There is a long-winded, obscure history of North American railroad markings, otherwise known as monikers, that by many accounts predates the popularized New York graffiti tale. Depending on whom you’re speaking to, the chronology and key players may differ drastically.
Ultimately, this is a direct result of a folklore culture, where publicizing information was once shamed and ostracizing was probable. In the mid ‘90s, monikers began to take on a new form, evolving from the traditional signature and character-based style. Troy Lovegates, once known as Other, began to make his presence known in the North American boxcar pool. Working with conventional oil bars used by previous generations, Troy applied not just black or white when he drew, but instead used both to create abnormal, oddly distorted, well-rendered characters. What made Troy’s work really stand out was his shading and texturized faces, created solely by using his fingers. They were a remarkable rarity unlike anything else. “Trains are amazing like that. All that work and history just fades into oblivion. It is hearsay. Bonfire tales and great stories off into the night air,” Troy tells me.
I don’t see graffiti when looking at Vizie’s newest body of work and that’s a good thing. As confusing as that may sound, placing graffiti in a gallery setting can often water down the message, spoil the magic and sabotage the surprise. Obviously, there are exceptions.
Laid back, soft-spoken and unassuming, Vizie doesn’t project typical graffiti writer demeanor. He’s easily likable and realistic. Already well-established and recognized in the spray game, Vizie is now committed to delving seriously into his studio practice. Having lived in New York for eight years now but traveling constantly for six, Vizie discloses, “My decision to travel less allows me to really focus on my studio practice and personal life, and I feel like I could eventually move just outside of the city. But it’s a little scary to imagine taking a step away from NY after all the work it’s taken to remain and survive here. A lot of New Yorkers have a hard time imagining living anywhere else, and I relate to that.” Last year he opened his first solo exhibition in New York under his long used nickname and surprised many with what he had up his sleeve. Deviating from the traditional canvas format, abstract wood sculptures are adorned with textures and layers in a monochromatic color palette. The peeled, sliced and chipped away surfaces reveal what previously existed underneath. For now, red appears to be the predominant color of choice, with rare special guest appearances from other hues. Some prominent elements include mangled chain link fences, shattered glass, torn paper, and noticeably present bricks. They’re easy on the eyes and the most recent batch displays a psychedelic touch, exuding a radiating, luminous quality when viewed under a black light.
Long before the railroad cars of North America were littered with spray paint scrawls and under more strict and paranoid post-9/11 surveillance, enigmatic markings of a cowboy smoking a pipe overwhelmingly adorned railcars across the country and created mysticism as to who was responsible.
These esoteric characters have been present for nearly 40 years and are often accompanied with phrases, various fictitious names, and early titles such as Gypsysphinx, The Grab Iron Kid, Tramp Royale, and eventually, “Colossus of Roads” as permanent identification.
The individual responsible for these mysterious markings was later exposed to a broader audience when Bill Daniel released his 16-years-in-the-making vagabondage railroad film project Who is Bozo Texino? The author’s identity was surprising to everyone, as false speculation had circulated forever. In the film a much older, well-spoken, bearded gentleman wearing a cowboy hat appears on screen as he proclaims ownership and explains the meaning behind a number of phrases written under the famed moniker. The audience discovers that they are self-portraits and, in a bold proclamation, the artist states, “More self-portraits than Picasso or Rembrandt or Van Gough or any of ‘em out riding the rails. Have a lot larger audience than they ever had in their lifetime.”
His artistic undertakings are not limited to his work on railcars, but extend to photography, archiving, book making, stenciling, installations, and mail art, through which he has been corresponding with others under the name buZ blurr for over 30 years. The importance of his artwork has been long overlooked and with a limited word count for this interview, covering the depth of his story is an impossible reach.
I moved to San Diego for a short stint back in 1999, exactly 17 years ago, and that very same year Eric Elms, who was born and raised there, up and left for New York, never to return.
“There wasn’t room for both of us,” Eric said when I briefed him on this fact. He’s right; we both wanted all those rolled tacos to ourselves. Making the jump out East at such an ambitious age was most likely one of the main factors in Eric’s creative success. Another being the roster of those he has worked for – whether artists or businesses, all have become some of the most recognizable names in their respective industries. Eric, over time and largely in part of his work ethic of producing continuous, quality results, became a designer sought after by countless household and underground brands. While his design career was thriving, Eric began to experiment with materials outside of the mouse and monitor, intended more for the white walls of a gallery. This work has morphed and evolved from large, text-based sculptural objects to prints, to paintings, to basketball hoop planters. His most recent body of work involves a series of layered heat processes with black rubber dots applied to canvas that, in Eric’s words, resemble, “Ben-Day and halftone patterns and the energy in photocopies and zines.” They are inventive in process and in person have an intriguing quality that is hard to make comparisons with. Somewhere along the way, AndPress was established to fulfill Eric’s desire to publish tangible products from his circle of talented and well-known friends. The company has since published an array of titles with every attention to detail being considered in the final product. Described as a passion project, AndPress reflects Eric’s visionary appetite in a multitude of mediums.
