Interview with NERD at 36th and Albany Sept 18th, 2011
I met NERD in April at the Chicago Loves Hip Hop Conference sponsored by Words Beats Life and Columbia College. He, RAVEN and MONK/TOASTER were teaching a beginners graffiti class and I went both to meet more artists, since I was doing this project on global public art, and also to learn more first hand about the techniques that go into graffiti writing. The guys brought a bunch of ink markers, paper, urban calligraphy work sheets and graffiti magazines to help us look at different styles, and NERD led us step by step through the process of making a tag. RAVEN rhymed while we worked (transcript of our interview coming soon). I will use this as an opportunity to say that going to Meeting of Styles or taking a graffiti class or just learning about the process of doing graffiti from tag to production really helps a person understand the level of skill, effort and creative energy that has to go into graffiti—it is not mindless and it is not easy. You have to have a good sense of scale, color balance, geometry and motor control. NERD is a world-class writer, who has been writing since 1988 and is an expert about the Chicago scene, clearly a very good teacher, and along with RAVEN and MONK was really encouraging of all of us. After the lesson NERD agreed to give an interview about Meeting of Styles, and I caught up with him at the festival, asking questions while he worked on his production. The transcript is below.
CB: when did you start painting?
N: I started painting NERD in 1988. And I’ve been painting since maybe the 2nd grade since maybe 82, 83 as a little kid.
CB: What got you into it?
N: Growing up in my neighborhood, Uptown, is like a huge graffiti neighborhood. And my older brothers did it, all my neighbors did it, it was all the things to do.
CB: when you started writing in uptown, did you go to other places too?
N: actually being a northsider I was one of the first northsiders to travel out south and hang around with southsiders. You know I like to make friends with people was I am outgoing so. But I mainly stayed on the Red Line.
CB: How do you think the Red Line has changed, graff wise, over the last couple of decades?
N: Great question. I just rode the train about a month ago and I almost was about to cry it was the worst I’ve ever seen the line it was bombed up but like places where they would do pieces and burners were all like one color, two color type shits and throw ups and shit and I’m like why the fuck would they climb all the way up here just to do this one color shit? But they did so it was kind of depressing and sad at the same time.
CB: Where do you think now would be the best places to go to see really good graff, in Chicago?
N: Just mainly the underground, like kind of what we call chill walls or something like they are illegal but they are kind of so down low that people don’t care you are painting them. But you could get arrested. Or I like the freight scene, its going pretty good still, and I like the fact that on the freight scene your piece will last for years and they travel around and they come back and they are all like faded looking and shit. Permissions walls, battles like this you are getting a lot of good graff. But don’t get me wrong I love the bombing aspect but there are things that need to be bombed but not the walls where you could be doing big assed burners on you know?
CB: have you painted in Little Village when its not Meeting of Styles?
N: Little Village? Yeah I’ve been painting Little Village my whole life too, different spots up and down, different walls over that way. Another crew that I’m down with called CT they are out over there.
CB: do you have to prepare for Meeting of Styles in any special way, different from when you do other productions?
N: Nah, this year was the first year I got someone to come from out of town to come and paint with me. He prepared a little bit and usually last year we prepared a lot but I never know the letter styles I’m going to do or the piece I’m going to do but we kind of prepared the background and kind of get the theme going. And this year we did the theme of Akira. We just met but we are both Anime fans, so we just felt like man lets do some cool anime. I’m excited to do one of my favorite animes that got me into animation.
CB: what’s your favorite part of MOS?
N: Meeting new people. I just like the competition of it because everybody is trying to do better than the next guy too. Its like a battle in a sense, but there ain’t no prize, and it comes as the ending of the summer in Chicago and it always seems like a great way to end the summer, to me. I always like that aspect of it.
CB: Is there any part of it that’s kind of difficult or frustrating?
N: For me its hard because there are so many people that want to paint and the object of Meeting of Styles originally was to bring people from out the country here and host it here, but every time Chicago people want to take all the spots. And me, I don’t want to really paint I’d rather give my spot to somebody, but then I see everybody else still paints and I’m like fuck that I want to paint too.
CB: How would you feel if there weren’t any more MOS, like if it just ended?
N: I would be sad. It’d break my heart. I’ve been bringing my son: he’s been to eight MOS, it’s the eighth year, its like a family tradition in a way, almost. My daughter been here plenty of times.
CB: How has it changed over the last eight years?
N: I would say from a Chicago perspective I would think that people are trying to take it more seriously the last couple years than they did in the past, and people are just kind got of a lot better...I think it brought a lot of people here and we met so many people that it got a lot of people here to travel to other countries and paint out there so it brought the world together a lot, I think.
CB: What is the importance of meeting international writers, writers not from Chicago?
N: I think its like meeting a family member, you know, meeting somebody that’s to into the same likes as you and just the mutual respect and you never wonder how they look and what they always was and you seen them in magazines, or shit like that, but you always wonder “man I wonder how they are in real person, are they cool and humble or are they assholes, are they just like you.”
CB: How do you document your work? Do you use photographs, do you use facebook, do you use Flikr?
N: I throw a little bit on Facebook but mainly Flikr is where I like to keep it more underground, I think Flikr is more undergound.
CB: Do you keep a black book anymore?
N: I get a black book and a throw a couple sketches in it and for years everytime I get one somebody steals it, its to the point that I’m not even mad no more.
CB: how do you meet other writers? In person, on facebook or online?
N: I mainly just meet em in person. If they respond to some shit and build a relationship on facebook I’ll meet them and be cool with them. But I’m not big into trying to meet everybody like that.
CB: Do you have any worries about Meeting of Styles getting kind of commercialized? Like corporate sponsorship or something?
N: I’m not worried about it and I wouldn’t be mad if they would sponsor some paint especially right now because this shit’s expensive. I like the art, I like the fact that they make the paint for artists nowadays. And graffiti came a long way because the paint came a long way. Its fucking good now. If we were still using the old paint we probably wouldn’t be as good as we are.
CB: Do you think MOS is just for graffiti writers or is it trying to communicate with other audiences?
N: I definitely see a lot of different [artists] – the person I just met next to me she only does framed work she uses a paint brush so you know its bringing out other artists too. Definitely street artists get into it, and definitely performers, like, DJs and rappers and shit.
CB: Do you think its gonna change how people think about graffiti, like non artists? Like change the stigma?
N: I think you know, we had a conversation earlier that its pretty much been around so long that much aint changing no more. We’re at a point that everyone knows about it and either loves it or hates it now. You know its no big deal to them now because they are like, whatever, its graffiti. Seen it a million times.
CB: What do you think the best aspect of graffiti is in terms of what it does socially?
N: [Its] definitely social... I’ve met a lot of friends through it and they are friends for life, and I’m always constantly meeting new friends.
CB: Well that’s all the questions I’ve got. Thanks so much.