Self-Portrait 2, all works shown here circa early 2008
I thought he'd be a great person to interview, and I was right; I found him to be an exceptionally eloquent conversationalist, as you'll see. Coincidentally, his work and some of the things we discussed are surprisingly timely in regards to the controversial arts funding in the government bailout and other things I've been talking about here. In addition, though it was wholly unintentional, Public Art has become a bit of a recurring subject here on Architextures. I've expressed my adamant support for those doing public art and why in previous posts, but I do consider it a noble cause. For your enjoyment, here's my interview with Poster Boy.
Ryan Witte: My first question has to be, are you the real Poster Boy, or are you an imPoster?
Poster Boy: Everyone has a little Poster Boy in them. Some have more than others.
RW: Because of a couple of clues, I have this suspicion that you went/go to the School of Visual Arts, where I went to college. You don't need to comment on that, but was/is there anything about the institution of college you think was/is not what it should have been?
PB: You have a good eye for detail. I'm assuming you're referring to the "irony" note on one of the flickr shots. Tuition is a bitch and the text books are the overpriced heels she dons (I'm trying to be funny, not sexist). But it should come as no surprise because the educational system is a business operating within a capitalist framework. I don't think I was ever aware or prepared for that stark reality. Even though there are many things I'd have liked to change, there is nothing I regret. Everything I've been through has lead me to where I am.
RW: Normally I'd ask about an artist's studio or materials, but that doesn't really apply to you. Are you restricted by the time of day? In other words, I imagined that the best time to do what you do would be at three or four in the morning, not when I'd feel terribly productive, myself. You also seem to choose some fairly busy subway stops. Do you otherwise tend to like out-of-the-way stops that don't see a lot of foot traffic?
Poor, Odors, and Mind Your Manners
PB: I don't have the time or the desire to be roaming around the underground during the wee hours of the morning. I've done many pieces during rush hour. It's easier to blend in when people are around you. There are some great out-of-the-way stops, but then you reduce the chance for people to appreciate the physical pieces.
Not a Movie
RW: How do the cops act, usually?
PB: They never get to see the magic happen, and I never stay long enough for their reaction.
RW: Have you had other people stand around and watch or do they mostly just give you a look and then go on with their commute?
PB: Some laugh. Some grimace. Most stand around and watch until their train arrives.
RW: Do some stops seem to get ads you like better than others?
PB: Not really, but I do notice that all the Equinox gym ads are in Manhattan. It's understandable. None of my friends in Bushwick have a membership.
RW: Some might suggest that unless a work of art gets seen by an audience, it fails to ever really become alive, and that the larger that audience is, the more profound an affect or influence the work can have on our culture. On top of that, your work is inherently temporary, destined to be removed or destroyed.
PB: I agree. I'd even go so far as to say that the viewer makes it art, not the artist.
RW: Approaching the visual arts as a form of communication, as I most certainly do, I'd have to think you're right. Of course, we then run into the problem that many viewers of abstract art, for instance, and for sure graffiti, have immediately made the judgement "that's not art." Possibly what they really mean, though, is that the piece isn't communicating with them, for whatever reason.
PB: Therein lies the beauty of art. The work exists as art to some but not others. However, both are right. Who am I to say the naysayers are wrong? If it isn't art to them then it isn't art. But as long as there's one person that believes it to be art then it exists as art. Once in a while there comes an artist that convinces most. Only time will tell what kind of artist, if any, Poster Boy is.
Your Mom Is Anti-Painting
RW: So where would you draw the line between becoming a tool of the commercial gallery art world and the importance that could have for carving out a place for yourself in the History of Art over the long term?
PB: On a long enough timeline, everyone disappears--some faster than others. The same applies to the artwork. You can use the best archival materials and techniques, but in the end it doesn't matter. I've always been impatient, so why not toss or recycle the work immediately? Our obsession with hoarding and amassing material objects stems from our fear of death and mistrust of nature. Besides, there's enough shit out there collecting dust. I would, literally, draw a line over [Takashi] Murakami's head.
RW: It's true that physical media has always been unavoidably degradable. But you bring up an interesting point here, because I'm tempted to wonder, in the Information Age, if anything ever disappears. I think of digital images, hosted and re-hosted, emailed and forwarded and hosted again, from network to network. If it were an embarrassing shot of me caught with my pants down, I'd fear it would exist forever in cyberspace. Even three-dimensional objects can be scanned, mapped extremely accurately, and converted into virtual objects composed of information, which conceptually, can never degrade.