The topic of unaffordable housing and the rapid, unwanted changes persistent within many of our most culturally rich cities has become a redundant and tiring conversation.
It’s the any major city U.S.A. story, where the headlines regularly read “Housing Crisis.” Occupants of many of these cities continue to be pushed further out of the core and into more suburban areas or often out of the city altogether. While options for individuals faced with these unfortunate scenarios is limited, perhaps unconventional solutions should be adopted. Consider the idea of squatting to fill all those vacant properties that are currently serving no purpose. It’s an extreme approach and obviously not for all, but existence in a rent-free world sounds ideal, right?
While Swampy is best known for his iconic images of an unidentifiable skull-tusked creature that adorn various surfaces in North American cities, on railcars and obscure places everywhere in between, his real talent lies behind a camera with the North American landscape in his sight. Through his years of aimlessly zigzagging across the country photographing, Swampy had to become well-versed in the tactical art of squatting, which is the subject matter of his newest publication Your House is My House, co-published by The Flopbox and SFAQ Projects. This limited edition, full color, and oversized newsprint zine will be comprised of new photographs from the artist’s squatting experiences, along with drawings, ephemera and mixed media. Perhaps Your House is My House can serve as a reference point or source of inspiration for potential squatting aspirations? We caught up with the elusive artist in an insightful interview that gives some context and reveals some tricks of the trade.
“What camera you using right now?” is the last thing I recall Edwin De La Rosa saying to me when we saw each other at Max Fish a few months back.
I pulled out the same model of camera I have been shooting with for nearly 10 years and he responded with a grin, pulling up his pant leg to show me a tattoo of the same camera. Without a doubt, Edwin has a love for photography and he’s always where he needs be to get the best photos: in the streets. My initial encounter with his work was from a zine I found at a shop we both used to frequent and the place we met. I later realized that he had access to a world others did not when I saw his action photos of both Adek and Lewy, two prolific and elusive graffiti writers. Over the last few years Edwin has begun to show his work in various galleries and garnish attention online, but he had already amassed a huge following as a highly influential BMX rider. He was named number 9 most influential rider in the last 20 years by Ride BMX magazine and the legitimacy of that status has been backed by others I know who ride. For the occasion of the 2016 Los Angeles Art Book Fair, The Flopbox will be releasing a new zine entitled Private Property featuring the photography of Edwin De La Rosa. Today we caught up with Edwin while he’s on the road and most likely in the streets, wherever that is.
Waking to a leaky nose and struggling to resist involuntarily shivering as the sun rose over the metal beam of a deep-dish grainer, I realized that this uncomfortable situation could have easily been much worse.
The night before, as I was drunkenly trying to gather my bag and other provisions for an impromptu overnight joyride on a freight train, Sluto, who I had only met a few days prior, suggested that I borrow his sleeping mat for the outing so I wouldn’t freeze sleeping on the raw metal. I assume that besides a sleeping bag, this was the closest thing to a mattress he owned and his innate kindness provoked him to offer it up. I hesitated on his advice due to its bulkiness, but he pressed, expressing its importance. The loan of the mat was undoubtedly a savior in disguise; a simple act of selflessness that has resonated with me long-term.
I haven’t been able to keep up with Sluto’s whereabouts since then. He is a permanent tourist in his own country with no city to call home. Early this year he was as far north as Alaska and just a month ago he was as far south as Atlanta. Through his travels one facet of his life stays consistent, he continuously paints abnormal scenes on the side of North American railcars or in overlooked spots out of view from regular commuters, never repeating the same imagery. And on the rare occasion that he does find a place of solitude to focus and gather his thoughts, he attempts to make work that’s not on other people’s property, which is sort of the excuse for doing this interview all together. Not Even, published by The FlopBox and set to be released at the 2016 Los Angeles Art Book Fair on February 12, is a collection of illustrations, paintings, doodles and anecdotes from Planet Sluto.
For a kid, something as simple as a sticker can play a significant role in defining identity.
Commonly, it begins with sticking them to a locker, trapper keeper, binder, skateboard, bicycle, guitar and so on, inevitably graduating to public application without permission. PEZ began hand drawing his own stickers at the age of 12 and has continued applying them everywhere he roams or rides. He’s created a distinct and instantly recognizable style. They are playful and welcoming, and well, doesn’t everyone like stickers?
