Myth is a Brooklyn based street artist who uses superhero imagery juxtaposed with political statements meant to confront passersby with a wide range of social issues from animal cruelty to class and gender inequality.
Street art is political for Myth, and though he doesn’t view himself as an artist, he’s passionate about the art form. He has a firm grasp on the history and evolution of graffiti and the street art movement in New York City.
At first glance, superheros and cartoon character’s from the Simpsons or Bob’s Burgers quoting political figures like Chairman Mao or offering advice on cruelty-free diets might seem like an odd paring of image and message, but they are a perfect fit for Myth because the characters help focus the viewer’s attention on the message.
And like many of the superheros he uses as source material, Myth is very protective of his personal identity. I’m happy Myth agreed to meet with me to talk about his artwork and his general thoughts on street art in New York City. Here’s our conversation:
Why did you pick Myth as your street name? I don’t consider myself an artist, I just really wanted to put stuff on the street. I’ve always been around graffiti, so when I started doing Myth, it was sorta out of boredom. I had moved to Ashville, North Carolina. I’m from here . . . but I moved down there and was really, really bored. And I was like, man I really miss graffiti. There was no graffiti there. So I started doing stencils of mythical figures . . . just thinking it was kinda funny. So, I went with the name Myth . . . and even though it has no relevance in terms of what I do now, I liked the name.
What do the initials GDS mean? A friend of mine, when we were younger, we would imagine that we had a graffiti crew . . . so we came up with GDS, which stands for gravediggers – and this is going to sound super nerdy, but its a combination from Shakespeare in Hamlet – the gravediggers kind of stick it to the upper-classes. And then it comes from a Rosa Luxemburg quote: “capitalism is a historical necessity, so are its gravediggers the social proletariat.” So the GDS is a super nerdy joke between me and my friend.
How long have you been putting work up as Myth? I started in Ashville . . . but here in Brooklyn, I started about two years ago.
Do you still do graffiti writing or just the paste ups? You mean writing like tagging? Recently, I’ve been getting annoyed with paste ups, not so much doing them, but they get ripped down real fast . . . and i don’t know why. Or they get buffed over . . . I’ve started doing these things, which I’ve dubbed “myth-isms” – where I’ll put “Dreams are a myth,” or “Life is a myth.” Recently, I’ve started doing things that are not a myth. Like, “Poverty is not a myth.” But, I don’t do the writing in a graffiti type of aspect – It’s always been about the message for me.
This summer, Brooklyn Street Art posted a profile on your work titled, “Myth Puts Vegans on the Street Art Menu” and while some of your work does focus on veganism, you also address a host of other political issues from class to gender — Yeah, I don’t think of myself as the vegan guy. Yes, I’m vegan and it’s important to me, but veganism is just one part of my whole kind of thing. I consider myself a socialist. And part of socialism for me, at least, is that I’m against any kind of exploitation. And I’ve always seen animal use and abuse as the ultimate exploitation. These animals have no say in their lives and they are being used for profit or for entertainment – which as a socialist just makes sense to be vegan. So most of the stuff that I do is driven towards the idea of an anti-class system. The veganism just kind of comes out . . . and its something that amuses me actually. Like I’m not one in my everyday life who goes around and says, “Hey I’m vegan, what you do is wrong!” I don’t do that. I just do it on the street to remind people its there.
So, I want to talk to you about your style. You use cartoons of easily recognizable figures that are paired with . . . like your storm piece uses a Chairman Moa quote . . . so it’s an interesting juxtaposition of image and message. That comes from the soviet propaganda starting from the Bolsheviks. They used a lot of images attached with the soviet message, and as a kid when I would see Soviet imagery, everyone looked like a superhero. There were huge peasants with big muscles carrying bushels of hay and wielding hammers. And I wanted to try to use that same kind of concept. Like, what would happen if I used superheros or pop icons . . . figures that people could grasp and easily relate too, but yet they are saying the most revolutionary things that can be said. Things that they wouldn’t normally do. So I was kind of trying to play with that soviet imagery of the superhero as the ultra worker. I find it funny. I don’t know if other people get it.
Do you play with placement? The Futurama character who says “it hurts to be boiled” is — on a sushi place. yeah. That was actually my first purposeful placement. Most of the stuff, i just look for a spot where it’s not going get messed up too soon. But I thought it would be really funny to put that on a sushi place.
Do you primarily stay in Brooklyn with your work? Well, I live in Brooklyn and I work 9 to 5, so I’m pretty exhausted when I get home, so the idea of going out and pasting in Manhattan is kind of rough. I’ve done it a couple of times, and it’s just so many people and I get so worried. I’ve done a few wheat pastes in Manhattan, but not as much as I would like too.
You mentioned your stuff gets taken down really quickly. Do you think that’s because of the message or the character? I wonder. I wonder if it is because of the message, which for me starts to put me in a weird ego place, where I’m like my message is provoking people. Which would be cool if that were true, but I’m wondering if I’m jumping to conclusions on that. I think it has more to do with the familiarity of the character. I think people are like, “Oh this would look so cute of my fridge” sorta thing.
So earlier in our conversation you mentioned that you don’t consider yourself an artist, but your series #bringbackourrebelgirls – I mean that was a really great series. That was really important to me actually. That was hard. It was hard for me to do. I can;t draw. Like if you were like draw me, Spiderman right now, it would come out so disproportionate and so on. But if I look at a picture than I can copy it. and the Bring back our Rebel girls was the first time that I used photos of real people to draw. It was important to me because, again it comes down to a social media thing because I was getting really annoyed with the bring back our girls and a way that the message was getting obscured . . . So I thought of all these women that were important to me and that would be important to these girls who had been abducted. and I thought, I’m just going to do this. And I guess that puts me in the artists realm. But, again I guess that comes down to the definition of whats an artist? For me an artist is something that can create something from scratch.
