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Philly Street Art Interviews: Exploring the Intersection of Pop Culture and Politics with Taped Off TV

January 9, 2019

(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.

Taped Off TV (formerly known as Rainbow Alternative) is the art business of Nicole Krecicki. She’s been putting up stickers and wheatpastes in the street for a few years now, but she’s been making and selling her hand-cut, spray-painted stencil art since 2008.

Movies and music—and of course TV—are the primary sources of inspiration for Taped Off TV. But her work has always had a political side too, which has only intensified in recent years. I recently chatted with her about this intersection, and about the new directions that her art career has taken recently.

As you’ll read below, Tattooed Mom came up repeatedly in this interview, and has had a relationship with Taped Off TV for a number of years. Tattooed Mom sponsors this interview series, so it’s worth stating that they play no role in choosing interview guests, and Streets Dept does not choose guests based on any association they may have with the bar. It just seems that it’s hard to find a Philly artist whose life hasn’t been changed in some way by Tattooed Mom. And when it comes down to it, that’s why this sponsorship was such a perfect fit for Streets Dept in the first place!

Streets Dept: Hi Nicole! Thanks for sitting down with me.
Taped Off TV: Of course!

SD: How would you describe your art?
ToTV: I would describe myself as a stencil artist, and I mix politics with pop culture, especially stuff from the 80s and 90s. I feel like calling feminism and LGBTQ rights and stuff “political” is kind of strange, but that’s the easiest way to describe it…

SD: It shouldn’t be political, but somehow it is?
ToTV: It shouldn’t be political, right. So I try to kind of match the pop culture references, like TV shows, and movies, and musicians, that I love, with positive representations of folks that maybe don’t get a lot of representation.

SD: What’s your favorite medium?
ToTV: I think stencils are my favorite, because it’s kind of how I started: hand-cutting stencils. I kind of started backwards when it comes to art or street art in general. I started stenciling and spray painting on shirts first, and then moved to canvases and old skate decks and records, and then lastly stickers and wheatpastes and stuff that goes up here at Mom’s or out on the street. But stenciling is definitely my favorite, because I feel like it’s what I’m best at. I have more control with an x-acto than I do with a marker.

SD: What’s your process for making stencils?
ToTV: So I start out with a photo or an image—let’s say Janet Jackson. Obviously, if I could take a photo of Janet Jackson myself, I would… The opportunity has not presented itself. So I find a photo, and then I create the sketch for the stencil from the photo. I kind of mess with it in Photoshop, to get a general idea of what the stencil will look like, but then I freehand where all the cuts and where all the bridges for the stencil would be. So the Photoshop printout is very loose—it’s kind of like a puzzle. I have to figure out what to take away and what to leave.

SD: And then you just spray paint it?
ToTV: Yeah yeah yeah. Then I spray paint on whatever—shirts, stickers, canvasses… I’ve been doing VHS tapes, recently, and that’s been really fun. It’s fun to mix it up with a different type of canvas. I hate a lot of things that I make, and I feel like artists are like that, but the things that I like the best are always on a different type of canvas other than just a canvas.

SD: I think maybe that’s the definition of a street artist.
ToTV: It’s weird, because I don’t necessarily refer to myself as a street artist, just because I’m still fairly new to it—like I’ve only been putting stuff up for the past couple years, and it’s pretty small-scale. I would like to, but I haven’t done anything really super big yet. So out of respect to people that really do it, I feel like it’s weird to refer to myself as a street artist. But I’m a stencil artist that puts stuff up in the street sometimes.

SD: How much has 80s and 90s culture influenced your art?
ToTV: I was born ’82. From a very young age, I had a TV and a Betamax VCR, before VHS. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was always a TV. There was a TV in the living room, there was a TV in my bedroom, there was a TV everywhere. And I’m an only child, so it was like me and TV. I remember building a fort and putting my TV in it. So [as to how much it’s influenced me] I would say like 90%. I started off doing just LGBTQ-type stencil designs on shirts. It was like sayings and an image of two girls kissing, and stuff like that. Then a few years in, I allowed myself to embrace my pop culture side more through my art. And when I rebranded from Rainbow Alternative to Taped Off TV, I feel like it freed me up to really embrace how much I love TV. I just do. I fuckin’ love TV. I love movies, I love music, and I still have tapes of shows that I taped off TV when I was a kid.

