Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself ?
Quisp: I was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo. During the late ’70s and early ’80s I got into the whole Hip Hop culture, mainly in b-boying. I would watch videos and read anything that had to do with b-boying. One day a documentary about the Rock Steady Crew (a b-boy crew from NYC) aired on our public TV station. I thought I was going to lose my mind—a documentary on the thing I loved most—then I saw IT: as the Rock Steady Crew was doing some moves on a roof top. The camera panned back and showed all these other rooftops; on those rooftops I saw graffiti for the first time. The very next week I was out painting graffiti, and so began my art career. I loved to draw as a kid, so it was something I transitioned into very easily. I really didn’t start taking art seriously until I was about 24. That’s when I went to art school and studied illustration and design. One semester later the vice principal of the school called me into her office and proceeded to tell me graffiti wasn’t art, so I left the school. I am for the most part a self-taught artist.
UVD: Would you mind telling us about some of the designs that you came up with when you were first starting out and how designs have progressed over the years?
Quisp: I started with lettering. I did a lot of flyers for shows, and from there I started to design for an underground magazine called Flavor Pak. I would do page layouts and some hand lettering, and I also did a short comic for one of the issues. Now I design album covers, a lot of logo design and my own artistic prints. I was recently fortunate enough to design for the KidRobot Fat Cap series two and three.
UVD: What are some things that influence you and your work? Is there any artist’s work that inspired you and your style early on in your career?
Quisp: I think, on a serious note, everything influences my work—things like bugs, water, leaves, architecture, fonts, mech warriors, toys, cartoons, etc.—you get my drift. I’m always looking for letters in the world around me, thinking, “How can that leaf somehow influence the shape and flow of my graffiti?” On the character side of influence, it’s mainly the weird stuff that is running through my head or jokes I hear and things that I read that I find humorous or bizarre. The artists that influence my work are numerous, and of course, some of the biggest influences come from my crew—East and Emit for the lettering, Scribe, Jason Brunson, and Sub for the character work they do. Outside the graffiti world: Thomas Hart Benton, Ron English, Todd Schorr, Robert Williams, Van Arno, Eric White, Mark Ryden, Patrick Rocha, and Jeff Soto. There are so many I left out, but these are the bigger influences on me.
UVD: With living in Cincinnati, I have heard widespread lore of the days of the DF/ATT group and their command of the streets along with Scribble Jam. Would you mind telling us a little about how you were recruited in to the group and maybe an interesting story during your time in the group?
Quisp: I never lived in Cincinnati, but several of our crew lives there. I really had no part in Scribble Jam; that was mainly Jason Brunson; I would just show up and paint with the rest of the crew. (Thanks, Jason, for those crazy fun times.) Cincinnati is the only place I know where you can buy a real samurai sword from a bum on the street. I was one of the original members put in ATT crew. East formed the crew on a trip back to Chicago. On his return to Kansas City he put me in the crew. It was East, Anti, Sea and myself—or at least that’s the way I recall it—East probably has a more elaborate recollection. ATT then added Kry, and later, Scribe, Aero and Daze. Those were the bombing crazy days of ATT. We tore Kansas City up back then—it was our big playground. One of the craziest things I did back in the early days of my graffiti career is when East and I climbed a 14-story billboard, jumped down to a rooftop that ran along the highway and showed two walls. We painted for about three hours. The scariest part about painting this spot wasn’t getting onto the rooftop, but getting down. We had to stand on the edge of the building, fall forward and grab the backside of the billboard then let our feet swing out so we could pull ourselves up enough to step onto the platform that runs along the back of the billboard. That was one of the scariest places I’ve ever painted.
UVD: After looking through my own copy of “Idiots on Parade” and your website, you have been a part of quite a few murals. Are there any murals that stick out as still your favorite over the years?
Quisp: As far as favorite pieces I’ve done, the one that I did for the Charlotte Street Foundation Award in 2003 with the skulls and gas masks wrapped in a burning American flag was painted right onto a white-box gallery wall. They had to install a ventilation hood around my scaffolding, and so I painted the whole thing at close range. The second favorite would be the octopus and the underwater scene that Scribe and I painted on a permission wall. The third would be the one that Aero and I painted with the night scene in the forest with the glowing orange mushrooms on the wall, and one other mention is the first bug style I did with Scribe’s fox character spraying pesticides on my piece.
UVD: When looking through your portfolio of gallery shows, the “Modern Fairy Tales” show at Windhorse stuck out to me. After reading your bio on your site, I understand where some of the religious undertones in some of the pieces are coming from. But would mind walking us through a couple?
This piece is showing the hypocrisy of big corporations, big religion, and the failure of a democracy to stop their rampant power (and the conspiracy theories that surround it). The horse in the center was taken from the quote in the Bible, “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” This is the first of the biblical apocalypse references.
The alien leaving the planet with a mocking hand gun (his finger) pretending to shoot himself in the head is “Quisp,” a character from the Quaker cereal; he’s showing his reaction to the intolerance we have as a species, thinking, “Why would anyone want to visit this pitiful rock?” The rainbow is fitting because it was in the book of Genesis a symbol to Noah that God loved the world; today, though, some Christians have a strong intolerance to gays (who also use the rainbow symbol, of course).
The Uncle Sam-egg riding the white horse (also a reference to cocaine), is cracked because religion and corporations in America think they are getting away with trying to silence “We The People.” I must say that, “We the people will no longer be silenced.”
