Taking It to the Streets | Interview: Elbow-Toe

Citizen LA | Citizen LA

“We Won the War. Graffiti is World Wide…it’s in Galleries. Now, it’s ART.”

In the new docu, Getting Up, icons of 70’s – 90’s ‘culture jam’ movement describe how the battle over NYC’s subway turf was lost.
The City wiped out the “words of the prophets…written on the Subway walls” as Simon and Garfunkle noted, by deploying stainless steel trains and militant cleaning crews. But because graff has since become ‘legit,’ infiltrating uptown galleries and proliferating globally, COPE2 declares a Win for street or graff art all the world over.

Not so fast. Here in California lawmakers under Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger are geared to launch a new strategic anti-graffiti weapons system.

Effective December 1, 2008 the former misdemeanor-only vandalism crime can be prosecuted as a FELONY, carrying a maximum thirty year prison term. Under the new Penal Codes parents may be charged restitution on damages perpetrated by minors. Plus, graffiti “art” supplies on hand can be found a criminal act: Possession of Vandalism Tools.

Before one flushes the wheat paste FIRST, at the perhaps more dire risk of rendering the loo thereafter useless in a police raid, one ought be mindful that mitigating circumstances DO include the dollar amount of (any) property damages and “creative expression.”

The new statutes may raise issues of economic bias by affording greater property protection in pricier real estate markets and, even cultural prejudice, given the subjectivity of one group’s treasure vs. another’s trash. Setting aside such questions to be taxed through the justice system, if fame and fortune constitute any proof of what amounts to “creative expression” value COPE2 IS spot on.

Street artists ARE showing at esteemed galleries, some achieving rock star fame usually enjoyed only posthumously in the art world.

Downtown homey “Obey,” aka Shepherd Fairy, graffic hero of the Obama HOPE campaign, and “Banksy,” whose show here last year bleeped across International radar depositing a cool mil in an off shore Banksy account, are common household names from the projects of Watts to Buckingham Palace. What starry-eyed, starving kid or inner child among us wouldn’t hope for our wall scrawls to make such high MARKS?
Indeed, the most prestigiously ‘schooled’ artists are turning to a duel life of crime in droves, earning street cred by night that well-supports their day shows.

Opening December 12, 2008 – January 2, 2009 two acclaimed NYC-based street artists, Elbow-Toe and ARMSROCK, will show at ThinkSpace Gallery in Silverlake. I caught up with Elbow-Toe preparing to cross the continent from his NYC toe hold to LA along a top-secret route. Armed with Google Maps, GPS navigation and graff contraband Elbow-toe aims to ‘bomb’ an unsuspecting Nation with his latest series, an artful statement on the credit crisis.

Heidi: When, at what age did you know you were an artist?

Elbow-Toe: I first knew I wanted to be an artist as a profession when I was 16, but I had a passion for making art from at least age 3 when I would spend massive amounts of time at an easel my parents bought me.

Heidi: Where and who did you study under?

Elbow-Toe: In college I studied primarily under the renowned illustrator James McMullen and the painter Gregory Crane.

Heidi: I read that your parents divorced when you were young, how did that impact your life/art, if at all?

Elbow Toe: My parents divorce forced me to move to a town called Plano, TX. I sort of became a hermit there, and art making became my solace.

Heidi: How long did you show in galleries before becoming a street artist?

Elbow Toe: I had been in a number of smaller group shows on and off for probably 5 years.

Heidi: I’m really taken with the timeliness of your current work. Please tell us a little more about that.

Elbow Toe: Thanks so much. I began the series earlier this year. I am an avid fan of public radio and it was pounding into my head the seriousness of the oncoming crisis.

Heidi: What connection does holding onto the past or to belongings have to the economic crisis?

Elbow Toe: I think that the idea of needing all these belongings is what got us to where we are at in the first place. In terms of holding onto the past, I see it more as a symptom of the crisis.

Heidi: How do you define depression? Economically, emotionally?

