Solaris 100 at Meet The Artists

As a Designer, having personal projects can really help to keep the creativity bubbling. For me that’s DJing, writing this blog and doing a bit of painting and drawing. But what to do with all the physical output?

As I am very happy with my customized record covers I was just waiting for a chance to get involved with an exhibition to show the fruits of my work. When a friend of mine pointed at a call for submissions for a group show in East London I jumped at the chance to get my work seen live and direct on a wall in a gallery.

When I got the notification from the curator that I was in, my mind instantly started spinning how to present my work. As I am a big fan of the cross over of product and art I thought it might be fun to offer more things at the show than just my paintings. I always wanted to try out a bit of shoe customization so I thought that would be fun item to add.

After getting some white canvas shoes I was off to applying a dash of colour to them whilst still trying to keep them look crisp and not messy. On top of that did I wonder how to package them as the original shoes didn’t come with boxes. Some amazing leopard patterned tote bags I came across solved that issue, especially as I was able to print my logo onto them which I designed earlier.

To quote Hannibal from the A-Team: I love it when a plan comes together!

As my work was so heavily about records I threw another thing into the mix: Some limited 10″ records I designed for the British band Akasha awhile ago. The bold colourway and the orange clear vinyl inside really worked with the rest of my art and I hand customised them on top of that. Pure fire!

Some mini artwork rounded off the Solaris100 offering and I suddenly had my own little art store going! 

I just really enjoy getting inspired and running with it. Thanks to Athena Anastasiou for running MTA & Ryan Godwin for curating the event who was happy accepting all this extra artwork!

The show itself was great: A packed house, fresh artists on display, cold beers and amazing music provided by Tj Owusu. And when a designer like Peter Crnokrak is happy to model your new logo full on Zoolander style you know you did some good work! #bluesteel

Thanks again to the whole Meet The Artists team. Follow them on Facebook to be notified of the next shows in London! It was great to be part of this and I can’t wait for the next one. Until then: Keep on keeping on…

Interview: Martha Cooper

 Image by Christian San Martin
Image by Christian San Martin

Martha Cooper needs no introduction: Snapping New York street scenes since the 70ties, she released together with fellow photographer Henry Chalfant the legendary book “Subway Art” in 1984 in which they documented the early Graffiti scene in New York in the late 70s and early 80s. The book became THE definitive photo book / bible about Graffiti and it had especially a big impact over the pond, showing Writers and B-Boys and B-Girls in Europe how the whole culture started.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Martha Cooper is now travelling the world feeding her Instagram account @marthacoopergram documenting art from Tahiti to Berlin. Going “All Globe” indeed!

When Stolenspace hosted her ‘LIFE WORK’ exhibition I jumped at the chance to have a chat with the photographer who documented so many of Graffiti’s iconic visuals.

The book “Subway Art” you did together with Henry Chalfant was for many people the first introduction to the graffiti scene. How did you guys get together? 

We actually met through Graffiti writers. I had heard somebody else was taking pictures and he had heard about me and eventually the writers introduced us. We each sort of wanted to do our own books but at the time it was very hard to publish books so we thought there can only be ONE book about Graffiti and we better do it together!

At that point did you snap pictures on your own?

We always worked totally separately, in fact there was a little bit of competition. I’d hear he had gotten pictures of a particular train and I had missed that train or I wanted to get that train. So I think we drove each other to keep going out and getting these photos.

And our pictures are completely different: He isolated the trains from the background and I made sure the trains had context of the city in the back.

 Trains by Henry Chalfant via Nelly Duff
Trains by Henry Chalfant via Nelly Duff

Was that very important to you?

Yes, very important! I am basically a journalist, for me it was more about the art running through these desolate backgrounds than it was just about the art. But Henry was more of an artist and he wanted to highlight the art. Henry took pictures from the platform and I took pictures from vacant lots. He took them in sequence and glued them together. (It was a) totally different approach which is one reason why the book worked well because it covered both the art and the context.   

So what first got you into taking pictures of Graffiti, what caught your eye?

I was doing a personal project about kids playing creatively on the Lower Eastside. One boy showed me his notebook and explained he was practising to write his name on a wall. He told me he could introduce me to a “King”. That “King” turned out to be Dondi and I became fascinated with Graffiti.

Can you still remember the first picture you took?

Well, that was really the first picture I took of this boy holding up this book. Because until that time I really was not interested in Graffiti, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t understand it was names. It just seemed like some unintelligible letters, it didn’t mean anything.

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

The kind of Graffiti I would have been used to would have been political Graffiti with some kind of “Anti this” or “Pro that” statements. I moved to New York in ’75 so I am not a native New Yorker.

