Trashfilter: So, are you still in your studio in Brooklyn? Last time I came to see you, you had that nice place over in Brooklyn… You had this amazing coffee table of military memorabilia that you’d compiled into a 3D montage…
Futura: The Stash studio! All gone… all gone. All archived and in storage! I transitioned from there and I’ve just got a new studio and place to work in the city: it’s just a painting studio. Not an office or anything any more, as I can do all that from home. That old neighbourhood in Brooklyn has really changed since you were last there. Everyone is living out there now and it became this ‘escape Manhattan’ destination – it’s on fire, in terms of traffic and people and shops. Totally transformed from what it was.
Would you say that a lot of things have drastically changed since that period? I’ve watched the whole ‘street art’ movement rear its head since then. I’ve witnessed multiple bad dealings with various galleries, watched people jump onto what they consider to be graffiti, had valuable pieces stolen from exhibitions, cringed at shoddy stenciled pieces all pushing the same imagery… And, worst of all, I’ve watched veterans and who I consider to be genuine and worthy writers and artists get totally overlooked. Finally, it seems to be settling down now that the bubble has burst for some of the less-deserving chancers out there. And, to me, it’s good to see people like KAWS still at the top of the tree.
So, when we first met that was in the offices near Carnaby Street (the original Unorthodox Styles/U-Dox offices) – and that was pre the whole streetwear/lifestyle/culture market explosion. All the sneakers/clothing/whatever thing took over and got totally overexposed for a while.
Now it’s a good time for me to slip back in somehow. And these guys here – at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont – seem very committed. This year is going to mark a real transition for me to start anew. I have this new studio in New York, I have this show here in Paris and these guys who are new investors in my work and my future. I’ve seen what’s going on and it’s awesome but all of what’s happening in the ‘street art’ spectrum can only help me in the end. I don’t want to be critical of it even if there are some people who I can’t help being critical of, if you know what I mean! Normally, I just try to embrace the whole thing so it can continue and some other people can get some opportunities off it too.
And, hey Brian (KAWS) gets paid!
Yeah, but to me he was always a graffiti writer first. When I met and interviewed him for Spinemagazine in 2004, I was fully aware of his solid letter styles, billboard batterings and pioneering bus stop advertisement adventures. He went out and did all of that off his own back and he’s a talented individual. And, you know what? He was the nicest and most humble guy I could have wanted to chat with. If I had the money, I’d buy his work all day long, not just because I like it but because I respect what he does.
Exactly: Brian is an amazing artist. He was clever enough to push certain elements of his work and iconography and make it totally work for him.
But I’d say that you did that even before he did with what you were doing with your own figures and icons. When we last spoke, you mentioned that you were moving away from painting your Pointmen figures because you didn’t want to get typecast for that very small part of your artistic arsenal…
I still am leaning away from that. Perhaps for personal requests or signings, but less so for the exhibition work.
Yeah – I’d noticed that in this exhibition there were no real characters in your new pieces, other than some of the atom icons.
That’s right: there’s nothing. And that’s the thing… It’s really hard too because it seems to be something that somebody wants. But the people here were very open for me to do what I wanted to do. I can still see things like that coming up again in the future, but where I am now, it’s not something that I particularly want to put out there in public right now.
My operation in Japan with Futura Laboratories… After everything that happened in Fukushima, I felt so bad that I just wanted to put my business in retreat for a minute. I didn’t want my staff guys out there feeling pressured about MY thing when they’re all dealing with that. How insignificant was my stuff in comparison, y’know? It’s good to put things in perspective and realise that my thing doesn’t really matter right now, so chill for a minute and take care of your lives. My operation over there has been really good and made sure I was able to put a few dollars in my pocket, but things are going to have to change slightly. Over the past decade I wasn’t really out there trying to do this (painting). I found other ways to make loot in the meantime.
Trashfilter: A lot of the more recent ‘street art’ exhibitions were never that interested in what had happened 15-20 years previously. I knew that you, amongst a very small group of other writers out there today, had been exhibiting since the early ’80s or exploring other avenues, such as working with Agnes B who helped launch you in France…
Futura: Big time. I mean, she’s not a collector: she is what I would term an investor. There are people out there who collect to invest – and I mean that in a positive way towards the artists – but they’re not just there to buy work. They’re there to help you to continue to create stuff.
That’s complimentary to you, isn’t it?
Oh, it is. And Agnes B been one of the biggest patriots of my work. And this is one example of how France has been really good to me. Paris has always been big for me. Many of the French writers and the New Yorkers who transplanted here in the late ’80s have found some opportunities through her.
