Back to the Future: Futura 2000

 via Acclaim Magazine
via Acclaim Magazine

It’s interesting too see how BAPE founder and Streetwear legend NIGO continues to bring his buddies over to UNIQLO for some nice global exposure. First it was NY artist KAWS that had Hypebeasts go crazy, now it’s Futuras turn to release a capsule collection with the Japanese fashion retail giant.

Sometimes I wonder if such a project really turns new people onto art and Graffiti or if this collaboration just appeals to the same old fans that are already on board. In any case: I love it!

As I am growing older I can’t justify spending crazy money on T-Shirts anymore, and the never ending hunt for the next hype item get’s pretty tired. I rather just walk into a store and get what I want at a reasonable price!

So that NIGO picked Lenny McGurr aka Futura to create the next UT collection makes me more than happy.

It’s not secret that I am a massive fan and have had the pleasure to bump into Futura many times in London. He was always super cool: Embracing the fans, signing items and having a chat.

A green UNKLE toy based on his designs was my first purchase on eBay many moons ago and I am still here in 2017 collecting his stuff!

For me Futura embodies all aspects of the Urban Lifestyle that I love: Music, Fashion, Technology and Art. Being it his early works in the 80ties, the artwork for MoWax in the 90ties or all his projects and collaborations since… I just never get tired of seeing his artwork!

So let’s take a journey down memory lane and recap. This is by no way an extensive retrospective of his work, more like a quick introduction for anybody who is not familiar with Futura and would like to know what all the fuss is about…


Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Lenny McGurr aka Futura 2000 started spraying at the tender age of 15. After an unfortunate accident painting with a friend in a train tunnel he put his art on hiatus. After four years he picked up the can again, painting alongside New York Graffiti legends like Dondi, SEEN and Zephyr. 

  via Style Wars
via Style Wars


When Futura painted his “Break” train in 1980 he turned heads: Abandoning the traditional Graffiti lettering style was revolutionary and way ahead of his time as normally writers would make sure their names would be boldly featured. Futura stuck with this style and the rest is Graffiti history.

  Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

This FUTURistic approach blurred the line between traditional Graffiti and abstract art and made it possible for him to crossover to the fresh new art scene that formed in SoHo at the time.

Rubbing shoulders with Pop Artists like Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring, Basquiat and Warhol, Futura went on to exhibit in galleries like the Mudd Club, PS1 and Fun Gallery. Especially Keith Haring was very proactive in getting Graffiti artists acknowledged and helped getting them to mingle with the more established art crowd. At some point Futura even dated a young Madonna! True story…

  via 1981.ny
via 1981.ny

A fun clip from 1982: A young Futura creating the logo for the Film “King of Prussia”

After people like Agnes B starting to collect his art he caught the attention of the British band The Clash that embraced the new Hip Hop sound and the Urban Art scene. They invited Futura to paint during their concerts and he started to get involved in designing their album covers too.


When long time fan James Lavelle started to purchase his painted canvasses to use them as artwork for his newly founded label MoWax in 1992, Futura was again at the forfront of a new cultural movement. 

As Lavelle connected the creative energies of Tokyo and London by signing Japanese acts like Major Force West to his label, Futura soon got exposed to a whole new world based on fashion, otaku culture and limited edition art objects.

When Lavelle and NIGO clicked and NIGO started releasing albums on MoWax, Futura was once again the man to go to for the album artwork…

The MoWax cover that made him notorious was the cover for UNKLE’s magnum opus “Psyence Fiction”: It sold millions and featured heavily his “Pointman” characters. As MoWax boss James Lavelle loved creating different versions and promo items for each UNKLE album, soon Futuras signature pointmen and atoms could be spotted on various UNKLE releases and merch like T Shirts, Jackets and collectable toys.

Futura soon translated his art into his own collectible toys, sneakers and fashion. Most of these items were exclusively sold in Japan for a committed scene of collectors.

Living in London gave me access to many cool events, so when Futura opened his show at Maharishi in Soho 2005 I was able to take this snap with the man… couldn’t stop grinning!

