schooled by my older brother and what graffiti meant to me. Once he went over the initial interview, he realized he had something more than just a 2 minute thing. So he proposed a mini documentary concept. I liked the fact that both of us have never done something like this before. We were both Guinea pigs in this project. There was no pressure of a deadline. We weren’t working off of a formula. We were both constantly brainstorming and feeding off each other’s creative ideas and energy. Shooting links back and forth of short films that inspired us.
So ultimately it was Instagram that made this documentary happen. So I continue to believe that positive events can happen from negative platforms. The shots took place in various locations from travelling back and forth, but 90% of the doc was shot in East Flatbush Brooklyn where I grew up.
In the documentary you mention how when you were a kid you felt like you were in between two different worlds, the hasidic Jewish population on the one side and the underbelly of New York. How did this shape your worldview? You said you got into a lot of trouble when you were a kid, any specific run ins with the law or trouble you would like to share?
I think growing up on the block I did and living in that neighborhood – being dead smack in the middle of 2 opposite worlds – helped me. I never judge anybody, I’ve always been accepting of who you are and where you’re from. As long as you’re a real person and not fake, you’re good with me. The neighborhood I’m from definitely shaped me in that way. It trained me to always be open minded. Having two artistic parents helped as well. They played a big part in shaping my world view.
Well, being from Brooklyn in the 90’s era as a kid, we all did a lot of stupid shit just to pass the time. I do recall the first time I had a run in with VS. In the early 90’s, me and two other writers were bombing the ditch (A spot in Brooklyn where you could bomb in the daytime) and all of a sudden two dudes from VS ran down on us. They were still above us on a higher landing and they yelled at us ‘FREEZE”. We just looked at each other and broke out with the quickness. We knew all the sneaky ins and outs of that spot so we got away. From that day on I always just ran as soon as any trace of five oh crept up. Just break out and don’t look back. It happened again one day further down the tracks near the old avenue I flea market. We were piecing in the back parking lot, and the detects rolled up on us in a car. I basically just grabbed my bag of paint and ran the tracks to hop out at the next exit. Later on in the 2000s, Sober and I had to pull the dip a couple of times as well. I never really got caught. I did get bagged hopping the turnstile once by VS. I made up a fake tag though; they held me in the station with zip ties around my wrists for a few hours until they let me go. I was young. And I got bagged once when I was bombing drunk (bad combo). I gave a fake name again, spent the night in the bullpen – ate a bologna sandwich – got out the next day and did community service in an NYC park picking up trash. There’s a lot of other dumb shit I used to do in the neighborhood with the kids on my block, but mostly I was always travelling around Brooklyn with other writers
At the beginning of the documentary you mention that graffiti is the best way to leave your legacy, can you elaborate on what that means for you? Why do you think graffiti is the best way to leave your legacy?
What I meant by this is being an artist like a musician, an actor or a famous painter. They always leave the greatest lasting impressions on the world. I feel like the history and culture of graffiti is so sacred and cherished that to be remembered from it when you go is something greater that no famous painter or musician can ever achieve. The fact that it’s an underground culture makes it even harder to be remembered by it. I’m not saying that I’m one of the greats; I can never compare myself to the train bombers or anyone who came before me. What I meant is for any graffiti writer to be remembered for his or her work is the best way to leave their legacy behind for them – it means the most to them – I feel. Even if it means passing the trade down to their child and their child carrying that torch. I still consider it a craft and a trade that can only be taught from person to person. You can watch a thousand YouTube videos about technique and learn a few things but you’ll never fully understand the lifestyle or what it truly means unless it’s handed down to you. I have a handful of graffiti books that mean the most to me. I’ve always looked up to certain writers and always will. These books and videos document their legacy. I see it as the best way if that makes any sense. This is more so evident than ever lately. We’ve lost a few heavy hitters and the out pouring of condolences has been astounding. The culture won’t ever forget them; it will keep their names alive. Their legacy will never be forgotten.
In your early days you used to ride the subway and study the art that other grafiti artists had bombed in the area. How exactly did you study them? Did you ever try to imitate their style in your blackbook when you were a kid before you started tagging on your own as a way to learn? What specifically were you looking for when you were studying as a kid?
That’s precisely what I did. I imitated their exact styles, particularly their hand styles. I was told to do that from my older brother. In the late 80’s – early 90’s I traveled everywhere in Brooklyn but mostly South Brooklyn where there were many script style tags and funky connected flows. There was a certain connected Brooklyn flow of that time that sadly has disappeared over the years. I have photos that can trace the steps though, but most of it is stuck in my head till this day.
