Graffiti artist John Matos, or more commonly known as CRASH, has taken the approach of patience and hard work to create his legacy of art. The cliche notion of organic growth really comes true to some as pioneers ofter plied their trade in an era where you simply couldn’t log onto the computer to sprout and disseminate your latest work. Throughout his time, CRASH’s work went noticed by the likes of guitar maestro Eric Clapton and subsequently John Mayer. One of Eric Clapton’s Crashocoaster guitars would go on to fetch $321,000 USD at the auctions and reflect the universal interest in CRASH’s style. However from the beginnings getting up on trains to guitars, CRASH’s most recent medium of choice was something entirely different – a line of suitcases with respected luggage brand Tumi. A format that has been used sparingly in regards to artistic interpretation, one thing for sure is that there are undoubtedly few pieces that can and will span the same level of distance as a suitcase.
How did the opportunity with Tumi present itself?
One of Tumi’s people saw a group exhibition that I had to the fortune of being involved with in Paris last year, and the seed was planted. They contacted me with the concept and it took off from there.
Designing and appropriating your style onto objects and products is not exactly a new thing for you. When it comes to luggage, how does it differ from some of your previous exploits?
The luggage presented a few problems, one being that the image was not going to remain flat, as a painting, it had to wrap around the shape. Working with guitars already gave me an edge, so it helped me with the logistical aspect of the “wrap” feel. The other problem was that I had to work with a limited color pallet, and everyone that knows me, knows that I am not shy about using colors, so is was interesting working with slight restraints…
What did you want to achieve with your graphics and design?
I wanted to be able to translate my “style” unto an object, without losing any of my touch….to even replicate the spray effect was just too much!
Graff writers have always held in high esteem the goal of being highly visible, does that mean luggage traveling across the globe effectively falls in line with this philosophy?
The original concept of graff is to bee seen…more, more, more, as CAP would say…then to put your tag in the craziest places was the added feature…so why not on luggage that will travel the globe…the ultimate bomb…
As an OG from back in the day and one that successfully moved onwards into different settings and not just the streets, was this a mentality that you didn’t necessarily have in your youth? An attitude where you would keep it ultra graff-centric throughout your art career?
Never in my wildest dreams did I think graff would be at the forefront of a global lifestyle. I always knew graff was special, going back as early as 1978, when Kel 139 and I were painting; I wanted to pull us away from “wild style” lettering to more a simple style, because I felt we had a larger audience and I wanted to bring out the big guns and show them what we were capable. After graduating from high school, I knew that I was going to be involved in art, in some form or another, with graff being my center…yes, even back then I knew.
What was the art scene like in your infancy and who you were your original influencers?
When things started to take shape in 1979, the art world were running with a style called “minimalism”…it took graff and the entire Lower East Side people to shake things up. Places like Fashion Moda, ABC NO RIO, Franklin Furnance, and then later on, Fun Gallery, Gracie Mansiuon and 51X, that things started to shake and shape the new art scene… My early influences are, obviously Pop Art, such as James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol, but I also loved Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and a few others.
Living in New York, how do you rate the current art scene relative to the era in which you cut your teeth?
The entire art scene is so different. Before artists had to work with galleries to be able to eat and function. Today, artists have become their own dealers and have a better grasp of business, so galleries have fallen back and the art is now in the spotlight.
With your work seen on one of the guitar greats in Eric Clapton, did it effectively change your profile?
I never thought about the profile thing…I am a worker, I’ve got that thing inside me, it flows in my blood. I’m appreciative of the recognition, but it doesn’t change the fact that yesterday doesn’t pay my rent today and with the art that is being done today, I need to keep going and try to keep up.
How do you approach the relationship of fine art and graffiti, do they require different mindsets to engage in?
Graff is fine art, hands down…from the beginning that was my argument, and it has been settled!
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Stephen Wordie