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Philly Street Art Interviews: Kidding Around with Kid Hazo

May 8, 2019

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

Welcome to Season 2 of 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.

Toward the end of the first season of this series, we asked which artist you most wanted to be interviewed. And we heard you loud and clear: Kid Hazo!

This boisterous comedian hardly needs an introduction. After exploding onto the scene in 2013 with a series of funny, location-based street signs, Kid Hazo diversified into all sorts of comedic installations, interventions, and performative pieces. He quickly amassed a huge following on Instagram, and eventually began working with arts organizations and community groups on various projects.

But from day one, through all the jokes and hijinks, Kid Hazo has been about one end goal. Read on to learn about the past, present, and future of this enigmatic comedian!

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: Let’s start with the basics. When and why did you start making street art?
Kid Hazo: Back in 2013, I remember I was following Streets Dept. I was always a big fan of street art, and in the city it seemed like all of my favorite street artists were either doing legal commissions or outside walls. I thought the scene was missing a little something. It was sort of a lull in the Philly scene. And I just decided, you know, I shouldn’t sit around and wait for somebody to make some fun street art; I should try it myself. And I was inspired by Leon Reid IV from New York City and TrustoCorp because they made these really crazy street signs. [Reid had been doing it for a long time] and TrustoCorp made it very popular in the modern day. And they sort of disappeared! So I wanted to take that idea and put my own spin on it by adding not just the street signs but also props, because I’m really into prop street art and sort of interacting with urban spaces. So my perfect definition of ideal street art is something that works with a preexisting space. That’s why a lot of my stuff is location-based.

I used to walk to work in Center City a lot, and so I would just sort of come up with these really ridiculous ideas of what I would rather put there, instead of what was actually there; and how I could play off of these signs that are just kind of boring. So I started jotting down notes and coming up with these things, doing research, looking at the graphic design… I have a little bit of history with graphic design—nothing official—it’s very amateur design. If you look at my work, it’s not complicated at all; it’s very simple! But also that’s sort of my aesthetic—it’s very minimalist and pop art inspired. So I thought it would be fun to take the ideas I’ve seen before and then add my twist by adding a prop or something else to it, so it wasn’t just a complete copycat.

I put the first street sign up next to Fluid Nightclub, right off of 4th Street between South Street and Bainbridge. I put it up there, and I took a picture, and I sent it to Conrad. I said, hey, I’m starting this persona. If you like this, would you mind sharing it? And he just loved it. He was like, yes, this is awesome! Super cool. Thank you! And let me know when you’re going install. From there, we became really good friends. And I work with him because I trust him; we’ve had a good relationship over the years. So it’s been fun to install pieces and have him document a lot of the work that I’ve been doing.

SD: Yeah, he’s played an important role!
KH: Oh, for sure! Yeah. I think the first year, two of my pieces made his end of year list, and I was just floored. I couldn’t even understand. I was like, there’s no way this is real, you know? I just thought it was really cool, and it sort of put me in a place where I was like, okay, people are digging this stuff, and they think it’s funny, and they don’t just think it’s completely corny.

SD: What are the origins of your name and logo?
KH: Okay, so the “Kid” preface has a history in hip hop culture. So I took that first part, and then I was looking at different logos; something to put on [my work] that people are used to seeing. I thought of the caution sign or the hazard sign as something that’s there to get attention from people. So I was thinking about the word “hazard,” and it was just like, hazo—is that a thing? I Googled it, and it wasn’t, so I was like, great. That’s my name: Kid Hazo. Simple as that. And then—I’m really fascinated by branding. You can put the trademark symbol on anything without having to register officially. The R with the circle is the registered trademark. So I could throw a TM on anything! And so in attempts to make it look more official than what it actually was, I threw that on there just as a joke. And because of the way people are conditioned to seeing that TM, it makes it look like an official brand. It sort of automatically brands it, just because of the way we’re wired. So I put that on there as more of a social commentary on marketing and stuff. But it was very simplistic and minimalist. It didn’t detract from the pieces too much, but when you saw that and you knew what it was without seeing my name… I was hoping that people would pick up on that it was me.

SD: Streets Dept has previously identified you as a “comic street artist,” a “parody street artist,” and “Philly’s most joking street artist.” Do you consider yourself more of an artist or more of a prop comedian?
KH: Definitely more prop comedian. I’ve very slowly been more comfortable using the word “artist” around my work, because I respect so many people that pour their life and their time into actually being a full-time artist. I knew a lot of them and the stuff that they can do just blows my mind. People were giving me a hard time, and saying, no, you still do art—the way you place things in spaces, and the way you think about the location-based work—it’s definitely art. It’s just a different thing. But I definitely think I’m more of a prop comedian.

