How did you get into designing and how did you improve your skills?
I’ve always been into it, since I was a little kid, drawing on paper, walls, myself, whatever. Just constant practice, lots of influences, and education is how the skill and talent has evolved since those days. I took every art class my pre-college schools offered, and have a BFA from Syracuse University for illustration and graphic design.
When did you establish Esoteric Design?
I started it officially right after I graduated college, in 2000.
How would you define your signature style?
That’s a tough question. My style, in my opinion, is always evolving. Every piece I do I try to go somewhere with it that I’ve never been before, always trying new things, new techniques, new media, etc. Mostly because I’d get bored quick if I didn’t, but also to consciously challenge myself and become better at what I do. If I had to choose words to describe my general style, I would pick words like graffiti-influenced, urban, dirty, graphic (as in like high contrast, sign-type graphic, not porn graphic), loose but tightly controlled, somewhat dark, typography-influenced, etc. Sort of in the vein of ‘Street Art’, but I don’t really like to use that term, I think it cheapens the art to most of the general population.
New York, Soho in particular, is known for its endless artistic possibilities and exhibitions. How has living in New York contributed to your development?
I’ve had several shows in NYC, and many other shows around NY state that I’m sure have been possible partly because of the scene here. Hiphop and graffiti started here more or less, so in my opinion there’s no better or more real place to exhibit hiphop-oriented work, and opportunities for career advancement in the NY art scene are endless. On the other hand, because of the same reasons, it’s that much harder to be noticed in a scene like this. There are so many people trying to do their own thing at the same time, to stand out you have to be that much more unique in your work, that much more driven and ambitious. It’s tough, but because the competition is so intense, your work gets better much quicker. You really have to be at the top of your game. My art, I believe, has developed much more quickly in recent years because of this influence and competition.
Where do you get your inspiration from and what influences your art?
I would say my artistic and creative development recently has taken the most influence from general citylife and urban surroundings. The constant decay and renewal of man-made structures really interests me visually, especially buildings, factories, rusty things, heavy machinery, trains, fences, all kinds of vehicles, subways, bridges, old signs, old decaying advertising, and of course people of all different types are a constant influence. Seeing thousands of different kinds of people all the time really puts images in my head to create characters and ideas with later on. I’m also influenced by other peoples’ work – I’m constantly checking out other art, even if I hate it, just for the educational value and to keep up on what’s going on.
You designed posters and other art for a wide range of companies and exhibitions, ranging from medical university to graffiti events. How did you get your first break into the mostly underground graffiti industry?
‘Breaking’ into the graf scene isn’t really how I would describe it “" more of a slow acquisition of the different parts of the scene. I became interested in graf around 96-97 when I first got to college, and started getting really into hiphop in general. I knew graffiti was the branch of hiphop I was destined to be involved with, considering my interest in art. From that point on, I just started making mental notes of all the graf I’d see all over the city, tags, bombs, pieces, trains, everything. A couple years later after many poorly executed sketchbook attempts, I started writing publicly, and haven’t stopped since. The ‘legitimate’ art I create at home is now heavily influenced by the graffiti, and vice versa. From writing graf and just being into hiphop and going to shows and club nights, I’ve come to know a lot of locals in the scene, and getting shows is just an extension of that, talking to heads and spreading stickers and shit around. It doesn’t take long if you’re truly about it.
From time to time you work on special items like graffiti painted model freight cars and painted sneakers. What is the most memorable, the most awkward and the most difficult special item you worked on?
Most Memorable: probably my first hat I painted on. I bought two blank hats just to mess around with after a friend of mine had experimented and it took me months to get to them because I was unsure how successful they would turn out or even what kind of techniques I would use, and that kind of scared me, and I really procrastinated”¦but eventually I just did it and I loved how it turned out, and I’ve done more than 30 more since that one.
