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Interview From Streets Dept Magazine, Issue #1: Sean 9 Lugo–You Don’t Need An @ Symbol

November 15, 2022

First two quick programming notes:

1) This interview was originally published in December, 2021, in Issue #1 of Streets Dept Magazine. For archival purposes, we’re now republishing it here on the blog.

2) We are thrilled to be in the middle of creating Issue #2 of Streets Dept Magazine, which you can wait to purchase in January 2023 or pre-order now by becoming a Streets Dept Patreon member at the Paper Tier or above. Not only do our Patreon members help us to create these annual magazines with their support, but they are rewarded for that support by getting their magazines mailed to them first! If you become a Streets Dept Patreon member (at the Paper Tier or above) by Monday, November 28 and plan to remain a member for a least three months, we’ll mail your magazine out this DecemberClick here to become a Streets Dept Patreon member now!

Interview and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

Sean 9 Lugo is a veteran Phil‌adelphia street artist who works primarily in the medium of wheatpaste. He’s also a fine artist with a number of gallery shows under his belt, as well as an art collector with diverse tastes. Making art seems to primarily serve a therapeutic role in Sean’s life, helping him find meaning, connect with people, and play with perception.

For our interview, Sean welcomed me into his home studio, which has to be the tidiest artist workspace I’ve ever seen. While making cracks about sitting on an exercise ball because he’s old, Sean walked me through the process he uses to create most of his pieces. Generally, he starts with a sketchbook, where he draws a detailed image in ballpoint pen. He then scans the drawing, enlarges it, and prints it out. Finally, he paints it with acrylic paint and pastes it up—after driving around for hours in search of the perfect spot.

Eric: You’re the type of street artist who chooses the placement of his pieces very carefully. Can you describe your approach to that and why it’s important to you?

Sean: I believe in street art, the number one thing is placement. It’s giving your piece a home. That’s probably why I stand out. I drive around for hours just to find the perfect home for a piece. At the end of the day, you don’t know if it’s gonna last a half hour, days, weeks, months; but that photo we take makes that piece a painting, in a sense, but in the street.

Eric: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever put up a piece?

Sean: Maybe not the strangest, but the most interesting to me was probably putting up wheatpastes in the Dominican Republic. It was for an art festival called Artesano, and it was interesting just to walk up to any house you wanted to, talk to the owner, and say I’ma put this on the side of your building; you cool with that? and they’re just like yeah! They live with nothing—and are happy. And we live with so much—but then cry when we’ve got spilled milk. For artists from all around the world to go into your city and say that you want to give them something—they’re very grateful. And it’s an extremely humbling experience. Like, I have a lot of shit. But at the end of the day, if it all went away and I just had the people I love, that’s all I care about.

Eric: Seven years ago, you stated in an interview that “most people are fake,” explaining that the way people project a false image of themselves inspires you. Do you still feel that way?

Sean: Yeah, that’s why my series is what it is. I think a lot of the people you meet aren’t genuine at times. I love being able to play with people’s minds by painting a portrait of something, but then putting a mask on. For instance, the Black Lives Matter posts I did. Three images; three different skin colors; everyone had black flags to represent Black Lives Matter. But the teddy bear head changed it. It made it an image that was serious-cute. So if you weren’t about the movement—which, shame on you—the teddy bear head was kind of just that mute button: you just saw a cute image. I feel like the heads untrigger you in a way.

That’s the beautiful thing about being able to play with people that way. It’s the misconception. If I paint five dudes on a corner and you see their faces, and I add certain colors, you’ll think oh, they’re gang members; oh, they’re drug dealers. If I paint those same five dudes on a corner but they got a unicorn head, a cat head, a squirrel head… People are like oh man, that’s cute! The first thought isn’t going to be oh, look at these gang members; drug dealers; delinquents. Even though they probably might be all those things. I feel like the moment you add someone’s face, you start thinking who is this person? But when you see an animal head, you don’t think who is this person?; you just say what’s going on here?

Eric: Now that you’ve had a number of gallery shows, what do you think the “traditional” art world could learn from the street art world?

