Brad Downey Interview

Interview with Brad Downey

“The Adventures of Darius and Downey”
by Thames and Hudson

The adventures of Darius & Downey (& other true tales of Street art) is no ordinary street-art book. It is illustrated with many photos, but it is above all a book to read. A testimony of your street experiences from the early 00’s to nowadays with Darius Jones and a few other friends. Who had the idea to write a book instead of a more classical illustrated monograph?
Darius and I just figured that about half of what makes our work interesting is the adventure and the struggle, as we don’t get paid generally for anything we do outside. So to show just a photo is just showing half of the work. We wanted to try and show the complete lifespan of a piece of work. They have never been just sculptures. They have a life before they are installed during and sometimes they take on a kind of afterlife. The process mimics the style of the installations. The work disguises itself as official street furniture in order to hide in the city hopefully giving it longevity. We also disguised ourselves as official objects in order to hide within the system that would try and stop us.

How did you work with Ed Zipco, who actually wrote the book?
We have known Ed for almost 11 years now. He has been on numerous installs with us and is a really talented writer. For this project Ed, Darius, and I moved to the middle of no-where Pennsylvania for three months, because it was cheaper and less distracting.  Each night before sleeping Ed would make questions, in the morning he would interview Darius and I with digital-video, in the afternoon he would write, and after dinner the three of us would sit and discuss what he had written. Sometimes he had to call people and interview them on the phone and record it with the answering machine. But after 3 months he had most of the material in interviews and spent the next few months writing and fine-tuning everything.

I have the feeling that documenting the work is nearly as much important as the piece itself to you? In “The adventures of Darius & Downey” you present us Omar/Swatch, an old school writer who sells street-art pieces stolen in NYC. Whereas Darius is very upset (and we understand him), you seem to be more comprehensive about him and to appreciate that Omar photographs the pieces in context before taking them.
Omar is a really interesting person. I am not sure if he is the only one like this but he is the only one I have met. In the art world you have guys that walk around art shows and exchange money for artwork. The deal is: the buyer doesn’t just exchange money for the work. The buyer is supposed to love the work and care for the work and make sure that this work is recorded throughout history and placed in a cultural timeline. This is what a good collector does, I hope Omar is doing this. On the one hand he is illegally de-installing street art for his own benefit and maybe prophet. On the other hand he was exchanging something more valuable than money to preserve the real work. Maybe it isn’t important for the work to last as an object, and most of it doesn’t. But it’s always great to see some of the real things inside or out. I am sure a historical retrospective is going to look allot more interesting with artifacts. Omar knows the original is culturally worthless without the reference to the original location. To show the artifact which would have been de-installed and thrown away eventually with proper documentation makes sense to me. Of course I hate it when any piece I like disappears, especially if it’s my work or a friend’s work. But, I feel he is an unusual and valid collector and I am happy for him to have some of my work. An illegal collector.

You also made a documentary “Public Discourse” where you filmed Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Darius Jones/Verbs, Nato… Is it where begun your street-collaboration with Darius?
‘When I first moved to New York from Atlanta, Georgia, in like 1998 that was what opened my eyes to graffiti. In Atlanta you have a lot of good graffiti (like Sever, Revok, Hense) but for me it was all so eye-candy, mostly legal walls. When I moved to New York it was thrown in my face, as New York graffiti has a really particular kinda flavour: the work layers up and has so much energy, in a way that I had never seen in any other kind of art form. You can go outside and get immediately punched in the face with this fast energy. That really caught my eye and drew me in immediately. So I decided that since I was in film school that I’d try to make a film about some of this stuff, maybe just to try and meet some of these people and to get my head around it some more. That’s how the Public Discourse thing came about. Verbs was one of the artist I chose to film but we immediately clicked and started talking and coming up with concepts. Between the years of 1999 and 2004 we were pretty much inseparable, similar to a married couple (without sex). We ate, slept, and shit, each other. Best friends and working partners. We stuck together most of the time for practical reasons, while working together we always had an extra perspective on the work and an extra pair of hands.

Do you think you will eventually make a new film about your street experiments?
Most of the new work I have been doing is videotaped. But I try to make each piece stand alone, as its own film. I don’t have any ambitions to make another street art documentary and I don’t think it would be honest to ever make a larger film about my own work. I tried my best to keep myself out of the first film. But, when I exhibit inside the work usually ends up as a video or photograph.

When did creating art become something important in your life?
It was always been there.

Street-artists usually chose an “alias” for their work. You have always used your real name…
I always had an issue with the “name” stuff. I could never get comfortable with the idea of hiding behind an alias. At first it was hard… no one understood or liked dealing with a “street artist” who was using his real name. They always want cool names. Using a real name was kind of like turning your back on the movement. But I still feel its one of the best decisions I ever made. I see many of my friends having identity crisis now that they are older.

