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Interview Magazine present an interesting dialog involving former Deitch Projects founder and now MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch speaks with Freddy Braithwaite (more commonly known as Fab 5 Freddy) and Aaron Rose. Together, each individual has had an undeniable impact on the creative scene throughout the United States as Fab 5 Freddy captivated audiences through both music and art, and Aaron Rose paved the way via curation and his “Beautiful Losers” project. Excerpts of the comprehensive interviews can be seen below with a full viewing at Interview Magazine.
Fab 5 Freddy
JEFFREY DEITCH: I think because this is for Andy Warhol’s Interview we should start by discussing your genealogy with Andy, and how you had the remarkable insight to contact [writer, former Interview editor, and tv host] Glenn O’Brien and ask to participate in his show Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party.
FRED BRATHWAITE: I was a fan of Andy’s since I was a small kid. I recall seeing an ad of famous people on an airplane together. It was caricature drawing. There was Muhammad Ali, there was Miles Davis, and there was Andy Warhol. I had a fascination with him since I was little, and then I saw his work and the thing that he did. As I got older and more curious about the scene, I reached out to Glenn O’Brien, who was doing a music column in the magazine called “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” I loved the way he wrote about all different kinds of music—funk, reggae, new wave, and punk. I wanted to interview him for my college radio station. I was attending Medgar Evers College [of The City University of New York] for a short period. So that’s how I met him, and Glenn told me he was going to do a public-access TV show called TV Party. He said he wanted to have me on as a guest, because at that time I was also telling him about the beginning of hip-hop music—rap music, if you will, because at the time it really wasn’t known as hip-hop. And I was also telling him about graffiti and that I had been a graffiti artist and was interested in moving into the art world. I told Glenn, “I’d love to be a cameraman on your show.” He said, “Fred, you’ve never done that before. You can’t be the cameraman, but I’d love to have you come by and be a guest on the show.” When I showed up for the first episode, the guy who was supposed to operate one of the two cameras wasn’t there. Glenn looked at me and said, “Fred, get on that camera.” [laughs] I became one of the show’s cameramen and a regular guest. That was the beginning of my friendship with Glenn and many of the cool people that I would meet.
DEITCH: You’ve had a remarkable role as an artist, as a connector of people, and you’ve had an instrumental role in film. How did you discover that art was going to be your path?
Brathwaite: I grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. My father grew up with Max Roach, who became a prominent member of the be-bop jazz scene in the ’40s and ’50s. That was the most cutting-edge American music. Growing up, there were always lots of my father’s creative friends in the house talking about what was going on in the world with
culture and politics. It was a time of the anti-war movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement. All of these things were discussed passionately in my house every day. As a young kid running in and out of the room, I got snippets of this world, and as I became a teenager I began to look at the things I was involved in—the things going on around me. And I saw a similarity, a connection, between what we were doing in the streets and those earlier conversations about politics and art. Suddenly these things were much bigger than we realized. And I started getting really curious about art. I read about the Dadaists and the Futurists and the Constructivists—those kind of movements which were reflecting the angst of the people of their times. Their work was trying to lead a movement. I began thinking about what was happening, with painting on the streets and painting on the trains as being similar but also coming from a real, pure space. It wasn’t being created by academies. It was a spontaneous combustion of ideas that just happened. I would bring these ideas up while talking with Glenn and others. I was trying to find other people who could articulate the graffiti culture and take it out of that negative perception that the media gave us. I wanted to show that we were making viable art, a reflection of the time that we were living in.
DEITCH: You’ve been talking about the interrelationships between new music and new art. Can you expand on the idea of how graffiti was involved with rap and punk music?
BRATHWAITE: I felt strongly at the time that there was a synergy between rap music, deejaying, breakdancing, and the graffiti art on trains and walls. I saw them as one thing. When I met Charlie Ahearn at [Collaborative Projects art exhibit] “The Times Square Show” in 1980, he said right away, “Let’s make a movie.” We began making a film that would connect these forms as one movement, which we now know as hip-hop. My personal motivation was also that of being a painter and having my first shows alongside Lee Quiñones. I was very concerned about creating something bigger as a platform on where we were coming from as visual artists. I felt it was a complete culture, with dance, a unique sound, and visuals coming from a similar place—all made by these wild, urban New York teenagers, essentially [laughs]. It was great to put the pieces together to what would become Wild Style . A lot of the people in that film were really playing themselves. There was a lot of life imitating art at that time and everybody got it, everybody played along. And I think to our surprise, these things are still pulsating globally in ways that still boggle my mind. To be in Brazil and see the work of Os Gêmeos or to be in England and see what Banksy is doing is pretty fascinating to me.
DEITCH: The art and the music of that time is resonating more and more today. It fascinates me how much of the work was given attention by the art world establishment at the time. But while the “official” art world moved on, the actual audience just kept getting bigger and bigger. In fact, the audience for the art that has come out of your innovations is probably bigger than anything else in contemporary art.
BRATHWAITE: That’s great the way you put that, Jeffrey. When I was looking at the Russian Constructivists, these agitprop artists actually painted on trains. It was a heavy influence. They were bringing art to the people, to the masses, and breaking it out of the clubbiness of the art world, which is a monolith. We use the term pop in the art world, as in Pop Art, but we forget that its root is popular—popular culture. As we’ve become more sophisticated and we have more means of accessing information, we can put these stories together for ourselves, as opposed to only relying on some person in the art world. We can now dictate some of these rules ourselves. And by the fact that thousands of people have experienced aspects of this particular culture, they’re able to understand it. They’re able to put the pieces in place. Wild Style was a key to putting faces on individuals and allowing people to see that we were just young folks trying to break out and do something interesting that touches a lot of people. Our main aspiration for Wild Style were the movies that would play on 42nd Street in Times Square. That’s the old 42nd Street with all the Kung Fu and horror films. That’s where our target audience would gather for entertainment. We wanted a film that would appeal to our target audience, and now that film resonates 30 years later as a cult film. Rolling Stone voted Wild Style number 7 of 25 greatest music DVDs of all time. It’s so much more than we could have asked for, but really it’s just a reflection of the popular vote. We’re not from the classic background of those who had the large, loud voices of the art world. We’re not those people. But we were determined. Our objective was to do it by any means necessary, particularly Jean-Michel. It was going to be music, it was going to be film, it was going to be art, and it was definitely going to happen. We were figuring out ways to make it happen, and of course doing good work along the way. It’s great that it’s still alive and thriving and there are new players jumping in and adding new pieces. It keeps it from getting staid and boring.