2000 to the future

Ditching the “2000” in his name and going forward simply as “Futura”, Lenny McGurr still goes from strength to strength. Collaborating with brands like Nike, Maharishi, Medicom, Converse or Hennessy, his visual iconography, typography and abstract aerosol art still stays as relevant and fresh as it was back in 1980.

Apart from all his achievements in the past and present, another thing that fascinates me about Futura is his love for technology! He was one of the first artists to creatively embrace the internet, launching his site 1995 as more of an art project than a portfolio website. Although the site hasn’t been updated in ages, it’s still impressive and fun to browse.

Continuing the digital legacy of his website is his Instagram account @futuradosmil where he shares pictures from his travels, photo manipulations and new artwork. You rarely see a picture of Futura without his camera, snapping away as he travels the world. A true digital nomad…

So as you see, Futura has been part of Urban Culture for over three decades. Adapting, collaborating and creating. And never standing still! 

Very inspirational!

Ok, so I stop here. Before I sign off let me share with you a litte fun list of… 

5 essential Futura pieces I wish I had:

1. 1000% Futura Bearbrick

Created by Medicom Toy in Japan, this big blue alien is the perfect accessory for any MoWax fan out there and towers literally above all other toys based on Futuras designs…

2. OG Futura UNKLE BAPE Jacket

One of the early collaborations between NIGO and Futura: This BAPE jacket features heavily the Pointman UNKLE logo and will turn heads wherever you go. 

3. A real Futura Canvas

Very obvious I know… d’uh! Maybe one day when I win the lottery…

4. OG Futura FLOM

Apparently only 24 pairs in existence. Made to celebrate the launch of his Futura Laboratories store in Japan 2003. Worth 15.000$ a pair… peanuts!

5. Futura x Colnago Limited Edition Master Pista Bike

This bike sets you back a cold $100.000: One of 38 custom made Futura 2000 frames with hand painted wheel details! More about this beauty here

Creative Triathlon: Meeting of Styles 2016

When Jim and Matilda from Endoftheline offered me to get involved into the creative frenzy that is the annual Meeting of Styles festival I couldn’t say no: I grabbed my camera, dj bag and paints and headed down to the Nomadic Garden in Bricklane to see what’s going on!

What is Meeting Of Styles you ask? In short: It’s a yearly paint jam that’s organised by people all over the globe! Want to know more? Well, why don’t you check out this educational video curtesy of UK #mos16 organizers Endoftheline:

Bricklane has been a Streetart and Graffiti spot for ages so picking the creative space of the Nomadic Garden and the surrounding area felt like the perfect spot to host this massive event.

When I arrived for the second day of the festival, things were already in full swing: Artists were hitting walls, musicians were jamming and people were enjoying the sunshine, wandering from artists to artist to see what’s happening! Of cause there was food and drink as well…

I really enjoyed the mellow and inclusive vibe that was all around me. As London can be pretty snobbish and hectic this was a welcome change from the norm. It reminded me more of the Hip Hop Jams of old than the polished exhibitions that are everywhere in London these days.

Of cause the centrepiece, like every year, was the massive main wall painted during all three days of the festival. It’s still mind blowing to me how a squad of artists manages to work together so perfectly on such a massive scale! I can’t give enough props to everyone involved in bringing the tentacled London bus to life!

For more pictures of this piece and much more please check out my Flickr!

The one thing that get’s lost these day when it comes to HipHop IMHO is the culture aspect of it: It’s not all about the BlingBling but expressing yourself truthfully via art, dance and music! MOS had an impressive list of DJs, Beatboxers, Musicians, Graff Writers and MC’s all getting down together and I loved every minute of it! Big up!

The creative spirit wasn’t limited to the garden itself but spilled over to nearby walls in Allen Gardens, Pedley Street, Grimsby Street & Scalter Street. The tunnel behind the Normadic Gardens had been made accessible too so there was no shortage of walls to be hit. Glad everyone had an official permission so when the friendly neighbourhood police turned up everything was cool!