Maybe that gave you the special eye that native New Yorkers didn’t have?

Yeah certainly I was struck by the Graffiti, I wasn’t there when it sort of began. It took me from ’75 to say ’78 to start photographing it.

You mentioned in another interview that your first black book contains not only drawings by Futura and Dondi but by Keith Haring and Basquiat as well. What were your thoughts about Graffiti crossing over to galleries?

You know I wasn’t as interested in fine artists and I wish I had been a little more interested. Had I been I’d probably be a rich person now because it would have collected some of that work! My thoughts? I was happy to see artists making money from their work, I thought it was interesting that when Graffiti art started to go into the galleries but I was much more interested in the culture as it was when they were illegally writing for each other. The aesthetics of that, how they understood what they were doing and why they were doing it… for me that was sort of a puzzle to figure out.

So the gallery thing was kind of extra. But I did continue to follow it.

Do you know how the local scene reacted to Haring and Basquiat? 

The scene meaning the writers themselves? I mean there is a picture right there of Haring, my picture, it’s in the show. There was a lot of overlapping and I give Keith Haring a lot of credit for embracing the scene, I mean he worked with Graffiti writers himself. Perhaps there was some suspicion about fine artists joining the scene but I think most of the Writers, and they called themselves “Writers” as opposed to “Artists”, were happy to be noticed by other artists.

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

You snapped iconic pictures of writers in the process of leaving their mark, I am thinking that image of Dondi between the trains for example. Did you ever got asked by the police to hand over pictures for evidence? 

No, I never was! Other people where, but I wasn’t. I think it was just luck but I always felt that being… I had a press pass, I was a news photographer at the time, I worked for the New York Post. I was always hoping that my press pass would protect me.

Did any writers had issues of being snapped on camera with their face visible? They look very natural in the book, posing and smiling.

I don’t think the cops ever came after Writers because of the book. Luckily! Because I don’t know exactly what we would have done had they done that… I would have felt responsible. But I don’t think they did. 

I can image NYC not being the safest of areas, especially the dark places preferred by writers. Did you ever have concerns about your safety?

I had some concerns but I was working for the New York Post and they were sending me on all kinds of assignments to all of these same areas. They were asking me to cover things like drug busts on the lower Eastside, so to me it was sort of part of what I did. I wasn’t overly concerned… I was a little concerned. (chuckles)

When you first started out, what equipment did you use? 

I always used Nikons. Nikon has never supported me… ( laughs ) I still have a lot of my old lenses, but now I am all digital of cause. So I had an Nikon F. I had good equipment!

I guess as a journalist you were already well equipped…

When I worked for the Post they would actually provide the equipment, but I had my own equipment and it was high level, whatever professional photographers were using at the time because I would do all kinds of other assignments too. 

When you first started getting into it, how was the feedback of your friends and family. Did they get what you were doing?

Most people did not get what I was doing. At the time I was married to an Anthropologist, so in fact he DID get what I was doing. I remember having arguments with people because they felt assaulted by the Graffiti. So the fact that I was supporting Graffiti did not sit well with some people.

Pictures by Christian San Martin

So when the book came out, what was the response?

Uh oh… who can remember… (chuckles).. remember that was ’84!  You are asking to go back a long time!

I would say it was a tepid response. First of all when the first edition came all of the covers fell off. They did not do a good job of gluing . It was printed in Japan but published in England by Thames & Hudson. It was a much anticipated first edition that was supposed to come out for Christmas. And the books arrived and the covers where glued on the spine but not sewn and all the covers fell off! I still have a few of those which was an incredible disappointment. So we couldn’t launch the book and we had to trash that edition and they printed again.

All the covers of the second edition ALSO fell out of the second printing but they lasted a little bit longer. I guess it wasn’t a very good way of binding a book. The first edition is small and paperback, smaller than this ( points at my copy of Subway Art )… my guess is this binding is better ( laughs ). It all peeled off.

 image via  Arrested Motion
image via Arrested Motion

Was it hard to get it published?

Yeah it was very hard to get it published! We had about twenty rejections from American publishers… we kept getting introduced to publishers like Abrahams and Rizzoli. We had a weird made up mock up, because we felt like we couldn’t just describe it we had to show them. 

It was quite a large mock up that we in fact wheeled around, we had a special case made for it. Henry still has it in his studio. We would get initial positive reaction from some editor who would get exited about it but then when he would take it to their editorial meetings they all shoot it down.