Sean: For me, that question is reversed. I feel like street artists could learn from the gallery setting more, to see how someone puts together a show. If you’re putting a body of work together, you could do that same body of work and put it in the street. And removing an @ symbol would be amazing. I’ve never signed one piece of street art.

Eric: What’s with the 9?

Sean: Ok, that’s an easy one… So the number 9 came about from an acid trip experience with a bunch of good friends. We were listening to The Beatles’ Revolution 9 and they keep repeating the word 9. Number 9, number 9, number 9, I don’t know how many times it’s said over the song. So I had a marker in my hand, and I started writing it on all the signs: number 9, 9, 9, 9. I just started writing 9 everywhere, and my good friend said “9 watches over us.” I was like …sure, buddy. Months later, he fell 9 stories to his death. He was 21 years old. And for me, all my work is very personal. I like creating things that have meaning to me, especially in my gallery work. So I incorporated the 9 in my name to pay homage to him. The 9 only lives because of him. Every time I do 9, I feel like I’m keeping Theodore Joseph Ciaccia’s legacy alive.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview From Streets Dept Magazine, Issue #1: Marian Bailey–Take Up All Of The Space

November 15, 2022

First two quick programming notes:

1) This interview was originally published in December, 2021, in Issue #1 of Streets Dept Magazine. For archival purposes, we’re now republishing it here on the blog.

2) We are thrilled to be in the middle of creating Issue #2 of Streets Dept Magazine, which you can wait to purchase in January 2023 or pre-order now by becoming a Streets Dept Patreon member at the Paper Tier or above. Not only do our Patreon members help us to create these annual magazines with their support, but they are rewarded for that support by getting their magazines mailed to them first! If you become a Streets Dept Patreon member (at the Paper Tier or above) by Monday, November 28 and plan to remain a member for a least three months, we’ll mail your magazine out this December! Click here to become a Streets Dept Patreon member now!

Interview and photos by Conrad Benner

In preparation for shooting the photos for this piece, I met Marian Bailey at their home, sat on the couch, and caught up. It had been a few months since I had seen them, and in that time their career had taken off—to the point that Marian had quit their job to pursue art full-time. This is the dream! But it’s not a surprise, because Marian really has it all. Their art is fun, colorful, inviting, powerful, and personal. And they’re a natural businessperson who thrives at all the admin stuff so many others (myself included) can drag our feet on.

Conrad: I first learned about your work at a Phobymo-curated Time To Pretend art fair. I loved your style and asked if you had ever thought about doing murals. We then worked together for the first year of Streets Dept Walls at the Fashion District, where you painted your first mural! What do you remember about that moment?

Marian: I was at my clinical research monitoring job and I happened to check my personal email. I yelped, jumped up out of my chair, and ran out of the office! The woman that was working with me had no idea what was going on so I had to quickly explain when I came back. I was flooded with so much emotion. I was happy and low-key terrified because I had never worked that big before. I decided to say yes and figure it out later. I’ve told you this before but something told me that connecting with you would lead to really beautiful things. I considered showing up to one of your mural tours and casually mentioning that I was an artist. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing to do that because you found me!

Conrad: Why was it important for you to paint what you did for 2019’s Streets Dept Walls?

Marian: Initially, I didn’t know what I was going to paint. You pulled up a stylized digital self-portrait that I made and said it would be cool as a mural. I’m so glad you pointed me in that direction because it is pretty iconic to have my first mural be of me. Representation is obviously important to me and comes up a lot in my work. That piece is titled Self-Assured and I want everyone to feel so much confidence in themselves and take up all of the space, which is what that piece does!

Conrad: I’ve been thinking a lot about impostor syndrome lately. Did you, or do you still, ever experience self doubt?

Marian: Impostor syndrome and I used to be on a first name basis. As a self-taught artist, it can be really easy to feel like you don’t belong and that you’re not good enough. I’ve put in a lot of work this year to increase my confidence when it comes to my initial project ideas. I used to get really anxious after sending the first draft of something. Over the last few months, I’ve stopped feeling that way. People hire me because they like what I make so where are those nerves coming from? I couldn’t answer that question in a way that made sense so I decided that the worst thing that could happen is that I’ll have to change a few things! So now, I walk with the confidence that comes from experience and knowing that the world isn’t going to crumble if I have to make slight adjustments.

