I had an amazing experience with Barcelona-based street artist BALU in New York City back in March. The day came out of nowhere and to make a long story short, I ended up going around the city with him and documenting his incredibly courageous, albeit illegal (!!) slapping up of wheat pastes of certain public figures in specific designated spots that represented and symbolized the men (i.e. Kanye West was slapped up on WEST 4th in the Village, etc.) ~ The pictures and the story garnered enough interest for Mikel Reparaz, a European journalist covering Basque Country news, to do a video interview/story on our experience and on graffiti in NYC, in general. It’s in Spanish, but please do check it out.
Born and raised: Connecticut to a Jamaican father and Caucasian mother.
Creativity springs from: Musician father (guitar) and artist mother.
As a child, the debate between his parents was always whether Chy would pick up a guitar or a paintbrush.
Answer: As soon as he could pick up a pen, drawing became his passion.
Relocated to Miami: 2012
At about 14, he discovered spray paint and began writing basic tags of “Blue” and “Joker.” He started his street presence as a member of the TNB crew.
In the studio:
Chytea: “It’s a reflection of myself; the things I’ve trooped through and gotten past. I know for a fact that the universe will only give you as much as you can handle. So you just have to keep on troopin’.”
Chytea: Inspired by the Star Wars Stormtrooper. “I initially sketched him back in 2010, almost like just a doodle in my sketchbook, and didn’t think too much about it at the time. Then, when I got to Miami in 2012 and was having my mind blown by everything on the streets, seeing big murals for the first time, and quickly coming to the realization that having a signature character is ‘where it’s at,’ I decided I needed my own character. So, I just started looking through all of my old sketchbooks and Mitrooper was there from 2010. And I just said ‘Yes, that’s it!’ And from then on, I just started throwing Mitrooper up all over the streets of Miami.”
Mitrooper on the streets of Miami:
Chytea: “Because ‘Me’ in Jamaican is spelt “Mi.”
Chytea: “Yes. Mitroopers are in Belgium, France, Spain, The Netherlands, and Jamaica.”
Mitrooper philosophy explained:
Sincerest thanks to Chytea for an incredibly enlightening day.
Peace and best wishes for constant evolution in 2017.
29dec16. Miami, FL.
CHEF TOMOAKI KOGA FOUNDED COM COKA: 19may2011
Blogger’s note: When I first came to Kobe, Japan for a 6-month stint of work and travel back in September 2011, I was coming with the life experience of having lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for four years (2006-2010.) In addition to living in “Saigon,” I also traveled extensively throughout the country (Tet 2009 ~ rode my Honda motorbike from HCM to Danang, stopping all along the way to sample the cuisine Vietnam has to offer.) I spent significant time in Nha Trang, stayed in off-the-beaten path locales like Tam Coc and Ninh Binh…and also tasted the ‘differences’ from Saigon-style…in Hanoi, the country’s capital. I am not exaggerating when I say that Com Coka’s Vietnamese food is AS GOOD as anything I ever ate in Vietnam! My biggest questions were “How?” and “Why?” This is a Japanese guy. Why isn’t he making sushi?
After leaving Kobe in February 2012, I once again returned in April 2014 for another extended stint, this one lasting nine months. Obviously, one of the main attractions for returning, was to once again, eat some delicious, authentic Vietnamese grub. When did Koga-san first become interested in Vietnamese cooking? Where does his passion stem from? Answers to those questions and more, below:
TOKIDOKI: At what age did you first become interested in cooking?
Tomoaki Koga: 13.
KOGA: Both of my parents were very busy when I was growing up and my paternal grandmother lived with us. She was relied upon to do most of the cooking for our family and I became interested in first, watching her, and then eventually, helping her.
TD: So, this obviously made you close to your grandmother? A bond.
