• Words by Nicole Gordon Levine and Photos by Erica

Bisco Smith: A Lyrical Pollock

I have been a fan of Bisco's work for quite some time and it was a pleasure to meet him in his studio and talk about his work and how he stays so positive and humble. I admit, I cannot always read the words/lyrics in his work, but I sure like to try. Being in his studio reminded both photographer Erica Stella and I of what we feel Jackson Pollack's studio may have looked like. It was a great delight to do this on site interview with such a positive soul as Bisco Smith. Check out the the slideshow below to see what we mean...


Your work reads like a song to me, so lyrical. Can you kindly tell our audience how your music influences your art and how your art influences your music?

My whole life I have been between art and music. In High School I was DJing and writing and even before that I was performing in my elementary school but also was drawing. It has always been that way. I had this crossroad and was very fortunate to go to college and was trying to figure out what would make sense to study, and it was a clear choice between art or music. I ended up going to art school with 10 crates of records as a DJ. Where I am at now, it is all lyrical. Everything. I put out a lot of records in my life and did a lot with Hip Hop and my favorite moments were always the Freestyle moments. When you are truly in it, there is no forward and no backward. I find the highest high in Freestyle. Getting lost in the moment. So it ended up finding it's way into my paintings. I love prepping the canvas and letting it chill for a day or two and then coming in to the studio, putting beats on, and getting lost in the writing. Lyrics end up in a form, the syllables are like math. Sometimes I write the words ahead of time, it's all music and I am sure it will come back into an audio form again one day. The way I got into making the work I am doing today is I was in LA and I had a studio for the first time in my life. I really didn’t have anyone to rap with out there. So with design and life in general, when things slow I always put up news print and write out my goals, future, work, plans etc. I put the paper up, but instead of writing all that, the freestyles started happening, and the feeling was amazing and out outcome was aesthetically fresh and it combined my handstyles, freestyles, and design compositions in one form. That for me was a big turning point, in energy, and path to move ahead.


How do you go about choosing your color palette?

I think a few things. I have always loved contrast. The process in design, for me, always starts with black and white, maybe I learned to love it through that practice. In design, and logo making, It has to work in black and white before you can add color. I also don't like too many options. Less to think about, sometimes less is best. It's slowly evolving and at times I want to bring color in more, but I feel always need a reason, My show "Code Red" felt like the right moment to add red due to the political shift in the U.S. I am using gold at the moment for a new series with the thought that, the people are the real gold, we have the power and energy, and if we rise and work together we are the power. So there is color, but always for a reason, and mostly as an additive not a replacement for the black and white.


When you lived in LA, was the street art vibe very different than in NYC?

That's a good question. I lived in Venice Beach, it's not really LA. Its a place all of its own. New York - I like the groundedness of New Yorkers. I like the values in New York. It's my energy. LA changed me, allowed me space to breathe, space to evolve. It was an amazing time out there. I met a lot of great people, all generations, and all mindsets. One of the most impactful friendships I made while out there is with, Jim Budman, I guess we could call him a mentor of mine, he is an eclectic art collector and encourager. He has an amazing studio filled with rich art history. He has worked with JR, Faile, Morikami etc. He's like the great art encourager. He just taught me a lot about the process. I came from a design background and he taught me more about art. It was helpful to have someone tell me to take risks. Overall I would say in my experience New York feels raw on all levels and LA is shiny even if only on the surface, that reflects a lot in the art and the culture.. I love both cities, and the people from both sides, for now NY is where I feel best.

If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be with and why?


I would like to collaborate with a sculptor, maybe someone who works with dimension, metals, etc. I try to work with people who have different disciplines so we both can bring different things to the table. In the past I have collaborated a few people. One of my favorite collaborations was with my friend Afrika_47. He is a director, artists, photographer, so for this collaboration we were using his images. I met him in LA when he was doing 'The Resistance Project." He was working on a big wall in South Central and was looking for someone to write the names of the people killed by gun violence that year in that neighborhood behind this giant paste up of a gun being broken. I rarely will ever write something I didn’t write or create as thats part of my work, but I am socially minded and felt this was one to step outside of my self with. That spun into us doing other walls, and a whole collaborative exhibition at C.A.V.E. Gallery in Venice. And eventually into an amazing travel South Africa, where he is from, to paint as well.


What are your thoughts on street rules and pieces being gone over, coming from a graffiti background?


Graffiti has rules and there used to be repercussions if you broke those rules. Street art doesn’t seem to have those same rules. I look at it like zen, like a sand sculpture that just blows away when your done. It's the street. If it lives a long life thats great, if not, that’s the breaks. I have been in and out of this since the mid 90's. It's a different world today, thats for sure. What's your favorite piece to date that made you feel positive and fearless?


It's tough. Good question. I feel like it's the process, that gives me the energy. I like making a mess. At the WNDO, the studio in LA, I did a piece that nobody really saw. There is a nice white box gallery downstairs and when the landlords said they were going to redo the spaces and take down all the walls and construction the artists did over the years. I wrapped the entire space in canvas. 8 ft tall and probably 50 ft wide in canvas and I just went around the room and painted these crazy large, expressive, paintings and made the biggest mess I have ever made, paint everywhere. I love letting go and not caring about where it lands, how it turns out, and where the paint goes. It's like controlled chaos once you pull off the canvas. That one was fun. All the walls and work come with great memories, the people involved, the time, the place so its hard to just pick one.












What's next? Upcoming shows, commissioned pieces or outdoor murals?


Going back to work in LA in a few weeks, aiming to make work in the WNDO and potentially show some new paintings downtown LA. I am also working with 1Xrun on a new prints release with some originals as well for late July. Later in the year I have some really interesting shows in the works. Overall I am just aiming to keep making good work, enjoy the process, and let the art lead the way.

Where can our audience learn more about both you and your work?


You can find me on instagram at @biscosmith or at www.biscosmith.com. A quick Google search will lead you to other things, too.



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