I specifically studied the connections in every tag. The way each letter connected to the next letter. That to me stood out the most. Sure I studied funky throwies and straight letters as well, but it was the connections in the tags that drew the most interest in my mind. So I would basically stand in front of a tag on a wall or subway platform, and draw it right there on paper or in a book. I would practice it until I had it perfectly. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I literally practiced an hour at minimum a night, EVERY night, with just hand styles. I didn’t start bombing until I had my own unique hand style. Granted it wasn’t really dope when I started, but it was definitely unique and original. Over time I collected various connections and styles from my favorites and made something of my own – mostly influenced from the Flatbush flows directly around me.
What kind of music, books or art inspires you today?
My music taste is weird – it comes from all angles. I don’t listen to the radio when it comes to hip hop, I haven’t turned on the radio in ages. With hip hop, I’m stuck in the sound of the golden era for the most part, although many mc’s from that era are still putting out dope material and I’m still listening to it. I like some of the new cats though. I’m not gonna rattle off who, but they clearly have to be influenced by the greats and have a similar sound. I appreciate true lyricists and raw beat makers. I’m not a fan of that dumb shit you hear on the radio today.
But I’m also a big Neil Young fan. And I love alt country like Sonvolt and Steve Earle (I know it makes no sense that a kid from Brooklyn listens to alt country). I was turned on to an Uncle Tupelo album when I was in my early 20s, and I immediately appreciated the grittiness of the lyrics and the sound. Lately I’ve been vibing out to Chet Baker. But then I’ll go through a Necro phase for a straight month or two. My taste varies for how I’m feeling for the day.
Every now and then I’ll hear something new that inspires me like Mac Miller or Joey Badass. Showbiz and AG just dropped a new album (Take It Back), AG is one of my favorite spitters. And of course my all-time favorite mc Kool G Rap just gifted us with the Return of the Don album. That’s inspiring to me – to see these vets of hip hop still at the top of their game – still putting out dope music purely for the love of the game.
As for books, I’m a graphic designer/web developer for a living, but I’ll find myself in Barnes and Nobles surprisingly looking at books about handmade print items. Books that contain thought provoking material and make you think outside the box. Stuff like that gives me inspiration to create artwork in a new and innovative way. A great book for reference is: Fingerprint: The Art of Using Hand-Made Elements in Graphic Design. Stuff like that makes me re-think how I’ll approach a project. I’ll browse through about 10 books in the store until I find something that can sit with me for a minute.
Graffiti books are great but there’s too many of them and a lot of them are garbage containing corny street art photos with no context of its true history. A great book to pick up is “Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970’s by Jack Stewart”. This book has great photos of the purest subway graffiti where piecing caps and low pressure paint didn’t exist but writers still created the most unique masterpieces. The history and knowledge in this book is what stood out to me – if you like reading about graffiti, this book is a must have for your collection. Another great read is “Mascots & Mugs: The Characters and Cartoons of Subway Graffiti by David “Chino” Villorente”. This book documented something that no other book has, and gives a great history lesson at the same time with in depth interviews.
The art that inspires me today is mainly coming from the graffiti writers that I looked up to as a kid. The writers that have made the transition from bombing to showing work in galleries or just creating super dope work. Two writers in particular are GHOST RIS and SP ONE BFB. Their artwork is unlike any other graffiti canvas or mixed media piece out there. They’ve taken their work to the next level, plus it’s well deserved that they get the credit they do for all the work they’ve put into the culture.
And of course I get the most inspired when I see someone drop a dope bomb, even it’s a sneaky tag on a dead end street. That’s the most inspiring to me, seeing new stuff from legends.
Being a creative and holding down a regular 9 to 5 job can be difficult for a lot of artists. When you want to be creative its like a constant itch you have to scratch and life can sometimes get in the way of that. How do you balance your life now with your work, your family, and graffiti? Do you hope to do graffiti full time someday?
Finding that balance has become increasingly more difficult. So difficult that I nearly quit my 9-5 a couple of months ago to just focus on artwork or pursuing a more creative profession. Well, really just working somewhere else that I find more creative. I have a corporate job where I have to wear slacks and shoes every day. I spend a lot of time writing code for corporate web pages. It’s just not me anymore. I know I have more to offer in this life. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m very thankful to have the job I have, especially considering where I’m from and what I’ve been through.
I have been on a quest this year to find a more creative environment to work, but time is always against me. The family life and 9-5 occupy so much of my time that finding that balance has gotten harder. Hopefully this year or next year I’ll find something else where the balance will get easier to work and create at the same time. Honestly, I would love to do graffiti full time. But for now I would be happy just working somewhere that I can contribute the fresh ideas I have. And execute them as well. Just something more creative.
What is Classicknyc.com and what is your involvement in it?