Conrad: You just installed artwork on South Street; can you tell us more about that series and its inspiration?

Marian: My oh my, that project was unexpected. I had just told myself I couldn’t say yes to any other projects and then I received an email through my website about working with Doritos on their Solid Black campaign. It was too big of an opportunity to pass up. They essentially let me do whatever I wanted and just wanted to shine light on Black creatives. That project was a celebration of Black women/Black folks like myself that exist somewhere on the gender spectrum. I wanted to hold up a mirror to my community and show just how beautiful we are. That project was so perfect because it was installed right next to a natural beauty supply store called Marsh and Mane. I got to see so many people interacting with it and they were so happy to see it and to be seen by me through my work. It was a full circle moment and I felt like I achieved what I set out to do.

Conrad: What do you like about being an artist in Philly?

Marian: The Philly artist scene is so DIY. There are many different ways to be an artist and Philly is a great city to be able to explore that. I am constantly coming into contact with incredible artists that want to bounce ideas off of each other, collaborate, and just share space. We all want to see each other win and it is so special to feel that support. I’m not sure how successful I would be as a self-taught artist somewhere else. There are just so many opportunities to learn and grow here!

Conrad: What does a successful artist career look like to you?

Marian: Success looks like holding the door open for other folks. Last year I was able to hire a few people to assist with multiple murals and this year I am doing the same. I want everyone who is interested in doing art in a similar capacity to me to have the opportunity to do so. Success is somewhat hard to pin down outside of that. I obviously want to be able to provide for myself and have room for fun and rest but I am doing that already, so I guess being able to continue to do that as well as making space for others! I also want to get outside of Philly and put up colorful pieces all over the place!

Conrad: Talk to us about your 2021 collaboration with Broad Street Ministry! How do you approach a project like that?

Marian: Thankfully, I had already done the Doritos project so I was somewhat familiar with working within the confines of an Illustrator template. The folks at Broad Street Ministry gave me free rein. They said they liked the people I illustrated and liked how colorful my work is. They told me to go for it and trusted me to make it look nice. I sent them the initial idea and we had some back and forth to get to what folks see on the streets of Philly. We wanted to represent folks from a range of races, ages, body types, abilities, and gender identities. With that information, I was able to come up with a piece that we all really liked. I love when clients trust me to do my thing, and it can be scary initially because you never know if they will like what you send along but in the end, they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t like what I create.

Conrad: Who would be a dream collaboration?

Marian: Bisa Butler. She is hands down one of my favorite artists. She uses fabric to make stunning pieces of people. I want to make magic with her because her work is incredible and I feel like the colors that we work with would look amazing together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview From Streets Dept Magazine, Issue #1: Adam Crawford–It Just Takes Over

November 15, 2022

First two quick programming notes:

1) This interview was originally published in December, 2021, in Issue #1 of Streets Dept Magazine. For archival purposes, we’re now republishing it here on the blog.

2) We are thrilled to be in the middle of creating Issue #2 of Streets Dept Magazine, which you can wait to purchase in January 2023 or pre-order now by becoming a Streets Dept Patreon member at the Paper Tier or above. Not only do our Patreon members help us to create these annual magazines with their support, but they are rewarded for that support by getting their magazines mailed to them first! If you become a Streets Dept Patreon member (at the Paper Tier or above) by Monday, November 28 and plan to remain a member for a least three months, we’ll mail your magazine out this December! Click here to become a Streets Dept Patreon member now!

Interview and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

A‌dam Crawford is a muralist and fine artist who lives in South Phil‌adelphia. Since painting his first mural at Awesome Dudes Print‌ing in early 2016, Adam has quickly gone on to paint dozens of murals in Philly, Chicago, Pittsburgh, D.C., and New York. But it’s almost as if he needed an incubation period before this recent flourishing: despite his Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts degree, Adam had been, as he puts it, “dead to the world” for a number of years. Following a rough patch in his life, he had stopped renting a studio space and almost completely checked out from the art scene. “I got so off track it was ridiculous,” he says.

