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Hanksy Carries a Big Schtick

Hanksy Carries a Big Schtick

The ever-anonymous artist chats with us about his devil-may-care approach to the New York City scene.

Photos by Hugh Burckhardt

To be honest, I have never met Hanksy, though we work with a lot of the same people and I can pick him out of a lineup. I’m perfectly cool with that as I lay back in the cut and watch him do his thing. Selfishly, I feel a small kinship, as we have both curated whole buildings (him: Surplus Candy January ‘14/Me: 21st Precinct August ‘14) and both try to inject fun into the art scene. Otherwise, we seem completely different, and there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be fast friends.
My thing is respecting people’s game no matter what my personal tastes are—I’m no fucking critic. New York City is a tough place to get independent cool shit done. I’ve been on that hustle for a while, and when someone comes here and does what Hanksy has done in his short time here, then that’s worthy of some respect.

When you mash-up two cultural icons from disparate worlds with a relentless work ethic while letting go of any artistic pretension, you get a pop phenom. Playing off pop could seem a dangerous game, as it is mostly shallow and fleeting. Hanksy just may be savvy enough to always be a step ahead while also playing on the whims of the pop-culture fans.

I could care less about pop, but more about impact. Not 15 minutes of social media hype, but shit that makes you glad that there’s some edge and vibrancy left in NYC, without some corporate sponsor with a velvet rope.

Hanksy Claw Money

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Mass Appeal: You don’t seem to take things too seriously, yet you seem calculated/thoughtful in what you’re doing. Is that hard to balance as your art career grows?

Hanksy: Sometimes you have to be super smart to appear super dumb. Which isn’t my case unfortunately (stupid is as stupid does), but it’s true. When pursuits move from hobby into career you have to more careful with your decisions. Like should I draw a poop joke or a dick joke?

Best thing about NYC? Worst?

I’m super in love with Slurpees in the summer. So the best thing about NYC? 7-Elevens on every corner. The worst thing? 7-Elevens on every corner.

What do you listen to while in the studio?

I guess it’s a pretty mixed bag. I grew up on a steady diet of punk and rock ‘n roll, but much to the dismay of my neighbors, I fucking love good pop music. So it’s Leftover Crack one minute, then Katy Perry the next. Lately, however, I’ve been listening to more and more podcasts. The Nerdist has a fairly great back catalog you can waste hours on, but my favorite is How Did This Get Made?

Favorite museum and/or gallery?

The new Whitney is nice, but my first NY museum doors I walked through upon arriving four years ago was the Museum of the Moving Image. I’ve still got super wide-eyes when it comes to that movie magic shit, and despite being a bit hokey, it’s worth a visit. Other than that, I love all the little DIY galleries opening up in Chinatown. They’re not as stuffy and usually don’t have a hard-on for the big money, so these newer Lower Manhattan galleries can be a bit more adventurous.

Feelings on politics? (Wage gap, two-party system, environment, climate change, foreign policy, education, or any subject that interests you)

I tend to keep my thoughts on politics and religion and all that controversial shit to myself. No one wants to hear the politically charged opinions from someone who is known for painting penises on a wall.

Technology: awesome or should we be wary of where its heading and our growing reliance on it?

I’m a fan, but you’ll never find me in line buying the newest bleep-bloop products. I like my gadgets to run smooth, so I’m usually a second or third-generation adopter.

Are you constantly exploring styles and techniques and mediums to work with?

When I’m being honest in interviews, I’ll usually say I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Which is mostly true. I’m still rocking the same doodling skills I used on notebooks in high school. Except now, I’m just doing it on a larger scale. That being said, YouTube is great. Some people need art school, I just need a good Internet connection and patience.

Is getting up in the streets as much a rush as it seems? Any close calls?

It is. And it’s a big reason artists continue to do illegal street work despite being offered legal walls and gallery deals. But it’s still illegal, and some municipalities don’t look at street art/graffiti as culture enhancers. I’ve had close calls in both Portland and NYC, with the latter seeing me locked up in the tombs for the better part of 24 hours. Never fun, but always a good story to tell at Thanksgiving.

Is it integral for you to maintain anonymity?

Nah, but it’s a big part of my street art schtick. So despite a few large publications leaking my supposed name over the years, I continue to put on that pixelated mug. The whole anonymity is funny though. Graffiti and street artists are becoming fairly famous these days, and even the hardest graf head has an IG feed chock-full of selfies. Which is really very LOL.

What’s a good day for you?

Being productive. I’m not into day-drinking or mega-chilling the days away. For better or worse, the hard work agenda has played a huge role in my NYC story. Yeah, artists and creatives can get super fucking lucky and score their “big break,” but it’s usually 10 years of hard work before scoring that overnight success story.

Do you have a personal ethos?

Fake it till you can fake it on a larger scale.

Who have been integral/inspirational to you in art and life?

The cartoons of Matt Groening, Bill Watterson, and Mike Judge. Give me Calvin or give me death.

General world/life view: optimistic or are we fucked?

Eh, probably a little bit of both. I used to be super optimistic. But then Kanye married Kim, and I’ve been duct taping my life together ever since.