SD: With 10,000 Instagram followers, you’re certainly one of the most popular street artists in Philly. To what do you attribute that fame?
KH: Honestly? Probably Instagram, actually. Definitely Streets Dept helped me get there, for sure, because working with Conrad over the years—other press channels have picked it up directly from him. He always gets the exclusive and then it bounces around. So that’s definitely contributed to it. But Instagram back during that time period was great. I think in one year I gained—I think 3,600 followers I got within six months to a year. The way Instagram worked at that time, it was really the golden age. Your stuff got the attention; chronological order and all… Social media is weird like that.

SD: Has that fame brought you anything unexpected or negative?
KH: Definitely some unexpected stuff. I got to work with artists and some events that I never thought I would. I’ve definitely met a lot of street artists that I admired through it, and I got to do a Pow Wow event last year, and I had the chance to put my interactive Street Art Sign installation in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Just stuff that I had admired for so many years and got to actually be a part of it and get invited to was really exciting.

SD: I’m sure a lot of people want to know where you get your ideas from. You’ve been featured on Streets Dept’s annual top street art moments posts for the past six years running, snagging the number one spot in 2013, 2014, and 2018. How do you so consistently create hits?
KH: I think I just really try to find the most ridiculous thing I can come up with. A lot of it plays off of different Philly things and words… I don’t know!

SD: But is there a common thread that runs through your work that you can identify as the core of what makes your work what it is?
KH: Yeah—I think a lot of it is to make sort of universal jokes that anybody that understands Internet jokes can relate to, [except that] a lot of it’s Philly-based and Philly-themed. A lot of the Philly-based stuff that I like to do is more of an inside joke for Philly, you know? I think that was the biggest thing—when I install work, I really only keep it in Philly, like, specifically. That’s on purpose. I wanted to be this street artist that people would come to Philly specifically to see; and they could only see the work here. When I travel, and I do travel a lot, I could go elsewhere and install in different places, but I wanted to keep it in Philly. When you go to other cities, some of them are international street art hubs. And Philly, surprisingly, isn’t one of those cities that people will travel to to see street art, specifically. But I think over the years it’s gotten so much better, and there’s so many more artists, and there’s so many people that have been installing. So people know all of the Philly artists now, and people do come to install a lot more, so it’s exciting to see that.

SD: You’re one of the more fiercely anonymous street artists in Philly. Other than protecting you from legal repercussions, what role does anonymity play in your art?
KH: I like it because it doesn’t allow people to play the identity politics game. I want them to just see the art as it is and not tie it back to any sort of race or religion or anything like that. And then I think it’s fun for people to sort of imagine the character, sort of like when you read a book and you make a voice up in your head of like who they are. So I like to keep it like that and let people think whatever they want to think. I think it’s more exciting that way.

SD: How does it feel to install your work over an ad in a bus shelter in broad daylight? You know, what’s going through your head? Do you just have nerves of steel?
KH: So… the first time I did that, I was freaking out. But the trick—and this has been a trick amongst street artists for a long time—is that if you’re going to do this stuff, you’ve got to hide in plain sight. So what I did is I bought a full Dickies suit—

SD: A full what?
KH: A Dickies suit? Like coveralls. So I got that, and I had my cap on, and my pants are pretty messy-looking. Everything looked kind of dirty, and I had a bandana that covered my face in case of cameras or anything like that. I just walked down the street, and I had a roller, and everything looks pretty official, right? So you sort of want to just go in that mindset of if you just look like you’re supposed to be here, no one’s going to question you. So I put up the first one, and I was rolling it on the bus stop, and somebody was cleaning the streets, and she stopped, and she looked at me, and I looked at her, and Conrad’s, like, on the corner, a little bit farther away… And as I peel the paper off, she just sort of stops, and she’s like, don’t worry honey, I’ll get that for you. And she picked it up took it with her! I was like, thanks so much! Have a great day! And I walked to the next one! I was like I can’t believe that shit happened! I think she read it too! I think this was the “Dear Buffer…” one. I think she was a little confused but didn’t think anything of it cause there was like another actual “With Love” ad right around the corner.

So then after that first time, I was like okay, this actually works. And it’s actually really fascinating. The most fascinating thing to me is how people see blue collar workers versus white collar workers. In my normal day job, I have a shirt and tie on, and people will look at me less when I have on this sort of blue collar outfit and I’m doing something like installing bus ads. People will avert their eyes when I’m walking down the street when it just looks like I’m in these dirty coveralls. It was sort of an interesting experiment as I continued to do it because once I figured that out—that I can do it during the daytime—I did a lot during the daytime! And nobody bothered me.

Also, you know, we have the bus stop keys. Haha! So if you’re [able to open the ad compartment] you kind of feel like no one questions it. I remember one time I did it in Rittenhouse. There was a cop right across the street, and then he came across and stood there as I unrolled the DNC posters… and then he actually held the glass for me, as it was about to swing into the road! He, like, stopped it and held it, and I was like “thanks!” And then I put it up and locked it back up and was like I gotta get out of here.

