Monday, September 26, 2011

Meeting of Styles Chicago: HASTE Interview

Writing since 1992, HASTE hails from LA. He, as noted in an earlier post, makes a strong argument for graffiti to become more legible to a broader public, as well as highlighting the importance of graffiti socially, and its limits at the moment. I was grateful to learn about his perspectives and his sophisticated perspective on an art he does so well.**

CB: When did you start writing?

H: We grew up in Chile, I was born here, grew up in Chile, moved out here when I was seven, and soon as I moved out here it drew my attention so I really pretty much started writing graffiti when I was seven years old, eight years old, from as young as second, third grade. I remember writing on stuff, in the fifth grade I came up with the name HASTE, it was kind of a mutual friend who wrote it who also had the same first name. And it was something he played around with and he let it go, I personally took off with it. HASTE also came up a few different times when I was in school. It was also part of the constitution, [or]... if it was the constitution or something that somebody wrote, John Adams or somebody, it just caught my attention, I really liked it. In the 70s, 80s and 90s your graffiti name was really important...names like HASTE were kind of popular because of what it meant; swift, haste makes waste, a lot of names were like that, like Quake like earth-quake, little things that kind of have a deeper meaning than just writing your real name. I’d say I was writing HASTE since I was 10 years old. I’ve been writing on stuff since I was ten, using spraypaint, tagging on stuff since I was twelve,

CB: What year would that be?

H: That would be ’92. But I’d say ’95 was when I really got serious with going, getting paint, a lot, going to the underbridges and alleyways and stuff like that, 94, 95 when I really started painting, really started graffiti.

CB: Did any person in particular get you into it?

H: I grew up in a really—I grew up in a gang neighborhood—um, no. usually that’s the way it happens in graffiti, it happens with your peers, but all my peers were little brothers of gangsters so I was more around the gang culture, I was never drawn to the gang culture, I always enjoyed the Los Angeles gang culture. The importance of respect, and the honor and how much their neighborhood meant to them, but I didn’t really see eye to eye with any of them. I was into playing sports, I was more of an athlete- so the graffiti thing was just for me, I really loved the way graffiti looked. I loved the way gang writing looked, placas, the history of LA graffiti, the history of LA gang graffiti. Its very intimidating. Its amazing what some type[ography] can do, and how it can affect you.

CB: If I were to go to LA, what are your favorite spots to see other writers’ work?

H: Its LA. It’s the whole city of LA because every neighborhood is different and its run pretty much by different crews like the Hollywood area, we CBS, have had it on lock. We’ve had it on lock for over twenty years, we are pretty much one of the only crews in LA that’s been able to have steady walls for twenty years...also the largest amount of square footage to paint on than anyone else in LA. And I’m biased so I would say Melrose for us, Hollywood being Hollywood. But if you go into East LA you are going to run into some other crews like STN, K2S, UTIs, you can go into also into some Hollywood areas, some LA areas where MSK has a ton of walls out there. So LA just in general, you just have to drive around from neighborhood to neighborhood and you are going to see different murals. By phenomenal artists.

CB: And have you painted in Chicago before?

H: No. this is my first time here. I have actually been trying to come out here for a real[ly] long time.. I’m actually an architecture buff and I love the history of Chicago, its one of the only cities I haven’t seen that I really wanted to check out. I’ve driven cross country three times and I’ve tried to come through and this is my first time in Chicago and when I met XAUST about six months ago, and he told me about this, I told him I was going to be here, I guaranteed I would be here because of how important it is for me to be in Chicago, and how much I wanted to see the city more than anything.

CB: Have you been to other MOS festivals before?

H: They had one in Los Angeles, in the LA River,

CB: This year?

H: Oof, I’m bad with years. I’d say this would be 2008, no maybe 2008, 2007, we had it in the LA River. It was put together by MAN ONE from Crew West gallery. He is a really old school graffiti writer. It was a big deal because he had major crews from LA painting next to each other, massive murals. In the LA river where they do a lot of filming. We had permission so people had to come down, down to the LA River. Which is a duct system for the water system for when it rains, so it is amazing to have people from the neighborhood and people walking around to come down there, because no one would ever come down there. It was painted and unfortunately a council-woman at the time was really against it, and they ended up painting over it, without permission, without city permission, she just kind of painted half of it. And when the neighborhood came and complained and told them to stop they stopped so for a while half the walls at meeting of styles were still up. That's the politics of Los Angeles. A lot of people base their public persona as councilmen and district attorneys on graffiti. Small petty crimes. Especially too because now it gets so, so much press as far as being in the mainstream. That’s the way people, you can get peoples’ attention

CB: And you had told me yesterday that you had a perspective about characters being important to get more public acceptance—do you mind reciting that?