SD: Wow! Do you have a VCR?
ToTV: Yeah, oh yeah! My girlfriend and I have two closets in our bedroom, with sliding doors. We took the doors off of one and took out all the clothes, and literally shoved them other places, and built shelves, and made it our VHS closet. Like, we have a LOT of VHS tapes. I mean, we go to AIDS Thrift and get like 20 of them for a couple dollars. We’ve always had tapes; we’ve always had a VCR, but now people are selling them, so it’s become a bit of a problem. I have four boxes of VHS tapes that friends are just like my mom’s getting rid of these—do you want them? and we’re like YES. Whichever ones we want I’ll keep and whichever ones we don’t, I’ll spray paint on.

SD: Many of your stickers feature musicians and fictional characters, like Prince, or The Karate Kid. How do you choose who to put in your art?
ToTV: I think I’m just such a fan of things, especially from the 80s and 90s. Collecting teen magazines was my hobby as a kid. I watched TV and I bought teen magazines. I put up posters on my wall, and then the next month you’d buy more and switch them around… So I feel like I’ve always been literally surrounded by pop culture. I just am a fan of a lot of things. I have a soft spot for a lot of different movies and TV shows and musicians. But it’s interesting, because, like, 5 years ago let’s say, I realized that when I was doing pop culture stuff, it was a lot of white guys—that I loved! Like Duran Duran, Hall and Oats… who I still LOVE—but I realized that it bothered me. When I took a step back and looked at it, it bothered me that as a brown woman, I’m representing a bunch of white guys.

SD: Cause that’s what pop culture IS.
ToTV: Exactly. So over the past couple years, I’ve been really trying—and it shouldn’t be as hard as it is—to focus on doing artwork of women, people of color, queer people. I’m not going to make a stencil of someone just because they’re queer or black or a woman. But there are a lot of people out there who fit into those categories who I’m a fan of. Even if it’s not a mainstream character, you still find people who relate to it. I started out with pop culture stuff, with people who were just right in front of my face, and then I’ve made a conscious effort to swipe them to the side a little bit and focus on the people who don’t get the shine that a lot of those white guys from the 80s and 90s did. Unfortunately, a lot of times, if it’s a movie, it’s a side character. If it’s a musician—unless it’s Prince or Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson—it might be someone who’s not as well known, but it’s kind of cool to give those people the due they deserve in my own little way.

Especially for young girls in the 80s and 90s, the teen magazines were just full of white boys, so those were like my favorite people—these white guys. Not to take anything away from them, but over the past few years, it’s hit me how much of a disservice that does—I’m a young brown girl who’s just idolizing white boys or men. It makes me angry for my younger self, and I don’t want it to be that way for young brown kids now. So if they’re out in the street and they see a sticker of Alice Bag, and they’re like who is that, now kids have phones so they can just look it up. It might open their eyes to something that they aren’t taught or shown or given access to.

SD: It’s clear from your social media that politics plays a large role in your life. To what extent is your art also influenced by the progressive issues you discuss online?
ToTV: I started out naming my company Rainbow Alternative. I made queer-themed t-shirts and pins and stuff, and sold them at pride festivals. The point was to be an alternative to the rainbow merchandise that was there, because not everybody wants to wear a shirt with rainbow cats. It’s cool if you do, but not everyone wants to wear that in everyday life. The first event I ever did where I sold my shirts was at Equality Forum when it was on Market Street in 2008—I kind of did it as an experiment. Let me make a bunch of shirts and see how they sell. And it went really well, thankfully.

So I feel like I started doing stencil art as a form of… “activism” is a bit of a stretch, but as a way to express myself politically, as far as equality and gay rights. Starting from that place and then transitioning into pop culture, but keeping in mind the political messaging behind it—it’s very satisfying for me to marry those two things. I’m a half-black, half-white, lesbian woman. That’s a trifecta of… bullshit. There’s a lot of people who do art and street art just for fun, and I think that’s important and necessary. It’s great. But I’m 36 now, and I feel like the older that I get, the more I feel a responsibility to promote different representations. Even if it’s just a stencil of a person’s face, I want that person’s face to have some type of meaning behind it. I chose this person because I like their music or I like their movies or their TV shows, but also they are black and queer and somebody that if you don’t know, maybe you should know. So I think it’s really important. I’ve been feeling this responsibility to do more.