The sash that the white horse is wearing represents Catholicism, the different vestments priests wear on special occasions. The priests’ sashes contain religious symbols, and I chose symbols for all religious, corporate, and governmental beliefs. The KKK high wizard symbol shows others’ intolerance to race, gender, and religion—this intolerance causes a great deal of violence in our world. The Enron with a cross is to show how the conservative Right and giant companies are like one big corporation trying to control everyone—and are failing. The cat symbol with the Jewish star represents how the Cat tractor company supplies Israel with bulldozers to destroy Palestinian houses in the Gaza Strip. Chevron’s logo is to show that they and fossil fuel drillers and refineries are killing our planet. Monsanto is to remind us about how they, a corporation, can now own a genetic code, and if any of their proprietary genetic code is found in any other plants, then they own that species, too.
This piece is a reference to “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” But the evil is commercialized right in front of us. The bomb and the knife are representations of jihad. A Danish cartoon of Allah with a bomb in his turban made the world go mad, you recall. This a critique on the commercial statement that all religions seem too eager to make—if you don’t believe in my religion you are wrong—and yet McDonald’s as a corporation has as many world-wide “followers” as organized religions do. The juxtaposition between religion and capitalism, with a reference to Hindu beliefs like Kali, show what the world is blind to.
UVD: When making the transition from (il)legal graffiti on buildings to having your work in gallery spaces for sale, was it much of a struggle to go from writing your name on walls to creating themed pieces for shows?
Quisp: Gallery shows and graffiti are two different entities. I started doing gallery shows under the impression I would show people that graffiti is art. I was recognized at first because I was that graffiti artist that was hip and cool, so people liked what I did, because it was something they did not understand. I think the novelty of graffiti wore off, and people were craving something more, but I think the art establishment never understood graffiti either. I now do graffiti for myself and others who enjoy it the same way. I think galleries are where I can show a fasçade of my graffiti world. In galleries it’s really hard to explain what I do as a writer. I have to shrink my canvasses down to something that will fit on the wall. I can’t use spray paint, I have to use acrylics and paint markers, and I can’t get the true effects of graffiti on canvas. The other thing that I lose in galleries is what it takes to create graffiti—you don’t get to see the performance art that comes with doing it on the streets, the body movements to make a line, the stealthiness to get in and out of a place without getting caught, being chased and taking risks, and sometimes getting arrested for art. My work in galleries has nothing to do with lettering anymore. Galleries are now my political voice in graffiti and my voice to everything else outside the graffiti world.
UVD: To switch gears a little, your newest production release features your Fatcap series 3 design. You and Kidrobot had also worked together for a design in Fatcap Series 2. What was it like working with Kidrobot, and how did they approach you about doing a design for the two series that you were featured?
Quisp: I really don’t remember how they approached me. I remember getting an e-mail from them asking if I wanted to do a design. I think Devi gave my info to them (he was in the first series). They asked me if I wanted to submit a design, and I jumped at the chance. I submitted four designs for Fat Cap 2, and I think I submitted three for the Fat Cap 3 series. It was interesting working with Kid Robot; it was the first time I had ever done anything like that before. It taught me a lot about the process. You submit your designs and a panel chooses the ones they like. Next someone from the Art Department contacts you and discusses your design and starts the sculpting process, and it’s cool to see its stages, from the sculpting to the finished product. I really thought everyone at Kid Robot had a great attitude and had great suggestions, and I’ve enjoyed working with them on the Fat Cap series 2 and 3.
UVD: Considering you have gotten to graffiti with some of the bigger names in the scene, are there any artists still remaining that you would like to graffiti with?
Quisp: Only a million! I would love to paint with Serval, Pre, Bacon, Art Child, and the whole HAS Crew: Cantwo, Bates, Shadow, Does, Os, Geomos, Revok; and any of the MSK cats: Web, Daim, Atom, Toast, Kem, Rath, Mode 2, Totem, etc. (to name just a few).
UVD: After watching the “Banksy vs. King Robbo” video, it called in to question the value some people place on graffiti as street art. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on this trend where an artist can be despised and another can be revered for their vandalism/graffiti?
Quisp: I have thought about this for years. It started when I started doing mainly legal work. To some in the graffiti world, it’s only graffiti if it’s illegal, but in the art world it’s only art if it’s legal—that is, until people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and now Banksy. I think the art world people see these street artists as more legit because they have more in common with the politics, humor and human characteristics of these paintings. I think they are missing the point with graffiti lettering; for example, they can look at abstract artists like Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock and cubists like Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso, yet they cannot see the beauty in abstracting the typography and just looking at the lettering as abstract art. On the other hand, in the graffiti world, writers tend to look at art in galleries as elitists—if you do graffiti in a gallery, then you’re selling out your culture, and if you do permission walls, then you sever the ties that made you. I think that graffiti can and should be everywhere, and the graffiti writers who call gallery work selling out are forgetting the first rule of graffiti: to get your name up. And if that means legal walls and galleries, so be it.
UVD: Are there any future projects that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?
Quisp: Right now, I’m doing sketches for the walls this summer. I’m taking some time off this summer so I can get back to what I do best, graffiti. Last year I didn’t get to paint as much because I had too many projects.
UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?
Quisp: Just to keep doing what you do, don’t waste any opportunities. To artists starting out, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, like doing a job for free or little pay, but when you’re starting out no one knows who you are, and you do have to make a name for yourself. I’ve watched too many artists fail because they think they deserve automatically the same respect as someone who busted their ass to get there.