So, there had been one previous book, that Jon Naar had done, a photographer with Norman Mailer called “The Faith of Graffiti” and I guess that had not done well so people kept referring (to that book) “Oh well… nobody’s interested in that!” His pictures were good but the trains weren’t as developed when he was shooting and they weren’t as… the Wildstyle and everything… they were much more primitive. An interesting book, hard to get now!

 image by Jon Naar
image by Jon Naar

So… we decided to take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair. We paid ourselves, bought the tickets, flew to Germany and wheeled it around the Frankfurt Book Fair and found Thames & Hudson. That was lucky!

We were very aggressive in the marketing and weathered many many rejections and actually wound up spending quite a bit of money to go to Germany and then to England for the launch of the book.

So basically it was produced in Europe and re-imported to America!

Yeah it was and the bad thing about that was that we had a terrible contract because the American sales were considered foreign rights.

Nobody expected it to sell so many copies… the original edition sold around half a million copies which is probably the best selling art book in the history of the world. Nobody thought it would gonna sell well, the initial print run was 5000 and our contract didn’t have a clause that said: Well, if it sells more than 5000 you are getting better royalties… and the American edition was considered a foreign edition so the royalties were like a penny per book each which is ridiculously low.

So, we did not get rich!

So when did you realize you were onto something?

I basically gave up on Graffiti after the book was published. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere and I needed to keep my career on track and I began doing all kinds of other assignments. It wasn’t until around 2002 or something that somebody contacted me from Germany and wanted to put together a book of my old photos that turned into a book called “The Hip Hop Files” and I sort of jumped back into the scene. They brought me to Europe and when that book launched we went to something like 20 cities in something like 20 days on a kinda whirlwind tour and then I really saw the effect. Up until then I didn’t really understand.

  via Flickr
via Flickr

When was that?

That book came out in 2004, so, from ’84 till 2004 there was not a lot of action! One other thing was that in the United States they kept the book behind the counter under lock and key because kids stole it and so when you went to a book store you had to actually ask to see it! So of cause kids were not really buying it and it wasn’t really on display… we got royalties but we didn’t get much!

When I first visited NYC I expected it crazy covered in Graffiti, but of cause there has been a crackdown on it. How do you feel about the scene today?

I am not drawn to going out and shooting the way I used to be and, in fact, I am originally from Baltimore. I decided I did want to do more street photography and I decided I wanted to do it in Baltimore. I actually bought a little house in the neighbourhood of The Wire and even though I live in New York I have been going back and forth.

That project is pretty much finished. Because New York seemed kinda squeaky clean and not as interesting to me although probably there are pockets of good street photography subjects but remember: Everybody has a camera now! The only reason we are still talking about this is that there were so few people with cameras who were documenting (back then).

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

Today everybody is taking pictures and street art photographers are a dime a dozen, there are so many of them. I don’t want to be just another street art photographer.

You are exhibiting in a Street Art gallery. There always has been a bit of tension between Writers and Street Artists. At the same time I feel Street Art is a bit of an extension to Graffiti in it’s own right, so how do you feel about that?

You know I am giving a talk tomorrow right? A large part of the talk talks about the difference what I consider Street Art and Graffiti. With Graffiti basically being lettering and Street Art basically being images. But there is a huge cross over! Many Street Artists tell me that they began by doing letter Graffiti and they are very good at lettering. 

I flew here from Bangkok for example and Nychos, who I consider one of the most amazing spraycan artists out there, went out there almost every night bombing and writing his name. So there’s not a hard line between the two. There is tension. And probably the tension has to do with Graffiti Writers feeling that Street Artists have appropriated their culture and they are making a lot more money from it. Why they getting the fame when the Graffiti Writers are the ones that started it?

How do I feel about it? I am sort of just interested in following it, I don’t really have feelings about it. The whole thing is very interesting to me, I want to see where it’s going. It keeps going and going and going. Just when I think can’t get any bigger it goes further. I don’t think there is a country in the world that doesn’t have Graffiti. Last year I went to this Tahiti Graffiti (event) as a judge, it’s call ONO’U. It was a contest, I was a judge and these were Graffiti Writers. Now they had also Street Artists painting some walls but the contest was for hardcore Graffiti. And it was sponsored by the Tourism Board!

Would you expect that a country like Tahiti could even imagine that Graffiti would somehow bring people there? They have the most amazing scenery in the world, you wouldn’t think that there would be any reason! And they have contacted me this year and said they are doing it again and I think that was the second edition already so apparently it was successful. I can hardly imagine somebody booking a flight to Tahiti to look at walls.

I’d love to go! But it’s a bit far away… Talking about Street Art and Graffiti… what did you think about the Banksy takeover of New York? I am still amazed he didn’t get busted…

Well did you see the picture we used for this card? It’s from that.

