Roger Gastman | Tag He’s It in NY TIMES

March 12 2011 . 01:31pm

In the first issue of his graffiti and pop-culture magazine While You Were Sleeping, Roger Gastman thanked “Mom for the loot,” and then thanked “everyone who ever told me that graff was a dumb waste of my time.” Gastman, who was 19 at the time, had already been running a graffiti supply business in Bethesda, Md., for three years and was starting to assemble a valuable collection of graffiti ephemera, sourcing discontinued Krylon paint colors at mom-and-pop hardware stores as though he knew, even as a teen, that his obsession would serve him well.

Now 33 and living in Los Angeles, Gastman is still having the last laugh. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, is gearing up for the April opening of “Art in the Streets,” a major graffiti and street-art survey he’s curating along with the museum’s new director, Jeffrey Deitch, and the independent curator Aaron Rose. “The History of American Graffiti” (HarperCollins), written by Gastman and Caleb Neelon, also comes out next month.

While the tattooed, baseball-capped Gastman says he wasn’t expecting the e-mail he received from Deitch about the MoCA show, “I sort of feel like I’ve been training for it my whole life.”

He was introduced to his calling in the streets of Washington, D.C. “Everyone had a tag,” he recalls, sitting under an Adam Wallacavage octopus chandelier in his Los Feliz living room. “It was just what you did.” His skills may have been “average at best,” but he was there — climbing the rooftops, painting the freight train cars and documenting it all. He says his tight network of artists, collaborators and friends is simply a product of being in the right place at the right time — he met the now legendary Saber under a bridge when he was 15 — and an ability to keep his word. “Most people are flaky,” he says with a shrug.

“What I really liked about Roger from the beginning,” says Shepard Fairey, a fixture in the pages of While You Were Sleeping and later Gastman’s partner in Swindle magazine, “was that he seemed really self-motivated, smart, funny and irreverent. But he’s also professional enough to put out a magazine and organize all the moving parts that go into that. It’s a pretty unique blend.”

Swindle — named in honor of the Sex Pistols movie — came out from 2004 to 2008, years that saw seismic shifts in the impact and visibility of street art and graffiti. Banksy’s 2006 “Barely Legal” show in L.A. was heralded on one cover, featuring his spoof of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore. In early 2008, Fairey designed the Obama “Hope” graphic. By the time Gastman was called in to help Mr. Brainwash, a k a Thierry Guetta, an eccentric Frenchman obsessed with street art, mount a massive show on Sunset Boulevard, Fairey and Banksy were practically household names.

To everyone’s surprise, the Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which explores the street-art phenomenon through the story of Guetta’s unlikely ascent, received lots of mainstream attention. (Gastman was a consulting producer on the film and also has a cameo.) “I keep thinking the bubble’s gonna burst, this can’t get bigger,” he says. “Then somebody pushes something else.”

According to Deitch, graffiti/street art is the most influential art movement since Pop, and the level of interest from the public and from scholars is what necessitated the show. “It’s so big,” he says. “The museum world now has to acknowledge it and look at it from a historical point of view.”

Some may think the two are interchangeable, but Gastman says street art and graffiti are “very different animals.” The former is iconic and message-driven, while graffiti is simply the practice of writing your name over and over again for the sake of fame: “They want to be king of their block.”

Aware of the inherent irony of a curated museum show celebrating mostly illegal, temporary outdoor art, Deitch and Gastman have chosen to focus on those artists who have gone on to build serious careers. A large part of the exhibition will be installations by mythic outlaws like the subway painter and “Wild Style” star Lee Quiñones and Chaz Bojórquez, whose style draws from cholo gang graffiti and Asian calligraphy. There will also be works by still-rising stars like Miss Van and Revok. Fun Gallery, the East Village storefront where Patti Astor showcased graffiti and gave early shows to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, will be recreated on-site.

Fairey, who will also be doing an installation, says Gastman’s presence is a buffer. “With a crowd of people so inherently suspicious of the wielders of power — the gatekeepers — to have somebody like Roger involved is extremely important.”

