Photo illustration by Johansen Peralta
Jan 30, 2023
The dust-kicker: Artist Timothy Goodman on life, love and work
The man behind the latest Kevin Durant Nike sneaker design discusses his career and his new graphic memoir about love and heartbreak
Timothy Goodman went from a rough childhood in Ohio to painting houses for a living, before going on to design major murals in Williamsburg and working with huge brands like Apple and Uniqlo … and most recently on to designing the latest Kevin Durant Nike. A troubled kid with lousy grades and raw ambition, Goodman got his act together through therapy and then moving to New York 19 years ago to attend the School of Visual Arts. Goodman found himself in no small amount of success, pretty quickly.
The artist is enjoying a good start to 2023. Goodman, who previously worked with The Kevin Durant Foundation in 2020 —he painted a large basketball court that the Brooklyn Nets superstar donated to P.S. 315 — was tapped to design the Nike KD15 “Timothy Goodman” shoe, the 15th iteration of Durant’s flagship sneaker. That dropped, and sold out, last month. He started this month by designing Time Magazine’s first cover of the year.
But wait, there’s more.
Goodman is this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” His graphic memoir, “I Always Think It’s Forever,” is out this week. It tells the story of a trip he took to Paris in 2019 as a gift to himself, after a rough year. There, he fell in love. He fell in love with the country, with baguettes, and a woman. And there, he got his heart broken. It’s a great read for anyone who’s ever been down that road.
Here, Goodman discusses his childhood, getting his act together, working with corporate clients, and being an artist of his own making. We talk about love and therapy, and we talk about the work. His visual style is both nostalgic, old-school, and yet hip and current. It’s evocative of the New York of the 1980s, of Keith Haring. There’s hip-hop in there, there’s basketball, and there is a timeless positivity.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. You can listen to it in its entirety in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.
Timothy Goodman, welcome to “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” It’s great to see you. It’s great to have you here.
Yeah, it’s good to be here as well. Thanks for having me. I’m a big fan. I’m a New Yorker for almost 19 years now, so I lived in Brooklyn, shout-out Crown Heights, for many, many years. Shout-out Park Slope, shout-out Flatbush.
Park Slope doesn’t get a lot of shout-outs these days, so I’m glad. So you’ve had a big year, 2022, and 2023 is off to a great start. But let’s start with the man behind it all, New Yorker of 19 years. You’re actually a kid from Ohio. Who was that kid? Who was young Timmy Goodman?
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, LeBron country. I was a little dust-kicker. I was into getting into trouble. I grew up right on the border of East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and we were into sports, and into getting trouble, and into smoking cigarettes at a young age, and stealing from CVSs, and just running around like little dust-kickers. And then I moved to a town up, when I was like 13, and then I was just a really horrible high school student. I barely graduated, doing drugs every weekend, smoking weed every day, had a 1.7 GPA. And my grandmother was an artist, so that was always in the background, and I would take art classes and stuff when I was younger, but when I was a teenager, I had no interest.
When I graduated and all my friends went off to college, I really had to face the facts. I had to look at myself in the mirror and be like, “What the fuck am I doing?” I didn’t even want to go to college, but I couldn’t get into any college if I tried. I was getting arrested for stupid shit, and I started painting houses for this guy named Dave. He had this really high-end home improvement company, and I would fuck up all the time. He should have fired me a million times over and he didn’t. And through that process, I started learning the merits of hard work, and determination, and what it meant to maybe make a life out of something, and I got rid of all my old friends, and I stopped doing drugs, and I stopped fucking around, and by the time I was like 21, I started taking community college classes in Cleveland. Shout-out Cuyahoga Community College. Tri-C, changed my life.
You’ve been very open about your struggles, and I guess your self-destructive tendencies or destructive tendencies when you were younger. What do you attribute that to? I’m sure that core energy is still in you somewhere. How do you use that today? What do you attribute it to initially?
