Feature: Interview with Alec MonopolyJuxtapoz // Tuesday, 16 Nov 2010
Our NYC correspondent, Brock Fetch, sat down with artist Alec Monopoly last week as Alec's first NYC gallery show was taking place without him. Alec has spent the last month in New York creating pieces for the show and avoiding NY Vandal-Squad.
Brock Fetch: Tell me about the new show.
Alec Monopoly: A collector here in New York contacted me and wanted to buy some canvases of my street art. That gave me an opportunity to come here and work on larger scale doing canvas pieces that I wouldn’t be able to produce with the limited studio space I have in Los Angeles. I got the chance to experiment with imagery I’ve used before but bring it to a whole new level using the canvas. To me, New York is the center of the art world, and I wanted to jump off here. I had one previous show at Donald Trump’s house (actually in Palm Beach). I believe it was in 2006, and since then I’ve just been working in the streets and studio. This is my first solo show.
Brock: You grew up in New York, right?
Alec: I grew up in New York and moved to Los Angeles about 4 years ago.
Brock: Why LA?
Alec (after a long pause while thinking): It was for a girlfriend actually. Before moving, I was just living here doing derelict graffiti like writing my name…whatever, which is what every young kid does in NY, and felt like a change. When I got to LA and saw wheat-pasting, I realized there was a way to bring fine art to the streets in a format that is quick and easy.
Brock: Would you say it’s easier for you to get up and produce that kind of street art in LA than it is here in NY?
Alec: Yeah. LA is so much more spread out. It’s a different style of graffiti to me. Here in NY, everything is so condensed: people are everywhere, living on top of each other, so everything is visible. As far as cops, there just isn’t the same pressure as in NY. It is just different. Because of LA being spread out, it’s much harder for them to patrol. There is a cop rolling down every block here, and that just isn’t the case in LA. There is only so much ground they can cover. I like to climb up really high at night to work. During the day everyone sees you, but at night, up that high, I just look down on people clueless that I’m even there!
Brock: You’ve hit up some very high spots in LA…
Alec: Yeah, it’s interesting that in Beverly Hills they buff everything except the Monopoly men. It’s like they embrace them! I have so many ups in Beverly Hills I feel like the Monopoly man lives there. I like to hit spots that are going to be seen and stand out: finding new spots that have not been hit instead of spot-jacking. I do sometimes hit spots that have other graffiti, because I know it will stay up, but I prefer to find my own spots. It’s interesting to see your piece grow into something much bigger as other artists add to the same spot. Over on Bowery and Houston I hit a fresh wall a while back with a gun and flowers, then later when I went back after some time the wall was covered. It’s cool to see, but I feel bad at the same time.
Brock: Because of the vandalism aspect of it?
Alec: Yes. I stay away from mailboxes, highways, freeways and basically any federal and government property. I like warehouses and abandoned buildings. For example I would never hit a coffee shop like the one we’re in: they [the owners] are trying to make it just like I am. I try to be as positive as I can about what I put out there and I try to do it with imagery everyone can identify with. Most people walking by my stuff are not graffiti people or art people, so figuring out a way that everyone can identify with my work is important.
Brock: What was it that sparked interest for you in street art as a medium? You had been oil painting for years before going to work on the streets right?
Alec: Yes I’ve always painted. My mother is a painter and my grandmother is a painter, so I grew up doing oil paintings: landscapes, figures, etc.
Brock: How did you get started with wheat-pasting?
Alec: There were a lot of guys in LA that helped me out in the beginning.
Brock: How did that change things?
Alec: It’s cool because I went from being able to do maybe 10 pieces in a night with paint cans or whatever to 50 or 75 using wheat-pasting. It’s much more premeditated. I have to lay things out in the studio and create in the studio.
Brock: I assume location scouting is a big part of that also?
Alec: Yeah. I like to do site-specific pieces for sure. Using the back of billboards in LA is great because the work goes without being buffed for so long. No one is going to get on the back of a billboard to buff it. I like to put up my Picasso Monopoly character when I get the back of a billboard. I have time to sit behind the billboard and work without feeling pressure to rush.