Still, Gastman, who has curated art shows for clients like Scion and Sanrio, knows that a stamp of approval from the establishment only carries so much weight for artists who have chosen the street as their gallery. “They’re excited to be in a museum setting,” he says, “but they’re also still really excited to go paint a huge wall off the freeway.” x

+ Share this post

Roger Gastman’s Tools of Criminal Mischief book

December 23 2010 . 05:08am


Roger Gastman’s

Tools of Criminal Mischief

Roger Gastman has created more books on graffiti culture than anyone. He’s edited and published countless artist monographs and anthologies and even served as Consulting Producer for the film documentary "Exit Through The Gift Shop".

For Tools of Criminal Mischief, Mr. Gastman has trawled his personal archive to present the quirky stories and visual oddities that inspire him personally; from the story of infamous Baltimore Graffiti Writer SHAKEN, to 1940’s hobo train art, ’70s gang graffiti, photos of graffiti writers’ personal aerosol arsenals, spray paint collectibles, ephemera and more.

In the author’s own words – " The danger, history, process, spray cans, magic markers, and the local styles are just a few parts of graffiti that I fixate on. Different aspects interest me at different times, but what always continues to excite me is the oddity – especially pedestrian graffiti and the strange pop-culture references".

112 pages

9" x 11 3/4"


265 color illustrations

Limited to 1500 Copies worldwide

ISBN: 978-1-58423-438-8




+ Share this post

ZPFfffft!!! | Opening June 19th 2010

June 18 2010 . 01:47pm

Opening Reception Saturday, June 19, 2010, 7-10 p.m.
On view June 19 Through July 10, 2010
LOS ANGELES –  Opening June 19, Scion’s Installation L.A. Gallery presents “ZPFfffft!!!,” a group exhibition that features classic and new works by Gary Panter, Bob Zoell and Devin Flynn.
“ZPFfffft!!!” brings together three generations of artists. Panter explains, “Devin and Bob and myself of are representatives of nearly equidistant generations, and it is interesting to see how artists of successive generations evolve the problems of iteration and mediums and the game of making art, to produce objects that prompt the mind and slow the moment of the encounter.”

The exhibition will include a 23-foot wall covered in Panter’s playful chalk drawings, as well as a series of small and affordable works; two 6-foot-by-12-foot paintings by Zoell; and a number of new works from Flynn, among other surprises.

The title of the show, “ZPFfffft!!!,” is an invented onomatopoeic word. “It combines the first letter of each of the artists’ last names, is short and graphic, suggests something fast and on a trajectory, or maybe a brushstroke or a champagne cork whizzing by,” Panter explains. “Minds react to imagery, clear or vague, invoking multiple associations, individual and cliched, or collective or topical associations.”

The opening reception takes place on June 19, 7 – 10 p.m. at the Scion Installation Space, 3521 Helms Ave. (at National), Culver City, CA 90232. The reception is free with complimentary valet parking and an open bar. All artists will be present, and available for interview. The exhibit will run until July 10.

About the Artists
Gary Panter made underground comics a viable art form. His hit-comic Jimbo first appeared in the 1970s, and he continued to break ground with his extended graphic novels Dal Tokyo and Cola Madness. Panter has created award-winning album artwork; his set designs for Pee-wee’s Playhouse won him three Emmy Awards; and his commercial work has been featured in Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. In 2006, Gary was a featured artist in the touring exhibition, Masters of American Comics, and in 2008, he was the subject of a one-man show at the Aldrich Contemporary Museum. He currently lives in New York and teaches comic-book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Bob Zoell has had a 45-year art career in Los Angeles and has been the recipient of the Pollack/Krasner and the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grants, as well as serving as visiting faculty in advanced painting at UCLA. He has shown his work and lectured in Japan, France and throughout the U.S. He is also a regular contributor to the New Yorker, with seven covers to his credit.

