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City Kitty Collab: Shell Shock with TurtleCaps

The street art scene is full of rich opportunities for collaborations and interactions. There are many forms of collaboration that happen in this realm, everything from two artists regularly putting up together, forced collaborations by adding onto a preexisting piece on the street, or artists creating a new work together by combining their talents. Over the past ten years, I have been lucky enough to had the opportunity to collaborate with many artists from around the US and Europe. Most of my collaborating takes place in my studio. I swap drawings with other artists and let their work inspire and challenge me as I add to it, creating a new piece and scenario.

When I am introduced to an artist’s work I often wonder why they make it, and how. For me, the process of making my artwork is really important. Because of this, I’m always interested in the creative process that other artists go through. So much of the artistic process is an inherently solo endeavor. Generally, we only get to see the end product, without getting any insight into the journey the artist goes through and the decision-making along the way. I wanted to start Kitty Collabs as a way to facilitate new collaborations between myself and other artists, while also getting a glimpse into artists’ creative processes through conversational interviews. In this project, I will be inviting other artists into my studio to sit down with me, talk, and create a collaborative piece of art side-by-side. Stay tuned for future installments. Hopefully, I will answer some of the questions we all have about some of our favorite local street artists.

The first artist that came to mind when I was thinking about this project was TurtleCaps. TC and I have done collaborations in the past through swapping paintings or stickers. Drawing into something that the other has already started on our own time, but we’ve never really worked on something together ‘live’.

Collaborating in person with someone can be a bit of an awkward dance. In many ways our processes are different, and our approaches opposite of one another. I’m a lefty, while he’s a righty. I grab a pencil and sketch out my idea, which evolves rather slowly and organically. He brings color straight down onto the page, with a confidence that I lack. As the process began TC asked me, “what do you want to draw?” This is a normal question for most, but it threw me for a loop. I rarely start with a preconceived idea. Instead, I may start with an eye or hand and see where the drawing takes me next. I figured we would each start on one side of the paper and meet in the middle. Thankfully, TC is quick on his feet and came up with a game plan. “ I’m going to do a tree and I wouldn’t mind having a couple cats in there like they climbed up, possibly a head poking out. Maybe I will add a bird flying out of there.” Sounded like a good plan to me. Once the concept began to form and we started working, the process became very organic, and conversation began to flow.

(Totem, 2016 collaborative painting / Punk Rock Chicken, 2017 Wheatpaste collab in Williamsburg)


CityKitty: Do you do much collaboration with other artists?

TurtleCaps: I get asked a lot by artists and curators to paint spots. If there is another artist painting next to me that I know, maybe we will work together or create a transition between the two pieces. But yeah, it’s hard to collab with people, but I try to make it work. Me and Chris, (RobotsWillKill) have been working on a piece for about a year now. It’s hard when you’re working with an artist who also has a signature character. You both want to be represented in the piece but sometimes it’s like trying to put a square into a circle. He recently decided on having his robot driving the turtle around in an ED “Big Daddy Roth” tribute, and it’s really hot.

CK:I just saw a piece you did with Outer Source the other day in Bushwick. Your styles really work well together.

TC: Which piece?

CK: The one off the Morgan (L Train) stop.

TC: Yeah, we did that in the dark! I like painting with Outer Source. He’s a great background guy. If we were in a graffiti crew he would be the character guy to my letters. Our styles really work well together.

CK: You grew up in Queens doing graffiti, and started wheat pasting when you were living in Montreal. What made you transition?

TC: Im a graffiti writer first and foremost. When you do graffiti, you do it for yourself and to satisfy your peers. But when I first googled street art there was something about wheat paste that I was attracted to. You could just take a piece of paper, draw on it, get some flour, and you can bring your art outside. Packing some paper and glue compared to packing up a bunch of spray paint to go bombing is ten times easier.

CK: And of course you don’t have the sound or smell of spray paint. I can walk around with a handful of pieces in my pocket to put up with out having to worry about lugging around cans or running out of colors. I also dig the ephemeral nature of the art form. It’s supposed to be temporary.

CK: The Internet, and particularly Instagram has blown up street artists’ careers by allowing them to share and sell their work with people around the world. You seem to be doing well spreading your work. People seem to like what I do and respond well to what I post on Instagram, but I don’t know how to take that information to take it to another level. I guess I just don’t understand what the internet wants from me.

TC: The internet and Instagram are an advantage when you’re an artist. But what I really think helped me is my experience from when I used to own a toy store in Queens. It sharpened me up on sales. I also used to be the managing editor at High Times Magazine, which was like running a business also. You have to know your market; you have to get things out on time. I just try applying that to what I’m doing now.

CK: So it sounds like you think a lot about your audience.

TC: Of course I do. I do this for myself, but I’m trying to share this with people, and there are different demographics for everything. If I do an Optimums Prime version of Turtle Caps, a 25-year-old accountant might not even notice it, but if it was a sports team theme or even just a bright color scheme, more people notice it. People like colors. Life is boring without color.

CK: Very true. I have noticed this in my work as well. I paint in a lot of other styles other than City Kitty work, which attracts different audiences depending on the subject or content. I drummed up some attention a few years ago when I did a series of sculptures based on the American flag, but when I started a series of paintings based on sign language people didn’t seem to get it.

CK: Well, I appreciate you sitting down with me. It’s always nice to get to talk with another artist and to get a glimpse into how they work and think.

Turtle Caps is a New York City based street artist. Check out his work and follow him at @Turtlecaps on Instagram

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