I wasn’t there the whole time unfortunately, I was one of the many people that was trying to get those pictures. The whole thing was fascinating. He had the whole city talking about it, it was absolutely amazing. Very very clever. Some pieces cleverer than others but everybody knew about it. I recently instagrammed a piece, mostly the pieces didn’t last for one reason or another. There were so many different hilarious things that happened. I remember seeing these guys out in Brooklyn with a piece of cardboard and they were holding it up in front of the wall trying to get people to pay them money to being able to take a picture. 

Where’s the card… I love this picture and I love the piece… because it’s a piece about Graffiti. As soon as I heard he did a piece in the Bronx I ran up to the Bronx even though I was leaving for Europe that evening. But I REALLY wanted the Bronx picture. I didn’t even know what the piece was. And somebody dragged that couch in front and while I was there the owner of the wall started putting a big piece of plexiglass over that piece. So Banksy must have been just laughing his head off. 

I still can’t believe the NYPD wasn’t on it, trying to bust him!

Ah they might have been but maybe… who even knows… was Banksy actually there? Did he send out people to do it? I don’t know the whole story.

Wait, I want to show you this one picture that I recently took, because I passed by a piece that I had seen that he had done and it had been appropriated by this store that owned the wall, which is Zabar’s. Zabar’s is a well know delicatessen and they put a sign up: “Banksy comes to Zabar’s” ( laughs ).

They put a piece of plexi over it and they were so proud! Probably they never heard of Banksy before that happened. And then, when I went into Zabar’s they had a picture hanging at the cash register of the wall before the plexiglass has been put over it. So they were very very proud of this piece!

I think it’s great how you embrace new technology. Photographers normally turn up their noses at Instagram and iPhone photography…

No, I love Instagram! I love iPhone photography! I wish I could just do the iPhone and not have to carry around heavy camera equipment. I am totally digital! But I am not that good at it… I wish I was better at it. Here is the Zabar’s piece… look there is a little sign here: “Help Zabar’s to protect this unusual work!”

So there are 45 comments, which is a lot for me! You might have thought people would be really cynical about this but people are saying things like: Look, you know what, we don’t get the chance to see a Banksy because they always get wiped out or taken so this is one where you actually can still see it.

It’s ridiculous his work is so clever commenting on consumerism, yet his pieces become instant collectables with people tearing down houses to get his artwork. It’s crazy…

He is very clever, what can I say… I admire his cleverness. Of cause he is not the most sophisticated artist, well he is sophisticated, but I mean in terms of the technique. He is a really good artist.

Do you think Blek Le Rat is a bit mad about Banksy’s fame?

You know I haven’t kept up with Blek’s recent work so… oh but I am sure Blek is totally pissed off. That’s sort of like the Graffiti Writers not wanting the Street Artists to succeed.

I think the whiners really don’t understand how the art world works. It really isn’t about who started something or who was first. It’s like a whole culmination of other things.

You have been travelling all over the world to take pictures. Any places you still want to go?

Yesterday an invitation came in for China… I haven’t been to China! I wrote right back immediately and said: “Yes I’d be interested in that”. Yeah, there are few places out there…

So are you planning to create a Subway Art for our generation?

No. I don’t have any plans for anymore books. Although I might go back, I have huge archives of old pictures I have never done anything with because I picked out the best ones. But there are lots of ones that look more interesting now that so much time has passed. So I might go back and do… I don’t really have plans for more books. Books are kinda over. As a Blogger you understand that! 

To be able to take a picture and immediately post it, I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission, I don’t have to pitch the story to editors. I spend a lot of time pitching stories that never went anywhere… very frustrating. Look, I just posted this how many minutes ago… 38 minutes ago and it already has 484 likes. I mean, I feel powerful being able to do that and it’s a lot of fun!

To me this is like a great thing and it’s free. Ok you need the iPhone but the quality of the photograph from the iPhone is really pretty amazing. This is the 6, there are like 4000 pixels which is pretty much what I had with my first digital SLR and I did a book called “We B*Girlz” with that camera. Which had no more pixels than this ( shows her phone ). I mean that’s amazing! Mind you, I have my Nikon in here, just in case! ( Laughs )

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

You mentioned the “We B*Girlz” book. Was gender ever an issue when you got deeper into the scene?

No! I can’t say the other thing. I think the Graffiti Writers respected you because of your skills. I was a skilled photographer and I gave them pictures and they wanted those pictures. Because photography was always… if you look right straight back… the picture of Dondi in his room… here I show you in here… this was when I first met Dondi it was before I even went out to look at trains. And I spend the day with him and his friends… these were pictures he took himself with like a cardboard camera. So the fact that I could take way better pictures and I always tried to give them to them kinda made me accepted.

