Regular viewers of the Steve Powers Show know you can call me anything but a Graffiti Artist. I I hate the term more than phase 2 hates the g-word. I love that word graffiti, its everywhere I want to be: Illegal, unlawful, longing to be where it doesnt belong. And I think in 2009 graffiti serves the same purpose it did in 1969, to bring life to dead spaces- rusted trains, brown track sides, Starbucks bathrooms. But when you go and slap the word art on the end of graffiti it denigrates both words. Graffiti is good at being graffiti, until it starts apologizing for itself. "I dont do graffiti, I do graffiti art"-like youre justifying it to your mom. If your mom likes your graffiti, you may already be falling off. I wrote graffiti between 1984 and 1999. It wasn't after getting a rep in two cities for it, or after writing a book on the subject, but only after I did a good piece in the Bronx that I felt I had done it all, and it was time to quit. I wanted to go away and be a toy again at something else, so I started making paintings. Terrible, terrible paintings. I was a bad artist, but I was making art. The definitions to me are real simple- Graffiti is an advertisement for yourself, art is an expression that exists solely to depict a life and time. That said, I think some graffiti can be art; A lot of what Blade and Reas have done qualifies to me. But unless you are in the gallery world, and preferably the museum world, you're in the wilderness and people can and will ignore you. I wont be ignored. I want to be in league with Matisse and Tom Sachs, the way I was with Cope 2 and Kadism. I know that the art world is a weird place with weird pretentious attitudes, but have you been to a graffiti-art show? psssshh.
In the 10 years since I picked up a brush, I must have done 25 gallery shows, plus many public art installations, its a pretty insane pace, but I'm learning on the job, trying to master the craft, and I felt way behind, being that I started getting serious about art as a 30 year old. Plus 2 year old malcolm needs new shoes, and those european joints look good on him. Lately I've been branching out from the fancy galleries towards spaces I call "beautiful losers" galleries; Smaller, hungrier, showing more young artists and selling more work at a slightly lower price point than the bigger spaces. In the last 13 months I have had 4 gallery shows and realized a 50 wall project in Philly. All total- 50 paintings and 50 walls. Thats some renaissance era output there (right down to the 30 assistants I had helping me), and definitely a large percentage of that work that will be identified as important, maybe my best. no homo.
So all that said, I paint more now as a 40 year old artist with a kid than I ever did as a 25 year old vandal with no scheduling conflicts. Besides the motivation that a kid provides, I have a lot more inspiration to work with in art, theres only so much you can do with 4 letters, or so I thought. In the last year, it's been clear that no matter how long ago I quit, gallery people were insisting on adding ESPO as a middle name or an AKA when they were promoting me. Its been going on since 1999, but this year I started to embrace it. In Feburary in Brussels at Alice Gallery I wrote a bunch of tags inside and outside the gallery. The Philly project was one giant graffiti extravaganza, and I started adding tags into the paintings I make, as icons that represent me, but it went to another level last week in San Francisco at the White Walls Gallery. Justin Giarla, White Walls boss, booked an ad in Juxtapoz for my show as ESPO Exterior Surface Painting Outreach. I had no idea that he had done this until I got to the gallery ready to work. Beyond the weidness as being promoted solely as ESPO, the Exterior Surface Painting Outreach bit was an acronym I cooked up to get people to not call the cops when I was painting gates in NYC in 1997-98. So I busted Justin's balls about it, but only a little, because it's really my fault that I havent defined myself better, I've been too busy painting to get my press releases in order. After we went back and forth about it for 2 days, I asked him, "can you sell more work if I'm ESPO?" he said yeah, so I went let ESPO out for a walk, and we started tagging the gallery.
Lo and behold what happened was really graffiti art. There was plenty of just signatures and style, but there was a lot of writing that depicted the life and times of our people. Nemel caught a tag and I turned his N into a caricature of him while his nemesis Kaves rains fists down on him and HOT HEAD holds a pistol on him. SKREW driving with coke on the dash (aka dash snow) ok, skrew's more of a beer and hoagies guy, but its a good visual joke. SLOB declaring war on west philly with a slim jim in his hand. After Nemel seemed to be slipping back into darkness, I caught a tag in one shot and a quill brush of his recently deceased IRAK team mate Dash with an upside down cross on home plate and Nemel with a bat in the batter's box. The best of all the graffiti art I did was this; Buck 50 came around the gallery a few times, I asked him to put his man KERSE up, but I asked him to bring his own marker. He never remembered to. Finally Puzl came thru, and on request, put up a half dozen Kerse tags. Buck showed up afterwards and I said, "ahh, it's cool, another seattle resident hooked up Kerse" Buck asked who, and when I told him he laughed, "oh no, we dont fuck with that nigga, is he in there now?" I said, "yeah, come say hi" and a minute later they were shaking hands and squashing some 15 year old graffiti beef. Later that night, close to the opening, the security guard, a long time sf veteran, asked what he should do about taggers. I said "dont let anybody go over anybody" He said "thats gonna be impossible, I mean if this guy (points to a buck50 tag) sees this guy (points to a puzle tag) its gonna be war". I said "well what if its like this?" and I pointed to where I drew a crossword with the solutions PUZL KYT shaking hands with a BUCK 50 represented by a Dollar and 2 quarters. Security Guard said "I would love that to happen, theres been way too much bullshit in SF for too long now". He left the room and me and puzle just raised our eyebrows and went back to work.