I first noticed Synapse 65s stickers and wheat pastes popping up around New York City a few years ago. I was instantly drawn to the diversity of the characters he draws while staying in a consistent classic comic book style. Heads are the main focus of his stickers, which made me think they might be ripped from mug shots or actor’s headshots. I became more intrigued with his work after finding out from a mutual friend that most of his subjects are people he sees on his commutes up in Boston. Furthermore that he is a legit scientist, hence the moniker.
City Kitty: So I set up two pieces of paper. I figured we could switch back and forth so that way at the end we can each have one.
Synapse: Sounds good! I see you’re a lefty too, which will make it much easier to work around each other!
CK: So you’re based out of Boston. How’s the scene up there?
Syn: There’s not a big scene. You would assume there would be with all the college students there. There are some spots in Cambridge, around Central Square, and up north in Summerville. It’s very liberal politically and socially. But it’s a very clean city and pieces come down as soon as they go up.
CK: It’s interesting with street art being so global how each city has a different scene. Some cities are only stickers, some are more graffiti. Some cities your pieces will be up for years, where others, like you mentioned, they can come down right away.
Syn: I was actually a little late today because I was taking some pictures of pieces I put up in the Lower East Side last night. I was surprised to see that I have some pieces that have been up for almost a year!
CK: I think there are a few reasons for that. First off it’s wintertime so not as many people are pasting. Also we’re in a bit of a lull street art wise compared to other cities I travel to. There are 8.5 million people in this city and currently there are less then 20 artists that consistently wheat paste.
CK: So you mainly draw people in the subway?
Syn: Yeah, that’s what I do. I moved to NYC with my wife when I started grad school.
CK: What did you go to school for?
Syn: I got my PhD in Molecular Genetics. We were living in Queens and I started drawing people I saw on my commutes to school.
CK: Your drawing style reminds me of a mix of old school graffiti characters and comic books.
Syn: It’s all comic books. When I was a kid I would mow lawns so I could buy comics, and I learned how to draw by copying them. I was really influence by comic artists like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee. But once I moved down here I started to get turned on by all the street art I saw around the city. Artists like King Rid was one of the first ones to make me realize you don’t need to write graffiti to make stickers.
So I could do what I like to do and work it into the street art world.
CK: Do you want to switch sides and see what you can do with this thing?
Syn: Sure. Yeah...let’s see. Huh?
CK: There’s no way to mess up so do whatever you want. Do you collaborate often?
Syn: Not really. If you have a network of artists that you know and hang out with collaborations happen naturally. But I’m not really tapped into the scene up in Boston. I’ve done some in the past. The work I make is pretty uniform and formulaic. So one of the great things about collaboration is it requires you to branch out but sometimes it’s scary.
CK: I totally understand that aspect of it. It can be fun because it’s a challenge. We both have a problem to solve in front of us now. But what’s the investment? We both worked 10-15 minutes on this? If it doesn’t work we just start over!
CK: I also noticed in your work that you have a bit of the same struggle as me in that you only draw guys.
Syn: That’s usually the first thing people notice about my work. There are a couple reasons for that. The technical reason is that my drawing style is very angular, which works well for drawing men, so I struggle with drawing women. There is also a practical reason. I’m drawing people on the train. Even though it only takes me a minute or two to get the sketch down I know how it looks. I’m sitting in the corner looking at someone but trying to be discrete. I know women face these situations where strangers are staring them down and I’m not looking to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
CK: That totally makes sense and is very respectful. I draw a lot on the train but I’m usually taking different traits from individuals. Maybe this person’s nose and this guy’s hair. I try to be discreet but people know when they’re being stared at.
Syn: Nowadays it helps that people are starring at their phone all the time.
CK: The other issue that I have which is very common is that it’s easier to draw what you are. You’re a guy; you see yourself everyday. If most people were going to sit down to draw a figure without a model they would generally draw their gender.
CK: Does your work as a scientist influence your artwork?
Syn: It’s more of the reverse for me. By nature I’m a very organized and meticulous person, which is good for science. As part of the organization in planning out an experiment I will draw the whole plan out so I can visualize it. These visual thought maps help me see if there are any issues. I don’t have any examples with me but my notebook is filled with them. As far as the other way around, it’s less organic. I want to combine more of the two. I’ve taken photos of these thought maps and used them as backgrounds for paintings in the past. I picked the name Synapse to reflect my science background. So maybe they will collide more in the future.
CK: The merger of my profession and my art is more natural for me since I work with my hands. I learn new woodworking or painting techniques at work and I want to see what I can do with it in my art. But for some people art is an escape and they want to keep it separate.
CK: How long have you been making street art?
Syn: I started out with just making stickers five years ago and started putting up wheat pastes four years ago. Unfortunately I only started getting into street art the last year I was in NYC, and I knew when I was moving to Boston that it wouldn’t have as vibrant as a scene as they have here. It’s one of the reasons I come down here frequently.
CK: That’s a nice run and it shows a lot of dedication.
Syn: I think this is the first project I have ever done that has run five years. I used to draw comics. I would start off very enthusiastic about a project but would eventually get burnt out, so I guess I really took to this one.
CK: Well a comic is very labor intensive and these stickers are one-offs, which is a quicker way to feel connected to a project or theme while progressing in it. I’m sure at this point five years deep that if you wanted to create a comic you would have a whole catalogue of characters to choose from.
Syn: I like that idea but I’m sure I wouldn’t really be happy doing art full time. To me creating art is an escape, and I like the luxury of being able to put it away when I’m frustrated with it. I go through periods when it’s hard to motivate myself outside of my commutes to create art. Right now it’s hard. I get home, I spend some quality time with my family, and I can be too tired to start working again. But it’s sitting down and communicating with other artists like we are here, sharing ideas that start to inspire me again. I’m hopeful that after this I go home and I’m rejuvenated.
CK: Well no pressure on me! All joking aside I appreciate you taking the time and sitting down with me. Most of the time you were literally sitting on the edge of your seat, standing up and looking at these from different angles, and overall really taking to the challenge. So I think we’ve both learned from this one.
You can keep up with Synapse’s commuting adventures by following him on instagram and tumbler @synapse65