Does that make it harder to let go of a work when you put it up on the street? It’s hard, yeah. Especially when something has a meaning and a sentimental value. It gets difficult.
Do you check in on your work? When it’s in the neighborhood, yeah. Like the bob’s burger stuff that I did, which BrooklynStreet Art jumped on, which was awesome and I loved it because people were interacting with those. There were a lot of photos of those on instagram . . . like people posing with them. And I was like this is amazing. This is what I want. I want people to laugh or to blow it off, but I want that reaction. And those . . . they got painted over in two days and I almost cried. I was like no, why did you do that? People were digging those! And I don’t think that was because of the message per say but fact that people were posting these photos and the message was there, I was stoked.
What is it about street art or graffiti that appeals to you? Well as a kid, I grow up in the south Bronx in the 70s. It was the birth of graffiti in New York and I was around it. It was exciting and you would see stuff on trains and it was visceral. It made you feel like these were our streets, these are our trains, this is public space. Even if the kids weren’t thinking about it at the time, i certainly wasn’t, it was a visceral energy that drew me too it immediately. As I got older I became obsessed with art. I started paying attention to Warhol and then Keith Haring came out and then Basquiat. it became an obsession. And by the time I was really old enough to pay attention in the mid-90’s there was an exploding street art scene in New York. so I missed that energy and I wanted to be a part of it. You asked earlier if I wanted to in a gallery and I have no desire for that. For me its purely the streets. I want to communicate with people as they walk and I want to be a part of the actual experience.
So you don’t want to sell stickers for example. No, I don’t. I’ll make them for people if they want them and give them away. You know, I love free art friday, its one of my favorite things which has sorta popped up around the street art scene lately. I love the idea people create and here take it. Go find and it and its yours.
So you’ve witnessed an evolution in street art in this city, what do you think about its current state? I think its weird. One of the things that drew me to street art outside of the graffiti world is that there was a message attached. Whether it was social or personal, there was something attached. And now, it seems to be arbitrary. It’s a lot of art for art’s sake. Which is awesome. It’s beautiful to walk around here and see these awesome murals from talented people. But I feel like the street art here in the US is losing some of its confrontation. . . But street art is in such weird place right now. It’s so popular and the mural circuit is ridiculous. I’ll look at the Bushwick Collective or the Art Basal and the Wynwood walls and I’ll look at the instagram of the these artists and they are living it up . . . so I see all these artists that I’ve met and they are liven this bourgeois art life. And during art basal was when all the protests started when the verdict came out for Eric Garner. And at art Basal there was no outcry. You have Shepard Fairey there and other people who are sorta known for their social slant they weren’t doing anything.
But even here there wasn’t that much – only ImNopi – well yeah, she is on point, she is on top of everything. But yeah, there wasn’t any real public out cry from the artists. Which brings me back to the point that a lot of art is for art’s sake. It’s losing its message.
They did seem collectively galvanized over Charlie Hebdo. Well yeah, that’s a magazine so it’s aligned with freedom of expression. So a lot of artists got on that. But when it comes down to the real people stuff, I’m not seeing a lot from everybody. I guess Danielle Mastrion did the Michael Brown piece for Ferguson, but where is everyone else?
So if you were offered a wall for a Myth mural? I totally would. I’ve actually been protecting with spray paint because, like I’ve said the wheat pasting is getting frustrating. I want something that is a little more permanent.
How do you feel between the relationship and social media? It’s super important for street art. For me especially. My stuff gets ripped down so quick its like as long as danap07 – I don’t know her real name, but if she gets a shot of it, I’m stoked because now its living on the internet forever.
So I’ve followed you for a while on instagram, and one thing I’ve always found interesting about you as an artist, is that you don’t only post your own work. Well, I used too. But then I started another instagram . . . because I wanted to interact with people, like I would be posting something from CB23, but I didn’t want CB23 to know who I was. So, I started another account so that I could interact with people.
So you don’t have a relationship with other street artists? I do, but not as Myth. I a lot of people who interact with in street art don’t know that I’m Myth.
Do you ever give someone a head’s up that your going to paste something? Not generally, because I don’t want — I’m afraid to release where something is because I’m afraid someone is going to take it. ANd I really want the message to get across. So longevity is best for me, if I can get longevity for something – it makes me really excited.
Are there any other street artists that inspire you? For different reasons. Like El Sol, I think what he does is brilliant. I love idea of collecting images and putting them out. He’s just extremely talented. QRST, is an incredible artist. I terms of pure visceral stuff, I love Mr. OneTeas. I love his attack on McDonald’s and corporate food. It’s on point and he’s a vandal. I love Icy and Sot. I love anything that I can connect too immediately. And I love Jerkface – he’s one of the few artists that know that I’m myth.
Well you guys have a very similar theme – Right – we take these pop culture figures, but he takes it on in an artistic manner and I take it on in a visceral street manner. But I love his energy.
So where do you see Myth in say, five years? I just take it as it comes. Like, I’ve decided to lay low on pasting until the weather warms up. So I’ve been painting a lot and I have all this source material – but I wonder, what am I going to do when I run out of quotes? Or run out of superheroes? I don’t know. But, I still want to be able to communicate on the street.