Most Awkward: people. I’ve painted on people before, and the way the skin moves and feels under the brush or marker really forces you to work with the media differently. Not to mention the fact that both you and whoever you’re painting on most of the time are in some kind of uncomfortable position that can’t be held for too long. Plus I really can’t stand it when I have people watching me work, especially when the person watching is who I’m doing the work for. I have lots of respect for tattoo artists because of these reasons”¦
Most Difficult: probably the hand painted model freights. A lot of artists who do these use paint markers and just cover the freight entirely with the piece, making it look like a whole car graf piece. I tend to paint them with brushes, and I do them as if the graf pieces on the sides of the freights are to scale, smaller, like most freight pieces you see (4-5 pieces across the bottom edge of the freight), so if a photo is taken of it, it looks more realistic. Not that whole car pieces aren’t real, I just mean that I try to replicate line widths, fills, and dimension to scale. I even add rusty streaks and buff paint to add to the realism. This type of work is really difficult to do so small, like one-bristle brushes and shit.
Tell me more about your affinity with hip-hop and how it influences your work.
The hiphop lifestyle is something that has really appealed to me for at least 10 years now, and learning more about the culture has just made me want to be more of a part of it, through my art and every other part of my life. The values real hiphop is about are incredibly positive and beneficial, and living with those in mind has no doubt influenced how I put paint to canvas or concrete. Real hiphop teaches acceptance, positivity, unity, progression through competition and celebration of life through music, and I take those values and apply them to visual work. I consider a blank canvas like a plugged in mic for a battle MC, and all the other artists out there are the other MCs ready to destroy me if I’m not on top of my shit, if I don’t bring it the hardest.
Is there a specific event or a certain artist for whom you would like to design poster or cover art in the future?
Not a specific single event, but the types of events I enjoy designing stuff for the most are always music-related, like club show flyers, party flyers, bboy competitions, graffiti jams, hiphip shows, record album art, album promo posters, etc. I’d definitely like to do some work with guys like KRS, the whole DefJux crew, Non-Phixion, Pete Rock, Premier & Guru, Jean Grae, Common, 7L & Esoteric, Immortal Technique, MF Doom, Kool Keith, etc. Really though, any musician (not strictly hiphop, either) who’s real about their craft and hungry for it, I’d be down to work with. I don’t care about working with big names, just real people and real ideas.
You also released your own clothing line, 1000Styles. Tell me more about it and why you decided to go that route.
1000styles is really just a small branch of my illustration and design business, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a clothing line, although that is the goal someday. Right now, 1000styles consists of one-off hats and screeprinted t-shirts. For the Ts, I only put out two or three designs a year right now, as much as I have time to do. The hats are pretty ongoing, since they’re one-offs and they sell really well. It’s a way for me to apply my art to a product that anyone can have access to and enjoy on a day to day basis. Not everyone can afford original art or prints, but anyone can buy a t-shirt or a hat, and it tends to be a more justifiable purchase for a lot of people because it doesn’t just sit in a frame on a wall, it can be worn and seen by your friends and other people.
What does the process look like of you designing apparel that is appealing to you as well as to the target group?
It’s very simple “" I design stuff I would wear personally, and so far my luck has been good, a lot of other people want to wear it too! I try to keep the same philosophy as with my non-wearable fine art: I create pieces I enjoy creating and that I think push my abilities and further my style, and if people like it and want to buy it, cool. If not, that’s fine too. I’m not going to change my subject matter or methods or compromise my vision in an attempt to be more “successful” or financially well off. I often have to compromise design in my commercial design business to please clients, I’m not going to do it with my personal, more ‘fine art’ type work. I consider my clothing and hats more fine art than commercial “" although I have been doing more custom hats lately (which I would classify as commercial), so there’s an exception to every rule!
What are your long-term goals in this industry?
To quit my 9-5 design job as soon as I am able, to concentrate on the freelance thing entirely. Just to continue doing more and more of what I love “" hiphop and music-based art and design in all forms, as well to continue meeting new people within these cultures and work with existing heads to further this movement in a positive direction as much and for as long as possible.
What other things do you have on your plate now and in the future?
I have several art shows coming up this summer, a b-boy festival in Boston in June that I’m vending at, I have many projects in the works for skate deck designs, and art for a couple hiphop albums with some indie cats that will be out soon. I’m also going to be doing some one-off sneakers soon, tons more hats, and I plan to have at least two more t-shirt and hoodie designs out for sale on my site before the season ends.
For more information, visit www.esotericdesign.biz and www.myspace.com/esotericdesign