- Words and Photos by Bytegirl
On Location with Stray Ones
Quiet Sunday afternoon, the sun beats down on an isolated industrial street in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC. The buildings are covered with graffiti and murals, the sidewalks littered with trash and debris.
Young, ambitious, artist, Manhattanite (Washington Heights) now living in Brooklyn. Displays a healthy disdain for hipsters, and a generous dose of general all-around street smarts. He is armed with a backpack, duffle bags and a tool belt. He is wearing a bright yellow ball cap and sports a pair of turquoise-framed sunglasses. Beyond that, his physical description must remain a mystery.
Life-sized wire sculpture with the ability to pose in highly accurate feline style, always one step behind his fellow cast-mate.
A true staple of NYC, Pink rat is perpetually just out of Yellow/Orange Cat’s reach, one step away from oblivion--or your average NYC day.
Our lead, (Stray Ones) unpacks a ladder he has been carrying in a custom duffle on his back. The ability to blend in and hide true intentions is always a worthy accomplishment when one sets out to take on the streets. From his backpack, he carefully pulls out his fellow cast-mates, two wire sculptures, that will join him in telling a story of NYC, a story of the artist, a story of struggle, and a story of survival. Yellow/Orange Cat springs from its wrapping, tail pointing to the sky ready to take on his role as Pink Rat joins him, inches away, forever on guard.
For the next thirty minutes or so, Stray Ones uses the tools of his trade: wire-cutters, needle-nose pliers of varying sizes, and footlong lengths of wire to affix Y/O Cat and P Rat to an air conditioner grill mounted to the outside of a nondescript industrial warehouse. He takes his time placing Y/O Cat in the perfect stalking position, his front paw tentatively stepping forward, tail slung low for balance. P Rat is just ahead… slinking towards the corner, attempting to escape his fate.
When satisfied with the tableau Stray Ones pulls the last piece out of his bag of tricks, a wooden sign with his name painted in bright, colorful letters. He attaches the plaque just below Y/O Cat calling attention to his continual attempt to capture P Rat and allowing random strangers who might stumble on our scene to identify and possibly connect with our lead.
With the action winding down we take a moment to talk to our star, attempting to learn the answers to questions about his life and what motivates him to create three-dimensional stories on the street.
Growing up in Washington Heights, he is no stranger to graffiti, a constant part of his life and a major influence. He wrote on the streets for about seven years before making the switch to three-dimensional installations.
Why cats we wonder? He had originally attempted to sculpt people but found them too large and cumbersome to work with on the street. Like many others he used to have a cat and found himself inspired by the way it moved and how graceful it was. He wanted to pick an animal that represented people who are from the city…"everyone can relate to a stray cat, we are all strays in NYC.” he explains. He goes on to talk of how the installations are perfect, "I could install people in these areas" he says, “But it wouldn’t make sense." "The cat fits perfectly in all these little niches.”
Why use wire? It was recommended by a professor: did we mention he went to art school? He immediately fell in love with the material. Easy to use, cheap and strong, it can be tied down, it can even be covered. It is extremely flexible in its ability to capture the characters that his mind creates. He prefers to work in the moment, sometimes relying on his binder full of reference photos, other times working from memory. Each piece takes about two to three weeks to complete. The process? First sculpting, then painting and finally applying a protective finish.
And his personal definition of an artist? " I think a lot of people think they are artists but not everyone is an artist. An artist is someone who wakes up thinking about art, all day they are doing art, their job is art, they are passionate about art. They also have a story, something about who they are... they have to make art."
When did he first call himself an artist? "As a toddler" he says, adamantly.
The future? "To be as big as I can be... the biggest name possible... to be huge...keep pushing it as much as I can." Words of determination and ambition that help to drive him forward.
His advice for others? To keep going, don't quit, especially when you don't feel like doing anything. You can't give up even if you aren't in the mood. You have to stay consistent, you can't get lazy. "You get lazy for even a month and people are going to lose interest," he explains.
As our conversation comes to a close he brings us back around to the beginning, his motivation for the stories he creates and the message he wants to convey. "They are going through a struggle, people living in NYC can relate to that struggle... not even just people in NYC, people all over the world. We can all relate to the cats living in the streets, in this grimy city...we also have to do that... live in this city. Stray cats have a hard life... like someone struggling out here in Brooklyn, so they can relate."
Want a custom wooden sign for yourself or your business? Contact: @strayones for an estimate. From Graffiti to Sans-Serif he can create anything and everything you can imagine. He even provides installation services.