I grew up without a father. I didn’t know my biological father. I didn’t know where he went, and like a lot of people, I kind of yearned for some sort of father figure. At least people growing up where I did, and my mother kind of working, and we would have free rein. We would run in the streets. And I didn’t have a sort of discipline, maybe, that I felt like looking back, would have helped, and I lashed out and a lot of reasons. I also had a horrible stepfather, who was doing everything but being a dad in a real way, and I think that was hard. So you lash out. You don’t have a language when you’re a kid, to understand this kind of stuff.
When I was taking community college classes, and I started really wanting to figure out how to go to a major metropolitan [city], like I was looking into art schools in New York and L.A. Also, I had to take out all these loans and apply for all these scholarships, because I don’t come from money and I couldn’t pay for anything. And I was like, “Well, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to try to succeed hard, and potentially fail hard. I’m going to go to New York City. I’m going to go to where —”
Where it happens.
Yeah. And thanks to therapy, learning later, many years in therapy, so much of this attitude when I was in my early 20s, and trying to quote-unquote “make it and be successful” was all in response to me trying to prove people wrong back home. Later, you connect the dots, and you’re like, “Wow.” At some point, that goes away. You have to sit with yourself and feel like, “Okay, what am I in this for now?”
“I’m out of excuses now. I’m an adult, and responsible for myself.”
“Why don’t I feel healed in certain ways. Why didn’t quote-unquote ‘success’ actually make me feel better in the long run?” That shit doesn’t cure your mental health. It doesn’t cure the traumas you went through as a kid, and you’ve got the face the facts. You’ve got to be proactive about your own self-actualization.
Every interview I’ve read with you or every time I’ve seen you, on screen, or in interview, or whatever, you are very positive. You exude this light. There’s a great energy. Do you feel like you’ve healed, to use your word? Have you done the work? Are you over the hump, or is it a continual process? Is it ongoing?
I think it’s both. Healing isn’t linear. I mean, in some ways it is, but it’s not like, “Okay, you get to this stage, and you unlock this, and you’re over it,” or whatever. It’s constantly an evolving process, and sometimes, shit sneaks back up on you in different ways. And that’s why I think it’s important to constantly be proactive about one’s mental health. I’m a big advocate of therapy. It’s a big privilege, but if you can afford it, especially for men, because I think so many of us straight, cis men, we’re not taught — we don’t have the tools or the language — to tap into some of our traumas, or some of the ways society has programmed us to be in this certain kind of a way. And I think that none of shit’s binary. You can be masculine and you can cry. You can be masculine and go to therapy, masculine and ask for help you know? And all of that exists together. In many ways, yes, I’ve done the work, and I’ve healed.
It’s a journey. You do write in the book that you did meet your biological father, but it was for the first time only a few years ago. Is Goodman his name, or was that your mom’s?
That’s my stepdad’s, my first stepdad’s name, that I got when I was like four or five, when my mom married him. So I still have that, but I just kept it. It sounds good, Timothy Goodman.
It does sound good. Well, that’s a lot to live up to. Is it a burden on any level?
No, I don’t think of it like that. I mean, a name’s a name. I don’t identify with it in any real way beyond that. I was never Timothy until my first job out of art school, out of design school. I was a book jacket designer at Simon & Schuster. It was my first book cover that was going to be finished, and on the back of the book jacket, it says, “Cover designed by…” Any book jacket says this. I was always Tim Goodman up until that point, but I had just graduated, and I felt like I was born Timothy, and the only time I heard Timothy is my mom was yelling at me, “Timothy!” or yelling down the street to get me for dinner or something. But I thought in this little moment, “Here’s a chance, I can call myself anything I want. I can be Timothy from now on.” At first, I just thought it sounded really good professionally, so I was like, “I’m going to roll with Timothy.”