That time in his life happened to coincide with the explosion of the internet and computer technology in general, but Adam was completely offline. So it’s surprising that his art practice is so rooted in technology now—he rarely sketches, instead creating all of his designs in Adobe Illustrator. And instead of moving back into a studio, he paints in his basement. He learned early on that doing things the “normal” way created a stifling sense of pressure for him, and as you’ll see in our interview, he traces that rejection of normalcy all the way back to his childhood.

Eric: Your work is simultaneously abstract and organized, often with a lot of precise geometry. What’s your approach to balancing these seemingly conflicting qualities?

Adam: I treat those two visual concepts, organic shapes and more rigid geometry, as two contrasting ideas. I like to balance them sort of like a visual rhythm. Because I fill my compositions almost completely, I use those two things as a way to create something that you see quickly; and then there’s rest for your eyes. It helps me to create this flow through a mural or a painting.

Eric: What are some of your artistic influences or inspirations?

Adam: A local guy, Jim Houser, is somebody I always looked up to—the way he organizes a painting; the way it tells a story. I always thought his stuff was really interesting; the graphic nature of it. And then the patterny stuff that Barry McGee did—where he was just smashing patterns together—I thought that looked so cool. I also look at Shepard Fairy or Tristan Eaton a lot, because there’s these ways that they put multiple ideas together that allows them to use two different faces or two different ideas or two different patterns. It’s helped me to see a way that you can make very complex images and have them broken down into simplified compartments. You’re almost just dealing with one little section at a time; they’re each their own idea, but you figure out a way to make them work together, like a specific color that they might all share.

Eric: You’re a skater, and you also paint a lot of skate decks. How has skate culture influenced your work?

Adam: Massively. I think if you ask anyone who skates and does art or something creative, they’ll say that it’s got everything to do with growing up in that subculture. It’s not so sub now, but when I was a kid, skating wasn’t this thing that everyone accepted or knew about—or recognized as being its own culture with its own graphics and its own type of imagery and its own grit. I think because skateboarding had that visual aspect to it, it’s probably what drew me to it in the first place. Skating is like… first you see all the cool graphics, and then you find out how fun it is, and then you find out there’s this secret punk aspect to it, and it just gets better and better. It just takes over. I did other things as a kid, sports and stuff, but nothing could take its place. I was always trying to skate more and always trying to get away from that normalcy.

I think that was another part of it. I grew up in a suburb that was just dipped in that… normalcy. And I came from a family of divorce, but no one else in the town was divorced, so I feel like maybe there was a part of me that was like I don’t really fit that normal thing. I feel more comfortable being a part of something that’s less about normalcy. I’m not going to go to the soccer game with my dad; he’s not around, so it’s not going to feel good. I think that all created a desire to do something different, and I think that’s what a lot of people who are creative go through in some way or another. There’s a drive to break out of that box that people can find themselves in—or that a lot of people almost like to be in. To be creative is to try and find your own thing.

Eric: Your Instagram bio currently says you’re open to projects “anywhere in the world.” I know you’ve painted murals in other cities, but have you done any projects outside the U.S. yet? Is that what you’re aiming for?

Adam: That would be really awesome. Anyone who does murals is trying to reach people. But I haven’t had a project outside of the U.S. I’m sort of surprised that I’ve been able to go to other places outside Philadelphia! It feels like I’ve only been doing the mural thing for about three years. I just got hired in the beginning by a company that was growing, and I busted my ass for them on that first one. So I think I got really lucky with that, because it allowed me to do so many murals in a short amount of time. Every time you do one, you learn something, and it’s gotten me to a place where I feel pretty confident with what I do. That specific client helped me progress faster than normal.

Eric: What do you find easiest and hardest about painting murals?

