Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art Space Talk: Poster Boy

The street artist known as Poster Boy has been turning heads in New York City. Poster Boy, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has been described as being a rare breed of visual revolutionary who can't be bought. Poster Boy will make any street art purist proud-- his work is fresh considering that so many before him-- Shepard Fairey, Ron English, and Banksy-- have ended up meshing money with their social message. I don’t blame them-- once older even a street artist must think about his or her financial future, true? I suppose with the old street/urban art vanguard we can stomach the contradictions. That said, it is exciting to see that a young street artist like Poster Boy is starting to make waves without a dollar attachment.

Poster Boy captures a youthful energy with his work. The 20-something artist has stated that he strives to establish an art movement-- he hopes that others will use the Poster Boy alias in order to add to the dialogue on the streets. Of the movement Poster Boy has said, “No copyright, no authorship. A social thing, as opposed to being an artist making things for bored rich people to hang above their couch.” It will be interesting to observe how this movement grows.

Brian Sherwin: My understanding is that your work is focused on change-- your hope is that people will follow the path that you have chosen in order to make their environments informative about issues that are important to the general public. However, the problem with that is that change often involves a price tag-- do you have issues with artists who attach a price to social change? For example, do you have any thoughts concerning Shepard Fairey and other Street / Urban artists who have meshed money within their message?

Poster Boy: Art doesn't have to be the vehicle. I'd like people to be inspired in any way. I disagree that change comes with a price tag. I understand that very few things in this world are free. However, I think some of the most powerful statements have been made on little or no money. All you need is love and the truth. With truth comes understanding. With love comes the courage to do something about it. Consider what I did with a razor, Flickr, Hotmail, and Youtube account. Total cost: 0.50

As for artists who attach a price tag to their "social" cause I remain skeptical. It depends on what their involvement with the cause is. I don't pretend to read minds and know what their ulterior motives are, but I know a good business scheme when I see one. You mention Shepard Fairey. In regards to his Obama Hope poster I think it was a good business scheme. Sure there are good qualities in Obama, but compared to the last administration my dirty underwear has good qualities.
What about Obama's stance on Gaza? What about the political system, where my concern lies, in general? People only heard two voices during election time. Where was Nader's and Ron Paul's voice? I think there are more pressing issues than Obama being elected. The late Paul Newman was an artist that was genuinely concerned with social change. R.I.P.

BS: So what about artists who sell their work in general-- and the art market in general? In your opinion is there something corporate about that? If you had the opportunity to spend one night in a mainstream gallery what would you do? Would you add to those works as well?

PB: There's nothing wrong with making a living off your own hard work. When it's done through a creative outlet it's especially desirable. I do have a problem with the art market. The market's primary function is to make money. This is accomplished by forging the artist's persona to fit the whims of the market. In other words the artist becomes a marketable brand. Like Pepsi and Corn Flakes there will be certain expectations of the artist. With brands it's good business to find a formula that works and stick with it.
Applying this practice to artists and their work is detrimental to the creative process. The purpose of the artist is to constantly question. I refuse to be a brand. However, I would work with a gallery or any organization willing to work with me, but it would be on my terms. So this doesn't come off as a total contradiction people should understand that my physical work will never be for sale. The point is to reach as many people as possible. Some sacrifices have to be made.

BS: I understand that you work is very public-- as in you will work freely within a high traffic area. What are some of the reactions you observe from people when doing you work?

PB: New Yorkers are very bright. The response is always positive because they understand the work. Many people laugh or smile. What more could I ask for?

BS: Can you go into further detail about the meaning of your work? What is the specific message that you strive to convey to viewers?

PB: In regards to art, I want people to understand that authorship, copyright, and originality are terms that should be excluded from the discourse of aesthetics. The idea of originality always bothered me. There has and always will be a precursor to your idea no matter how "original" it seems. Should we attribute the invention of graffiti to the Norwegian engineer Erik Rotheim? No more than we can say that amphibians produced the first line when they carried their slimy asses over the sand a few hundred million years ago.