I initially became familiar with PEZ through his prolific sticker street presence. Years later I would stumble on a zine of his, revealing that he was also a photographer who created playful, childlike art on an eclectic mix of found objects. Our paths would eventually cross through a mutual friend and when PEZ first visited my house he bestowed a staggering archival collection of zines made over the years to my possession that would leave a lasting impression of inspiration for years to come. PEZ is reserved and quiet and the last one to boast about past or present accomplishments, true to a fitting title PEZ uses for many of his projects, “Shyness is Nice.”
I was lost and wondering around the basement of Tom Sachs’s studio when I came across some ceramic tablets printed with photographs of flying pigeons resting on one of the work tables.
A few minutes passed and a bottle of Scotch that was part of one of Sachs’s sculptures caught my eye…after a few gulps my focus turned back towards the tablets…I started to lean over one when a stern voice piped up from behind me, “Hey, can I help you?” I didn’t blame him, as my light blue Oxford collared shirt had a large rip in the shoulder from a bicycle accident earlier that evening and my shorts where covered in bicycle grease. “Sorry, I got separated from the group,” I managed to say, wiping the excess liquor out of my beard. “Hey, these are great!” I motioned towards the tablets. “Does Tom know you’re down here drinking?,” he snapped at me. I then mentioned a few projects he might recognize and his demeanor changed. “Nice to meet you,” he replied, “Yeah those are mine.” He gestured for the bottle I was still holding and took a few swigs.
A few days later we were climbing the ladder to his roof in Bushwick where he keeps and flies his pigeons—a practice which has become a conceptual life/work extension. Although Pat’s sculptures are aesthetically pleasing, they are also shelters that have to maintain functionality. It’s a fascinating relationship because instead of the work becoming inundated with artspeak and exhibited strictly in a white cube setting, it constantly has to change to serve its utilitarian purpose and survive the elements. Does this make the work more successful than retinal art? Is it too easy to call it a form of relational aesthetics? Yes, because it actually serves a purpose where most relational aesthetic art practices are full of holes.
Pat doesn’t have any kind of social media or online presence. Besides this culturally responsible gesture, it’s because the kid is hustling at double speed. He is a scene. It’s refreshing to work with a younger artist that doesn’t have a preoccupation with the market which can lead to an unhealthy obsession and an incorrect definition of success. –Andrew McClintock
At some point in the not so distant past, many of my peers predicted the inevitable demise of independent publishing as a direct result of blogs and Tumblrs and, basically, the Internet.
Thankfully, they couldn’t have been more far off. I can confidently say that independent publications are currently being created in record numbers thanks to the presence of the Internet. The reasons why vary from person to person, but several factors have certainly played an impactful role. Distribution methods have become more accessible via free online platforms that connect to one another through the global online community.
And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the artistic urge to have something tactile and physical created a backlash from the always-accessible glowing screen. It’s really a win-win from both angles. In an attempt to gain some sort of personal insight into why people were making zines in a time when online publishing couldn’t be easier, I enlisted the opinions of 18 seasoned veterans. Their combined work represents hundreds, if not thousands, of titles. I asked them all two simple questions: “Why do you create zines and what motivates you to continue?” Hopefully their answers will inspire you to go make your own.
People unfamiliar with the name commonly ask (in a chuckling tone) something like, “What the hell is a Hamburger Eyes?” or “Huh? Hamburger Eyesss???”
The name attracts attention quickly; you want to know more. The first time I stumbled on an issue was in a friend’s bathroom. It appeared as if it had been violently strangled, with ripped pages and vulgar sayings scribbled on the back cover. It definitely had been rolled to fit in a back pocket. It was issue #7. After examining the contents, I immediately began plotting how to acquire the previous six. I had to have them! But that never happened. I caught on too late and those back issues were history. As for #7-13, they sit proudly on my bookshelf. Over time, Hamburger Eyes has become a respected household name among photographers. What started as a Xeroxed zine unofficially “sponsored” by Kinko’s has evolved into a glossy, black and white, offset magazine of photographic awesomeness. In addition to the magazine the Hamburger Eyes staff has curated a number of large domestic and international group exhibitions, held several benefits and auctions, produced a healthy-sized book, started a professional darkroom facility in a digital era, created an affordable print program, operate an interactive cell phone photo blog, and is currently publishing hoards of zines from an array of talent. Essentially, they continue to find new and creative ways to expand their outlets involving all things photographic. Initially started with his brother, Dave, and friend, Stefan Simikich, Ray Potes holds down the day-to-day operations from the Photo Epicenter in the Mission District of San Francisco. It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with Ray and thought this would be a good excuse to ask him some casual questions about life, Burger World and beyond.