Don’t blame the chef. This bowl of pho is a special request by me. I love vegetarian pho, but not with all of the green and herbs. I prefer tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, onions, and potatoes. Koga-san desperately tries to encourage my green vegetable consumption, but alas, I resist. At least, for this dish. He generally makes a delicious, authentic beef or chicken pho, from his menu.Mango che. If you’ve been to Vietnam, you know “Ba Ba Ba.” Singha is Thai, yes, as he does try to include a variety of Southeast Asia beers for his customers.
TOKIDOKI: What were some of the dishes you first learnt to make with your grandmother?
KOGA: She made a lot of traditional Fukuoka-style Japanese dishes, so I learnt how to make ‘easy food’ like fried rice and fish with stewed pumpkin and minced pork.
TD: What did your parents think of your cooking initially?
KOGA: They thought “no good,” (laughing) at first! (laughing) Then they liked it more and more.
TD: So, at what age did you know that you wanted to actually become a chef, to make it your career?
KOGA: 17. I watched the Japanese cooking show, “Iron Chef,” and loved it!
KOGA: After high school, I went to two years of cooking school in Fukuoka where I studied Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese cooking. Then I moved to Kyoto and studied and worked in the oldest Italian restaurant in the old capital. I was there for a year and learned a lot, but it was too traditional, lacking spontaneity and creativity. I needed to do more.
TOKIDOKI: So, when did you become interested in Vietnamese cooking?
KOGA: I went on holiday to Osaka while I was still working in Kyoto, and discovered Vietnamese food there. I then went to Vietnam for the first time and studied in Ho Chi Minh City for about two weeks. I learnt to make proper beef pho, the standard dish, right? (smiling) and chicken wings and spring rolls. By the time I was 25, I was the head chef at a Vietnamese restaurant in Tokyo. This is of course, after establishing trust with the owners. At first, they refused to allow a Japanese chef to make Vietnamese food. I had to be a waiter for a year! Eventually, they tested my abilities as a chef, and I won the spot over their regular Vietnamese chef!
TOKIDOKI: So, what made you so passionate about Vietnamese food?
KOGA: I moved to Hanoi, Vietnam to study Vietnamese cooking for a year and a half and I soon realized that the “Vietnamese heart” is similar to the “Japanese heart” and I just fell in love with the people and the culture.
TD: First dish you learnt how to make in Hanoi?
KOGA: Thit xao ca chua (stewed tomato, basil, tofu, and mushrooms)
TD: What’s your favorite dish to make?
KOGA: Banh cuon (steamed spring roll)
TD: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KOGA: I really don’t know. I’m going back to Vietnam next year to research and study more. Every year, Com Coka is building a stronger customer base, so I have to think about staying here or looking for a new location.
Blogger’s note 2: If you happen to visit Kobe and find yourself in the Kitano area, I highly recommend Com Coka as your restaurant to try. Com Coka’s email address and Facebook page information are provided on the business card image that is imbedded in the post up above.
Every day except Wednesday: 1130am-330pm, 530-1030pm
*On Wednesdays, Com Coka is closed, but his staff runs “Iris Cafe” from 12pm-7pm, where they offer tea and homemade Japanese cakes and sweets.
18dec14. Kobe, Japan.
Everyone asks me when did I get involved with and become so passionate about street art. I know exactly when, where, and why. Bogota, Colombia, not so long ago…2012… because of Crisp, a Bogota-based Australian street artist. His passion, knowledge, and talent inspired me. Before I met him, my head was definitely turning towards all of the art I was seeing on the walls in Bogota. I was learning Spanish from translating the slogans, I was learning about the political climate in Colombia, and I was learning who the most prominent artists were. Because I was feeling so affected by the public displays of art, I knew that there was something deeper and more beautiful about graffiti and street art than most people accept or recognize. And Crisp was always available for commentary. I’ve already posted so much of his work, but here, I’m going to post a mural I was likely enough to document right here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC, plus a few Banker Vader stickers that have popped up in the city as well. Here’s more insight into this talented, generous artist:
TOKIDOKI: What’s the difference between street art and graffiti and what category would you place yours in? I know you’ve done commissioned, non-commissioned, stickers, paste-ups…Is it possible your work is one thing in Australia, Europe, the U.S. (graffiti)… but something different in Bogota where it is ‘essentially’ legal?