After NYC & London, you are now based in Berlin. What makes Berlin so much attractive?
It’s my favorite city in the world right now. The city is so alive and full of possibilities. Berlin is constantly under construction (socially and physically), and nothing feels permanent. This impermanence is a big inspiration for my work. Berlin seems to be a place I can change and alter to suit my needs.

Do you have connections with the local scene?
and what do you think you share with other artists from Berlin?
I am really close to many of the people currently active in Berlin. I share a studio with Akim and “The Wa.” Both of which are making nice projects on the street.  Akim knows everybody (not just street and graffiti artists) through him I have met almost everyone here.  I think Berlin is a place that you can still explore and do stuff. Since all is under construction you can still do weird things without anyone noticing or caring. Its going to get cleaned up anyways. I enjoy the “fuck it” attitude of the street art style here. I really love guys like Mr Ix, Zast,, hesht and spair. And guys like Kripo Adams and Akim are starting to take there work in really unusual directions.

There’s that scene in the book where Darius’s art teacher says to him, he is loosing his time and money at school by writing “Verbs” again and again. The teacher told him he must experiment new things. It sounds like a turning point to him. Can you tell us what is the most important thing you learnt at art school ?
When I was getting my masters at the Slade in London I remember the tutors not really knowing how to give me criticism or advice for that matter.  I think they really didn’t feel they had any classical reference points for what I was doing (because most of what tutors do in art school is say “have you heard of, such and such artist, you should check them out”). Actually I remember one conversation with Kate Bright a tutor of mine, and an amazing painter. I said to her “Hey Kate you haven’t spoken to me all year, I have seen you speak to everyone at least once.” Kate looked at me and said “Brad think about it, do you really think there is anything I can say to you about what you are doing.”  Art school is mostly about the students. They are the ones that teach you the most. The Majority of the tutors seemed to be walking around looking for ideas to steal.

What’s your street-piece/action you are the most proud of?
It’s hard to say. But I am quite fond of taking CCTV cameras down. I have a nice little collection of these objects. It is something I have been doing since 2005, I think this work is important. I do not know if its art but I am proud of it.

How do you pick your spots? What draws you to say that’s the right place for my piece?
Going around and just searching for something that grabs my interest. Then I make something that I think is missing or could add to that or emphasize a particular existing narrative, moment, or neighborhood. Sometimes history brings the inspiration, sometimes an architectural or urban planning mistake, sometimes a nice color, or a construction worksite, different every time.

How do you feel about galleries?
I guess exhibitions and books present a kind of guide to seeing the outside. It is impossible for the average viewer to be so observant in the urban space; the stuff around the art can sometimes camouflage or hide it. They also give the viewer an opportunity to see work from artists from all over the world.  When walking around a big city there is a moment when the brain can only see so much so its nice to see some of these things with white stuff around them and kill all the urban visual noise.
But, No matter how hard you try to force it inside you will never completely capture the heart of it.  Street art inside is still tricky.  I feel it has to be dealt with carefully.  This context shift is important because museums and collectors keep and important record for history and posterity. But, I also feel that my work cannot completely fit in a museum, this isn’t because I don’t want to work there but because the work has a more natural setting outside.  It is like putting a cage around a lion, the lion is still interesting to look at but its much more of an experience to see it running in the desert in Africa.  I think with “street art” sensibilities you walk a fine line.

On the other hand I think this also applies to work outside. Some people especially street artists think that a piece of work is more interesting just because it is placed outside. I feel that many so-called “street artists” are not making work that necessarily needs to be outside.  An arbitrary image placed outside is not more interesting even if it does give credibility and recognition to the artist. It simply widens the audience.

In your Wikipedia page it is said you were awarded the title Kentucky Colonel. What is this ?
I was born in Kentucky. It is a really beautiful place. I want to try and keep a connection to my roots.

I also like the idea of having a military rank. I grew up in Military family. Most of my early years were spent on military bases. I always knew that I did not want to be a soldier. In fact I dislike nationalism and consider myself an ex-patriot. But, I have allot of respect for the lifestyle. My father was one of ten children. The Marines gave him an opportunity to get away from the poor lower class neighborhood he grew up in. He was the only one of his brothers and sisters to get a college education, thanks to the military.

What are your plans now ?
Keep working in Europe. I will be in Prague for the month of August.

“The Adventures of Darius and Downey” & “Public Discourse” can be ordered on Brad Downey website.
ekosystem july 2008

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Graffiti Writing [fr]

Origini, Significati, Tecniche e protagonisti in Italia.

Interview avec Alessandro Mininno

L’idée de départ de ce livre, c’etait de faire le bouquin définitif sur le graffiti en Italie ?

