LA Times | The Seventh Letter street art collective interprets Sesame Street characters, and the results are at an exhibition at the Known Gallery this weekend to raise money for City of Hope’s pediatric department.

April 27 2012 . 07:50pm

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New EL MAC mural x Los Angeles Times

January 01 2012 . 06:57pm

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Photos of El Mac mural by: Carlos Gonzalez

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Lee Quinones and team painting outside the MOCA | LA Times

April 10 2011 . 02:44pm

The north wall of MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, the site of an antiwar mural by the Italian artist Blu that the museum had quickly and controversially whitewashed late last year, is getting a new look.

New York graffiti legend Lee Quinones has organized a team of street artists to do a new mural on the exterior wall facing Temple Street. Scaffolding is up now, with a couple of images in progress, and work is expected to be completed next week, before the April 17 opening of the “Art in the Streets” exhibition at the Geffen.

“I could have done this wall on my own, and I haven’t really collaborated with other artists like this before,” Quinones said, reached on site Thursday afternoon with cans of spray paint near his feet and paint flecks covering his clothes and face. “But for me to do it alone might have been a diss to Blu."

"So I’ve put together a contingent of cats that is very talented and diverse. And we’re willing to have a conversation with the public about the wall’s history.”

Quinones says Blu declined his invitation to participate as the "core" artist in making the new mural. The artists who are participating include Cern One and Futura 2000 of New York; Sano, Risk and Push from L.A.; and Loomit from Munich, Germany. (Quinones says Swoon might also participate, but only after finishing her artwork inside the museum.)

Quinones compared his role on the project to creative director, explaining that he came up with the initial idea of a mural about “the founding of America and the founding of our movement," referring to what is popularly known as "street art." Famous for his own work on the New York subway system in the 1970s, he also supplied some overarching images like trains or tracks. He then invited each artist to bring their own ideas and imagery to the table, as Cern is by painting a portrait of a woman in a Native American headdress and Sano is by contributing a historical image of a locomotive (above).

Last year MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch was sharply criticized by some street artists for removing Blu’s mural, which Deitch had commissioned but later deemed inappropriate for a location facing the Japanese American veterans memorial, Go For Broke, in Little Tokyo. Many wondered why the museum director hadn’t seen a proposal or plans for the artwork in advance. 

In this case, Quinones appears to be working closely with Deitch and sharing ideas with him. (Deitch declined to comment.) “I’m responding to the leap of faith that Jeffrey has taken, his passion and his perseverance in unleashing our movement,” says Quinones.

“I think the issue with Blu before was taken way out of context," the artist added. "I don’t think it was censorship for the reason that you can create an amazing film and some of the best scenes end up on the editing room floor.”

Asked if he was worried that other street artists might wish to "edit" or otherwise alter his team’s work at the Geffen, Quinones replied, rather gnomically, as if speaking to the would-be taggers: “What you write is what you are. Respect the movement that moves with you and for you.


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R.I.P. Rammellzee

July 01 2010 . 03:13pm

Before MF Doom donned a metal mask, before Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys conquered the adenoidal vocal and street art was bound in $100 books for sale at Taschen, Rammellzee was the original train-bombing, abstract-rapping outlaw.

He passed away last Sunday at 49, in his birthplace of Far Rockaway in Queens, N.Y., after a lengthy and undisclosed illness. The details of his death mirror those of his life: bathed in shadows and blocked behind bug-eyed ski goggles and robot-samurai battle gear.

There are people who know Rammellzee’s birth name, but even after his death, no one has publicly divulged it. He first came to attention in the Bronx of the mid-1970s, where he relocated "because that’s where the culture was coming from," he told Greg Tate in a definitive 2004 Wire feature. Rammellzee quickly fell in with the graffiti writers who rode the A train, including Phase 2, Peanut and others who achieved regional fame in the Carter-era chaos of the five boroughs.