CRISP: Graffiti writing is stylised writing, letters and words. Street art is everything else. Though street art, urban art and graffiti can be used to describe anything on the streets these days I think. I’m definitely not a writer, so I do street or urban art. In Bogota urban art is prohibited not legal but def more tolerated than in other cities in the world.
TD: Do you remember the first time you put your work on the street? What was it? Where was it? I always ask this question because in my mind I’m thinking it has to be a pretty momentus occasion. But, maybe it’s not…?
C: Both my parents are artists, so I have created art ever since I could hold a crayon. Putting stuff up on the street though is quite a recent thing for me. I’d say about 3 years ago here in Bogota bombing small tribal face stencils was my first experience!
TD: How has your work evolved from Pre-Bogota (before I had the pleasure of an introduction to your work) to what you’re doing now in Bogota and also what you’re doing now in Mexico, the U.S. (NYC, Atlanta, Miami…)? Did you start off with anti-corporate sentiments or did that position evolve? In regards to images, I’m a huge fan of the trooper, vader, yoda, and monkey (that I only saw once…the piece with Miko.) And I like the Obama one with the Indigenes, as well as the new Julian Assange portrayal. Your current images are also compelling (the ones that are in this post…) afro-woman, native man, humpback whale, elephant, rat (forgive me if I haven’t identified them correctly, please correct)…what do they represent?
C: Before I came to Bogota I was doing “fine” art, so drawings on paper, paintings on canvas, sculptures and other traditional art forms. Whereas most my work now is on the street. I’m working predominately with stencils at the moment but also do stickers, street sculpture, and paste ups. I’ve always done a mix of socio-political artwork and solely aesthetic pieces. Many of my images are connected to nature, and humans interaction with it, also making points about current affairs and the distorted world we live in today.
TD: What are you saying with this particular mural? I realize that a large part of you wants people to interpret your work for themselves. Fair enough. But, if you HAD to say what it means to you, what would you say? I’m seeing a connectedness of the human spirit with nature…
C: Yes my recent murals in north america were about the connection between nature, animals, and humans. I wanted to emphasis how native people have a closer harmonious relationship with nature, and we should learn from them. Also I just thought it looked cool lol
TOKIDOKI: Your star is steadily rising, mostly due to the evident passion you possess for your art. It’s inspiring. It’s contagious. You’re a huge reason that I’m doing what I’m doing. What’s your ultimate goal to fulfill in regards to your art?
CRISP: Thank you for your kind words, I appreciate hearing my work inspires and effects others. My ultimate goal is to do art as long and as much as possible as long as it makes me and others happy. When I don’t do art I feel lost and it makes me feel like I’m not following my dream or passion.
TD: Do you like Banksy? Why/Why not?
C: I’ve always liked Banksy’s work, he has also helped bring not only stencils but urban art to the masses. His stencils are nicely done and he always has a clever message behind his work. He is able to push important issues and make many people think through his work. What I don’t like, is the fact he is the only urban artists that the general public can mention or knows about. That is a shame when there are so many other great artists out there. Saying that this is due to media rather than him.
TOKIDOKI: FAVE 5?
CRISP: Food – mango
Book: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
Music: Led Zeppelin
Artist: James Gleeson (Australian surrealist)
TD: Who are your Top 3 international street artists/graffiti writers and why?
C: Very difficult Question….BLU – Not only does he create powerful massive murals but his animation work on the streets of Buenos Aires are breath taking!
ROA – Awesome mix of realistic animals and anatomy.
DjLu – From huge technical and detailed stencilled murals to powerful socio-political bombing pictogram stencils! Plus very nice guy.
TOKIDOKI: In your opinion, what are the top 3 cities in the world for street art?