And then I decided, “Okay, anything professional…” And this was early in my career. I was just like, “I’m always going to be Timothy Goodman in my email, whatever.” And then at some point, not long ago, I think maybe in the last six years, I’ve really started introducing myself as Timothy, or like I was dating someone, and they would just call me Timothy. People, or friends, new friends, they would just call me Timothy, and so you can call yourself anything you want. Sometimes, you’re born with the wrong name. sometimes, you’re born in the wrong city. Sometimes, you’re born to the wrong parents.
Or in the wrong body, yeah. Do you remember what book that was, your first book?
Oh, yeah. It was a book called “The Lathe of Heaven.” I don’t have it here in the studio. It was a book that came out in the ’70s. It was kind of a popular sci-fi book. They wanted to update the cover and do like a redesign, so this is like for flying turtles on the cover. It was cool.
It’s funny. Tim Goodman is actually the name of a country singer, who’s like in his 70s now.
When I was in college, when I was a graphic design major at SVA here in New York, I made my website. There’s a Christian singer. He has timothygoodman.com.
So where does art start for you? You said your grandmother was an artist. You pushed back against any of that as a kid. When did you realize you had an aptitude for it?
I was working for this guy, Dave Saucer, painting houses, hanging wallpaper, doing all that, like laying tile, and we would get incredible clientele. We would work in these mansions in Cleveland, basketball, football players’ houses and stuff. And at some point, I kind of shaped up. He used to say, “Every day is like your first day.” It would be like a whole year, and he always felt like I didn’t get it. At some point, it all clicked, and I really started hustling. We would work all day, and then I would go back with him at night, and he was renovating his house, and I would help him, and I would sleep over. He really became this life mentor for me.
During that whole process, there was this underlying, foundational creative person in me. Maybe because of my grandmother and everything, it really touched something, that whole process, and I thought maybe I’d want to do interior design. That’s why when I started taking community college classes, I was really into the spatial adventures of homes, and why things were chosen, colors, and wallpapers, and the design of homes, and I thought maybe I wanted to do that. And I had to take all these pre-reqs when I went to community college, life drawing class, sculpture, all this shit. I got really into it, and I kind of got bummed out that that was going to end, and I would have to start taking drafting classes for interior design or something.
I had really encouraging teachers, who were like, “You seem passionate about this.” It wasn’t even like, “You’re good.” It was just, “You seem really curious and passionate about this,” and I didn’t care. I wasn’t restricted by anything of like what I thought something had to be, and I think that they saw that as a real potential, and so they were really encouraging me to keep taking classes. So then I decided, “Okay, I want to move up to this graphic design thing,” because I didn’t want to be like, “I’m a fine artist,” or whatever. I still feel like capitalism teaches us like, “Oh my god. I got to get a job or something.”
You need a job. Well, yeah.
I knew if I was going to go to college and shit, I was going to have to take out loans and really try to figure this out. Which was a whole other thing, because I read this whole book called “How to Go to College for Almost Free.” It taught me how to find and apply to scholarships all across the world, in local places. You can find scholarships in banks. There’s tall people scholarships. It’s crazy. I applied to 100 scholarships, and I won 10 of them. That really, really helped, and it taught me how to write about myself, how to differentiate myself next to the other person who’s applying.
Man, I was hauling wallpaper glue upstairs for 16 hours a day for years. I was going to community college, and then eventually when I moved here to go to SVA, in a way, it was easy for me. It was like I’d been doing all this physical labor, and I thought that was it. I thought that was my life, and now I have this second chance. It’s like, I got to make it or I got to go back to Cleveland and paint homes.” I just went for it. I was like, “Fuck it.”
You land in New York. Was that instantly like your aha moment, “Ah, okay, I’m home,” or was it fish out of water, or a little bit of both?