Adam: I think the hardest thing is getting the idea onto the wall. I spend a lot of time designing things almost per inch, to have certain colors just graze another color. So it’s really important to me that things are dead-on. I think it’s those tiny, tiny details—like wrapping the design over a gutter—that really makes things look so much better; when it’s almost like some form has been dipped in your mural. When you’re doing your drawing and you’re scaling to the wall and you miss those details—your mural slowly suffers, the less accurately you can get your design up there. That’s the part that always makes me nervous. Cause there’s a few ways to do it, and I tend to do the hardest, most time-consuming ways. But in the end, you get these good transfers or a good perfect scale of what you want. Then all you have to do is figure out how to execute it with your colors.

Eric: What do you want to be known for?

Adam: That’s a really hard question. Maybe as someone that sort of… contributes. Just someone that contributes to the culture, or to the city as a whole, making it a nicer or more appealing environment through the murals. With any kind of design, you’re trying to shape culture or what people see as art, so that kind of stuff would be really cool to be known for—that you’ve contributed to the whole idea of that time period; of what was cool. That’s a huge thing to do, and I think a lot of people don’t get that opportunity—you have to be pretty well-known for that. But that would be like a fantasy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

International Four-way Collaboration Installed on Fabric Row

November 15, 2022

Words and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

An empty storefront on Philadelphia’s historic Fabric Row (4th Street between Bainbridge and Queen Streets) is now home to a large-scale wheatpaste collaboration between four artists: the New York-based City Kitty, the Baltimore-based Cheer Up, the London-based Neon Savage, and Philly’s own Sean 9 Lugo.

After messaging the artists on Instagram, I learned that City Kitty was the main driving force behind the piece. “Many of my collabs start with pieces people have given me,” he told me. “I then use them as inspiration or a jumping off point for the collaboration. This one started with a head that Cheer Up had given me and a silkscreen collab between me and Neon Savage that he silkscreened in London.”

So this piece is not only a collab made from another collab, it’s also kind of a collage! The progress shot below, sent to me by City Kitty, shows how he cut up and arranged the other pieces and then sketched in a design to unite them into one composition.

And here’s another photo from City Kitty, which shows a different version of the Neon Savage screenprint that he cut up for the Philly install. “I’ve known City Kitty for a while,” Neon Savage told me. “We have done quite a few collabs, but this is the first that I mashed our designs together—his infamous kitty and my cockney sparrow, both 3-eyed creatures.”

As for Cheer Up, he met City Kitty at Tattooed Mom’s Characters Welcome sticker show a few years ago. As Cheer Up has started visiting New York more frequently, the two have become friends, and just recently started creating collaborations.

“City Kitty is a master of his style and an extremely talented artist,” Cheer Up said. “This is actually a more elaborate version of another wheatpaste he created and put up in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s a fun concept that I hope we will further build on in the future!”

How did Sean 9 Lugo get involved? He picked the spot! “City Kitty was coming into town and we were going to link up at Mom’s,” he wrote. So to save City Kitty some time, Sean did some scouting while installing his own pieces earlier in the day. One of the pieces he put up is a new portrait of Chutatip Suntaranon, AKA Chef Nok, the owner of Kalaya Thai Kitchen, with her dog Tong, who passed away in April. It’s one of eight portraits in season four of Sean’s Clones of Illadelph series, and it’s located… right next to City Kitty’s new piece.

“I reached out to Sean when I was headed to Philly to meet up and asked him if he knew of a spot for this piece. He showed me this spot and had made these flying boxes to add on to the scene,” said City Kitty.

The boxes, which Sean admits are super random, are repurposed from a design he created for the Philly company Fishbox last year. “Thought it would be fun to add it to this amazing collaboration,” Sean said. “When I linked up with [City Kitty] at Mom’s, I gave him the fish boxes and told him about the window if he was interested. The rest is history!”

To The Polls 2022: Exhibition Archive

November 7, 2022

Welcome to the exhibition archive for To The Polls 2022, this is a space to record the murals and artist’s statements!

To The Polls 2022 is a mural exhibition that took place in LOVE Park the month of October 2022 through November 4th, ahead of Election Day on November 8th. Organized and curated by Streets Dept Walls’ Conrad Benner with support from Mural Arts Philadelphia, the exhibition worked with six Philly-based artists to create six temporary 8×12-foot murals to rally the Philadelphia community around civic participation through the act of voting. A seventh wall structure invited passers-by to write their reasons for voting.

