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Philly Street Art Interviews: FaithsFunnn Puts the Funnn in Philly Street Art

October 29, 2018

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

Welcome to Streets Dept’s newest series of street artist interviews, created in partnership with Philadelphia’s own unofficial official street art museum, Tattooed Mom. Each month, Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale will sit down with one local street artist to ask them about their work. Together, we’ll learn more about the incredible artists getting up around Philly.

From stickers to graffiti, wheatpastes to canvasses (and magnets and postcards and outlet wall plates and…) FaithsFunnn has been “the voice of non-seriousness” in Philly street art for more than six years. Best-known for her colorful narwhals, Faith paints and draws all of her work by hand. She also makes it a point to understand and respect the history, rules, and culture of street art and graffiti, in turn earning the respect of those communities.

After showing me and pasting up a new cat design, Faith and I sat down to chat about her work and about art in general…

Streets Dept: Hey Faith, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! So, first of all, I have to ask: why narwhals?
FaithsFunnn: When I first started noticing stickers, I was like wow, this is rad, this is awesome, and I love it! I followed it for like a year or a year and a half, and then eventually I was like I want to do that too! It’s awesome! So I was like what would I do? Like what would my thing be? Because you have to have a thing, or else it’s not fun – for anyone. I knew a couple sticker artists, and I was talking to them, like I want to be a sticker artist too, but I don’t have a thing, and they both said don’t do it, then. They were like I tell people who don’t know what they’re going to do ‘don’t push it, don’t do it.’ That sucked.

So then it was my birthday, I was at my house with a bunch of friends, and we were playing a stupid drinking game where you go around in a circle and in alphabetical order say an animal. It was my turn, and it was N, and I just blurted out “narwhal.” I didn’t even know I knew about narwhals, it just kind of came out of me. And I was like oh my god! Narwhals! Whoa, wait, they’re cool, I think! So then I started looking them up, researching them, learning all this shit about them. I was amazed at how cool they are, and that they’re actually REAL – it’s insane. They’re amazing. They’re SO cool. And then I was like that’s going to be my thing! I’m going to be the narwhal girl, I want to be the narwhal girl, and I’m going to make stickers, and spread the knowledge to everyone. I want to be known as the narwhal girl; when you think of narwhals, you think of me. So I worked really hard, and I became the narwal girl! And they’re getting more popular now! They’re gaining recognition.

SD: Well-deserved recognition!
FF: Yeah, and I would like to think I’m semi-responsible. Because I really have busted my ass to put the narwhal love out there. In my hometown, they built this new school. All the kids from all the schools in the district go to this one school called the Sixth Grade Center. They gave them eight mascots to vote on – the kids voted – and the narwhal was the winner! This was a couple of years into my narwhal-ness. I was like yay, it’s working! So that’s how the narwhals came to life.

SD: In addition to narwhals, your art also features cats and flower mandalas. Do these tie together in your mind in any way?
FF: They just represent a fun-loving, kind of in a good way, nothingness. They’re kind of a generic awesomeness. But they’re not tied together in any other way; that’s just what I like to do. I draw tons of stuff, but they look good on the streets.

SD: In a city where a good deal of street art explores themes of death or loss, or depicts monsters and angry-looking characters, your kaleidoscopic color palette and friendly, flowery imagery stands out. Is this contrast intentional, or is that just you doing you?
FF: It’s both! It’s me doing me, and it’s an intentional contrast. I don’t ever want to walk down the street and see a piece of street art and get sad, or get mad, or get angsty, or have to think about it too much. I want it to make me happier, and some of that shit out there? It’s too serious. I want to be the voice of non-seriousness. I want it to be all about fun. Just fun to look at, fun imagery.

SD: When did you start putting your work out on the street?
FF: I think 2012 was when I put up the very first primitive stickers.

SD: You’ve done a large number of collaborations with other street artists – is collaboration an integral part of your work? Why is it important to you?
FF: Yeah, it is. It’s fun! It helps you get to know people; it helps you make friends with the other artists; also, it’s just fun! I do backgrounds, and for a lot of artists, when you’re making stickers, the coloring in is the annoying part. So people feel like with my backgrounds, they don’t have to do that as much. Bear215 always says, like, Faith supports my laziness. I’ll help you out like that! It’s also just fun to see your stuff with other people – like a meeting of the minds. It’s just a cool way to become friends with everyone.