I really had the aha moment the first time I came here, which was about six months, maybe a year before I moved here. I always just felt like I belonged here, like honestly. It sounds corny, but I would see it in movies. I would read about it. I would read about the people. I would see how people lived. I wanted that. I wanted the hustle and grind of the whole thing. I wanted the community aspect of it. It felt like some secret that I needed to get in on. I felt like there was a place I could finally fit in. I didn’t feel like I fit in where I was at. I felt like where I wanted to go, where I was in Ohio, in Cleveland, it just wasn’t feeding me.
When I moved here, I had doubts, of course. I was just taking out a lot of loans, and really going for it, and I was at that point, having a nice life painting homes in my early 20s. I was doing pretty well for where I was at that moment. Obviously, I could have just kept going, and maybe I would have had my own painting company. You know, I was working for myself at the time.
Did you take pride in your [house] painting, as, like, a creator? Was it an artistic outlet at all?
Tons of pride. There’s a lot of honor in that, doing that kind of work for folks, and being in the service industry like that. I really went for it every day, and I felt accomplished physically and emotionally. It’s funny, because years later when I did my first mural in 2010, at the Ace Hotel, becoming a muralist, you look back and you connect the dots. There was a physicality to it, all the years I did of painting houses, being physical, and thinking about spatial dimensions on a wall. Years later, when I’m doing murals, already there was something familiar about it. So I’m doing these walls, and now I’m working on sites, doing these massive murals and stuff. I’m working with painters. I’m working with construction guys. A lot of the times, I’m doing this stuff before places open if I’m doing commercial stuff. It all feels like it’s a weird 360.
You look back and there’s a path, and it sort of makes sense, even if it doesn’t in the moment. So you’re at SVA. When do you start developing what you would consider a visual style, or when do you start feeling like you have a voice that’s unique to you?
As a young designer, at SVA and then my first job or two, finding my voice mattered to me, so I was constantly trying to find that. I always say you have to make a lot of shit to make shit like yourself, and you really got to make that kind of stuff. You’ve got to go for it. You’ve got to throw stuff against the wall, see what works, what doesn’t, and find that sweet spot between what stimulates you the most, but also connects with an audience. That’s that sweet spot. I was always trying all these things early in my career. I had a full-time job. I was working in book jacket designers for a year, and then I worked in branding for two years, and then I went to Apple, and I was an art director there for a year, so this was all like the first four years out of college.
Those are very good gigs right out of college.
They were tremendous, and I could have had a really nice life. I worked at Apple, and I could tell my mom what I finally did for a living, and I could get my teeth fixed, and [have] stock and all that kind of stuff. But, on the side, I was constantly hustling. I was constantly working nights and weekends, doing freelance work. I was doing editorial illustrations for Time Magazine and New York Magazine and New Yorker, and I was trying anything I could. I really wanted to be more in the art space, more in the illustration space, more in the commercial art space, rather than a graphic designer or an art director at an agency, or doing all of that stuff. And then when I did this mural in 2010, while I had a full-time job for the Ace Hotel, that was the breakthrough.
They wanted an artist to do something, or was it corporate sponsored? What was that project?
It was a nonprofit called the Art Directors Club that gives love to graphic designers and art directors, all kinds of creative folks, and I won this award, Young Guns, 30 Under 30. But this is while I had a full-time job. But the Ace Hotel went to them and said, “We’re looking for a couple of people to do a mural at our New York City location, in different rooms,” and I was recommended, thankfully. And so, I presented a sketch to them of what I wanted to do. I wanted to draw all these picture frames, and things in these picture frames that could be passed to the common tourists who would be staying in this room. “Here’s a great museum. Here’s a hamburger joint. Here’s my favorite place to get a milkshake.” It was very editorial.
I don’t know how to do this. I’d never did a wall mural. I just figured, “Well, what’s the fastest way I could do this, and the easiest way?” Where I wasn’t going to be laboring for like two weeks or something, and I learned about paint markers. I locked myself in this room for three days, and I sketched it all out with pencil, and I was crying, and it was intensive, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I fucking did it somehow, and I never felt more stimulated in my life, creatively. And I remember walking out of the hotel room, walking down the street. It was a Tuesday morning. It was like Labor Day weekend. I was in there for the whole time, something that now, I would probably do in five hours.
