Interviewed in March of 2016 by Andrew Houle
Hometown: Methuen, MA | Current town: Somerville, MA | Website: CLICK HERE
1. Let's dive right in, tell our readers a little bit about where you're from and how that influenced your path towards a career as an artist.
Born and raised in the good ol’ “Mingya” Merrimack Valley. Went to school in Methuen and Lawrence MA. As a young’un I was always drawing, snowboarding, skating, surfing, playing sports, listening to music... ya know…a typical white kid from a working class family in 90s suburbia. I started working and making things in my dad's sheet metal shop around the age of twelve. Pretty sure that’s when I started seeing dead people. Kidding…I kid. No….but I remember those being the early years of experimentation with metal and spray paint. I would design and make things like Chinese stars, small abstract sculptures, furniture. Later on in high school I got more heavy into skating and inline skating (yeah I said it). I would design and fabricate all types of multi-level grind rails then invite all my friends over the house to test them out. We would rig up lights and skate well into the night on weekends. The neighbors would complain, the cops would come, we were kids man….simply living in the moment and waiting to laugh at the next bro to fall hard. I started selling the grind rails to local skaters and skate shops to make a little side money. Think that’s when I realized you could actually make things and get money for them. Fast forward through the years…I have worked in just about every trade from sheet metal, sign, and graphics, masonry, screen printing, carpentry…you name it. Graduated in 2004 from UMASS Lowell with a graphic design/fine arts degree, started an international apparel company at the age of 22 called 8&9 Designs. That’s when I started designing and using stencils on denim jeans and making custom clothing. Had a personal conflict with my business partner so I bailed to the west coast to surf with my friends, drink cheap beer, and eat burritos for a few years. I’ll save you the rest of my painful story and fast forward again to about 5 years ago. Second apparel company failed due to lack of funding and bad partnerships etc. Down to my last dollar, I moved into my parent's house at the age of 30… essentially had hit rock bottom. So… next logical step? I started getting drunk on all my parents wine every other night and going down into their basement to experiment with spray paint, resin, stencils, and metal. Ironically back in the same room I was grinding rails as a high school kid in the winter, and spray painting/stenciling denim in my early twenties. That’s when I started developing a lot of my current techniques & style. That’s when I decided that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
2. Seeing your work in person, viewers can get lost in the layers, textures, & various media. Unlike a traditional stretched canvas and paint brush, you're utilizing anything from torn paper, spray paint, stencils, metal, plexiglass and even a blowtorch; walk us through your approach creating a new piece. Is there a process you tend to follow or is each piece “freestyled” in a way?
Every piece starts with a vision. Inspiration can come from a range of things: An exterior brick wall with deteriorating vintage lettering on a side street in the city, half painted over graffiti, a piece of rusted metal, seeing the lines on my late grandfather's face. Next, I either sketch or collage things in photoshop. I tend to work in photoshop layers first then set out to recreate the vision in physical layers. So sometimes yeah it's pretty much a free-for-all of freestyle… and other times it's very strategic and clean. Most of the time I will layer and layer vintage newsprint, books, and advertisements… using spray paint, water spray bottle, and a torch I can instantly age things and peal away to the underlayers. That is when things get fun and the colors and texture come to life and shape the future to a final piece. I then either stencil directly on the surface itself or use a full-color printing transfer method onto a separate physical acrylic layer.
3. There's a lot of freedom when you no longer rely on traditional "art supplies" for a work surface. Is any found surface a potential new piece? A discarded sheet of metal? An old door or glass pane window? What about good old fashioned masonite or plywood?
I have definitely experimented with all of the above. I most recently started building my surfaces out of this double-sided metal paneling called dibond. I build a wooden frame structure underneath out of 2x2 and epoxy it to the metal. It makes for a light and solid structure to build on. Because of the torching and scrapping and layering traditional canvas doesn’t really hold up well for me.
