City Kitty is a New York-based street artist whose been pasting his elaborately hand drawn figures all over three of NYC’s five boroughs and walls scattered throughout cities across the United States and Europe over the last five years. Now that City Kitty has created a strong social media presence – his work is also circulating around the internet.
With a new wheatpaste figure, sticker, or hand-crafted board going up almost every other day, City Kitty is arguably one of New York City’s most prolific street artists. He agreed to let me interview him about his process, style, and how he’s leaving his mark on New York City.
What’s the story behind your name, City Kitty or Gato de la Ciudad? When I lived in Bushwick my apartment was in an old sewing factory. On either side of the building were gangs of cats. I grew up in a house with way too many cats so I was comfortable trying to hang with the strays on the street – but if you didn’t have any food these cats didn’t give a shit. The original City Kitty image pays homage to the Bushwick cats. The Gato came about because where I lived was mainly Spanish-speaking – if these cats could speak, they would speak Spanish.
How long have you been putting work up on the street? 5 years as City Kitty.
What about the street appeals to you as the canvas for your work? I’m drawn to the freedom of putting up whatever one wants on the street. I’m also fascinated by people’s reaction to street art. When you put something on the street you connect with the general public, not just people who go to galleries or museums.
Do you think gentrification is hurting street art in New York City? This is a heavy question. There is an ebb and flow to the street art and Graff scene in NYC. Areas get saturated. Once an area becomes too fancy authorities crack down and then street art pops up somewhere else. There will always be a street art scene in NY. That being said, there are a number of spots I used to love going to put up that have either disappeared or are now covered by sanctioned murals.
How do you select the walls where you put your work up? This decision regarding where to put up street art has always intrigued me. There are really no rules so each artist makes up their own parameters. I won’t start a wall but, if there is something up I will join in. Also if a door has all tags I usually won’t add to it, trying to respect the different mediums.
You also have some familiar haunts like 190 Bowery – I’ve seen a lot of your larger pieces there and it sort feels like you’ve claimed that spot. What’s your relationship with that building? I have worked around this building for the past five years. It’s an amazing building and I love to see its evolution. I’m also a big Fan of Jay Maisel’s work. His portraits of New Yorkers in the 50’s and his cover for Kind of Blue are awesome.
You worked across all mediums, aerosol, woodcuts, stickers, postal stickers, but mostly really elaborate hand drawn and colored wheat pastes. Do you have a favorite medium? And after spending so much time on creating a piece do you ever feel protective or possessive of it? I’m wondering if it’s hard to see your pieces weather or get defaced by other artists? I’m a mixed medium artist. It is all about the final product for me. As for being protective about my work – it took a while to learn how to let go. I had a great graff book as a kid called “The Art of Getting Over” by Stephen Powers. It speaks of the ephemeral nature of the art form. I put pieces up and I hope it lasts a bit but it’s up to the world at that point. Sometimes the decay can be just as beautiful as the original. I think Swoon it the master at this. Her work looks great in all stages.
How much time do you spending creating the larger wheat paste figures? I can crank out one or two in a day if I’m pressed for time. Otherwise I will work on one at a time and give myself two nights to do a piece so I can have some time to look at it to see if it needs changes. I make one every other week.
Can you tell me about your figures: I’ve noticed most are men – all seem to have three eyes, two noses, and most are smoking. This series is a throw back to when I used to draw gig posters for bands about 10 years ago. They are fast and loose in comparison to my paintings and much larger in scale. I have drawn a few women but maybe two out of the fifty plus I have made. I’m a guy so it’s easier to draw what you are. As for the smoking I have never been a smoker, but I always thought it looked cool and it helps create a mood.
Can you talk about some of the different type of City Kitty characters – I’ve seen cartoon characters like Star Wars, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the Muppets, and one City Kitty that’s based off I real person – like the Dusty Rebel kitty (Dusty Rebel is street art photographer based in New York City). The different adaptations of the original City Kitty image are a way for me to tap into my childhood. I grew up watching a lot of cartoons and was influenced by these characters. I also get sick of putting up and coloring the same image over and over. You have to play with it or it starts to feel like work.
Do you think you’ll evolve out of City Kitty image and characters? I’m not sure. I think the big deciding factor would be if I move out of NYC. I color most of the silkscreen-prints while I’m traveling via train or plane. It’s an enjoyable and productive way to pass the time. If I moved somewhere where I would need a car again and lose that time. I would have to reevaluate this avenue.
Speaking of getting around – City Kitty is getting up all over the world recently. Is there a city you felt embodied the street art scene/movement? Every city has it’s own feel, the type of work that goes up and the artists that saturate that scene. In my travels I have found that every country has at least a few cities with pretty exciting scenes where you’re not looking over your shoulder the whole time. Some of my favorites are London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Montreal. But there are so many places I’ve yet to see.
One thing I really enjoy is finding pieces that interact with another artist’s work – like you are having a conversation on the street. I’m wondering if you have a lot of relationship with other street artist in the city? And do you draw on other artists for inspiration? I love street collaborations though I’m a greater fan of ad bombing. It poses a different challenge. When well thought out both situations can be pretty awesome. I don’t really know that many other street artists. As for inspiration I draw on everything from travel to all genres of art. I love street art and graff but I have also worked in galleries and museums for years, which keeps me linked into new artists in that realm. Some of my favorite artists are Donald Roller Wilson and James Turrell.
Are there any other street artists whose work you closely follow in NYC? There are many artists around NYC whose work I admire and look up to but none that I follow closely. I love finding new works on the street of artists I admire rather than seeking it out. Though I like QRST, LMNOP, Foxx Face, CB23. Rea, RWK. There are really too many to list.
Would you like to see City Kitty pieces hanging in a gallery? I have shown a little bit of street art with galleries and would be interested in doing more.
Are there any plans for a City Kitty Mural/Wall? I will cross that bridge when I have the opportunity. I have never been offered one. I’m not sure that people know I can paint.
City Kitty now has a presence of Instagram and Facebook. Why did it take you so long to get your work online? I never really thought about it the first few years. Once I did the panels for Woodward Gallery my friend told me I really should have some sort of online presence. I did a lot of research to see what other people where sharing. I tend to be a shy and private person. Also street art is illegal.
Have you ever had any problems with the police? Once in Brooklyn a few years ago.