I remember walking down the street. I asked myself a question. I said, “This feeling I have right now, how do I make this the feeling I have for the rest of my life?” And so I was like, “I’m going to promote the fuck out of this mural. I’m going to try to get it on graphic design blogs, and I’m going to make an email and send it to everybody. I’m just going to promote the fuck out of this. I’m going to try to really spearhead this moment,” because I felt like I was onto something in some way.
How do you describe your style? And you’ve talked about just trying everything and seeing what works, and there’s something very Keith Haring about it, and I don’t mean to be reductive at all, but how do you carve out your own identity as an artist, through your work, but you also have these callbacks in there?
I kind of have two, even maybe three styles you could say. I have this drawing style, which is obviously very inspired by Keith Haring. I tried hard to make it my own, though. He didn’t use the words the way I do. Like, I do a lot of lettering, and a lot of editorial kind of stuff. It’s very much 50 percent words and objects, and part of it is like the performative aspect of it. I do it very quickly. I do it live on the street. I’ve done them at events. But yeah, it’s just black and white. I do colors as well, but a lot of times, it’s just black and white line drawing quality, which is always editorial. It might be, “Okay, here’s a mural about all my favorite jazz musicians, and it’s in New Orleans,” or, “Here’s a mural or a canvas all about all the places I visited in Paris. Here’s all these things for the Brooklyn Nets, and honoring and celebrating New York,” or whatever it is. It’s all very editorial in that sense.
And then I have this other style, which is all words. I mean, everything I do is very rooted in lettering, and words, and storytelling, so I have this other style, which is like these big, chunky, wonky letter forms that kind of all puzzle piece together, and usually, it’s like a piece of poetry that I write, or it’s a saying. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s on a wall, and the streets. I do that as well. And then, I also just write these stories that are just hand-lettering. I need to get what’s inside and I need to get how I feel about things out, connect to people.
At a certain point, maybe not anymore, but you had to keep those corporate jobs. Was there ever a tension between that sort of artistic vision and that style that you had and the demands of the brand, which ultimately cares about its bottom line? Did you ever have those moments where you had to capitulate to a brand or anything like that, or did you more or less get the leeway you needed?
You mean as an independent artist, or you mean when I worked back in the day, when I worked for like Apple?
I guess I don’t know. Either. I mean, because you’re still working with brands.
By the time I did that Ace Hotel mural right when I took this job at Apple, and I moved to San Francisco to work at Apple. And then I quit. I was there for a year. I quit a year later to work for myself. That was the last full-time gig that I ever had, which was about 10 or 11 years ago. I didn’t struggle too much with that. There’s no shade to anybody. I love San Francisco. I love the quality of life out there. It just wasn’t right for me at the time. I missed New York terribly, and I wanted that energy. I wanted the respect of the arts. Apple, you really have to drink the Kool-Aid out there.
I was really struggling with that. So yeah, there was a conflict, of course. I was a bad employee for them. Out there too, you’re not working too late. Sometimes, they’re like, “Hey, you got to work late tonight.” You know, me coming from New York, and like, “Oh, shit. We got to work until 1:00 in the morning?” They’re like, “No, you got to work until 8:00, 8:30.” It’s like, “Okay.” It’s just different, but 6:00 hit, I was gone. I was on the bus back to San Francisco from Cupertino, like ready to work on whatever freelance thing I was doing. I was really trying to build up my own little brand at that time, social media, anything that I was working on. And so yeah, there was a conflict for sure, but I got out. Once I decided I could pay my rent with just the freelance I was making, I was like, “I got to go for this.” And it was scary, but I did it, but there was that conflict.