4. While the term "industrial" I'm sure is commonly used describing your work, there's also a narrative of spirituality and identity. You explore aspects of Buddhism, philosophy, iconic political leaders & musicians while including symbols ranging from all over the world to very close to home. Are there any common themes that guide you from piece to piece? (i.e., diversity? Peace? Knowledge?)
Ya know… I would describe myself as an existential thinker… whatever that is. I mean I am just out in the world bumping into walls like everyone else trying to find some deeper meaning amongst the chaos. I really feel that everyone is just a compilation of their past experiences. I have had some great opportunities in my life to travel to amazing places, spent a month in the rain forest living in a tent with one of my best friends, rode a bicycle across the country 3,600 miles for 44 days with two great friends. So I guess I have always been on this search for inner peace, enlightenment, knowledge etc. I would like to think that in itself becomes evident in the artwork I create. I feel like I have yet to even scratch the surface of my potential. I am hopeful that one day my art will have a voice of its own, provoke thinking, and most importantly just make you feel, whatever that feeling may be.
5. Your studio is more of a workshop, give us a rundown of your basic tools. Brushes are boring, what's at arms reach while in the middle of fabricating a new piece?
Ahhh man… mostly spray paint, a pile of go-to stencils, spray bottle, and lots of used putty knives.
6. Speaking of the studio space; complete and total chaos in there or do you know where everything is?
Total chaos. Utter chaos. Absolute chaos. But... but… I eventually find what I need.
7. Music is something important as a subject matter within your art. So what are we going to hear on the speakers if we stop by the studio unexpectedly? Be real, guilty pleasure albums and everything.
Maybe this is even considered old school but I am still a fan of Pandora. I actually pay for it. Line up of stations I’d say off top goes from Jay-Z-Reasonable Doubt, Old Crow Medicine Show, Josh Ritter, Leadbelly, Termanology, Pretty Lights, Olli Brix, Deep House, Rick Ross… then Bill Burr when I want to get out of my head. Cause you didn’t ask… Yes, I have Taylor’s back against Kanye any day. F$©k that dude man. He needs one solid Conor McGreggor left hook and a nice long nap.
8. We like to offer our readers some industry secrets and tricks to the trade whenever we can. Any completely off the rails product you use that no one would suspect? Brand name and everything.
This kills me to reveal and admit but… Martha Stewart crackle paint. Stuff works incredible. They discontinued it in home depot retail stores. You can still order it online through their website. Worth a try.
9. Who has the meaner streets… Lawrence or Lowell?
Easy. Lawrence. We have Termanology and ST Da Squad. What real rappers have come out of Lowell? Plus… you ever seen a nightclub in Lawrence stay open for more than a few months? It’s like that Jay-Z line reiterated by Chris Rock, “Grand Opening, Grand Closing.”
10. Visible signature on the front of your art… Overrated or Underrated?
11. Alright, give us an artist that needs to be on everyone's radar. Who you got that you think people should know about? Musician, photographer, poet, painter… anything goes.
Visual Artists, I would have to go with this Irish painter Connor Harrington. Dude is just inspiring. Check him out. Locally I would say Percy Fortuni-Wright... really talented painter from Boston with a truly unique style. If you have never read or heard of Charles Bukowski I suggest you just get to joojling. Ohh…..Olli Brix…Olli Brix….Olli Brix. If you want to zone out…throw on Olli’s Pandora station and get creating, driving, drinking (separately)… and enjoy. Lastly there is a local writer/poet with a small buzz, he goes by Son Augustine. Keep an eye open for his work.
12. Final question: Dream gig. What's on your ultimate bucket list as an artist? Any galleries, collaborations and/or personal projects that are right at the very top for you?
I would love to show with the Dean Collection. Swizz Beats started it and is a big promoter of up and coming artists. He does this show at Art Basel Miami called “No Commission.”
Other than that I would really just like to start showing more internationally in places like London, Tokyo, Berlin. I believe that art can be my ticket to seeing the world. I am ready man…I am ready.