Visualizing Dissent through Street Art. Queer Street Artist Homo Riot warrants your attention. I spoke to Homo Riot shortly before the opening of the A History of Queer Street Art opening in Los Angeles. The show featuring: Adrian + Shane, encore, HOMO RIOT, Jeremy Novy, Jilly Ballistic, Paul LeChien, prvtdncr, CLOUDZ, Gaystencil , PixelStud, OxGxT and many more opens on February 9th and runs through February 29th @ Physical Goods in Hollywood.
How did you get involved with the A History of Queer Street Art Event?
I was contacted by Jeremy Novy last Year to be a part of it in San Francisco. I was really excited about the opportunity, it happened at a time when I was trying to find other Queer Street artists. Wanting to contact them and open up some communication with them. I knew I wasn’t the only person doing it but I hadn’t had much contact with anyone else. I knew one guy in London and at the time we thought it was just us. So when Jeremy contacted me it opened me up to some of the other people around the world who were doing it, that was a really great thing. I was really excited about participating. And I immediately wanted to bring it to L.A. and Jeremy was interested in that as well, he had talked about sending it to London, Berlin and New York. Los Angeles is the second city, and hopefully after the success of this one it will go to other cities, we’ll see.
Is there a difference in the artist line up for the Los Angeles show in comparison to the San Francisco line up?
Jeremy had added 4 or 5 of the artists himself. And I’ve added a couple I added a guy name Copdad who is an L.A. based artist. The original count of artists for the San Francisco show was 18 and I think we have 24 artists for L.A.
Is Jeremy going to be @ the show in L.A.?
I think he will be, he has expressed interest in it and I just got an email from him today talking about it. I’m anticipating he will but I can’t be sure.
So your art in the L.A. show will that be travelling with the show here on in?
The original San Francisco show consists of artists’ submissions and those pieces have now become part of Jeremy’s personal collection. I don’t know if that was by design that none of the art was sold or because they showed it at SOMA and they weren’t in a position to sell pieces, I’m not really sure why it was designed that way. I always felt like it was a missed opportunity though. None of us are independently wealthy and it’s always good to sell work. I wanted to make this show in Los Angeles where people could buy pieces by the artists. Galleries have to make money and I can’t imagine anyone not putting on a show that closely resembles what I’m putting on in LA and this exhibition of Jeremy’s collection.
The idea of celebrating gay street art – haven’t heard an idea like that. It’s why I jumped to talk to you about it.
He pitched it last year as the first ever “History of Queer Street Art” and as far as I know he’s right about that. I don’t know anyone else who has put together a show representing this context of Queer Street art really from Act Up posters and street art and tearing all the way down to people who are doing it right now in China or South America. I have every confidence it will come through and be a great show.
Covering your background – the first thing I read was on your Facebook page reading about your anger with Proposition 8 and that pushing you into vocalizing and visualizing and showing people your stuff. Do you come from an artistic background or were you so angry and pissed off that it was an idea then a statement that you just went for it…?
No, I’m an artist born and bred. I think I came out of the womb scribbling in blood or something. (laughs) I’ve always been an artist and I’ve actually been doing street art for maybe 20 years. I just haven’t gotten recognition for it doing my own thing. Never anticipating or expecting anyone to pay attention to it like a lot of artists even just in their studios creating in obscurity doing it because they had to. But when the prop 8 thing happened, we were having protests in L.A., people were marching, there was tons of news coverage. I had worked phone banks for “no” on prop 8. I was shocked that it passed and just disappointed with people in general. Being an artist that was my natural outlet and it just came out of me. I just took to the streets with it and it was through this incarnation of my art that people started paying attention and I started getting recognition. I know that a lot has to do with the proliferation of the internet and blogs. People would see my work and post a picture of it and then talk would circulate. It just blew up and I was like “oh my god people are talking about it and looking at it.” It really caught on with the moniker and this kind of activist art and became main stream.
