1. When did you start graffiti/ when did you become passionate about art in general?

I started writing graffiti in about 2001- tagging the cabinets in the ceramics room at school, writing my name in Sharpie on the slide at the park- at that point in my life I don’t think I’d ever visited an art museum, and had really no concept of “art” in general- maybe I had heard of Pablo Picasso? My family is kind of low-brow- my mom’s favorite movie is “Dude Where’s my car?”, my dad enjoys crime shows and Dean Koontz novels.

I remember being 19 years old and going to the local library to look at art books because it seemed I should use them in my graffiti investigations. This was before camera phones, and I didn’t have a computer or the internet, but I recall checking out a book of ukiyo-e, Japanese woodcuts, and taking it on a family vacation where I copied some drawings onto printer paper with pencil- later I painted one of those kabuki faces on a freight train, one of my first conscious attempts to link graffiti to traditional art.

From there it was a slow education- I taught myself art history, a private version of art history- the Minneapolis Institute of Art is actually a very good medium-sized museum, with all the paintings herded into their respective periods for easy classification- something I don’t care much for today but back then was helpful.

By the time I quit my life and moved to Ukraine in my late 20’s I was fairly “passionate” about art- passion in its true sense, the root of the word “passion” being the same as the root for “suffering”- the suffering involved in life, and the suffering and pain that all artists must go through, in hours and weeks and years of struggle, failed experimentation, and minor breakthroughs that go into forming a unique practice and worldview.

2. When does graffiti speak to you loudest/most forcefully?

Graffiti works best in isolation- graffiti in New York? A mass of noise, confusion- ten thousand names, screaming to be heard- the new trend of repelling graffiti has become repellant- the walls in Chinatown are so full they may as well be blank-

Graffiti speaks loudly when it is novel, in a new location, or done in a new style- every following attempt, it loses a little more of its magic. 

Looking at freight train videos from the 1990s- Tales From the Rails, for example- I’m struck by the fact that most of the cars on the line are blank- each graffiti that came by must have been that much more special- compared to today, where a line of 50 boxcars rolling by may have one or 2 clean panels- yawn!- what’s the point? There isn’t one, bud, just roll with it.

3. If you had to pick only one medium for the rest of your life what would it be?

Painful- it’s like choosing one sense to lose forever- smell, vision, taste, touch? Like losing an entire world… I guess I would have to begrudgingly choose mosaic work because compared to painting it engages more of the senses- the tactile of breaking tile, the visual of putting them all together- it recently occurred to me that mosaic is really just painting with tile- plus I have been making my mosaics into sculptures, so I hope that is allowed in this terrible world where I am limited to one medium…but then no more graffiti? No more trains? 

The other day I was with my friend Casey and the idea came up: how much money would they have to pay you to never paint graffiti again? $100,000? No. $300,000? Still not enough. A million? Maybe…I’ll probably never make that much money. I could buy a house, it would be stupid not to, all to never write my secret name…

 But then I thought about the mosaics – the amount would be less- $300,000? Maybe because I haven’t done them as long, maybe because now i do them for sale, for a job- if something can be bought, it must not be worth very much…tricky tricky 

4. What does your process of writing books look like?

Writing goes quickly and ever so slowly- I only write in the morning, usually before noon, for a few hours before my mind is spent- generally I’ll think of a concept the day or week before, and arrange it in my head- then there’s nothing to do but type it all out on the screen- forcing yourself to sit down at the computer to write is a little like going to the gym- you just have to force yourself, even if you’re not feeling it, but when you actually start it’s not so bad-

For more complicated stories, little pieces of fiction with actual plots- I’ll arrange the ideas first on a piece of paper, notes on the order of events, characters, and locations- like a pencil sketch of a painting- then type them out, flesh out the colors of the painting- that’s the first draft- as Nabokov supposedly said, there is no writing, only rewriting-

For my last book, I wrote it once straight through, a chapter for each state, in alphabetical order- Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas…Then went back and started picking out individual chapters to rewrite, or edit, or scrap entirely – after the second draft you have a lot clearer view of what the final copy might be- you shuffle whole sections around, go through, and power edit for grammar/ word choice- you come upon sections of the book that you have no recollection of writing- sometimes a pleasant surprise, usually a little disappointing…and you write and rewrite until you can’t stand to look at the thing ever again- then it’s time for one more readthrough if you can afford it- then toss the whole thing in the trash and dust your hands, walk away, have a beer, move on with your life…

5. At what point (if any) do you think you will have to give all of this up?

A while ago I asked Aneko if she’d painted a piece before with two people talking into paper cups attached by a piece of string, using the string to write your graffiti name. She said no, but she’d done a phone cord piece once or twice along the same lines- I had, too, but couldn’t remember if either of us had ever tackled the childish image of paper cup phones- in the end I sketched the piece but never used it-

This is to say that we have run through a lot of the easy subject matter, as far as thematic graffiti goes- but there’s still more work to be done, I’m sure…

To think of how long it will be until I must “give it up”, I have to look back and remember how I even got here-

Aneko and I had a very special few years at the tail end of the marijuana industry, pre-legalization- during harvest season you could travel west and make half your year’s money in a month or two of hard work- we used our money to buy time, to wander, to ride trains, to paint in strange places- in 2017 we stumbled into a $500 pickup truck- we just had a lot of luck.

During our travels we talked a lot, about the purpose of graffiti, how it should look, what makes it different from street art, from gallery art, the importance of making work that engages, what trends we saw around us, in design, in music, in thought, the people we talked to, the lives they lead, their hates, their loves…

But the weed industry has fallen apart, we’re both scrambling for new ways to make money- I’ve attempted a pivot to fine art, a risky economic choice that may end up ruining me. What’s the difference between an artist and a large pepperoni pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four…

The problem at hand- good art requires time away from the practice, to reflect on society and the self, to provide grist for the proverbial mill-burnout is real- I don’t want to give up illegal art- graffiti, mosaics- but how much creative juice do I have left after 40 hours a week in the studio? Realistically, how long before I crack?