H: Not at all. It’s the aspect of the abstract art of graffiti the fact that we are taking text and type and resetting it and skewing it, distorting it, and coming up with our own perspectives on it. Its hard for the common Joe, people in general and the public to understand that, to see any artistic value in that. Because they can’t understand any of it. They don’t know how to make an “H”, or an “A” or an “S” or a “T” out of what I am doing. They just see shapes where, when you bring characters into it, you bring realism or any kind of anything cartooney or that aspect it draws somebody right away. So what happens usually is somebody who would pass by, wouldn’t say hello or pay any attention to what you are doing, would automatically come up, it will actually just draw them in because it is something they can identify with. And if you do a Bugs Bunny next to the letters you did somebody’s going to come up and say “oh, I grew up with Bugs Bunny” or one of the guys is painting characters in his piece so automatically I guarantee you that half the people that come to the wall ae going to like that one the most because they will be able to understand that.

CB: Do you feel that with Meeting of Styles the audience is more than graffiti writers, and if so who do you think the various audiences are? Like just for graffiti writers to showcase their work to other graffiti writers?

H: I think yeah, its selfishly a lot of graffiti writers are just focused on thaw they are doing and they also want to be around other graffiti artists, because the culture, the subculture, is very much about themselves. The public, because the public’s always been so negative against graffiti writers the majority of graffiti writers don’t care what the public sees or..they just want to express themselves, and whether its legally or illegally its up to them and everyone will have their own opinion on it. I personally think that its bigger than them, bigger than us, I think we have the ability to draw more people, I just think the Meeting of Styles would have to become something that is more community based. Which would be extremely hard to do, where you’d theme out your murals based on giving something to the community, giving something back to the community, rather than just doing abstract art forms. But that’s a huge undertaking because a lot of graffiti writers don’t know how to step out of their state of mind of doing what I do, and how do I do something that’s beyond us.

CB: Because I mean your story is interesting about the LA MOS on the LA River because you said the community members did fight back to keep the graffiti murals.

H: Yes, yes.

CB: So there’s some level of identification happening.

H: There are people documenting graffiti in our area who are 60, 70 years old, I have people coming up to me all the time, support[ive], but it’s the negative stigma that graffiti is bad and they don’t see what possibilities of what you can actually do with it. Because of the way the media, some people in the news, especially on television, portray us.

CB: So how would you feel if there was no more MOS festivals, what would your reaction be?

H: Its bigger than MOS. So its, MOS is not the only festival. And it actually doesn’t really have the gusto that it has in Europe, I would have to say that they don’t put in the same amount of effort as they do in Europe, the festivals I’ve been in in Europe are definitely not only sponsored they are sponsored by larger corporations that don’t sponsor stuff here. I was at another [festival], it wasn’t MOS but it was another festival in Milan and it was sponsored by Adidas, it was also sponsored by the city or state of Milan, it had their seal, which is insane, thinking about a city sponsoring graffiti event, and also too a company like Adidas that has made their market off of America, off of the hip hop aspect of Run DMC did and everybody wearing Adidas – we made it popular. It's that element, that whole element that kind of made it push it forward, but companies out here, companies like Adidas, Carhart out there that supports graffiti, they don’t do it out here because of the negative aspect of it in the media. So they are afraid to.

CB: Do you have any worries about the commercialization of graffiti or the commercialization of Meeting of Styles?