Classicknyc.com represents freedom. It’s an outlet to host creative ideas and events. A platform for writers to use to their benefit, for whoever is involved. It’s basically a website that showcases the work of various (mainly) Brooklyn writers. A funnel for all projects to go through. The concept started when a friend of mine: RIBS GAK said he wanted a website to sell his artwork and t-shirts on. I said I can build him one. He thought I meant a website for both of us so he told me a week later that he’s ready to have a site for the both of us. I was caught off guard because I wasn’t sure if I was ready for my own website. So we started brainstorming about it and came up with the concept of one site that would showcase various writers work. I said we need a name for it. RIBS always wanted to call something Classick Material but that name was taken for a music site, so we shortened it to just Classick – and threw the NYC on the end of it. We then reached out to our close Brooklyn writer friends and got them involved with the project. We launched the site by throwing a gallery show in Sunset park Brooklyn in 2015. The reception to the project was great – the show was a success.
We’re not out to make a million bucks from the project. We have fun with it. Whether it’s bringing you an exclusive sticker pack from SPESH BTR, a handmade sign from KDE AOW or a subway themed canvas from old school PAID MSD. It’s a platform that exists for multiple writers to promote projects when they want to. I always felt the whole “DM me for serious inquiries” was off putting for some collectors that are hesitant to reach out to a writer but would rather just press a button on their phone to purchase something directly without the whole meet and greet or series of DMs. My theory was proven correct.
It’s not really a new concept in a website. It’s using an existing machine; we’re just creating a different animal with it in bringing you exclusive items.
It’s unique, it’s fresh, it’s CLASSICK.
In the documentary there is a great moment towards the end where you are drawing on a dry erase board with your daughter and talking about how you want her to have a creative mind but you don’t want to talk about graffiti to her and instead you call it “special letters”. When she comes of age will you tell her what your involvement is in graffiti? How would you feel if she was to try to go out and bomb on her own one day, would you encourage it or no?
Special Letters. I made that up with my daughter because myself and heads from my generation and generations before me, are used to people viewing the word “graffiti” in a negative way. I think the word is more accepted and sort of cool to the masses now – but it will always have a negative connotation in our heads. My daughter at the time understood the word special; she loved the word, anything that was special made sense to her. So when she would draw and watch me tag, she asked me what I was doing and I immediately said these are called “special letters”. I think any 2-3 year old kid would understand that now. Every time we ride the train she looks in the tunnels and says look daddy, special letters – people look at us like what the hell are they talking about? It happens everywhere – when we’re trooping through the city she points at the bombed out doors and defunct phone booths.
I’m not really sure if I’ll ever tell her my full involvement. I pretty much still keep it a secret from everyone including her. I mean she clearly knows I paint special letters but I don’t know if I would ever school her the way I was schooled. I might prefer her to learn app development as a creative field. We all missed out on the app boom. Maybe she’ll be part of the next big tech boom. I don’t really know how I would feel if she started bombing later in life. I might deny my involvement, I might go with her. I really can’t say. I guess I’ll cross that bridge if I ever get there. I can say one thing for sure though, if she did show signs of being a writer, I would make sure her styles were on point.
Do you ever bomb outside of New York? Where do you hope to be in the next 5 years with your graffiti? Will anything change when your daughter grows up?
Unfortunately I don’t get to bomb outside of New York so much. But you never know what the future holds. I marker bomb where ever I travel. But I don’t have the time to pull off the graffiti street magician shit that I used to do, especially when travelling. The stuff where people would go to sleep and wake up the next morning and see a huge blockbuster on one of the busiest intersections in their hood. That David Blaine type of shit. That’s the stuff I would love to do if I had the time to write full time and travel.
I’m content for the most part. In the next 5 years I hope to be more involved with the culture in a more creative way. To continue to contribute artistically on all mediums, especially film. I wanted others that I grew up with to make their own documentaries that told their own stories. Maybe I can assist with that and carve out a niche in the film world somehow. I definitely want to paint and draw more and document everything for the next 5 years. I look at everything at a yearly perspective now. Meaning I’ll jot down a few projects and think about how to execute them and what time of the year they should be put out. Strategize. I definitely want to show more work in galleries.
Nothing will change when my daughter grows up. I’ll still be painting whenever I can.
Any shout outs or last words for our readers?
To the younger generation of writers: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Everyone starts out as a toy. If other writers ridicule your work and call you a toy, it’s probably true. Use that as a vice to improve your work. Don’t concern yourself with the current social media bullshit of who likes what and who follows who. JUST DO YOU… Just be real with yourself and real with others. Practice, practice, practice – every damn day.
Shout out to all the Brooklyn cats that I came up with and all the writers that stay active whether it’s in the streets or in the books. Keep the craft alive.
You can follow Gouch on Instagram and see his work that is available for purchase at http://www.classicknyc.com/
Interview done by Wesley Edwards.