CRISP: Bogota, Colombia – Still quite unknown and underground to the general urban art world but the most prolifically covered city I have ever traveled through. Probably one of the best cities in the world for stencil art.
New York, USA – Not just because this is where it all began but the likes of 5 pointz and Buchwick/Brooklyn make this city an awesome eyeful!
London, UK – While I lived in the UK for over 10 years, this is where my love of urban art first started. And it brings so many talented and diverse urban artists to its streets.
TD: Then I consider myself very lucky to have closely documented two of the three! I named some, but what are all of the countries around the world that your work can be found in?
CRISP: UK (London), USA (New York, Atlanta, and Miami), Canada (Winnipeg), Mexico (Sayulita, Mexico city), Dominican Republic, and Colombia.
Thanks so much, Crisp, for taking the time to answer my questions and I will keep following you forever!
Background: “My father was an engineer in the military, so I was moved around about 14 times by the age of 18, and lived in 4 other countries and multiple places stateside in the past 10 years.”
TOKIDOKI: I looked at your developing website…the word “married” is next to the mural that I am trying to figure out (12th & 2nd.) Is that the name of it or no?
NATHAN MELLOTT: No, the mural is nameless. The title next to it, on my website, is a reference to its availability; permanent, unattainable, wedded to a wall.
TOKIDOKI: Is the excerpt about ‘falling into the sky’ related to this mural? I see you tie written words with your art pieces…
NATHAN MELLOTT: No, it is not related to the mural. My written works are only sketches at this point, I have not honed that craft; I just wish to share them as I do the visual pieces. None are written to explain or compliment another piece in particular; but given I feel they run in the same vein, or share commonalities of atmosphere, I think they animate/apprise each other.
TD: I have to say, when I came upon this piece, at first glance, I assumed it wasn’t finished and was hopeful I’d catch you in a day or two, working on it, finishing it up. But, that’s not the case. You know, most art on the streets, fill spaces completely. So, with further pondering, I found it refreshing. Shut up, Jackie. Get to your question. Why so much space?
NM: It does feel a bit unfinished, but the idea is established (more could have been added/refined, but the negative space you mention would still be there); to varying degrees I think this is always the case – then again maybe the majority of street artists achieve finality – or aim for an image that cannot be expounded/expanded on. However, this is beside the case. I desire negative space. It’s inclusive: co-habitable. There is a place and a context; there are distances filled, cacophonous, orchestrated – and voids, deserts of activity, room to breathe, frontiers for the imagination of both the subject and viewer. Space creates rhythm and organicness, balance, and in great compositions, apparent calm and tension simultaneously. The viewer can remain longer, linger, find a place they are not being shouted at, then return to chaotic/dense places to parse. Viewers deserve their due credit to imagine (themselves, their creations, their interpretations) because they are fully capable; the picture is not so busy, so preachy, that it has no room for one to insert or be a part of the context.
TOKIDOKI: Why are some people wearing masks and some aren’t? Is it because that’s what actually occurs in real life?
NATHAN M: I want the image to be an informed extension of reality. Masks – identity, self perception, projection (or the lack of masks, or the approach to masks) – metaphorically, are a part of social life (though not everyone’s), to admonish or admire, to identify with or be in disgust of, to seriously utilize or approach playfully; their universality in particular, involves everyone. A mask, I guess, is one guise when we are built for a range of them (maybe seeing masks victimizes us, enrages our guard); it’s alien, and inhibits empathy, it suggests anarchy, secret intentions, classification, roles, declaration and anonymity. I guess the amount of masks shown is my assumptive proportion of them, because if more masks were used (or if everyone wore one), I would feel I had made something explicitly about identity. Not my goal. If no masks were included, I would have been disingenuous to their role in my worldview, mythology, architecture, opinion, expression, et cetera. In short, they are useful and engaging.
TOKIDOKI: Why is the woman’s right foot buried and the men are working on her left one?
NATHAN MELLOTT: That’s just how I found her.