H: That happens with every subculture so if you are going to base your life on keeping it real and worrying about your niche and this is for us and only for us, its, we have the ability to make things bigger than just about us and that’s where the progression of mural work is going, where you see the spike in murals has jumped up because of graffiti and we are rebuilding a mural community, we are rebuilding cities in color little by little. And as time goes by the powers that be are going to realize eventually that graffiti will not go away. No matter how many penalties you give somebody no matter how hefty the fines are its expression and the more and more programs that are getting cut off because of financial reasons in schools and afterschool programs, art programs, music, people don’t realize that that’s all expression for kids, that that’s a way for kids to kind of break out of their state of mind of the history aspect, the math, that’s where they actually get to break away, to let themselves figure out what do they like which is just gonna spike graffiti up even more, because kids have a lot of energy. And when you don’t give them something positive to do, they are gonna redirect that energy into something negative. So no matter what you do this graffiti aspect no matter how much cities try to ban it, its just not gonna stop. And they’re gonna find a way to do it. You can ban spray paint and you can be sure that they will be out there painting with rollers and brushes. Doesn’t matter.

CB: So, how do you document your work or do you document it at all?

H: Um, yeah, how do I document my work—digitally? I used to do it analogue just camera and film. I sketch out every single piece that I do so everything is on paper also. I’m a big sketch person, for me that’s how I progress and keep things flowing, and I’ve been hesitant to do a website because I didn’t really know how I wanted to represent what I do and its just because I do it professionally too I didn’t know which way I wanted to do. But now its that which everybody does. Social networking sites like Flikr is big thast one way I do that too to stay current and stay connected with different artists around the world.

CB: Why do you think its important to network with international artists?

H: inspiration, sense of community, I’d have to say it’s a common thread how we stay connected. The international community, is because of graffiti, the only art form I can think of right now that stays connected in a way that I can pretty much go anywhere in the world and have somebody’s couch to sleep on. That I never met, its just by association, its through the collective, the crew that I’m in that knows somebody else, I mean it could be a distant cousin of a best friend’s sister’s mother…doesn’t matter. Its just that somebody is going to know somebody else in a city and because of graffiti they welcome you. And I don’t know any other art form, actually anything else in our society right now that allows people to do that for no gain whatsoever. No financial gain. Its just for camaraderie. Its just for the enjoyment of painting next to someone you are not used to painting with. Its seeing somebody express themselves – you see LIKE painting above me and you see how well we complement each other and he wasn’t really on here but the person who was gonna be on here couldn’t make it, so he’s above me, but look how well that works. For me its like, I never knew of LIKE’s work, so me coming to Chicago and seeing him he didn’t know of my work. But now you get to see that, its that some things work well. There’s an influence now, we will influence each other on things different ways. And internationally that’s what happens too. You break away from your town, everybody has a different way of doing letter structures and all those things are very regional so going internationally you get to see what they do. And because of them, because of internationally most places a lot of places, a lot of places, especially Europe, they see things as, spraypaint as medium. So they use spraypaint as a medium so their art background starts at a very young age. When I was in Italy I was in a small town called Spoleto and the people I was staying with their daughter was ten years old and she was taking, they go to school six hours a week there, for about six hours a day, and she was taking three art classes. She was only ten years old. She was taking a drawing class, a painting class, and a drafting class. So when you have that nurturing process at such a young age, their development, just their expression, is going to be, which just affects them for the rest of their life. So being in Europe and going internationally is just phenomenally—their anatomy work, their shading, their structure, is just – [I was] blown away. Their difference in hand-styles is pretty obvious because we in the States that’s how we start, we start with the tag, with the letter, just catching that. While in Europe you have guys who can paint realistic face, and couldn’t write their name to save their life because that’s not the way—they picked it up as a medium—the culture isn’t the same there. And in a lot of countries I’ve been to, the graffiti bombing, the illegal aspect has nothing to do with the legal. Either you are doing your stuff illegally or you are doing your stuff legally. And there is not crossover because the guys who do it illegally do it for the love, for the rush of it, those who do it legally are doing it artistically are doing it for the mural aspect of it, and are trying to get fame from it, or trying to get financial gain from it, or are just trying to make an art career out of it. And that’s how things are going now. You don’t have to work in a gallery—you don’t have to work for a gallery anymore and do your work for an indoor aspect—there are guys who are just making their career out of painting outdoor structures. Which is amazing. And that’s where everything’s going now. You see that progression, that’s whats happened in the last five to ten years. Its insane.

CB: Do you think that’s happening more in Europe than in the States?

