Brooklyn-based duo and legends of the street art world, FAILE have been producing their signature collage pieces since for nearly 20 years. I used to roll and pack their prints back in the day so caught up with them to see what’s going down.
When you started out ‘street art’ wasn’t actually a thing or a genre – just people doing stuff. Were you freer as artists at the turn of the century as you weren’t constrained by a genre.
Yes, we were freer and this is why – over 18 years a lot has changed.
1. We were younger. We didn’t have families and all the other concerns of being a responsible adult. We could go out and get arrested and just live without the same kind of worries as today. Like many good youth culture movements being young is at the heart of it.
2. Cities weren’t gentrified like they are today. New York City was much less gentrified, sanitized and homogenized. This was true all over Europe as well. You had so many places and neglected surfaces that created a great canvas to work on and go back to over the coarse of years to continue that work. As we traveled globally we found so many places to get work up.
3. The internet and social media didn’t exist like today. You actually had something that was underground for those that were tuned into it. It was shared in photo albums, zines and independent magazines. You had a more immediate relationship to the work in a physical space not on a device.
4. The work wasn’t commodified. You didn’t have to worry about something being stolen off the street or what kind of surface you work on so it didn’t get taken. While it’s flattering on some level it really undermined what the work on the street was about.
On a broader level today, mural culture has taken over and that has it’s own place. What’s missing is the spontaneity in the art. This was a big part of what defined the work on the street. The work was grittier, impulsive, and in most cases illegal in nature. It had more of an immediacy to it and I think that action was part of its soul.
You were involved in the Swizz Beatz’ No Commission project in the South Bronx – other than the fact it’s fairly unusual that as artists you get 100% of sales, what else attracted you to be a part of it?
We’ve known Swizz for some time now. He’s always been a big supporter of art and living artists whose work is accessible to most people. For us, his enthusiasm of putting the artists first and empowering them to be more in control of their work and career is something that resonates with us. No Commission has highlighted artists that are of a new generation and it’s important for us to be a part of that. We also appreciate how hard it is to put together these types of art fair / experiential events in an independent way, especially without taking any commission from the artists involved. I think Bacardi has been a great partner in the event, allowing Swizz to be able to realize his vision of bringing artwork and music together to create something memorable without compromise.
Your pieces are often multi-layered, do you find pulp fiction/comic book references first and work from them or do you have an idea of what you want and scour books for material?
Both. We are constantly collecting images, words, different parts of culture and printed ephemera. Depending on the concept for a show we will create images based on this. As far as the type of imagery, we’ve always found a comic style similar to any other drawing style as a way of rendering the world. It worked well early on for us as we work with silkscreens and black and white images are preferred. Also our images are created by using a cut and paste method so this is also good for collage and taking bits and pieces to create something new from that.
I used to roll your prints when I worked at Pictures On Walls/Santa’s Ghetto. Your Captivating Mermaid print was a bitch to get in a tube – way too big guys. Think of the packers. Do you ever have to rein in your ideas for what you want to sell because you’ve got to send them places?
First, thank you for your efforts! We’ve been fortunate to be able to directly engage with our audience and collectors to make work that finds a home outside the studio. We’ve become accustomed to shipping, handling and all the logistics in-between. Some are more challenging than others but it’s part of our livelihood so we look at it as a blessing that finds a solution. But yes, I’ve stood in so many post office lines in the early years, website crashing and shipping debacles that this appreciation was earned.
Do you ever argue?
We bicker. After 26 years of friendship and 17 years of being FAILE together we have a pretty solid footing on what matters. When we do have differences it’s usually only because we both want to create that work we are moved by and feel good about. Sometimes we have different ideas on how to get there but when it’s there and we both agree on it, it’s what we are always trying to achieve. Every now and again we will have to concede to the other and are often amused when a piece that one of us wasn’t as excited about but the other one fought for, is the favorite of a particular show by so many others.
Do you think the current state of the world will create more politicised art or are people just content to sign petitions and click ‘like’ on Facebook.
It’s the double edge sword of social media. You can reach people so much quicker and on a broader level than ever before but the amount of meaning is greatly diminished as the constant cycle of new is always there to replace it. The opportunity is great but the substantive capacity to actually make a difference is harder. Really it’s a question of creating true depth in content rather than the quantity of it.