Are you still in touch with the old writers?

Yeah, a lot of them actually. I went to Venice for the Biennale there was a separate Graffiti exhibition and Futura was part of that, Doze was part of that.

How do you feel about Futura, I am a big fan. He is just one of the old legendary writers who is still doing it!

Yeah he is still out there! He just painted the Houston Bowery wall which is the same wall which Keith Haring first painted. It’s like a performance to go out on Houston Street and paint and he did a good job with that wall!


Any idea why Futura is still so successful. What gave him his edge?

I think he knew more about the art world, he understood the art world better.

Yeah I saw pictures of him hanging out with Madonna at Studio 54. Were you ever part of that scene?

Studio 54? Every night, but because I was working for the newspaper. The New York Times was a Murdock newspaper and they covered Studio 54 every night. It was all about the celebrities.

Do you have any crazy celeb stories then?

(Laughs) No, no crazy stories!

Really looking forward to the show, was there a special way you curated it?

Well there is a bit of a timeline! Because I don’t want to just be considered a Graffiti Street Art photographer. So it has a few of the older pictures in it. But it also has these Tattoo pictures that preceded the Graffiti pictures.

Any final sage words of advice for any budding photographers?

Ahhh… for photographers ( laughs )… it’s a tough career! Good luck!

So what’s next for you if you are not planning any new books. Just happy snapping away?

I figure I am doing a victory lap! I am enjoying travelling around, seeing what’s out there… that’s about it!

Thank you very much for the interview!

All images from Martha Coopers Instagram account @marthacoopergram

Pictures taken at Stolenspace during the interview by Christian San Martin

“Life Work” – Martha Cooper |  5th Feb 16 -­ 28th Feb 2016

Stolenspace Gallery London, 17 Osborn Street, London UK E1 6TD

Still Here: A Decade of Lazarides

Yes, I am still struggling to take good shots in dim light conditions! Then again, this picture really captures the frenzy that ensued once Lazarides opened it’s doors for it’s 10th Anniversary show at their gallery in Rathbone Place in Central London. Pure mayhem!

Before I could even start checking out the show I needed to head to the freebie table to refill any depleted energy with bottles for Golden Lager and Streetart Marshmellows by Boomf. Tasty!

Recharged and ready for action I threw myself at the show which spread from the basement all the way up the the 3rd floor of the gallery! 

I really wonder if they put something special into the Bristol water supply as it’s uncanny how much this city contributed to global urban culture: Massive Attack, Portishead, Banksy, Nellee Hooper, Breakbeat Era and the one and only Mr Steve Lazarides!

Looking at the walls it becomes clear why Steve Lazarides get credited with being one of the major players in the urban art business: 3D, Aiko, Anthony Lister, Antony Micallef, Banksy, Brett Amory, Chloe Early, David Choe, Doug Foster, Faile, Frank Laws, Gary Taxali, Herbert Baglione, Hush, Ian Francis, Invader, Joe Rush, Jonathan Yeo, JR and many more represent the extensive scope of Lazarides art portfolio.

Pretty sure this is some new work by 3D of Massive Attack…

Seeing all this art on the wall reminded me of the heyday of Pictures On Walls, another one of Lazarides Art ventures. I still remeber the excitement buying my first ( and only ) #Banksy via POW and the queues that would form outside their print shop in Old Street. Their website is still up but I wonder if they release any new prints. 

Climbing up the stairs revealed some tasty #banksys… some of them from the very early days. I must say I prefer his prints to his canvases. I still remember being at his first show in London, upstairs at the Dragon Bar near Old Street Roundabout. An artwork was around £300 and apart from that amount being quite a lot of money for me back then the rats on white plain canvas just never really appealed to me. Ha! If I only knew back then what I know now… *sigh*

What can I say, with the latest investment into his business Lazarides is going from strength to strength!

Here is to the next 10 years…

Still Here: A Decade of Lazarides | 12.2.2016 – 24.3.2016

Wednesday–Saturday 11am–7pm. Admission is free.

Lazarides Gallery | 11 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1HR

Neverended: End of the Line 10th Anniversary Show

February keeps on hammering me with great shows to go to! For two weeks EndoftheLine takes over the entire LondonNewcastle Project Space on Redchurch Street in the heart of Shoreditch with a massive retrospective of the last ten years of East London’s Graffiti, Street Art and Hip Hop scene. 