Especially here [gestures around]. This place is amazing, and I don’t want this to reflect negatively on it, but every single time I put up a wheatpaste or a sticker of a woman—like a woman’s face—regardless of who it is—it gets a dick drawn on it. It doesn’t fail. So I feel like it’s important to keep putting up women’s faces. And keep putting up queer faces, and to keep putting up black and brown faces. I know that Robert is a great guy who makes space for everyone, so I think that it’s important for everyone to make sure they’re represented. Street art in general can feel like a boys club. I feel like in Philly, though, there’s been this swell of female or queer or non-binary street artists, which is amazing. I love that. Maybe it’s just because I’m paying attention to street art more over the past few years, but it just seems like what felt like a guys club has turned into a we-all-do-this club. I’m really proud to be a part of that, even in my own little way, because I just feel like street art, and art in general—it’s not just straight white guys that do it, or see it, or are affected by it, or influenced by it, so it’s important for us to be out there.

SD: As you say, the street art community, like many arenas, is mostly populated by straight white men, but I’ve been told repeatedly that it’s very welcoming, regardless of your identity or background. In your experience, as a street artist who is not straight, white, or male, does that description hold up?
ToTV: I would say from my experience here in Philly—and most of that revolves around the guys that I’ve met here at Mom’s—yeah! I’ve made a lot of good straight white male friends, that are good guys that have my back, that are on the right side of things. They get it—they’re not homophobic and they’re not sexist, and they don’t say shit that makes me regret being friendly with them. Obviously that can’t be said for everybody, but in my experience, the majority of the straight white guys that I’ve met in the street art scene here, they’ve all been good dudes on the right side of things. And it’s refreshing, honestly! It’s not what you would assume by the looks of things. Especially for me—people think that I’m younger than I am. A lot of the guys that are younger, that are in their early 20s, are very surprised when they realize how old I am, like, in a good way. I kind of get a kick out of that. When you think of a 36-year-old woman, you don’t necessarily think of a person hanging out at a bar, putting up stickers, for better or for worse. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I think it can only be good when younger straight white men see a slightly older queer brown woman doing something that they think is cool.

SD: It’s like the inverse of what you wish your younger self had seen on TV.
ToTV: Yes. YES. For sure. 100%.

SD: Most of the street artists I’ve interviewed started putting their work in the street long before selling anything, and some never intend to sell work at all. But you mentioned that you did the opposite, selling your artwork for years before putting anything in the public space. What prompted you to start putting work on the street?
ToTV: I came to Characters Welcome for the first time a few years back, and that’s kind of what sparked it in me. It was like oh, there’s a ton of people up here, just doing whatever. I felt like for a very long time there were rules for things. Even if I didn’t articulate it as such, in my subconscious there were rules, like, I stencil and I spray paint and I do it on t-shirts and I sell them and I have a website, and I make stuff. I never even really considered it so much “my artwork” as I did “the stuff I make.” I came to Characters Welcome and… it looked fun! There were a ton of different types of people doing different types of things, and it just clicked in with me—I could just try it if I liked it, and if I didn’t I could stop. It wasn’t so strict—these rules were made up.

So me and Wantful Things, a really good friend of mine, starting making stickers together at my house around the same time. And then it turns out I really liked spray painting on stickers! Like, 228 labels. There was something really satisfying about it, and embellishing it with paint markers. Spray painting on shirts and tote bags and stuff started kind of feeling like a job. I mean, it WAS my job! I’ve been working for myself, exclusively on my art, for 7 years now, which is amazing! But like anything else, I guess, it started feeling like a job. I was like I don’t want to spray paint this shirt again. It felt very rigid, so doing stickers totally opened me up creatively. I don’t have to do just this; it doesn’t have to just be an item to sell to pay your bills, it can just be a little thing that goes up somewhere and that’s it.

SD: That’s such an interesting way to come to it!
ToTV: It’s very very opposite, I feel like. It totally freed me up. Even the way that I would spray paint my stencils: it would be very flat, but then when I started doing stickers, I would layer them.

SD: So what do you think you’ll do when stickers start to feel like work?
ToTV: I don’t know if they will, because I’m not doing it for money. You know?