Devin Flynn is an animator by trade. He created his own market by doing animated music videos for friends in bands like Providence’s own Lightning Bolt, which earned him some notoriety and resulted in various opportunities like a regular slot on Wondershowzen, video in the Liverpool Biennial, title sequence for The Aquateen HungerForce Movie, and an opportunity to curate multimedia shows at Anthology Film Archive and Deitch Projects. All of these experiences contributed to and culminated in a stream of consciousness web series on called Y’all So Stupid. Flynn is currently focusing his attention on making work primarily for galleries. Aside from drawings, an experimental video project is scheduled to debut in August 2010.

More information on this exhibition is available at

+ Share this post

RELM KSN interview

June 18 2010 . 01:41pm

An Interview With Devin Flynn, aka RELM

This Saturday, June 19, ZPFfffft!!! opens at the Scion Gallery in Culver City. The show features Gary Panter, Bob Zoell and Devin Flynn, three artists who are identified with Los Angeles art. In particular, animator Devin Flynn contributed to L.A.’s early graffiti scene as KSN writer RELM. In this interview, Flynn talks with Zio about graffiti history.

What was the earliest (non-gang) graffiti you remember seeing in Los Angeles?

I saw Dreams Don’t Die on TV in 1982 with the kid from Escape From Witch Mountain. The first tag I ever saw in person was ALSKI—must’ve been late 1983, seventh grade. ALSKI went to my junior high, John Burroughs, and he was tagging spots at school, on buses and in Westwood Village. I also remember seeing ZODIAC tags on Hollywood Boulevard. Maybe a year later, SOON painted a little burner on the outside of the handball courts at JB. Around that same time, SEEN had come to L.A. and painted the "Dial M" piece on Sunset Boulevard, and I saw it
from the window of an RTD bus on the way home from JHS.

What influence did gang graffiti have on Los Angeles style?

I grew up in Atwater Village, and a kid named Ralphie in my neighborhood was in Toonerville Gang by the age of 12. He started hitting it up in the L.A. River, and sometimes I would ask him to let me do one too. I was only 10 at the time. I’m sure a lot of other kids from my generation had some early exposure to gang writing way before they knew anything about what was happening in New York.

Gang graffiti was always an influence. The mentality was also a factor; it wasn’t just the graffiti alone. Even on the west side, small cliques of middle class white kids were emulating cholo writing styles and attire mainly because it looked cool. Gang blocks began appearing more and more. They were just killing the alleys, parks and streets, making it seem like these nice neighborhoods were riddled with gangs

I’d say this was happening at around the time Pan Pacific was starting to get bombed. Anyone I knew that was into graffiti had started out copying gang placas or Crip writing. Any L.A. writer that knew shit about graffiti could do a relatively authentic gang placa just because it looked so evil and cool. You couldn’t resist trying to do one just to master different styles.

Most people associate graffiti with hip-hop because that was how it was presented in movies. How did punk music influence you and other KSN writers?

I think one of KSN’s main contributions was allowing anything. Especially humor and typically "uncool" shit. We did cholo characters, rastas, b-boy lizards, skulls, aliens—whatever we liked and mixed it all together. It was based on what we were into and not trying to follow the traditions. We didn’t reject all graffiti subjects or styles, but we took what we liked from all of our own weird interests.

Personally, I was always into anything that I thought was cool. As much as I was dedicated to going to punk and speedmetal shows in the mid-1980s, I was already popping in elementary school, playing video games with slugs, stealing Star Wars dudes and listening to Rodney on the Roq all at the same time. Somebody would throw a little battle in their mom’s living room, put on the strobe light and pop to Freakazoid. Songs like Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” or George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” were always playing out of some kid’s boombox and someone
would be trying to do a headspin on the grass. It was something everybody in the neighborhood was trying to do. It was impossible to ignore.

I got into all of it and didn’t choose sides. When something is too new to categorize, there are no rules yet and you are free to add your own innovations. I always thought that was what hip-hop was supposed to be about. Punk too.

How does graffiti inform the animated videos or fine art you do now?