Matilda and Jim of End of the Line have been very busy the last 10 years organizing amazing art shows , running event spaces like the legendary Rockwell House and being at the core of the London Graffiti scene. Since I moved to London I kept bumping into the two when I wandered around in the East or popped into the Dragon Bar for a cold one. 

It’s great to see how far the two and EndoftheLine progressed in the last 10 years! 

Very impressive was also the scope of featured artists! Jim’s massive murals around London and running the UK side of the Graffiti Blockparty “Meeting of Styles” helped them to connect to the “Who is Who” of local and international Graffiti Writers and Street Artists: Will Barras, Mr Jago, Bom.k, Sowat, Faile, Tizer, Xenz, Sheone, Dan Chase, Ed Hicks, Rabodiga, 45RPM, Candy Lo, Imaone, Suiko, Zoer, Does, Odisy, Dr Zadok, Reeps, Dotmasters, Steff Plaetz and 123 Klan are just a few to mention…

Walking around the show made me feel like I jumped straight into the pages of an issue of VNA magazine! Loved it! My favorite pieces on show came from the always fantastic ROID, Faile, Terratag and Jim Vision who painted an apocalyptic wall that invited the visitor to become the Angel of the Apocalypse! Of cause I had to oblige…

End of the Line made sure that the visitors can immerse themselves in the world of Graffiti, Street Art and music with a series of pop up events the organized in the exhibition space as well. Planned are live art, life drawing classes, music showcases by the 5th Element Agency & Lyrix Organix, pop up feasts and live talks. Follow End of the Line on Facebook for the latest scoop on this!

So what else is there to say for the time being apart from encouraging everybody to check out the exhibition! I personally feel very inspired to hit the canvas myself again actually.

Oh, and they are running a small pop-up shop as well for the duration of the show featuring limited edition prints by many of the featured artists, collectibles and a selection of customized street furniture. Get involved!

KAWS at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

What a crazy week this has been!

First Robert Del Naja aka 3D presented new prints and a limited edition EP at the “Ritual Spirit” launch at Lazarides Editions, then Martha Cooper had a big show at Stolenspace gallery (interview is getting posted soon!) and now I had the chance for a meet and greet with the legend that is KAWS at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I am exhausted!

As I love the intersection of consumer products and art, KAWS is right up my alley. After starting out as a Graffiti Writer KAWS quickly climbed the ranks thanks to endorsement by big collectors like A Bathing Ape founder NIGO and super producer Pharrell Williams.

I witnessed the guy collaborate with my fave label from back in the day BAPE, launch his own fashion label after, redesign the MTV Video Music Awards statue, collaborate with Kiehl’s and Hennessy and flew his Companion balloon high in the sky at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

KAWS is definitely making moves!

 Image via  dotherpix
Image via dotherpix

But even with all the success with his product design KAWS always pushed his art game too: When he started blowing up his toy designs to epic scale the art world took notice.

After showing his monumental sculptures at the Frieze Art Fair in London, Harbour City in Hong Kong and at CAC Malaga it made sense that the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield would order his sculptures for their vast art park and threw a couple of newly commissioned paintings into the mix as well!

One can understand that I was VERY excited when I managed to get two tickets for a meet and greet with KAWS at the YSP and the chance to be one of the first people to see the new show!

As the guided tour started at the ungodly early hour of 8.30AM on a Saturday morning it was all about charging my iPhone and getting an early night. As the sculpture park is approximately 180 miles from London I was lucky to be able to stop over at the place of a good friend and fellow KAWS enthusiast in Nottingham. In order to head to the sculpture park we planned to hit the road early in his car, or as I like to call it, The KAWS-MOBILE!

Arriving at the museum we were greeted by a massive banner and many friends and fellow KAWS-obsessives, all dressed to impress and ready to rock!

First point of call: The merch stall. Enter Through The Gift Shop is how true players of the collecting game roll, trying to avoid missing out on limited goodies like totes bags, note books and postcards. I kept it casual, purchasing only a couple of nice postcards, the exhibition catalogue and a KAWS tote bag that is quite useless thanks to its miniature size. As if form over function ever stopped me…

After some tasty Bacon Sandwiches provided by the museum it was time to man up, face the harsh Northern weather and start to slide down the muddy hills of the sculpture park…

Although the rain was dismal everybody was in good spirits, snapping happily away. Thanks to the perfect preparation of my friend I was equipped with proper boots, keeping my feet warm and dry amongst all the rain and Yorkshire mud. Thanks Gav!