SD: That’s the sort of thing where once you start it, you’re committed! You can’t be like, oh, never mind, and walk away!
KH: Yeah! You can’t just, like, get out of there. The thing is, when I do this, I always make it so that they can easily be taken down. So if I do get in some sort of legal trouble, it’s nondestructive. But yeah, it’s like, you have to do it—you’re there; you can’t just roll the stuff back up and just run away—it would look super weird. Especially because I’m just walking around, so I don’t have an escape vehicle. So when I start walking around Center City, I’m like, okay, you have five posters. You gotta put em all up, gotta find all the spots, and then just go.

SD: I just can’t imagine any of that. Haha! So you mentioned your DNC posters—what role do you think your work plays in the current American political landscape?
KH: I don’t think it plays any role! That whole series was fun just because the DNC was coming to town and it was just too easy to do. That was just a silly message. I specifically flipped it—the way the donkey is facing—so its butt was facing first, because I thought everything that year was completely ass-backwards. People were looking for what this message means, and I’m like, it’s just a joke, it’s just a silly thing. And then the “Kid Hazo for President”… I thought it’d be fun to make fake political signs and put them up on the lawn. You know, I think a few people said they would vote for me…

SD: How about vice versa, then—do politics influence you?
KH: I don’t think politics influence my work. I’ve specifically stayed away from that. I think why I did it during that time was just because it was so tense in the air. After Trump became President, I kept doing work that was closer to what I did at the beginning: very silly, lighthearted stuff to give us a breather from all of the political talk, because it’s so intense. A lot of artists were expressing their art through the political landscape and dealing with Trump, and I decided to just remind everybody that we’re still humans and we can still have fun and we can take a brief break from all of this sensationalized political news that’s happening all the time. And you know, I missed it! It was like, yeah, I want to go back to like 2013 right now! So let me make some work that reflects that time period. Like, hey, we’re still having fun, right? So you don’t go through your whole feed and it’s all about Trump.

SD: Yeah, that’s valuable. Well, on this lighter note, tell us about the humorous street signs you created for the Queen Village Neighbors Association with the help of HAHA x Paradigm in 2016. How did this partnership come about?
KH: So I started working with HAHA x Paradigm in 2014 for Philly Tech Week. They reached out to me to help with that street art scavenger hunt that they were doing with a bunch of artists. That was a lot of fun. Then I started working closely with Paradigm Gallery and HAHA Mag on some shows… and so this opportunity came up that they got a grant for neighborhood signs. I live in the Queen Village area, and I remember walking around and seeing the signs that they made, and I was like, ooh… these all kind of look like Word Art. It was slapped onto these street signs, for, you know, neighborhood quality-control stuff. And I was like, I could totally make some signs for the neighborhood, and they were like, yes, actually that’s great! We’re working on a grant right now. So if it comes through, let’s get some designs and see if they like them. So I came up with probably five or six different signs, and we picked three of them. So, the neighborhood association gave us the grant to do these and got a bunch of them and put them all over the neighborhood. And we’ve gotten good feedback about them!

SD: Yeah! I mean, a lot of them are still up! So it feels to me like this series almost transcends the boundary between art and, like, actual infrastructure. Was that the intention?
KH: Yeah, it was! I think they liked the idea of having a street sign that wasn’t quote-unquote real, but they liked the cheeky idea of having a message up there like, hey, clean up the sidewalks and clean up your dog poop.

SD: So I’m sure longtime readers were disappointed when no Kid Hazo piece materialized on April Fool’s Day this year—
KH: Hahahaha!

SD: Did something fall through? Can you speak to your general decline in activity recently?
KH: Yes… Man, I knew I was going to get called out on this, haha… So I was under a lot of pressure from work to get a lot of stuff done, and I was traveling a lot, and the ideas that I had, I didn’t have enough time to execute. And rather than just doing something lame, I was like, I’m just gonna skip it. I don’t actually think anyone’s gonna care. Then I just waited, you know, and I didn’t get any messages about it, so I was like, ok, I think I’m in the clear, but now… haha! But it’s a fair question—I dropped the ball. I have some ideas that didn’t make it for April Fool’s, but they will make it this year.

SD: Can you share any hints of what you’ve got in store for us?
KH: No, I never do. I don’t even tell my girlfriend. I just create it, and put it up, and see what happens. So sometimes they can flop, and that’s fine, but it’s always like, I think this will be fun. Let’s find out.

SD: What’s your dream project?
KH: Sculptures. Public sculptures. That’s always been the end goal of Kid Hazo. It’s been to start off small with props, but then do very large public sculptures. And over the years, I’ve experimented with creating or using bigger pieces and creating larger installations. But I have a few public sculpture ideas that I’ve always wanted to do, so if anybody wants to help fund that… hint, hint… reach out to me? And I will tell you some ideas! I’ve been sort of salivating, waiting to do something on that big scale.

