On April 7th Vroom & Varossieau gallery in Amsterdam opened an exhibition titled Icons II, offering a look back at 50 years or urban art history through selected old and new works from Blade, Dondi, Futura 2000, Rammellzee and Richard Hambleton. Opened with the generous help of collector Vincent Vlasblom, and in the presence of “The King of Graffiti” himself BLADE, the selected works are presenting the roles of these artists in the development of the urban art history. We attended the opening night and got to sit down with BLADE, catching up with him about his legendary beginnings, his connection to Amsterdam, his most recent projects, and his upcoming projects.
Sasha Bogojev: Do you remember when did you start thinking of creating work for the galleries?
Blade: 1981. Martha Cooper bought me my first roll of canvas from Pearl Paint in New York. At the end of 1981, Henry Chalfant introduced me and Seen to Yaki Kornblit on W. Broadway in NYC. Yaki was a gallery owner from Amsterdam. I did my first show with Yaki in 1982 in Amsterdam. The Groninger Museum owns the first painting I ever made. It’s 6x10ft, half of a diptych. I still have the other half. Those are the only two paintings that say 1982 on the back.
Did you know of anyone from graffiti world who was doing that at the time?
Crash, Lee, and Futura were doing shows.
Was it risky to expose your self and work publicly after painting 5000 subway trains between 72-82?
Yes the risk was high, but Yaki believed in the art form. I stopped painting trains in 1984 when I was 27.
What were the techniques and materials you were using back then for your studio work, and what are you using nowadays?
Spray paint and paint marker then, spray paint and paint marker now. The paint back in the day contained lead, you couldn’t use that on canvas. I used Krylon, because it was thin but it worked on canvas. I’m still using it up to this day.
How much did your sources of inspiration and possible influences change between then and now?
When I started writing in 1972 there were no masterpieces. So, every day was new for every one. There were no influences, because there was nothing to be influenced by.
Hondo1 and Fresco1 were in my neighborhood. I started going to the trains with them and I kept on going. But, style development came from nothing.
How do you feel about the idea that graffiti is only on the street and anywhere else it’s something different? Do you see your studio work as graffiti or is it something else?
My graffiti developed into Florida Faze Abstracts. If people want the hardcore graffiti, then I will paint that. But, only on canvas or commissioned murals.
How does it feel for the King of Graffiti to see these events taking place and movement getting such recognition?
The original artists showing galleries in the early 80’s, like Keith Haring, Basquiat, Dondi, Rammellzee, myself, Seen, Futura, Crash, and Lee have helped to change the course of art history on our planet. Graffiti is now regarded as the most important art movement of the last half century.
What are your thoughts on the recent situation with H&M and Revok?
H&M should have had more respect for street artists and intellectual ownership.
Aside from showing with Vroom & Varossieau, you’ve showed in museum through The Netherlands. Do you have a special connection with the country and how so?
I look at Amsterdam as my second home, because they embraced all of the New York artists first. I want to thank Yaki, Vincent, Henk and Speerstra. They were the guys that believed in the art form and collected from the beginning. Also, it’s very important to mention Vroom & Varossieau in Amsterdam. They know Yaki and Vincent personally, and carry on the important tradition of giving graffiti and street artists a platform.
You are also showing in the Helsinki Art Museum these days and at Beyond The Streets in LA. What did you prepare for those shows?
For the Helsinki Art Museum I am doing two mural collaborations with MickLaRock, a graffiti artist from Holland who I’ve know since she was a kid. Not many preparations for this, we’ll get to the museum and come up with a plan for our pieces.
For the event in Los Angeles, my management is shipping the paintings to the show.
Photos and Interview by Sasha Bogojev