You see it everywhere. It’s that giant picture of the cute kid outside your yoga studio; it’s the graphic of the young activist throwing flower bouquet bombs on your walk to work; it’s that random square of kid faces and block coloring on the sidewalk outside of your coffee shop. Street art is one of the most pervasive forms of media in the borough. So pervasive that you’ve probably been tempted, at some point or another, to make your own.
But before your inspirations run wild and you start painting your heart out onto a building wall, it’s important to consider whether what you’re doing is legal. We’re all for stunts and damning the Man, but nobody wants to get arrested. Brokelyn got hold of two elusive specimens from BK’s guerilla art scene: London Kaye (best known for that heavily controversial Moonrise Kingdom mural), and Joseph Meloy, whose art you definitely recognize from various blocks in the borough. Here are their tips to get your work out there, and keep it out there (barring a sudden whitewash—RIP Five Pointz).
“It’s not enough to approach the business owner of a building,” says Joseph Meloy. “You’ve got to find the property owner: whoever owns the building, or the door, or the garage in question.” It goes without saying that if you want your art to stick around outside, you’ve got to get permission.
“Generally, approaching people is a very positive experience,” offers Kaye. “I don’t think anyone should be scared to walk in and ask, ‘Hey, did you want some art in your space?’ It’s just a matter of their budget, timing, do they want it, and do they want it for free?”
Because sure, you could make an elaborate, middle-of-the-night plan to spend two hours dressed in all black, using a friend as a lookout while you spray-paint the side of a city-owned building. But that’s a bad a idea for two reasons: for one, it’s pretty crummy for the folks who own and maintain that property. You’re not always tagging ‘the Man’—sometimes it’s a longstanding family-owned building.
Second, your art may not even live to see the light of day. City cleanup crews and cops are always on the prowl for night-crawling taggers, and the hefty fines for getting caught defacing New York property just aren’t worth the risk.
Instead, try Meloy’s approach for getting the green-light from an owner: “When I approach a property owner, I’m looking to fill a void and and bring a little color and positive energy to an otherwise neglected space. A mural gets more eyes on the store, it becomes a piece of their identity, and it serves as a counterpoint to the corporate whitewashing of our neighborhoods.” Meloy basically presents himself and his art, explains the benefit for the business, then asks if he can paint something. “If they say no, I move on.”
London Kaye, on the other hand, settles on a vision before she pitches. “I usually approach property owners with a complete piece or specific idea so they know exactly what I’d be putting up. If the piece isn’t already crocheted, I’ll make a sketch or a computer rendering of the idea so they can see it.”
It’s up to you how to make the offer. Either way, stay away from places you’re not sure you have permission for—and be ready to explain things to confused cops, whose default assumption is probably that you’re trespassing. “I’ve gotten stopped by the cops a few times while doing it,” says Kaye. “I just tell them that it’s yarn, and that I’m more than happy to cut it down.”
HAVE A SIGNATURE
In order for your art to have staying power with a business, it’s got to have a signature. People should recognize you for your aesthetic, and not just see your work as part of a storefront.
For Meloy, that means focusing more on composition than message. “My work is more decorative than narrative, or political,” offers Meloy. “I’m more about bringing color and shape to something rather than having an agenda or a message, per se.” Meloy describes his work as “post-graffiti abstraction.”. His sprawling, vibrant wall pieces are easy to pick out from the landscape.
For Kaye, signature is more about location and environment. Her large-scale yarn creations feel like stark interruptions of homey intimacy against otherwise industrial landscapes. “Sometimes I’ll go for a specific location, and sometimes I’ll think of a piece first and then find a place for it. I use chain-link fences, mostly.”
GROW YOUR FOLLOWING