Many of my fellow visitors weren’t that wise… I don’t think I ever saw so many limited edition trainers covered in dirt in my life (RIP those Yeezy Boosts)…

 via  stphndnld
via stphndnld

What can I say, standing in front of a massive representation of a toy you have back home on your shelf is pretty impressive. Honey I Shrunk The Geeks! What’s even more awesome is when suddenly their creator pops onto the scene as well.

After taking a group shot via a hovering drone ( it’s 2016 after all ) the group trekked to the Longside Gallery Space on the other side of the park. Turning down the shuttle bus to the rest of the show was a big mistake, with me barely reaching the other side thanks to my lack of regular exercise.

Things I suffer in the name of art…

The second we reached dry land things got real: An orderly queue was formed almost IMMEDIATELY to get things signed by KAWS. It’s swiftness and efficiency surprised even me, being German and all.

Grails* were pulled left, right and centre to be signed by the man himself.

I can’t praise KAWS enough for taking the time to sign everything that was handed to him. In my case it was the Rizzoli KAWS book from 2010 and the vinyl cover artwork he designed for Kanye West… and a catalogue… and a little scribble… yeah I pushed it a bit…

(*Grail: A extraordinarily limited collectible item that’s on the wish list of many of your fellow collectors) 

It had to be done…

Loved the five new canvasses by KAWS called “Survival Machine”.  Loved the Chums, Accomplices and Companions. Loved meeting up with with friends and meeting the main man. What else can I say? Great success!

After having taken it all in, it was time to head home. Of cause not without a second visit to the gift shop and a longing look at the five prints that were available to buy but to 510% out of my price range…

So what’s the verdict? Great show. KAWS’ clean and colourful style is as eye popping as always and his sculptures make me feel like an ant on a toy shelf. Thumbs up! 

Big thanks as well to Yorkshire Sculpture Park for curating this great show and organizing this awesome InstaMeet!

Now, to the KAWS-MOBILE my friends!!! It has been a pleasure…

Robert Del Naja: Massive Art Attack

Living in London might be expensive, dirty and stressful but you can’t complain about a lack of amazing artists exhibiting on your doorstep.

And nothing makes an middle-aged music lover happier then old favourites returning to form. Not only did Tricky bless a track on Massive Attack’s new “Ritual Spirit” EP with his raspy raps that were so sorely missed after his split with the band but Robert Del Naja went into the print studio of Steve Lazarides to create 6 limited hand-finished record sleeves for it’s vinyl release.

This reminded me that I never really had Robert Del Naja aka 3D down as one of the most important British Graffiti artists which he surely is. Not only did Banksy quote him as an inspiration but he was the first Graffiti writer in Bristol hitting walls as early as 1984, sometimes together with other legendary writers like Goldie. Oh, and he’s colourblind.

Let’s travel back to 1994. Although back then I was aware of their massive hit single “Unfinished Sympathy” the first Massive Attack album that really hit me was “Protection”. The whole Bristol scene really blew up at that time and Trip Hop raised it’s blunted head(z). 

The song “Sly” off “Protection” had the biggest impact one me with it’s John Barry-esque orchestration and Nicole going full on black Geisha. The video features a lot of inverted colour effects which now reminds me a lot of Del Naja’s later paintings.  

The other thing that stuck with me was the collaged cardboard record cover artwork with the weird bubble character and the knife and fork. It felt like Del Naja ripped apart the iconic “Blue Lines” cover to puzzle together the artwork of “Protection” with some added bits stuck on top. 

The artwork for singles “Protection” and especially “Karmacoma” showed off an additional side to Del Najas style: The manic free flowing child like scribbles and sketches channeling Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Basquiat’s influence was big for me at this point. As well as magazine clippings I had unexpectedly seen his work in a gallery in Tokyo. He painted in a raw and confrontational way. He abused the canvas with chaotic composition and intense primary colours. It wasn’t just his imagery but the juxtaposed cultural references: media saturation, brand communication, power, poverty, African history, colonisation and exploitation. Everything was consumer labeled and the words seemed part-manifesto and part-hit list.” – via The Vinyl Factory

Parallel to Massive Attack another canvas appeared for Del Naja: The record covers of MoWax releases. I am ashamed to say that it never came to my mind that the artwork of seminal MoWax compilations “Headz” and “Headz 2a + b” were created by Del Naja. And I call myself a MoWax expert?

Original “Headz” painting from 1994

3D returned to MoWax again in 2003 for UNKLEs second album “Never Never Land”. Not only did he contribute vocals on track “Invasion” but his artwork sneaks onto the 12″ remix singles and the animated video by Shynola for lead single “Eye for an eye”.