I use a lot of personal experience in my animations, so scenes with gangsters or cops are usually expanded jokes based on real things I have experienced, watched happen, overheard, or even imagined happening in a situation that ended up totally different. Like a worst-case scenario kind of thing.

As far as actual connections between the art of graffiti and animation, there is a sense of flowing lines and movement which has carried over from writing, but honestly I was always trying to put as many cartoon characters in my graffiti as possible so I’m not sure which influenced which…

It’s all drawing, although I think the boldness of the marks and simplicity and looseness I tend to go for is something that has carried over naturally.

+ Share this post


May 21 2010 . 11:20am

Richard Colman and POSE both have shows opening on May 22 in Los Angeles—the same freaking night that Zio and I have a show opening in Culver City. (Our show is about food, so you should come to ours!) Anyway, I thought since they are both fans of each other’s art and lifestyles it would be best if they talked it out. It is Chicago-native POSE’s first solo show, and his first major showing in Los Angeles. Because Richard is awesome he has had many solo shows, but it is his return to Los Angeles after nearly a three-year absence.

Roger Gastman

POSE: What do you bust?

Richard Colman: Chicago or bust.

So we both have solo shows that open the same night in L.A. Do you think you’re going to win? Does this mean we now have art beef?

I think we can work together and give the city a night it will never forget. How much do you smoke a day? Because if I don’t win the art thing, I am banking on winning the cancer race.

I’m not smoking as much these days, but since I’m a bit older I have a pretty decent head start on you and am confident I will win the race. I’m a little intimidated since you have a fancy press release already, but I’m copy and pasting now… When Roger asks you for something, then says, “I need it like yesterday,” what is the first thought that pops into your mind?

Anything else. I’m a pain in the ass that way and I like to make him sweat.

Would you be upset if KC and I were secretly reproducing your paintings just adding cooler hairdos?

No, they could use new hairdos.

My memory is getting fuzzier by the day, but I remember in 1996 or 1997 being on a road trip out west in Montana or South Dakota somewhere, possibly by an Indian Res, and seeing huge “BEAR & EVER” throwups; I think a pentagram was involved. Did you have anything to do with this or is this my imagination having its way with me?

Could be. We’ve got people out there.

I read in your press release that you have depicted some "DayGlo orgies.” Oddly enough, I attempted an epic DayGlo orgy painting, and every girl that has seen it so far—besides my wife—reacts saying I hate women (very untrue I promise). As a seasoned artist dealing in perverse imagery what might you suggest—more dude-on-dude action?

I say fuck them. Their opinion doesn’t matter. Listen to your wife.

Seriously though, what is the most absurd/annoying/interesting feedback you’ve ever had about some of your more perverse work?

People don’t really talk to me about my work.

So if I win the America’s Next Top Gallery Show contest will you get the infamous “Back to School Bear” tattooed on your neck?  If I lose I would offer getting the clam with googly eyes and an “aw shucks" banner on my lower back. Deal?

Isn’t it going to hurt getting another tattoo over the existing butterfly you already have there?

Best food you ate in Chicago?

That heart attack-inducing pork on pork on pork sandwich we ate at that place near the gallery.

Sobriety—do you ever miss blackouts?


Have you ever entered the “shame spiral” when you are sober?

Almost daily.

Who is Mando?

What is Mando?

What were you trying to get me to paint above my piece at Art Basel? Was it a tranny She-Hulk? She-Ra? Let me know because I feel like your advice could have really helped my career take off, and I’m not trying to miss the boat this year.

Just regular She-Hulk. I forget why though.

Words of advice for someone trying to live the dream, aka ditch the day job and just paint everyday?

Don’t ditch the day job. Do you know anyone who is hiring at the moment?

You have a pitbull, I have a mini pin, and Rog has two lesbian labrador retrievers. Thoughts?

The pitbull’s not mine. Do they make Snuggies for mini pins?

You coming to my show?

Yes, and I’m bringing my blackbook.

On a serious note, the work for your show looks amazing and inspiring as usual. See you there.



New Image Art Gallery
7908 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
T: 323.654.2192
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 1pm to 6pm


+ Share this post