Brock: How much traveling are you doing?
Alec: All the time. I’m based in LA now but always traveling. It’s great! I travel somewhere, bring my work, make new friends and fans, and then I head to the next place. I sell prints on my website to keep a steady bit of money coming in, and it’s interesting to watch where stuff is being shipped to in reference to where I am currently or where I just left.
Brock: Is the transition from being a street artist selling prints on a website just to get by, to being a gallery artist something you think about? Does it matter to you either way?
Alec: That is something that’s important for street artists to think about. I do. Selling work from my site is important, because it has allowed me to not only get my work out more, but I’m also able to keep creating new work because of it.
Brock: Where’s your favorite place to work?
Alec: LA is the most productive for me. The cops are just so different there. I’ve been on the street spraying a stencil and had a cop just keep driving by. Boston is great also. I did a lot of work there, and there are lots of one-way streets which helps! That is where Shepard got arrested though, so you have to be careful everywhere.
Brock: Do you feel like there is a difference in the actual work artists produce in a place like NY or LA as compared with other places?
Alec: There is a total difference! I remember writing a lot when I was living here. It was inspiring to see the artists here that were writers also: Jim Joe and Beau to name a couple. These guys were trained artists as well as writers so it inspired me to write more. At the same time though writing is much more dangerous than street art because the cops really pursue the writers.
Brock: How does creating differ for you between street work and gallery work?
Alec: It’s two different mentalities, yeah. Although last night when walking into my gallery I had the same exact adrenaline-rush as being in the street! You are in there with all your art, and the cops are looking for you to arrest you… It’s a rush! I stopped by the gallery after we spoke on the phone last night and but left because the cops came in looking for the “artist.”
Brock: Are there parts of your work that you feel lend to the street or gallery more?
Alec: I’m sure you noticed I didn’t do any of the Picasso Monopoly for the show. To me that’s a site-specific “in the street” piece. I’ve never done a show with a gallery because I don’t want to be censored. I throw my own shows so I can do what I want. I ran this show up until the police situation got to be too much and then had some friends help me out. The two are totally different though: in the gallery you are showing your work to the art world, and in the street you are showing your work to everyone. The street for me is about capturing people’s interest, using brighter colors and bigger pieces that could never fit in a gallery.
Brock: How did you decide on the characters you are using and what do they mean to you as the artist?
Alec: I first started doing the Monopoly guy as a joke after the economy crashed. People seemed to identify with it. Jack Nicholson came [from my experiences] living in LA, with him being a very iconic figure there. Robert De Niro to me is NY. He symbolizes here what Nicholson does in LA. It’s funny, for the show I was expecting the Nicholson to sell first, but all the De Niro sold first here in NY. A lot of the characters in the show are ones I haven’t worked with before and are new: Robert De Niro and Christian Bale (from American Psycho), for example. I painted everything for this show within the last month since I’ve been here in NY. The cops figured out where my studio was finally, so I actually painted the American Psycho piece last night in the stairwell of the gallery because there was just enough light.
(the following images are for the Cancer Society)
Brock: You did some work for the American Cancer Society. Can you tell me why this was a project you wanted to be a part of?
Alec: My mother has cancer and is in treatment now, and it runs in my family, so it was important for me to get involved. They wanted to work with a street artist that could produce something on a large scale, and after seeing my work, they contacted me. I had two days to do that piece. It was a lot of work, but it was a project I was very passionate about and believed in.
Brock: Are opportunities like that coming up more for you, and outside of the cancer society, how do you feel about collaborating with other businesses?
Alec: Yes, but I turn them down. The American Cancer Society was an exception. I do street art because of all the bullshit advertising we have to look at in the streets everyday. I have no interest in being part of that commercial world. We (as street artists) are putting out art we want to see and want others to see as well, without any financial interest.
Brock: What about in the future?
Alec: Never. I just want to be an artist. All I want to do is make art for people.
Brock: What’s next?
Alec: Art Basel Miami. I’m doing a show with Alexandra Richards at the Mondrian Hotel on December 3rd. Alexandra’s work is amazing, and I think our art will work well together.