At the moment, I’m thinking I might bring Futura Laboratories to an end. Because my idea was that I’m a small brand in a small town: I’m not trying to export to the world, even in good times before the recession hit, because of the duty charges, importation fees, the mark-up… y’know. It’s a hassle to sell this shit anywhere other than in Japan. it was never something like, ‘I’m gonna make lots of money of it’ – it’s more like a vanity project. "I got a little company, I make nice stuff…". The stuff is well made, but it’s all smaller items. But people get resentful sometimes if they can’t get access to this stuff. And maybe it’s not the right time to have that out there.
My son lived in Japan for 4 years – he speaks Japanese – and I was thinking of bringing him in, like ‘You could be that guy’. And my daughter is 21 and she can ride my coattails for a year or two and get a little experience, some opportunities and maybe a couple of trips. But my son doesn’t need me to take care of him the way I feel I want to take care of my daughter.
He’s established himself, as a creative person, in his own right.
Exactly. He was staying with people in my Japanese circle for a while….
He was staying with Hommyo from Atmos, right? I remember meeting up with Hommyo a while back and he had mentioned it then.
That’s right. He moved to Tokyo and worked with Hommyo, yeah. And how things worked out in the end, he was a good guy and was very generous. I haven’t seen him in a minute, probably since the Recon shops were still there..
That’s a good point to come to: you and Stash and the crew basically turned that small pocket of city in Manhattan into something pretty cool. Rivington, Eldridge… all those streets became places to go for a lot us visiting NYC. You guys and spots like Alife on Orchard pushed the boundaries that had been set by Soho.
Yeah, that was kinda funny how that all worked out. But, to be honest, the whole retail thing wasn’t really MY thing. And in the end I just wanted to bail. I could end up finding a company and just doing a licensing deal perhaps, because whether I like it or not, people do see a lot of what I do as a brand in itself. And that’s why the internet, in the end, is a big culprit in all of this. It’s awesome, but at the same time think about how the world has changed as a result of it. Without the web, none of this shit gets seen. Think about the way artwork is perceived now. I mean, honestly, without the web, who’s gonna even see this stuff? Who’s really gonna ever walk by a physical space in wherever these days and see anything? How many individuals are actually gonna see anything in real life now? Previous to what we do now, it was all word-of-mouth. Anything from, say, ’95 to the present… the last twenty years… it’s all digital or online. People tweeting three hundred times a day. It’s way out of control. Way out of control.
The advent of the web was good for me personally. I was able to make a transition from working in print to digital and then help start up U-Dox, Spinemagazine and Crooked with the guys back in London. And when I get frustrated with aspects of digital life, I have to remember that it’s been good to me, overall. I wouldn’t be here now probably if it wasn’t for that. And when we first came out to New York in 2000 or 2001 to meet you guys, it was a blind trip. We had no real idea what to expect, no guides to follow and no email connections, because that info wasn’t out there! We walked into the shops with printed portfolios and business cards and spoke to everyone. You probably wouldn’t do that now! But when you and I met, you were already pushing things digitally, far beyond what anyone else was really doing. You were a very early advocate of the internet and as a result had one of the most interesting websites out there.
Sure. I was trying to express myself through that new medium. And, in a way, I think that’s what I still do today. But I’m not doing it like other people. I have a completely different approach to it.
It hasn’t changed though.
Right. Like, the calendar on my site, Timothy – my son – designed. And that’s been good for the last five years and interesting with its daily photo… And every year my son’s like, ‘C’mon dad – let’s change it!’. But there’s no need. When you set something up well and it is what it is, you shouldn’t really fuck with it. Just let it run. All it needs is a new photo every day.
My Flickr account is much more ‘real’. The photo calendar on my website is more generic because what happens is that every day it just looks for a file that correlates with the code. Like tomorrow, it’ll be looking for 01_10 and the accompanying TXT caption file for that day. And the calendar format works off your clock on your computer. If you change your clock to 1990, there’d be nothing there. It’s really elegant but it’s also really smart. It knows what day it is, because it’s running off your computer. It’s all preloaded and no-one actually knows when the accompanying image is actually from. When I do put in a real ‘proof of life’ photo, such as holding a newspaper with today’s date or a ticket or something, those are always gems to put in and a couple of those go in every month. If I’m in New York and there are people over in New Zealand who are almost a day ahead, what about those guys? They’ve got to have an image to see! So that’s why it’s all taken care of behind the scenes.