And then of course, early on in my own independent practice, I still wasn’t ready to call myself an artist. I would get these different things. Sometimes, I would do a mural here or there, that was kind of in the style of what I was doing at Ace Hotel, and I’m trying to push, but a lot of times, yes, I would conform to whatever a brand wanted, because I was still so young, and needed to make money, and I needed to build more relationships. So sometimes, I was doing stuff that now, I would look at and be like, “That was me really conforming to whatever commercial thing the brand wanted.”
And there’s no shame in that. It’s a gig.
No doubt, but at this point, you know, over the last whatever, five, six years, I don’t do that. People come to me, they know they want to work with me. They know that my voice is going to be filtered through their brand, their voice. It’s a collaboration together. All parties need to be happy with whatever that is. And I still do stuff that maybe one wouldn’t see on my Instagram page, and there’s no shame in that, you know? I still do stuff where it’s kind of like a money gig. In the movies, they say, “Do one for them, do one for you.” When that can work for both parties, you feel like creatively, you’re getting to express yourself, but there’s a good budget. Amazing, but sometimes that’s not the case, and that’s okay too, and you can decide as a businessperson or a creative person, where to go from there.
So let’s get to the shoe, because that’s, I guess, the most recent example of that type of collaboration. You first teamed up with Kevin Durant a couple years ago, to paint this 5,500 square foot court that he donated to P.S. 315 in Midwood. How did you guys link up initially?
I did this mural for a permanent installation in Bleacher Report’s offices here in New York City, the sports website.
The budget wasn’t amazing. It was like pretty low, and I still weigh that out. If I can have an opportunity to make something that I can express myself with, and I’m going to have some sort of platform to do that, obviously, like then, you can have those conversations about, “Well, if the money isn’t there, will you let me have more creative freedom?”
So I was like, “Listen, I don’t want to make something that’s about hockey or some shit I don’t care about. I’m a huge NBA fan. I would love to do a wall highlighting like the 25 greatest NBA teams of all time, my favorite NBA teams of all time.” And they were in on it. They loved it. I did this mural, highlighted all the greatest teams. KD’s Golden State team was on that. It went linear. It went from left to right through the years. It was a lot of fun. I drew Dennis Rodman’s face. When I started having the conversation with KD’s team, the charity foundation, they knew about that mural. They got it. They understood the New York aspect. They understood the sport, the NBA theme, so that’s what started the conversations.
From there, I pitched them some rough studies about how I think this court could work. We had a lot of meetings and stuff, and I went, and I had workshops with the students there. That’s one of my favorite things to do, is do workshops with students, young kids. We talked about what they wanted me to draw on their basketball court. All great art should be accessible, and if you’re not doing things for community … That’s one of the most important things for me, is I drew all over this basketball court, but ultimately, I leave. Those kids, those students, that community, that’s their court. There’s a sense of authorship and ownership over it being their court. They get to tell someone, “Yo, I got the freshest, dopest court you’ve ever seen.” And I think all great art, in a lot of ways can do that, and that’s what I’m in it for.
Is Kevin Durant working with you directly at this point at all, or —
He approved stuff or whatever, but I wasn’t emailing with him or anything.
And the court’s gorgeous. It’s really cool, and it is very much of the community. And then you get the opportunity to work with Nike. Did they approach you? They saw that and they were like, “We’re going to do the 15th version of the KD Nike?” How’d that go?
When they started talking about the KD15, KD and his team were like, “I think we should get the artist who did the court.” And to their credit, that’s huge. To Nike’s credit and to KD’s credit, because it’s a huge problem in my industry. A lot of these massive conglomerates and these huge, multibillion dollar brands, they co-opt independent artists’ work all the time, you know? Especially Black, brown, queer artists, the people were making work that penetrates the zeitgeist, and then brands see what’s working, and then they co-opt it, and they do some shitty version of it. That has happened to me before, and I’ve had to get on Instagram screaming about it and trying to do stuff.