Have you always gotten positive reaction? Or a mixed bag?
I had read some negative things that people posted and basically what I see is “there’s no reason for Homo Riot to be so aggressive” I have a piece that says “Don’t fuck with the gays” and someone commented on it “this cuts people off – there’s no reason for gay people to have this attitude and it incites gay bashing and homophobia” and whatever someone’s take on it is fine, but that’s about as negative of commentary that I think I’ve had. I did have one of the guys who is associated with the West Boro Baptist church – you know the “God hates fags” group – and had emailed one of the galleries that was showing my work at one point and he was like, this is an “abomination” and whatever but for the most part I get positive feedback and support from people. All in all it’s been a good thing.
Provocative imagery is bothersome to some – depending on the environment – but the message in it is something everyone everywhere is going to see. Just the fact that the images exist is positive – the fact that someone is seeing it and whether their take on it is negative or positive – if you can get them to talk about it and possibly change their minds – that alone is the success.
That’s how I’ve always felt about it. My goal is not to really make anyone uncomfortable or pissed off by it, but if you are pissed off by it, then good. I’m glad that I’ve stirred an emotion in you. Otherwise really what I’ve found in this process and in creating this art is that I hear people say I love to see your work because it makes me feel good, or empowered, I don’t feel alone. I get emails every week from people from all over the world that say “I wish you would do this in my town” or “how can I get involved, put up stickers in my city, people need to see this and acknowledge that we’re here and there’s nothing shameful about it “and I’ve found that it’s a powerful and empowering message for so many gay people. Especially young people because the audience is street art. I don’t think a lot of middle aged people are thinking about street art. It is the art of youth for now and I think with the rash of suicides and bullying.. I’d like to think that me being out there and putting this imagery out there is somehow normalizing it, maybe it makes it cool, or ok, or inspiring and a positive message. That’s a lot more important to me than irritating Mormons, or pissing off someone’s Grandmother whose just passing by and may find it offensive.
As far as your influences – do you have any?
I’m influenced by art across the board, but specifically, Raymond Pettibone, Jaime Reed I pay some homage to punk rock and some anarchist art that has broken out of the mold and I do a lot of high contrast black and white, pen and ink, collage, things like that. Those 2 artists more than anyone else has influenced my style and the way I want to communicate.
How do you feel about the competitive nature of street art? And have you run in to anything like that – covering someone…?
When I first started doing this I got tacked over a couple of times and I took it really personally – like I’m gonna go after you – so I had this little turf battle with other L.A. artists like Alec Monopoly and Shark Toof. Where we were tagging over each other all the time. But you know, after a certain point we would see each other and be in contact and call a truce so since then I haven’t had those kinds of experiences. My stuff I feel gets shredded a lot more than other artists on the street and maybe it’s that people don’t want to see the imagery, but for whatever reason, I don’t attribute it to other artists necessarily its someone whose walking by the bus and is angry and just tears it down, rather than some turf war with other artists. Who knows, but if it is, I haven’t been made aware of it.
Do you have a long term goal with what you’re doing?
The street art aspect of it I do consider more of an activist role so there’s an aspect to it that’s a little bit of branding. My fine art, what I show in galleries, although the two are closely related, my gallery work is less activist – not coming from that point of view – but happens to be related but my art is often really sexually charged. That’s just what’s on my mind and what comes out of me. As far as the long term goal with Homo riot I think I would really like to be known in the future as someone who was trying to get out a positive message about being gay, about being proud, about strength and being at the forefront of taking this message to the street and yeah I honestly don’t have any huge plans other than I want to keep doing it. There will always be young gay kids who need some kind of role model, some impetus to be strong and proud and I think there will always be a need for someone like me on the street. I hope that ends up being my legacy.
A History of Queer Street Art opens Thursday 2.9.12 7-11pm @ Physical Goods in Hollywood more info HERE and runs until 2.29.12.
All Images Courtesy Homo Riot