City Kitty Collab: Painting Outside the Box with Bludog
In 2010 I began working and showing with Fountain Art Fair, an alternative, street-art focused art fair that exhibited in New York City, Miami and LA. Bludog was one of the first artists I met when I started with Fountain. He became my first street art friend and played a big role in encouraging me to push the street art side of my art practice further. Within a few years we began regularly traveling outside of NYC on street art adventures. We’ve been to Toronto, Philly, Montreal, Miami and our most recent trip this last summer, to Detroit. A few years ago, during one of our adventures in Philly, Bludog bought an old metal newspaper box at a thrift store with the idea that we would paint on it. A few weeks ago, I finally convinced him to come out to Queens and work on the relic that had been taking up real estate in my apartment for the past three years. The last time we had collaborated on a piece was back in 2016, when we were invited to paint a stationary semi-trailer up in Ellenville, NY. So it was nice to dust off the cobwebs and see how we could transform this vintage newspaper box together.
Collab with Bludog, Lungebox and Zero Productivity in Ellenville, NY. 2016
Blu: So how do you want to start this? Ck: I figured we could subdivide the box with tape, and then spray into it. That way, when we peel it back there’s more potential for little moments to happen. Blu: Sounds good. Grab some tape and I will pull out my stencils and paint. You mind if I turn on some music?
Ck: Not at all.
With the sound of masking tape being stretched and the chords of Nirvana blasting over the rattling of spray cans, we were off.
Ck: So you were one of the first street artists that I became friends with. You were also the first openly gay street artist I ever met. Blu: WOW, right out of the gate! I didn’t realize we were going full-on Oprah right off the bat with this! Ck: Hang on- there’s a reason! I bring it up because the first thing that drew me to your work was that you have messages that you’re passionate about, (often relating to LGBTQ issues) but you’re conveying them in subliminal ways. For example, I’m attracted to the “you are not alone” rainbow stickers, and your “know your status” stickers because of their imagery; the messages behind them come secondary for me, and add to their magnetism.
Blu: I tried giving myself a challenge in the beginning to never use words because I wanted my work to be subtle. I made the original Bludog sticker for me and for people that would get it. Before I made stickers, I focused on making short films. [At that time] I used the streets for plastering [promotional] posters. I liked the idea that I could put anything I wanted on the streets of NYC. That’s what ultimately led me out of the film world and into street art, but I wanted this to be different. I can have an idea and get it out onto the street without needing a crew of people and a large block of time to achieve a goal. The last film I made was actually about a guy who finds something on the streets of NYC and ends up getting killed. Ck: That’s intense! I had a similar start when I first moved here. I was still illustrating posters for my band and national touring bands to put on the streets for promotion. Knowing that it was illegal to hang posters on the street in NYC, I figured if I was risking getting busted, it should be for my own art, not the art I create for clients.
Ck: When we first showed together in 2010 at the Fountain Art Fair you were making video loops that you framed and were calling video paintings and I was mainly pursuing fine art painting. It wasn’t until I saw you a few years later again at Fountain that you had a Bludog booth and you were focusing on street art. What was the moment where you knew you wanted to change gears? Blu: It started in 2009 at Fountain in Miami. They let me take over one of the bathrooms and I made it look like the bathroom at CBGB’s with tags and stickers. The next day I was approached by DB Burkeman, who had fallen in love with my stickers and wanted to include them in his upcoming sticker book [that was being published]. So I walked away from my first show in Miami with no one paying attention to my video art, but someone wanting to put my stickers into a book! I took this momentum and started using my stickers as a political and social platform to talk about gay rights, people being wrongly imprisoned, and my reactions to things going on in the world that I had no power to change, but I could voice my opinion on.
Ck: Like when you made your Trayvon Martin sticker shaped like a gun filled with candy. As I mentioned before, I appreciate that you are voicing your opinion with subtleties, rather than it just becoming advertising. Blu: Well that was part of my initial idea. I started using all the different skills I learned in marketing to get a point across in these new political pieces. You like the stickers, they’re cute, they’re funny. You like the dog in the image, and you feel it’s not pushing an opinion, but it does leave its mark; it’s in your head. That’s why I’m fascinated with repetition.
Ck: Now that we have a base-coat on this box do mind if I grab some of your stencils and join in?
Blu: Not at all, join in!
Ck: I’ve known you long enough to see you progress from computer-generated stickers to hand made stickers to stencils. What sparked that transition? Blu: A year or so after Fountain in Miami I was showing in Chicago in conjunction with the launch of the “Stuck up Piece of Crap” sticker book by DB Burkeman. My mother had just recently died, and for this show, I made a coffin that I covered with my latest stickers. I met Martha Cooper at the opening and she was telling me how she didn’t really care for vinyl stickers. That really inspired me to focus on making handmade stickers. And hanging with you, I was jealous that you draw so well so I got into stencils. Ck: Well that brings up an interesting point. You may be a stencil artist, but you are hand drawing your stencils, which gives them a very different look. Most stencil artists rest on the strength of their computer skills, cutting abilities and spraying techniques to create a precise image. The way you are creating and using your stencils gives your images a very raw and unique look.
Blu: I appreciate that, but I think that was also driven by my fascination in marketing. I’m noticing that more companies are simplifying their icons and logos like creating their own hieroglyphic. So I started with a similar goal. But as I progressed in my stencil making, my images started to become more like petroglyphs, open to interpretation. I started to reflect on what I wanted to say, which led me down a path to creating pieces about death and the people we have lost.
Ck: An important aspect of being an artist is reflecting on the work you have made, so that you can continue to move forward in your practice. Speaking of reflection, do you see this red reflection on the box? I think I’m going to spray this section red. Trust me, it will look nice!
Blu: Go for it! At my first solo show I found myself having to explain to people what the dog is and that’s when I realized that I am the dog. I grew up on a farm in Iowa and spent a lot of time alone, using a transistor radio. That person saved me a lot of money in therapy tapping into the meaning of the dog. Ck: So you’ve slowed down a bit on the street in the past few years. Have you felt that you have less to say?
Blu: After getting arrested I slowed down in NYC. I really enjoy traveling and getting up in other cities. I also had less to say after the election. After Bernie lost, I really felt like it was all rigged. After the experience of painting the mural on our friend Steve [Stoppert]’s wall on 2nd Ave and Houston St, and the mural project we did for Vice, I would like to focus on more murals. I really enjoyed the process of creating a scenario and diving deep into a theme like the dead icons I was using on Steve’s wall. That being said, I will always make stickers as well.
Ck: I know we’ve been struggling with how best to resolve the interior aspect of the box. How would you feel about Shannon [McBride] making a creature-sculpture or scenario to go inside? Blu: that would be great, I love her work. It feels like something out of a David Lynch movie. It hits me in a dark place with a classic macabre feel.
Shannon McBride’s sculpture before the installation and I night shot of the piece installed
Ck: I don’t think I would consider it macabre. She watches a lot of crime shows and used to work on one, but she’s not really into gore or horror films.
Blu: That’s true. Her work is much more organic and it’s not violent. I think that’s what makes it so disturbing. Like David Cronenburg, it lives in this space between human and not-human, which is what makes it so unnerving.
CK: Well I think we have given her a great jumping off point with what we did here tonight. I really appreciate you coming out and finally getting this box on the path to leaving my apartment. I will work on a drawing for the front part of the box based on what we did tonight and I’ll seal it up before it goes out onto the street.
Thanks for tuning in!
You can keep up with Bludog and his adventures on Instagram: @bludog10003
And you can find Shannon McBride at: @shannonmcbride_art