H: Oh its definitely happening more in Europe. Its documented. You can go on the internet and just see how many festivals they have going on just in Europe during the summer time its insane. When I was there were people that were leaving because they had to go to another festival four hours away in that same weekend and they are painting like massive, four storey, eight storey buildings, the whole side of them. With spraypaint or rollers, people wheat pasting or people doing stuff with mosaics. But you see how open it is over there. That’s why I was telling you about Art Basel—it’s the only time you are going to see a festival in the States that’s something like that but its even more because its more people per square footage—

CB: Except maybe Philadelphia because they have so much support

H: But not at the same time. Just in Philadelphia you will not see that many artists just working at one time. Doing massive work.

CB: So you think the kind of shared time and space of creation is important?

H: Oh I think its amazing what you walk away with. Friend ___ who was here he’s been kind of on the down and outs just about life in general for the last couple weeks, had girl problems, and we are talking about everything, and he just wasn’t feeling it, he hasn’t felt like expressing himself artistically its hard to when you have all these other things weighing on you, and he came here and he just had such a great time with all of us, so inspired by what we did here he was like now I can go home and paint. And he drove 24 hour drive and driving back but he’s feeling like wow now I’m inspired to go back and work. That’s what we can do when we paint together as a community, as a culture, we can actually give so much to each other, and back to the community at the same time.

CB: You’ve already gestured a few times towards what graffiti might be able to do and what I’ve gathered is that it creates a sense of community, it gives youth positive outlets, and it creates free expression—is there any other potential that graffiti has that would be great, socially, were it more supported by a broader public?

H: Yeah they just don’t understand what it is we can do. And we don’t understand what it is that we can do. So it takes a movement its gonna take a few people, which is happening right now with a few artists who are making things, who are breaking boundaries and its allowing everybody else to kind of jump on board with them to see what they can do. And its happening you can see, just little by little. We have to make sure that we are staying progressive, and that we are actually hungry enough to keep going and to see not just what you benefit from it, and what does the community benefit, how do we communicate, how does society as a whole benefit from what it is doing.

CB: And what do you think potentially it can be? You said ‘They don’t know what we could do’, what could it do?

H: Like what it did to Philadelphia, what the mural program did there. Putting murals in very poor neighborhoods, in very bad neighborhoods but opening up in a way so that everything they do is mapped, so you are driving around and going to places you wouldn’t- so you are opening up local businesses to people getting cash, people eating, so you are giving so much more back, also at the same time it’s the color therapy I was speaking of yesterday, it’s amazing what color can do for somebody. And a lot of times people forget that. People forget what color can do for you. So we actually have the ability to improve our surroundings. In the same way architecture does. And we are part of architecture. And if architectects saw that, if society saw that, if we saw architecture as a beautiful thing, if society just started thinking about things as a whole, it would be great, and you would see things improve, you would see how much, if you go to poverty stricken neighborhoods in Los Angeles, like East LA, and you see the best murals in LA are in East LA, and nice beautiful ones in South Central too, because those people appreciate that people come to their neighborhood to actually give them something that nobody else would. Like that big businesses don’t care about. That you cant go to find a nice market in East LA that isn’t like a local, small, bodega type style. But you’ll see murals left and right. You’ll see murals as big as two hundred feet long and people appreciate it. When I paint in east LA or south central people actually come up and thank you. More than anywhere else, more than any other neighborhood in LA because people know that you are giving back to their community.

CB: How do you feel when your work gets gone over, or when a city municipality, or whatever, buffs it?

H: For me its my artistic lifestyle is about progression and movement so I am done once its done its over, I let it go, and for me that’s what great, what graffiti did for me is knowing that nothing I did is permanent. Nothing in life is permanent. So I don’t mind someone coming back next week going over what I’ve done, what I’ve spent three days on, as long as I know that—I know that this [gestures at wall] is going to get painted over – but the way I’m painting it, as slow as I’m painting it, you can see how important it is for me to make everything meticulously clean, to make it look like its gonna be there forever, that’s for me. When I walk away from something, its done. Its over with. Its documented, I took a picture of it to reflect on it from time to time but if I fall in love with what I’m doing and I’m so caught up with keeping that up and making sure that nobody goes over it, I’m not going to grow as an artist. For me its all about growth.

CB: thank you so much.

H: You’re welcome.

**The finished production at the 49th and Ashland Wall can be found at this address:

1 comment:

Rach said...

Good job Caitlin!!!