SD: When and why did you change your name from Rainbow Alternative to Taped Off TV?
ToTV: The real reason behind it was that I had gone so far in the direction of pop culture. Keeping with the queer/POC representation, but I wasn’t just doing LGBTQ stuff anyone, and I felt like Rainbow Alternative kind of put me in a box. Sometimes it’s better to sneak your message up on people rather than have them not pay attention because they think it’s not for them. And also, there’s no need for an alternative anymore because they exist and they’re plentiful! Back when I started, when I would go to pride festivals, there weren’t many things that I would want to buy to wear. Aesthetically, I just wasn’t into it. Over the past few years, there’s been this uptick of pride-wear merchandise, especially online—there’s a million shops now that sell pride t-shirts, which is great. In no way, shape, or form and I saying that I was responsible for this, but it’s kind of like that was the point, right? It should be normal, it should be everyday, it should be wearable, it should be commonplace. We have t-shirts that represent every fucking thing, and now we have a lot of t-shirts that represent queer people. And allies! And that’s fucking rad! So we don’t really need a rainbow alternative anymore.

My girlfriend came up with [the name “Taped Off TV”], and I was like holy shit! That’s what I DID! I taped stuff off TV. That’s what I did. When she said that, it totally clicked. That feels like it represents me, and I can still put across my political messages and still be me.

SD: Last November, you curated the fourth annual “pop-culture pop-up shop,” TV Rots Your Brains, at Tattooed Mom. What’s this event about and how did it come to be?
ToTV: Robert, from Tattooed Mom, just came to me, and was like hey would you be interested in doing this? You could curate it and bring in whoever you want. It was like a huge honor for him to ask me to do it. He was like Rainbow Alternative and Tattooed Mom just kind of go together. That was the coolest thing anybody’s ever said to me. At that point, I wasn’t doing street art yet, so I felt very grateful that he, in such a very big way, welcomed me into this fold. So I was like yeah, sure, I can do it! [My girlfriend and I] do events, but I had never run one before. When Robert and I were trying to figure out what to call it, I said TV Rots Your Brains. My favorite movie is Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I feel like I talk about it every time I’m ever spoken to about anything—I figure out a way to work it into the conversation. So there’s a line in the movie where the babysitter says TV rots your brains, and I was like what if we call it that? I can work in my movie, and it’s just a pop culture thing. So we called it that. And it’s a pop-culture pop-up shop of local artists selling their wares for the day!

SD: Which leads me to the South Street Art Mart, the pop-up shop that you and your girlfriend created last holiday season. I LOVE it! How did THAT happen?
ToTV: Ok so here’s the thing: I don’t know! I guess it’s just, like, right place, right time with some things? …But it all comes back to Mom’s, doesn’t it! [My girlfriend and I] were vending a Riot Nerd 90s show last April 8th—Rex Manning Day. It’s from the movie Empire Records; Rex Manning is this washed-up former child star who’s coming for a record signing, and the whole crew makes fun of him, and all this stuff is happening at the record store based around this day. So Riot Nerd threw a 90s craft show on April 8th, and she didn’t realize it was Rex Manning day. But it was perfect! We had a bunch of Empire Records stuff, because we make it anyway.

So there’s this guy named Bill, from the South Street Headhouse District, who also runs South Street Cinema. I had never met him before, but he came to the Riot Nerd show and saw our stuff, and he was like someone told me it was Rex Manning Day so I’m screening Empire Records tonight. Because it was a daytime show, he asked if when the show was over we wanted to bring our Empire Records stuff and sell it at the cinema for the screening. It’s right down the street, so we were like yes, of course, that’s a no-brainer. So that started a relationship with him and the cinema. He had us do a Halloween-themed window with our artwork in October, just to mix it up a little bit, and it was a cool opportunity to sell stuff that way. Then after that, he came to us, and he was just like hey, if the District is able to turn one of the store fronts on South Street into a pop-up shop, would you and your girlfriend be able to fill it, and would you be interested? We were like yes, we can definitely fill it, because we know so many people who sell at flea markets and conventions and stuff. A venue on South Street? That would be fucking amazing, of course!

