WORD ON THE STREET: AN INTERVIEW WITH B.D. WHITE

It’s been a very good month for Brooklyn based artist, B.D. White, who just wrapped his one-night show a Anderson’s Martial Arts Academy in New York City. The artist called the near sell-out show a “huge success!”

White was also recently profiled in the New York Times in an article titled, “The ‘Street-Level’ Artist.” The reporter followed the 31-year-old artist (who happens to use a wheelchair after a high school sports injury), through out Williamsburg and the lower east side during the early morning hours has he placed several pieces on the street in the run-up to his gallery show.

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© A Tribe of Our Own

Long before all the media attention and the commercial success of gallery showing, B.D. White has made the streets of New York City his personal gallery. For nearly three years the artist has brought his social and political messages directly to the people. He shared his thoughts on his process, his recent show, and his experience of being a street artist in New York City.

Your street art is often focuses on a political or social messages. Does the work you put up on the street differ from the work you put in gallery shows? And if not, do you think people react to it differently on the street vs a gallery? The work I make on canvas is just a much more detailed and layered version of the work I put in the street.  It has the same political and social messages that I’m known for.  I feel it has the same reactions in a gallery space as it would on the street.  The only difference is in the gallery people will come up to me and ask me to explain the piece in detail to them.  I’m not sure if I would call myself a social activist because there are people who are real activist who do so much more than me.  I just try to spread the message along.

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Your work is very detailed. Most of the larger pieces you put on the street are images placed over text. Can you explain your process? Well I just choose a poetic message that works well with the meaning of the piece that I’m trying to put forth and I use that in the background and paint the subject over that.  For the street, I keep it more simple. But for the canvas work I will collage multiple patterns and other images to juxtapose or support the message of the main image.

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Your bio on twitter says you are “a stencil artist … who specializes in large-scale portraits and mindful vandalism.” How do you define mindful vandalism? It’s not mindless, its mindful.  Meaning I take time and plan it out to put up a thought out art piece with a message.  I’m not just writing my name on someone’s property.

“Hours, Days and Years” is the name of one of the pieces from your recent one-night show. It’s a child solider placed over layers of text that reads “Hours, Days and Years Slide Swift Away.” What was your inspiration for this piece? Hours, Days and Years is a 56×60 mixed media canvas painting that depicts a child soldier in order to illustrate the loss of innocence message the painting displays.  The child soldier is meant to illustrate the broader message of children having to grow up too fast.  This could be the literal child soldiers that Boko Haram uses or the middle school kids in our own impoverished communities that are recruited into gangs at such an early age.

I was lucky enough to find a variation of your piece, “Dawn Goes Down to Day.” You placed it on the streets as a give away  for Free Art Friday. It’s a powerful piece. it’s also a child solider carrying a semi-automatic, but he’s also cradling a puppy. Can you tell me about this piece? Nothing Gold Can Stay (which is the large version of Dawn Goes Down to Day), is another child soldier piece that has the same meaning as Hours Day and Years.  This one has the boy playing with a puppy while holding an assault rifle.  This is meant to portray loss of innocence again.  I wanted them to both be about the broad issue of children being recruited into gangs or forced into war.

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© A Tribe of Our Own

How long have you been involved with Free Art Fridays? I’ve been involved in about 4 free art Fridays so far.  I really enjoy them.  I love giving away artwork to people who love art and free art friday is a great way to do that.  It’s also a great way for me as an artist to experiment a bit.  I tend to try out different techniques or ideas with free art Friday that later I might incorporate in larger canvas works.

Social Media is becoming an important toll for street artists to expand their audience – what are you thoughts on the relationship between social media and street art? Has it changed your process? Social media hasn’t changed my process but it has helped me connect with fans and other artists.  It’s a great tool for sharing my work to a larger audience.  But the real power of it comes when other people take photos of my street work and post about it.  That’s much more powerful than just me posting about it.

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Have you witnessed any public interactions with your work? I didn’t witness it, but one time I had put up a woodcut piece on a construction barrier and the workers moved it 5 feet down the barrier because they needed to cut a door out and didn’t want to destroy the artwork.  I thought that was pretty awesome.  Someone saw it, took pictures of it and wrote it up in newyorkshitty.com, that’s how I know about it.

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Street art is transient and subjected to tons of external forces; weather, vandals, and people who steal the work off the street. What motivates you to spend so much time creating a piece, when its life on the street is rather vulnerable? That’s just the nature of it.  Street art is ephemeral and it’s one of the things I like about it.  Sure its always nice to have a piece ride for a long time, but the decay and weathering of it brings a real life to it I think.  Street art is a way to instantly connect with the public, for me it’s about the message that I’m trying to put forth.  Whether or not the piece stays for a long time I was able to connect directly with the public and share my message.  Most people don’t go to a gallery and this is a way to share with the general public.  So I don’t mind at all when pieces I put out get destroyed.  I always say that if you want something to last, don’t paint it in the street.

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© A Tribe of Our Own

A few years ago you collaborated with Jilly Ballistic on a prolific project. You painted the bottom of hundreds of lamp posts in Williamsburg and the East Village. Can you tell me about that project? The collaboration with Jilly Ballistic was just one of the images I used in the street lamp project but I had about 5 images total that I was painting on the bases.  I just had an idea to paint the bottom of the street lamps because there were so many of them and because they were always covered in gross decaying stickers and graffiti so I thought it would look better to paint them.

How long did it take you to paint all those lamp posts? It was just one summer going out at night painting 3 or 4 times a week and I would get about 5-6 bases done a night.

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Have you ever been caught by the police?  I was caught once, but luckily the officers were very nice and let me go with a warning.

In 2013, Bedford and Bowery profiled you in a short documentary – while most street artists like to remain anonymous – you are easily identifiable and visibly attached with your work. Why did make the decision to be so public? I don’t know, I guess because I feel like I’m doing more community service than vandalism.  Decaying stickers and graffiti can be ugly sometimes, a fresh coat of paint with a nice art image makes it better in my opinion.

 

For more on B.D. White – visit here.

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