SD: The way you straddle the street art and fine art worlds is impressive; wheatpasting narwhals one day, then turning around and selling commissioned canvasses the next. How do you think about the relationship between these two modes of artistic expression, and how do you balance them?
FF: I’ve always been into art, and then once I found street art… It’s something that I love, and it makes me feel so happy, and it’s just part of who I am now, and I feel like I will always do it. But I also really like the fine art world. I like bringing joy to people’s living spaces; I like making the bathroom at Love City Brewing more fun to look at. Blank walls are boring, whether they’re on the streets or in your house. Who wants to stare at a white wall? It’s just two different methods used to fill the wall. And it’s more fun sometimes to do shit you’re not really allowed to do. And it also is cool because you can reach such a huge audience! There’s millions of people in the city! The fine art thing is more serious, making money to support my family a little bit here and there.

SD: In the minds of many artists, there’s a bright line between street art and graffiti. I would characterize most of your work as street art, yet you seem to have significant respect in the graff community, unlike some street artists these days. Why do you think this divide exists, and how have you been able to bridge it?
FF: I really like this question… I also, like, hate it, but I love it… I feel like mainly it’s because I’m a people person. I’m outgoing, and I just become friends with people. I talk to everyone. And I love spray paint – it’s just a whole different category, because you can get in a lot more trouble for it, and it’s so addictive. Once you start writing, it’s just all you want to do. You have to rip yourself away from it. There’s so much more at – I’m a mom, I have a daughter, I have a family – I can’t be going to jail for spray painting on walls. And I can’t go in bandos and climb up and over holes and stuff. I have a child who depends on me. I can’t let that take me away from her and my family. I don’t know…

SD: Maybe I should ask the opposite question: why do you think some other artists don’t have as much respect from the graff community?
FF: I feel like [graffiti writers] are all artists also, and they have an eye. They can tell who puts in more work. They can tell who’s going to Kinko’s and making a thousand copies of their shit and plastering it all around, in an annoying, save-some-room-for-the-rest-of-us type of way, you know? But also I respect people back. I know my shit. I make it a point to learn stuff, and respect the people who deserve respect. I pay attention. I feel like [some street artists] don’t have the respect that they should have for the graff writers. I feel like they don’t know the rules. I know so many new-ish wheatpasters and sticker artists who came out and just started putting their shit up over frickin’ tags that were, like, 10 years old, or people who are no longer with us. They don’t even know what they’re doing! They don’t know that what they’re doing is not right – they just do it. They don’t even realize that there are rules! But it makes it 10 times harder to do anything in this whole little world if people are out to get you.

SD: Street art and graffiti both seem to be heading towards more mainstream exposure and acceptance. Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?
FF: That’s a big one. It’s good and bad. It’s great and not great. It’s good because street artists who have been out there busting their asses for all this time are actually getting the shine that they deserve. They’re becoming more of a household name, in a way. It’s kind of like punk rock – when I was in high school, I listened to punk music and it was the same thing. Like, Green Day – did they sell out? Or is it cool that they became famous? The hardcore kids would say they’re sellouts; fuck them! But the other people are like that’s what’s up; it’s putting us on the map a little bit and that’s cool. But it’s also annoying, because it’s cool that it’s an underground thing. I like that not everyone knows about street art.

SD: Overall, how would you describe the state of street art in Philly?
FF: There’s so many ways I would describe it. It is alive and well, but it’s kind of shitty right now. It’s kind of unoriginal. It’s kind of boring, in a way, sometimes. I feel like it’s also so sparse compared to how it used to be. So many people are just not doing it anymore. We’ve lost so many people for whatever reasons – they move on, they move out of state, they just stop, life gets in the way, they move on to bigger and better like Nosego… There are a lot of out-of-town people getting up here right now. Some of them are amazing and I love what they’re doing, and some of them aren’t as good.

SD: What do you think would make street art better in Philly?
FF: This is not going to be a very popular answer, but I feel like what would make street art better, to me, in Philly, is if it was a little more light-hearted. If it wasn’t jamming fucking messages down your throat. I feel like that shit gets more notoriety, it gets noticed more, people tend to like it more, but it doesn’t have to be that deep. It doesn’t have to be all like that, it can be fun and whatever and lighthearted. I’m not knocking people who have a message, but I just think it’s too serious sometimes. In my mind, it’s fun, and sometimes [what’s on the street right now] doesn’t feel that fun.

SD: How can fans get their hands on some of your work?
FF: Just DM me on Instagram! People do it all the time.

SD: What’s your lunch order/dinner order at Tattooed Mom?
FF: I like the Mom’s burger! That’s what I’d get. And I’m starving, actually!

SD: Thanks so much!
FF: Thank you.

Be sure to stop by Tattooed Mom soon to see some of Faith’s installations!

And on Sunday, November 4 from 6pm–11pm (21+) don’t miss the 4th installment of TV Rots Your Brains 4: Pop Culture Pop Up Shop at Tattooed Mom curated by TapedOffTV (the artist formerly known as Rainbow Alternative) and featuring some of Philly’s favorite street artists and creative makers. Come hungry, come thirsty, come ready to shop!

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