“The reason we painted the first mural [as A’Shop] was to show what graffiti kids could do,” said artist, entrepreneur, and A’Shop founder Fluke at last week’s edition of Off the Record, Fresh Paint’s panel discussion series on contemporary issues in graffiti and street art. The night’s talk, titled “Commercialization of Graffiti and Street Art,” featured Fluke along with New York native (and occasional Montrealer) QB NYC aka Turtle Caps, and was moderated by Mike O’Brien. The conversation last about two hours and focused on themes of street cred, selling out, and how to make a living through art.
According to the A’Shop website, Fluke’s career took off when A’Shop, a collective of “pioneers of the [graffiti] movement” came together in 2009 as a “creative resources and solutions” firm, who produce “large-scale murals, live performances, décor, canvas art and custom design work for both commercial and private clients.” Fluke himself started doing graf at the age of 9 and says he always saw the process of getting up as “a business transaction”: it was a matter of finding the spots with the best return, the most visibility, and the least likeliness to be buffed. Back in the day, he says, graffiti was about gaining recognition. If you were offered an art contract, someone was into what you were doing—and that was a good thing. The market now, however, is oversaturated; many artists get work simply based on their CV or who they know, rather than individual talent.
At this point in the discussion, QB chimed in to agree with Fluke: “A lot of my commissions come from the fact that they want a guy from New York,” he said. Bridging the gap between the two cities isn’t always easy it seems. QB hails from the Queens borough in the Big Apple, and currently spends about half the year in Montreal. (Guess which season? Hint: he’s here now and there’s no snow on the ground.) QB’s career dates back to the founding of the now-defunct graffiti mecca 5Pointz, originally called the Fun Factory, a spot that he and a few friends got permission to paint on from an ex-FBI agent and owner of a small business called Graffiti Terminators. Getting the project going was tough at first, QB says, since most graf writers in New York at the time scorned legal walls. In fact, it wasn’t until well-known writer SPI came down and did a piece in clear view of the elevated 7 train that the scene took notice. Since then, the building’s exterior exploded in a riot of colors and styles. Though the building’s owners, the Wolkoff family, had the site whitewashed last fall in preparation for demolition, 5Pointz continues to be a reminder of the movement’s historical shift from vandalism to profit.
So, what does it mean to sell out? With generous audience contribution, the conversation posited several ways of approaching the question. Perhaps no one said it better, however, than QB himself when he explained, “I’ve grown out of the graf—[you hit] a certain point in your life where you have to branch out.” Selling out may mean different things for each artist and each city, but Fluke and QB concur on one thing: as an artist, you have to keep creating and progressing within one’s work. Here at Fresh Paint, we couldn’t agree more.
A collaboration between QB NYC (www.qbnyc.com) and Futur Lasor Now is currently viewable at Fresh Paint ($2 entry, Wednesday-Sunday 12pm-8pm). Please feel free to visit Fluke and friends over at www.ashop.ca.