TD: “A little learning is a dangerous thing…” from Alexander Pope…what is its significance in the scheme of the mural? (NB readers: the poem is in the mural)
NM: It’s a detail of that world, a mantra for someone who carved it in the mountain. It is there to enlarge(n) the scope, and be a reference to ideas that influence me. It is a resignation; a critique and a plea for understanding, that I did what I could in the limited time I had, and an insinuation that I will do better. I do not live in New York any more, and was able to stay by the grace of my friends for 2 weeks. The entire wall was planned, prep’ed, and executed in those two weeks – it is a more than adequate poem about exhaustion and humility for having tried something I wanted to be impressive, emotionally complicated (original?), and pleasant enough that property owners wouldn’t cover it. (Plus/Also), I think the arts should cross inform each other. If I had the fortune to spend six months working on the mural, I would, but that excerpt from the Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope continues to be relevant to how I perceive my artistic efforts (though I may have instead included a poem of my own).
TOKIDOKI: Why are some giants and others are quite small?
NATHAN M: Some of my work uses size at liberty in what has evolved as an extension of an idea to represent dynamism or dualism or tandemism in the vein described by William Blake’s Poem “The Mental Traveller.” It is a means of anthropomorphizing a sense of civil, social, and cultural strata (e.g. disproportionate influence, force, control, power, inequality, balance, growth and diminishment, the natural and unnatural, industry/corporatism and subsistence, youth and antiquity, sex and stone, cyclical chaos).
TOKIDOKI: Why is the man clutching the baby and holding a can of paint?
NATHAN MELLOTT: The man is a patriarch, he is successful but less so than his namesake, and although his identity leans heavily on being earnest, productivity is crucial – oh! but how he fancies (himself) to have never lied, never pretended; you can tell by how he clutches the child, it isn’t cradled, but carried, being moved – they are qualities a man in his position must be remembered for. For shit’s sake, he’s depended on! And dissolution of his control does little foreseeable good; ‘am not I, an honest person, the lesser of evils when care need be entrusted?’ Only he has caught himself muttering: Reprehensible in regards to etiquette; but it is dutiful, not subversive to say so, and it thickens his pride that he is self-aware. Go forth and relegate.
TD: Is there a figure buried under there completely? I see a gray foot protruding. What does it mean?
NM: I respectfully decline to answer this question. OR The fingers and toes are a nod to the salon next door.
TD: Masked people flying?
NM: To me, it’s a very relatable image.
TOKIDOKI: Do you like Banksy? Why/Why not?
NATHAN M: Yes. He’s funny.
TD: And who commissioned this piece? Or wasn’t it commissioned? I’d imagine the building’s owner…?
NM: It was commissioned (my supplies were paid for, but no more) by the salon, Pastel, who maintains that wall of the property.
TOKIDOKI: I saw on your facebook page, some allusion to a ‘night in jail…’ can you elaborate? Or would you prefer I not say anything about that? Is it even related?
NATHAN MELLOTT: In the winter of 2009, in February, I was living half a block away from the mural, on 12th street. That big wall was tagged with lettering, and I asked the salon, which managed the wall, if I could paint a mural if I cleaned it up. They said yes, I cleaned it up, and started delineating figures on the wall when a plainclothed cop in an unmarked car pulled up, asked if I owned the building, asked no further questions and placed me under arrest and in the back of a newly arrived NYPD cruiser, never reading my rights nor telling me what I was arrested for. I went to the precinct on 4th street, then was transferred to central booking in lower manhattan and spent 23 and half hours in cells. Then I was shuffled into a courtroom, charged with graffiti, was told I wasn’t a flight risk by prosecutors, then given my future court date. When that day came, charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. I finished the mural that summer in 6 days, and it lasted 4 years until someone, this summer, wrote in bubble-letters on it. So I came back to the city in August and painted a whole new picture.
Thank you so much, Nathan!
OCT13. 12th & 2nd. New York City.