Graff 101: Captain Eyeliner
I've taught The Art History of Graffiti and Street Art class every other semester or so since 2011 at City College. Every session we meet with a section of amazing artists. This is the 1st of the 2nd year of documenting the process on Sold Magazine. On June 11th, a day where the weather alternated between drizzle and outright rainstorm, we met the wonderful southern fried self proclaimed “dick” Captain Eyeliner in Freemans Alley: the mecca of NYC stencil, sticker and wheat paste artists. For about a year the artist has been placing climate change bees, AOC and Maxine Waters inspired works as well as signature toothy skeleton cats in the street for those intended to see them.
At the start of class, as any good professor does; the rules of the movement were provided, then methods and media were explained. As the rain turned from a gentle mist to a downpour and we popped open our umbrellas; Eyeliner led a pasting lesson and we channeled the anger that fuels their practice covering an entire wall with Harriet Tubman twenties. I’m STILL sticky! Then we were each gifted a Tubman twenty of our own. Here is what my students had to say about the wet and memorable visit.
Amy L. Young
Graff 101: Captain Eyeliner
Derek: From my studies, I derived a sense of purpose in the movement, but still felt that modern day street art was more for publicity and self-fame than contextual images. Now, I feel more connected with the meaning behind today's street art. The passion is still very much alive and the focus has broadened up to multiple issues society suppresses. People like Captain Eyeliner have a charisma for inspiring potentially talented people who don’t feel confident to show the world what they bring to the table.
Reph: The artist told a story about having an epiphany one day when on a wheat paste mission with another artist who was putting up pictures of Marilyn Monroe realizing that if they wanted to see more images of relevant powerful women throughout their neighborhood and the world at large they couldn’t just badger other artists about it, they would have to put it up themselves.
Ruben: The artist's wheat paste of the 20 dollar bill with Harriet Tubman’s picture on it is a racial and extremely political move seeing as Tubman was supposed to be on the bill but was held off it for the usual bureaucratic reasons that America has always given for not representing people of color. The artist made a fantastic point when stating, “People are always afraid of young strong women of color.”
Nicholas: Captain Eyeliner is a complex, insightful and passionate street artist, whose work connects directly with their politics and view of social issues. Listening to them speak about the process confirmed most of my assumptions about graffiti artists. They become accustomed to a variety of locations and times of day. They know the crowd, they know who’ll react and they probably know the police reactions by area.
Badiallo: Creating my first illegal wheat pasting, I felt the adrenaline rush that I heard writers talk about in documentaries. To hear something and to experience it are two very different things. I am addicted to this rush and commitment that street artists have and exhilarate. One sticker at a time, the artist lures people in and expresses their opinions while not physically being there. I am looking forward to hanging out with Captain Eyeliner one day at 5AM as we go around NYC wheat pasting.
Elias: Meeting this artist was a revelatory experience. I enjoy individuals who are open about feeling like a dick or an asshole, and very open about that quality. It also wasn’t for show, explaining how they criticized another artist for only drawing women like Marilyn Monroe and felt like such an asshole and decided to do rectify the issue. As my main motivational drive is very similar, I related to the explanation that they will keep doing this as long as there is hate fueling their veins, and it was an extremely inspiring message.
Faolan: It was a sight to behold with about twenty of us standing there gluing Harriet Tubman bills to the wall in Freeman’s Alley. The amount of fun we were having was incredible and it was all while spreading a positive message showing that true art can be fun, political, and personal all in one. It wasn’t just tagging our name or street number yet everyone felt proud of what we did. It wasn’t for recognition but simply to make the world a better place.
Kerry: I was impressed with the commitment and dedication to their craft. What I also learned is that you cannot separate the artist from the person, putting politics in their art work, I like that, not pasting for the sake of it and it also not about money either. Here is white person from the south, who goes out into the street at the crack of dawn to paste $20.00 replicas of Harriet Tubman, risking receiving a fine or imprisonment.
Natalie: Captain Eyeliner is truly an inspiration to me and speaking to the artist afterwards, I really felt inspired to go out and take that first step into doing work like this: taking all my anger and frustrations on what's currently happening in America or worldwide and putting it into the streets for everyone.
Mariah: The artist didn’t originally set out to be a street artist, but after the 2016 elections, they got mad, as a lot of people did and decided to bring the anger to the streets and anger fuels the need to go wheat pasting every Saturday morning at 6 am. I had this in mind when the Capt. taught me how to wheat paste a Harriet Tubman twenty-dollar bill. It’s an exhilarating experience and a form of speaking out and the act it feels like a form of activism.
Chavonne: As I began my 1st wheat paste, I felt the adrenaline rush and suddenly I became extremely focused. I was so tuned in to myself. I could feel every muscle in my body. My breathing was shallow. However, My second attempt was quite different. I felt like I was sculpting. I could not feel my body. I could not feel my feet on the ground. All I felt was Spirit. I was using the materials around me to make something happen - whether it was meant to serve a purpose or not.
Daisy: The artist talked about how believing that the minute street artist sells their work they start to focus more on the money and making things the world wants to see instead of what they want to do. This statement really stood out because I never really thought about it. I believe this to be true because when you see that people like a certain thing about what you do you tend to do it again and again just switch certain things because that is what they liked.
Alexis: Before meeting the artist I pictured a person with artsy clothes, maybe some badass tattoos and colored hair. To my surprise, the artist looked like the everyday person extremely passionate about graffiti and dealing with misogynistic men and racist people that triggers a desire to speak upon the fucked up shit in our society. Helping wheat paste Harriet Tubman bills felt liberating and made me feel super alive. Meeting Capt. Eyeliner changed my perspective on graffiti artists, which was that they can be anyone regardless of talent or look, definitely inspiring me to use my voice through art.
Jack: One of my favorite quotes from the artist, was when asked about ever considering putting their art in a museum or gallery, they replied, “people go to galleries to look at the art they want to be looking at,” but “I want people who aren’t in favor of my art to see it” hence putting art up in the streets for a more diverse crowd of people which evokes a reaction to people not expecting art.
Ricky: After the political climate had risen to unbearable temperatures in the US, Eyeliner was angry, not at the world, or people but angry at the system that we allowed to manifest, a system that began to dictate the rights of its citizens. Wanting to rope viewers into their viewpoint, the Captain began with political messages and realized that if they wanted to see a wider representation of women in the wheat paste community they would have to exemplify the art they'd want to see.
Robert: In keeping with the positivity of acting in the face of adversity and being true to your personal vision, Captain Eyeliner’s Art Vandal Tip Sheet stresses courtesy, the ritual whereby we avoid hurting other people’s feelings in following our own desires in the creation of street art. It is a trait sorely missing in these times but an artist trying to foster this virtue is truly doing something radical.