In regards to social change, I want people to interact with their surroundings differently and reconsider private property. People should understand that there is a difference between what is legal and what is just. If there is a law that is outdated, impractical, and/or immoral, people have the right to challenge it. Remember, slavery was considered legal at one point. I consider the World's current modus operandi a modern day slave system. I intend to challenge it in any way I can.

BS: Can you describe your thought process when working on a mash-up? What concerns do you have while working? Is the work that you do intuitive or do you have a plan before starting? In other words, do you scope out an area in advance in order to plan out the piece or do you simply create as you go?
PB: I guess you can compare it to freestyling on a mic. Without anything planned I approach a station and work with the posters available. Armed with some knowledge of current events, creativity, and a razor I go to work. There are times when there isn't enough material at a given station so I'll destroy a few posters out of principle and move to the next station. My only concern is getting caught by authorities. I'm not afraid of controversy, but getting pinched would slow me down.

BS: There have been some critics of your work-- especially on art forums where your work has been discussed. I recall that one commenter described you as a “counterfeit Banksy” due to the fact that you remain anonymous. Others have suggested that you should be more open about your identity regardless of illegal issues since Shepard Fairey is very open about his illegal works and is known to document his activity on his website. Can you go into detail about why you have chosen to remain anonymous? Is Poster Boy an individual or do you see it as a movement-- is that why your identity is concealed?

PB: That's hilarious. I guess Banksy invented the idea of working anonymously. What I do is illegal. What more can I say? Those guys (Banksy and Fairey) are comfortable these days. I love their early work, but if they continued to push the envelope I bet they'd have a bandana on their face too. What's the easiest way to quell a revolutionary? Hand her/him a grip of money.
There's another reason for remaining anonymous. Going back to the issue of authorship I think people would be less inclined to participate in the Poster Boy "movement" if I attached an ego to the name. An artistic free-for-all. No copyright. No authorship. No ego.

BS: Why New York City?
PB: New York is the hotbed for aggressive ad campaigns. Besides, there's no place like home.

BS: Can you go into further detail about your concerns over mass media and corporate branding in the United States?

PB: Mass media is a blight. Plain and simple. We are force fed this stuff everywhere. Advertisers prey on our insecurities and attack us on every front. It's time we fight back.

BS: You have been called a revolutionary-- among other things-- do you see yourself in that light? Or do you try to avoid labels?

PB: I don't like labels at all. Humans beings are way too complex for labels. Revolutionary has a nice ring though.

BS: Do you document your work? Can people view it online? Any links?

PB: I try to make my work as accessible as possible. Due to the transient nature of my work I have a flickr account where my work is showcased: (coming soon)

BS: Finally, how long will you continue to do this? If your identity were to be made known would you stop? Or simply switch your methods in order to once again conceal yourself?

PB: I will do this for as long as it is needed. When public advertising is banned I will use the Poster Boy model to address other issues. Till then expect Poster Boy to push the envelope.
You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange


Anonymous said...

Good example of the new wave of street art that is returning to the roots of what street art is all about. Street art was never supposed to be commercial in its application.

Anonymous said...

Uh oh....

Anonymous said...

Hey are you guys gonna make a follow-up post about Poster Boy (supposedly) getting arrested? That would make some great bloggin' :D

Balhatain said...

Anon, indeed I am.

Anonymous said...

oh!! the excitement!
Oh the HYPE!!!
goes to prove there is nothing new under the sun!

Unknown said...

I heard PB was paid by MOMA when he did those subway ads...

AAKASH & PB Hit Up the Subway.and even still, whats wrong with getting paid to question other peoples ethics? Every Society needs a watchdog.

Jacob Holm said...

Poster boy. Your 'idea' is stolen from...advertising

In England the advertising agency made a billboard for John Bull Beer where half the poster were torn away and an other (fake) poster for a nonexisting Jewelery shop appeared. The two half headlines now said: She will be surpriced / when the lads is coming around for football.

So Poster Boy. You must love advertising for its originality and cleverness.

Try and be that...

From Copenhagen / Denmark