Back in the day, tagging the streets of Soho and Brooklyn with my friends used to bring about an adrenaline rush unfound in other delinquent activities. Against the walls of those same streets, were countless posters from real street artists, pasted up. Then they started showing up in my childhood neighborhood of Bushwick. The name that showed up in both locations was ASVP.
ASVP’s work has been displayed on buildings as paste ups, murals, and print work in galleries some in which I’ve found myself walk by everyday. Now, in their latest endeavor, ASVP is gearing up to be in Moniker Art Fair, May 3-6th. The duo takes full ownership of a mixed media style that blends pop iconography, classic comic book style, and expressionism.
My neighborhood has embraced the art community in a broad and obvious way that has made me feel more at home now than it has previously in the past 24 years I’ve lived there. I can’t help but smile when I see a person tagging in broad daylight. The community used to scrub the tags of neighborhood kids off the side of my house.
On the day of my interview with ASVP, I walked through Bushwick Collective finding it funny that their studio was walking distance from my house, remembering how I used to have explain where the L train even went.
When did ASVP start?
It started around nine years ago. We started to make images together as a team and then we got more dedicated and more serious, kind of full-time with it around six years ago.
How did it start? How did you guys get together?
We were creators in an advertising agency. We had a history of collaborating on things. We kind of knew we could create things together. That’s where we initially met and eventually decided to take off and pursue things that were more interesting to us on a personal level.
What does ASVP stand for?
Nothing really. It has meaning to us but it really doesn’t stand for any one thing.
How did you guys start out?
We started with wheat pastings. Tons of wheat paste all over the world. Mostly in New York but we also did Detroit, L.A., Cleveland, England – all over Shoreditch, South Africa, we did a few murals in Varanasi, India. Lots in Switzerland. We’ve been around the block.
What inspires the work?
It’s a complex question, but to boil it down to some key points: Commercial imagery, comic books, graphic illustration are all a part of it. A lot of the process is inspired by exploring commercial processes like printing, which is a lot of what we do, and mixing it with more hand drawn, hand painted elements. So it’s kind of a commercial world and a fine art world merging.
How long have you guys been working in Brooklyn?
We’ve been in Brooklyn for about six years! Our studio has been in Brooklyn for six years. We’ve been putting paste ups and murals up in Brooklyn for 10.
Why Brooklyn? You guys have gone all around the world, what is it about Brooklyn that makes it the space you guys wanted?
To start, it actually came from the larger social context within the urban contemporary art world. A friend of ours who’s a fellow artist, heard that we were looking for a space and he has a studio here, knew that there was a vacant spot so he asked us to come and check it out. We were obviously familiar with the area because we had posted a lot of our work around here. We had also been based in New York forever so it wasn’t too far of a leap.
How much of the community or changes in the neighborhood affect the work?
They affect the work pretty significantly in a certain sense. Since we got here, many more people have come here that we’re connecting with more regularly, we have more in common with on a day to day basis. That’s creating a lot more dialogue, a lot more conversation, a lot more lunches, studio visits, and a lot more activity. A big byproduct of that is inspiration and influence because a lot of those people are artists and other creative individuals who we open up to and are influenced by.
Is there a medium in particular that you guys enjoy working on? Paste ups? Murals?
The work we do in the studio is something our hearts have been more invested as we’re creating more unique works on paper and on canvas. We love making murals, too but, we’re really focused on this new body of work that we’re doing. We’re always clamoring to get into the studio to just keep dialing this in and pushing it forward.
Most of the work that we’re making right now is at the intersection of printmaking and painting so it’s kind of a hybrid mixed media thing and that’s primarily what we’ve been working on.
Pop culture plays a huge role in the work. Are there particular people, figures, movements, timeframes that are favorites or are particularly drawn from?
There are a lot of influences that come into the work. From early on, things as far back as Norman Rockwell influenced the work. There are several graphic novel and comic book artists who influence a lot of what we’re doing greatly. The new work is being driven by kind of pop iconography, pop art, pop imagery, and abstract expressionism. It’s kind of a marriage of those two things so we’re kind of calling it “Pop AbX.” Sort of a mashup of those two genres.
Comics obviously play a huge role in the work. Who’s your favorite superhero?
Historically we would have to say Batman. We were heavily influenced personally by the early Batman in movies with Michael Keaton and the explosion of Batman in the early 90s and late 80s.
Are there any particular favorite comics or issues?
There really aren’t. Early on, we copied a lot of comic book drawings so that sunk the hooks in for this lifelong love of graphic illustration look and feel. We’ve also always been obsessed with abstraction, textural surfaces, and paintings like that.
There aren’t really issues but it’s really the look and the feel of that style, of that black and white hard contrast drawing that was important. To be honest, growing up, we didn’t even really read them that much. We just looked at them and looked at the imagery and we took in the visuals more than the context.