I’m looking for the silver lining, and trying to be grateful- for my health, for the opportunity to make more intricate work- and also struggling to stay attached to reality, the streets, to keep talking to strangers, to read what they’ve written in bathroom stalls- an artist is only a conduit, a filter sucking in the mayhem of the world, re appropriating it and putting out some form- a song, a painting, a book- something that connects to people and moves them- to me that’s what makes it all worth it, this engagement- i’ll keep going on in any direction, chasing that high, reaching out in the hopes of making some actual connection during my little tour of earth.

6. What trends do you foresee happening in the future for graffiti?

The snake eating its tail…like all art forms, the recycling of old styles, refurbishing. Culture seems to come in 20-year waves… like the rebirth of “midwest emo” music, screamo, and hardcore in the past few years…it’s the genres you didn’t exactly foresee making a comeback that swing back around, albeit slightly altered. Kids born after 9/11, dressing like Hot Topic mall goths spliced with Motocross fans- but even that’s already old-fashioned.

The two trends in American graffiti at present that I find interesting are the highly technical “burner” pieces on the West Coast (insekt, phorbes, froger), fueled by access to old Flickr accounts and hard copy archives that have been popping up online- and then whatever the current mutation of anti-style is going on here in the east (dip, kow, stole, benzene)… there are people that run the gamut off all these styles, on both coasts, and pure abstractionists too…Europe has already undergone the birth and death of anti-style, CAP crew in the 2000’s, PAL in France in the 2010’s, and whatever lived and died in Berlin by 2018 it seems…maybe Asia will come to the forefront with new graffiti styles…or what about Africa? The phrase “Egyptian Wildstyle” popped into my head the other day- what would it even look like?

Or maybe graffiti has run its course- people will keep painting but without some push from the outside, where is there to go? People talk a lot of shit about street art- and rightfully so, because it was mostly just a cash grab- but it did put graffiti back on the map in a way, attracting new eyes…

The trend in graffiti has followed modern art- to go bigger and bigger- I’d be entertained to see people go smaller- tiny tags, small, intricate pieces, little throws. One piece of graffiti, 2 inches high, that runs the entire length of a building- people really need to step out of their comfort zones and do something that might raise some eyebrows- no haters, not popping.

7. What is your biggest graffiti pet peeve?

I wish people would try a little harder, to do something new, or at least to do something well. if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right- that being said, the most fun graffiti is done black-out drunk, riding a bike in a strange part of town, tagging on everything- the paradox of treating every work as if it were your last, while also not taking it too seriously- how to appear light with a heavy soul. 

There are no rules set in stone, I get mad at certain trends or pieces, and then I forget- I wish people would stop being afraid- afraid of looking dumb- if you’re afraid to look stupid trying something new, you’ll never amount to much in the style world.

8. How do you manage burnout?

Last fall, when I had my first solo show, and released my self-published novel, all in the first 2 weeks of September- I barely made it through that- and then I had to spend the next month making pieces for the NADA art fair in Miami- I set a date of October 14th, to be done- when I finished, I spent literally 4 days in bed, barely able to do anything aside from going to the kitchen to eat and falling back to sleep, because my body was just spent.

It’s been difficult- I have to remember to force myself to take breaks, large and small- this winter, I spent most of the last 4 months in the studio, sometimes I even sleep here, working on pieces for some future solo show that doesn’t even have a date- but next month I’m hitting the road, to go visit old friends, to drive around and take pictures.

Yesterday was one of the first nice days of spring- I had mosaics to go in and work on, but decided to just take the train out to New Jersey instead- I walked from 10 AM to 6 PM, from Jersey City down through Bayonne, across the bridge into Staten Island and back up on the ferry into Manhattan. It was exhausting, about 20 miles- days off like this, to walk around and think and see other parts of life- somehow I need to build more of that into my schedule because the default is just “work work work”, and it’s brutal if you don’t make an actual effort to curtail it.

9.  For the younger writers that are starting, what kind of advice would you give to them?

Paint what you feel, copy how you feel- it’s going to look bad, and be a lot of fun- everyone’s first few graffiti pieces are naive masterpieces- but you won’t be able to appreciate this until you’re far past it- at some point you start to learn the rules (hopefully) and the next few years you’re going to think you’re a lot better than you actually are, but them’s the breaks.

Something that very few understand until much later in their career, if ever- take into account the surface you are painting- an old abandoned building, a clean gray freight hopper, a rough brick wall- consider leaving the raw background exposed- there is no rule that says you must saturate the entire wall with paint. Including the negative space as part of your composition can add a lot. Some walls are beautiful in their own right- just blasting over it with a huge blob of color is the easy way out.

Find some people to paint with, people that don’t judge you, who don’t make you feel bad for what you want to do- and if they give you shit, fuck ‘em. Life’s too short for people with bad attitudes- if you paint how you feel, and have fun, you’ll attract the right people, eventually, though it might take years.

You are going to fuck up, a lot- take it in stride, it’s not the end of the world, learn from it.

None of this is forever, it goes by fast- take some photos, explore some places, be discreet, don’t paint over old signs, don’t leave cans at the spot, and try not to attract unwanted attention.

10. Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions, where can people follow you and support your work?

All I have is an Instagram, @vibedoubt -if I put out a zine or a book and you want to grab it, that’s cool, but really I think you should just go outside and take a walk.