JEFFREY DEITCH: I want to talk specifically about the art that arose out of skateboard-related culture, and for you that conversation starts in Los Angeles. You were able to take the strands of those various subcultures to New York and open a platform for the linkage between them—and graffiti—with Alleged Gallery. It became its own art movement known as Beautiful Losers.
AARON ROSE: I grew up in Los Angeles until I was 19, so that’s where it started for me. When I was a teenager, I had no knowledge of graffiti beyond what I’d seen on mtv. What was really big in the ’80s out here was punk and hardcore punk, skating and photocopy art and flyers. I grew up in Woodland Hills in the West Valley, which is about as suburban as you could get.
DEITCH: But even in that setting, a tough art form was emerging out of street culture.
ROSE: There was an alternative record store out there called Moby Disc. I stumbled upon it one day when my mother dropped me off at the shopping mall. They had a section of punk records. And, basically, seeing those vinyl 7″ and 12″ punk records was what turned me onto punk. Then through punk into skate culture, which I had known about for a while but it hadn’t really reached where I was living yet. When skateboarding and punk merged, it really became a large teen subculture.
DEITCH: What were some of the bands, artists, and album covers that were important to you?
ROSE: Black Flag was hugely influential. And so were the Circle Jerks and D.I. When I was 12 years old, I ditched my bedroom at night with an older neighbor, and he took me to this club called the Cathay de Grande, which was a big punk club in l.a. at the time.
DEITCH: You were 12 years old? I can’t believe they let you in the club!
ROSE: Oh yeah. There were no rules at that club. I barely remember the show, but I do remember that in the middle of the performance, the police came in and arrested the bass player. [Deitch laughs] I was like, “This is the most incredible thing.” And from then on, I just sort of stopped going to school and started taking the bus to Hollywood, and hanging out on Melrose Avenue. That was the epicenter of the l.a. punk movement at the time.
DEITCH: What year was this?
ROSE: That was ’82, the same year as my Bar Mitzvah. That’s when I discovered alternative culture. [laughs]
DEITCH: Not too many other 13-year-olds have this kind of experience.
ROSE: It was this record store! It comes up over and over again how small cultural hubs end up changing people’s lives. It was a record store in the middle of the Hills with two racks of punk records. And I’m sure the same thing happened to hundreds of other kids who grew up around there—all because of two bins of records.
DEITCH: Tell me a little more about this connection between punk and skate.
ROSE: They’re both activities that are rooted in rebellion. They’re anti-authoritarian, and they are also a place that certain kids—some of them very creative—could go and be accepted. If you were a “loser” at school, if you were a nerd, if you were a goof, punk would accept you and skateboarding would accept you. As long as you could skate, there were no restrictions socially. One of my favorite things about skateboarding, and this is what ties it into graffiti in a lot of ways, is that it was a completely multicultural group. You could be black, white, Asian, Latino, or you could be from Mars. It didn’t really matter. As long as you wanted to skate, you could skate. Where I grew up, it was primarily white, so it was really exciting for me personally to meet all these different kids. I was friends with gangsters. I had a friend who was in the Crips. I didn’t gang bang with him, but I knew those people because we all had this common love of skateboarding and hanging out on the scene. It’s very much a Southern California phenomenon. Skateboarding started in the ’50s, but it wasn’t until [Craig] Stecyk and the Dogtown thing that skateboarding adopted an outlaw attitude that was later tied to a music scene.
DEITCH: I’m intrigued by this connection between art and skateboarding. How is it that someone like Mark Gonzales becomes both an artist and a skateboarder?
ROSE: That’s a good question. Skateboarding now is defined as a sport because people have figured out a way to monetize it—mainly companies that sell skateboard-related clothing and shoes and things. So it’s fallen into the realm of athletics. But it’s a “sport” that has absolutely no rules. It’s completely free-form. So I consider it dance. I consider skateboarding a form of illegal, experimental dance that happens on the street. That’s how it fits into the larger movement of street—specifically graffiti.
DEITCH: What were some forms of skateboarding that were actually couched in an art-world setting?
ROSE: Mark Gonzales’s performance, which will be featured in the exhibition, was one he did in Germany in 1998. What he did in that museum, aside from the fact that it was set to classical music and he was wearing a costume, was no different than what he was doing in a skate park. He recontextualized it. Putting it in a museum, he called it ballet and that was that. I noticed in the early ’90s how graffiti crews and skate crews started hanging out a lot together. That’s how I discovered graffiti. Through [curator, writer, and senior editor at Paper magazine] Carlo McCormick, actually. He was the door guy at Max Fish for years. I met Futura and Dr. Revolt and a lot of those graffiti guys at that bar. Mainly because Carlo knew them.
DEITCH: Which were some of the clubs you went to?
ROSE: Save the Robots. I spent a lot of time there. And The World. I had some good nights at The World. There were a bunch of other ones, too. I worked at that store and then I got the storefront space on Ludlow for $400 a month. Four of us shared it and lived in the back, while the front became the gallery.