That’s very considerate of you!
I think my web presence has always been considerate. I’ve got a lot of stuff on there, so enjoy yourself!
Trashfilter: When I look at the last decade of street art, things occasionally got a bit too commercially-minded for a minute, I think.
Futura: When that whole blogosphere thing was happening with all the websites and all these ‘guest’ people were being invited to write for them, I didn’t want it to be like ‘Yo, I’m Futura and this is the product I’m making and this is what I’m selling’. It was never about that.
But I don’t think that it ever came across like that though. Even when you were working with people like Zoo York or whoever, it wasn’t like you’d just stuck a few characters on it and bounced…
Oh, yeah, I mean there’s like 20 companies that I would’ve worked with during that period. And now I don’t want to be part of that any more. I was too nice with all my stuff and with every ‘friend’.
Those days are over and I don’t want to be that guy any more. I just want to take care of my family – my immediate, blood related family. Everybody in my immediate world right now, I wanna hook up. All that other stuff is still exactly the same as it’s always been: just promo and hype stuff. I don’t want to do that any more. I don’t even want to do my own thing any more! I just want to give it a break for a while: I’ll retreat to my studio, invest in some materials and bang out a lot of stuff so I can make a really nice selection from the result of that. I want to see how that goes for a couple of years, without all this other external shit going on. I’m gonna take more control: I’m gonna be 57! I need to take charge now. I’m not a ‘boss man’, but in my own internal quiet way, that’s how I am now.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, even though no-one will know that.
Trashfilter: When was your last exhibition?
Futura: Probably the ‘Pirate Utopias’ show with Jose Parla in London, back in 2007. There was this thing I did in L.A. maybe three or four years ago as a pop-up show and there have have been group shows, but not a one-man show.
I remember coming up to ‘Pirate Utopias’ to see you and asking the gallery owner if you were around and it was like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’. I appreciate that they’re busy and they probably have a hundred other people doing exactly the same thing, but it was a bit of a kick as well. I might have caught them on a bad day, but it seemed totally different to how some of the older spots and galleries handled their business.
A lot of those connections were spill-off from friendships and stuff, but they weren’t that real. I wasn’t totally psyched on that relationship either. The movement ‘crashed’, everything got downsized and that old studio with Stash in Brooklyn was lost and I’ve kinda been solo for a while now. Now, the fat is getting trimmed. I understand that there are always going to be some hangers-on around, but the noisier ones have been pushed aside for a minute. There’s no hate, no animosity, no bitterness with anyone: it’s all water under the sand and that boat sailed months ago. There’d be no point feeling like that: it’s negative energy. All the old stuff was just weighing everything down, that’s all. Consumerism is still hype, but everyone got everything they needed. This whole lifestyle that everyone was running on, I think they all got a rude awakening. There’s a better way to manage your shit.
Right. And cream rises to the top. The good stuff stands out now.
Exactly. Without some struggle, where’s that extra drive going to come from? It’s important that we did go through that, because mad people have been weeded out along the way. I see everything right now as really positive. My personal direction now, I’m really excited about.
Do you get asked a lot of the same questions by people who come to interview you? I’ve spoken with you for a number of things in the past, but you’re one person who I don’t get tired of talking to, even if the situation dictates that I need to go over a few ‘standard’ questions to get the feature done.
There was that one interview you did (for Spinemagazine), that was kinda like the whole mid-life thing, but it was pretty full-on! A lot of bases were covered there. In your own personal archive, you’ve got some scope and context as you’ve spoken to me a bunch of times in different situations.
Now it’s more like people asking why I haven’t been in the galleries or asking if I’m still painting. It’s like you said before – ‘did you hear of me in the ’80s? I kinda did that back then and got spit out and stepped upon.’ When the whole ’90s thing happened and we transitioned into the clothing thing and doing t-shirts, it was another way to exist without having to depend on being ‘just’ a painter. Whether that was diversifying what I did or was just a way to see if I could multi-task, I’m not sure. But now I’ve got the support of this gallery, I’m actually able to move forwards in creating work and not worrying about trying to find somewhere to paint or anything, which was the case.
Now it’s just on me to produce.
Trashfilter: Do you remember this piece? For many of us in the UK, it’s regarded as one of the first real graffiti pieces to be done here.
Futura: Oh wow! Absolutely!
I remember it was at Westbourne Park or Ladbroke Grove, with a writer named Skam who took me there. This would’ve been around the time of touring with The Clash.
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