Learn more about each of the murals below:

Frank Chappell III’s “For Those Who Can’t”

Frank Chappell III is a Philadelphia-based muralist and mixed media artist. Chappell’s work often reflects the life and culture in the city he was born and raised. Using playful and light-hearted imagery, he conveys his messages painting nature within the urban environment.

Artist Statement: “The decision a voter makes does not solely effect them. Children cannot vote on issues that will influence their future. Animals cannot vote on whether or not their habitats will be destroyed. It is up to voter to be the voice for the voiceless.”

Donna Grace Kroh’s “Create Our Future”

Donna Grace Kroh is a Philly-based portrait artist and muralist. In her work she focuses on bringing out the emotions of the subject to pull the viewer into the canvas.

Artist Statement: “When voting, I hold the future at the front of my mind. My immediate future and for the next generations to come. With this mural titled ‘Create Our Future’ I took photographs of Philadelphia residents and asked them what they would like to see within their future. As a collaborative community piece, I hope to find connections and encourage citizens to exercise their freedom of democracy and to use the power of their voice.”

Zerbe’s “Untitled”

Zerbe is an artist/ community activator. Known for his graphic lines and expressionistic style work. He has managed to fuse street art elements with his techniques while using lines to create an ever energy flows into his work. What’s unique about Zerbe’s work is the locations and the focus of his work. He focuses his work on community building and social change. The neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia is where you can find Zerbe painting, cleaning or just assisting the community on any given day. This makes a huge impact being that most people stray away from this area due to the crime, drug usage and homelessness within the area. His work inspires and provokes a need for social change within the area and shines a light on all of the social issues within the area. This makes Zerbe not only an incredible artist but also an advocate for humanity.

Natalie Hope McDonald’s “YOUR VOTE EQUALS POWER”

Natalie Hope McDonald is an artist based in Philadelphia. She works in a variety of mediums, including works on paper and painting using reclaimed materials, as well as murals. She’s inspired by street art and pop culture. Her work can be found in private and corporate collections around the world, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Artist Statement: “My goal with this art is to acknowledge how big and unwieldy the issues can, indeed feel, particularly within the most marginalized communities, while reminding each of us that voting is still one of the most direct ways to have a voice. I purposely included protest signs in the mix as an acknowledgment of the power that comes from mass dissent, something we saw after George Floyd was murdered by police and again when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Turning that dissent into votes can realistically change the future by putting people in office who have our best interests in mind… Everything truly is at stake. Don’t sit this election out.”

Rachael Reyes-Vazquez’s “No Vote, Sin Voz”

Born and raised in Philadelphia and heavily influenced by Hip Hop and graffiti, Rachael Reyes-Vazquez is an artist whose full-hearted work reflects different periods and chapters in her life. Rachael also brings forth a community-oriented spirit as an advocate for youth, young adults, families, and communities affected by violence in Philadelphia.

Artist Statement: “When creating this mural, my focus was to emphasize the fact that now is the time to be proactive and make your voice heard. Voting collectively makes pathways for change and hope to those fighting for a better world. The leadership starts with us.”

De’von Downes’ “A Chance For Hope”

De’von Downes is a contemporary artist working mainly in portraiture to tell the stories of the Black and or queer experience. A queer artist based out of Philadelphia/ South Jersey who creates art both visual and wearable around wellness.

Artist Statement: “‘A Chance For Hope’ includes portraits of my cousins that I took while teaching them how to paint. This piece is about thinking not about how things affect myself and my journey as an adult, but how the choices of today impact the lives of the kids in my life. I vote and do community work so that they have an opportunity to grow up and make decisions, mistakes, and lives of their own that aren’t limited by the decisions of the adults today. To give them and all the other kids a chance to grow into a world that allows them to just be themselves without having to struggle or fix issues that could’ve been addressed earlier.”

The “I Vote Because” Participatory Wall

Thank you to all of you that added your reason for voting in this election in our “I Vote Because” wall, including Josh Shapiro and Gisele Fetterman!

See the murals from To The Polls 2020 here; and from To The Polls 2018 here!

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