Non ! Tu ne peux pas faire un livre définitif sur quelque chose qui n’est pas encore terminé (de la même manière il ne peut pas y’avoir de livre définitif sur l’art contemporain par exemple). « Graffiti Writing » est un livre de présentation du graffiti : C’est sensé être lisible par la plus grande audience possible. Les gens ont tendance à détester ce qu’ils ne comprennent pas : J’ai écrit ce livre avec l’espoir qu’il permette aux gens de commencer à comprendre et à lire les tags et les graffs. Qu’ils aiment ou pas, peu importe – même si personnellement je trouve toujours beaucoup de beauté dans un tag, et je voulais montrer de beaux panels et throw-ups et expliquer ce qu’il se cache derrière.

Graffiti est un mot italien, mais “Graffiti Writing” ça fait pas trop titre de bouquin sur le graffiti italien non ?

J’aime pas le mot “graffiti” seul, mais il fallait qu’il soit présent pour faciliter l’indexation du livre et les recherche sur le sujet. C’est pourquoi j’ai utilisé l’expression « graffiti writing ». Dans « Subway Art », ils disent « Le Graffiti writing à New York est une vocation qui se passe d’une jeune génération à la suivante… ». Le livre est sur le « graffiti writing », pas sur les graffiti d’amoureux (C+F= Amour Eternel), ni sur le graffiti politique, de football des catacombes ou autre.

Dans les années 90, Rome et l’Italie étaient connues pour être de bons endroits pour peindre des wagons. Les compagnies ferroviaires n’effaçaient pas vraiment les graffs. Quelle est la situation actuelle ?

Je pense que l’Italie est toujours un bon endroit pour peindre des trains, mais tu sais probablement que depuis 1999, les trains sont nettoyés facilement et rapidement grâce à des films plastiques transparents apposés sur les wagons. Ça a été un changement radical de mentalité : Avant 2000, tu peignais pour voir ta pièce tourner pendant des années. Maintenant les gens peignent principalement pour l’action, prendre une photo de sa pièce est plus important. C’est difficile désormais de voir un wagon peint car ils ont une durée de vie limitée. Il faut beaucoup peindre pour se faire remarquer. C’est devenu un sport complètement différent (c’est désormais comme dans le reste de l’Europe je pense).
Des centaines de gens peignent toujours des trains en Italie, et on peut quand même voir des productions de qualité dans les gares. Beaucoup d’anciens se sont remis à peindre cette année, et je suis très content de voir à nouveau des trains de Hekto, Napal ou Rok par exemple.

Y’a vraiment beaucoup de photos dans “Graffiti Writing” d’où viennent elles ?

Sara et moi avons demandé les 250 et quelques photos du livre directement aux “writers”. 

On a récupéré autour de 5000 photos. Avec Sara ont a des goûts complètement différents donc choisir les photos à publier a été assez difficile.
Je voudrais remercier tous les « writers » qui nous ont donné des photos… sans eux le livre n’aurait pas pu exister. On a reçu BEAUCOUP de super photos de bons photographes aussi (la liste ici)
Le livre ne représente pas la scène Italienne (c’est impossible dans un livre, y’a les magazines pour ça). Les livres essaient de montrer des styles (throw ups, tags, whole cars, etc.) de raconter des anecdotes, de la manière la plus scientifique possible. Je voulais faire un livre accessible sur les trains, les tags, les throw ups : Il y a déjà tout un tas de livre hyper spécialisés sur le graffiti (je les lis) mais je pense qu’ils sont trop codés pour la plupart des gens. D’un autre coté tu as les livres qui montrent que les « hall of fame », des persos, c’est plus facile à vendre mais je ne les aime pas. (je déteste particulièrement les grosse compiles/collages du style « Graffiti World »). J’ai eu la possibilité de faire quelque chose qui représente mon propre point de vue sur le graffiti : les lettres, les trains et le vandalisme. J’espère que quelqu’un va le descendre, le critiquer – on a va fait des choix et on est prêt à les défendre.

Peux tu nous citer le nom d’un graffeur italien qu’on ne connait certainement pas, et qui mérite un peu de publicité, d’exposition ?
Non je ne peux pas.
Je pourrais te citer mes « writers » préférés, mais ce sont mes goûts persos…ça signifie rien. Je pense que la seule façon de savoir ce qui défonce en Italie, c’est de faire un petit séjour à Rome ou Milan, et de marcher dans les rues, ou choisir un bon banc dans une station. Il faut toujours se rappeler que ce qu’on voit sur un internet ce n’est qu’une infime partie de ce qui existe… et pas toujours la meilleure :-)

Peux tu choisir 5 pages du livre et nous en dire 2 mots ?