Elbow Toe: In both cases I would say utter stillness. In the case of the man with the piano, that is why he is struggling on in spite of it. In the series, he is the only individual moving forward.

Heidi: Do you think art will flourish or wane in this economy?

Elbow Toe: I think it will still flourish. It may not sell as well, but people need an outlet.

Heidi: How does a street artist get paid?

Elbow Toe: In cold hard cash. Ha ha.

Heidi: What inspired you to take to the streets?

Elbow Toe: I had been wait-listed at Columbia University’s Grad Program, and was feeling really stuck…I saw a book of NECKFACE’s work…I thought if he can put himself out there on the streets, why can’t I? And so I tried and was hooked.

Heidi: What City streets have you hit outside of the Big Apple?

Elbow Toe: London, Sydney and Melbourne primarily.

Heidi: Will we be seeing your work on the streets of LA? …Don’t worry I’m not a Nark, I swear.

Elbow Toe: Sure you aren’t :).

Heidi: Are you concerned your art is subject to the elements, including vandals on the street?

Elbow Toe: That is probably what has kept me going with street art. I love to see how the work changes.

Heidi: Any concerns about the permanency of your street art?

Elbow Toe: Nope, it’s part of the game. On the other hand, I am very concerned with the permanence of my gallery work.

Heidi: How do you decide on placement of your street work?

Elbow Toe: Recently, I have started to use the street view in Google maps to explore neighborhoods. I look for spots that the juxtaposition of my imagery would enhance, and vice versa.

Heidi: How do you avoid getting busted?

Elbow Toe: Paranoia.

Heidi: How do taggers react to your fine art work?

Elbow Toe: I used to have a bad habit, when I started out of showing them little respect by putting my art over their work. I think it is symptomatic getting started and not knowing the rules of the street. But the areas that I saw graff in seemed safe so I would put the posters up there. So I can understand why I would get very angry responses in the past.

Heidi: Did you adopt the Elbow-toe name to conceal your true identity?

Elbow Toe: I did. Though I wish I had chosen something cooler sounding these days.

Heidi: Ever show under your prior name at galleries now?

Elbow Toe: I unfortunately can’t say. But I hope to one day.

Heidi: How nervous are you about getting caught? Or is it a thrill?

Elbow Toe: It never was a thrill, and I am always very nervous. Keeps the waistline trim.

Heidi: How do passersby react to your work?

Elbow Toe: When I have had a passerby, they tend to react favorably.

Heidi: I love the spatial dimension you achieve in your street work. Can you share some of your secrets there?

Elbow Toe: Years and years of drawing and painting.

Heidi: Does placement or technique play a part in that?

Elbow Toe: I would say both placement and technique. You can achieve even more depth based on the surroundings.

Heidi: How important is it to you to communicate with your work?

Elbow Toe: That is the whole reason to make art for me—to communicate. …Due to the anonymity of using an alias, I think it makes it easier for people to find a hook into the work.

Heidi: What are your cultural roots?

Elbow Toe: Part Scottish, part German, ex New-Waver.

Heidi: Have you ever been tagged?

Elbow Toe: Sure.

Heidi: Have you ever used spray paint?

Elbow Toe: Not really, except in shows.

Heidi: What’s with the name?

Elbow Toe: Oh lord. I think I am going to have to put a moratorium on questions about the name 🙂

Heidi: Have you ever lost one of your street works?

Elbow Toe: I lose works all the time to the elements. But I always make more. It is just the natural flow of things.

Heidi: What motivates your work overall?

Elbow Toe: A need to be better than the day before, or the hour before. Theatre, Storytelling, Poetry…Understanding…

Heidi: Tell us about your day job in computers?

Elbow Toe: For the better part of a decade I was an award winning interactive programmer.

Heidi: What would be your dream street art caper? Your nightmare?

Elbow Toe: I often have daydreams of getting up really high, but I have a wretched fear of heights, so it is both my dream and my fear. …The constant fear is getting caught.

For more info visit www.elbow-toe.com