I think I’m, if not the first, I think they’ve had maybe one other time. Maybe I’m the first independent visual artist who’s ever done an NBA basketball shoe for Nike. They were all ike, “We’ve never done this. We’re all kind of in this together,” but the fact that they didn’t just do some bad version of the court was huge.
Was there back-and-forth? Were there other designs? You said that you use a lot of words in your art. They’re on the shoe, “Hustle. Determined.” Did you have to get approval on those words? Did they supply the words?
A lot of times with clients, we make a list before. I’ll present, “Okay, this is what I think it should be.” They might have a couple call-outs like, “Oh, we can’t do this for a legal reason,” or, “Hey, we really want to get this word on here,” so it’s a collaboration. We kind of go back and forth, and once that list is checked and approved, I go to town.
It was wild with this, because we started conversations early in the pandemic about this shoe. Basically, they kept telling me, “This is for sure going to happen, but we have to wait until we get specs for the shoe. We don’t know the final design. We have to wait until the sizes.” I had to get these comps, these specs to figure out where my art would go. So I couldn’t really do anything until that all happened, and that didn’t happen until May of 2022. I thought so many times this was just not going to happen, because working for myself for so many years, you see this coming. You can see these kind of things come and go. People come to you, they’re really excited, and then for whatever reason, someone gets fired, they lose a budget or whatever, the job falls through. And I thought, “Ah, this thing, this is too good to be true.”
It kept going on and on, and we wouldn’t hear from them for a while. I just thought, “Maybe this is just not going to happen.” And then it did, but it was crazy, because they were like, “Here’s the final files. This is the locked design.” I had like a week to do it or something.
There’s no better motivator than a deadline. Is it out in the world now? It is.
It came out like first or second week of December. It sold out on nike.com within like two weeks, and on retail sites, it’s been amazing.
What do you want people to take away from the shoe?
I mean, listen, the shoe’s about Brooklyn. The shoe’s about the spirit and the heart of the people of Brooklyn. It’s about the spirit and the heart of the people of New York. So much of this came out of the pandemic too. A conversation that “New York is dead” really pissed me off. I don’t blame anybody. You want to get more space. You want to move to L.A., you want to move to Austin, so you have a backyard or whatever, but this city is just more than a resource to consume. It just pissed me off seeing so many people leave the city, privileged people.
Yes, going upstate.
I get it. It’s not like a real dig at them. It’s just, I just didn’t like the conversation about it all, because there’s so many people that have to be here, and have to work, and I was doing a lot of street art during that time, really talking about the things that were going on, and the pandemic, or the uprising of the George Floyd stuff, and the protests, and all that kind of stuff, and I’m proud of this city. I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to give my resources back into the city. It’s a big thing for me to contribute art here, to do workshops and do pro bono stuff, because I hope, if anything, what happened in the pandemic made us think more about the relationship to space and to environments, and your relationship to that and the people around you. So the shoe was just came out of that too, [I] wanted to honor New York.
Love that. If you have any extras lying around, I’m a size 11-and-a-half. I want to talk about this book. It’s coming out this week. It’s a graphic memoir titled “I Always Think It’s Forever.” About that title, does it refer explicitly to falling in love, which is what this book is about in some ways, or in a lot of ways?
For sure. I’m a hopeless romantic. I always think it’s the one. I always think it’s forever. And in a lot of ways, that can lead to devastating heartbreak.
You really go through it in the book, for sure.
And I’m not afraid to talk about it. Everything I was saying earlier about my childhood and stuff led to certain kind of attachment disorders and stuff like that, that I’ve had to learn and come to grips with in therapy. The book walks you through all of those stages of grief, and heartbreak, and the traumas I went through, and from this love affair that I had in Paris, because I went to Paris after I had a really bad year in 2018. As a gift to myself, I said, “I’m going to do all the things I never did before, not for my career or not for someone else, really for me.” A lot of things came out of that.
