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Live Outside SF: An Interview with Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags

Street Art // Thursday, 01 May 2014
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One certainty, if I could be so bold, is the proclamation that Public Art makes cities better. It's a simple formula, one that Juxtapoz has declared a necessity for years, had dedicated an entire issue to, and has documented and participated in over the last decade. Public Art programs make people happy. We aren't talking about expensive forays bringing international artists to your city lending a stunning sculpture to your waterfront views. We are talking about the emergence of an entire generation of graffiti artists, street artists, and contemporary muralists, with a fan-base following that stretches continents, working with city planners on sustainable and inexpensive projects to beautify cities. Europe, South America, and some cities in America have embraced this idea, and now, some companies with cultural clout are beginning to help make these programs viable for artists.

San Francisco and Brooklyn are two major hubs of creativity both with unique and distinct histories in graffiti and street art, with San Francisco in particular being a city with an extensive mural history. This past Winter in SF, two local artists, Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags, were given a unique opportunity (and original storyline) to be documented by JanSport through the process of painting a football-field sized mural in downtown SF on the side of a major chain, The Holiday Inn. Now, here is where it gets interesting. One, general day-in-the-life reality based narratives don't include mural artists, nor do they involve artists who have in the past done illegal graffiti. The project, "Live Outside," was about celebrating a form of creativity rarely seen by an outside audience. The emergence of street art as a major international art form has lacked a story that people outside the scene can relate to. With cameras on them nearly 24-7, Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags planned, plotted, and painted one of the biggest murals in SF.

Juxtapoz sat down with Mags and Amanda Lynn a few days after they finished the mural, to get a little insight on being documented and how cities and companies can work together to support the creative class. 

The Brooklyn portion of the Live Outside Project, featuring the artist LNY, Mata Ruda & NDA, where the artists are going to work on 3 murals around Brooklyn in May, 2014. 

Juxtapoz: Let's get a little background about the both of you. Where you are from? Can you talk a bit about how you two have collaborated in the past? 

Amanda Lynn: Well, I have been a SF based artist for the past 14 years. I am originally from a small town in Western Pennsylvania, where I painted under my mentor, Robin Grass. I met Lady Mags about 3 years ago. We painted our first wall together in Oakland, and have pretty much collaborated on every mural since. After some encouragement, I got her to start showing her fine art watercolor work in galleries and have started collaborating on fine art pieces with her as well. 

Lady Mags: My writer name is Mags, Lady Mags. I’m from New York City. I started doing graffiti some 10 years ago maybe more in Chicago, actually. Still, New York City is my home. I met Amanda Lynn about three years ago at her gallery called Cassel Gallery. Later we went down to LA for a friend’s show at Known Gallery, and all the boys fell asleep on the ride back. We were awake and chatted the whole way to SF in the car. We decided to do a wall then. I invited her to paint with me on a wall in Oakland- we painted a Queen Bee wall because we were planning these for a wall at Art Basel. Anyway, that experience was great, and we never stopped painting together. Three years down the road, we have painted 30 or more murals and 30 or more collaborative fine art pieces. We are trying to move into doing a 3-D art installation soon. I feel very lucky. Its probably once in a life time that you find such creativity, inspiration and balance through collaborating with another person. It’s been a real privilege. 

When you first found out about the JanSport project, and that the both of you were chosen, did you have any inhibitions or concerns about being on camera?

AL: We have actually had several videographers do pieces on us in the past, so being on camera has gotten to be a pretty natural thing. This job was a little more extensive than any of the others, as in there was a larger crew and we had to be on microphone the entire time! I really don't feel nervous being filmed while working, but the talking directly into the camera is definitely something I need to work on. 

LM: Well, I am always concerned about showing my face, I don’t reveal my identity. We had to draw up a contract with our attorney that included penalties if they showed my face on accident. Other than that, Amanda and I have done a few short films before (notably with Lea Bruno, the title is Flora Fauna), so we thought we would be used to it. When it came to the process though, it was much more intense than we anticipated (being mic-ed up, followed around). That said: the videographers were so nice and so supportive. They loved what we did and really enjoyed filming us doing it (I think), so we all got along. It was fun. A lot of silliness.

How did the piece develop, in its early stages? Was this an idea for a mural that you had in the past that you wanted to execute and was this the perfect place? Or was it entirely site-specific? And should I call this a mural?