Marvel vs. DC?
We straddle the fence on that one. We don’t have a favorite of either of them.
Have you watched or do you like the new live action stuff that’s going on?
It’s funny. We kind of have mixed feelings about it. The answer is yes but my heart and my soul are really in the whole indie film kind of world. We do think that Hollywood has become a little more formulaic with these big budget kind of sure thing kind of movies that they know they’re gonna rake a lot of money in on and I do think in a larger sense that’s a great thing. But yeah! I love all of the Ironman movies. I love all of the Spiderman movies.
A couple of weeks back on your social, the #neveragain movement seemed to have a big impact on you guys. Can you tell me what was going through you guys’ head in terms of re releasing the 2011 Protection print?
It just struck a chord with us. These issues are extremely important and we feel like with how powerful social networking has become, it’s easy to see how a little voice can contribute to a much larger voice. It’s easier to feel like you can be proactive and make a difference. When we saw that – what happened down in Florida, we had that edition printed already, it just struck a chord with us. We thought this was the perfect time to do this and contribute the money to the cause and try to lend some support and let them know that a lot of people are behind them.
We’re not activists as artists but we certainly are happy to support things that are as important as that.
How do current events or news or politics affect the work?
They affect the work in the sense that news and current events affect all of us. It’s the oxygen that we’re all breathing. Whether it’s subconscious or it’s really on the surface, focused, and concentrated on, of course we’re pushed by the social constructs and things we’re hearing about. Activism is not at the forefront of what our aims and goals are.
In that sense, do you guys foresee more past pieces or new pieces based on what’s going on?
The answer is yes. We’re developing this new body of work and part of it is definitely inspired by social changes that are happening in respect to gender roles in our society, the Women’s Movement, and some of the changes that have been happening in respect to abuse of power so that’s very timely. That’s driving one aspect of the work but it is still in development so we’re not hanging a lantern on that aspect so brightly right now but kind of keeping that under wraps more and kind of seeing where the work goes.
Can you tell me about the work being presented at Moniker?
In a nutshell, it’s basically pop abstract expressionism. We’re taking pop imagery and pop iconography and we’re deconstructing and reimagining it in more fluid expressionistic pieces. We’re taking these typically commercially reproduced images that are printed in comic books and magazines and things like that and we’re trying to lay them out and recreate them in a way that feels more like a painting. Like an expressionistic painting. So it’s kind of a collision of the commercial and the fine together.
Who’s work or other artists from right now or in the past are helping to inspire the work?
There’s certainly some Jackson Pollock. Some Willem de Kooning. Mark Rothko on the expressionistic, abstract side. From the illustration side, there are several people too. Jim Aparo, Frank Frazetta, Brian Schroeder (Pushead), Vernon Courtland Johnson and even Mike Giant.
Is there any particular piece that you guys have done that you find as your favorite?
No. There isn’t. At different points in time, especially if we just created something, we’ll fall in love with it. We’ll have a little crush on it for it a while. I love the rabbit’s foot. It’s a great image but it’s all really a part of a patchwork of a much larger arc. They’re like pixels that are making a much larger picture for us.
We also think it’s kind of valuable not to hold on too tightly to any one thing. It’s easy to stagnate. We just kind of broke into a brand new thing so we’re both at a place right now where we’re opening the floodgates, letting it all hang out there, and not holding on too tightly to just see where it goes.
Can you tell me of any upcoming projects?
We just finished an almost 300 foot long mural down in Richmond, Virginia with SPARC, the performing arts school in the Richmond community and the Richmond Mural Project so that was last week. We just did a small piece on Allen Street and Stanton in Lower Manhattan. We’re participating in a show called “In Bloom” which is taking place at the Quinn Hotel. It’s curated by Lori Zimmer and DK Johnston. We’re going to be participating in Mural Festival in June up in Montreal. We also have an upcoming release with Poster Child Prints. It’s a collaboration with us and Rick Neilsen, who’s the legendary guitar player from Cheap Trick. We’re also co-curating a show that’s going to open in late May at Agnes Be’s gallery on Howard Street in Soho. That’s going to be a print show with some really great artists in it.
Is there anything you’d like to say in general or to our Brooklyn Magazine readers?
We’ve never lived in Brooklyn. We’ve only worked in Brooklyn. But at the same time, it’s become our home. I feel like Brooklyn has given us way more than we’ve given to it. Our pieces have been seen here. We’ve gotten into amazing collaborations because we’ve put work up in Brooklyn and then people have gone and seen it and gotten in touch with us. It really is a beehive of inspiration and connectivity and it’s really due to the borough itself. Brooklyn’s got its own special energy.
You can find their work and the work of other artists at Moniker Art Fair on May 3-6 at The Greenpoint Terminal.