I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. I couldn’t afford it. Couldn’t afford to like do a study abroad when I was in college, so, I can do it now. What would it mean to take some time off and go do this, and learn French, and grow my hair? From big to small, and have a birthday party, all these things I put off before and never thought I was worthy of. So it takes you through that. I met this woman there, and had this big love affair and a big heartbreak through it, and it takes you through the whole year, of how I finally showed up for myself in those ways. All the things I do, I write poetry, and I do a lot of art, and it all is just this graphic memoir, comprehensively telling this story in various mediums.
Yeah, it’s very raw. It’s very confessional. There’s a line in there, “Corny-ass love is real as fuck,” which is true. I got to tell you, I did do a study abroad program. I lived in France for a year. I enrolled in a French university in Grenoble, and I fell in love with a French girl.
Like my first love, my first real, true romantic whirlwind. Same as you: I kept pushing my flight back, ended up staying for the full calendar year. That was a real heartbreaker when that ended. The book resonated a lot. What do you want people to take from it, though? I mean, other than FOMO for your love affair in Paris, and living there, and it’s dedicated to the lonely people. What do you want people to read this for? It is very personal.
I think a lot of people go through these kind of things. I think a lot of men go through these kind of things, but they don’t want to talk about it, or they don’t want to admit this shit to themselves. I hope that it gives people, and men specifically, more license to go there and to be vulnerable, and to share and open up about this kind of shit, because it doesn’t make you any more or less of a quote-unquote “man” in any way. I want people to show up for themselves, and I want them to go for it, at the risk of being heartbroken, at the risk of being hurt. It’s a case study on what it means to go after love unapologetically. We all deserve that.
For an artist, you’re a good writer too. I mean, there’s a lot of energy in there. It’s affable, personable. There’s good rhythm.
Well, that’s part of my [work] It’s always been. I write these stories. I post them on Instagram a lot. I’ve done them on walls. So this is just packaged, finally, together in that way. But I’m a poet. I’m a writer in that sense, just as much as a visual artist. It’s part of my visual art in a lot of ways.
It comes through in the book. Are you dating now? I would imagine this is a tough artifact to have in the world for the next person who wants to be with you. They have this to compete with.
I’ve been with the same woman, my lovely partner and girlfriend, Tina, for over a year-and-a-half. It’ll be two years in May, so we’ve been together since I put together the proposal, and got the book deal, and then created the whole book over the last year. She’s been riding with me since, and she loves it. In the beginning, there was some honest conversations about it all, but she gets it. She knows who she’s with, and she’s not threatened by it in any way, because my love for her is real, and that’s what counts. We all have a past. Obviously, I’m making a book about a certain thing. The book is about me. Yes, this love story is a catalyst for so much of it, but the woman who I had the love affair in the book with, she’s not the one by any means. There’s no issues.
You’re going to owe her a book at some point.
She says that, actually.
Talk about music and the role music plays in your art, and your inspiration, and your background. I know you have a love of hip-hop. You’re on Spotify. You made a playlist of non-corny breakup songs.
Where does music fit into your artistic brain?
Everywhere. I’m constantly thinking about music. It’s my most favorite art form. It’s the thing I resonate the most with, the thing I most want to argue about in any way of like, “What’s your top five favorite breakup albums, or top five favorite hip-hop albums?” I love those conversations, and I want to argue about The Beatles versus Bob Dylan. I love it. I love all the stories behind why people make music, what they were going through, what was happening in the studio. So much of the work I created, I’m always comparing it to an album. This is like how I would think of an artist putting out an album. It’s like this comprehensive body of work. I kind of think of everything in terms of music. It inspires how I write. It’s like spoken word poetry. I do a lot of readings. It’s very much influenced by hip-hop, and jazz is very important to me. The way I draw, the same way, it’s all freestyle. You learn a set of chords of changes, the way a trumpet player would or whatever, and then you can kind of go anywhere you want with it. That’s the same way when I’m drawing with lines.
We’ll have to get you to make a Brooklyn playlist for us.
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