When Todd James and I thought up Street Market in 1999, it was born partly out wanting to be artists, but not wanting to be in the homogenized, pasteurized, art world. We also knew we were the commodity on offer, and where we went to school was our marketing, be it Yale, or in our case, the street. So we made a “bodega of ideas” and stocked it with what we had to offer as artists, Todd put up “Street Cred”, I came with “Sarcasm”. We also had “Meaning” “Belief” “Vapors” and bunch of other attributes, some ideal, some dumb, all of it an honest value for a good price; It was free if we didn’t see you take it. If you got caught we were snapping your photo with the goods you stole and hanging you on our wall of shame.
Street Market grew out of Todd’s bedroom and sent us to Japan and The 49th Venice Bienalle. When it was over, it also dropped us off with our things back on a rain soaked curb in Manhattan. It was like when you go into the casino its all escalators and moving walkways, and when you leave it’s all stairs and sidewalks. A lot of the art we made for the big rooms ended up trashed in small dumpsters. What we kept from the experience was the idea of making a place for ourselves in an art world we felt out of place in. Todd has an ever-growing installation titled “Graffiti Bedroom” and I have opened several sign shops. It is in being a small time shop keep that I have fulfilled my fullest aspirations in art, so far.
Art is realization, both senses of the word, at once. I understand something is a fact and I am making it a fact. Beauty, truth, love- the whole bowl of guacamole- can be made and made plain to see with art. I could make the rest of the detrius of life, but why bother? Too many others are making ugly, lies, hate- the whole platter of fecal matter. The competition to make good puts me in good company, and good company is good business.
In 2004 I opened a sign shop in Coney Island with Matt Wright. Anne Pasternak and Creativetime funded it, as part of a large sign painting project for the rides and amusements of America’s Playground. We had a dual purpose to be both sign shop and information booth for Creativetime. When people would come in and ask what we were doing we would have to say two things, which is one thing too many. I should have learned thay lesson, instead the next few sign shops I opened I just kept the front door locked. That did not keep me from learning, it just postponed the lesson.
I opened ICY SIGNS on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn in November of 2012. I thought the ticket would be to make a shop that worked like a sign shop but allowed me to sell art. It was still explaining two things, but signs and art were on parallel tracks and in the same direction. I would say, “We’re a sign shop that also makes art” and people would drift off at the word “also”. That happened 3 times on the first day! If I had not printed 1000 ICY SIGNS posters I might of rebranded immediately, instead I painted signs and made art and tried to enjoy being in between.
The moment that made the shop what it is today happened up the hill from us at The Brooklyn Museum. Anne Pasternak, who put me in business in Coney, put me in the Rotunda on the top floor and demanded I paint live in the museum. I made it happen (almost), every day and I learned two things. The first was I not only was painting, I had to work the room like a busker, to be on and engaging, and be the best ambassador for my work and the museum. I got pretty good at it, and it was a great skill to learn. The second was most people didn’t think of my signs as art, they think of my art as signs. That was a really interesting thing to learn. It set me on a course to redefine what my shop on Forth (AKA Fourth) Avenue would be.
Art is realization, and the artist is realizing now, in real time. If the timing is right, the art will resonate now, and if the art is right, it will always be on time. We reopened the shop November 9th, in the hungover aftermath of the election. Matt and Jake were finishing up screen printing t-shirts with a burning house sinking in water and the punchline “COULD BE WORSE” we were right on time again. I am in business to sum it all up and make it awesome.
I changed the name of the shop to ESPO’s ART WORLD because I am back where I started, really where I have been all along, Just outside with a marker in my hand. Graffiti is the original visual expression, now 30k years old and counting. I jumped on the bandwagon 29,984 years later, but I bring it all back home to the surfaces I mark. Im a modern day cave painter, painting blues by the fire of an iPhone.
Here is today’s message, live from the depths of our tIme. I’m stating the obvious for the oblivious. Its also to remind the aware to do more than their share. We make the world with every action we take and every interaction we make. Finally its for my kid and everybody else’s. Turning hate into love is a fundamental, existential task. With all the biggest jobs, you have to start small. First you visualize, if you can see it, you can achieve it. So maybe, this is a poster we’ll see in every preschool in the world, maybe.
We are also screen printing live this very image tomorrow at 72 Forth Avenue. Bring a piece of clothing or fabric and we’ll screen it. FOR FREE. Its an awesome way to get the message out, to build community and sell art. Also, when people ask what type of shop it is, It is my pleasure to say, “Its ESPOS ART WORLD, welcome!”