Whilst he abstained from creating artwork for the Massive Attack albums “Mezzanine” and “100th Window”, James Lavelle encouraged him to pick up the paintbrush again to create paintings for his next UNKLE album “War Stories”. Del Naja actually credits Lavelle a lot for getting him back into art. When the band relaunched in 2007 with “War Stories”, showcasing a rockier sound and all new collaborators, Del Naja provided all the visual imagery. 

As with any project involving two perfectionists the “War Stories” vinyl release was more than lush, featuring a sturdy box holding quadruple vinyl and a 50 page booklet with Del Najas paintings.

Del Najas artwork featured heavily on T Shirts, Pins, Remix and Spin Off Albums until UNKLEs “War Story” phase ended with the release of “Where Did The Night Fall” in 2010 .

Artwork for “End Titles”. Image via Sam Freeman

Top left clockwise: “Hold my hand” single, “Restless” single, “End Titles… Redux” album, “War Stories” album

With the “War Stories” artwork behind him, 3D’s artistic vision focused on Massive Attack releases again. With publisher The Vinyl Factory providing the manufacturing the band released three highly limited EP’s in 2009, all featuring screenprinted artwork by 3D.  Sold out in minutes, this trilogy represents the rarest and most expensive pieces of the Massive Attack back catalogue.

Whilst the first EP “Splitting The Atom” still visually echoes UNKLE’s “War Stories”, the “Atlas Air EP” and the collaborative 12″ with Burial focuses on new, minstrel inspired imagery. 

The cover of the 5th Massive Attack album “Heligoland” takes this concept to the next iteration with a minstrel illustration beneath a grey rainbow. The Vinyl Factory again creates a special deluxe version with a triple gatefold sleeve featuring unique black-glitter coated cover artwork by Robert Del Naja, heavyweight vinyl, a CD with the album and an exclusive 28-page booklet, featuring new Robert Del Naja artwork and Massive Attack tour photography. 

“The minstrel on the front cover represents this tendency to recreate a fictional reality to replace real reality. That’s what’s happening now. You create these talent shows and these reality TV shows and you start to replace reality with reality, but the reality you’re looking at is actually manufactured.

The black and grey rainbow came about because I noticed that rainbows are popping up everywhere, all over people’s advertising. It felt that in the manual for the recession someone had gone: “Add colour to your advertising! If you can, add a rainbow! It’ll cheer everyone up and they’ll start spending their money again.” So that’s why I thought, “I’m gonna desaturate the rainbow and present it as it really is”. This rainbow is not going to make you happy. There is no pot of gold.” – via The Independent

I was lucky enough to get a deluxe version of this album and I can say: Not only is the music a return to form, but so is the artwork! 

2013 saw the arrival of the first big solo show of Del Najas paintings in London at Lazarides gallery in Soho. The show carried the title “Fire Sale” and it was it awesome seeing all of Del Naja’s art in one space, connecting all the visual dots.  

As a nice goodie they had leftover screen printed news print available to take away for free which was a nice touch.

Of cause you can’t do such an exhibition without launching a big art book as well… 3D and The Art of Massive Attack! As the book was produced by The Vinyl Factory you knew there’s gonna be a special edition coming as well: So to your left say hello to the the regular version, to the right marvel at the special edition worth £300, featuring extra etched vinyl, a signed print and much more. Drool here.

So what’s next in 2016? Well, another mad limited The Vinyl Factory EP release, another Lazarides supported show and more musical goodness from 3D and Daddy G. This time with added Tricky!

The collecting hustle never stops when you live in London!

Images via 3D’s Instagram

Personally, Massive Attack already released MY favorite collectors item in 1998: The “Singles 90/98” vinyl box set! Packing 11 x 12″inch vinyl featuring all the classic tracks in great remixes, the box itself is heat sensitive and each 12″ sleeve features artwork by 3D. Unfortunately only mass printed and not silk screened but you need to keep things affordable, right?

Ok so back to the beginning: Lazarides Editions, Robert Del Naja and the launch of the new Massive Attack EP, Ritual Spirit. What can I say, I had a great night! And one day I will be able to afford myself a proper 3D piece…

The exhibition runs from 3rd February 2016 to 5th March 2016

Tuesday–Saturday 11am–7pm. Admission is free

Lazarides Editions: 22 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD

Further reading:

The Guardian – Massive Attack’s art of darkness

Clash Magazine – Personality Clash: James Lavelle vs Robert Del Naja

Red Lines – 3D

The Independent – Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja’s massive attack on the art world

For eveything MoWax… ( thanks for the Headz 2 pic )

…oh and: Big shout out to my man MoMatt for providing “Fire Sale” snaps at the last minute!