It was the dawn of the Wild Style: B-Boys, DJs, MCs and graffiti bombers united to create hip-hop culture, immortalized in the twin testaments of hip-hop cinema — "Wild Style" and "Style Wars." Rammellzee factored into both, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and rapping in the former and creating the theme song for the latter. The song in question, "Beat Bop," is widely considered the genesis of hip-hop’s avant garde — a sprawling end-to-end burner of eclectic instrumentation (electric guitar, violin, various types of percussion) and Rammellzee unleashing his oblique "Gangsta Duck" and "W.C. Field" raps.

Loosely strung together by a narrative of a pimp warning a young child about the perils of the streets, the 12-inch was "produced" by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who initially raised Rammellzee’s ire for accepting the graffiti art throne without ever having bombed a train car. The song was initially intended to be a battle rap between the two. However, Rammellzee famously claimed to have crumpled up Basquiat’s contribution, laughed at his inept lyrics and enlisted K-Rob instead. But Basquiat had the notoriety and the money — handling the cover art himself, and the limited-edition 500-copy run remains one of the most sought-after 12-inches in hip-hop history.

Opting for a monkish lifestyle, Rammellzee spent the next three decades largely holed up in his 2,000-square-foot Tribeca studio, painting, sculpting and creating futuristic body armor that made him look like a character from "Voltron." There were occasionally forays into the outside world: an appearance in Jim Jarmusch’s "Stranger Than Paradise" and a string of import-only releases on tiny Japanese and German labels. While hip-hop culture became big business, he rejected its commercialism, telling 149st that "we failed what could have been ‘Our’ culture … too much ‘mannerism’ not enough ‘burner’!!! Our futurism! We should have only stuck to doing the ‘letter’ and joined together to fight the light dwellers."

Interviews requests were frequent, but rarely granted, with Rammellzee preferring to hone his philosophy of gothic futurism in private. Embodying the notion that there is a thin line between tin-foil hat and genius, his conception of the universe often appeared as a byzantine tangle of conspiracy theories, arcane prophecies and mathematics. He viewed the graffiti writers as heirs to Medieval monks, destined to liberate the alphabet from standardization. He was obsessed with the notion of sonic sound wars and the historical struggles between the "letter" and the "number." Rammellzee fought chaos with chaos, creating his own strain of Afro-futurism, inhabiting a galaxy populated only by George Clinton, Sun Ra and Lee Perry. 

It remains unclear whether he was born 600 years too early or 600 years too late. We probably won’t know for another 60. But right now, it’s evident that no style was wilder than Rammellzee’s 

Jeff Weiss

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Spike Jonze | Sonny Gerasimowicz | Where the Wild Things Are

September 21 2009 . 06:10am

Here’s an article about Sonny Gerasimowicz aka COAX AWR from the LA Times.

Director Spike Jonze hires a novice art director to make monsters that captured the spirit of Maurice Sendak’s picture book. He had his work cut out for him

When Spike Jonze set out to create live-action versions of the classic creatures from "Where the Wild Things Are" for his movie adaptation of the beloved children’s book, the writer-director had a very clear image in mind — of what he didn’t want.

In 2004, around the time he also started co-writing its script with novelist Dave Eggers, Jonze rejected a number of submissions from a Hollywood special-effects company for being, well, "too creature-y." Jonze thought they simply failed to capture a bestial je ne sais quoi found in Maurice Sendak’s 1963 picture book about Max, a little boy in a wolf costume who misbehaves and imagines himself transported to a faraway land where he becomes the king of all Wild Things.

"I wanted the monsters to retain the strange design that Maurice had created," he said. "Weird, cuddly, charming. Looking at each other out of the corner of their eye. They’d be almost, like, conspiring. You don’t know if Max has total control over them."

To ensure his monsters would have the proper "soul," though, Jonze decided he needed an illustrator from outside the movie biz to draw mock-ups first. Over dinner, Jonze’s friend Karen O, lead singer of the alt-rock trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Julian Gross of the noise rock band Liars steered the director toward their pal Sonny Gerasimowicz.

