RJ Rushmore is Editor-in-Chief of Vandalog, the web’s definitive resource on what’s that’s happening in the weird, wonderful and constantly surprising worlds of street art and graffiti (check it out at blog.vandalog.com). FAULT caught up with him to discuss his thoughts on America’s street art scene, and in particular his experiences at New York City’s unique Underbelly Project, which saw over 100 artists gather together in secrecy to illustrate an abandoned subway station.

Both photos (above): Ian Cox

FAULT: What is it about street art that appeals to you, over other forms of artistic expression?

RJ: I’m uncomfortable in white-walled art galleries. I recently heard someone say, “Visitors are a tax that galleries must pay”, but with street art, the work is meant to be appreciated by anyone. Street art can be just as good, if not better, than whatever is in those posh galleries.

FAULT: What’s the street art scene like in New York right now? Is it still very much a hub for original, unsolicited material, or is the commercial aspect starting to take over?

RJ: Commercial street art definitely has a strong presence, but NYC is also the city with the most street art and graffiti photographers. Members of this extremely active community document street art every day, and new artists pop up all the time – their work is not ignored.

FAULT: With copyright issues placing ever more restrictions on art in the public domain, do you think it’s the typically illicit nature of street art that still forms a large part of its appeal?

RJ: Working anonymously and without permission makes it easier to break more rules, and overly restrictive copyright laws are some of the most tempting laws to break these days – whether you’re an artist or not.

FAULT: Which street artists are you currently excited by, and why?

RJ: LNY, Doodles, ND’A, Radical, Labrona, Nanook, Gaia and Overunder; they each have a graffiti writer’s energy combined with the graphic considerations of someone who has gone through a traditional art-school program. They’re helping to make up the next generation of North American street art.

FAULT: Tell us a bit about what it was like to see the Underbelly space first-hand.

RJ: The only light came from whatever light sources we brought with us, there were random holes in the floor, and there was so much dust… Of course, those things just made the experience all the more incredible. Seeing Underbelly was as much about being in a unique location as it was about the art.

FAULT: What were some of the most standout pieces you saw?

RJ: The ones where artists took the space into consideration; Mark Jenkins placed a life-sized sculpture of a masked person sitting down – it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. Joe Iurato painted a kid looking through a periscope, with the text ‘The People Upstairs Are Crazy’, which is what a lot of people probably would’ve thought about us if they knew what was going on beneath them.

FAULT: You’ve described Underbelly as one of the “most fascinating projects to ever happen in the street art or graffiti worlds”. What distinguishes it from previous mural projects?

RJ: The premise of mural projects is usually pretty standard: get a group of artists, and paint where you have permission to paint pre-approved images. The Underbelly Project isn’t a mural project in the traditional sense. There was no permission, and no promotion before it happened. In the flesh, it’s an art installation; but it’s intended to be seen through photography [which you can see in We Own The Night, the book documenting the project].

FAULT: Why did organisers Workhorse and PAC remove the entrance to the project?

RJ: They wanted to encourage people to treat the space like a time capsule, and discourage inexperienced explorers from risking their safety.

FAULT: As a “time capsule”, do you think the space will hold more significance for people who see it in the future?

RJ: People will look back on The Underbelly Project as a snapshot of an important moment in art, and I hope they’ll value the uniqueness of the project, as it is valued today.


All images taken from We Own The Night, which you can buy from Vandalog’s shop here.