SD: How did that feel?
ToTV: Well it was hypothetical for a while—for a long while. It was like if this is a thing, would you be interested? Up until a couple weeks before Black Friday. We opened our doors on the 17th and we got the keys a couple days before that. So we took this empty storefront, which thank God the walls were lined with slat wall. Half of the fixtures in there are from Condom Kingdom… Pet Snobs, around the corner, gave us a bunch of fixtures that they weren’t using… So it was very much an it-takes-a-village kind of situation. It was empty, just slat wall, and within a few days, we went in there, moved in fixtures… We put up bones, and then started having vendors bring stuff or they would send us stuff, and then we… built… a store! Really quickly! And we’ve had a ton of people. From my experience, people aren’t necessarily very vocal when they like something. But we’ve just had a lot of people come into the store saying this is great, this is awesome, we live in the neighborhood, the street needs this, this is what south street used to be like, we hope you stay, we hope you stay, we hope you stay.

So this thing that was supposed to be a temporary pop-up shop very very quickly felt like a real, community, South-Street-specific space. So we’re just really grateful that it’s had such a good reception. My goal was never to run a local artists’ consignment shop, but now I’m like this is ours, and we love it and we want to keep it. And not to toot my own horn, but we’re good at it. This is what we do! We used to do it every weekend, and now we’re just doing it in a space that happens to get good foot traffic because it’s in a good location. Very out of the blue, here’s this thing that I never thought about doing that now I want to do! I want to make this a thing that stays around.

SD: From TV Rots Your Brains, to the Art Mart, to your #WomenOfPhillyStreetArt sticker giveaway, it’s clear that you’re passionate about raising up other artists. Why is this is important to you?
ToTV: The simple and selfish answer is that it’s much easier for me and much more enjoyable for me to promote other people’s artwork than my own. I don’t know if selfish is the right word, but that’s one side of it. And the other side of it—again, the older that I get, the more strongly I feel that if I have any type of platform, I think that it’s important to use it to promote and to represent people who don’t always get represented.

My logo, that my friend Julie Salas made me, is based on a photo of me when I was little. It’s me in front of a TV with my VCR and my tapes everywhere, and I didn’t realize until right this minute, but I feel a responsibility to that brown, didn’t-know-she-was-queer-yet little girl. [Pop culture] is how I relate to the world. That’s how I relate to things—through pop culture references. I feel like all of those television shows, and all those songs, and all those movies, and all those people built me, and I’m grateful to them. A lot of parents don’t want their kids to watch TV, but it just so happened to be a good thing for me. I never intended to be an artist. I certainly never intended to be a… shopkeeper! It all just kind of happened, but it all goes back to television, in one way or another. As cool as I think that that is, to have that all come full circle, I still think that kid should have had more people that look like her on TV. That kid should have had more people that look like other people on TV. To make it a more full experience. And I feel like that could happen now.

SD: What’s your lunch order at Tattooed Mom?
ToTV: Oh, that would be a Beyond Burger, which is the vegan burger that somehow is red and tastes like real meat, and I don’t understand it. It’s science. It’s beyond me and I don’t want to know. Beyond Burger with just cheese, nothing else on it, cause I’m plain. I don’t like stuff.

SD: I’m sorry, you just said that what you do is not even make art, you make stuff!
ToTV: Oh wow. I’m all about stuff. I love stuff! You should see our apartment; it’s filled with stuff! …I don’t like food stuff. I like a nice patty and cheese—with tots.

SD: Thank you so much for chatting with us today!
ToTV: Of course!

After our interview, the Art Mart’s stay on South Street was extended until at least the end of January. So it’s not too late to support some great local artists, including Taped Off TV! Check it out at 424 South Street, 12:30–9pm, 7 days a week. If you’re not in Philly, never fear—there’s also an online shop in the works! Follow the South Street Art Mart on Instagram for updates.

PHILLY: Join Tattooed Mom’s for You Can’t Fail, an evening of new works in progress and performances brought to you by Chris Davis on Wednesday, January 30th…

First time performers, seasoned veterans, and everyone in between are welcomed onto the stage to present new works and works-in-progress including: visual art, photography, theater, dance, performance art, comedy, story-telling, poetry, prose, sculpture, ballet, film, stand-up…ANY and ALL art will be presented in the back room at Tattooed Mom’s (2nd floor). Learn more now here!

Read past articles from our Philly Street Art Interviews series by clicking the artists name: Hope HummingbirdFaithsFunnn, and Bob Will Reign.

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