SD: Maybe we can replace the Frank Rizzo statue with a Kid Hazo piece.
KH: Yeah! I think that would be a good idea! Yeah, let’s do a petition for that! That would be great. If we could raise some money and have a petition for that? I’d be totally into it.

SD: What do you consider your strongest and weakest work? Or what do you consider your best and worst jokes?
KH: My favorite to this day is the PPA ticket. I did that so early on, at the end of my first year. I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to top this. That whole thing was so crazy—to basically follow a PPA officer around until they parked illegally. That was like, adrenaline-pump crazy, to have that giant ticket in my back seat… And it was in the summertime; it was really hot and I had all this get-up on, and I looked like a crazy person… And so I get out of the car, and I look like I’m up to no good, obviously—it’s daytime and it’s hot—why do I have all these clothes on and my face is covered! And I get out, and this guy is pushing a stroller with his kid and just, like, scoots over. I was like, I’m so sorry! So I walked up to the car as the PPA officer starts making a lap… I just stared at the car and kind of reveled in it for a second… And then I unsheathed this giant ticket, like it was a sword, and put it on the windshield. I think I threw up a peace sign, and then I ran, got in my car, and drove away immediately. And, like, as soon as I took it out and put it on the car, there were a ton of people around taking pictures. And they just stood there and waited for the officer to come back!

So that was my favorite. But I have a lot of really bad jokes. I don’t even know where to start. Some of them just flop, and a lot of the ones in the beginning were just really not good, you know? I even had some designs that I had made that I never actually revealed—they were so bad. But you can look at some of my earlier stuff on your own and you can be the judge. Haha!

SD: You’ve said before that Philly seems more receptive to young artists than other cities. What led you to say that?
KH: Hmm. Philly has a very good, supportive culture here. You have a lot of young, creatives and professionals that are very excited about this city because there’s lots of potential to grow. When you get here, and you find your core group of people, you just find a lot of support, and a lot of people that are like-minded. It’s not cutthroat like New York would be, right? Like a lot of people have said before, New York feels like a big rat race, and either you make it or you don’t. With Philly, there’s a really good community. A lot of street artists here are actually good friends. We know who each other are and we’ll hang out outside of just the art stuff that we do. It’s really cool and positive to have these people around. I think that goes for a lot of different areas in Philly where people can just come here and feel welcome and feel excited about what they’re doing.

SD: What is it about Philly that makes it open to all that?
KH: I mean, honestly, I’ve always attributed a lot of this to Tattooed Mom‘s, and what Robert’s done, because he’s created a safe space for people to come and do what they do without having any fear of getting caught. They can just come here and be themselves. And he lets anyone in during the daytime to put up work, and encourages it constantly. A lot of famous artists that are traveling know this place, and they come in and install.

And Philly is a really affordable place to live, and it’s a good hub. I can’t speak for all artists, but I feel like you can definitely have a good art career here. There are a lot of opportunities; it’s just a big arts and culture hub. We’ve had a history of this for a very long time in Philadelphia. I think there’s just so many programs that are receptive to young artists, and the stuff that Mural Arts has done with different artists. I’ve worked with Mural Arts in their school programs—I’ve worked with high school students and that was an awesome experience. So it’s constantly being encouraged. Our school systems are pretty messed up, you know, but there are a lot of opportunities for kids to get into the arts here and for a lot of young artists to come in and meet new artists. I think the young galleries that we have, between Paradigm, Archenemy, the Convent, and Space 1026—these are spaces that are run by a lot of young professionals. They care, and they put their time and effort into it, and there’s something for everybody here.

SD: What advice would you give to new street artists?
KH: Just have fun. Make sure that it’s your passion first before anything else. Don’t be afraid to put it out there into the world; just put it out there and see what happens, you know? For me, it was totally unexpected for this to turn into what it has. I just wanted to continue to be really silly, and that’s always my main goal: to be the comic relief in stressful times. So just do whatever you want to do and be unique in your own way.

SD: Last but not least, what’s your lunch order at Tattooed Mom?
KH: The Chubsteak!

SD: Thanks for coming by and doing an interview!
KH: I had a lot of fun today! Thanks.

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PHILLY: Join Streets Dept and Tattooed Mom for Art’s Sake, A Philly Street Art Pop-up Shop featuring work for sale by all six of our Philly Street Art Interviews artists from Season 1 happening THIS Friday, May 10 from 6-10pm (21+)!

Support artists! Support Philly artists! Support Philly street artists: Click here to learn more about the event!
 
 
 
 

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Read past articles from our Philly Street Art Interviews series by clicking the artists name: Hope HummingbirdFaithsFunnnBob Will ReignTaped Off TV, Low Level, and Void Skulls!

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