PB: Doesn't virtual media rely on physical contrivances?
RW: Well, yes, of course, although I suppose I mean that the internet as a whole entity doesn't really have a physical presence locatable in space. It only really exists as digital information floating around.
PB: Even the most sophisticated devices are subject to the laws of the universe. I'm no techie, but I'm sure there are, or will be, viruses that will introduce Murphy's Law to the virtual world. As for the "picture" with your pants down: it might outlive you, but as long as you had fun, who cares?
RW: I always try to be having fun when I have my pants down.
Does a work of art lose its integrity when it becomes a product and a commodity?
PB: It depends on the intentions of the artist and the taste of the viewer. If the sole intention of the artist is to make money, then commodification is desirable. The art is then a product, subject to supply and demand like any other market. Does it lose its integrity? That's up to the viewer.
RW: I have to believe everyone has a "price."
PB: You have the right to believe anything you want.
RW: If some big, fat advertising agency said you could name your fee--any amount you want--to design a campaign for them, would you do it?
PB: I've had several very fat ad agencies approach me in hopes of marketing Poster Boy. Let's just say I won't be getting that follow-up interview. I'm willing to work with anyone, but on my own terms. I would love to work with those big wigs. My ideal campaign would be to light every billboard on fire for a new line of bullshit energy drinks. I can see the headlines now: "Advertising Genius or Asshole Arsonist?"
RW: [LOL] Not a fan of the energy drinks, huh?
New World (tap) Water
PB: Not a big fan of stuff I don't need.
Mossy Tiles 2
RW: What if the MTA asked you to do a mosaic scheme for the renovation of a station?
PB: ...I might do it, but it wouldn't be done as Poster Boy.
RW: How do you feel about Tom Otterness' sculptures at the Fourteenth Street station?
PB: I think they're very comforting. I found myself sitting on his "feet" many times while waiting for the A, C, E. I'm still waiting for him to design trains so they look like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
RW: One of your biggest targets seems to be the garbage foisted on us by Hollywood and mainstream television. If you go to the movies or get a DVD, what do you watch?
PB: Since I don't watch TV or listen to the radio, I usually go by word-of-mouth. I'm a sucker for a good love story and I like Campy, but I absolutely love bad movies. There's nothing better than laughing at scenes that aren't supposed to be funny. And remember, support your local movie pirate/bootlegger.
RW: Love stories are a bit of a surprise.
PB: People wouldn't normally associate Love with the kind of work Poster Boy produces. That mentality is part of what I'm challenging. In actuality, Love plays a huge role in what I do. Love is what gives me the courage to go out and make work regardless of the consequences. In a time when oligarchies are controlling the masses with fear, we have to realize that love for ourselves and our fellow man/woman is the only way to become free.
RW: That's a beautiful sentiment, really, and no doubt true.
I'm also not going to touch your piracy statement, but oh boy, do I ever love me some bad movies. Did you ever see Robot Monster? That one is so deliciously awful.
PB: Never seen Robot Monster, but I'm already digg'n the title. I'll have to check it out.
RW: How are we brainwashed?
PB: Christ, where do I start? I'll just say that the plantation has grown exponentially since slavery. We're whipped by the media and our minds are shackled.
RW: Come on now, let's be honest; you don't trust the media, do you?
Toulouse-Lautrec or Andy Warhol?
PB: Can't beat Lautrec's elegance, but Warhol gave the best interviews.
RW: I can totally hear his answers to some of my long-winded questions above: "Sure." "Yeah." "Okay."
Communism or Anarchism?
PB: Whichever allows us to coexist with the rest of planet earth.
It's Britney, Bitch!
RW: Are you the future of graffiti art?
PB: I'm content with being the present.
RW: [LOL] Great answer.
If you've seen people's reactions to your pieces without them knowing you're the artist responsible...
RW: What's been the best reaction so far?
PB: The double-take during rush hour is always nice.
RW: Thanks for taking the time out for the interview, it's been very interesting speaking with you!
©2009, Ryan Witte
The interview above is not intended to imply that the author endorses unlawful behavior.