AL: We hadn't necessarily pre-thought the imagery as an idea, but we had been working on the concept of integrating our pieces together more. We both had really been yearning for the opportunity to do a large-scale production that incorporated our individual artistic imagery in a manor similar to our fine art collaborations. This project really gave us the opportunity to explore this concept on a very large scale with lots of support. As far as location, we got to choose from several different walls, and upon seeing this wall as an option - we knew it was the one! I think you could call this anything you like, it combines elements of traditional mural art, fine art, graffiti and street art - basically it's just a big artistic explosion. 

LM: Yes, this is a mural, a graffiti mural. The piece developed in a few ways. First, we collaborated as we always do: I’ll do watercolor backgrounds and some letters, Amanda will do a series of figures, we email them to each other or meet and discuss them, I veto some of her stuff, she vetoes some of mine, I approve some of hers, she approves some of mine, we pick a color palate, and we hit the Photoshop- from there we mock up a few versions using our final round picks. Everything is hand drawn first. Amanda does all the photoshopping. The JanSport crew scouted the locations and gave us choices, and we chose this wall, not really knowing how huge it was. I mean we knew but we didn’t KNOW. If you know what I mean. At first, the JanSport folks liked the design but said: “Does the graffiti piece have to be so big? And does it have to say MAGS?” Which was funny and scary because they saw all of our previous work. Amanda really had our back she said, “Absolutely yes it has to be that big and it has to say MAGS” and there was no more discussion after that. 

Was there any jealously amongst your peers, based solely on the size AND location. 

AL: Our peers all seem to be really supportive of our work. We had several dedicated friends help us fill in some paint in order to finish this piece in 5 days. 

LM: No. People were so supportive. In fact, when we had a time crunch, we called in the troops to help us finish in the time allotted. Everyone was super happy for us. 

Going through the process of being documented while you worked and prepared, make you learn anything about your own workflow or process? 

AL: I feel the greatest thing that I learned in the process was the amazing advantage there is to having assistance. Lady Mags and I usually do our projects by ourselves, the whole marketing, film, and sound crew were incredibly helpful to us on this project. 

LM: We learned that we are really good at both collaborating and leaving each other alone. One day we hardly even spoke, Amanda was just doing her thing on the scissor lift, and I was up on another lift and that was that. We trust each other. We always did, but this project showed that we could do something that big without an ounce of worry.

For years, companies and media have really focused a ton of attention on other creative fields, music comes to mind, and the process of "making an album" or "on tour," but art and artists rarely get personalized during a work in progress. Do you think other artists will be excited or interested in being documented?

AL: This project was a really great experience, and I would encourage other artists to work with this team. It really seems like lately the media, as well as, the general public are becoming more and more inquisitive about the process of creating a mural production. I do hope that this excitement towards street art and graffiti keeps building and encourages younger generations to keep painting and showing their skills to the world. Mural art and graffiti art both have a long time history, but it seems the dynamic nature of the creative process is finally getting recognized through documentation. 

LM: YES I hope so. I think there may be mixed feelings too. I could see some artists being super excited and others worrying about the commodification of graffiti. As is always the case when a subculture starts to get corporate recognition. Luckily, JanSport really respected us and let us do a 100 percent Alynn-Mags piece where they literally gave no input. They wanted the artists to have full reign. That was amazing.

What in hindsight was the hardest part of the project? 

AL: Waiting patiently for the rain to stop so we could start painting! 

LM: The rain, the time crunch, the physical tiredness when you are working until 3 am.

What is the current state of Public Art in San Francisco? What can be improved, if say, you were in city government and could change anything? 

AL: San Francisco has always been an incredibly inspiring place for me. It is one of the few cities that seem to have art almost everywhere you look. I really feel lucky to live in a place that always seems to yearn for more creative expression. As far as me being in city government...that just sounds like a bad idea! But if I could change or create anything, I would simply encourage the idea of having a designated area where young kids could come out and paint. A safe place for them to explore working things out on a wall, where they don't feel intimidated to create. I was recently in Taipei for a short time, and was able to visit this area called 'graffiti area'. It was a big long wall overlooking a river where the government had allocated it as a free zone to paint. They have a sign telling you that all artwork has a shelf life of 4 months; meaning that they come out and paint over the whole wall every 4 months, but anyone can paint it. This seemed like such an amazing concept to me, and was a great way to visit a place and leave your mark, if even just for a short time.

LM: Of all cities I have lived in, SF seems to be super open to public art. I love it. If I were in city government I would offer more money for murals, like prizes for murals or something. So many blank walls, so many artists: put 2 and 2 together! Paint all the walls!

JanSport's "Live Outside" project moves to Brooklyn this May, 2014.

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