Pour débuter, j’aime vraiment cette page où Verbo (Meta2) peint pendant la manifestation du G8. On peut effectivement voir la foule qui défile dans le fond. Je pense que cette documentation a une valeur inestimable (la photo est de

C’est la même raison pour laquelle j’aime cette photo d’Alex Fakso où les gens enlèvent la protection plastique contre les graffs sur les wagons avec des cutters. Ca montre très clairement que vous pouvez toujours essayer d’éradiquer le graffiti, mais vous ne pouvez pas arrêtez les “writers”. Ils progressent toujours, peignent plus haut, avec des outils plus puissants, sur les surfaces toujours plus inaccessibles. C’est une lutte magique contre la dictature du monochrome.

J’aime ce tag de Spiner : les “gribouillis” sont la forme la plus détestée de graffiti. Moi j’adore, et particulièrement ce tag (en tout cas pour moi) il démontre qu’une signature sur un mur peut être une très belle typo, bien exécutée et brillante.

Dans le petit chapitre historique, je choisi la page de clôture: Muko et Nitro en 1995, masqués dans le dépôt en face d’une incroyable whole car, avec un style qui n’aurait pas été possible sans les Montanas. Le graffiti était en train de changer devenant plus agressif, plus direct, plus “ugly”.

Le chapitre sur les “interrailers” est un de mes préférés. Très peu d’ouvrages documentent cette scène, pourtant c’est une des meilleures choses que les vandales européens ont inventé.

Toutes les photos qui illustrent l’interview
sont des photos qui n’ont pas été publié dans le livre. Merci Ale !
ISBN: 9788837053307
29 € – 236 color pages

ekosystem – Juillet 2008 – traduction rapide de la VO en anglais

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Summer Playlists

** 3615 **

Black sabbath : the 1st six albums (with ozzy) (black sabbath, paranoid, master of reality, vol.4, sabbath bloody sabbath, sabotage, technical ecstasy, never say die)
Cannibal corpse : the bleeding
Agent orange :  living in darkness
Danger Doom : sofa king
Black sheep : a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Frustration : full of sorrow
Queen : don’t stop me now

La Muerte Jeanspezial** La Muerte – Jeanspezial **

Public enemy : dont’ believe the hype
Egyptian loveregypt egypt
Newcleus : destination earth
Eazy e : real muthaphukkin G’s
Chromeo :fancy footwork

** Elfo **

Black SabbathParanoid
The Velvet undergroundVenus in fur
King Crimson21 st century schizoid man
Sex PistolsNo fun
Gogol BordelloHarem in tuscany

** ZonenKinder **

Lee Perry and The White Belly Rats: Panic in Babylon
Little Richard: you keep on knocking (but you can´t come in)
Adrian Sherwood: becoming a cliché
Toumani Diabaté: the mandé variations
dj Muggs presents soul assassins V

** Silencio **

Bob Marley and the Wailers: “Kaya” and “Trenchtown Rock” (from the album Kaya and Confrontation)
Jon & Roy: “Thanks for that” and “Another noon” (from the album Another Noon)
Dj Krush: “The Kinetics” (from the album Kakusei)
M.I.A/Diplo: “Bingo (Diplo remix)” (from the album Piracy fonds terrorism vol 1)
Melk: “Rookies on Tracks” (from the album Sports)

** Just **

Stars10 Bitches in Tokyo
Juri GagarinPresidator – Buran
Men are Djs – Make it Reverse
Made in the Dark – Ready for the Floor
At the Drive inOne armed Scissor
The SmithsAsk
Lezzies on X – Sisters in the Struggle
PartylineNo Romantic

** Tristan Manco **

DJ Nuts – Cultura Copia (Artwork by Nunca)
One Drop – Black Gold of the Sun (artwork by Mode2)
All I want – Tim Maia (album Tim Maia ’78)
Os Mutantes – El Justiciero – Album Tecnicolor
Donald Byrd & The BlackbyrdsMysterious Vibes

** C-Monster ** on flickr

Buena Vista Social Club – El Cuarto de Tula
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my parents, and this song has come up a lot. It’s about a woman whose house burns down because she forgot to blow out a candle. You’d never guess how tragic the lyrics are by listening to the up-tempo nature of the music.
the Beastie BoysThe Move
Love the lyrics on this one, particularly the line that goes “I’m intercontinental when I eat French toast.” Plus, I admire any song in which the band thinks to rhyme the words “neck” and “Toulouse-Lautrec.”
Molotov – Chinga tu madre
It’s one of the band’s earlier songs. A total classic. I never get tired of it.

Run DMC with Fat Joe
Ay papi
The perfect soundtrack for a hot summer in NYC.
the White StripesIcky Thump
I was listening to this through my most recent airplane landing at JFK and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.

** eko **

KW GriffIn The Club
The PharcydePassin Me By – Hot Chip Remix
Marc RomboyEy mind (feat. Mr.K-Alexi)
Findlay BrownPromised Land (Joe Smooth Cover)
The Social ServicesThe Final Countdown (Europe Cover)

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