He wasn’t a professional creature creator or artist. A former graffiti writer turned ad agency creative, Gerasimowicz was a kind of closet artiste with only one illustration for a magazine article to suggest his skill. Offered the chance to work with the zeitgeist-riding auteur, Gerasimowicz didn’t present him a polished portfolio. He showed Jonze rough pencil drawings of the Wild Things. And the lo-fi renderings struck just the right nerve. "I sent him sketches that were, like, things I drew while I was on the telephone. Like on scraps of paper," Gerasimowicz recalled.

"When it comes down to something as delicate as tone, it became clear we had to find someone who had the right aesthetic," Jonze said. "It’s finding people that have the right judgment, even if they’ve never done the specifics."

Gerasimowicz landed the job in early 2005, the mandate being not to slavishly imitate Sendak’s singular style, more to articulate the creatures’ distinct personalities as per the script (it helped that Jonze physically acted out each character for him). In turn, Gerasimowicz drafted scores of monster drawings: previsualizations for Photoshop-version Wild Things, the stage during which such crucial details as their fur, feathers, musculature and eyes would be decided.

Then the two traveled to Connecticut to show Sendak the renderings and get his blessing. The then-76-year-old writer-illustrator made some tweaks — suggestions about the muzzle on a bull-like Wild Thing and the feathers on the rooster Thing not being "flamboyant" enough — but remained markedly nonproprietary. "His attitude is so contrary to protecting anything," Jonze said. "His assignment to us was, ‘Take this, make it your own. Make it something personal.’ "

In 2006, the project landed at Warner Bros. and monster production began at Jim Henson Co.’s Creature Shop. Gerasimowicz was kept on as head creature designer, overseeing work by some of the foremost practitioners in the business. Nevermind that he had absolutely no experience. Or that the expense of making the monsters accounted for the largest part of the movie’s production costs. Or that his staff wasn’t exactly certain where he fit in.

"I would give them aesthetic direction, ‘What if we kind of did this a little bit?’ And they’d be, like, ‘That’s a cool thought.’ But they would keep moving with what they were doing," Gerasimowicz said.

With principle photography in Australia approaching in the spring of 2006, anxiety set in. Jonze had precise ideas about the way the Wild Things should look, i.e., "not like they were guys in suits." But Jonze and Gerasimowicz’s lack of familiarity with how special effects are created resulted in sleepless nights during the characters’ fabrication.

"It was so hard!" Gerasimowicz exclaimed. "They show us a bare-bones suit and it would be the scariest thing in the world because it’s just a big foam thing. Not doing this ever before, it was hard to visualize."

"We freaked out every step of the way," Jonze added. "By the time we got to Australia, we were nervous wrecks."

Compounding matters, the actors who were to perform in the Wild Thing suits had to be in costume up to 12 hours a day. Suits weighed up to 150 pounds and temperatures reached triple digits. When one of the actors dropped out at the last minute, Gerasimowicz’s job description changed again: He stepped into the role of Alexander, a small, snarky goat in the film. "Sonny has a demeanor similar to that character," Jonze said. "I always describe him as a disgruntled Muppet."

For anyone familiar with Sendak’s book, Jonze’s "Wild Things," which opens Oct. 16, will be a marvel. The characters — voiced by such actors as James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker and Lauren Ambrose — seem comfortingly familiar and yet occupy a totally unique movie universe, a vivid live-action extrapolation of Sendak’s classic work. Especially the creatures’ emotive faces. Asked if CGI was responsible for their expressiveness, however, Jonze grew cagey.

"The faces were static when we shot them and we put the faces on in post-production," he said. "I didn’t want to have CGI faces where it’s synthetic fur. So it’s more manipulating what we’d shot in-camera.

"It’s not like it’s a big secret. But I want to let that come out later. I don’t want the attention to focus on that."

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