Now enough of talking the talk… time for walking the walk myself! With so much amazing talent involved I felt very intimidated putting my canvasses up but it was time to man up and put that paint down! 

I am by no stretch a Graffiti artists but I do love painting and recently got more involved creating artworks with pens and cans so why the hell not get those dried up paints out! First challenge: As my foundation was screamingly yellow I was instantly attacked by a variety of insects ganging up on me in the gardenso I had to leave and find a spot more removed from the local fauna!

As there was no shortage of space soon I was hitting the canvas. My brain was buzzing, switching from “Oh my god I am so crap” to “Hey… this just might turn out alright…” in 5 second intervals. But hey, everybody has to start somewhere, right?

Painting open air drinking beers was way more enjoyable than watching the paint dry ( literally ) at home so although I didn’t manage to finish my two canvasses ( go two or go home ) in time for my dj set, I was quite happy with the outcome and had a great time. I am a beautiful Art Butterfly, no matter what they say… and I am sure you can check out the finished pieces soon on my Instagram!

When the sun was setting it was time to ditch the paints and get out the record bag: Time for the third part of my creative triathlon consisting of taking snaps, painting pictures and spinning beats all in one day! 

As my slot was quite late a nice big crowd was already grooving to the sounds of the previous DJ crews and beat boxers. Easy!

Although I have been djing for over 20 years now, each new gig is still giving me a bit of stage fright. It’s about connecting with some hundred people and getting the party moving… not an easy task! Hence my serious face: Dj Solaris100 in deep meditation!

I am happy to report that the vinyl only selection of tunes I packed didn’t fall on deaf ears! I especially want to give a big shout out to Paz Dean who dug my vintage HipHop selection so much he basically became my hype man, inspiring all kinds of hardcore breakdance moves as can be witnessed below:

Like any good DJ I ran over time and even sneaked in a cheeky German Hip Hop track in there! The facial expressions of the few Germans dotted around who didn’t expect to hear some Eimsbush Beats in London were priceless!

So all in all it was an amazing event and I need to give again a massive shout out to Matilda and Jim from Endoftheline for organizing all this and all the artists involved blessing the event with their creativity!

Till next year! | | Nomadic

And to wrap things up, here are my Top 5 party smashers from my set at #mos16…

1) “Wicked Funk” – Kwanzaa Posse ( 1999 )

Absolute killer Funk track that has been in my record bag since 1999! Always gets me into the mood and is the perfect jump off point for any set mashing different funky flavours together. 10/10

2) “Represent” – Nas ( 1994 )

Stone cold classic that takes me back to when I was hanging out in my local Hip Hop joint in Hamburg/Geramany called “The Powerhouse” on the legendary Reeperbahn! It was known for playing mostly Eastcoast tracks on an insanely crisp soundsystem… ahhh the golden days! 

3) “Wie jetzt” – Dynamite Deluxe ( 2000 )

The aforementioned German HipHop track! I have been living in London now for 15 years so after adapting to Sunday Roasts and the Monarchy it’s only fair that I import a bit of my German HipHop heritage onto this island! Part of the legendary Eimsbush Crew hailing straight outta Hamburg Ciddy, their MC Samy Deluxe still rates as one of the best German emcees doing it. And the beats? Banging! 

4) “Tricka Technology” – A.Skillz & Krafty Kuts ( 2002 )

I do love all kinds of funky beats so being into Breaks comes natural to me. This banger from the two heavyweights of this musical genre still delivers the goods and works in any context. It’s one of these tracks that sets the mood and gets people grooving…

5) “Sabotage” – Beastie Boys ( 1994 )

What can I say… LEGENDARY! Sometimes you have to give the crowd what they need. The Beasties are the one band that had the biggest influence on me period! Being it their style, music, humor and other creative endeavours. Unhatable and untouchable. Check out their amazing live DVD “Awesome… I shot that” to revisit them at their absolute top game! #ripmca…

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

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!

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!